As a friend reminded me recently, Spring really is great in the northern Midwest! It's a time of awakening, rebirth and renewal. A gloriously miraculous springing forth of new life from that which died the Fall before! [Cue chirping birds, budding trees and fluffy clouds rolling across a blue sky.]
Since wintering with the bees in Florida, I still see a changing of the seasons (albeit not nearly as dramatic) but I sure miss the sight of those first clumps of snowdrops to peek out at me through the receding snowbanks! And the crocuses. And OH those hyacinths - THE LILACS! And apples and cherries and REDBUDS AND DOGWOODS...but I digress.
It is what comes in between the snowdrops and flowery smelly beautifulness that I'm here to talk about. A dandy (see what I did there) yet pestilent topic that roars to life (I can't stop myself) every Spring:
Many homeowners across the Midwest rush to the nearest box store for herbicide at the slightest hint of yellow interrupting the otherwise lush green carpet outside their kitchen window. (Or, if they're like my dad, they have a 3-year supply on hand in the garage 'just to be on the safe side.')
Meanwhile, beekeepers NOT mourning a total loss of their colonies from collapse or starvation do the happy dance when they see those blessed splashes of yellow. Like an army of reinforcement troops arriving just in the nick of time, a sense of euphoria washes over them when they realize the bees are going to make it!
Take that sentiment and multiply it by 1000 and that's the Beeman's mindset upon returning home from Florida with the bees. For about 2 weeks, our back yard becomes temporary housing to thousands of hives and millions of bees. Each dandelion is viewed as a precious well of nectar trying to keep up with the barrage of demanding bees, usually 3-4 at one time! We can't get them moved into their summer homes fast enough.
Enter the Beeman's rants - er, passionate discourses - when seeing folks spraying or mowing their lawns and ditches (DITCHES TU, BRUTE!?!?!?) to a 2" height, leaving a trail of decapitated heads and floral carnage in their wake. Those closest to us have heard of these epically dramatic and hilarious diatribes, and some have even been lucky enough to hear one in person from the back seat.
All kidding aside, dandelions are a big deal for honey bees. Not because they contain some exclusive super glucose or protein, but because of their first-to-market, widely-available, large and steady supply of both nectar (energy) AND pollen (protein) that they need to restore their strength, immediately replenish the hive's depleted food stores and feed the thousands of new worker bees soon to hatch.
To be clear, it's less about WHAT and more about WHEN. Dandelions emerge weeks ahead of the other major honey bee food sources, making them a vital bridge to a broader food supply. Imagine driving a 800-mile stretch of empty road and the only food and drink you can come by is from the occasional gas station every 300 miles. It's not the most nutritional fare but it will sustain you until you can get something better.
So there you have it. If we haven't convinced you to keep those precious flowers in your yard, maybe we can baby step it: Wait just a couple more weeks before killing them, or maybe don't mow your ditches for a while longer? On behalf of beekeepers everywhere, we appreciate your consideration of the matter. And we'll try again next year. =)