On Keeping Bees…
I was absolutely petrified of bees as a child — like, running away, screaming, and waving my arms petrified. It wasn’t until I attended a local lavender festival a few years ago that I changed my mind about our little striped friends. As I snipped branches of culinary lavender and placed it in my basket, I noticed the honey bees swarming the flowers had absolutely no interest in my activities. They didn’t dive bomb me, nor did they sting me.
That’s when I realized that bees have received a terrible rap. Yes, they deliver an occasional sting, but these lovely little insects are vital to our ecosystem. They pollinate 80 percent of our flowering crops — which constitutes a third of everything we eat. And they’re disappearing in droves.
On a personal level, one of the best ways we can help the declining bee population is by refraining from using pesticides in our gardens and keeping a colony of honeybees in our backyard. Besides the ecological benefits, keeping bees has multiple benefits.
The Benefits of Keeping Bees
Though bees aren’t the only means of pollination, they are responsible for up to 80 percent of all insect-driven pollination. Even a single hive in the garden can lead to a dramatic improvement in your garden’s yield. You’ll see larger fruits, vegetables, and flowers — and far more of them. This is especially evident in vine crops such as cucumber, melon and zucchini.
Fresh, raw honey is another great benefit of beekeeping. There’s really nothing quite like it. If you don’t eat it all yourself (which I totally would), it makes a fantastic gift. You can even sell it at local farmer’s markets and make a little money.
Bees produce other products that can be put to good use. Beeswax can be used to make candles, cosmetics, and to condition wood. Propolis and royal jelly have been regularly put to use as health supplements.
©Hannah Rosengren — See the full infographic here.
Creating A Bee Friendly Garden
In order to keep your bees happy and producing, you’ll need to create an inviting garden for them.
All bees are dependent on flowers — and they’re especially attracted to blue, purple, and yellow blooms. Plant native annual and perennial wildflowers to provide bees with the most nutritious pollen and nectar. Many of our favorite hybrid varieties are purely for looks and offer little to no nectar, so they’re best avoided.
Honey bees prefer to work a single plant source on each trip to and from the hive. Your garden will be more attractive to bees if you plant groups of the same type of flowers, rather than a large variety of flowers spread in a wide area. However, If you’re short on space, a few wildflowers or herbs in a planter or window box will work to provide more foraging habitat for the bees.
It’s absolutely imperative that you only use organic, natural forms of pest control in your garden. Take advantage of beneficial insects such as ladybugs, hover flies, lacewings, parasitic wasps. You can plant an insectary to attract them, or buy them from local garden supply stores.
What If I Don’t Want to Keep Honeybees?
Keeping honey bees takes a bit of time and a fair bit of money — it’s definitely not for everyone. If you’re looking to reap the pollination benefits of beekeeping, without actually keeping bees, I suggest you make friends with the mason bee.
Mason bees are a type of native, solitary bee common throughout most of the U.S. They are slightly smaller than a honey bee, and metallic blue or blue-black in color. Mason bees are incredibly gentle — the males don’t have stingers, and the females will only sting if trapped or squeezed.
Mason bees are incredibly effective pollinators. In fact, just two or three females can pollinate a mature apple tree. Another great thing about mason bees is that they’re perfectly happy to work in cool or rainy weather when honey bees are more likely to stay in the hive.
In the wild, mason bees lay their eggs in small cavities such as insect holes or hollow stems. Luckily for us, they’re just as contented to lay their eggs in artificial nesting cavities. You can build your own mason bee house, or buy one pre-made at farm and garden stores.
Bees are absolutely fascinating, no matter what form they take. Regardless of whether you decide to keep honey bees and harvest liquid gold, or assemble homes for native bees and observe their life-cycles, you’re garden is sure to benefit.
Liz Greene is a dog loving, history studying, pop culture geek from the beautiful City of Trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch her latest misadventures on her blog, Instant Lo.