May 19, 2022

How To Plan Raised Pollinator Beds (074)

How To Plan Raised Pollinator Beds (074)

If a pollinator garden is in your future this summer, constructing a raised bed is one way to keep it under control and is a much easier approach to providing food for your bees, beauty for your yard and not an aching back for you. There are all...

If a pollinator garden is in your future this summer, constructing a raised bed is one way to keep it under control and is a much easier approach to providing food for your bees, beauty for your yard and not an aching back for you.

There are all varieties of raised bed gardens. The one pictured below is made of metal, purchased from a gardening company that specializes in these and will last years with little maintenance.

Simpler models have only metal corner posts, the gardener supplies the wooden boards. They are simpler, less expensive and over time can be enlarged or reduced to fit the needs of the garden.

Or you can simply bury some 4”x4” beams at the corners and nail the sideboards to them. They’re probably the most simple and least expensive, but will have a shorter life span than the others.

No matter which style you use, a raised bed makes your pollinator garden easier to manage and will be a grand addition to your yard. Be like Jim and try one this season!

If you like the episode, share it with a fellow beekeepers and/or let us know by leaving a comment in the show notes. We'd love to hear from you!


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Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Photos copyright © One Tew Bee, LLC

Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 74 – How to Plan Raised Pollinator Beds



Kim Flottum: Jim. I meant to ask you the other day when we were talking, how's your pollinator bed project going?

Jim Tew: Boy, I'll tell you and everyone else who's listening, it fits and starts. Got some seed packets but that's--

Kim: That's a start.

Jim: That's a start, but they're not in the ground yet. I could stand advice.

Kim: Let me give you some pointers here because I've been doing raised beds for quite a while, and there's a lot of advantages to doing them. I think you'll like growing your pollinator plants in a raised bed. Hi, I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: We're here today talking about growing a pollinator garden in your yard and we're going to look at raised beds this time. Here are some pointers on how you might want to proceed if you're thinking of doing this.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world in an engaging and informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers, and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things, honey bees.

Jim: I need something simple. You and I have talked about this before, and you've given me some good pointers. I like the idea of keeping it simple. So much of beekeeping is not actually keeping bees, extracting honey isn't beekeeping and assembling equipment is not beekeeping. Putting in a raised flower bed is not beekeeping. I need something that I can do a good job of that's simple and for me fairly quick and that's where I'm hoping you're going to be going somewhere today.

Kim: It starts with the raised, like I said, I like raised beds because it's all in one spot. I don't have to go in a rototill, I don't have to weed, I don't have to do any of those things it's just sitting out there, out in the middle of the lawn next to a couple of apple trees that I've got. I'm always in favor of a raised bed. I'll tell you the company that I've been dealing with for a lot of years, and it's called Gardner Supply and you can find them on the web at They're only one of many. A lot of companies sell raised beds, but I like theirs just because I've been using them for a long time.

They have metal ones that are different heights. They even have something even simpler and it's just a corner post that you can put your own boards into. You buy four corners and you get the boards as long as you want them and they just slip into the slots on the corner post. You can make this really simple and really inexpensive. I think the only advice that I would give on a raised bed is don't get one that has a bottom, because you're going to run into some watering issues and some things like that. If you just got your raised bed sitting on open soil, I think you'll have a lot better look. How big are you going to make yours, Jim?

Jim: Okay. You're getting way out in front of me. First of all, if I don't have a bottom, how do I stop the grass that I'm putting the raised bed over? Do I have to take up the grass to put the raised bed wherever I'm putting it? You understand what I'm asking?

Kim: I do and you don't. You just pick the spot in your yard, either set up your raised bed or set up the corners and get your boards in. You just cover up that grass because the material that you're putting in your raised bed will kill that grass and that grass will add two things. One, it will add nutrients to the material that you're adding, and it forms somewhat of a, I'm going to say a structured bottom for a while so that when you water it, it doesn't just run all over the place.

Jim: Well, that's the right answer because if I had to rototill, if you got to get out a sprayer, kill grass, take that up, rototill that end, that's probably not going to happen, but if you will let me just build a frame over grass. Then I assume, which is a dangerous thing you do, that you're going to send me to a landscape company to buy topsoil.

Kim: Well, you can put soil in if you want. Let me go back a half a step and say you can be even simpler. You can put fence posts in, a two-foot fence post and attach your boards to that, just doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. It can be real simple, and it should be about a foot to 14 inches deep so that you can put in 10 to 12 inches of soil, that's all you need. It can be as simple as you want it, or it can be as complicated and expensive and attractive as you want it. You can go all that direction, but the stuff that you're going to put in it.

Now, here's what I use. You can get topsoil. It works, but it's heavy. It's really heavy and as much soil as you're going to get. The other thing is it'll last as long, but it begins to break down. I use a product called Miracle-Gro, which is essentially Peat Moss and a bunch of other organic materials that I can put the plants in. It's easy to work, it doesn't produce weeds, it's not very heavy, it's not terribly expensive, and once you fill that bed up, you'll have to add a little bit every year because some of it breaks down and goes away, but it works well, plants love it. I think you'll like working with it.

Jim: All right. You're out in front of me, again. Two questions if I can remember them. Number one, isn't that going to take a lot of Miracle-Gro? Will that take, for what would it be a three-foot-wide bed, maybe 8 feet long? Is that going to be five or six bags of Miracle-Gro? Is that stuff expensive?

Kim: Well, it's going to cost you. Your initial setup is going to cost you some money, but it's going to last you the rest of your life. If you put in dirt, if you put in topsoil, it'll cost you a little bit less, not much. The other thing is you may just have part of your yard that you can just go dig up and fill up your raised bed with topsoil from your yard or topsoil from the field up back or something. You can make this, like I said, as simple as you want it, or as complicated and as attractive as you want it or anything in between.

Jim: All right. Now, before I forget, the other question, when I'm building these borders for it, these walls that you said can be 8 to 12 inches high, do I use treated lumber for that?

Kim: No. Good question. I have tried over the years, everything that you can imagine to preserve those wooden boards and everything works for a while, some things don't work at all because they're toxic to the plants. Make sure that what you're using, isn't going to be toxic to the plants, ask somebody or read the label, but what I've finally settled on is either no treatment, just bare wood. They last four or five years, and you got to replace them or metal. The metal will, I got some that are 10 years old that are metal and they don't rust and they don't bend and they're still there in perfect shape. Again, it's how much do you want to spend and how much time do you want to put into it?

Jim: I'm really beginning to realize that, my thought process is that the money I spend is on seed, is getting the wildflower seed, which is not cheap, but is affordable, but I'm realizing that you got to buy metal bedding and some corner post, you said, get this soil in place, but then you've reassured me that once you get this setup, that this is for a while, maybe a long while if you maintain it.

Kim: Yes. I go up in every spring, I'll go out with a trowel or something and just work the soil up a little bit and loosen it up and 10 minutes you're done. That's all the prep you need to plant your seed. You spread your seed. You're using pollinator packet or pollinator mix is what you're interested in. Right?

Jim: Yes. Right.

Kim: The attention that pollinators are getting anymore has made those seeds very available. They're available in hardware stores and grocery stores and nurseries, almost everywhere people are selling pollinator mixes because they know people like you want to start doing this. Once you get one of those, if you can buy a name-brand good, but my goal is bulk rather than brand name.

If you can get a big package of seeds and only half of them germinate, you still got a half of a big package. If you get a small package and they don't, look at it that way. You get this and if all you're looking to do is produce a bed of flowers, you spread those seeds out evenly over across the surface of your raised bed. You put in a couple of inches, more of soil and pat it down and turn on the sprinkler and get out of the way.

Jim: All right. I got a question about milkweed, but I want to hear from our sponsors first, but be prepared when we come back.

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Jim: My plan was until you shoot holes in it, was to have a separate garden for milkweed, for Monarch butterflies that are not really for the bees so much. What do with a bee plant that's not a bee plant like milkweed?

Kim: I've done those a few times and, and I like doing them and I've spread them. Now I've got them pretty much naturalized throughout my yard. You plant them once and next year you'll get a few that'll come back and the year after that, you get a few more and pretty soon they're a milkweed. What I would suggest you do is start them in a small bed, a large flower pot, and then once they germinate, transplant them to where you want them. Just planting them out in a ditch or in your yard someplace, or even in a garden.

Milkweed seeds are, I'm not going to say difficult, but they're a little bit tricky. If you got them in a pot, they're right there in front of you and you can see what's going on and they're not going to dry out because you're looking at them every day. Once they get up, 3, 4, 6 inches tall, then you can transplant them to where you want them to grow. Then next year you'll have a few and the year after that, a few more and pretty soon you'll wish you hadn't done it.

Jim: I feel like a new beekeeper. What do you mean? I won't get honey the first year from this package? What are you telling me? I've got to do all this gardening to get these milkweeds to germinate and get these plants established. Then I'm going to have this weed, a little bit like lambs there that bees like, but it just takes over the whole acre here.

Kim: There's that too. Get out of the way.

Jim: I'll do that though. I'll germinate it just to get a few of them going, but I'm keeping them separate from the bee garden. Is that right or wrong?

Kim: You can put them in the bee garden. Again, you will have milk weeds in your bee garden next year, and all probability the seeds that you're using to start this pollinator garden are mostly perennials. Many of them may come back anyway, or you can harvest the seed and replant it next spring.

Jim: I have done a few pollinator gardens before, always very small. The one that has been the most successful was hardly 3 feet by 8 feet long, right in front of my shop, right by the patio. It was a little island of ground, and the flowers just went crazy. Then the second year, a lot of flowers, but not the variety I had the first season and the third year, a lot of flowers of a few varieties. There seems to be a selection amongst the wild flowers of who gets to propagate themselves and who doesn't come back without me throwing more seed out there, do something with that for me. What's happening? Is there a natural selection in my garden, my pollinator garden for just a few varieties?

Kim: It depends on the plant. What I can tell you is that some plants, once they're pollinated do well, they produce flowers, they produce seeds and if they're left to their own, the plant will die after first or second frost, the seeds will fall to the ground or the flower that contains the seeds will fall to the ground. The seeds will fall out of the flower into the ground and be there all winter and then come back and germinate and grow next spring.

I'm going to guess that those plants got removed. They were shaggy and ugly. After the first frost you moved them, and the seeds didn't get to stay there. That's my first guess. The second guess is that the place where you put them wasn't good for germinating seeds. They didn't get planted. They just laid there, that's sort of thing. Or something came along in the winter and ate them, all three of those things happened. You can say, yes, after three years I've got tons of goldenrod, but I don't have any of the daisies. I don't have any of the other things.

Jim: That's really painful because little birds, little wrens came in later in the fall and were just crazy about that little flower bed planting there. I guess that they were eating more seed than I realized, and a good plant person would be rattling off names right now, but I can't do that. More and more as the three years have passed, I've got a very much smaller diversity of flowers.

I was thinking while you were talking and while I'm making plans, why, Kim, why are we discussing this again? The reason for it is that more and more, my bees are having a hard time finding a place to live. Now, what I'm doing here is not one to save a single beehive, but if enough people had these pollinator gardens, it would begin to make a difference.

More and more, there's a sign right now, just outside of Wooster here, a full road sign, right by the road, put up by a national group that shows a bee covered in pollen and says, "Love it or lose it. This is our food system". That just made me want to weep when I drove by and saw that sign, because it was only 15, 20 years ago that the state I live in told me they didn't want to put wildflowers by the road, that stinging insects and near the road were a traffic hazard. Now we're putting up road signs that said, maybe you don't want to eat, but at least you'll be safe, I suppose.

Kim: The other part of this is that lots of people have small backyards, one or two colonies, and they're living in a fairly densely populated area. Having a garden really is a trick. You don't own a rototiller. You don't have a place to keep it. You can put one of these up, you can grow some vegetables in one, and you can put another one, you put some pollinator plants in. You're right. You can't grow enough for your bees, but what you've got sitting in your backyard is dessert for when they come back from foraging someplace.

The other thing is, if you've got one of these in your backyard, you can see which ones your bees like best, which is the flowers that always has a bee on it, what are the flowers that never have bees on them. Give them a choice. Next year you can plant more of the ones they like and begin to select that way so that everything you plant is what bees really like.

Jim: I got a plan. My grandkids gave me seed packets that they got from Arbor Day. I've got a plan to make this work, and I do want to do it. I don't want to become a gardener, but I want to augment every aspect of my beekeeping, if that makes sense to you.

Kim: That makes perfect sense and I think you'll enjoy it and doing the raised bed thing makes it a lot simpler.

Jim: All right. I'll keep you informed. I'll send pictures if that matters. We'll talk about it later.

Kim: I'll even come down and take a look and maybe give you a hand, how's that.

Jim: I appreciate that a lot. I can use a hand. While you're here, can you run a mower?

Kim: Can I sit on it?

Jim: Yes, you can. I got both kinds.

Kim: Oh, by the way, while you're still listening. If you got a comment on any of this, or you got a question on any of this, go to our webpage, There's a place there where you can ask a question and most times, we'll get right back to you if I can answer it. Take a look at the webpage, take a look at the-- making a comment and let us know what you think.

Jim: Oh, that's a good suggestion. All right.

Kim: All right. Next time.

Jim: All right, next time. Bye-bye.

[00:18:31] [END OF AUDIO]