The Great Sunflower Project needs you

Every summer for the last four years, a cluster of male bees (genus Melissodes) finds this  Miscanthus sinensis the perfect place to spend each night.

sleeping-bees-blogEver since I interviewed bee expert Stephen Buchmann a few years ago, I’ve had a soft spot for bees. He told me that one-third of our food supply is derived from insect-pollinated plants and that hundreds of fruits and vegetables would disappear if anything were to happen to the honey bee.

“It’s been stated that if there were no bees and other pollinators, it’s doubtful that the human population could survive for more than a few months,” he said.

Over the last few years, the decline in bee populations across the country has been well-documented. That’s why I was especially pleased to read about Gretchen LeBuhn in the August issue of Sunset Magazine.

Gretchen is an associate professor of biology at San Francisco State University and the founder of the Great Sunflower Project. Thank you, Gretchen!

The project’s goal is to recruit citizen-scientists to plant sunflower seeds and track bee activity in their own backyards. She started the project in 2008 and it’s grown to include participants in all the states and some parts of Canada, too.

When participants sign up at, they receive free seeds for Lemon Queen (Helianthus annuus) sunflowers in the spring. They’re asked to plant the seeds, grow the flowers, time how long it takes bees to visit the sunflowers and report the results.

I hope you’ll join me in signing up to be part of the Great Sunflower Project to help provide valuable data for research.

Here are some other simple steps gardeners can take to increase the bee population in their gardens:

  1. Leave a number of dead branches for giant carpenter bees, leaf-cutter bees, and mason bees to nest in.
  2. Stop using insecticides in the garden or use chemicals less toxic to bees.
  3. Plant flowers that are rich in nectar and pollen.
  4. Choose flowers in a variety of colors (especially blue and violet), shapes and scents.
  5. Leave a small patch of bare ground in or near the garden for ground-nesting bees.

The Colorado Gardener’s Companion includes lists of perennial and native plants that bees can’t resist.

Gardeners can also learn to appreciate those circular snippets cut out of their rose leaves. Native leaf-cutter bees need those round leaf wrappers to line their cells for their young. That just might help take the sting out of having imperfect rose bushes.

Please let us know how the bees are doing in your backyard this season by posting a comment here.


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The bees are partying every day in my front (don’t really have a back) yard. I’ve got big, fat bluebeard (Dark Knight Spirea) bushes lining the sidewalk as well as some hyssop (which I just spotted a hummingbird enjoying – wow!). The bees are MAD for it. People are sometimes intimidated walking by as they are so active, but as we all know, they’re interested in the pollen not us. I also have a raised bed in back that they’ve been busy pollinating. Not that the tomatoes are red yet… I’ll be joining the GSP asap!

Hi Gretchen: Thanks for checking in and for the colorful description of your garden–it sounds delightful. I’m so glad to hear you’re joining the Great Sunflower Project! The bees and I both thank you.

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