Did you know that there are nearly 20,000 species of bees in the world? Often considered a nuisance, but truly one of the Earth’s most useful creatures, these insects are absolutely essential for environmental and agricultural purposes. With their capacity to pollinate and their ability to make ingredients and raw materials that are used over a wide variety of industries, one can’t help but wonder: what can we do to contribute to raising the bee population across the globe?
What Is a Bee Garden?
Of course it’s a garden for bees, but what makes it special in comparison to other types of gardens? A bee garden uses bee friendly plants and flowers, like asters, zinnias, goldenrod, and black-eyed susans, to create a habitat that’s suitable for native bees to thrive, attracting these pollinators to your property. It pushes them towards conservation and reproduction by bringing forth all the elements needed to survive.
A bee garden has a careful selection of trees, shrubs, native plants, and flowering plants that can provide these insects with generous sources for pollen and nectar. Some bee gardens also have a clean water source and a suitable nesting place for wild bees.
Why Do We Need More Bees?
Not everyone is a fan of bees, especially when you’ve been stung by one at least once in your life. We tend to be afraid of these little creatures, but it’s no secret that the planet needs more bees for several different reasons.
Pollen & Pollination
Ever since you learned about bees in your early years, you’ve heard that bees carry pollen from one flower to another, but did you know that these insects alone are responsible for pollinating about 85 percent of food crops?
When you think about bees, you think about honey. That’s because honeybees are the only insects that produce a type of food consumed by humans. Honey is very well known for its amazing taste and health benefits, as it’s a product of nature made without any chemicals.
Honey is a really healthy alternative compared to sugar or other types of sweet syrups that have flooded the market over the past years. It can be drizzled over pancakes, used to sweeten tea, and even great for some dessert recipes. It is also a superfood that has been used for medicinal purposes, and let’s not forget that it plays a huge role in the cosmetics and skincare industry as well.
Bees are responsible for plant reproduction for a variety of different species, as they place a huge role in the life cycle of flowers and plants. Scientific evidence suggests that there are certain bees that have reached an evolution point where they pollinate one type of plant alone and coexist with it.
Sadly, plenty of bees have disappeared in recent years because of factors that include pesticides, food source destruction, disease, and colony collapse disorder. There has been plenty of fuss over the topic of needing more bees for the environment, as there is a chance that plants and crops will not survive in the long term if bees are not around to do their part.
You’ve surely used at least one beeswax candle throughout your lifetime. But make no mistake, beeswax is not limited to the candle production. It is an ingredient used to make furniture wax, chewing gum, and even lip balm.
Products made from wax are also used in the cosmetics industry, but this ingredient also acts as a protection for certain types of food. Chances are if you’ve ever used a polish, it contains beeswax.
What to Plant to Attract Pollinators
Honestly, this chapter could be endless, so we’ll try to limit suggestions to a few common plants that most bees enjoy. You want plants that are flowering all the way from early spring to late summer.
- Mint is one of the plants that attract bees, but also one of the easier ones to grow. You can grow mints in the garden, but also directly in pots. If you’ve got a pond in your yard, that’s even better: you can grow water mint. It flowers in summer and early fall, and you can use it for cooking, making cocktails, lemonade, ice creams, and other treats.
- Rosemary is a delicious herb. Characterized by blue-purple flowers, rosemary can attract plenty of different bees, from bumblebees to mason bees. Rosemary will start flowering in spring but continues to blossom throughout the entire year.
- Calendula is a flower with plenty of different uses and makes for a great ingredient in creams and lotions. Calendula is also a flower that bees are truly passionate about. They can grow through the winter, and might even be the first flowers to pop in your garden in early spring.
- Lavender field pictures have made their way across wallpapers and Facebook cover photos. This tasty edible flower can be used in a lot of different cookie recipes, but it’s mostly popular for its use in making essential oils and beauty products. Lavender attracts bees, particularly bumblebees, and is characterized by a long blooming season throughout the entire summer.
- Lemon balm is a summer plant, and one that can be used to make delicious fish recipes or pesto sauce. Lemon balm has tiny white flowers that will attract bees pretty much as mint does, and you also have the benefit of being able to grow them in pots.
- The sun’s mistress (commonly known as the sunflower) isn’t just a magnet for the eyes, it’s also one for bees. Sunflowers provide a regular landing pad for bees because they are big and filled with pollen. And, besides, you already know that sunflower is really great in making oil, but also gives some of the tastiest seeds ever.
- Sage is a long and purple-spiked flower. It flowers in late spring and summer and constitutes not just a perfect flower for bees, but also a highly decorative plant because it looks amazing when paired with a green garden.
- Honeysuckle is a great plant for bees (in case the name didn’t suggest that already). It has long tubular flowers that have sweet nectar that bees just love.
- Snowdrops aren’t just spring’s messengers: they can also be the perfect plant for bees to pollinate as soon as outside temperatures start growing warmer. Snowdrops have yellow pollen that’s just perfect for honeybees and bumblebees.
- White dead nettles are a type of wildflower that bees go crazy for. It flowers in autumn, but there are chances you can see them flowering throughout the entire year as well. They are particularly attractive to garden bumblebees and flower bees.
- Crocus is a gardening favorite, but also a flower that can attract bees during spring. The Hairy-footed flower bee will most likely be attracted to your new flowering crocus, but you may see a queen bumblebee in there as well. It’s not uncommon for bees to shelter inside the crocus flower for the night.
- Here are a few more: bee balm, lilacs, marigolds, snapdragons, borage, echinacea, hyacinth, and on and on and on.
Tips for Setting up a Bee Garden
Chances are you already have a generous garden that you want to convert in a more bee-friendly environment. If you want to start one from scratch, it’s also a rather uncomplicated process. That’s because bees love plants so much (and vice-versa), the odds of you planting the wrong type of flower are pretty much equal to zero.
In order to create a pollen-rich spot that bees can thrive in, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Opt for plants that flower the entire year. If you do, you will be giving bees a chance to consume pollen and nectar regardless of the season. Keep in mind that there are different species of bees, such as solitary ones that only travel in warm months, other species will fly on warmer days throughout the entire year. Go for plants that have a long flowering period, or perhaps plants with flowering sequences you can somehow synchronize (like when one plant is dormant, another will bloom, and so on).
- Whatever you do, never use bee-killing pesticides. If you plant and grow your own flowers from scratch, you can avoid the use of neonicotinoids which will kill a lot of important bees.
- You want to choose some plants that offer nesting materials for bees. There are certain plants that bees use to harvest the materials they need to make their own nests. For instance, leafcutter bees will remove circular pieces of plant leaves, such as wisteria or rose bushes. Resin bees, on the other hand, need tree resin in order to make their own nests.
- Keep in mind that certain bees have affinities for certain types of plants and flowers, so plant as many different plants and flowers as possible: there are some bees that prefer flowers of a very specific color, while other bees would much rather pollinate exotic plants.
- You should avoid planting invasive plants. Of course, the region and the climate where you live might also make a plant invasive, so make sure you do your homework before planting. Your local conservation authority should gill you in with all the details.
- One of the first things you learn about gardening is that you’ll have to cut stems and dead plants because pruning keeps plants healthy. However, when it comes to a bee-friendly garden, you can forget about this rule. Chances are that your pruning activities might destroy some shelters that bees have chosen for the winter (this is especially true for hollow stems). When there’s cutting to be done, make sure you wait until spring, and that you don’t burn them after removal.
- If you ever felt too lazy to pluck out the weeds from your garden, perhaps you should have been a bee garden whispered the whole time. Bees find gardens with weeds less attractive, so make sure that you have a few clovers and some dandelions lying around.
- There are medicinal plants that bees can actually pollinate in order to maintain their health, such as oregano or lavender, so make sure that you have a couple of those in your garden as well.
- Herbs are wonderful for both your future culinary projects, as well as for bees. But one of the best parts of the equation is that herbs can be planted in pots, which offer freedom of placement, the possibility to move them from indoors to outdoors and vice-versa, but also the chance of having the herbs right in the kitchen if you need them.
- When you’re planting a new garden, be it for bees or some other purpose, considering using vertical space as much as you can. For example, climbing plants can attract bees as well, and you can go for vigorous flowers like honeysuckle or jasmine. As for vertical space, you can consider using hanging planters as well, bees aren’t always picky.
- You can also make a solitary bee house specifically for this type of bees. You can use hollow canes and a bunch of small pieces of wood, perhaps some leftovers from other projects you might have tackled in the past. You can also purchase one that’s readily-made if you don’t have any crafting time on your hands. You also don’t need to make anything complicated: you can even use blocks of wood with hollow cavities. This will be the nesting place for the bees, a great spot for them to lay their eggs. Just make sure you place these small houses under full sun.
The bee is an amazing creature that has managed to adapt to different climates all across the surface of the globe. Living in trees, holes, underground, and even in hollow plant stems, bees aren’t golden just from a practical point of view, but also from a metaphorical one. The existence of bees is essential to the planet we live in, so planting a bee garden that can give them a habitat to thrive should be on all our to-do lists.
Because the bee’s population has declined over the past years, people need to take the matter into their own hands and create small patches that bees can call “home”, in an attempt to save one of the most hard-working and productive insects in the world.