Bee-Friendly Gardening Tips
Bees are lovely when buzzing around flowers, lovely makers of delicious honey, and lovely if you enjoy living in a habitable biosphere. Sadly bees and bee colonies are doing rather poorly right now so it is imperative we make all do something to save them, as they are so critical to the ecosystem overall. While we heavily applaud the large scale efforts, such as France banning all five bee-killing pesticides and encourage everyone to support similar measures, we also strongly believe in the importance of everyone doing their part no matter how small, because a million people making a small change makes for a huge change overall. So let's dive into six ways you can do your part to save the bees.
Ditch the Yard
First thing we need to do is get rid of the idea of a large empty suburban lawn full of grass. These are environmental disasters, wasting water and space and acting as virtual deserts while often requiring chemical fertilizers to maintain. In fact one of the main reasons for the bee decline is a decline in their natural habitat, and sprawling suburbs are a big contributor to that, Now, if you’re ambitious, there are ways to completely get rid of lawns that end up becoming low maintenance as well, but if you’re not ready for that at the very least you can try and reduce the amount of laws you have overall and give the bees a flower filled oasis.
When planting out your garden, try and plan out your garden to provide flowers as long as possible. Bees remember which areas provide food, and if you can provide food for them as long as you can then they’ll remember your yard as a consistent supply of pollen. Think of your gardening as having three flowering seasons; early spring, early summer, and late summer/early fall. Pick out flowers to plant based on when they bloom to make a timed schedule. For example, if your garden has hyacinths in the spring, snapdragons in the early summer, and goldenrod for the end of the flowering year, your local bees will be very grateful.
Plant their favorites
Of course planting bee’s their favorite flowers is the way to go. First thing first, plant flowers that are native to your region, as it is what they were born to pollinate. As a bonus, native flowers are always easier to grow. Second, look for fragrant and brightly colored flowers, because if you noticed, like half of these tips are basically plant a gorgeous garden. Flowers use bright colors and strong fragrances to attract pollinators in the first place, so it’s a sign that the bees will love them. Finally and possibly most importantly, plant single headed flowers over double flowers. Single flowers are flowers with a single ring of pedals per head, such as daisies, sunflowers, and blackeyed susans, whereas double flowered are flowers with multiple rings of pedals in them such as most commercial roses. These double roses are often mutations where the stamens have mutated into extra pedals, and because of that have to be bred by humans commercially instead of being able to pollinate naturally. This means that no matter how pretty they look your bees will avoid them. And yes, this also means that naturally occurring wild roses are single headed and look nothing like what most people think roses look like. If you see double roses in the wild, they were most grown from a human-bred cutting, and are surviving in the wild simply because they’re tough bastards.
Water and Shelter
You are not the only one who wants a cool drink of water or a long bath after a long days work. Bees need some good old R&R too, and will appreciate access to a water source. Luckily they’re bees so that’s not a lot of water. A shallow bowl of water with pebbles for them to land on is all they’ll need, and as a bonus, it can make for an adorable decoration. If you had a birdbath that got taken over by bees, the shallower beebath will attract them to that and the birds can take back their bathing spot. Bees also need shelter from the elements too. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you need to take up beekeeping or keep a giant nest in your backyard, some species of bees like bumblebees just need a bit of shade. Plant enough plants close enough together to make shady spots or plant flowering shrubs like butterfly bush and lacecap hydrangeas to give them a spot out of the elements.
DO NOT USE PESTICIDES. It’s not only the large agribusinesses use of pesticides that are killing the bees, even small amounts of your over the counter pest killers can be horrible for the local bee population, especially a certain Monsanto weed-killer that also causes cancer. Even small amounts can disrupt bees navigation or otherwise make them ill. Instead use more natural ways to control weed populations.
No land? No Problem!
Finally, if you don’t have the land room for all this gardening, you can still do your part with a simple windowsill garden. While you won't be able to provide a full shelter like a full sized garden can, you can at least give the bees a place to stop by on their travels. And in nature’s amazing two for one deal, some of the best window sill plants for bees are those kitchen herbs you were wanting to grow anyway, such as rosemary, chives, sage, and mint (warning: put the mint in a separate pot, mint is an aggressive grower). Just let them flower and you are good to go.
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