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’

Vines:

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

Shrubs/Trees:

  • 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’