In my quest to understand what it takes to grow healthy, high yielding plants in northern Minnesota, I discovered just how important pollination is. Without getting into too much science, if there were no pollinating insects, we wouldn’t have much for green on this planet, and even less to eat. I’m sure a great many of you have heard the recent “buzz” on bees and other pollinators and the trouble they are in. If not, now’s the time to really take a minute to understand what’s happening. Many factors are to blame for the lack of pollinators in our landscapes. Habitat loss, invasive pests, viruses, pesticides and other chemical use are just a few of the hurdles they are facing. Now for the first time ever, a bumble bee, the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee is on the endangered species list. This bee is native to our area, though their populations seem to “bee” few and far between. It takes many kinds of bees to pollinate crops, and they are also crucial to the survival of many native plants. Honey beekeeping has become something I truly adore, but I have come to the realization that it’s nothing short of challenging here. Honeybees are not native to our area, though they have been here long enough to stake their claim. We have bred them to withstand a great many climates, and when all the right factors line up we can get them to survive our cold harsh winters. When I began, I had the idea that by increasing the bees around our property, which were comparably lacking to when I was a kid, surly I would increase plant yields. Though I can not prove with statistical evidence that the hives on our property have helped in having more produce to harvest, I can say that our property continues to provide more and more food for us, honey bees and native bees, which hopefully is a win win. In the last several years I have added many more native plants to our gardens and surrounding property, and especially pollinator friendly trees. Trees are your biggest bang for your buck when adding plants to feed the bees. Trees often last longer than perennials as well as having hundreds to thousands of blooms on one tree compared to just a small few on a perennial. Trees like basswood, apples, flowering crab apple, plum, cherry, willow, maple, chokecherry and a variety of others are all good choices. Keep in mind having a large variety increases the availability of food throughout the whole growing season.
In order to help provide nesting and foraging space, we have created a “No Mow” zone where native grasses and wildflowers can flourish. I also leave a couple old wood piles, and some bare soil spaces as potential nesting spaces for other types of bees. In 2017 I planted over 30 pollinator friendly trees, and each year since there has been several more additions both in variety and numbers of trees and shrubs. This year we are set to add at least 40 more pollinator friendly trees, and we have also expanded our vegetable and fruit growing space with half of it dedicated to both native and bee friendly flowers. By providing the bees with more foraging options, this should, intern provide us with more food. Without our gardens buzzing with insects, a great many amenities I’ve personally come to take for granted everyday wouldn’t be possible. Coffee, chocolate, cotton and many of your favorite fruits and vegetables are only a few of the things we can thank the bees for. Check out this citizen science link below for the Great Sunflower Project. Have you heard of Lemon Queen sunflowers? They are a sunflower which produces both nectar and pollen. Most sunflowers only produce pollen, which is a necessary food source for bees. As a long lasting fall flower, providing another source of nectar for pollinators that are about to begin their wintering journey is a really great way to help them out. These sunflowers are a beautiful light pale yellow and grow between 4 and 6 feet tall. I have loved watching all the different butterflies and bees hanging out on them during a warm fall afternoon. Growing this variety is an awesome way to get involved in helping bees and other pollinator species.