While lots of us are thinking about frosty nights and snowflakes, in many areas of the country bees are still buzzing. Taking care of bees in your garden is critical in these times when the numbers of bees are declining. So whether you are one of us who can only dream about the upcoming garden season and the buzzing of bees moving from flower to flower or if you have the great fortune to be heading out to work the soil today, here are 5 tips for taking care of bees in your garden from Robbie Shell, author of Bees on the Roof.
1. If you want to plant honeybee-friendly trees, flowers, crops and herbs in your garden or anywhere else, here are just a few possibilities. Remember, there are many more, depending on where you live:
For trees, try maple, apple, plum and cherry; for crops, alfalfa and soybean; for flowers, consider sunflowers, asters, goldenrod, dahlias and coneflowers; for herbs, try thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary and mint. As for weeds: two of the best are dandelions and clover.
Variety is the key. No single nectar or pollen source meets bees’ nutritional needs. Variety is the key.
2. Don’t forget water! You can provide it in bird baths or shallow buckets (so the bees don’t drown), among other places. Bees use water to cool the colony by fanning and evaporating water droplets inside the hive. They also use it to dilute stored honey that has gotten crystalized (become hard) and to help digest their food. Baby bees need lots of water in their diets as they develop into adults.
Bees can also find their own water sources, including damp rocks, puddles, ponds, and even on leaves (provided the plants haven’t been sprayed with toxic pesticides).
3. Bees swarm with their queen when the hive becomes too crowded and the ratio of bees to queen is too high. It can also occur when a beekeeper hasn’t provided adequate space for raising brood and storing honey. Swarming is actually a good way for colonies that have gotten too big to branch off with the old queen and set up a new home, usually nearby, leaving a new queen and lots of brood and young bees in the original nest. When bees swarm, they form a huge clump around their queen, which means they look somewhat intimidating to human observers. But a swarm of bees isn’t dangerous, provided you don’t get in their way.
4. When you are setting up beehives in your backyard or in a community garden, be sure to check out any legal restrictions on beekeeping in your area. For example, some city health departments require beekeepers to make sure their bees don’t get in the way or pedestrians or people who live nearby. In addition, beekeepers are told not to abandon their hives.
In suburban gardens, be considerate of your neighbors, especially if they are afraid of bees. Think about putting up a fence, or keeping the bees as far as possible from neighboring lawns.
5. Consider starting a bee project in your school, with a local museum or even on your own. For example, Sebastian Wright, age 12, has spent the last three years installing and tending beehives in Milton, Mass., his hometown. So far, he has launched 13 hives, each with about 60,000 bees, according to an article in The Boston Globe. He says his goal is to save as many bees as he can, and to get others to do the same.
Another example: Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, Calif., is creating 3,600 square feet of bee habitat where kids and their families can observe the lives of honeybees and other pollinators. For the next month, the Museum is conducting an online fundraising campaign whose proceeds will support three beehives and a pollinator garden.
One more example: In the spring of 2015, three eighth graders at Punahou School in Honolulu used an English class inquiry into bees to expand their research on pollinators and the role they play in the health of our ecology and agriculture.
Last example: An 11-year-old girl from Austin, Texas, is planning to sell her home-made product — Me & the Bees Lemonade – on the shelves of Whole Foods. According to the Huffington Post, Mikaila Ulmer adapted a 1940s recipe for lemonade by adding in local Texas honey — a concoction that won her an investment from the ABC series “Shark Tank” plus the Whole Foods distribution deal. Better yet, she is investing some of her profits to, among other groups, the Texas Beekeepers Association.
Robbie Shell is a former business journalist whose articles have appeared in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal and Philadelphia Inquirer. She has worked and lived in New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston, and Philadelphia. Bees on the Roof is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.