Saturday, September 17, 2011

Make your Garden a Bee Friendly Garden

Nest of a ground dwelling bee

        There are approximately 20,000 species of bees in the world.  British Columbia has approximately 450 species of bees but with further identification that number could grow to 500 within a few years. Many of the bee species are non-social or solitary.  70% of the bee species in North America are ground dwelling bees including some species of bumble bee (bombus).  Although there are obvious benefits to mulching (water retention, weed control) areas of bare earth provide a nesting area for ground dwelling bees.

                                                              Mason Bees at City Farmer
     One of our native bees (Blue Orchard Mason Bee) the Blue Orchard Mason bee likes the clay between rocks. Wood or stem nesting bees prefer a pile of branches and all species need a source of water for nest construction or cooling.  It is easy to build your own mason bee home (Mason Bee Vancouver).  

Mason Bee home
Being a bee is thirsty work
     Consider providing a bee bath which should be shallow (bees are not good swimmers) with a landing area.  It is important to remember that bees are not aggressive away from the hive.  If a bee lands on you away from the hive it will not sting you unless it is physically threatened.   Consider reducing or eliminating your lawn and growing plants that will provide habitat and food for bees and other criters.   Do not use toxic herbicides and pesticides.  Bees have a relatively weak immune system and as such are a prime indicator species for the toxic effects of a product.  To learn more about the effects of insecticides on bees go to Insecticides and Bees post in this site and to the Insecticides and Bees section of our Beekeepers' Library.

Bumble Bee (Bombus) enjoying a Cosmos (not Kramer)
What a bee sees
we see 
bees see
add in UV
uv purple

uv purple

uv violet
uv blue

blue green


     Bees see colours differently than we do and studies show they prefer purple, violet and blue in that order. Bees can see ultraviolet light patterns invisible to us.  Having said that you will find bees enjoying flowers of all colours.  When choosing plants you should provide a succession of flowers (pollen and nectar) that will feed the bees from early spring to late fall.  Use native plants which have specific adaptations for your area and attract native bees which have adapted to these specific characteristics.  Avoid plants that are highly hybridized as this often reduces the amount pollen and nectar and leaves the plant sterile.  Single flower tops like daisies or marigolds are better than the more showy double flowers (i.e. double impatient) which have less nectar and are more difficult for bees to access their pollen.   Nectar is loaded with sugar and is the bees main energy source while pollen provides a balanced diet of protein and other nutrients.  Bees prefer plants grown in groups (3-4) rather than as individual plants.  Bees, being cold blooded prefer sunny spots over shade and need shelter from strong winds.

Bee Balm

The key is to provide plants that flower through the entire growing season including early spring and fall.   Some of the plants bees like in spring are crocus, hyacinth, borage, calendula, lilac, blueberry, plum and cherry.  In summer bees love bee balm, salvia, cosmos, echinacea, california lilac, lavender, chives, clover, tomatoes, raspberries, mallow, locust trees, rudbeckia, snapdragon and foxgloves.  In the fall there are zinnia, sedum, asters, calendula, Japanese anemone, witch hazel, goldenrod and heather.  I've noticed that bees love invasive plants like mint, fennel, blackberry, lemon balm and goldenrod.  In our community garden we have found a few seasonal favorites like raspberries in June, Black Locust trees in July, blackberries in August, asters in September and Calendula and Japanese Anemone in October.  Here is a list of plants that bees love.

*For a more complete list of plants bees luv go to the Bee Plants page of this site or to the Planting for Pollinators section of our Beekeepers' Library

Here's a few sources of information for making your garden a bee friendly garden.  Though some of the sources are Californian most if not all of the plants are grown here:  

Bees love sunflowers

The Melissa Garden
Urban Bee Gardens
Make a Bee friendly garden

Don't mess with my home, homie

The Honeybee Conservancy


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