Written By Gayle Fisher
Let us start with a little American bee history. As English and Spanish settlers came to North America, they brought with them their native honey bees Apis mellifera mellifera and Apis mellifera iberica, respectively. As Europeans colonized and spread across our continent, Native Americans recognized the “white man’s fly”, or the honeybee. These imported bees would precede settlers as this introduced species outpaced the Europeans in their colonization of the continent. So, honeybees are not native to North America and Honeybees are the only genus of bees that produce combs of harvestable honey.
Today, we are having trouble in paradise. Our bees are sick, wild bees which number almost 4,000 different species as well as hived honeybees. The Bee Informed Partnership, a consortium of universities and research laboratories questioned 5,000 beekeepers. They reported losing 42.1 percent of their colonies in the 12-month period that ended in April. That is well above the 34.2 percent loss reported for the same period in 2013 and 2014, and it is the second-highest loss recorded since year-round surveys began in 2010. Bees are vital because without them, pollination of some crops doesn’t occur. Estimates are that over 240,000 species of the world’s flowering plants rely on animal pollinators. Bees work tirelessly to provide us with our food. In recent years it has become apparent that all bees, not just the honeybee, are under threat.
We as individual gardeners can decide which flowers to grow for pollen and nectar that will feed bees and help them to increase their numbers. Today the private garden is a better place than the countryside for wildlife, since much agricultural land is now devoid of the diversity of flowers that existed previously. Scientists in the field think that insects need as much variety in their food as we do to get all the trace minerals and vitamins to keep them healthy.
More and more gardeners are anxious to do their part to help the bees by adding to the shrinking inventory of flower-rich habitat in their area. In return, the bees will pollinate your flowers, providing a bountiful harvest of fruits, seeds and vegetables as well as the joy of you getting to watching them up close. You don’t have to be a beekeeper to enjoy bees.
Actions that we can do to help the bee plight:
Rethink your lawn. Replace part or all of your lawn grass with flowering plants, which provides food and habitat for bees and other wildlife. I know you think grass is easier, but just give a corner up to flowers.
Select single flower tops such as daisies and marigolds, rather than double flower tops such as double impatiens. Double headed flowers look showy but produce much less nectar and make it much more difficult for bees to access pollen.
Plan for blooms and nectar season-round. Plant at least three different types of flowers to ensure blooms through as many seasons as possible, thus providing bees with a constant source of food.
Crocus, hyacinth, borage, calendula, and wild lilac provide enticing spring blooms.
Bees feast on cosmos, Bee Balm, Echinacea, snapdragons, foxglove, and hosta in the summer.
For fall try zinnias, sedum, asters, witch hazel and goldenrod. They are late bloomers that will tempt foragers.
Native Shrubs choices include Blueberry bushes, Elderberry, (Sambucus), Summersweet, (Clethra alnifolia), Witch-alder, Meadowsweet, (Spirea), and native Honeysuckle, (Lonicera), (be sure not to plant the invasive Asian honeysuckle).
Create a “bee bath.” Bees need a place to get fresh, and enjoy clean water. Fill a shallow container of water with pebbles or twigs for the bees to land on while drinking. Make sure to maintain the container full of fresh water to ensure that they know they can return to the same spot every day. I had never thought about bees and water.
Other good flower choices for the bees are sunflowers, marigolds, Primulas, Rudbekia, cornflowers, lavender, Bluebells, Hellebores, clematis, mint, rosemary, thyme, borage, thrift, sedums, Sweet Williams, poppies, verbena (roadside), snapdragons, ageratum, and globe thistle.
So get out there and plant some flowers, and flowering shrubs. The bees, me and Nikdai Rimsky Korsakov (the composer of “The Flight of the Bumblebee”) will thank you for it!