Planting for Bees
Feeding bees and ourselves
by Cricket Aldridge, Newsletter Editor
Pollination is a vital link in our ecosystem. It’s important for the genetic diversity in all of our flowering plants, and t’s important for the production of food for people and animals. Honeybees and native bees contribute hugely to this process, but it isn’t out of duty that they travel through the air depositing pollen from flower to flower. These little marvels are busily collecting nectar and pollen to take back to their hives to be used in the making of food, wax, royal jelly, propolis, and honey. Pollination is merely a by product of their activity. In cold climates bees stay inside their homes, huddled together to maintain warmth in the winter. There are no plants to pollinate anyway.
But Springtime and Summer are different stories. Bees rely not only on wildflowers, but also on the flowering plants in our yards and farms, and that means they rely on us. We can choose to create landscapes with plants that feed us as well as the bees. It’s good to know that most herbs, vegetables and fruits provide food for bees when they flower. Planting bee-loving flowers around our vegetable gardens can promote higher yields as they attract more bees as well. Nature is full of symbiotic relationships like this.
So what are some ways that we can be more intentional about helping our bee friends in our urban farms?
Know what plants bees like the most
Not all flowering plants are beneficial to bees. Some, like oleander, simply don’t provide nectar or pollen that bees like. Long, tubular flowers that have pollen and nectar are often inaccessible to bees, but are good for hummingbirds who have long tongues and beaks, Also, flowers with dense petals like double and ruffled flowers do not allow bees to get to the pollen and nectar. Bees really love open flowers with lots of stamens. Think of daisies, sunflowers, and bottle brush shaped flowers.
Let your vegetables and herbs go to seed
If you have ever let a lettuce or chicory go to seed, you certainly saw bees all over it. These types of plants are absolutely adored by bees. Lavender, rosemary, marjoram, mint, and virtually every other herb will call bees to your garden in abundance. So plant, eat, and let a few of them go to seed when the season is over.
Plant in groups
Bees don’t travel from one kind of flower to the next when seeking food. They generally stay with one kind of flower to collect food and then return to the hive. So if you have flowers planted in groups of 3 or more, bees are more likely to find that more appealing than a garden full of 20 different plants, with one plant each.
Finally…Don’t spray pesticides on flowering plants, whether it is organic or not.
If you do need to spray for some reason, do it in the evening when bees are done foraging for the day. Also, be sure to not contaminate water sources. Everything a bee touches during the day while out foraging, comes back to the hive and is shared with all. It becomes food for the brood as well as adults. Be mindful of that when you treat pests and weeds. Also, don’t plant anything that has been treated with neonicotinoids as they have been found to cause neural damage to colonies.
And one final note for those living in hot climates like Phoenix, Summertime can be hard on bees. Beekeepers will thank you if you observe which plants bees frequent in your garden during the summer and then plant more of them. If you like local honey, then this is the best thing you can do for yourself and the bees.
Planting for bees is really just planting for ourselves and our planet. “Bee” mindful of what and how you plant.
About this author:
Cricket Aldridge is a beekeeper, gardener, and the editor for the Urban Farm’s Lifestyle Newsletter. She has her own blog that you can visit at Gardenvariety.life