Almost everyone today is aware of the decline in bee populations over the last few decades, and farmers and gardeners are especially cognizant of its significance. Bees are arguably the most important pollinators of flowering crops. In fact, the US Department of Agriculture estimates that bees pollinate 80 percent of our flowering crops, which works out to about 1/3 of what we eat.
Not only does this population decline affect crops such as strawberries, blueberries, apples, broccoli, cucumbers, asparagus, and a variety of nuts, but it also impacts alfalfa, which is widely used in feed for the beef and dairy industry. According to a Cornell University study, bees pollinate about $14 billion worth of seeds and crops annually in the US alone. And some plants are completely dependent upon particular bees for cross-pollination, including a number of orchids and red clover, which requires the presence of bumblebees. It’s pretty evident this situation has far-reaching consequences.
Needless to say, there has been a huge amount of research into the reasons behind this decline in bee populations. A number of explanations have been discovered for some losses, such as the use of insecticides in agriculture that unfortunately killed many of the bees necessary for maintaining those crops. And starting in the 1980s, honeybee populations were devastated by several species of parasitic mites. But most recently, commercial honeybee hives have suffered a collapse due to unknown causes. However, there is now speculation as to the culprit. Forbes recently published an article that points the finger at a possible plant virus–tobacco ring virus–that has potentially made a jump across 1.6 billion years of evolution, now infecting these much-needed insects. Scientists have not proven that this virus is indeed responsible, but it is a possibility that certainly deserves more scrutiny.
Thankfully, as gardeners, we can all help counter this disturbing decline simply by adding plants to our landscape that attract bees, providing both food and habitat. And it’s a mutually beneficial endeavor, offering the bees what they require, and they in turn will help your garden to grow.
When selecting bee-attracting plants, there are a number of factors to consider. Single flowers are better than doubles, as they provide more pollen and nectar, and bees have less difficulty reaching the inner parts of the blooms. Flower color is also significant–bees find blue, purple, and yellow blooms most appealing. Luckily, there are a large number of plants available that offer those colors.
Variety is the spice of life! Since some bees are active throughout the entire season but others only in spring (such as the orchard mason bee), include plants that bloom at different times, from spring through fall.
And we don’t want to forget about wildflowers and other plants native to each area. Long before people started growing home gardens, bees relied upon native plants for their food, and they continue to do so. The other advantage to growing native plants is they’re likely to do well in your garden with very little effort from you. That’s what I call a win-win situation. If you have questions about what types of plants are native to your area, you can usually contact your local Cooperative Extension Office or simply do an internet search.
A loss of nesting habitat is also a huge problem for a variety of bee species, but once again, as gardeners, we can do something about it. Brush piles, dry grasses, and dead wood can offer such habitat. And certain species, like mason bees, need muddy areas from which to gather nesting materials.
If you want to go a step further, you can join the ranks of people who are learning the art of beekeeping. Not only is this a fun hobby that gets you out in the sunshine and fresh air and teaches you a lot about some of the most amazing insects on the planet, but it allows you to greatly increase the number of bees on your property, thus enhancing the health of your own garden. Plus, you get to have your own supply of honey, which has long been known for its health benefits. In fact, for those of us with allergies (and let’s face it, a lot of us endure this unpleasantness every year), honey can help lessen the negative effects of all that pollen floating around in the air. Evidently, consuming high-quality local honey for about two months before the onset of allergy season can offer allergy relief for some people. The reasoning is that bees carry the pollen that causes allergies, which is incorporated into the honey. Consuming the honey can then help your body become accustomed to the pollen, allowing you to build up an immunity to those particular allergens. Talk about a tasty way to help alleviate your allergies! Of course, this has not been absolutely proven, so you might want to talk to your doctor about it beforehand.
So, there is quite a bit we can all do to help out these all-important insects. And you’ll find that most of the plants that attract bees, also attract butterflies or hummingbirds, which just adds to the overall beauty of your garden!
|Bee Balm||Black-eyed Susan|
For even more trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, herbs, fruits, and veggies that bring in the bees, check out this article on thedailygreen.com.