I took this at 6:30 this morning. The flowers were just beautiful- fresh and dewy and ready for the day.
As some of you know, my husband and I are getting ready to add bees to our tiny homestead. We have many reasons for wishing to do so- our deep love of the taste of honey, the usefulness of beeswax, and the aspects of pollination that bees carry out on the local flora.
For the past three years I've been putting in plants around this house. We have some native bees visit, which is lovely, but the number of honey bees I have seen in our garden is rarely above 1, and not nearly every day.
Bee keepers are seeing a lot of losses in their hives of late, due to many reasons we know, and some that are more mysterious. This problem is called Colony Collapse Disorder. Some of the known reasons are things such as Varroa mites, disease, and possibly the need to broaden the gene pool here in America, and such other problems.
Another major problem is the lack of biodiversity in what people are growing.
First of all, there is the issue with mega farms. There are miles upon miles upon miles of one crop. You'd think it would be great for bees, all those flowers, all at one place! The trouble is, especially for wild bees which can't be moved around by their keepers, bees tend to only travel about 2 miles from their hive to gather nectar. The bloom period for most crops is very, very short, and then there is nothing else in bloom in that whole area until the next year, so the bees cannot gather enough nectar to make the honey they need to sustain themselves through the winter, much less make enough to share with human beings.
Another problem is with the spraying of pesticides. Many kinds of pesticides don't differentiate between beneficial insects and pests. We should use caution in spraying our gardens with chemical treatments lest we cause damage to a beekeeper's hard labor.
So why are bees important? 90% of our food production relies on the need for pollinating insects. When a bee visits a flower, it picks up pollen on its body, and that bee goes from flower to flower to flower, climbing deeply into the flower to gather nectar and pollen for the hive. While inside the flower, the bee transfer some pollen on its body from one flower to the next, enabling plant reproduction. Pollen is, essentially, plant sperm. Many of our foods are seeds, or fruits encasing seeds. If they are not pollinated, the seeds will not grow plump, and the fruits will be deformed.
Colony Collapse Disorder is something that affects every human being on this planet, and there are ways for everyone to help, in the city, in the suburbs, in the country.
First, buy local honey. You can find it at any farmer's market. Not only will you be supporting a local beekeeper, but you will also be benefiting from the reported allergy reducing properties of local honey.
Secondly, plant some flowers. Setting out some pots of flowers on a balcony or windowbox, creating some lovely mass plantings on your front lawn, raising flowering veggies like tomatoes and squashes and cucumbers all helps. This encourages biodiversity in your own area.
These are some of the plants I put in recently to draw bees. This is my "purple" garden. Most of the flowers are in the purple, blue, violet, and white range. It looks awful now, but next year the plants will fill in and spread out, and we will have some large clumps of flowers that will attract more and more bees.
Third, consider keeping a hive of bees yourself. Bees are not the vicious, angry brutes that they are often made out to be. If they are not pestered, and are handled correctly, they can be quite calm and gentle additions to a back yard, or a farm. Honey bees rarely sting, but because most people don't know how to differentiate between different bees and wasps, they will just assume they've been stung by a honey bee. It is not in a bee's best interest for it to sting- that is literally the last resort in defense of the hive, because the bee will die.
Here are just a few varieties of bee attractive flowers:
bee balm (bumbles seem to love mine.)
roses (not the doubled flower varieties, but the single, 5 petaled ones.)
black and raspberry canes...
chives (garlic and onion)
I could list them all day. There are certain colors of flowers that are more attractive to bees, though, which you might consider when putting them in. They love purples and blues, and violet most of all, followed by whites and yellows. Try to plant things that will bloom at different times, and plant like kinds in large groups, preferably 4 feet across. (unless you don't have that kind of space. Every little bit helps.) Bees like sun, but they also like shelter. Putting up wind barriers on the windward side of your beds, like a hedge or a fence, can keep your bees (or your neighbor's bees) very happy.
*pictures of our herb and flower beds will be added later... my computer is acting up, so I must shut down.*