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In Praise of Dandelions (and Support for "No-Mow May")

Here at Little Farm, late May and even into June is the high season for dandelions. Beginning mid-month, those familiar bright round yellow flowers start to stand out against the green of the surrounding grass. For a daughter or grand-daughter, of course, the season is magical because she can instantly become a fairy queen with a handmade crown of dandelions.

Yet, for many adults, dandelions are the scourge of the suburban lawn. They are seen as a rapacious weed, threatening to take over the ryegrass and snuff out the Kentucky bluegrass.

When you mow dandelions, they seem to bend over just enough to avoid the cutting – and within a couple of days show their cheerful yellow heads once more. You can dig them up, but you seldom dislodge their long taproot, and so they seem to be constantly resurrecting themselves.

And at the end of the season? When the bright yellow disc-like flowers morph into white puffballs made up of thousands of seeds held in place by who knows what, waiting for a gentle breeze or a child making a wish to set them free and disperse them far and wide. Of course, many, many of them take root in your well-manicured lawn, hiding themselves until next Spring when they will pop up – unwanted - once more. Dandelions are a never-ending battle for the lawn enthusiast.

However, for a beekeeper, like myself, dandelions are the long awaited first nectar flow for my honey bees. They are the first source of natural sustenance for these important pollinators.

The blossoming of dandelions means that my two hives have made it through another Maine winter. The bees are ready to get to work, cleaning out and building up their hives and producing honey.

Just the other day, I was at my hives watching the foraging bees return time and again with balls of yellow and orange-tinged pollen, primarily from dandelions, clinging like little saddlebags to their legs. These “pollen pellets” contain not only pollen but also nectar and can account for 30% of a bee’s weight. Long hairs on the bee’s legs help keep these seemingly precarious packets of pollen in place.

I rejoice when the dandelions bloom and always hope to put off mowing our lawn until the season is over, knowing that they will be helping my bees make honey that I can enjoy throughout the year.

By the way, this is exactly the reason for the "No Mow May" movement - to give our pollinators that first critical Spring boost of natural nectar and pollen, and so aid in restoring these vital insects nation-wide.

So – Three cheers for the dandelions! Hip, hip hooray!


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