Learning About Bees: The Great Sunflower Project

Sunflowers in Fargo, North Dakota. Español: Gi...
Sunflowers in Fargo, North Dakota. Español: Girasoles amarillos Français : Un champ de tournesols à Fargo, dans le Dakota du Nord (USA). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’ve been making progress in planting our butterfly garden, and now we’ve moved onto the next phase… bees!

I’ve been researching citizen science programs that might be fun for me and my son to do together. I love the idea of being a citizen scientist, helping in our own way to assist real scientists by providing data collected from our own yard.

The first one we’re going to participate in is “The Great Sunflower Project“, aka, the Backyard Bee Count, a citizen science project through San Francisco State University. Apparently, little is known about urban pollinators, although it is understood that the population of urban bees is in decline. The hope is that urban gardens and restored areas can grow and create a connection to natural habitats, creating a greater environment for native bee populations to thrive.

In order to participate in this project, we had to plant sunflowers. Specifically, Lemon Queen Sunflowers. The researchers are trying to make each garden as similar as possible. However, though less desirable, it is also OK to use the following flowering plants instead…

  • Bee balm
  • Cosmos
  • Rosemary
  • Tickseed
  • Purple coneflower

Earlier this week, we ordered our seeds from Renee’s Garden (www.reneesgarden.com), the nursery working with the researchers at S.F. State. We’re going to grow the requisite sunflower and also cosmos in a variety of bright colors. We already have a mature, thriving rosemary bush. Though not included in the study, the bees will love the salvia (sage) we’ve planted once they flower. Strangely, I have never attempted to grow flowers before. The sunflower and cosmos will be a new experience for me. I’m curious to see how this goes! And of course children love sunflowers, with their huge size and height. The Lemon Queen variety may grow to six feet! If our sunflowers grow to even close to this size, my son is going to freak out.

Once we have some flowers blooming, the instructions are pretty simple. Collect data once or twice a month during the summer and for as many months as we have flowers. What does data collection entail? Download a provided data sheet and head into the backyard with a pencil and a watch. Get comfortable next to the sunflower, and record all the bees seen for the next fifteen minutes. Easy! A camera is also recommended to take photos of the bees for identification purposes. Then submit the data to the researchers.

I’ll keep you updated throughout the study!

Interested in participating? Check out the website… www.greatsunflower.org


    1. Me, too! I told my son that we’re going to help the bees, and he got really excited about it. I’m hoping this will help get him over his terror of being stung.


  1. What a coincidence…sunflower planting is on our agenda for today! My husband and I were just discussing this last night. Have you ever seed the “sunflower house” idea? I wish I had learned about that when my kids were smaller…kind of too late for us now, but here’s a link for you with that and various other gardening inspirations to share with kids, in case you are interested: http://www.artfulparent.com/2008/05/sharon-lovejoy-on-gardening-with-children.html


    1. Thank you for the additional information! I love the various “plant house” ideas I’ve seen. I have a wonderful book, Roots Shoots Buckets & Boots, which has great gardening activities to do with kids. Our yard is too small for most of them.. but it’s fun to check out! And I look forward to checking out the link you provided. Thanks!


        1. Too funny! Having a few free minutes between activities (crazy… birthday parties, eclipse event, …), I read through your link. Great interview, especially where she gives tips to help children enjoy gardening. I guess when we think of sunflower houses, we have to think of Sharon Lovejoy!


  2. This is wonderful! No worries – sunflowers pretty much grow themselves! Some further information on bees is available at http://www.beeguardian.org or backyardbeehive.com, for your readers. (I hope I wrote the links out okay…) I’m excited for you and your project. What a beautiful life.


    1. Thanks! And the more information out there, the better! I’m always worried about growing things because we have an oak tree that creates shade all over our small backyard.


  3. How EXCITING! I love growing sunflowers — I’m actually about to plant a few myself; I can’t help but get silly with their enormous beauty. Your son will love them. And eat their seeds after drying! 🙂 I’ve never heard of this program — can’t wait to hear of the progress! I’m always referring people to humane bee relocating services (don’t they understand the situation with bees these days?!? Extermination?!?), so I’m extra-thankful for your links.


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