By Sarah Meyer, Beekeeper and Owner of Worker’s Ransom Honey
“The flower doesn’t dream of the bee, it blossoms and the bee comes” —Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
I’ve been drawn to this quote for many years and I think it is most appropriate to share it now as we recognize the spring equinox. More trees and flowers blossom each day are demonstrating that spring has finally sprung! The joy and fulfillment is in the process of receiving spring! It is in the blooming of the garden that we welcome the bees …. and they come!
In that I am a beekeeper, I am also a gardener. What I love about both dedications is that I am constantly learning and experimenting through trial and error. It makes sense that I love these two complementary hobbies because I get such satisfaction by “blossoming” and waiting for what is to come! Pretty much since the winter equinox, I have been planning my garden and anticipating the timing of nectar flow and pollen availability within my property and neighborhood. With that, I have also been trying to plan my apiary and hive placements. Where will the bees find the most satisfying blossoms? Where will the bees dream of the flowers?
Keep in mind, I do not sow seeds just for the honeybees, but for all pollinators—bees, beetles, flies, birds, bats, moths, etc. As for bees, there are over 415 species in New York State. Most of them are “diggers” or ground-nesting, solitary bees and approximately 20% are eusocial bees, such as the introduced honeybee and the bumblebee.
For these bees, as well as other pollinators, a changing climate, habitat fragmentation, pests, parasites, and pathogens, and pesticide exposure threaten their ability to thrive and complete what we rely on them for—pollination. It’s ironic how “pollinator” has become such a BUZZword. But, all joking aside, inhibiting the simple transfer of pollen between male and female parts of a flower (the act of pollination) is a detriment to the production (quality and quantity) of food, fiber, oils, medicines, and other products and ultimately our quality of life. Think of our pollinators as the essential workers of our habitats and ecosystems.
In early spring, there are far more than flowers blooming. Bees are buzzing toward shrubs, trees, vines, and flowers! This is the time for small flowering fruit trees, like the American plum and native crab apples, and wild strawberries, skunk cabbage, crocus, and serviceberry to open their petals and reveal their pollen loaded flower parts. My raspberries, goji berries, and aronia won’t be too much farther behind. Honeybees are eager to find pollen in the spring as pollen is the protein source to the hive in rearing young bees.
As daytime temps regulate to 55-60 degrees, the bees will seek out more tree sources of nectar and pollen, like flowering dogwood, eastern redbud, elm, maples, hawthorn, and willow. Through my observance of No-Mow May, life literally unfolds into full-blown spring when the dandelions’ timing and distribution provide a lifeline of pollen to the bees. Soon, as the cusp of summer approaches, more plants soon flash their colors as dandelions hold on to spring. Clover, sumac, hairy and purple vetch, and multiple berries can be found in field hedgerows, ditches, right of ways and median strips. In my garden, it is early summer when I begin to see the pink and purple lupine, columbine, and iris in my gardens.
As the hottest months of the summer approach, the gardens and lawn may look colorful and lush, but the flowers in bloom may not be accessible to honeybees, or a passing rain may wash away nectar from flowers making it scarce and more challenging to forage. We experience low levels of available nectar and pollen, not only in the winter, but also in the dry, late summer months bridging spring to fall. This dearth, as beekeepers refer to it, is the time of year the pollinators need a bit of help from you! Through garden planning and property management techniques, you can help your garden and bees, and inadvertently yourself.
To help carry the bees through this period of dearth, and even past goldenrod season, I try to plant late-blooming plants that will ease their travel time to, and simplify their search for, nectar and pollen, like bee balm, dahlias, zinnias, lavender, nasturtium, borage, and anise hyssop. Through the heatwave of late summer, I always keep a bee waterer topped with clean water (pictured) and, after May, I designate a lite-mow zone on my small property to offer continuous foraging through the entire pollinator season. This zone gets mowed on my mower’s highest setting every two weeks or so, which saves me time and money (more beekeeping and gardening!), and it allows many wildflowers, like clover, henbit and yellow hawkweed, to flower in my lawn. The taller grass has a kept look due to my generously spaced mowing practices but is greener, holds more color, and is thriving better than my more regularly, shorter trimmed zones.
As spring unfolds, flowers WILL blossom and the bees WILL come! I encourage those with a strong case of “spring fever” to consider planning your garden’s bloom times to last through the entire pollinator season, and maybe even place a bee waterer out so that they can at least take a rest and drink on their foraging excursions through your neighborhood. Grasp and take in as much accomplishment and elation in the process of spring flowers blossoming and bees coming to each one!
Sarah A. Meyer is the beekeeper and owner of Worker’s Ransom Honey based in Geneva. She set up her first hive in 2014 and now sells honey from bees pollinating the Finger Lakes region. You can learn more about Worker’s Ransom Honey by reading about Sarah’s beekeeping adventures shared in her monthly From the Hive column and on social media @workersransom on Facebook and @workersransomhoney on Instagram. You can find Worker’s Ransom products at five retail locations in the Geneva area and a few of them offer online ordering and gift baskets. These include the Finger Lakes Welcome Center in Geneva, Bostrom Farms in Stanley, Monaco’s Coffee in Geneva, FLX Goods in Geneva, and Red Jacket Orchards Farmstore in Geneva. Contact Sarah via email at email@example.com.