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Sunflowers are easy to grow and are great resources for bees and birds. Sunflowers produce alot of nectar and pollen which attracts bees. Wild sunflowers also require visits by bees to set seed.
Can I grow any sunflower and participate?
Nope. Each sunflower has it's own characteristics. There are actually quite a few sunflowers out there that don't even produce pollen (the main reason bees visit). To make sure that we are always comparing the same things, please use the variety that we have chosen, the annual Lemon Queen sunflower. We no longer send out free seeds except to those who are school garden coordinators or Garden Leaders. Seeds can be purchased at your local store or through Renee's Garden who will donate 25% of her proceeds if you use the coupon code FR225A.
How do I know it is a bee and not a wasp or fly?
Flies are easy. Flies have one wing on each side. Bees have two. Flies also tend to perch with their wings pointing out an angle. Bees tuck them away.
Telling wasps and bees apart is much harder. Bees tend to have wider bodies and appear more robust. Bees are usually hairier and you can often see where they are carrying pollen. However, it turns out that bees closest relatives are a group of wasps and these wasps are very difficult to differentiate from bees. The easy way to tell bees and wasps apart is to use a microscope and look for a branched hair. Bees have branched hairs, wasps have simple hairs. Alternatively, watch what they eat. Bees are vegetarian, wasps are carnivores.
Are yellow jackets bees?
No. But, boy do they give bees a bad reputation!
What are those bees doing, anyhow?
Female bees collect pollen to provision their nests. Pollen is actually the sole source of protein for the developing larvae. Both female and male bees drink nectar which is a source of energy.
How do bees carry pollen?
This is one of the neatest things to learn about bees. Different species carry pollen in different ways. Most commonly, bees have specialized branched hairs for carrying pollen. The pollen actually is held on through an eletro-static charge. When bees fly, they build up an electrostatic charge. When they enter a flower, that flower is grounded so, the pollen almost jumps right onto a bee. Think about that trick having a balloon stick to your hair. Bees that hold pollen have the hairs on their hind legs or on the bottom of their abdomen. Other bees, carry pollen in their mouths. There actually are some parasitic bees that don't gather their own pollen. They simply lay their eggs in the nests of other bees. Their offspring hatch before the offspring of their host and often kill the host larvae. They are called cuckoo bees because this behavior was first documented in cuckoo birds.