I've been thinking about writing this post for several weeks now, ever since I first saw a Facebook meme telling people to leave the dandelions for the bees because dandelions are one of the bees' first spring food sources. At first glance, this sounds like a great idea. Bees like flowers, I like bees – save the flowers, save the bees. Easy peasy. The thing is, the dandelion saving movement has gone militant. Bloggers, foodies and gardeners everywhere are under attack because they pick the dandelions and eat them themselves. Over a dozen friends have received angry comments over their use of dandelions, with indignant internet users flaming them with rude remarks for “stealing from the bees”. It's time to inject a little common sense into this dandelion madness.
Dandelion Madness Fallacy #1 – If You Pick the Flowers, There Won't Be Any for the Bees
Anyone who has ever mowed a lawn full of dandelion flowers can clearly tell you this isn't true. You run the mower through, it's all neat and green, and the next day the yard is full of flowers again.
A dandelion plant, like all plants, wants to make more plants. To do this, it creates flowers, and those flowers eventually create dandelion seeds. If you harvest some flowers, it will continue to make more flowers, at least during the spring flowering season. Eventually flowering will stop or slow dramatically as the seasons change, but by that time there should be more food sources for the bees.
Dandelion Madness Fallacy #2 – If You Pick the Greens, You'll Kill the Dandelion Plant and Starve the Bees
For those who aren't familiar with the anatomy of a dandelion plant, they have beautifully well developed tap roots. This can make them quite a challenge to remove from the garden – and makes them very resilient and largely unaffected when you (or any other herbivore) harvests some leaves.
Further, if someone is harvesting dandelion greens to eat, odds are that they are doing so from an area that is pesticide free and safer for the bees. (If they're not harvesting from a pesticide free area, they should be.) Shouldn't we be encouraging people to use and cultivate the wonderful resource of dandelions?
Dandelions are loaded with vitamins A and C, lutein and zeaxanthin (for eye health), and an assortment of minerals. (Nutritional value will vary based on the health of your soil.)
It's been proven time and again that those who use a resource are the ones most likely to preserve it. For instance, Ducks Unlimited has conserved over 13 million acres since 1937. Heritage livestock breeds, such as heritage hogs, are making a comeback as people realize they are well suited to smaller homesteads. Heirloom vegetables are gaining in popularity as people realize that they've been missing out on an amazing array of flavors and nutrition by sticking to standard grocery store fare.
Dandelion Madness Fallacy #3 – If You Dig Up Dandelions, You're Killing the Bees
Those of us who have dandelions in our lawns and gardens can bear witness to the fact that if you have one dandelion, you probably have many dandelions. Also, if you dig up a dandelion and leave a portion of the root (which is likely, because root bits break off), odds are that that dandelion will regrow. As long as you're not dosing an area in pesticides, dandelions will generally survive and flourish. It's not going to wipe out the bee population if you clear a few unruly ones from your yard or garden, or if you harvest the roots for food or medicinal use. (See Harvesting and Using Dandelion Roots for more info.)
There Are Enough Dandelions for Both Bees and People to Enjoy!
Once we stop aiming for a “grass only” yard treated with herbicides and pesticides, dandelions and other broadleaf weeds like clover will naturally more in to diversify the ecosystem, enrich the soil and provide additional bee fodder.
If you need to keep your dandelions in check due to the cries of panicked neighbors, go ahead and dig some out and mow when you must, but add early blooming trees, shrubs and flowers to your yard to provide additional food and habitat for the bees.
Perennial plants like trees and shrubs flower earlier than annuals, and provide thousands of blossoms for hungry bees. See 5 Tips for a Bee Friendly Yard to learn how to make your yard to our very valuable winged friends.
Now that we've set the record straight, check out these posts to learn more about dandelions!