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Despite my earlier protestations, and with much appreciated assistance, I not only planted what turned out to be an overfilled garden, I har...

March 8, 2010

Who are our fuzzy friends with a lisp? Garden Pollinators

Creating the infrastructure for and expanding the beauty of our garden was the first goal I had for the growing season. Towards the middle of spring I started to focus on the little helpers seen and unseen that helped our garden flourish. Those little helpers or Beneficial Insects as they're known in the gardening/scientific world included my top three which are bees, lady bugs, and praying mantis. We loved watching the mantis hatchlings scurry around their little make shift nest we hung around the window sill. I will write more about lady bugs and praying mantis in future posts but today I want to focus on the cute little fuzzy guys that lift an astounding amount of weight on such tiny little wings... Bees.  The first thing I decided to do when researching how to attract bees was to find out what kinds I could attract in my area which is Zone 4.

I thought I would have the time to make a home to attract mason bees but ran out of the time and the drill I needed to make a cute little home or two to post around the south sides of our fence line. With that project put a shelf until I could get to it later (hopefully in the next couple of days) I then started to research what bees liked to eat in the garden and what they stayed away from. Pretty much bees like any flower that has a bloom, vegetable, ornamental, or fruit. It doesn't matter to bees really does it?  It turns out there are several plants that bees really go Ga Ga for. They look for a couple or really important things when they are in search of plants for their food.
  • Nectar which is their main energy source is loaded with sugar. It's kind of like the snack cake or candy bar for bees.
  • Pollen which is also an essential part of their diet. Is the meat and potato's part of their diet that provides proteins and fats.
One of the most popular plants we added to the garden last year was borage... Adding borage to our garden was a definitely a God send. The bees loved the stuff and there was so much to go around we had no problem keeping them all spring and summer long well into the fall.

The second plant was bee balm. The name says it all doesn't it? This one was was pretty much a no brainer but I was concerned about it becoming an invasive in our area. I started with three plants and am hoping to have more that I can corral in a flowerbed because it was very pretty to look at.

 
Trying to keep up with all the Milkweed weedlings kept me hopping from dawn to dusk the first year or two in the garden. I tried pulling it, spraying it with vinegar, and yelling at it (like that would work)... it just kept popping up in other places. When I finally researched and found out what it was and how important it is for bees and butterflies it won my respect and a permanent place in our garden. My sons Monarch Project went a long way towards swaying me as well. I now figure as long as I keep it corralled and semi-contained it will continue to be a very beautiful addition which If I may add has the most fragrant rose link scent you could ever smell. The large seed pods that form were a little disturbing at first because they are so huge and bulging. They're very reminiscent of the pods in the invasion of the body snatchers movie or some other sci-fy flick I've seen over the years.

Pollination is key to having your vegetables to produce the fruit you want to cultivate in your garden. If you are growing a juicy melon, squash, tomato, corn, etc.. you will need the assistance of our fuzzy lispy friends. Pollination is not very important for vegetables that we grow for their leaves like lettuce, greens, spinach, and cabbage. It's also not that important for root vegetables like carrots, radishes, or beets, but who wants a garden without a nice juicy heirloom tomato? Not me I say, Not Me!!! So, with all that said I hope you give bees a chance in  your garden this year. The three plants I mention above are great companion plants to add to your vegetable garden, but they are only a few out of hundreds of varieties you could add. I highly recommend visiting your local library and/or nursery for books on starting your garden with the added benefit of insects (especially bees) or you could do an online search for information on companion planting and beneficial insects too.