Harvest More Fruits & Vegetables

more fruits and vegetablesI had originally started this post with, “How would you like to grow more fruits and vegetables with one simple, inexpensive trick?” Oh how infomercial of me. But how do I convey my enthusiasm in sharing this technique with you and not sound like I’m hawking something on late night television? I’ll do it straight up. Plant borage. That’s the trick. Want to know how and why it works? Read on.

Several years back I got involved helping a gardener who was working on a native bee program at her local community garden. This was right after colony collapse disorder started showing up in the news and she was working as a coordinator for a study on attracting native bees. I enjoyed following her progress and was thrilled to attend a presentation she gave along with a student assistant from the University of Berkeley native bee study. During the presentation she mentioned how hot house tomato growers in Australia used bumble bees to help pollinate their tomato crops. “You need a big bee to really give that flower a good shake,” she said.

This got me thinking about how I could attract bumblebees, and others, bee on borageto my garden to achieve better pollination. Somewhere during my research I ran across information about the ability of borage (borage officianlis) to attract bees. The flowers on the seed packet were a bright shade of blue and it stated they were edible. It was a done deal and I planted them.  Not only did it attract bumblebees, but European honeybees and an assortment of native bees as well. The plants grew fast and tall (almost 3 feet in my clay soil). At the end of the summer when they were mostly bloomed out, I pulled them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many disgruntled bees. For over two weeks bees would return to the spot where they were growing and searched in vain. You could almost hear them thinking, “But it was right here.” Because our winters are mild, however, it wasn’t long before another crop popped up from the seeds that had fallen from the parent plants and the bees were back in business. This got me thinking about how I could put this to use in my garden.

Although our winters are mild, our springs are cool and our summers sometimes cooler. Bees aren’t real crazy about getting out in cold weather and you have to take advantage of the few that do. The way to do this is to give them something reliable, that they love, to attract them to your yard. If you live in a flower desert where your yard is surrounded by nothing but yards landscaped with lawns and other non-blooming plants, this will really help you. Plant some borage near your vegetable garden in at least a 3 foot by 3 foot block. Bees are more attracted to large patches of flowers than rows or small clumps.

Check out this video of happy bees collecting pollen.

In a cold winter climate, you’ll directly sow seeds in the garden 1-2 weeks before your average last frost date. In warm winter climates you can plant anytime but planting in both early spring and early fall works well. Early spring planted borage will be blooming at the same time as your tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and other warm season crops. Early fall planted borage will be in bloom when fruit trees start blooming. If you consistently grow borage in the same spot, bees will make a beeline (pun intended) to that location. I don’t know how they remember where it was, but they remember. As soon as it is warm enough for them to emerge from the hive, they will delight in finding your flower patch.  And once they get done with checking out the borage flowers, they will move on to your other plants. By doing this I would estimate my tomato production went up about 15% and I had squash on the vine 2 weeks before my neighbors did. In addition to that I had tasty borage flowers to toss in salads (they smell and taste like cucumber) and freeze in ice cubes.

Enter to win
I’m giving away 6 packets of Botanical Interest’s borage seeds so that 6 people can try this in their own gardens. To enter, just leave a comment letting me know what the bee situation is like in your yard and what plants you would like better production on. (Make sure you use a valid email in the comment form.) I’ll select 6 winners on March 1, 2014 and contact them by email for mailing info. Good luck and happy gardening.

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14 comments for “Harvest More Fruits & Vegetables

  1. Kathleen
    at 4:38 pm

    Hello There, I live in Ontario, just a few miles from where over 30,000 bee’s were found dead this summer. I had made sure after hearing this news that there were plenty of sunflowers in my garden bed’s. The sunflowers attracted a few bee’s, more then my neighbours had, and I found that I had a fairly good production of crops. I am going to try your borage this year in my garden. I was going to try it for my strawberry bed, ((I read planting borage discourages runners)). Interesting read. thanks

    • Kat
      at 4:53 am

      Hi Kathleen, thanks for stopping by. Yes, that was a sad bit of news about the death of all those bees. I’m glad your efforts in attracting them with sunflowers is working. So nice to know they are still around. I had heard that about borage discouraging runners in strawberries, but I can’t say I noticed much difference in the ones I had planted. Then again, that wasn’t my purpose so I’m not sure what the distance between them should be. Good luck in the contest.

  2. Leah
    at 6:32 pm

    I have very few bees in my yard and have been searching for good ways to handle this. I would like to improve the production on tomatoes and melons.

    • Kat
      at 4:56 am

      Hi Leah, I hope you find this works for you too and I would love to hear your experience with it. Good luck in the contest.

  3. Zel
    at 7:39 pm

    I’ve also been trying to find out which herbs/flowers/plants are best for attracting the bees, butterflies, and other “good” things into the garden. I especially like the idea of using a plant for more than one purpose. I want to have a garden designed so that the plants will all work together to benefit each other… meaning no chemicals…lol
    Another thing I plan on trying out this year is the three-sisters method. I managed to find a really nice book, (that has been digitally scanned online at digital library), called Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden. It is an amazing read… and I think that planting the three sisters according to her technique, with some borage added in with the planting would be really nice.

    • Kat
      at 5:01 am

      Hi Zel, I’m currently reading “The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Garden” and happy to see you are wanting to garden with nature as well. I tried the 3 Sisters method a few year back. Two problems I encountered were I planted the squash too soon after the beans which slowed the growth of the beans because the huge squash leaves shaded them too much. I also found the beans made the corn difficult to harvest. I did, however, find I had to water much less. The shade from the squash kept the corn good and hydrated. I would love to hear how you do with the method. Good luck in the contest.

  4. Allison
    at 4:31 am

    In my Massachusetts garden I have alot of aster, coneflower and black eyed Susan that attract the bees. This year we plan to start a veggie garden. I am interested to see how it goes.

    • Kat
      at 5:02 am

      Hi Allison, nice to see you already have several bee friendly plants in your garden. Good luck in the contest.

  5. Jeri Bell
    at 7:45 am

    Very interesting article! I recently moved to the pan handle of Florida, and I’m anxious to plant my garden. Tomatoes, squash, peppers etc. The only pre-existing plants are a couple of rose bushes.

    • Kat
      at 12:41 pm

      Hi Jeri, Thanks for stopping by. I don’t know if you are already familiar with the blog The Rainforest Garden by Steve Asbell? He is a fellow Floridian and avid gardener as well. There is a link on my blogroll page. Good luck in the contest.

  6. Jeri
    at 9:09 am

    Thank you for the info!

    • Kat
      at 5:21 am

      Thanks for stopping by Jeri.

  7. Claire
    at 4:09 am

    In our Massachusetts garden, we are trying to integrate a vegetable garden in a mostly flower garden. We have planted fruit trees in one section of the yard. Our tomatoes are not yielding much. So I love the idea of planting borage, especially since we are looking into having a hive or two in our garden this spring.
    Now on to discovering your blog,

    • Kat
      at 8:27 am

      Hi Claire. Thanks for stopping by. I think it would be exciting to have a bee hive, but I’m not sure I would be up to the time/maintenance of it. Good luck with the contest.

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