Bees, Sunflowers and Birds

My little sunflower patch

My little sunflower patch

I haven’t purchased a packet of sunflower seeds in a couple years. I just keep harvesting seeds from one or 2 saved heads and replant. It works really well and I’m getting the hang of creating a nice, small field of sunflowers. I thought my bees would go nuts for this offering. Everything I’ve read and heard leads me to believe that bees love sunflowers. They produce both nectar and pollen in abundance. However, my bees have consistently bypassed my sunflowers as they flew to greener (or yellower?) pastures. Far be it from me to tell my honeybees what they should eat, but somehow I felt a lack.

Whatever used to taste better than sunflowers, apparently doesn’t any more. Or at least not for a half-dozen (plus or minus 100) of my bees.

Bee with pollen baskets full of sunflower pollen

Bee with pollen baskets full of sunflower pollen

Honeybee covered in sunflower pollen

Honeybee covered in sunflower pollen

Notice how the bee above is quite golden and the one above that is very black. I obviously have a bit of genetic mix in my bee hives.

Luckily my bees don’t seem to mind sharing. Here are 2 bees on the same flower. I’ve yet to see 3 at once on a flower but I suspect it happens. These flowers are huge compared to a tiny bee and each sunflower seed is really a flower all its own, so one sunflower head has scores of flowers to satisfy a greedy little bee.

2 honeybees on a sunflower

2 honeybees on a sunflower, the one in flight has fully loaded pollen baskets

I think I have a critical mass of flowers and so the bees are keen. Since bees can only collect pollen and nectar from a single flower-type on each flight, they must prefer visiting an area where they can do all their collection without having to fly further afield.

Whatever it is, anytime I go down to my sunflowers now, I find half a dozen bees circling. No more lack here: I love watching my bees feed off my flowers, it’s just that little bit more satisfying than watching them fly into my neighbour’s tree. I’m going to do my best to sow sunflowers to maximise their season next year so my bees can eat up for months on end.

Of course it’s not just bees that like sunflowers. Birds love them too. Here is Bronwyn trying to steal some seeds from one of the smaller flowers which has tipped over. The flower bobbed up and down dramatically and I don’t think Bronwyn actually harvested anything – not at this attempt anyway.


My chicken eating my sunflower

Some wild bird has already discovered my sunflowers even though the seeds aren’t yet ripe. I can tell the birds are testing the waters because one of the heads (the biggest, of course) has been nibbled. I want to save the seeds from the largest head for next spring’s sowing so I put a little sack over the top. It’s worked for me before, unfortunately it looks pretty awful and seriously detracts from the aesthetics of my little sunflower patch. Such is life, I’ll opt for bounty over beauty every time.


Sunflower in protective cloth


About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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16 Responses to Bees, Sunflowers and Birds

  1. Lovely pictures, I can see why you enjoy both the garden and the bees.

    • Thanks. You’ve no idea how happy I am that I live in the age of digital photography. I just aim and click and get great shots by virtue of the sheer volume of photos I take! The pictures are icing on the cake to my garden and bees – and who doesn’t love icing 🙂

  2. We once grew sunflowers and had a swarm of bees attach itself to my birdbath alongside. I understand that the flavor of honey is different according the type of pollen they use.

    • I wonder if the swarm moved there because of the sunflowers, the birdbath or because you’ve got such a beautiful garden.

      Each honey harvest tastes totally different depending on which flowers the bees have visited. That’s part of the fun of opening the hive. In fact, I can sometime smell the difference in the nectar the bees are processing when I go out into my garden.

  3. Great photos of the bees on the sunflowers – oh I am so looking forward to Summer……..

  4. The picture of the pollen-covered bee is especially lovely!
    We can’t have sunflowers as they get eaten by the squirrels and rabbits before they can grow much. But we do have cup plants, related yet unbothered and perennial.

    • I have a constant battle to protect my sunflowers. I have to put plastic covers over the seeds when I plant them or the bandicoot digs them up and eats them. I leave the covers over the plants as long as I can because the possum and bandicoot eat the new shoots. Once they’re a couple of inches tall, they seem to go into a phase where they aren’t so tempting. Then they get eaten again once the seeds form in the flowers – parrots are the main culprit here but possums take their share.

      I’m learning to manage the plants so I get a good showing and it’s been worth the effort. My bandicoot misses out but I get beautiful flowers, the bees get pollen and nectar and if the parrots and possums take the heads before I’m quite ready to see them go, that’s alright, we’re sharing a very popular plant.

  5. Pingback: Not Another Possum Post!!! | Laura Rittenhouse's Gardening Journal

  6. Emily Heath says:

    I enjoyed reading about your sunflowers and the bees, must be a great feeling watching them enjoy themselves.

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