2018-06-08 / Home & Garden

Barbara’s Bees

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano

As a food and flower farm gardener in rural Richland County, Barbara McCoy has invited a diverse population of native bees to forage and nest on her homestead. How does she get the garden buzzing?

She knows the names and predilections of each plant as well as she knew the idiosyncrasies of the kindergarten students she taught.

Scouting in the garden, she points out that lacecap hydrangeas are a magnet for bumblebees. Since bumblebees are generalists when it comes to foraging, they feed from her garden’s diverse menu including columbine, foxglove, liatris, and tomatoes.

By offering native and non-native self-seeding annuals and perennials in seasonal succession, pollinators receive nectar and pollen over the entire southern growing season.

Humans and bees rely on the sense of vision for the work they do. But bees and humans don’t have the same color vision.

Human vision views a rainbow spectrum from red through violet. Bees see from orange to blues to ultraviolet (UV).


Generalist feeders like bumblebees visit a variety of flowers. Generalist feeders like bumblebees visit a variety of flowers. A red flower to us is a black flower to a bee. Good flower colors for a bee are blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.

Some red flowers like blanket flower, gloriosa daisy, and poppies have a UV color component visible to bees.

Native bees are readily attracted to McCoy’s blue Lily of the Nile, Agapanthus, Veronica, blue hydrangeas, mauve elephant garlic blooms, and clouds of blue or white Stokesia. Liatris spicata aka blazing star, a striking vertical wildflower with purple, tufted flower heads arranged in a tall, dense spike blooming from top to bottom becomes a pollinator popsicle. Bumblebees and diminutive native sweat bees “make a beeline” to masses of Monarda dydyma, aka bee balm.

McCoy’s variety of flower shapes supports more bee species too. The range of flowers from which bees gather nectar depends upon the length of their tongue.


Short-tongued pollinators seek Stokesia for nectar. Short-tongued pollinators seek Stokesia for nectar. Bee tongue-length correlates with body size. Short-tongued bees drink from open flowers like daisies, stokesia, sunflower, allium, and liatris; long-tongued bees secure nectar from tubular and complex flowers like foxglove, columbine, snapdragon, and honeysuckle.

Flowers have nectar guides in ultraviolet color patterns bees see to guide their foraging but humans cannot see.

The size of a bee determines how far it travels from its nest for food. Large bees fly farther than small ones. Bumblebees can forage distances of a mile or more, whereas, small sweat bees may forage only 200 yards from the nest.

Barbara’s bee-friendly property has long corridors of flowers lining driveways and the vegetable garden. Wide ribbons


Gloriosa daisy has a UV color component visible to bees. Gloriosa daisy has a UV color component visible to bees. (4’+ in diameter) of flowers clustered in clumps of one species encircle the perimeter of the farm.

McCoy’s summer food crops, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, squashes, melons, and cucumbers, are lined in bee- attracting herbs including rosemary, sages, thyme, oregano, and mints.

All yard waste, leaf litter, and grass clippings are composted and returned to the soil as nature’s fertilizer. No landscape fabric or bark mulch covers the soil. This permits underground nesting bees such as bumblebees, digger bees, and sweat bees to nest on the property.

Hand weeding and picking off pests are preferred practices over use of herbicides or pesticides for bees and humans.

Barbara’s bees work side by side the food and flower farm gardener to protect and conserve biodiversity in rural landscapes.


Long-tongued bees seek nectar f rom tubular flower forms like foxglove. Long-tongued bees seek nectar f rom tubular flower forms like foxglove. Farming for Bees
xerces.org/guidelines-farming-for-bees/

www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/plantsanimals/pollinate/...



Coneflowers, a nectar source, now come in a variety of colors. Coneflowers, a nectar source, now come in a variety of colors.

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