Early summer foods for pollinators

by Mags Riordan of Bumblebee Flower Farm

I’m sure I’m just like everyone else who swings from feeling really positive and motivated one day to downright despair and lethargy and everything-in-between the next. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions to be sure but there is one constant that is helping keep me grounded and enabling me to continue my work despite the surreal madness we find ourselves imprisoned in. Nature is recovering and thriving and not just on my little piece of utopia – our pause has benefitted her greatly all over the world. 

Because of lockdown not a drop of roundup has been used in public places and the increase in insect activity is incredible. We are not going to be in this situation for much longer and sadly the systemic poisoning of public places will regrettably resume.

This makes it all the more necessary for us as home gardeners to provide as much continuous nutrient-rich foods for our pollinators to thrive and in turn support us.

With our bumblebees, the first workers are emerging and the queen now has help rearing her brood; she will no longer leave the nest and will finish her lifecycle during late summer early autumn.

If the number of bumblebee queens nesting with me this year are anything to go by, then we going to be buzzing this summer!

The increased numbers will need extra food, which is readily available now due to the lack of spraying, but this may change, so best to be prepared.

My go-to early summer foods are things that have lots of flowers on a single stem like Nepeta (catmint) Centaura Montana, which has an incredible succession of delicious flowers and geraniums; by which I mean true geraniums and cranesbills, not those vulgar pelargoniums that are bred purely for humans and are a nutritional desert devoid of any value. The only pelargoniums I would recommend are the scented geraniums that have very pretty petite nectar rich flowers loved by bees. 

Shrubs like Berberis turbergenii and all pittosporum bridge the hungry gap between spring and early summer when cotoneasters, hawthorn, crab apples, elder and rowan fill our hedgerows and gardens.

Borage is such a valuable food source, especially as it replenishes its nectar almost immediately and just keeps giving. I always allow self-seeding in the tunnels to have an early supply along with rosemary’s multitude of tiny flowers on the herb front. This would explain why they are always covered in pollinators. Cow parsley is my early go-to umbellifer, following on with fennel bronze and green. 

‘Weeds’ like our dandelions are still rocking on with our common daisy, bellis and some clover starting to make an appearance, with the ox-eye daisy on its way too. Buttercups, birds-foot-trefoil and self-heal are equally beautiful. All these will flourish when herbicides are not used, creating a beautiful tapestry of vital food sources for our struggling pollinators; their seeds are a vital food source for our wild birds. These will grow beautifully amongst your borders creating an incredible bio-diverse landscape.

Annuals I wouldn’t be without are Orlaya, another beautiful umbellifer, followed on by Ammi visnaga and magus; successional sowings provide cut flowers from May to October, but in a garden situation deadheading would eliminate the need to re-sow.

Calendula, cornflower and all the dianthus family make great cut flowers and provide a varied rich diet.

Bee Kind

WCP Staff

WCP Staff Writer

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