An important part of the Haven's mission is providing learning opportunities for tomorrow's bee gardeners and bee scientists. Children's activities have always been a part of our open houses; I'm pleased to announce that we now have an area for adults and children to interact to learn more about bees and growing the plants that support them.
Here's a brief tour; I will continue to add new information and educational activities as time permits. I hope you can visit soon!
The area is next to the garden shed and is under shade cloth. There are both adult- and kid-sized tables. A box at the entrance contains an activity sheet for adults and children to use together as they walk in the garden.
An old hive has been made into a message center:
Stop and look at the activity at the solitary bee nesting blocks at the Haven entrance. Kids can then learn how these bees work by collecting "pollen" from "flowers" and depositing it in the "nest." They can also dig in the raised beds to learn how to plant for the bees.
Please be mindful of our policies so that everyone can have an enjoyable visit:
Thanks to Haven volunteers Diane Kelly and Rick Williams, who did much of the construction and painting.
Update as of March 2023: the children's activities have been removed from this area as they were not being well-used by visitors.
This Saturday, August 19, 2017, is National Honey Bee Day. This commemoration was created by Pennsylvania beekeepers to recognize the beekeeping industry, honey bees, and the role they play in our food supply. Let's take this opportunity to honor the hard-working honey bees (they pollinate about 85% of bee-pollinated crops in the US, which is worth billions of dollars annually).
To keep honey bees healthy, access to ample, nutritious forage, i.e. flowers, is essential. It's important to provide year-round bloom and to include both pollen and nectar sources. The Haven's web page includes the information you need to develop this in your own garden; click here to go to all of our gardening resources.
The winter food garden also depends on honey bee pollination:
Early spring is when bees have a special need for pollen. This protein-rich plant component is fed to the young bees; an ample supply is important to building a strong colony. Early bloomers like ceanothus and California poppy are good pollen sources; March-blooming Spanish lavender provides a great nectar source that provides energy for spring foraging activity.
Late spring and into summer are when activity picks up in the bee garden. The hive is growing and there are bees to be fed! Here's a new bee entering the world, along with some of the pollen and nectar sources that will feed her:
The heat of late summer often leaves gardeners heading for the air-conditioning, but not our bees...here's some plants that love the heat:
Honey bees need access to water: they don't have AC like we do, but use water to cool the hive. Here's one way to provide a water source:
Fall bloomers are important to help honey bees put up enough honey to sustain the hive through the winter. Some good fall bloomers are shown here:
The result of all that hard work....cells being filled with honey, along with full frames of honey that have been capped by the bees for storage in the hive:
Thanks, bees, for your hard work!
One great plant that's often overlooked as a choice for the bee garden is flannel bush -- also referred to as California fremontia -- (Fremontodendron californicum). While the species is sometimes available, you're more likely to find one of the cultivars. Look for this plant at specialty nurseries or well-stocked independent garden centers. The species and its cultivars 'California Glory', 'Pacific Sunset', and 'San Gabriel' are quite large, reaching up to 20 feet in height. The cultivar 'Ken Taylor' is more manageable for a small garden; 'Ken' will reach up to six feet tall and 10 feet wide but can be kept smaller with pruning.
Here's why flannel bush makes a great choice for the California (Sunset zones 4-24) bee garden:
1. It's an attractive, eye-catching plant. The large, 3-inch wide flowers cover this plant at peak bloom. You may have noticed large plants along California highways that are covered in yellow flowers come springtime. That's flannel bush...from California Native Plants for the Garden: "A California fremontia in full bloom is an unforgettable sight." This plant was photographed at the Old City Cemetery in Sacramento.
2. Going low water? Flannel bush needs NO summer water, in fact summer water is HARMFUL to this plant. Like many of our California natives, it evolved in hot, dry areas in the absence of the root diseases that are favored by warm, wet conditions. It thus has no defenses against these diseases.
3. Fast growing. Flannel bush grows quickly; you'll have lots of bloom by the second year after planting. This also makes it a good candidate for an espalier. The best cultivars for this are 'California Glory' and 'San Gabriel'. This photo of 'Ken Taylor' was taken one year after planting, at which point is was already about 4 feet across. This cultivar, which is a cross of the Sierra foothills species Fremontodendron californicum decumbens and 'California Glory', has a prostrate form that looks nice on a bank orberm. This is also a great way to provide the excellent drainage this plant needs. Another small (3 feet tall by 6 feet wide) flannel bush is 'Dara's Choice', which was introduced by the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. It is a cross between Fremontodendron californicum decumbens and Fremontodendron mexicanum.
4. Fun fact for plant nerds....flannel bush nectar fluoresces blue under UV light. Amaze your friends and family with this neat trick! This was first observed by UCD Entomology's own Robbin Thorp many years ago (Thorp, RW et al. 1975. Science (189): 476-478). This property has been observed in many plant nectars and is thought to provide a visual cue to foraging bees (remember that bees see in the UV spectrum).
5. Flannel bush nectar is nutritious. It is rich in isoflavenoids, which may have antimicrobial properties helpful to bees (Scogin, R. 1979. Bot. Gazette (140): 29-31).
We have Fremontodendron californicum and the hybrid 'Ken Taylor' at the Haven. There are also several nice specimens at the UC Davis Arboretum. This plant is at its best in early spring. One note of caution: some people are irritated by the small hairs that cover its leaves. Plan on wearing gloves and long sleeves when pruning.
One of the most popular The Bee Gardener posts to date was published on November 10, 2014 in honor of Veterans Day. Since that publication, we've added lots of red, white, and blue flowers to the Honey Bee Haven; beekeeping programs to help vets have proliferated as well. Today's post covers some of the additions.
Both bees and veterans work hard and make contributions that many of us take for granted. In recognition of their service, some agricultural and beekeeping organizations provide support to veterans who would like to make beekeeping their profession. These include:
USDA-ARS: Putting Honey Bees to Work for Veterans
Bee Veterans, based at the University of Minnesota's Bee Lab
Facebook: Bees for Vets
A red,white, and blue bee garden is a great way to honor a vet. Although bees do not see red, they will use red flowers. The flower color 'blue' can be anything from a true blue to purple, while the color 'red' often includes orange and pink tones. A complete list of plants in the Honey Bee Haven, including information on water use and pollen and nectar resources, is here.
|Common Name||Color||Bloom time|
|Aster (many cultivars; see our post)||Blue||Fall|
|California buckwheat (see our post)||White||Summer-fall|
|Catmint (many cultivars)||Blue||Spring-summer-fall|
|Ceanothus (many species and cultivars; see our post)||Blue||Winter-spring|
|Coneflower 'Powwow White'||White||Summer|
|Lavender (many species and cultivars)||Blue||Winter-spring-summer|
|Manzanita (many species and cultivars; see our post)||White||Winter|
|Russian sage (many cultivars)||Blue||Summer-fall|
Here are some of the red, white, and blue flowers you'll see at the Haven during the winter:
While most folks don't want to have to search down plants for their garden, some of us avid gardeners love the chase. Here are profiles of some great bee plants that, despite being easy to grow in most of California, can be difficult to find for sale. To add these to your garden you'll likely need to track down a specialty nursery or an arboretum or native plant society sale, or luck out at your favorite garden center. I've listed them in order of bloom.
Butterfly rose, Rosa x odorata 'Mutabilis'. There are few roses that we recommend for bee gardens; most garden roses have flowers with excessive petals and scent that are produced at the expense of pollen and nectar resources. In addition to our native California rose, this Asian native and UC Davis Arboretum All-Star is a good choice for the bee garden. Needing only a deep soaking every two weeks in our area, its only downside is that it can grow quite large and may need summer pruning to keep it in check. Flowers are present nearly year-round and open as yellow but change color to pink and then red as they age. This colorful combination pairs nicely with other bee plants such as the yarrow and hummingbird mint shown here. At the Haven it is used primarily by honey bees. It provides nectar and pollen.
Tall sunflower 'Shiela's Sunshine, Helianthus giganteus 'Shiela's Sunshine'. This eastern US native will grow throughout California and makes a striking addition to the bee garden. All sunflowers are valued for their long bloom time, which generally extends from mid-summer into fall, and the fact that they provide both pollen and nectar. 'Shiela' can reach up to 8 feet in height with sturdy stems that don't need staking. Naturally occurring in moist areas, it will need at least weekly watering in central California; at the Haven we grow it in a container where it's watered daily. Look for honey bees, sweat bees, and longhorned bees to use it.
Asters. California aster, Symphyotrichum chilense, and aster 'Bill's Big Blue', Symphyotrichum 'Bill's Big Blue'. The asters (New World species were recently moved from the genus Aster to Symphyotrichum) are a great late-season pollen and nectar source and a staple of the bee garden because they bloom when little else is in flower. With the exception of our native California aster, these plants need ample water, typically about once per week. California aster cultivars 'Purple Haze' and 'Point Saint George' have deeper purple flowers and tend to be more attractive to bees than the species. The non-native asters are from various regions in eastern North America, depending on species (of which there are about 600; they have their own book). Asters are used by honey bees, leafcutter bees, and sweat bees. Of the non-native species, we especially like 'Bill's Big Blue' at the Haven. Measuring about 6 feet tall and wide, it blooms continuously through October and November. Asters will grow in all of California; the native species does well everywhere except the desert and high mountains.