Nothing evokes the sense of an organic garden like the hum of bees buzzing amongst summer flowers. Honey bees are important for pollination of all our fruits and berries and many of our vegetable crops. They don’t need us but we certainly need them. World wide, their numbers are on the decline and experts believe this is due to a lack of food (nectar and pollen) and the wide spread use of chemicals in the environment. By maintaining a bee-friendly garden, you can play a small, but important role in helping to restore the hard-hit honeybee populations, and help bee-pollinated crops.
Thanks to beekeepers, honeybees aren’t in danger of disappearing completely, even with the added problems of the Varroa mite. Since the introduction of Varroa mite in NZ the honey bee population has dramatically declined. There are now no wild bee colonies that survive for longer than a year due to the virus causing varroa. You can help the bees numbers if you promote an environment that encourages bees to visit your garden. If you are looking for an activity with the kids, why not build a ‘Bug Hilton’, bumblebees and solitary bees will inhabit this.
Bees need a reliable supply of water throughout Spring, Summer and Autumn. They use water to cool their hives and dilute the honey they feed to their larvae. Provide a shallow pond in your garden where bees can land on the margins to collect water. Place rocks or grow water lilies in deeper water to provide bees with a safe landing platform.
Pollen and nectar
Bees do well in an urban garden as often there is a huge choice of nectar from your garden and the neighbours garden. Ornamental plants will attract bees to your garden, but not just any flower will do. If you aim to attract honeybees, you’ll need bee lures that produce ample amounts of pollen and nectar.
Foraging bees identify desirable flowers by color, shape, and smell. Interestingly, bees can clearly perceive only four colors: yellow, blue-green, blue, and ultraviolet. Yellow, the color of most pollen, is another bee favourite. Most modern ornamentals, such as hybrid roses, no longer produce enough pollen and nectar. Plant old-fashioned or heirloom varieties.
The most serious danger to foraging honeybees is the indiscriminate use of pesticides and other chemicals in the garden. This is just another reason to be organic and spray free. When it comes to controlling garden pests, simple home remedies can save the bees. For example, you can eliminate a variety of destructive insects, including aphids, by spraying infested plants with a fast jet of water from a hose. One organic spray, Pyrethrum, is very toxic to bees, if you must use it, spray late in the evening when the bees are back in their hive.
Rest assured that foraging honeybees rarely sting while away from the hive. If threatened, they usually fly away. Even so, if you are buzzed by a curious bee, it’s a bad idea to swat at her. Simply walk away. Interestingly, honeybees tend to fly in straight lines, so you can usually shake a pursuing bee by weaving or running around a tree. Just hope that your neighbours aren’t watching! Avoid wearing perfumes when you’re in the garden, bees will be attracted to you. Avoid growing clover in your lawn.
Because foraging honeybees (they are all girls) put in 12-hour shifts, they tend to visit only one type of flower at a time. So, they might find a solid mass of sunflowers more alluring than a bed filled with mixed flowers. For best results, make sure their favourite pollen and nectar producing blooms are continuously available in your garden throughout the year.
Plants for Bees
Trees and Shrubs:- apple, Maple, Broom, citrus, Cherry, Cotoneaster, Dogwood, Fuchsia, Gorse, Hazel, Hebe, Pear, Plum, Orange, honey locust, linden
Perennials/annuals:- Alyssum Bee balm, Black-eyed Susan, Basil, Borage, Butterfly weed, Catmint, Cosmos, Globe thistles, Lambs’ ears, Lavendars, Oreganos, marigold, Sages, salvias Summer phlox, Carrot, Heather, Rosemary, Thymes, Joe Pye Weed