The tireless work of bees is one of the main reasons for the possibility of human development on earth. Without them, our planet would be a lot different and the conditions for human development may not have existed. You can save these helpful pollinators by creating a bee-friendly space in your garden.
Bees are the reason flowering plants are able to pollinate and reproduce. Honeybees pollinate plants that produce about a quarter of the food consumed by Americans. If it weren’t for bees, the plants that we get a lot of our food from would not be able to reproduce and therefore quickly die out. Leaving us with very few options. Over recent years, bees have been dying at a rate the U.S. government says is economically unsustainable.
When we think about nature, normally we think about designated wilderness areas. What we don’t realize is that bees love living in urban settings with short flight paths and a variety of different plants and flowers to sample. Bees especially thrive in backyards and gardens because there are a many different plants to choose from.
By creating a hospitable place in your garden for bees, you will not only triple your yield of fruit and veggies, but you will also help improve the bee population.
Creating a Bee Friendly Atmosphere
Build a bee house:
House walls: use an empty milk carton (waterproof) with the spout cut off – leave the bottom intact – or a box the same size as a milk carton made out of wood scraps (not cedar).
Paint the house a bright color (if you plan to make more than one house, make sure they are each a different color) with exterior zero or low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint.
Fill the box with layered stacks of brown paper nest tubes (you can find these at garden stores). Cut the tubes so that they are each 6 inches (15.75cm) long, closing the end with tape or with a staple, or by folding them in half. Commercial nest tubes are 5/16 of an inch (.79cm) in diameter, the exact size of an HB pencil. You can get the diameter right by rolling a piece of brown paper around a pencil and pinching off the end, sealing it with tape.
Hang the house somewhere out of the rain, facing south or east, at eye level, once the temperature outside has warmed to 54-57 degrees Fahrenheit (12-14 degrees Celsius).
Dig below your garden soil until you expose the clay layer, or keep a bowl of moist clay near your bee house so that the masons can use it as construction material.
It may take an entire season for the bees to find your house. If you don’t have any luck attracting pollinators, you can purchase mason bees from a garden store or from your local beekeeper.
At first, the bees will fly around the house to make sure it is safe. Soon they will create a ‘bee-line’ to enter their new home.
Provide nutritious food for your bees:
Bees eat nectar and pollen so it is important to choose a variety of plants that flower during different seasons so there is always food available for them.
Native plants attract native bees and exotic plants attract honeybees. Native bees are very important for the health of local ecosystems so don’t forget about them when planning your bee garden!
Native plants or heirloom varieties are your best choices.
Bees have excellent color vision – this explains why flowers sport such vibrant colors. Bees especially like blue, purple, violet, white and yellow.
Plant flowers of a single species in clumps about four feet in diameter so that the bees will not have trouble finding them.
What to plant:
Here are a mix of wildflowers, garden plants, and herbs you can plant to help the bee population:
Depending on variations in climate and conditions, flowering times may differ from region to region, and this will affect when bees will forage. Italian strains of honeybees might not forage as much during colder weather, whereas bumblebees, with their furry coats, can often be found foraging on colder days. This means that late and very early flowering plants are vital for bumblebees.
During the spring and summer, all types of bees are out looking for nectar to feed their new broods. A typical honeybee colony consists of around 50,000 to 60,000 workers, as well as larvae to feed. This is why plenty of bee-friendly plants are vital during this time of year to ensure survival of the colonies.
- Chives (allow them to flower)
- Lavender (choose different varieties for a prolonged season)
- Comfrey (excellent flower for bees because it refills with nectar every 45 minutes. Honeybees, bumblebees, and solitary bees feed on it)
- Honey Suckle
- Sweet pea
- Salvia (sage)
- Passion Flower
During late summer and autumn, these plants will feed late developing broods, including young bees who have already developed into working adults.
- Aster (perennial)
- Borage (refills with nectar every 2 minutes!)
- Water mint
Make a bee bath!
Bees and other beneficial insects like ladybugs, butterflies, and predatory wasps, all need fresh water to drink. This can be difficult because most cannot land in a conventional birdbath without crashing or drowning.
- Line a shallow bowl or plate with rocks.
- Add water while leaving rocks as dry islands that can serve as landing pads.
- Place the bath at ground level in your garden. If you place these baths near plants that have aphid problems, the beneficial insects will look after them.
- Refresh water daily.