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How to Help the Bees

Updated on January 5, 2014

Grow a Sunflower and Participate in the Great Backyard Bee Count

Like many people I've been concerned about the decline of the honeybee population and wished there was something I could do to help. Recently I was delighted to learn about a project called the Great Sunflower Project Bee Count.

The Great Sunflower Project was founded in 2008 by Gretchen LeBuhn, a bee researcher at San Francisco State University. Each person's contribution is small and only takes a few minutes of their time, but with over 100,000 people signed up to participate in the research all over North America, a large amount of information about honeybees and other pollinators can be gathered. On this page I'll share how easy and fun it is to become involved in a citizen science project to help the bees!

(Photo by VickiSims)

Why Help the Bees?

Bees are required to pollinate a third of all food crops!

The Great Sunflower Project Explained - The Great Sunflower Project Founder, Gretchen LeBuhn

In this video, Gretchen LeBuhn, founder and director of the Great Sunflower Project, explains how easy it is to help bee researchers gather valuable data about bees and other pollinators.


Plant Your Flower to Count the Bees

The List of Plants to Use to Participate in the Bee Count

Originally the project was set up with the idea that everyone would plant a specific type of yellow sunflower called "Lemon Queen" (Helianthus annuus) which is easy to grow and a favorite of honeybees and other pollinating bees. To accomodate climates where perhaps sunflowers may not bloom early enough in the year, the program has expanded the plant choices to include bee balm, purple coneflowers, tickseed, cosmos and rosemary.

Here are the simple steps to take to participate and help the bees:

1. Plant your sunflower (or other plant from the list)

2. Go to the Great Sunflower Project Website to sign up - click on the photo of the sunflower

3. Watch your sunflower for 15 minutes

4.Enter your data online.

(Photo by VickiSims)

Grow Lemon Queen Sunflowers for the Bees - Sunflowers - A Honeybee Favorite

The Lemon Queen Sunflower was the flower used the first year and is why the program was called The Great Sunflower Project.

Other Plants on the Bee Count Plant List - Rosemary, Bee Balm, Cosmos, Purple Coneflower and Tickseed (Coreopsis)

Rosemary, Bee Balm, Purple Coneflower, Cosmos and Coreopsis are other flowers that can be used for the Backyard Bee Count.

bumble-bee-on flower
bumble-bee-on flower

Count the Bees!

How to Participate in the Backyard Bee Count

After you plant your seeds or buy a plant, be sure to visit the project website to set up your free account. You will be asked to provide some information about your garden. The site also has illustrations to help you easily identify the difference between honeybees, bumblebees, carpenter bees, mason bees and other types of insects you may see visiting the flowers

After setting up your account, here are the supplies you will need: Your sunflower (or another plant on the list), a comfortable place to sit, a data sheet printed from the Great Sunflower Project website, a pen or pencil and a watch. A camera is optional but you are encouraged to take photos and share them.

Here's what you'll do for the actual bee count:

1. Pull up a comfortable chair next to your plant on a sunny morning preferably around 9 to 10 am - bring a cup of coffee or tea to enjoy.

2. Focus on one plant and count and report the number of fresh open flowers on the plant - don't count older flowers that may not have pollen or nectar

3. Write down your starting time

4. For each bee that visits, write down its arrival time

5. Stop recording your observations after 15 minutes

6. Enter you data on The Great Sunflower Project Website

If you don't see any bees, that is important information, too!

You are welcome to submit reports as many times as you can all summer!

(Photo by VickiSims)

Why Participate in the Great Sunflower Project and Count the Bees? - Benefits of the Great Backyard Bee Count

In this video Gretchen LeBuhn explains what you can gain from participating in the Great Sunflower Project.

The Great Sunflower Project Website - Log in and Report Your Bee Count

The Great Sunflower Project website will explain the project and exactly what you need to do to participate. It only requires a few minutes in advance of the count to set up your account, report your location and answer a few questions about your garden. For the actual count, it requires 15 minutes of observation time and a few minutes to log back into the site to report how many bees you saw. You can also submit your report by printing out a data sheet from the website, filling it out and mailing it in.

More Ways to Help the Bees

1. Don't use pesticides in your yard

2. Plant flowers that bees like

3. Consider getting a hive or nest box

Bee Houses to Help Bees - Houses for Bumble Bees and Mason Bees

If having a beehive is not an option for you, there are other beneficial pollinators you can help with minimal effort and cost. bumble bees and mason bees are also important pollinators and they don't require as much knowledge, time and effort as keeping honeybees. For the most part you provide suitable nesting sites and they will take care of themselves.

More Homes for Bees - Bumble Bee and Mason Bee Homes


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Will you participate in the Great Sunflower Project Bee Count This Year? - Please share your comments

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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I thought it was only an American project. Glad to see Canada included. It's too late for this year as winter sends all the bees into hibernation, but I will participate for sure in the spring of 2015!

    • TapIn2U profile image


      4 years ago

      Bees play an important role in agriculture. Save the bees! Thanks for this wonderful lens! Blessings! Sundae ;-)

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      This is really important. Thank you for publishing this lens.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      This is awesome, I hope more people try to help the bees.

    • LotusLandry profile image


      5 years ago from Southern California

      I read somewhere that sunflowers may help to benefit the soil by removing radioactive pollutants.

    • psiloveyou1 profile image


      6 years ago

      Very cool lens. I have lots of bees in my yard :) Thanks for the link to my Purple Coneflower lens. I will return the favor!

    • caffimages profile image


      6 years ago

      We seem to have similar passions, Vicki. I'm adding you to my top flowers for bees lens. This is the perfect addition to it.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I can't tell you how long it's been since I've seen a honey bee around here...miss them! Hopefully they'll be back. We have lots of Bumble Bees...this looks like a fun project.

    • Tracie-Fisher profile image


      6 years ago

      Sunflowers are my favorite and so is honey. What a perfect blending of bees and my favorite things. Thanks!

    • fitnessjunkie8 profile image


      6 years ago

      I was completing a squidoo quest "water a flower" and I chose to look up Sunflower because my kids and I received a bunch of Sunflowers for Earthday and I wanted to know more about them. The title of this lense was catchy. I was absolutely delighted and surprised by how enlightening this lense is. I watched the videos and read the lense with my 8yr old twins and we will be completing the first step in this project today-planting our sunflowers.:-) Thanks a bunch for this lense and we look forward to doing our part in The Great Sunflower Project!

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      You have provided a wonderful service with this page. Although I live in San Francisco and am keenly interested in the loss of bees throughout the world, I was totally unaware of this project. Thank you for helping to spread the word.

    • biminibahamas profile image


      6 years ago

      Interesting, I was going to plant sunflower seeds this morning and stumbled across this lens ... will have to come back once my flowers bloom.

    • biminibahamas profile image


      6 years ago

      Interesting, I was going to plant sunflower seeds this morning and stumbled across this lens ... will have to come back once my flowers bloom.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      we plant sunflowers every year. kids just love planting them i guess its cause they get so tall.

    • SianaL profile image


      6 years ago

      Great lens!

    • Craftypicks profile image

      Lori Green 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas

      Really great lens. I love bees. Nice video too

    • Craftypicks profile image

      Lori Green 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas

      Great Lens

    • UKGhostwriter profile image


      6 years ago

      Superb lens, fantastic videos - well done. Makes we wonder why we have wasps!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great Project. I have some growing right now.

    • MerlinFan profile image


      6 years ago

      This is great I haven't even heard of the Great Sunflower Project. Oddly me and my kids just planted a BUNCH of sunflowers for the summer. I think we will purchase a few of the bee homes and place them around our flower gardens. Thanks for the informative lens!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      No shortage of numerous kinds of bees here in my back yard. However, the farmers here in Ohio are concerned! There will not be a shortage of sunflowers in my yard either. It's my favorite flower! Thank you for the information on the Great Sunflower Project! Blessings and a bit o' sunshine!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image


      6 years ago

      Our garden is already bee friendly, but I'm going to plant even more flowers for them. Thanks for letting me know about this project.

    • GramaBarb profile image


      6 years ago from Vancouver

      What a wonderful cause! I am going to join up with my granddaughter as she is helping me with my patio garden. We had bees on the lavendar last year and this year we planted some sunflower seeds and they have sprouted! I hope they will be happy in containers and the bees return. Blessed!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      My sister just sent me pictures of the sunflowers we planted last February. I wish I am there now to count the bees visiting.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      great lens!

    • abb1fan profile image


      6 years ago

      I love your lens . . . if I didn't live in a residential neighborhood, I would rasie bees!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I've participated in bird counts. Now a bee count seems like a real challenge. Thank you for publishing this lens. It's fascinating.

    • microfarmproject profile image


      6 years ago

      Cool project. I love to have sunflowers in the garden because they do attract so many bees.

    • flycatcherrr profile image


      6 years ago

      As a beekeeper, I applaud this message! :)

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 

      6 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Very interesting and a worthy cause

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great topic and a very important one. If we don't have bees, our food supplies will not be great. I look at this lens as a grassroots effort, and applaud you for it.

    • davenjilli lm profile image

      davenjilli lm 

      6 years ago

      Love bees and beekeeping. In talking with other people I find that most people confuse bees and wasps. Bees sting once then die - so they don't want to sting you. Wasp sting and keep on stinging until you kill them. Learn to tell them apart and encourage those around you to be gentle with bees and they will be gentle with you. (unless they are africanized then all bets are off)

    • deckdesign profile image


      6 years ago

      I've always thought about planting sunflowers, but I didn't know that they are also helpful for bees. I will be planting some this year along wtih some of the other flowers you mentioned.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      6 years ago from Colorado

      I would love to be a part of this project. I've been thinking about setting up a bee hive on my property. I definitely look forward to following up with a visit to the Great Sunflower website. Thank you for introducing me to this vital project and thanks also for featuring my new bee page (Fruitless Fall). This is an excellent presentation of an important issue and opportunity. Appreciated!

    • jadehorseshoe profile image


      6 years ago

      ANOTHER great lens!

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 

      6 years ago from UK

      Bees and sunflowers are two of my favourite things. I don't think we had a bee count here in Scotland but it sounds like a great project and we can definitely all do with thinking of some ways to help the declining bee populations out.

    • CastleRoyLisa profile image


      7 years ago from Rhode Island

      As always a wonderful lens and information

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      7 years ago from Central Florida

      Thanks for calling this to my attention. I love participating in the bird count and this will be another way I can help monitor the wild health of our planet.


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