It seems that spring may finally be here. Looking out my kitchen window I see that the maple (which I think is Acer saccharum) is budding. The honey bees are bringing different colors of pollens to the hive. I thought I had always been oriented to seasons–but it seems my observations were mostly related to what to eat that was in season. In other words, what to feed me. Now that I have honey bees I find that my awareness of seasons has broadened to include what is blooming that is providing food for my bees. We beekeepers have an orientation to flowering plants that is a bit different from the person interested in that velvet expanse of lawn, or the picture perfect flower garden: plants that are weeds to some are nectar and pollen for our bees.
Consider the dandelion. It is the bane of many lawns–and people go to great lengths to get rid of it. From having grown up on a farm where part of our food was obtained from foraging (wild asparagus, lambs quarter, et cetera), I already had an appreciation of the dandelion. The brilliant yellow flowers and green leaves that appear early in the spring (or even when it warms up just briefly in late winter) signaled fresh greens on the table–a reprieve from canned food. While “harvesting” those precious greens we would find the bees sharing our interest–busily mining those bright yellow flowers for nectar and pollen.
There are many plants that are weeds if they appear in the lawn, or in the flower bed; that should be more attention as food plants, for us and the bees. Some plants found in the flower beds can also be eaten. Dandelions have become “gourmet” now. They’ve appeared in the produce case, the farmers’ market, and should you want to grow your own you can buy the seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Young leaves can be used as salad greens, perhaps with a hot bacon dressing. Older leaves can be braised as you would other hearty greens. Older greens do have a bitter flavor, which I don’t find objectionable; however, some people have a genetically determined distaste for bitterness. These are for everyone, but if you like arugula, escarole, or frisée you might want to try some dandelion greens. Even if you don’t want to eat them, the honey bees find the flowers a source of nectar and pollen in the early spring. Please don’t kill the dandelions!