Attracting Bees to your Garden

As you probably know, pollinators are rapidly declining in the U.S. One reason is the rampant use of chemicals in yards to control weeds and pests.

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We can do our part to increase the numbers of bees and other pollinators if we provide them a safe place to nest and feed. I know a lot of people hate bees, or are afraid of being stung (especially if you’re allergic to stings!) but if we give them a place to gather and be on the lookout for them, we can all live together peaceably. If you are highly allergic, however, this is not for you.

Pollinators are essential to the continuing growth of all your vegetable plants and fruit trees. In laymans terms, as they land on a flower and collect pollen and nectar, some of the pollen from the stamens (male reproduction organ) sticks to them, and as they go to the next flower blossom, it is spread to the stigma (female reproductive organ). This makes reproduction possible, which is then how the fruit develops, which provides the seeds for the plant to continue.

Without pollinators like bees, we would have to do the pollinating ourselves. Awkward. And impossible in large fields of crops.

By paying attention to what you plant in your yard, you can provide bees and other pollinators plenty of food.

  • grow flowering plants in our yards to provide food and habitat for honey bees, bumble bees, solitary bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
  • choose single flower tops over double flower tops, because there’s more nectar and it’s easier for them to extract. Single flowertops would be like marigolds and daisies. Some impatiens have double flowertops.
  • Skip the hybridized plants – they’ve been bred not to seed, and produce less pollen.
  • Plan for year round blooms to provide season long food for the pollinators. For example, in spring you could have crocus, hyacinth, calendula, and lilac. In summer you may have bee balm, cosmos, echinacea, snapdragons, foxglove, and hosta. In fall, you can have zinnias, sedum, asters, witch hazel, or goldenrod.

In addition to providing food for bees and other pollinators, you can provide homes and habitat for them as well.

  • leave a patch of yard uncultivated for bees that burrow and bees that need soil surface for nesting.
  • make a pile of branches, bamboo sections, hollow reeds, or nesting blocks of untreated wood for bees that nest in wood.
  • Remember flowering shrubs provide habitat and shelter.
  • Mason bees need water and dirt to make mud for nesting.
  • Many bees are attracted to weedy untended hedgerows as well, so leave a bit of yard natural for them.
  • only use natural pesticides and fertilizers in your yard as much as you can. And don’t use any in the spaces you’ve set aside for them. Don’t worry, lady bugs, spiders, and praying mantis will do the job for you in these natural areas.
Photo by Matthias Zomer on Pexels.com

Now that we’ve taken care of their needs for food and habitat, let’s talk about water. Bees need fresh, clean water. Fill a shallow container with water, then add pebbles and/or twigs for them to land on while drinking. Keep it full. They’ll thank you for it.

As an added bonus, let’s talk about the kinds of flowers that bees love.

Flowers that bees love

  • plant a variety of shapes – from flat to tubular flower heads
  • plant for spring thru fall blooms
  • leave dandelions and clover in your yard
  • don’t use herbicides or insecticides or pesticides
  • don’t buy hybrid plants (don’t seed, less pollen)

Here’s some suggestions for flowers per season:

Early Spring – pansies, pussy willow, snowdrops

Spring/Summer – peony, milkweed (also needed by butterflies), bee balm, lavender, phlox, zinnias, marigolds, goldenrod, chives

Late Summer/Fall – mint, sage, nasturtium, black eyed susans, thyme, oregano

Also research the native plants in your area for ideas of what to plant in your bee garden. Even if you only designate a small area of your yard to a bee garden, you will be providing our pollinators a safe place to nest and food and water to sustain them. Your vegetable plants and fruit trees will thank you.

For more information on this topic, visit TheHoneybeeConservancy.org.

Summer in the Country

A lot of people consider Memorial Day the beginning of summer, but for me it’s when the swallows return in June. I love swallows. First of all, they’re bug eaters. What’s not to love about that? But they are also nature’s little jet pilots. Ever have them buzz around you when you’re mowing? Zipping and diving around you and each other, they grab bugs disrupted by the mower. I’ve seen one catch a bug in flight, too. Pretty cool.

I’ve been around them close up. In the barn. I’ve noticed they’re timid, or maybe they just prefer to be left alone. You might think I’m a bit nuts, but hear me out. The swallows had built a nest above my horse’s stall, and were sitting by it, waiting for that ‘special moment’ I guess. Then several sparrows came and sat on the rafter right by the swallows, actually surrounding them.

A couple days later I noticed that the swallows were gone. I’m quite curious…were the sparrows intimidating the swallows? Or am I just reading a lot into it? You know, giving human characteristics to animals? I tend to do that…but when you really pay attention, you’ll find that a lot of animals are a lot more intuitive and can read us and connect with us. Or maybe I’m just a wanna be Dr. Doolittle.

Anyway…back to summer…

Pretty soon the flowers are all blooming, the trees are leafed out, and the fruit trees bud out. The sparrows and robins and doves are nesting. The weather warms, the skies blue, and the crickets start serenading the evenings with their chirping.

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Summer days are spent working in the yard or garden, taking in a local ballgame, heading out to the lake, riding your horse or 4 wheeler thru the fields or woods, or just enjoying a book or a chat with friends on the deck or patio. It’s time to be outside. By mid June, the farm fields are planted, but there’s still much to do. Cultivating, spraying, baling hay, maintaining cattle and other livestock, cutting wheat, baling straw…a farmer’s work is rarely done.

I live on a small acreage, and grew up on a small farm. I’ve driven a tractor, and disked a field, baled hay and straw, and loaded it into the barn. I’ve mucked stalls, taken care of horses, cattle, ducks, chickens, turkeys and pigs. It was fun when I was young, but it’s a lot of hot, sweaty work.

It’s time to think about taking a break, and maybe doing some camping or taking a trip to see relatives. I like going north, where it’s always cooler by the lake.

We always had a big garden and we canned and froze what we could. I quit having a big garden a few years ago. But I like container gardening (less work) and I especially like stopping by the local farmstand for what I need (a lot less work). I do plan on canning some things again this year. I like knowing what’s in my veggies.

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So by July, my plain, drab yard has filled in, and suddenly my home is surrounded in green splendor, shrouding the yard in greenery, some shade, and privacy. Unfortunately, the weeds are also filling in and trying to gain a foothold in my flowerbeds and along fences. But the hotter drier days of summer slow things down, and I can take a breather.

I can enjoy sitting on the deck and just enjoy the show, without feeling the guilt of ‘I should be weeding’. (If I lower the volume on my inner voice) Another thing I love about summer in the country is that I love to have the house open. Fresh air is so important to me. I love working at home with my patio door open…hearing the wind rustle the trees and the birds chirping away.

Just last week I heard my first locust of the season. As I recall, 6 weeks after the locusts start singing is the beginning of Fall. (old wives tale but pretty accurate) So I’m looking forward to an early Fall this year. By then I’ll be tired of the heat, but for now I want to be warm and enjoy being outside without a jacket on, free to walk barefooted and enjoy a good book on the deck.

I remember as a kid, riding my bike down our country road, to our church, and the creek that ran next to it, where my brother and I would pick mulberries. Sometimes we’d head another direction and help one of our neighbors pick pears. He was old, and he drove our schoolbus.

We’d walk out to the woods beyond the fields sometimes with Dad, and have a little adventure. Or we’d find a bare spot in the cornfield, and set up camp and hide for a bit. There’s always plenty to do when you live in the country. I sometimes miss the days of being young, with nothing to worry about and nothing on my mind but ‘what adventure will I have today?’ .

But middle-age has some perks, too. Like I can have ice cream for lunch if I want to. I can sit outside past dusk, and enjoy the fireflies and the crickets and the cool night breezes. There’s something restorative about cool night air after a hot day.

Summer in the country.

Just Start

So here I am, on the brink of a new life so to speak. Some days I feel excited, some days I want to crawl back in bed for a while. There’s been so many changes in my life lately, and that happens to us as we get into middle age, and I was feeling pretty frozen. Stuck. Immobile.

Then I bought a planner (still not sure what I’d be putting in it), and there was a little paper sign inside, and it just had these two words on it…Just Start.

How profound. Don’t overthink things, don’t keep dragging your feet, just start. Whatever. Just start weeding that overgrown flowerbed. Just start sorting thru your beloved parents belongings after they’ve passed. Just put one foot in front of the other after a spouse has passed. Just go to that job interview and give it your best shot. Just put that exercise video in the VCR and start moving. Just start that blog you’ve always wanted to start. Just start eating that brownie…no, seriously…just start taking time for yourself, doing what makes you sparkle.

Just start.

If you feel stuck, too, think about it. Just start. What doesn’t really matter, just as long as you get up and move forward. What makes you feel stuck?

In a short span of time, I lost my mother, my dog, my job (and my work friends), and my horse. Not everyone bonds with animals, but I do. Not having children, my pets have taken their place, and losing one is truly heartbreaking. Yes, they had lived long lives. But it’s never easy to say goodbye. And my mother had lived with me into her 80s, and we’d gotten so close.

I don’t really believe you ever stop grieving, you just get to a place where you can be grateful for the times you had and the memories will always be in your heart. My Dad died when I was still a teenager, and I can still start to tear up just thinking of him. He was a good person, so kind, and funny, and strong.

Losing a job in middle-age is hard, too. Businesses sell out, shut down, owners retire. It’s out of our hands. There’s age discrimination in the workplace, and it’s hard to find a new position when you’re over 40, let alone over 50. I was lucky, and found something. But the transitions get harder when you’re older, and I struggled with leaving friends behind and trying to connect with new coworkers. Yeah…that hasn’t gone as well as I’d hoped. Oh well. You can’t have everything, right?

I consider myself lucky to live in the country, and I’ve always considered myself to be strong and independent. I have family, and hobbies, and a new dog who has a spirit and character all his own. Bless his ever active, affectionate heart.

So, middle-age is a time of life in between child rearing and old age, right? I’ve read about people shifting over into new careers (something they like to do versus just making money) or starting their own business (tired of working for someone else). I think that’s great. It’s time to do what you want to do. Ok, but I’m not wealthy, and I still have a mortgage to pay. (are you with me on this?) So how can I start a new profession or start a business? And what do I want to do?

I searched the web for stories about middle-aged women for some inspiration. And you know what? I didn’t find much. The web is full of 30-something mommy blogs…and urban fashion blogs…not much for the 50-something suburban/rural woman who likes fresh air and a relaxed style. And doesn’t have a pension plan with a half-million dollars in it. (wish I did though)

And I wanted to connect with women like me…middle-aged, live in the country, want to look good but not obsessed about it, looking for purpose and meaning in this stage of life, love dogs and horses, gardening, working in the yard (or just sitting on the deck enjoying the breeze and a cold drink). Women who are coping with grown children, aging parents, job burnout, menopause. Women who find themselves alone and need to find new friends and activities, or, on the flip side, wish they had time alone. Women who want to accomplish something with this time in their life, enjoy themselves, and maybe give something back.

Maybe it’s time to think about what you’ve been meaning to do. Whether it’s cleaning out the freezer or taking guitar lessons or finding a new job or starting your own business, maybe it’s time to just start.

So, here’s to a little sign in a planner. Just Start.

And here’s to a new beginning, a new online magazine for the middle-aged country woman. Strong and capable. Loving, generous, awesome.

Here’s to us, you and me. It’s time to do what makes us happy.