I was leaving Sobeys the other day when a reader stopped me and asked if I would write a column about bees. I encourage my readers to make suggestions about the column so here it is, bees and what we can do to keep them buzzing.
Honey bees provide us with much more than honey. The honey bee is a major pollinator of many of our food crops, almonds, apples, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupes, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, sunflowers, watermelon and many other crops all rely on honey bees.
When the honey bee is threatened, our food supply is threatened and we are also threatened. Fortunately, there are actions we can take to reduce the threat. One is to include in your home gardens plants that will attract and support the honey bee.
The second is to provide an environment for other bees so that our gardens do not rely solely on the honey bee. The bumble bee and the blue orchard mason bee, among others, also provide pollination services. They do not produce honey.
The honey bee came to North America in the 17th century. Some may have been intentionally brought over by people who intended to grow the fruit and vegetables they were familiar with in their new location.
Prior to the settlers’ arrival there were a number of bee species already here. Some sources say there were as many as 4,000 native species spread across North America. Their source of nectar were the native plants.
If you are concerned about bees in general, then the best way to make sure they survive and thrive is to plant a mixed garden.
A mixed garden will contain plants that appeal to honey bees, bumble bees and other garden helpers. The most effective way to create this mixed plant garden is to use succession planting. Succession planting involves selecting plants that will bloom throughout the gardening season.
To bring the bees in in the spring plant crocus, hyacinth, borage, and calendula. To keep the bees happy through the summer, add bee balm, cosmos, coneflower, snapdragons foxglove, and hostas. Asters and sunflowers keep the bees feeding when fall arrives.
Plant the flowers in the vegetable garden bed either in the border or better place them amongst the vegetables. The early blooming flowers will bring in the first bees who are hungry and seeking sustenance.
Herbs are also powerful bee magnets. Chives, sage, thyme, borage and summer savoury are all good choices. Borage with its bright blue flowers is a personal favourite.
Dandelions and clovers will also draw bees to the yard. Both are edible plants and this we will talk about another day.
An added value of clovers and dandelions is there is no need to plant them in the garden bed. Most lawns will provide all of these two plants the bees need.
The first step to taking advantage of both clovers and dandelions is to stop thinking about them as the enemy and accept them for the many garden services they provide. So, until next week, happy gardening.