Few things taste sweeter than freshly baked bread drizzled with honey, or a warm cup of tea mixed with a spoonful of honey. That glorious golden ingredient enriches your favorite dishes, adding subtle nutty, floral, and even earthy tones.
But how often do you stop to think of the bees that made your honey?
Experts estimate that the average bee has to visit around 2 million flowers and fly 55,000 miles to create one pound of honey, essentially circling the globe 1.5 times. And a single hive can only produce about 60 pounds of honey in a good season.
In the US, the average adult consumes 1.3 pounds of honey per year. Although beekeepers across the nation produce 149 million pounds in a year, we still have to import much of our honey to meet the demand.
Why Help the Bees?
With so many hives and colonies in the US producing honey, many homeowners wonder why they should do their part to help local wild bees. After all, we can always breed more domesticated bees, right?
However, domesticated colonies only account for a fraction of the bee species in the US. And the remaining wild bees play a key role in pollinating crops such as apples, almonds, avocados, blueberries, and cherries. Without bees, you’d also have a hard time growing cucumbers, kiwi, melons, and several other fruits and vegetables.
Recently, domesticated and undomesticated honeybees worldwide have faced colony collapse disorder (CCD). With this disorder, many of the worker bees in a colony disappear, leaving behind a queen and a few nurse bees. Some areas note honeybee losses as high as 75%, and researchers have yet to discover the cause behind the condition.
A few experts suspect the collapse could be due to high concentrations of parasites and fungi. Others hypothesize that the declining populations could link to pesticides, genetically modified crops, or climate change.
But no matter the reason behind the collapse, you can do your part to help the bees when you create a bee-friendly garden.
What Do Bees Need?
Like you, bees need food, water, and shelter to thrive. Even if you don’t have a lot of landscape to work with, you can still create a welcoming environment for these vital insects with the following methods.
Bees depend on two primary food sources: pollen and nectar. To ensure bees have plenty of each, plant a variety of native flowers that bloom at different times of the year.
The following flowers and plants attract bee species, so include them in your yard if you can:
Be careful about the flowers and herbs that you choose! Many plants from industrial-sized garden centers contain high levels of neonicotinoids, which are highly toxic to bees and other pollinators. Even if the chemicals don’t kill the bees immediately, neonicotinoids impair the bees’ sense of navigation and damage their immune systems.
Instead, purchase young sprouts and seedlings from local nurseries who use organic methods, or go organic yourself and grow your plants from seed in your backyard. Water
Bees and other beneficial insects need fresh water to drink, but most have difficulty landing near a conventional birdbath.
To create a bee-friendly water source, line a shallow bowl (or even a plate) with small rocks. Fill the bowl with water. The rocks give the bees a place to land.
Keep in mind that shallow pools of water will evaporate quickly, so you’ll need to refill the bee bath at least once a day.
Bee species live in a variety of locations. Some solitary bees prefer water and mud, while others like to hollow out reeds or branches to form a nest. If you feel serious about attracting bees to your yard, follow these steps to construct a small bee “house” for them to nest:
- Take a small wooden box and use organic paint to make it a bright color (white or yellow).
- Layer the box with nesting tubes that stand upright.
- Turn the box on its side and mount it at eye level in a sheltered area, such as on a tree or post.
- Dig up the ground nearby to expose clay and dirt (which the bees will use to build their nest).
If you prefer to keep bees at a safer distance, you can still offer them shelter by protecting your yard and garden from the elements. Use a combination of fencing and privacy screens to serve as windbreakers, and leave a few weeds or “wild spots” at the edges of your landscape to give the bees a few more natural resources.
Does Your Garden Attract Other Pests?
With the above techniques, you can help local bees stay healthy when they visit your property. But of course, your picturesque garden may also attract a variety of unwanted pests, including wasps and mosquitoes.
If you notice these bugs buzzing where the bees should be, talk to your local pest control expert. He or she may recommend treating affected plants or making minor changes in your landscaping to keep unhelpful pests to a minimum.