(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on June 20, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
My bees come out early in the spring to check on the flower population and give me a look over. By late May and into early June, they are busy making the neighbors’ horse chestnut tree hum like a giant green and white organ. As the chestnut passes peak bloom, they move to the big rhododendron in front of our house with their best morning songs.
Sometimes, there are so many bees present that they bounce off each other and the windows. In the early evenings, there have been minor skirmishes between the bees and the hummingbirds, who are just slightly bigger than the bees, in a bit of a turf war.
For the most part, though, my bees are not aggressive, being happy simply to drink from the flowers that grow here and, as a thank you, to carry pollen from one blossom to the next. I have a good relationship with my bees: I provide them with flowers nearly year round (no mean feat in zone 5), and they consider me part of their garden.
I have foxgloves that are probably descendants of seed planted a 100 years ago or more.
As biennials, they have one very populous year, and one year when there are fewer blooming. I was working out in the midst of the foxglove one day in an excessive year, trying to pull some particularly nasty grass and had my head down between two huge flower stalks when one tipsy bee bumbled out of the nearest blossom and into my ear. It buzzed there for only a moment and backed out, flying up in front of my face to have a look at me and then flew back by my ear where it whispered an apology before moving off. When I was finished with the grass, I sat on the rock wall and watched the bees, but had no more visitors.
When the hollyhocks bloom later in the summer, my poor bees put in overtime, sipping and pollinating. Just about every year, one or two will light on my shoulder, too heavily burdened to fly on, and take a rest. When this happens, you can feel them panting like tiny dogs. They also find themselves working after dark in the hollyhocks and I have often found one wrapped around the pistil of a bloom in the morning, still asleep.
There are, of course, other bees in my gardens: an occasional honeybee will wander by, but they mostly live wild back in the woods in our neighborhood, and have little time for conversation, heading to the clover fields after giving us a cursory flyby.
I also see evidence of leafcutter bees in the phlox, but they seem to be quite shy and only make their presence known in their funny half circle cut-outs. And there are hosts of small bees or bee-like flies, with whom I have no interaction. It is the bumblebees with their easy going personalities that keep me entertained, and my flowers seeding year after year.