bee forage

The crocuses bloomed, but where are the bees?

Last fall I decided I absolutely needed spring crocuses in the yard so I could photograph early bees. Bees look great in crocuses—any bee in any crocus. I could imagine the bright yellow stamens glimmering against the purple, white, and yellow petals. I went to town and came home with a large bag, ready to plant.

It was that mental image that kept me going in the cold autumn rain. Each day for a week, I went outside and knelt in oozy mud and shivered when the frigid rain streamed under my collar. Even now, the thought gives me goose bumps.

The first sign of spring

In late January I was rewarded with little green leaves poking from the soil. They were one, then two and three, centimeters high. I imaged early bumble bees coming first and, on warm afternoons, the honey bees would follow.

Then it began to snow. And snow. And snow. The little plants were soon buried under nearly two feet of heavy white crystals. The temperature dropped along with the snow and stayed for the long haul. We rarely have snow in this part of the world, and it usually is gone by the end of the day. But this time, it lasted for all of five weeks. My backyard and garden are still buried, but the crocuses are clear.

Too cold for bees

I never worried about the crocuses, after all, snow is their thing. But bees? Forget that. I figured the crocuses would be long gone before any bee was mad enough to go foraging.

But then yesterday the sun came out. It was still plenty cold, but honey bees were above their hives circling and making a racket. Near the patio, I saw several honey bees frolicking in the sun. I was delighted.

“Six feet to your left!” I coached. Instead one landed in the grass. After a minute, she lifted off again and I tried to shoo her towards the blooms. She buzzed over my head and went in the other direction. After a minute, she flew into the compost bucket. She seemed content and stayed quite a while.

Like herding cats

“Moron!” I said. “You’ve got fresh pollen sparking in the sunshine but you prefer potato peels and coffee grounds?” I moved the bucket into the crocus patch. The bee alighted on the metal handle for a moment and then took off. I chased her in a crazy figure eight until she disappeared into the trees and I tripped over a mound of frozen white. Now who is the moron? I wondered.

I spent all afternoon watching, but no more honey bees, no bumbles, no mining bees. Nevertheless, the crocuses are gorgeous. They are worth the mud, the rain, and the snow. They are worth the time and the money. I reminded myself to be happy about the crocuses and elated I still have some bees. Most important, I reminded myself not to fret if they never cross paths because whatever will be, will bee.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Lynn Anderson sent this photo a honey bee in her purple crocus. © Lynn Anderson.

Lynn Anderson took this photo of a honey bee in her purple crocus. © Lynn Anderson.

Alistair Dunbar found this UK honey bee in the crocus. © Alistair Dunbar.

Alistair Dunbar found this UK honey bee in the crocus. © Alistair Dunbar.

Alistair also caught an awesome shot of a honey bee in a flowering cherry. © Alistair Dunbar.

Alistair also caught an awesome shot of a honey bee in a flowering cherry. © Alistair Dunbar.

The crocuses have bloomed.

The crocuses have bloomed. Image by jarekgrafik on Pixabay

38 Comments

  • You are such a good writer! I always enjoy your posts and chuckle at most. Thank you for your insight and cleverness!

    BTW, did you read the article in February’s issue of Bee Culture – The Colony That Would Not Die by Dr. James E. Tew? Hilarious!

  • Hi.
    What a funny post. I planted hundreds of crocuses in my back garden in London, UK. Last year winter was long and cold here, spring came suddenly only in April and my bees dined on crocuses as soon as snow went away. This year’s winter was externally mild and crocuses flowered mainly from January until mid February (some still in bloom but not many). This years crocuses were visited by very few bumble bees as it was still too cold for other bees to fly;)

  • Yippee for first flowers.

    Now watch out for chipmunks – the buggers love to eat bulbs – mine anyway here in Pa. Tulips and crocus bulbs seem to disappear pretty quickly. The cat is on notice…..

    My sister’s place has the apiary in the “back orchard” a few miles down the road. She has a wonderful southern exposure so she gets spring flowers much earlier than at our house. I swear she is two climate zones ahead of my house. I have been over and seen the first two or three crocus blooms get visited by a succession of my honey bees. One after the other. After those first few blossoms were visited about 50 times you would think it would hang out a ” Sorry – out of pollen” sign.

  • My bees are flying around. The last few days on Long Island have been above 50. There is nothing out there for them as yet. They must have enough honey in the hive, they are not too interested in the sugar water feeder I placed on the landing board.

  • We had a foot of snow a week ago and now it’s 65 degrees here in Western Oregon. My crocuses are up and the bees came out today and gathered pollen from them. Wish I could attach a photo here. The bees also found my hive that’s full of honey but the bees died. 🙁 I’m hoping a new hive will move in now that they know it’s there.

  • Hey, thanks for your story. Here in California, in the San Francisco Bay Area, we’ve had a similar problem. We don’t have snow, but we’ve had tons of rain. At first is was kind of warm, nearly 50 degrees, even in the winter, and the flowers started to grow in January! But then the weather got cold, and the bees didn’t come out of their hives yet. A bunch of the flowers have come and gone, with no bees to eat/pollinate them. Today, for the first time in months, the sun came out for all day, with 60 degrees. I saw bees for the first time this year. But many of the flowers are gone. Luckily there are a lot of weeds with flowers, but many of the bushes the bees usually thrive on have already grown and lost their flowers.

    I’m going to plant a lot of bee favorite flowers right away, so that within a month or so they’ll come up and hopefully the bees won’t starve. But our climate change has made things so difficult, for both the bees and the flowers. Praying that we can save them all…

  • Today was a very good day! Even though there was nearly a foot of snow on the ground it was almost 50 degrees. No crocuses or irises to be found, but the bees were flying!! I do understand how exciting it can be this time of year.

  • You always make me laugh or smile Rusty 🙂 Thank you! That’s crazy that the bees didn’t even stop to check out your crocuses. When mine bloom, they are all over them. I’ve seen five in one flower! I’ve seen them work their way into blooms that aren’t even open yet, quite a sight to see their little bee bottom disappear into the flower 🙂 Maybe it was the type of crocus? I find they like my “old” ones the best. They are deep purple with petals that are formed more like a tulip. Once they are inside they are protected from the wind too. Wish I had the proper name for that type. I’ve seen them working them in the high thirties with a decent amount of wind here in Michigan in February or March. This year, they are still under the snow. Hoping for a warm up this week!

  • As a California native, I’m laughing and crying as I read this post from Maine. Still 3 feet of snow on the ground, waiting for a 50 degree day to watch my bees leave the hives on cleansing flights. I’d trade this snow for your bee chasing any day!!
    Love your site – great mix of technical and personal info…

  • And to look on the bright side Rusty, as we always must, the crocuses (croci?) will be there ready for a better spring next year!

    • Ray,

      It’s interesting you wrote “croci” because I actually looked that up when I was writing the post. My dictionary said either crocuses or croci is okay, but I thought croci might be confusing. In any case, the bees probably don’t care.

  • We seem to have had the opposite in the UK – a really warm spell in February. (We’re now worrying that the bumble bees will have come out of hibernation too early!) Although the books suggest honey bees fly above 15C, I found that they seem able to take advantage of the sun and fly in air around 10 or 11C as long as the sun is shining. My neighbour has a patch of crocuses behind an arch and the bees a packed into the patch of sun coming through the arch and move as the sun sweeps across! I am currently trying to build a photo album of honey bees on flowers so that I can record the colour of the pollen loads. I can’t believe how good phone cameras are! Sadly, I couldn’t see how to load a picture in this comments section. All the best.

  • Many times, if you inter-plant your crocus, tulips, squill, etc. with daffodils, they will be left alone because daffodils are highly poisonous.

  • Ah flowers… I’m so jealous. We still have over 30 cmm (1 foot) of snow but at least we’re seeing days above freezing so in about a month it might be gone… We were hoping to start feeding pollen patties but it’s still too early.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Thanks for another brilliant article. Helps make this unending winter go faster. Never give up, you will
    get a photo of one of the girls grabbing some pollen from a crocus.

    First a howling blizzard woke us.
    Then the rain came down to soak us,
    And now before the eye can focus-
    Crocus.
    -Lija Rogers

  • During the winter what gives us pleasure often are birds. They also sometimes give me clues about the insect world. What have been large flocks of bush tits are now small flock as they both pair up and start to find resources other than our suet feeder. So even though I have not seen any bumbles or other bees I am confident that they will arrive soon. Just as some years one fruit is a bumper crop and the next year not, from year to year different pollinators appear in a bumper crop one year and are barely seen the following year.

    I’ve been learning to not even heed the seasons. There are bumble bees that I can expect to see as early as January some seasons and not in until almost April in a different year. Based on reports I am reading from southern California, all of their rain has brought on a huge hatch of painted lady butterflies and IF our weather is ALSO favorable, we who are further north can look forward to a mass Painted Lady migration later this year. So I will appreciate the diversity and try not to read too much into all the unexpected variations.

    I’ll close with a comment about success with crocus. Although I can’t stop squirrels from ravaging the crocus above the ground, the batches that I’ve planted most recently have been inside wire mesh cages. Squirrels cannot chew through wire and those bulbs have flourished even if sometimes the flowers do not.

    Thank you Rusty. Bee well, Glen

  • Greetings—-I have been propogating a bulb called snow drops—they are the first flowers out— weeks before crocuses and the honey bees just love them. They multiply well. A small white with a little green flower.I am a beekeeper also. Mine are in full flower now 3/16/19 enjoy !!!

  • Hellow… this question might be off topic but i simply had to ask…. with your experience when do you think the bees are most defensive??? Is it when they have gathered lots of food or when there is scarcity of food???

    • Phee,

      I think honey bees are most defensive when they are queenless, regardless of the amount of food. Aside from that, honey bees seem much more defensive in a dearth than in times of plenty.

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