PHOTO: Steven Severinghaus/Flickr
With all the buzz surrounding the peril Honey bees face—from pesticides to mite infestations—it’s no wonder they’re often cited as a pollinator superstar. Without Honey bees, one-third of the foods we eat would not exist. But the Honey bee, which was introduced to American shores in the 1600, isn’t native to our continent and subsequently struggles to find forage in certain regions of our country at certain times of year.
Other pollinators, such as the bumblebee, hoverfly and many varieties of wasp, also have difficulty finding forage and habitat when gardens are converted to lawns, and those lawns are managed with pesticides, weed-killers and other chemicals.
So what’s the humble gardener, homeowner or bug-lover to do? How do we give our local bees the goods they need? A great place to start is to plant fruits, herbs and wildflowers that attract pollinators to your farm or garden and manage them free of chemicals. Diversity is key to attracting bees and other pollinators, and while more is better, a minimum of 10 different plants is a great start. By providing forage diversity, you ensure pollination of your cash crops, provide host plants and nesting sites, and create a beautiful, healthy landscape.
Pollinators, especially Honey bees, love fruit trees. You’ll find them buzzing all over fruits from carefully manicured orchards to wild roadside brambles, and the honey produced from fruit tree nectar is divine. The trick is to provide enough of a single species to make it worth the bees’ while. A general rule of thumb is to plant a clumping of one shrub-fruit variety at least 3 feet in diameter. If planting fruit trees, consider at least two trees of the same variety in addition to some herbs and wildflowers.
Here are fruits that both you and your bees will surely enjoy:
Bees love the aromatic flowers that herbs send up. For the home gardener or farmer, the tough part is sitting back and allowing your herbs to bolt and flower. Plant a few extra of each of your favorite herbs for the bees so you may continue your own harvest through the season. Once herbs flower, the leaves tend to lose the bold flavor you love, so harvest some early and preserve the leaves for future culinary use, and let the rest go to seed and flower.
The following herbs are some tried-and-true favorites for bees and home-cooks alike:
- Bee Balm
If you have an unused field on your farm or a sunny corner of your yard that doesn’t get much traffic, convert it to a bee haven by planting flowers. Wildflowers are easy and inexpensive to plant from seed and look beautiful anywhere they take root.
The following wildflower mix includes multi-season bloomers, ensuring your local pollinators have something blooming in spring, summer and fall. Plus, the different shapes and colors attract a variety of beneficial insects and the grasses provide habitat for bumblebee nests.
- Coneflower (Echinacea)
- Giant Sunflower
- Hyssop (blue, yellow and purple giants)
- New England Aster
- Purple Prairie Clover
- Showy Goldenrod
- Little Bluestem (grass)
- Prairie Dropseed (grass)
Don’t Forget Water
With your seeds scattered and your plants in place, there’s one thing left to offer: water. Bees need water just as you and I do. In your pollinator habitat, provide a consistent water source: a birdbath with carefully placed rocks (for the safe landing of tiny bee legs) is the perfect vessel for the job.