How to Bee Friendly

Contemplating the state of our environment can be overwhelming, but there are small things we can do to make a difference in our local neighborhood.

Growing plants that encourage activity of pollinating insects, particularly bees, is one way we can help, even if all you can put outdoors is a potted plant.

Bee zinnia bumble

Pollination by bees is absolutely essential for most ecosystems. Out of the existing 369,000 flowering plant species, 90% of them must be pollinated by insects. A honeybee can visit between 50 to 1,000 flowers or blossoms in just one trip back to the hive. They make several trips a day, and there can be as many as 25,000 bees in just one colony. Just think of the hundreds of millions of blossoms and flowers that would be pollinated in one day by a colony of bees! That could amount to over 200 million flowers a day!

Not only humans, but many animal species (including birds) depend on food sources that require pollination, such as plants and trees that produce nuts, berries, seeds and fruits.

Much of the habitat of bees has been lost due to urban development, some agricultural methods, the use of pesticides, as well as climate change. How can we help?

Even if you have no yard or garden, you can grow flowers, vegetables and herbs that bees like to visit simply by planting them in pots or containers on a front step or a balcony.

Before planting, make a few drainage holes in the bottom of solid containers. Wire or wicker baskets can be lined with a semi-permeable membrane and/or sphagnum moss. Pots should hold moisture in the soil and allow for free drainage of water as well. Fill your pots with moisture retentive, organic potting soil.

Many herbs can be grown in containers. Some herb blossoms that bees love are anise, catnip, chives, clary sage, hyssop, lemon balm, oregano, rosemary, Spanish lavender, thyme, borage, chervil and valerian.

Flowers that attract pollinators and grow well in containers are gerbera daisies, cornflowers, blanket flower, geraniums, salvias, alyssum, marigolds and hyacinth.

When selecting plants, be sure you do not choose hybridized plants. Hybrids produce very little nectar or pollen, so they would not be useful if you intend to provide honeybees with food. Here are more examples of flowers and plants that attract bees:

Bee flower chart2
Bee friendly plants and flowers.

Vegetables plants that attract bees are peppers, squash, pumpkins, flowering broccoli and legumes like beans and peas, which produce flowers that bees love.

Other garden plants include tomatoes, melons, strawberries and many types of berry bushes.

If you buy plants from a garden center or a nursery, please keep in mind that many of them use neonicotinoid insecticides. Neonics are powerful, systemic pesticides that spread through plants and contaminate pollen and nectar.

It would be best to take the time to research which nurseries selling plants in your area or online verify that their plants are certified organic, even from the start. Many plants are grown from seeds coated with neonicotinoid pesticides or are drenched in them.

The same precautions are necessary when buying seeds. There are several companies that sell untreated seeds, such as the Sustainable Seed Company , Botanical Interests, Seeds of Change, Select Seeds and High Mowing Seeds.

Without a doubt, the use of pesticides and herbicides can kill bees. It is best to stay away from all commercial chemicals. Additionally, don’t be fooled by pesticides that are labeled as “organic.” These are not safer than regular pesticides, and they might even be worse.

Some natural ways to keep down pests are to introduce beneficial insects such as ladybugs, spiders, and praying mantises, which are higher on the food-chain than harmful insects. You can purchase these beneficial insects live or in their larva stage. In addition, there are companies that sell food that attracts them such as Hirt’s Gardens ladybug nectar.

Pests can also be trapped and taken away, or removed by putting on some gloves and picking off the insects by hand, then dropping them into a bucket of soapy water.

Here are a few more natural methods of controlling pests and weeds.

  • Build healthy soil by using natural composting methods.
  • Keep your garden clean of weeds, and debris.
  • Use natural fertilizers.
  • Rotate crops.
  • Pull out and discard infested plants.
  • Water early in the day to discourage insect or fugal damage, which occurs when plants are too wet.
  • Disinfect tools you have used on infested plants before using them again on other plants.

Bees also need water. It’s easy to make a bee bath. Select a shallow dish made from nontoxic materials, such as a glass or ceramic dish — not plastic or metal. Place some stones in the dish and pour clean water at a level that sits below the top of the stones, so that they are not completely submerged. Change the water each day and clean the bee bath every week.

Bee bath saucer.jpg
This photo pictures how simple it is to make a bee bath with a saucer or small plate. It is best to place it in an elevated spot in a shady and protected area.

Again, here is a list of several flowers that attract bees: Bee balm, black-eyed Susan, stonecrop (sedum), rock cress, goldenrod, butterfly bush, purple coneflower (echinacea), Joe-pye weed, lavender, snowdrops, crocus, chives, sunflowers, roses, catmint, cranebill (geranium), salvia, butterfly weed, common heliotrope, cosmos, blanket flower, alyssum, aster, poppies, clover, daisies, hostas, and zinnias.

If you have room in your yard, don’t forget that they love berry blossoms as well as blossoming shrubs and trees.

If you leave a little bare ground in your garden or yard, this will also help solitary bees. Some 70 percent of them dig a nest in the ground to raise their young.

You may even want to add a home for bees to your yard. Bee houses or hotels are like bird houses in a way. They attract native solitary bee species. They are not honey bees, but they are very effective (and docile) pollinators.

Common solitary bees are mason bees, leafcutter bees, and miner bees. Giving them with a place to nest in your backyard can improve their lives, and yours as well!

For a list of companies and organizations that sell organic seeds and plants to the general public, please go to this web page entitled “Beyond Pesticides“.

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