Bees are pollinators. This means that they help plants “reproduce” by carrying pollen from the male anthers to the female stigma (see the flower in the picture below). This transfer occurs as the bee feeds. A bee relies on flowers for their sugary nectar (energy) and pollen (protein and other nutrients). As the bee feeds, pollen from the male anters can attach to the body and legs of the bee. As the be moves from flower to flower, it carries this pollen to another flower(s), and upon landing at the next flower this pollen can be deposited on the female stigma.
All plants rely on pollinators. This means crops too! A healthy diet is almost entirely based on plants, including vegetables, fruits, herbs and nuts, which many forget come from plants. Not only are bees essential in agriculture but, they produce sweet honey and honeycomb wax. Humans have known their value for centuries. They really are incredible little creatures!
The truth is, bees are having a tough time in our modern world. Not only do they need to evade their natural predators, including other insects, birds and animals but, they have to deal with the human population. Bees are our friends, and we will be deeply sorry if they can no longer survive in the environment we have created. That is, an environment full of man-made materials with fewer and fewer green spaces (habitat loss) and an environment full of toxic and lethal insecticides. We are rapidly pushing bees to their limits.
With habitat loss, bee foods are sparse and even more so in the spring. You can can help your local bees by leaving your dandelions in bloom while the more aesthetically pleasing flowering plants in your garden catch up. Do not spray your lawn.
Let your dandelions grow! Gentlemen you’re off the hook for at least a few more weeks, you’re welcome!
If you are keen to ensure bees always have a decent meal, you can design your garden to be continuously bee-friendly during the growing season by planting early, mid and late blooming plants. Creating a bee-friendly garden, or space in your garden, can be a great help for wild bee populations.
Some favourite bee plants include:
Early blooming plants: blueberries, cotoneaster, foxglove, crocus, heliotrope, heather, primrose, and many more
Mid-season blooming plants: blackberry, chives, dahlia, hyssop, lavender, raspberries, sunflower, and many more
Late-season blooming plants: aster, coneflower, cosmos, goldenrod, pumpkin, squash, and more
Check which bee friendly plants will thrive in your region. And please, when purchasing plants check the tag! Be sure the plants were NOT grown with the use of pesticides/insecticides, and be particularly aware of neonicotinoids (blog post on that topic to come!). And, to sweeten the pot, all of your efforts will be rewarded in the form of increased fruit and vegetable yield in your garden. By feeding pollinators, the pollinators will feed you.
If you really want to attract bees to your new bee haven you will want to provide a water source, yes, they need water. Something as simple as a bird bath will suffice BUT, you need to provide a landing pad. Place a few rocks in the bird bath on which the bees can touchdown. Next, a brightly coloured shelter. A wooden shelter much like a birdhouse will do, but to make it a beehouse you will want to provide “nest tubes” arranged vertically at the bottom of the beehouse. You can purchase nest tubes, or make them yourself by wrapping an HB pencil in brown paper, tape it and seal the end. Do not make the house out of cedar and be sure to use zero-VOC paint. If you plan on making a few beehouses, paint them different colours so your bees can identify which one is theirs. Bees can be quite territorial. To ensure your neighbours don’t lose their cool, be sure the bees are directed up and then out of your yard. By placing water and flowers along a fence, or a wall, you can ensure the bees will be directed upward into the higher airstream as they move to their next location, keeping them out of your neighbours’ hair, literally.
So, what about winter? If you’d like to help hibernating bee species over winter, leave your hollow plant stalks, hydrangea for example, in your garden. Honey bees do not hibernate over winter. In fact, they keep active in the hive and feed off of their honey stores until spring. Bumble bees on the other hand do hibernate, though only the females when mated. These ladies will find a nest or a hollow (including plant stalks) to crawl into, turn down the metabolism and settle down for a long winter’s nap.
If everyone were to provide a food-rich haven for bees for the duration of the growing season, wild bee populations would thrive. Norway has initiated a “bee highway” project in urban centres. By making unused space a flower-buffet for bees, and linking these buffets with gardens, green roofs, cemeteries, etc., we can create a safe route for bees to travel along, void of insecticides and complete with water and shelter. Together we can…
…save the bees! #savethebees
Tell your neighbours, tell your friends!