This time of year you might be seeing various memes such as these floating around Facebook (depending on where you live, of course):
And you may be thinking, “What the heck is the big deal about dandelions?”
Well you probably know that bees collect nectar and pollen from plants for food. The nectar is what they use to make honey (see info graphic below) and the pollen is their only protein source. So at the end of winter, a surviving hive has generally eaten down most of its honey reserves. As soon as it’s warm enough to fly, the bees are out searching for early pollen to feed themselves and their young.
Many beekeepers feed in the spring because they worry about this gap in time when the honey runs out, but the dandelions aren’t up yet and we fear starvation. Dandelions are the earliest spring pollen source (in my area: the midwest) and, as a beekeeper, when I start seeing dandelions I can breathe a sigh of relief that the bees (assuming they survived this long) will make it in to spring.
So quite simply, dandelions matter because they are the first, natural food source available to our hungry spring bees. The hive is also busy with brood, and pollen provides a source of both nectar and pollen, so the hive can begin to grow into the summer months.
What you can do, is leave those dandelions alone. I know many like the look of a green, perfectly manicured yard, but one of the easiest things you can do (if you are interested in helping the bees) is leave those darn dandelions alone… at least until they are finished blooming.
Additionally, dandelion leaves are edible. They are kind of bitter (think, arugula), but they add some complexity to plain salad greens if you mix a few in. You can also add them to stir-fries or quiches (much how you would use spinach) and you can often pluck a few of the leaves and leave the flower alone, so they provide food for both you AND the bees!
Other weeds that you can leave in your yard guilt-free:
I also recently came across these infographics from Miss Apis Mellifera and they are a great, straight-forward explanation of what the bees do with nectar and pollen: