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5 Simple Ways to Create a Bee Friendly Garden

5 Tips for Creating a Bee-Friendly Food Garden - LivingHomegrown.com

You may have heard in the news lately that bees have been having a tough time – and their numbers are dropping.

There are many, many reasons for this and even arguments among the experts as to why bees have been on the decline.

What we know for sure is that bees are very sensitive to changes in the environment. Things like pesticide use and loss of habitat can be very detrimental to them.

That is why it is so important that we (as gardeners and homeowners) try to do our part to be part of the solution…not the problem.

Bee-Friendly Gardening - LivingHomegrown.com

We Can Help:

One thing that I’ve learned after interviewing beekeepers, sustainable gardeners and even farmers for our television show on PBS, Growing a Greener World, is that we CAN make a difference.

And there are some simple steps we can take in our own backyards to provide bee habitat.

This week, I did a podcast episode on this topic where I interviewed Robin Haglund, founder and president of the garden coaching firm called Garden Mentors® .

Robin specializes in helping people build gardens that work with their lifestyle, their landscape, their budget and she’s a BIG promoter of bee-friendly gardens.

This post is a summary of what Robin shared in that audio podcast.

These tips are SO simple and easy for us to do!

But don’t let the fact that they are easy fool you.

These things can have a BIG impact on the these very important creatures.

If you would rather LISTEN to this info, head over to this week’s podcast episode.

To be honest, there is always more information in the 30 minute podcast than I can fit in a single post. So to get the full scoop, you should listen or read the transcript on the podcast page. It’s good stuff!

Otherwise, keep reading while I summarize the highlights and tips below that Robin shared in the podcast.

Enjoy!

Bees Love Borage - LivingHomegrown.com

Why Bees Matter:

Even if you do not grow your own food, bees and their pollination of edibles are responsible for 30% of all the food we eat.

Without that pollination, there is no food.

So when you go to the grocery store to buy fruits and vegetables, many would not be there if we didn’t have bees.

When we work to attract them and offer the habitat, they in turn pollinate our backyard crops. It is a win-win!

 

Different Bees and Your Edibles:

You probably already know that as a bee travels from flower to flower, she takes a little pollen with her (on her hair, wings, etc.). And when she lands in the next flower, she pollinates it as she is busy doing her chores for the hive.

The thing that you many NOT know is that different bees are attracted to different flowers.

Things like the size of the flower, the size of bees and even the bees’ tongue length can determine which flowers they go to.

In the case of tomatoes for instance, bumblebees are best suited to pollinate those flowers because their tongue is long enough to get down inside. In other words, a bumblebee will do a better job of pollinating (and creating) your favorite tomatoes than a standard honeybee.

Who knew?!

This is why planting a borage plant near your tomatoes is a good idea.

Why?

Because bumblebees love borage. Actually, all bees love it…but especially bumblebees. (And borage is EASY to grow from seed)

Bumblebees will make a “beeline” (sorry, I couldn’t resist) for the borage and then…they notice the tomatoes. You can almost hear them say, “Hmmm, this borage is nice…but I am going to check out these delicious tomato flowers now…“.

That is why Robin teaches that we need to support ALL bees – honeybees, bumblebees, carpenter bees, mason bees…even wasps and hornets. (Just don’t try to give those last two a high five. Ouch!)

Creating a Bee Friendly Garden:

There are 5 simple things we can do to create a bee friendly garden. Here are Robin’s top tips:

1. Plant Things They Love

To attract more bees into your garden a simple starting point is to plant things they love! Borage is a great plant that bees absolutely adore. And as a bonus, it’s an edible flower so a win-win choice for your garden. On her website Garden Mentors® Robin has a great PDF download called  ‘Pollinators Favorite Things’.

You can also check out this article for more ideas of plants that will help create a bee-friendly garden.

Bee Preservers for Bees - LivingHomegrown.com

2. Have a Water Source

Particularly in drought conditions, it’s really important to offer a water source for bees. Some bees’ entire responsibility is to bring water back to the hive!

However, it’s important not just to put a plain bowl of water out as the bees can drown. You want to place something in the water to ensure that the bees can climb back out if they fall into the water. Wine corks work well, or twigs laid across a shallow platter.

If you’re looking for a beautiful option, Barbara Sanderson of Glass Gardens Northwest has a line of floats that she developed that has a specifically tactile surface to help the bees. {Note: When you order one of Barbara’s Bee Preservers, a portion of the money goes to bee research. Nice!}

Here’s a video of honeybees in the garden of my co-worker Joe Lamp’l. Notice that one of the bees is drowning and another bee dives in to save it. How cool is that?

3. Do Not Over-Clean Your Garden

Resist the urge to prune and manicure every single inch of your garden. Don’t clean up everything as if you are expecting company. Yes, you have permission to take a chore off your checklist!

Let your garden have a natural area for the bumblebees, mason bees and carpenter bees. At a certain point in the year queen bees will burrow themselves down in the layers in the gardens and wait out the winter. Then they crawl out when spring comes and go build new colonies.

Having that space gives them a place to do just that.

4. Be Careful with Pesticide Use

Be really, really careful using pesticides in your garden and ideally avoid them entirely. If you must use pesticides, avoid spraying when flowers are in bloom and bees are out there doing their work. This includes your lawn too!

5. Register Your Bees & Connect With Local Societies

Consider registering any bees you find in your garden with the BumbleBee Watch Program.

This will help those following bees keep track of which bees are actually in your area, at what time of year, what they’re actually pollinating and what plants they’re attracted to most.

Also look up local bee societies or clubs in case you ever want to adopt bumblebees that may have set up camp in an undesirable location. Responsible beekeepers would much rather relocate bumblebees instead of destroying them. Giving those beekeepers or bee rescue companies a place to move the bumblebees helps these very productive pollinators. (This is especially good if you grow tomatoes)

 

I hope these tips help you feel empowered to create a bee friendly yard! We can all make a difference.

 

 

Tell Me…

Did you have lots of bees in your garden this year or have you noticed a decline?

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.

6 Comments:

  • Jackie Hooper-Hage says:

    Every year I leave Borage “volunteers” alone and enjoy them in the garden. Along with lots of Dill volunteers. I’m glad to know there is a good reason to do so!

  • Mary L. Narang says:

    Thanks a lot for all the great information. I have wanted to have a beehive for a few years, but think I am too old to now. But I can put those bee friendly plants in. Borage is a bee friendly plant which I was not aware of. I would like to try it.

  • Donna says:

    I’ve had a few more bees this year, mostly because I focused on planting lots and lots of plants for them. Ten years ago, bees were everywhere around my property, but the populations this year were no where near the levels then. Better, but not back. I have noticed lots of dead bees on my patios, which is disconcerting.

  • We put mason bees in our orchard this last spring. We don’t use chemicals (as much as my hubby hates all the weeds) and we teach our kids to be nice to the bees.
    I buy local raw honey and hope to have my own honey bees someday.

  • Dee says:

    Bravo. thanks so much for addressing this important topic!
    They r amazing creatures. Back when my son was 3, he saved a young mason bee from drowning. it became his first ‘wild friend’. For 2 years, any day he was in the garden, this mason bee would soon land on his shoulder, and crawl onto his finger when offered. it was so fun to witness its growth over time, and experience the wonder and my boy’s joy from its interactions. Restoring habitat is so critical now.
    your ggw episode on creating habitat was also inspiring, showing how simple and easily achieved. a couple of strategic plants and a saucer of water in every yard could literally save them from extinction (and our selves in the process).
    we have a Huge bottlebrush at the far back fence in our silicon valley yard (20’tx15’w), and when in full bloom the honeybee buzz is strong enough to hear it in the house!
    Bumblebees have increased while the Masons have sadly declined (even after adding a mason condo to the yard last year). But I didn’t know! My borage became so invasive that I pulled thousands of volunteers the past couple years. I will now have to restore the side yard borage jungle, thanks to your post!

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