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Lacy Phacelia

by Heather Stone

Photo of a bee on a Lacy Phacelia blosson.

Image by Cydonia from Pixabay

 One of my favorite plants began blooming this week, Lacy phacelia, Phacelia tanacetifolia. It has many common names including lacy scorpionweed, tansy leaf phacelia, blue tansy, purple tansy and my favorite, bee’s friend. Clusters of light blue-violet flowers that unfurl in a fiddlehead shape sit atop attractive fern-like foliage. Reaching heights of 1-3 feet and blooming for 6-8 weeks this fast-growing wildflower is an excellent addition to any garden. It also makes an excellent cut flower. 

 

Native to the southwestern United States, this easy to grow annual does well in hot, dry conditions but easily adapts to a variety of site conditions. Lacy phacelia seeds germinate readily in 15-30 days. Sow seeds early in the spring while there is still a possibility of frost. Ideal soil temperatures for best germination are between 37-68 degrees F. Press seeds gently into the soil at a depth of ⅛-¼”. 

 

It’s not only the lovely blue-violet flowers that make lacy phacelia one of my favorite plants. Lacy Phacelia is well known for its ability to attract bees and butterflies to an area. It is a heavy nectar producer and is listed in the top 20 pollen-producing flowers for honeybees. Having this source of high-quality nectar and pollen means you’ll be attracting many native bees, bumblebees, honey bees and butterflies to your garden. I have these flowers growing near my front porch and just this week I counted 4 different varieties of bees on the few flowers that just started blooming. 

Unfurling blossom of Lacy Phacelia.

Image by rihaij from Pixabay

Trying growing lacy phacelia near your vegetable garden to increase your yields. 

Lacy phacelia also does well in containers. These containers can then be moved to different areas of the garden that need pollination. The benefits of Lacy phacelia as a cover crop are becoming more popular. It is widely used in Europe as it aggressively outcompetes weeds and absorbs excess nitrates and calcium from the soil. But it’s most important contribution is its pollinator attracting power. 

 

Lacy phacelia readily self sows so removing flowerheads before they set seed helps limit any unwanted volunteers. Though when you see these beautiful flowers and how many pollinators they attract to the garden you might want to let a few of these wildflowers go to seed. 

 

Our Most Popular Pollinator Wildflower Seed mixes ̶  May 2019

 

Honey Bee on yellow blossom.

Pollinators are the magic ingredient that makes our natural world work. They fuel lifecycles of entire ecosystems and are found everywhere flowering plants are. Humans are also incredibly dependent on pollinators. Pollinators come in all shapes and sizes. Honeybees, native bees, bumblebees, butterflies, birds, bats, and other wild critters are all incredibly important pollinators!

Unfortunately, we are losing our pollinators at an alarming rate. Insect pollinators are being hit especially hard. Habitat loss, exposure to pesticides, lack of food, and diseases are all leading factors in the decline of these species. We should all be concerned. One-third of our food, from coffee to strawberries, are dependent on pollinators to produce. We need these animals just as much as they need us.

We take our favorite wildflower seeds and blend them into mixes specially formulated to help create habitat and forage for the pollinators in your backyard. We make sure to use fresh, high quality, open-pollinated, GMO-free seeds because you deserve to have a successful, healthy, and fun planting experience. Our mixes are all seed with none of the fillers that you might find in other mixes because we believe you should get what you’re paying for.

Click here if you have any questions about how to select your site, plant, or care for our wildflower mixes!

Here are our most popular pollinator seed mixes:

 

1.     Monarch Rescue Wildflower Mix

Monarch butterfly on pink blossom.

Monarch Butterflies are some of the most wonderful and strange animals on Earth. Every year, they migrate between the high mountains of Mexico through most of North America. This migration takes four separate generations of butterflies to complete and covers a massive amount of territory. To complete this migration, the Monarchs need plenty of forage and nesting sites along the way.

However, habitat and forage loss has been devastating for the Monarch Butterfly. Milkweed plants are the only plants that Monarch Butterflies will lay their eggs on. These plants have been wiped out of large portions of the United States due to concerns about allergies and their designation as a “weed”. Habitat loss and pesticide use have also reduced the amount of good forage for Monarchs, weakening them too much to complete their journey.

This is why we created our Monarch Rescue Wildflower Mix. This mix of Milkweeds and wildflowers is a Monarch Butterfly booster shot. This mix is full of nutrition and habitat for the butterflies passing through your area. Make your garden a Monarch paradise with this mix.

Find it here.

2.     Bee Rescue Wildflower mix

Honey bees on purple lavender blossoms.

Bees have had a rough time of late. The incredible loss of honey bees in recent years has been well documented and reported on. However, the crisis is much deeper than just honey bees. North America has over 4,000 species of native bees. Most native bees are solitary and are extremely effective pollinators. However, these little bees are little understood and are in even more danger than honey bees because they don’t have beekeepers watching out for them!

This colorful combination of wildflowers will provide nectar and pollen for full season support of native and introduced bee species.  Our “Bee Rescue” Wildflower mix has been designed to include the absolute best species to support the health and vitality for a wide range of native pollinators as well and the honey bee. These are the flowers that attract the most pollinators and will do well over the most growing zones.

Get our Bee Rescue Wildflower Mix here!

3.     Bumblebee Bonanza Wildflower Mix

A pollen covered bumblebee on a pink blossom.

Bumblebee Bonanza Mix is a colorful mix that includes specially selected species of nectar and pollen-rich, annual and perennial flowers that are known to attract bumblebees and other pollinators and will provide quality forage from early spring until late fall.

This mixture of annuals and perennials is designed to provide early, mid and late season blooms to support the life cycle of the bumblebee as well as other pollinators. These flower species will do well in a variety of growing conditions and are recommended for a maintained, home-garden planting or commercial landscape.  The best time for planting this mix is in the early spring, early summer and late fall.

Buy the Bumblebee Bonanza Mix Here!

4.     Hummingbird Wildflower Mix

Green hummingbird in flight.

This mix has been created with the vibrantly colored, nectar-rich species that hummingbirds love.  Consisting of mostly perennials, this mix will continue to provide support to hummingbirds and other important pollinators.  A few annuals are included to provide color the first year while the perennials become established and will bloom the second year.

Get it here and start enjoying your hummingbird garden!

 

5.     Honey Source Wildflower Mix

Honey bees on a honeycomb.

A long blooming mix of beautiful, nectar and pollen-rich annuals and perennials put together just for our Honey Bee friends.  Plant this mix to provide vital nutrition for the European Honey Bees.  These hard-working pollinators are necessary for our agricultural production and are a major contributor to our food supply.  Lack of native nectar and pollen sources between crop rotations can cause stress and starvation that contribute to colony collapse.

Our Honey Source Wildflower Mix can be found here!

One Last Thing

At BBB Seed, we are deeply committed to providing the highest quality grass, wildflower, and grass seeds to empower our customers to get out and grow! This list of our Most Popular Wildflower Seeds is intended to be a useful resource for you to see what products our customers and we are enjoying right now!

We also are incredibly concerned about providing sustainable and environmentally conscious products to you. We source seeds that are non-genetically engineered, tested, and grown sustainably. We hope these products will help you enjoy nature and learn about this wonderful world in the garden. We also strongly encourage you to visit our Pollinator Action Page to learn about the pollinators that make our natural world possible and learn more about what you can do to help them. Thank you!

Grow. Enjoy. Share…the beauty and the bounty!

 

 

HONEY DO’S AND DONT’S

By Engrid WinslowHoney Source Wildflower Mix

In order to produce 1 pound of honey, bees will visit approximately 2 million flowers. An average hive of bees must fly 55,000 miles to produce a pound of honey. One bee colony can produce 40 to 100 pounds of honey per year. The average foraging bee makes about 1/12 teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. When you consider these facts, it is truly a miracle that honey is so well-known and widely used. The very first origins of keeping bees and honey is not known but there are drawings from early Egypt depicting the practice. Honey was called “The Tears of Re” (Re, also referred to as Ra, was the Egyptian Sun God).

Honey bee colonies tended by a beekeeper often produce more honey than they need to survive during the cold winter months when there are no blooms. A responsible beekeeper harvests only the extra which is produced in a “honey super”. These are smaller boxes on top of the two brood boxes separated from the hive by a “Queen Excluder”. No brood is raised there and the bees fill it up with excess honey.

Buyer beware if you purchase large jugs of honey at a steeply discounted price. Imported honey is often only a small percentage of honey and a large portion of it is actually sugar syrup. Buy from a local beekeeper, if at all possible. If you don’t know one, check out Farmer’s Markets, fruit stands, small locally owned grocery stores or cheese shops. You can also look for a local beekeepers association and contact them.

Always purchase unrefined honey which has not been heated over 100 degrees and is filtered through a fine mesh strainer. All honey will crystallize over time, some much sooner than others. How you treat the crystalized honey is up to you, but to retain the beneficial properties, warming the container in hot water is the best way to go. Creamed honey is honey that has been pre-crystalized using a starter with controlled, very-fine crystals. Most beekeepers who produce honey to sell are familiar with how to produce creamed honey.

Honey has been used for centuries as a throat-soother for coughs and colds and to treat topical injuries, particularly burns and scrapes. It has also been used to treat animals suffering from “road rash” and in patients with foot problems caused by diabetes or those who suffer from ulcers. There is also strong evidence that honey taken at bedtime regulates blood sugar and causes more restful sleep. Many believe (yours truly included), although there is no medical evidence, that a spoonful of unrefined honey daily will cure, or at least minimize seasonal allergy symptoms. The more local the honey is, the better because the honey contains small amounts of pollen from your particular area. Honey from Boston may not be as beneficial for someone who lives in Los Angeles.

Bees generally forage in a 2-mile radius but may go up to 5 miles to reach pollen and nectar sources. You can help your local honeybee population by not using pesticides and by planting flowers for pollinators such as our Honey Source or Bee Rescue mixes.

Most honey produced by a local beekeeper will be wildflower honey, meaning a mixture of whatever is in bloom.  Varietal honeys such as orange blossom or lavender require that many acres of those crops must be grown near the beehives and the honey supers pulled off the hives when the bloom season is over. It is a lot of fun to try these varietal honeys and notice their smells and flavors. The honey from my hives tastes different every year but is always delicious. Last year I noticed an apple flavor in it which makes sense because I live in an area with many apple and crabapples nearby.

If you want to know more about honey, check out these past blog posts: www.bbbseed.com/april-happenings-in-the-honeybee-hive/, www.bbbseed.com/whats-happening-in-the-honeybee-hive-as-winter-starts-to-close-in, www.bbbseed.com/20532-2/, and www.bbbseed.com/product/honey-source-mix/

 

 

 

WHY ARE NATIVE PLANTS IMPORTANT?

by Engrid WinslowNative Purple Coneflower seed packet.

Honey bees are not native to the United States but were imported in the 1600s by colonists from Europe. Already here when honey bees arrived were 50 species of bumblebees and over 4,400 species of native bees. Bumblebees are especially efficient at buzz pollination. (Check out this blog for more information on bumblebees: www.bbbseed.com/its-bumblebee-bonanza-time). Native bees specialize in pollinating native species of plants – including food – while honey bees are best described as generalists. Native plants evolved alongside the native bees and have a special relationship with them. Native bees do not have pollen bags on their legs but are often covered with a lot of bushy hairs on their bodies which gather and distribute pollen in a most excellent way. Also, native bees (bumblebees are the exception) live only about 6 weeks and their lives coincide with the bloom time of certain plants that they are specialists in pollinating. They are extremely docile and non-aggressive with some of them having a stinger that doesn’t even penetrate the skin.  Their sting also contains a different type of toxin which will not cause anaphylaxis in people who are allergic to honey bee stings.

The label for the Colorado Tansy Aster seed packet.

Alkali bees are essential for pollinating alfalfa. Alfalfa is a member of the pea family and the flowers have a lower lip which will snap closed and whack honeybees on the butt but Alkali bees have figured out how to get in and out of the flowers quickly and efficiently. Sunflower bees hatch late in the season to coincide with the bloom of sunflowers as do Long Horned bees which love asters as well as sunflowers. Mason bees are also commonly referred to as ‘orchard bees’ because they are so good at pollinating apples and stone fruits such as cherries. Sunflower bees hatch late in the season to coincide with the bloom of sunflowers as do Long Horned bees which love asters as well as sunflowers.  The tiny Mining bees which nest in bare spots in lawns are the first to wake up and pollinate maples and willows which bloom in spring.

 

Wild Sunflower

 

How do you know if a plant is a native? Well, if it’s a color (like bluish hybrid tea roses) or shape (lots of petals on the rose) that is unusual it is most likely a hybrid. Look for old-thyme classics like native roses (rosa woodsii or rosa glauca https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosa_woodsii) to support the natives in your garden.

Also remember to plant such natives as liatris, asters, sunflowers, penstemons, rabbitbrush and native bee plant. Anything with tubular flowers is always a good choice for the native bees and many of them bloom in should seasons when nothing else is available.

 

Liatris tag with photo of tall spikes of pink flowers

 

April Happenings in the Honeybee Hive

By Engrid Winslow

Image of a queen bee in a hive.

Image by Matthew Greger from Pixabay

 

Beginning in March, as the days lengthen and temperatures begin to warm (at least some of the time!) the bees are starting to raise brood again. April means the delivery of packages and nucs and towards the end of the month established overwintered hives begin to think of swarming. This is a very busy time for beekeepers and bees. With the vagaries of winter, some early pollen sources may not materialize and all good stewards of the bees will put sugar water and pollen patties in their hives. Pollen is critical in raising healthy brood and March is the time when the colonies are running out of the nectar and pollen they stored in the fall for surviving all winter. Losing a hive in the early spring can be caused by starvation although all factors such as mite loads, insecticidal poisoning and other issues should also be considered and evaluated.

As spring creeps ever closer, the most abundant sources of pollen and nectar are available during this time. Brood rearing continues in earnest and beekeepers must watch carefully for signs of swarming. Many beekeepers are eager to add to their hives by capturing swarms and add their names to lists with local and state beekeepers associations. (The swarm hotline number in Colorado if you spot a swarm is 1-844-spy- bees, 1-844-779-2337). Classic signs of swarming include large numbers of bees “bearding” or gathering on the outside of the hive. It’s getting crowded in the hive.

A cell holding the larva of a queen bee.

Image by Franz Schmid from Pixabay

Inside a hive that is beginning to swarm a new Queen is being raised. Queen larvae form in a peanut-shaped cell that is much larger than the cell used to raise worker bees and drones.  They are usually on the bottom or sticking off the side of a frame. Once the Queen cells form, the bees are already committed to swarming and half of the colony (mostly newly hatched workers who can help the most with producing wax for the honeycomb at the new location) will leave with the older Queen. The new queen is left behind but must leave the hive to fly into the “drone zone” for mating, return to the hive and begin laying eggs. Beekeepers can prevent swarming by “splitting” their hives. This involves removing a few frames with capped brood and plenty of “nurse bees” to take care of the newly hatched brood into a new hive body. Some of the honey stores and pollen should also be placed in the new hive. Some beekeepers move a capped queen cell with a larva inside to the new hive and others purchase a mated queen from a beekeeper in the queen-rearing business.

For more information about swarming check out these past blogs: www.bbbseed.com/honey-bee-swarms/ and www.bbbseed.com/19613-2/.

 

The Essential Pollinator

 

Those pesky critters that buzz by, causing us to dance and flap our arms when we are outside, are far more than a mere annoyance.  We don’t give these tiny powerhouses the credit they are due.

Native pollinators such as bees, butterflies, flies, moths, beetles, and bats are essential for human survival but their populations are in a serious decline.  Our fuel, food, drugs, and fiber are directly and indirectly taken from plants that depend on pollinators for their existence.  Some have estimated that one out of every three to four mouthfuls of food we eat results from the actions of pollinators.  Pollinated crops contribute an estimated $20 billion to our economy each year.   Native pollinators control the healthy function of our natural ecosystem.  The documented decline of native pollinators, as well as that of the introduced European honeybee, concerns the scientific community.  This decline results from the fragmentation and destruction of native habitats which has reduced the food sources for many native pollinators.  The traditional corridors of nectar- and pollen-rich plant sources have been destroyed by development and changes in land use.  Isolated habitats are further degraded by non-native and invasive species.  Misuse of pesticides and the introduction of non-native pollinators have contributed to the extinction of many of our native species.

The bright side of this issue is that we can help our native pollinator populations by choosing to plant nectar- and pollen-rich vegetation species that are native to a specific area that will provide nutrition and cover.  Remember to include plants that provide food for the larval stage and also to provide a water source.  The flowering plants that are native to your area have co-evolved along with their pollinators to provide the perfect combination of petal shapes, fragrances, and colors for their mutual benefit.  Make sure to plant a variety of native plant species of mostly perennials to ensure an appropriate and dependable supply of nectar and pollen for the bees, butterflies and other pollinators throughout the spring, summer and fall.  Select nectar-rich species with clusters of brightly colored tubular florets and plant them in groupings rather than as individual plants.  Avoid cultivars of plants grown mainly to produce larger flowers as these often do not have the pollen or nectar that the pollinators require.  Bees are attracted to purple, blue, and yellow flowers and hummingbirds prefer red and orange flowers.  Try to include night blooming varieties to attract bats and nocturnal moths.  Use pesticides sparingly or not at all.  Have patience, most perennials will take one or two seasons, with good care, to bloom.

Thoughtful plantings, whether in pots and containers or backyard gardens and conservative, appropriate use of pesticides or better yet, an integrated pest management system, can create and establish a stable ecosystem that is pollinator friendly.

 

 

What’s Happening in the Honeybee Hive as Winter Starts to Close In

Photo of an open shed on a foggy heath housing several honeybee hives.

by Engrid Winslow

This part 2 of a series on what happens in beehives, what beekeepers do to manage their beehives and how you can also help to sustain honeybees and other pollinators.

Winter in a hive of honey bees is tough. Honey bees are the only bees who overwinter as a colony (more about the lifecycle of bumblebees and native bees will follow in later articles) which makes them much more vulnerable to the vagaries of winter weather. Here’s what is happening in the hive as fall changes into early winter.

Honey bees are amazingly resourceful at helping to winter-proofing their hives. They use a special substance called propyls to seal up all the cracks and crannies that could let in wind and moisture during the cold rainy months. Whenever the beekeeper checks on the hives (temperatures must be above 50 degrees and sunny) the bees do an admirable job of sealing everything back up again.

Honeybees are not warm-blooded and depend on clustering in order to combat the winter temperatures. The worker bees who are left in the colony after the drones (male bees) have been evicted are all daughters of the Queen Bee and are devoted to protecting her and whatever small amounts of brood remain in the hive. As winter settles in, days darken and temperatures really drop, the Queen lays fewer and fewer eggs until stopping completely. The remaining cluster of bees is made of those who hatched late in the fall and these few daughters center around the Queen. They rotate from the center, where the Queen is protected from the elements to the outside of the bee cluster.  They create warmth in the cluster by unhinging their wings at the shoulder muscle and vibrating them (also referred to as “shivering”). No foraging takes place (well, after all, what flowers are blooming in the winter anyway?) and the hive is dependent on the stores of honey and pollen that has been stored from the summer. The bees on the outside of the cluster are usually able to feed off the pollen and honey which is stored on the outside of the frame around the brood. When temperatures are warm enough the bees will venture out for “cleansing flights” – yes, that’s a delicate name for what they need to do! But otherwise, they are “socked in” for the winter months.

Beekeepers will continue to supplement food for their hives, depending on temperatures, as they hope and pray the bees will survive to expand their colonies next spring and summer.  Check out this youtube video to hear the amazing sound created by the bees in this winter hive.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yqr40loMhJw

 

 

 

Bee Boulder Family Festival!

Photo of a bee on a pink petaled flower.

photo courtesy of Pexels – Phillip Mullen

September is Pollinator Appreciation Month here in Boulder, Colorado.  Boulder is home to more than 550 species of native bees and the city has made a pledge to help recognize, protect and celebrate this diverse pollinator population.  All month long there have been activities for both kids and adults including; pollinator story times, a student poster contest, a native bee lecture, and a hive tour to name a few.

This Saturday we wrap up Pollinator Appreciation Month for 2018 with the Fourth Annual Boulder Bee Festival.  Come to help us celebrate our pollinators at Central Park in Boulder from 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM. It will be tons of fun with educational activities, live music, face painting and prizes.  Come by the BBB Seed tent to chat pollinators, flowers or whatever you like. We will have crafts for the kids, stickers, seeds and much more.  Hope to see you there!

Photo of a bee keeper holding up a frame of a bee laden honeycomb

photo courtesy of Pexels – Timothy Paule II

 

Mexican Sunflower, Pollinator Magnet!

by Heather Stone

Close up photo of an orange Mexican Sunflower blossom.

photo courtesy of pixabay – impradip

Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia rotundafolia is a must for the butterfly garden and is a favorite of our beloved monarch butterfly. This 4-6’ tall annual (perennial in USDA zones10-11) is covered in vibrant orange flowers the monarchs can’t resist. But it’s not only a favorite of monarch butterflies. Mexican Sunflower is also equally adored by many other butterfly species including painted ladies, fritillaries, eastern tiger swallowtails, giant swallowtails and more. Honeybees, bumblebees and hummingbirds flock to these nectar-rich flowers as well.

Mexican Sunflowers are easy to grow. Plant seeds indoors 1-2 months before your average last frost date or directly in the garden in late spring when the soil has warmed. Once germinated, these plants take off reaching heights of 4-6’ by 3-4’ wide so place them in the back of the border. Staking these tall plants helps to avoid any toppling over. The vibrant orange blooms appear mid-summer and last until the first frost. Deadheading every 2-3 days ensures continual bloom, equaling more visitors. Mexican sunflowers make great cut flowers too and are easy to grow in containers. Don’t leave this beauty out of your pollinator garden.

Mexican Sunflower blossom against blue sky.

photo courtesy of pixabay-4924546

 

 

 

 

Check out this cool video of Monarch butterflies enjoying the blossoms of Mexican Sunflower.

https://www.facebook.com/MonarchButterflyGarden/videos/895905987113736/

 

 

 

HIVE HAPPENINGS IN SEPTEMBER

Two beekeepers in bee suits inspecting a hive.

photo courtesy of pixabay – topp-digital-foto

By Engrid Winslow

Have you ever wondered what beekeepers actually do? Did you think that they just put hives in fields and then visit to collect honey every once in a while? Well, we are going to take you inside the duties of a beekeeper in the first of a series of articles explaining what the bees are up to and how a beekeeper helps them to survive and thrive.

Two jars of golden honey with a honey dipper.

photo courtesy of pixabay – fancycrave1

Honeybees are the only bees that overwinter as a colony and cold weather can be stressful enough that many colonies will not survive without some help from a beekeeper. Even with that help, a hive that is weak or doesn’t have enough food stored or suffers from a mite infestation will not make it through.  Each colony has worked very hard all spring and summer collecting honey and pollen to feed the new brood that the queen spends all day (and night!) laying. They are also storing extra honey and pollen to make it through the winter when there is very little forage (in most parts of the country).  Every colony needs 60-90 pounds of honey to survive the cold season. A responsible beekeeper only harvests whatever extra honey has been stored by the hive. Beekeepers watch their hives grow during the season and add “honey supers” on top of a two-deep hive colony with a “queen excluder” between the hive and the supers. Some hives will produce many of these supers that hold the excess honey – it varies by the colony and by the amount of forage available during the season. The excluder ensures that no brood is laid in the supers. In the early fall, beekeepers check to make sure that the honey stores are capped with wax and proceed to harvest the honey in a variety of ways ranging from using a “capping scratcher” with the frames set over a bucket to using electric or manual extracting machines.

Honey is a marvelous thing to have for personal use, to sell or to give to friends and family as gifts. The National Honey Board website has numerous recipes for all types of dishes using honey as an ingredient.  Check them out at National Honey Board.

There are many other duties for the beekeeper to take care of as the weather cools and, concurrently, the hive is also preparing itself for winter. The queen slows down her egg laying, drones are evicted from the hive and the colony shrinks to a size that can huddle together when it’s cold outside. I’ll share more of this information in my next blog about honeybees.