For the past several years the honey bee visitation in our garden here in Auburn has been very sad. Only saw a few now and then, seeing a cross section of the wild bee population coming to visit.
But this year, I’m very hopeful because I’m seeing loads of honey bees, and little and big bumble bees, an assortment of sizes of wild bees and in good numbers.
We’ve had a lot of rain this spring and early summer so the flowers in the garden have been abundant. And I’ve let all my herbs to go to flower so we’ve had catnip, thyme, peppermint, lavender, yarrow, bee balm, echinacea, butterfly bush, kale, and others in great bloom – which have fed the flying beauties very well.
We also had a lot of early blossoms on the fruit trees which gave the newly emerging baby bees something to eat right away. My peach tree was abuzz with bees as soon as it warmed up enough for them to fly. I am tempted sometimes to take branches of flowering fruit trees inside for bouquets on the trees that don’t really produce much fruit but this year I didn’t do this because of the bees, letting them eat. I drew joy from just standing under the trees and listening to their happy humming.
Just as a reminder, for the sake of our dwindling bee population, grow some flowers or herbs which are known to flower, and don’t mow them or cut them all. I leave half of the flowers on these plants above instead of harvesting everything. Then I leave the harvested branches out on my front porch out of the sun and let the bees continue to eat.
I had a great bin of flowering catnip on the porch which had been harvested, but the blooms still fresh for 4 days. They were visited constantly by bees. Once the herbs dried out enough, that the bees weren’t interested anymore, then could I set them out on screen panels to dry.
As a note about bees, a lot of my friends have back yard or farm bee hives which they care for and provide the right bee haven for. In these hives there have been almost no deaths of hives. Where we are seeing the destruction of hives is with the big commercial bee keepers who drive big semis around to the orchards and farms which need commercial sized bee populations to pollinate them. Into this population of bees there have been great influxes of various contaminants such as pesticide, herbicide and a whole host of other ‘icides which all kill something and as it turns out, bees.
Small bee keeping hives almost never are hit with the hive death. All the more reason to consider bee keeping yourself. I would love to do this but I don’t have a good place for the hives. It’s so steep here on Hillside Gardens, I’d have to put them in a place I couldn’t actually get to, and they do need care. But someone in the area is keeping European Honey Bees because they find my garden.
Bees fly up to 5 miles to collect from flowers. They will go to a specific area as a group when their scouts find hopeful areas of flowers and they just harvest that spot that day. So, I try to keep my flowering plants of a specific kind in a relatively small area so they will come and pollinate all of the squash or beans or herbs or whatever and make it worth their while. If you move the flowers between when the scout goes and the rest of them show up, it confuses them – like if you pick something and keep it out for them but move it several feet away. They will find it, but their tracking and information of where food is is so accurate that they hone in exactly on where the scout tells them the goodies are.
For pity sake, don’t use Sevin or other insecticides on any flowering plants – PLEASE! The bees don’t know they are taking back poison to their hives and this is one way to kill an entire hive. Better yet, don’t use any insecticides at ALL – hand pick your bugs. Squash bugs are particularly prevalent this year – so look for the little bronze eggs in rows on your plant leaves – on top or underneath – and pick them off before they get big enough to eat your plants. Look for the little white babies too, and squish them before they ruin your plants. That way you can save the bees from the chemicals.
For every 5 bites of food you eat, 3 of them were pollinated and provided by bees. It isn’t just a pretty idea, it can mean life or death if we loose our bees. As it is, Japan has lost most of their bee population. As a result they have to hand pollinate all their fruit in entire orchards then cover the buds up with little bags to protect them. So fruit in Japan is hugely expensive! We need to protect our little flying ladies for everyone.