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What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a happenin’

BeeI have a lot of fruit trees in my yard, and when they finally break their winter dormancy and burst into full bloom, it always makes me smile to see the pollen covered bees lazily sampling flower after flower. I know their visits will ensure a plentiful harvest (if I can keep the squirrels away!). But, sadly, that may not be the case in the near future.

In recent years we’ve learned that the world’s bee population is in serious trouble. From the mysterious colony collapse of honeybees to the mite infestations of wild bees, we’ve lost nearly 50% of the world's bee population.

A world without bees is a very scary place. Has anyone seen “Bee Movie”? We rely on bees a lot more than most people realize. Did you know about a third of all fruits, vegetables, flowers, nuts, grains, etc. rely solely on pollination from bees to produce? And even those that are self-pollinating produce better formed and more plentiful fruit if cross pollinated by bees? Clearly without bees, we’d be the ones in serious trouble.

So what’s a home gardener to do? Make sure you garden is bee-friendly by providing a safe and accommodating place for them to live and thrive. By strengthening our local, wild bee populations you’ll be doing your part to save bees worldwide. For the sake of this article we’ll focus on attracting all types of wild bees from honeybees to bumblebees and everything in between. If your neighbor just happens to be a beekeeper our tips will attract their bees too!

There are four things bees need to be happy:

1. Nesting sites

2. Lots of flowers

3. Water

4. Limited Pesticides (no pesticides would be ideal)

Let’s tackle each of these.

Nesting sites – Most wild bees are solitary insects. And solitary bees (including bumblebees) live in two places: Dead trees or underground. So think about bees the next time you want to cut down a dead tree, chop off a dead limb, or haul away an old fallen tree. As long as it is not a threat to your home, just leave it alone. The bees will thank you. As for the ground dwelling bees, they prefer bare, sandy ground. So consider “creating” or leaving such a place in the back of your garden.

Lots of flowers – Having different sources of nectar and pollen are a great way to attract all kinds of bees. And making sure you have things blooming throughout the growing season is essential. Native and “old or heirloom” varieties of flowering plants work best. Many new or hybrid varieties no longer produce the pollen or nectar bees eat. Bees tend to visit one type of flower at a time, so clumping together flowers of the same variety may be more attractive to bees than a random mix of flowers. Some bee favorites include: Alyssum, Asters, Bee balm, Black-eyed Susans, Butterfly bushes, Butterfly weed, Crape myrtle, Chives, Clovers, Cosmos, Goldenrods, Joe Pye weed, Lambs’ ears, Lavenders, Milkweeds, Oreganos, Phlox, Pot marigold, Sages, Salvias, Sedum, Sneezeweed, Sunflowers, Thymes, and Wild or old roses.

Water – Water is very important to bees. On a really hot day, bees may spend more time collecting water than they do collecting pollen or nectar. A simple birdbath will work just as well as an elaborate water garden. I’ve often seen bumble bees sitting on the surface of my own water garden. The first time I saw it, I thought the poor fella had drowned, but in fact he was just grabbing a sip of water on a hot day.

Limited Pesticides – First off, not using pesticides at all is the best way to use pesticides. Most of the time an insecticidal soap, strong blast from a hose, or a set of fingers (for picking the bugs off) is all you need to keep you plants pest free. But if you must use a pesticide, only use them in the late evening or on cloudy days. These are the times bees are the least active, and most pesticides are only dangerous as long as they are wet. “Dust” style pesticides, however, are the worst kind you can use as they are toxic for days and can easily stick to bees just like pollen. What makes them even worse is that the dust gets mixed in with the pollen the bees are collecting, and so they end up feeding it to the baby bees. 

Also, make sure you ALWAYS read the label on pesticides and follow the directions to the letter. If the label says it is not safe for bees, or should not be used when plants are in bloom (code talk for not safe for bees), then don’t use it.

Follow these four guidelines to make sure your garden is bee-friendly, and you can rest assured your garden will be buzzing for many years to come!

Photo Credit: aussiegall via Compfight cc