Taking Root #42

April 6, 2016

By Gini Bramlett

Attracting Honey Bees to Your Garden

Approximately two-thirds of the food we eat – staple crops such as rice, wheat and maize – are pollinated by wind. But, the remaining one-third including fruits and vegetables, nuts, many herbs and spices, coffee and chocolate are pollinated by insects, with bees being the biggest pollinators.

There are about 20,000 bee species, but only a few of the approximately 20,000 species are honeybees that are kept in hives. The rest are wild and are responsible for the majority of pollination worldwide.

It’s not news that the honey bee numbers are declining. Crop chemicals, habitat loss, food shortage and disease are just some of the reasons we have seen this ongoing decline in our bee and butterfly populations in the past decades.

Honeybees are not only integral to food production, but help your garden grow. You can attract bees by planting wildflowers, fruits, vegetables, herbs and sunflowers, letting your yard grow a little wild, and providing water and shelter for bees.

First step is to grow bee-friendly flowers. Native plants are what bees are naturally attracted to. Some examples for our area are milkweed, lavender and Russian sage. The more diversity of wildflowers and other bee-friendly plants you grow, the more bees you’ll attract, which in turn helps support other beneficial insects to boot.

Flowers with single petals are also more attractive to bees. These contain more pollen, and the flat petals make it easier for the bees to access it.

Some of honey bees’ favorite flowers are asters, calliopsis, clover, cosmos, crocus, dahlias, foxglove, geraniums, hollyhocks, hyacinth, marigolds, roses, snowdrops, sunflowers and zinnias.

Bees also prefer flowers that are yellow, white, blue and purple. These colors attract them more than pinks, orange and reds do. This doesn’t mean you need to exclude these colors, just keep colors you choose diverse to keep the bees happy.

Plant flowers that bloom throughout the season, too. If all your flowers bloom around the same time during the early summer, the bees won’t have any food to eat later on. Have flowers that have blooming times in spring, summer and fall to keep them buzzing around your yard.

Plant flowering vegetable and fruit plants such as berries, melons, squash, cucumbers and fruit trees. They all produce fragrant flowers and fruits that are attractive to bees. Here’s a short list of possibilities: blackberries, raspberries, cantaloupe, cucumbers, gourds, cherry trees, peppers, pumpkins, squash, strawberries, and watermelons.

If you have space for a little herb garden, that’s another great way to attract bees. Try mints, rosemary, thyme, bee balm, cilantro, catnip, borage, fennel and other herbs.

If you want them to take up residence in your yard allow for some open, meadow-like spaces. A too-neat, perfectly manicured yard leaves few options. Try leaving a small brush pile and some leaves lying where they fell. Bees will use them to make a home.

You could also leave patches of exposed dirt that turn to mud when it rains. Some bees live underground and need this access.

Provide a place for bees, as well as butterflies, to drink and bathe by placing a few flat rocks in a bird bath or shallow dish left on the ground. They can’t land in water that is too deep, but will land on the rocks to access the water. Put the baths near flowers that attract them.

More and more backyard gardeners are installing hives and other bee shelters to provide nesting spots for bees. If you’re serious about attracting bees to your yard, and helping them thrive, this option might be something to consider. Check online for bee shelter ideas.

Lastly, aim for a pesticide-free garden. Use natural remedies to eradicate pests. If you do spray plants, do it after dusk when pollinators are less active, but avoid specific chemicals that are known to harm bees.

Brownsville Thursday Market

Market season is just around the corner and will begin May 5 from 3-7pm on Main and Park streets. Many new locally produced food and craft items will be offered as well as plant starts for your home garden. Some of the vendors will offer various vegetable and flowers to attract bees and butterflies too.

For more information about being a vendor at the Thursday market or renting a plot at the community garden, visit www.gocfa.com.

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