Gardening with Deb Babcock: A Steamboat garden is where I want to bee |

Gardening with Deb Babcock: A Steamboat garden is where I want to bee

Deb Babcock

The best honey I’ve ever tasted comes from bee keepers right here in Steamboat. Pat Scokes provides honey to Rising Sun Ranch, which then infuses it with lavender buds. And Merry Lester’s honey is buttery enough to spread on your toast. Whether or not it’s doctored up with a little additional flavor or aroma, like the lavender honey I enjoy, all honey will take on the aroma and flavor of the plant on which the bees feed.

One of the best honey bee attractors in my garden is salvia. This bed of flowers buzzes merrily throughout the summer … and the bees are so busy with the plants that they’ve never had time or inclination to sting me as I sit nearby watching them or even when I reach in to pull weeds or deadhead spent flowers. A single honey bee will visit 50 to 100 flowers per trip from the hive.

According to a report from the United Nations, at least 70 of the top 100 crops that provide 90 percent of the world’s food are dependent upon pollination by bees. Honey bees are considered a keystone indicator species, meaning that when we see problems like a declining population of honey bees, we can be certain there is a broader environmental problem in the making. Fewer honey bees means fewer plants that can reproduce, and thus, reduced biodiversity on our planet.

Bees have a particular vulnerability to a new class of pesticides that is becoming more and more popular for crops and lawn care. When ingested, these pesticides, called neonicotinoids, compromise the immunity of honey bees, leaving them vulnerable to contagious diseases which spread to other honey bees in the hive. Colony Collapse Disorder is the resulting phenomonem that has been decimating the populations of honey bees in the U.S. and Europe.

Neonicotinoids like imidacloprid and clothianidin are used to treat seeds like corn and almonds, as well as in lawn care and even flea products. They are long-lasting (years) and systemic, meaning the pesticide permeates the soil and moves into the plants’ pollen, nectar and even some liquid droplets like dew that oozes onto foliage.

If you’re interested in bee-keeping or just like to have bees around for their wonderful work in pollinating trees and flowers, create a bee-friendly environment in your garden and try to limit the chemicals you use to stave off pests and plant diseases.

Here’s a list of bee-attracting plants for the mountains. It was compiled by Colorado State University horticulturist Whitney Cranshaw and is the first draft of an attempt to rank Colorado flowers in terms of their use by foraging honey bees. I’ve listed the proper botanic name first with the common name, if it is different, in parentheses. For best results, be sure to obtain plants marked Zone 4 for both USDA temperatures and heat zones.

• Allium tangitucum (Chives, onion)

• Agastache foeniculum (Anise hyssop)

• Antirrhinum (Snapdragon)

• Aster novae-angliae (New England aster)

• Chrysanthemum serotinum ‘Herbstern’

• Cleome

• Echinops exalta (Globe thistle)

• Euphorbia “Diamond Frost” (Spurge)

• Gaillardia aristata (Blanket flower)

• Geranium ‘Jolly Bee’

• Geranium himalayense

• Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ (Common sunflower)

• Heliotropium

• Knipholia (Red hot poker, torch lily)

• Malva alcea (Mallow)

• Nepeta x fausenii (Catmint)

• Ocimum (Basil – annual)

• Origanum (Oregano, marjoram)

• Pentas (Star clusters – annual)

• Penstemon eatonii (Firecracker penstemon)

• Salvia nemorosa (Sage)

• Satureja Montana (Winter savory)

• Scabiosa (Pincushion flower)

• Sedum spectabile (Stonecrop)

• Senecio (Dusty miller)

• Solidago (Goldenrod)

• Syringa (Lilac)

• Teucrium orientale ((Germander)

• Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’ (Speedwell)

According to Cranshaw, the plants listed above reported multiple observations of honey bee activity when the plants were in flower. The attractive power of these plants could change should the needs of local honey bees change or should other flowering plants in the vicinity of those listed above become more appealing to the bees.

To learn more about beekeeping and honey production, Google bee keeping and honey on the Internet. There are dozens of sites with helpful information. Or, for an entertaining view of beekeeping, check out Ulee’s Gold on DVD.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or email to:

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