The First Flight

blog post by guest contributor Melina Lozano Duran

The first flight. Have you heard of this expression before, do you know what that means?

It all comes from the fact that some insect species have several generations that come out

Bombus impatiens on Stone Mountain Daisy, Helianthus porterii. Photo by Melina Lozano Duran

at different seasons but as a global consensus the season where native bees remerge from their nest after Winter is Spring.  Spring isn’t the only conventional temperate season where flowers are supposed to bloom and animal species start reproducing. In the insect

world, specifically in native bee world, Fall and Winter are crucial seasons for the natural world of plants and insects to have a successful Spring.  

Most native bee species in Georgia are active all year round visible to the human eye in Spring, Summer and Fall. Winter is still a very active season for bees but you do not get to

Carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica robbing nectar. Photo by Melina Lozano Duran.

see the action! A solitary native bee’s life span is less than a year from egg to adult- what is known as a complete metamorphosis. You only get to see the adult stage, which usually lasts a few weeks. For example, in the Family Andrenidae, many species go through pupation and adult maturation inside their nests during late Summer through Winter and emerge in Spring. Georgia is home to approximately 89 Andrena (mining bees) species of the 465 species in the United States, a very significant number. Look out for medium sized bees like Apis mellifera (honeybee) with fussy faces and dark bodies like Andrena Barbara (mining bee). Other bee families have what is called multivoltinism- meaning they have two to three generations per year.


In today’s anthropogenic-modified world we have to account for other factors when it comes to knowing flight seasons and the bee species that will come out based on their nesting, foraging and social behaviors. The lack of foraging resources from a previous year will yield more or less individuals per species and impact their reproductive success. Temperature changes will also modify when bees come out of their nest, but this also impacts flowering times for plant species; Even flooding events can cause a bee to come out later or not come out at all! You might be thinking, well, there is nothing I can do about that! However, one thing we all can do is help ecosystems recover. For example, your

A brilliant green native Agapostemon bee species. Photo by Melina Lozano Duran

garden has a micro-ecosystem. If you plant all native plant species from Georgia, and avoid applying any pesticide, you are already contributing to the conservation of native bees and other insect pollinators.

In the Metro Atlanta area, expect to see species of the Halictidae- commonly known as sweat bees and Apidae Family- long-tongue bees coming out for the first flight. Species like Xylocopa sp (carpenter), Bombus sp (bumble), Apis sp. (honeybee). All long tongue bees are the first ones to start foraging on available floral sources. Panurginus sp, which can be rare but is definitely a species that comes out in April after a long Fall and Winter nesting.   Another very important characteristic of most native bees in the United States is that most are generalists, meaning they forage on several plant genuses and do not have a one-on-one relationship with a specific plant species or a sole plant genus. When living in a urban environment like Atlanta, we must remember people have introduced several non-native plants like Chiomanthus praecox (Japanese allspice) and bees actually forage on it, especially when native plants are scarce. Another good example of Spring bloom is Erythronium americanum (yellow adder’s tongue). It’s a known associate of several bees in the families Andrenidae (mining bees), Halictidae (sweat bees) and Megachilidae (leaf cutter bees).

Erythronium americanum, Trout Lily.


Bees of Georgia, Stewart, N and Schlueter, M. 2017

Michener, D.C, The Bees of the World, Baltimore Maryland. The John Hopkins University Press 2000, 2007.

A Winter Project – Preparing for Spring

by Clair Eisele 

Winter can be a tough time for those of us who love to be outside in our gardens.  

The ground is cold and hard, most of the plants are dormant and aren’t showing any foliage, and there aren’t any pollinators out to prove our efforts.  But, despite the cold and the lack of (visible) flora and fauna, winter can be an excellent time to focus on infrastructure and design. This winter, at Beech Hollow, one of our projects has been reworking our Shade Beds.

The_“shade bed” is what we call the garden we have designated for parent stock plants that require more shade than the plants in our “sun beds.”  The shade bed is an area roughly 3,900 sq ft that is nestled under a canopy of loblolly pines, oaks, elms, and sweet gum trees, near the main driveway and across from the parking area of the farm.  The previous design was 4 row beds and 2 “keyhole” beds (circular, round, raised beds) that are home to many shade-loving, Georgia native plants. This design held up for many years and throughout the seasons we were able to see which plants were doing well and which ones should be moved.

But Pandra had bigger plans for the shade beds.  As an artist and a bit of a design and history buff, she wanted to transform the shade beds into a place where she, her employees, and BHF patrons could enjoy a peaceful garden landscape that displayed the diverse beauty of Georgia native plants.  And, of course, somewhere that would entice the native pollinators, as well.

It started with an idea based loosely off Chinese and Japanese garden landscaping, in which a space can be transformed with plants from a flat, tidy, farmlike setting, to a lush, more natural setting, using plants as borders and attention grabbers.  After a few different layouts were scribbled on paper and measurements were made and remade, we put our tools where our thoughts were and set forth to bring the ideas to life.

First we used our magnificent rogue hoes to clear the blackberries/Rubus armenicus, greenbriars/Smilex bona-nox, Carolina Jessamine/Gelsemium sempervirens, violets/Viola labradorica, and other invasive, unwanted “volunteers” from between the existing beds.  We also removed many small saplings of Loblolly Pine/Pinus taeda, Sweetgum/Liquidambar styraciflua, and oak, to make room for native species. Next, we laid down hoses and used landscape marking paint to layout a new meandering path that starts and ends at the main entrance.  From there we scraped the new path to remove weeds and move the nice, loamy, topsoil from the pathway to the new bed space (no point in letting all that viable topsoil go to waste under a path!). Since our new beds were not built yet, we left portions of the old beds that were filled with dormant root systems in place until we could safely transplant them.   Then it was time to start on the new beds!

We ordered 20 cubic yards of pine mulch that had been sitting for over 6 months (when using mulch to build soil it cannot be too fresh or it could be too hot to plant in).  We used brown paper (the kind found in rolls in the paint department) and tacked it down in 2 or more layers over all of the new bed space, then spread a thick layer (4-6 inches) of mulch on top.  We wanted to let the mulch sit for another 6 weeks for a couple of reasons; 1 – moving it from the pile and spreading it over the beds would create more heat, and 2 – we wanted it to be fully involved in the decomposition process and on its way to creating more soil when we did plant.

While waiting on the mulch to settle and do it’s thang, we turned our focus back to the path.  There were many large roots from the surrounding pines that protruded out of the ground and created tripping hazards, to level the ground we brought in bucket loads of granite sand and tamped it down to make a much smoother, safer path.  Once the sand was tamped (talk about a shoulder workout!) we laid horticulture cloth with landscaping staples to keep it in place. We scavenged our surrounding woods for fallen hardwoods and used these to line the path, creating a noticeable, but natural looking border.  

In a particularly low-lying spot, that naturally collects rainwater, we dug what we are calling a bog.  We hope that we will be able to maintain it, but judging by the water content that accumulates there now, it will probably end up being more of a pond.  Either way, the Shoal Lilies/ Hymenocallis coronaria and Jack in the Pulpit/Arisaema triphyllum will love it!

After our winter break, it was time to start transplanting and planting!  We carefully transplanted some Micheaux Lilies from the old beds/new path to an uphill location (they needed more drainage than they were getting before).  We moved large patches of red columbine/Aquilegia canadensis, and blue mist flower/Conoclinium coelestinum, as many Cornel Aster/Doellingeria infirma as we could find, Dwarf Iris, Iris verna, Rain Lilies/Zephyranthes atamasca, and a few Maple-leaf Viburnums/Viburnum acerifolium, just to name a few.  So far, we have added false indigo/Amorpha nitens, Bladdernut/Staphylea trifolia, Carolina phlox/Phlox caroliniana, Doll’s Eyes/Actaea pachypoda, and Relict Trillium, Trillium reliquum. We still have lots of transplanting and new planting to do, but this is a good start.

After some research and discussion we decided to use slate pathway to finish the trail.  We added a thin layer of sand on top of the hort cloth and then about 2-3 inches of the slate pathway mix.  This is a much stronger, longer lasting, and more aesthetically pleasing pathway than the hort cloth alone. Plus, it adds another couple of heavy layers to help keep the weeds from growing up through the path. We will continue adding to our new design by transplanting existing plants, introducing new ones, continuing to build the bog/pond, and by adding seating areas and bird baths to entice the local birds, bees, and patrons that we encourage to visit Beech Hollow.  Ephemeral, or  early blooming woodland, flowers in pictures from top down: Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, buds of Alum Root, Heuchera americana, Jacobs ladder, Polemonium reptans, about to unfurl, Rain Lily, Zephyranthes atamasco, and Relict Trillium, Trillium reliquum.

Why does a Veggie Garden Need Flowers? or What is a Bee Pasture?

Why plant flowers for your veggie garden? Because a bee’s gotta eat. And bee larvae do as well.

Native bees emerge before most crops come into season, and they offer important pollination services for free. Don’t get me wrong, honeybees are great, but native bees offer more varied pollination services than honeybees are able to. (More on this below.) Food crops have a very specific and short bloom period, and then we have bred our crop plants to spend several weeks building delicious fruits and veggies.

That scenario makes the vegetable garden without flowers a food desert where the bee is concerned; most bees still need to forage for nectar and pollen after a crop is done blooming. So, what’s a bee to do in the meantime? As I said, a bee’s gotta eat, and biological imperatives being what they are, a bee has to provide food for her young. Bees won’t migrate out of your crop area if nectar and pollen are available. An abundance and variety of flowering plants will help your pollinator populations grow and become well established.                                                                                                                    




Pictures from left to right: a Mason Bee species with a heavy pollen load  on a native sunflower species, Helianthus porteri,  a green halictid bee, Agapostemon virescens, on a an aster species, and a Rusty Belted Bumblebee, Bombus griseocollus, gathering pollen from a St. Johnswort, Hypericum frondosum.

What food, exactly, does a bee get from flowers? Pollen is packed full of protein, and is mostly used as food for the developing larvae. Pollen also contains a wide variety of fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals.  Nectar is mostly used by adults for energy to forage and build nests. It contains high levels of carbohydrates (sugars), amino acids, lipids, antioxidants, volatile oils, etc. Nectar is also regurgitated and dehydrated into honey by the few species that produce it.

Some bees are generalists and collect pollen from any available flowers. Other bees are specialists and collect pollen from only one type of flower. Most probably fall somewhere in between, collecting from a few preferred floral sources, but little is known about the foraging behaviors of most bees.  Although most bees are picky about the pollen they will feed their young, they will feed on nectar from a variety of flowers.

What did I mean, honeybees can’t pollinate everything? It is true, honeybees are wonderful pollinators, but there are crops that they can’t pollinate. Bumblebees and some Mason bees sonicate tomatoes, all of the nightshade family (peppers, eggplants, etc) as well as all blueberries. Honeybees can’t sonicate, so those flowers will not release their pollen to honeybees. Which means, well, no fruit and veggie crops to eat. There are also native bees that are more effective pollinators of certain crops than honeybees. It takes about 250-300 Mason Bees to pollinate an acre of apple trees; compare that to 10,000 – 20,000 honeybees. Honeybees do a lot of other work, like making honey, just to bee fair and balanced.

Bee meadows can also provide bee nesting habitat for native bees: Well drained patches of soil are important nest sites for ground nesting bees, naturally occurring berry canes and hollow twigs provide nests for mason bees, and tussock forming native grasses make good sites for many species of bumblebees to nest under.

How to Feed YOUR Bees:

Here is a list of Southeastern Native Plants for summer foraging, please see the previous post for early spring plants.

Early to Mid Summer Native Plants for the Southeastern US:

  • Black Cohosh, Actaea racemosa, May-Jun, white, 2-3’
  • Meadow Garlic, Allium canescens, May- Jun, white/pink, 1.5’
  • Flatrock Allium, Allium cuthbertii, May, white/purple,1.5’
  • Pussytoes, Antennaria plantaginifolia, May, white, 0.5’
  • Butterflyweed Asclepias tuberosa, May, orange, 3 – 4’
  • Pink Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, May, pink, 4 – 6’
  • White False Indigo, Baptisia albescens, May, white, 3’
  • Blue false indigo, Baptisia australis, May, blue, 3’
  • Mouse Eared Coreopsis, Coreopsis auriculata, May, gold,0.1’
  • Lance Leaved Coreosis, Coreopsis lanceolata, May-Jun, gold, 2-3’
  • Large Flowered Coreopsis, Coreopsis grandiflora, May-Jun, gold, 2-3’
  • Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, May-Jul, purple/pink 3- 4’
  • Wavyleaf Coneflower, Echinacea simulata, May-Jul, pink, 3- 4’
  • Rattlesnake Master, Eryngium yuccafolium, Jun, green/white, 3-5’
  • Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum, Jun-Aug, white, 4-5’
  • Cranesbill, Geranium maculatum, May, pink, 1.5’
  • Indian Physic, Gillenia stipulata, May-Jun, white/crimson 2-3’
  • Bowman’s root, Gillenia trifolata, May-Jun, white/crimson, 2-3’
  • Blue Flag, Iris virginica, May purple, 2- 3’
  • Blazing Star, Liatris spicata, May, Jun, 4-5’
  • Spoonleaf Barbara’s Buttons, Marshallia obovata, May, white, 2’
  • Monkeyflower, Mimulus ringens, May, Jun, pink, 3’
  • Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa, May, June, Jul, pink, 3-4’
  • Scarlet beebalm, Monarda didyma, May-June, scarlet, 3-4’
  • Sundrops, Oenothera fruticosa, May, Jun, yellow, 2- 3’
  • Southern Beardtongue, Penstemon australis, May-Jul, pink, 3’
  • Appalachian Beardtongue, Penstemon canescens, May-July, pink, 3’
  • Talus Slope Penstemon, Penstemon digitalis, May-Jun, pink, 3- 4’
  • Black eyed Susan, Rudbeckia fulgida, May-Jul gold/brown, 3’
  • Black eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, May-Jul, gold/brown, 3’
  • Hoary Skullcap, Scutellaria incana, May-Jun, blue, 2 – 3’
  • Veiny skullcap, Scutellaria nervosa, May-Jun, pink, 1’
  • Blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium spp, May-Jun, blue, 1’
  • Star Chickweed, Stellaria pubera, May, white,1’
  • Wood Poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum, May-June, yellow, 2’
  • Spiderworts, Tradescantia spp. May-Aug, purple, 2.5’


  • Cross Vine, Bignonia capreolata, Jun, orange/yellow
  • Climbing Hydrangea, Decumaria barbera, Jun, white


  • Fringe tree, Chionanthus virginicus, May, white, fragrant, 12’
  • Sweetspire, Itea virginica, May, white, 5’
  • Bigleaf Magnolia, Magnolia macrophylla, May, white, 35’
  • Sparkleberry, Vaccinium arborescens, May, white, 7’
  • Maple-leaf Viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium, May, white, 5’
  • Possum Haw, Viburnum nudum, May, white, 7’
  • Rusty Blackhaw, Viburnum rufidulum, May, white,10’
  • New Jersey Tea, Ceanothus americanus, May-Jun, white, 3’
  • Woodland hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens, May-Jun, white,12’
  • St Johnswort, Hypericum frondosum, May-June, yellow, 3’
  • Smooth azalea, Rhododendron arborescens, May-June, white, 7’