The path of pollen: the lovers’ tale between bee and flower. Once upon a time, bees were carnivorous – entering into flowers to gain access to smaller insects as a means for protein food supply. After frequent visits to the opening of the flower, curiosity began to mount in the bee. The flower was so visually beautiful, producing aromas incredibly alluring, what else could this elusive creature have to offer besides a convenient fast food location?
Inching its way deeper into the delicate flower, the bee dabbled the sweet nectar and nutrient-packed pollen. Fireworks. Explosions. The bee bid farewell to catching flies and raised its standards, dedicating itself to the bees new life partner: the show-stopping flower.
With a vegetarian pledge, bee and the flower began a co-evolution, involving nourishment for the bees in exchange for seeds for the plant. A balanced, harmonious relationship. The bee still earns its stripes as one of the plant’s best allies in reproduction.
Will this love stand the test of time?
I was walking through a park wondering if I should fulfil my original intention to dedicate an article to bees, or focus on Spring Tonics (maybe another time). Suspended in this mind chatter, I stumbled upon a dead bee on the pavement. Thank you for hearing me and delivering this obvious sign, Universe.
I examined the bee – it could have just been taking a break. It was sitting on its legs, wings side up. I sat with the bee, not spotting any obvious injuries, but I did not sense any movement either.
Wishing not to leave it alone in the middle of the foot path, I regretfully took a leaf of ivy and scooped the bee up – a perfect fit. Looking around for any nearby flowers to rest the bee by, I had to settle for a mossy green spot that had collected morning dew next to a stream.
It struck me again (double thank you, Universe) that the initial direction in my head for writing this article was to raise awareness of our responsibility to plant food for bees, and Nature was presenting me with a perfect illustration.
Around this time of year, humans have adapted the ritual of planting bulbs ‘for Spring’. Flowering Daffodils and Tulips being the most obvious example. While a pop of long overdue colour is therapeutic, these plants generally are not the best options for pollinators. Modern hybrids have been heavily manipulated by plant breeders to select uniform eye-candy for human adoration, heedless of the side-effects such as loss of nectar and pollen.
These Frankenstein-flowers come at a major cost to bees: after hibernation, without early sustenance, a bee will die.
We as seed facilitators need to plant with others in mind and treat the soil and seeds as sacred. We can do so by adopting these three rule of thumb:
- Prioritize bulbs and seeds or ‘in the green’ plants that are Organic. A number of commercially produced bulbs are manufactured with pesticides. What is toxic to humans is also toxic to bees. When a seed or a bulb is modified with pesticides, do you think these chemicals disappear when the plant develops?
- Buy local! And plant locally, too.What plants are indigenous to your environment? These plants will be the most attractive to your local pollinators.
- Shapes and sizes matter.Consider the depth of different flowers in correlation to the anatomy of different species of bees. Variety will help attract all sorts of beneficial pollinators. A varied selection of plant species is required not only for a balanced diet, but also to ensure a steady food supply throughout different species blooming times.
These three points flow in the same vein as what is important to consider when shopping for honey. Choose Organic, Local, and Variety. To me, it is best practice to purchase seeds with the understanding that everything you plant enters into a common space for fertility: the same soil we as humans and all those alive depend on for existence. Put another way, mirror purchasing seeds to the way you would choose your own food for optimal health.
Your body being the soil; and food the seeds. A full circle.
Still not sure what to plant? A lot of seed providers will actually state on the packet whether a plant is attractive to pollinators. You can also consider the following bee magnets:
– Snow Drops
– Herbs (Borage, Rosemary, Thyme, Lavender, Marjoram, Calendula, St. John’s Wort and many, many more!)
– Trees (Fruit, Rowan, Hawthorn, Elder etc.)
– Wild Flower Mix
Finally, nature provides some of the best early bee foods without any human intervention. Many human-classified ‘weeds’, such as dandelion, are a fantastic first food source for hungry bees, and can aid in fostering greater biodiversity within a collective ecosystem.
Ethical, local seed resources in Ireland try:
Irish Seed Savers (Co. Clare):
Brown Envelope Seeds (West Cork):
Check out Ireland’s Pollinator Plan from 2015 -2020 for excellent tip, advice, and a full list of native bee friendly plants.
You can also contact your local community garden! Mindfully harvesting seeds is very therapeutic, and the rewards speak for themselves.