When I talk about gardening for pollinators, I have to talk about bees. And when I talk about bees, there’s a legitimate subset of the population that has reason to be worried because they are allergic to the sting. But I find that a far larger subset of the population, including an awful lot of gardeners, unjustly fears bees for some reason. I’m not sure why this is.
Yes, bees do have stingers, and under certain circumstances can be induced to sting. I’m not sure what those circumstances are. In all my years of gardening, I’ve never been stung by a bee.
The same cannot be said for hornets, yellow jackets and wasps. They can be induced to sting quite readily, particularly in the fall. Perhaps it’s because honey bees can resemble hornets or yellow jackets (to the untrained eye) that folks are afraid?
In any event, I’m here to tell you that we really need to do all that we can to assist the bees in every way possible–because it’s not only our honey bees (a non-native species) that are having trouble but our native bees that are struggling. Those lovely fuzzy black and yellow bumble bees that we see are dying off, along with all manner of other bees that we don’t see quite as often: leaf cutter bees, orchard mason bees and other types of bees as well.
As with the honey bee die off, the reasons for the decline aren’t obvious, but as gardeners, there are lots that we can do to help. And the first thing we can do is to get over our fear of bees and to start promoting them–and planting for them.
Of course it stands to reason that anything we plant to help bees will be organic–or use minimal pesticides.
So many of our native bees nest in the ground. I take care to notice where the bees are nesting in my flower beds so that I don’t disturb them or accidentally dig up their nests. I have one huge hole that the bumble bees return to every year–I can’t miss that.
But more solitary bees nest in a raised bed that I have. I tend to mark those areas with little twigs or rocks so I don’t accidentally cultivate their nests while weeding.
The bees adore the clover in the lawn–something not everyone is willing to tolerate I know. For more cultivated flowers, bees see best in the blue and purple color family (so now you know what not to wear to the picnic!). And, as you might expect, they prefer natives, although I see them all over my roses, hydrangeas, and first thing in the spring, they cover my japanese pieris. Nectar is found where its available first thing in the spring, I guess.
If you’re still squeamish about bees, keep your flower gardens away from decks and patios, but do make sure you plant an area for the bees to enjoy. Without them, we’ll have no food crops to enjoy either!