All of my seeds are planted! The weeds in the garden have been telling me for some time the growing season has begun.
One plant in particular has been flowering for weeks in the garden-The dandelion. A few years ago I read that leaving the first batch of flowers gives a fabulous start for the bees as the start their year collecting nectar. I dutifully obliged but didn’t read the bit about not letting the flowers go to seed. As a consequence I now have dandelions growing out of every crack and crevice. Still if it feeds the bees, then I can put up with them.
I’m not an expert on bees and just let them get on with things. I leave the real knowledge to people like Paddy McCartney in Greencastle for advice. I do know that honey bees won’t fly below 50-55°F (10-13°C). Because honey bees overwinter in the hive they are ready to go much earlier in the season. I also know that bees can be trained to find drugs at airports. If nectar is mixed with the drug they are looking for they will sniff it out like a dog would. I’m not sure on the complexities of this but I am under the impression they are attached to tiny leads and airport security follow them around. You couldn’t make it up.
That’s where my knowledge ends; I do know a bit more about what plants they enjoy in spring though.
Pollen or Nectar
Many trees that are in flower in spring such as the hazel and alder provide pollen but no nectar. One of the few tree species that does offer nectar is the willow (Salix) Nectar provides an important energy source (carbohydrate) and a complex range of sugars, pollen on the other hand gives vital protein and fats. Paddy will tell you more.
Spring Bee Flowers
Bluebells-The bright colour of bluebells is irresistible to bees, which rely heavily on the flowers' nectar in early spring. Hoverflies and butterflies will also flock to these tiny blue blooms.
Bugle-The ajuga, or "bugle" plant blossoms in April or May, and is a good plant for attracting both bees and butterflies.
Cherry trees-Flowering cherry trees provide a welcome burst of spring colour, but are also a good source of nectar.
Crab apple trees-These trees' attractive pink or white blossoms and abundance of nectar makes them another popular choice in springtime.
Crocuses-One of the most popular early spring flowers is also an important source of food for bees after winter.
Flowering currant-Flowering currant (ribes sanguineum) produces bee-attracting bright, scented flowers in the spring.
Forget-me-not- This tiny plant provides a good source of nectar throughout the spring.
Hawthorn-Hawthorns tend to blossom in May, producing fragrant flowers that are enjoyed by many nectar-feeding insects.
Helleborus niger-Hellebores find favour with gardeners and bees alike. The dusky dames provide nectar with a high sucrose content for the bees so is particularly valuable to them.
Lesser celandine-is either great groundcover or pervasive weed depending on your position but on a sunny day (and preferably in a sunny position) honey bees can be seen enjoying the sugary rewards where it has been allowed to grow.
Pulmonaria-Bees love to forage for nectar in tube-like flowers like the pulmonaria.
Rosemary-Most of us love the smell of rosemary, so it's no surprise bees do too. They're also attracted to the plant's small flowers, which tend to appear in spring or summer.
Thrift-Armeria maritima or "thrift" usually growing in rockeries produces attractive clusters of pink leaves and plenty of pollen in springtime.
Viburnum-Spring-flowering shrub viburnum is popular with both bees and butterflies.
Pussy willows-Pussy willows trees tend to flower early. Their furry catkins are a magnet to bees.
Pussy Willow Legend
There’s a popular legend about how the ‘pussy willow’ got its name. According to an old Polish story, many springtimes ago, a mother cat was crying at the bank of the river in which her kittens were drowning. The willows at the river's edge longed to help her, so they swept their long graceful branches into the waters to rescue the tiny kittens who had fallen into the river while chasing butterflies. The kittens gripped on tightly to their branches and were safely brought to shore. Each springtime since, goes the legend, the willow branches sprout tiny fur-like buds at their tips where the tiny kittens once clung.