Contributed by Edna Colcord, Master Gardener
With non-native honey bees (Apis mellifera) and native Bumblebees (Bombus sp.) in decline nationwide, we gardeners will do well to provide plantings that offer pollen and nectar. This can be as simple as encouraging clover in the lawn or letting goldenrod grow in unmowed areas. But to really encourage the bees, we need to offer them the constant supply of food they need from the first stirrings of warm air in early spring until late fall.
Gardeners often plan gardens to attract hummingbirds and butterflies, but we should include bees in our planting plans. Bees need a lot of water and prefer it to be a bit muddy. A shallow pie plate with stones is a safe water source for butterflies as well as bees, which prefer a safe place to stand while drinking. This water source will make the nearest swimming pool less attractive.
They depend on food at home when the weather is inclement--too hot, too cold, or too wet. When they do get to flowers, they must find the nectar at its peak. Just seeing a flower does not ensure there is nectar or pollen available. A dry spell combined with heat can limit honey production, according to beekeeper friends. Some flowers, like daylilies, simply don’t provide what bees need. Beekeepers site their hives in hopes that trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables near the hive will offer a continuum of blooms. Bees can scout an area within a mile radius, but all that flying decreases efficiency in honey production. Clumps of mints like Nepeta, Monarda, Agastache or composites like daisies, calendulas, asters, and coneflowers can bring pollinators to the vegetable garden and help the bees in the neighborhood.
Stings? A working bee is on a mission and unlikely to bother you. Honey bees often get bad press for their yellow-jacket cousins, who have a nasty sting if you step on their ground nest or compete for a ripe peach.
Honey is a popular sweetener, and it soothes a sore throat. It should not be fed to young babies, however, to reduce the risk of infant botulism. And much of the honey sold in stores is not really honey; the pollen has been filtered out through ultra-filtration, which makes it impossible to trace the source of the honey. Much of the honey sold by chain stores comes from Asian countries, including China, and is commonly adulterated, contaminated with antibiotics and often illegal drugs. Local honey is said to help with pollen allergies. To ensure a good supply of real, uncontaminated honey, gardeners can help their beekeeping neighbors with considerate plantings.