Bee-friendly plants series: Willow

Willow (salix) is one of the earliest spring bee plants. There are many varieties of willow and the shrubs are either male or female. Other names for willows are osier and sallow. The flowers of both sexes give nectar but it is the pollen from the showier male flowers and catkins that is so important to both honeybees and wild bees. The pollen is yellow and plentiful. Willow like to grow on wet land or near water. Siting one’s spring bee yards near willows and alders is one way of assuring the bees can get pollen(protein) at a critical time of year. The pollen is needed to feed the young larvae which will become the new bees as the old “winter bees” die off in March and April. Colony survival and rejuvenation absolutely depends on pollen and willow is a key source. Willow whips root readily in water or even stuck into wet ground. (Don’t stick them near the septic field) I have a Newfoundland beekeeping friend who has planted hundreds of metres of willow hedge as windbreak, boundary marker and feed for his bees. Unofficial factoid: My mother …a garden witch… used to pound pieces of young willow shoots and soak them in water to make a rooting “tea” in which she would soak cuttings of all sorts to promote root growth. The willow is the national tree of Ukraine, and Ukraine, according to Wikipedia, is the beekeepingest country in the world: Beekeeping in Ukraine is a major economic activity. 700,000 people, 1.5% of the Ukrainian population, are engaged in the production of honey. Ukraine is ranked as the number one country in Europe and among the top five countries in the world for honey production, producing 75 thousand metric tons annually[1]. Ukraine produces the greatest quantity of honey per capita in the world.[2]
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Bee-friendly plants series: Coltsfoot

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Coltsfoot is a low-growing perennial,probably introduced to Canada as a medicinal plant (think coltsfoot cough drops). The flowers, similar to dandelions, appear before the leaves. Coltsfoot is a plant of roadsides and gravelly wasteland. The plant’s name comes from the leaf shape. It is one of the earliest flowering plants …I’ve seen honeybees working it in March, probably for pollen. Pollen seems to be on their minds in early spring because they need protein as well as honey to raise new bees. I’ve seen them gathering bird seed dust from feeders and sawdust from woodpiles in early spring. They need pollen and they are not to choosy and will often lug home pollen look-alikes.

Bee-friendly plants series: Creeping Charlie

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Creeping Charlie. The first ten hits from Google are about how to kill “creeping charlie”. No! No! No! It’s a great bee plant. It’s a member of the mint family and apparently you can eat it, too. At our place it is abundant in our orchard and in shady parts of our lawn. Honeybees and bumble bees work it hard in the spring and early summer …another reason I’m pretty slack with the lawn mowing. Interesting factoid: Creeping charlie flowers don’t all have the same amount of nectar reward. Some flowers can have forty times more sugar than others. The bees work all the flowers and they get pollinated but the plant saves resources by only giving an occasional payout jackpot. Kind of makes me think of Timmy’s rollup the rim … “please play again” … and we do, and so do the bees.


Get your daily dose of blue with our easy wild blueberry smoothie recipe

Wild blueberries make a great smoothie!

We have smoothies for breakfast a lot in our house. They’re an easy favourite for kids and great for busy mornings. Just pop them in a to-go cup and go! Any leftovers go in the fridge for any potential “hangry” toddler moments that day.

We have a high speed blender that makes super smooth smoothies (it can even heat up soup if you leave it running for a few minutes!), and it allows us to put in extras like greens, oats, etc. that might not blend up quite as smooth in a regular blender. That said, just try adding the ingredients more gradually or running the blender a few extra times to get the smoothie consistency you like.

Tip: Put the yogurt in first, then bananas, any add-ons and add the frozen blueberries last to make sure things blend together well with no chunks. (Confession time: I cracked a blender once by putting frozen strawberries in first. )

The basic recipe:

  • 2 cups plain yogurt
  • 2 or 3 bananas
  • 1 or 2 cups of frozen blueberries

The add-ons:

  • handful of greens (spinach, kale , etc)
  • handful of rolled oats
  • a spoon or two of ground flax
  • a sliced up orange or apple
  • a couple of spoons of peanut butter for a protein kick!