Aug. 5, 2021

Planting for Bees (033)

Planting for Bees  (033)

Beekeepers talk a lot about not having enough food or enough good food for their bees due to all manner of development, agriculture spread, and agriculture in general. To help fix that problem beekeepers should be looking at doing some planting for...

Red BudBeekeepers talk a lot about not having enough food or enough good food for their bees due to all manner of development, agriculture spread, and agriculture in general. To help fix that problem beekeepers should be looking at doing some planting for bees, which is what Kim and Jim talk about this week.

But it’s not as simple as it might sound. If you are planning on something for your yard, the basic gardening techniques can be an issue – dealing with sod removal, local animals that will enjoy what you plant, and even neighbors that might find what you are doing, ummmm, less than appealing for the neighborhood.

And of course, if you don’t have enough good food, you need something, like, right now for starters, like some annuals, then some longer-term plantings of perennials and shrubs, and of course some permanent plantings like blooming trees and fruit trees.

Making this all work certainly takes a lot of work, which, if you’re not a spring chicken any more, means a lot of work you may not want to get too involved in. So what then? And that’s what Kim and Jim try and figure out.



We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

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

Copyright © 2021 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 33 – Planting For Bees


Jim Tew: Kim, I'm primarily just a beekeeper, not a gardener. What in the world can I do that's realistic, for a man my age, with my declining energy level that I could plant for my bees?

Kim Flottum,: There's a lot of things we can talk about here and I think we can figure something out.

Jim: I hope so and it's got to be brain dead because basically, I'm really good at killing plants that's the primary thing I can do. I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: And I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: We're coming to you today from Honey Bee Obscura where we talk about bees pretty much on different topics every Thursday morning. This time we want to talk to you primarily about what can Jim do that would make us be life in his own yard. Help me, Kim.

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 honey bees in today's world and engaging in informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long timers, and those just starting the journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honey bees.

Kim: Well, Jim I looked at this differently when I first moved here, which is 37 years ago, and I was looking at trees, that will take a while.

Jim: Oh. Trees.

Kim: Like basswood that I've got out here, it waits until it's 15, 16 years old before it blooms for the first time. Some of them are a little faster than that, but they're not going to be this summer. I plant a tree this summer, it's not going to be there. Some of the fruit trees, maybe apple trees four or five years you'll get some buds and some fruit but you're looking at something that you can plant today and it will bloom next week, right?

Jim: Yes. Is there anything that blooms faster than that? One thing gardening has taught me, patience, I plant something I want something to happen.

Kim: It's not uncommon. I think one of the things that you should look at probably is definitely short term, immediate is plant some annuals. Plant marigolds and some of those things that attract, there's a dozen books out there that talk about annuals that attract bees both native pollinators and honeybees, so it'll attract both. That way, you've got something growing right away. Then you're going to want to look at some kind of perennial that comes back every year. It may not bloom the first year, in fact, or the even the second, but by the third year, it'll be throwing some blooms.

Then probably some shrubs, that will take three, four years, five years, maybe before they're big enough to--

Jim: Hollys and that kind of thing.

Kim: Yes, like that. Any of those ring a bell? No, here's the question. What do your neighbors think?

Jim: Why would you ask that question? I have tried wild flowers and they can just be breathtaking for a week or two or three and then they can be breathtaking in a different way. My neighbors are tolerant. They know I do bee thing, right now my grass in my backyard is probably, did I say grass? I should have said weeds. Right now the weeds in my backyard is about 10 inches tall and it's mostly clover and I have a lot of insect activity. It's a dirty secret, Kim, but you get the bad guys too. I probably have more Japanese beetles than my neighbors, because I have more stuff for all of these insects to eat and to forage on, so my neighbors are tolerant.

There's about three or four different conversational subjects here, Kim, neighbors, trees, long term planting for bees, short term planting for bees, there's a lot that can be done in this whole area of trying to help bees. It's really rewarding when those nice wild flowers come up and the butterflies are crazy for everything there.

Kim: One thing you got to consider with all of this is some of those things, you're going to want to plant, fall under the noxious weed or the introduced weed that bees like. Bees are introduced, and they [crosstalk]

Jim: I want us to talk about that too, not today, but I want us to talk about that because it's just not fair. You finally find a good honey plant and you find out that you're destroying the known world by using it. The thing that I'm not sure about how to handle is, how to actually lay out the plot. You told me once and others have said that you put down a tarp on the grass, and let the sun cook it underneath and be prepared to have a weedy planting for a few years until you get the grass and the weeds out that you don't want, that aren't letting your flowering plants take over.

Kim: That's not a bad way to look at it. I sure hate using herbicide to get a handle on, and where I'm going to start digging so that's what I try. I'll tell you just cardboard works good. Put on two, three layers of cardboard early early spring, and let it there until mid-summer, and you lift that cupboard up and there's nothing underneath there. Then let it start, then let it up. Some weeds will come back, some of those grass things will come back, put more cardboard back down and kill those. After a couple of times, there's nothing left to come back and you've got a pretty neutral spot to start.

Jim: Kim, this is a good point in this discussion to ask that question again, what are my neighbors going to think about that?

Kim: [laughs] Exactly. Make sure your cardboard is attractive.

Jim: Yes, I will, maybe you can paint that green or something.

Kim: There you go, that work.

Jim: For everyone who's still listening to us, what I'm trying to do is just to do something just to keep me entertained. I'll ever own a one-acre plot, there's just so much I can do. The three things, probably the best thing we could do if I had 30,40 more years of being here left in me, probably don't have that much, but planting something is really rewarding on my acre but I'm not really doing it for a honey crop or for pollen sources for the bees, I'm just doing it because I want to watch my bees do their thing.

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Kim: Something else you might want to consider, probably better short term than even cardboard is do you own a rototiller?

Jim: I do.

Kim: Quad rototill, dig up the grass where you want to put your plots in, rototill it, wait a week, go back and rototill it again. Maybe wait a week and go back and rototill it one more time, does the same thing as the cardboard, it's a little more aggressive. Then you'll have nicely turned soil and you can put your plants in. Then what I would suggest you do is get some mulch.

Keep the weeds any weeds that are coming back down so the only thing in there is the plants you want. It'll look nice, your neighbors will be happy. If you put the right plants in, you'll be happy and the bees will be happy and the weeds won't be there to give you a problem.

Jim: Only thing that maybe catch my breath on that. I like that scenario a lot except the part where you said dig up the grass, that's going to be a fairly small planting for me if we're going to have to start digging up grass, like maybe a foot square. I'll do the best I can though. No, I understand what you mean but that grass is going to want to be clinging to life that will be tough coming out but once it's gone.

Kim: It's late summer when we're doing, right now. All things considered, it might not be a bad way to start and just let it over winter, and rototill it a couple of times now, get some of the weeds out of the way, sit over winter, come back next spring. Do it a couple more times and you'll have a pretty clean plot and you can make one a lot bigger than what you're thinking right now because you won't have all that grass there next spring.

Jim: Well can I throw a curveball here? What do I do about animals like rabbits and deer who keep eating my plants? This was a totally different subject.

Kim: You're telling me about groundhogs [crosstalk]

Jim: Yes I'm the center of the known groundhogs come from all across Ohio to come to my place. I'm a destinations location.

Kim: Well, unless you get a good dog, or you can take potshots out of your back window, which I'm thinking that's not going to work with you in town.

Jim: No, that's not going to work now, I'm in town.

Kim: You're looking at offense, and not hard to do, but you're going to have to do it or you won't have a garden.

Kim: Isn't that interesting, Kim, all I want to do is just have some bees. Where will you have some bees? I have little garden for them. Yes, put some flowers there, why you got a dig up grass so they get the grass dug up. I feel like the little red hen. You just keep having to work, work, work and who's going to help with all this and you finally get the little plants down. Then what happens? All these other animals come along and eat the plants that you put out there for the bees, the whole things, keeps you entertained, doesn't it at every step of the way.

Kim: Well, it keeps you busy, that's for sure. I don't have groundhog problems. I got chipmunks and I got raccoons, and they do their fair share of damage.

Jim: Well, one of the reasons I bring this whole thing up, headache that it is, enjoyable that it is. If we all did it, it would just be such little islands, little oases of food and sustenance, for pollinators and for the bad guys, I understand. I'd like to think that I'm doing my part for pollinators and moths and butterflies. If we all did it, it would be very helpful.

Kim: Oh, you know, you take this another step and if you don't do anything in your yard, your bees are going someplace doing good things for other people. Maybe you can rest, sit back and relax and say, "I'm doing my share here."

Jim: That works better than the grass digging.

Kim: It does and it's a lot easier [laughs]. Pat yourself on the back. That's the hardest thing you got to do.

Jim: I would like to say to people who've listened to this point, that we deeply appreciate your listening, we hope that you'd consider subscribing so it will reassure our sponsors. Anything you can do to help the bees, well, will be beneficial too.

Kim: A couple of things that people can do is, one is they can recommend us to a friend, somebody that may not know about this, and ask them to listen in. The other thing, Jim, is that there's a text of the show that you can print out and give to a friend who might not be able to have a hard time hearing or might not be technically gifted or even adequate. They can read what we have to say, or they can tune in and listen. Either way, if you liked the show, share it with a friend.

Jim: Well, the main thing I want to do, Kim, is I want to do something for my bees. I've already planted a few times. I like what the results of it. It is frustrating because these plants are wild plants. They're not cultivated, and they can look scruffy when they're not productive. I live in a very manicured neighborhood. I try not to be that guy that's pointed out by neighbors, but I'm afraid sometimes I make the cut. Well, next time I'd like to talk about some plants I've got that I guess we should be concerned about at it, no buts, so maybe next time. Are you okay with that?

Kim: Yes. Something about noxious weeds.

Jim: Yes. Noxious people keeping noxious weeds.

Kim: Okay.

Jim: All right.

Kim: See you then.

Jim: Thank you, everybody, for listening. We'll talk again. Bye-bye.

[00:13:13] [END OF AUDIO]