We are all familiar with the importance of bees and other pollinators to the overall health and productivity of our home gardens as well as many large commercial crop farms and orchards. Think of bees as the workhorse of the pollinators. Research estimates the US has lost over 50 percent of its managed honeybee colonies in the last 10 years. This does not even count the thousands of other species of wild bees and beneficial insect pollinators that are being lost due to reduced natural habitat, the wide use of pesticides, and disease or parasites.
We may not have the means to raise honey bees in our backyard with large stacks of hives but we can help provide safe havens for bees and other pollinators to prosper and then reap the benefits of beautiful and bountiful gardens. This simply entails providing food, water, and nesting places that are accessible and inviting to the bees.
Grow a Food Source
Nectar is loaded with sugars and is the bee’s main source of energy. Pollen provides the balanced diet of proteins and fats.
Different pollinators are active at different times of the year, so providing a variety of flowering plants throughout the year (early spring to late fall) is important. Studies have shown that most pollinators like the easy access of single petal flowers, those with flat layers of petals, over double petal flowers. Certain colors are more attractive also, such as blues, purples, yellows, and whites. Choosing flowering plants with varying heights and flower shapes and sizes will also be more appealing to the pollinators and is a plus for our visual enjoyment. One tip, we may not like, is to leave a few dandelions in your yard. These are often the earliest food plants for the bees. Native plants are highly attractive to pollinators found in our local areas. Help with identifying plants native to your area is provided by the National Wildlife Federation. You might also check with a reputable local nursery or your area conservation office for assistance.
Supply a Water Source
Just like us, pollinators need water too. Bees cannot swim or float on water so placing shallow containers of water out in the garden areas with small stones or pebbles in them will provide a resting place where they can land and rehydrate. Remember to change water frequently to keep fresh and prevent mosquitoes from breeding.
Not all bees live in hives. Most are more solitary and may live in rotted trees, or wooden structures and many even in the ground. In very small spaces you can build bee houses. Most are somewhat like a birdhouse but filled with small cylindrical openings like hollow reeds, bamboo or rolled cardboard. The Old Farmer’s Almanac describes how providing a bee house, pictured below, is helpful. A simple internet search will show some very simple to very elaborate examples. Providing an escape from the heat and weather will help keep your pollinators happily living nearby. While bees love sunny areas for feeding, they also need shady resting places. Leafy ground cover or low profile bushy plants give bees a place to seek refuge away from the sun and heat of the day.
Reduce Pesticide Use
Pesticides were created to kill insect pests, unfortunately they kill the beneficial insects too. The thought of stopping or reducing the use of pesticides can be intimidating but the benefits are worth it. Beneficial insects, our water supply and our food safety are all better off without the pesticides. Rotating your crops reduces harmful insect infestation, increased population of beneficial insects will help control some harmful insects, and a little more effort on our part by trapping or hand-picking insects in the garden all reduce the need for pesticide use. Save the use of pesticides as the last resort.