Gardeners don’t have to shift to a beekeeping career to help the world’s bee population. The trick: plant more flowers and establish a better plant-honeybee relationship.
Plants rich in pollen and nectar need bees’ buzzing action, too. Although bees tend to target a single flower species during a foraging session, they do promote cross-pollination by moving from one plant to another.
Cross-pollination translates to greater genetic variation, according to the fact sheet of the Missouri Botanical Garden, and so one can expect stronger and more vigorous plants in return.
Master beekeeper Jim Tunnell said that while not all gardeners are cut out to be beekeepers, the long-term wellness of bees along with other pollinators are everyone’s concern. "I think it's always a good thing to keep the pollinators in mind when we plant our gardens," he urged.
Here is how it works: bees gather nectar, pollen and water for making honey and survival in general. Pollen feeds them, water is tasked to cool the hives and dilute the honey for bee feeding and the nectar is stocked for overwintering – a time when they are faced with dormant flowering plants.
White, yellow, blue and violet flowers tend to get honeybees’ attention, while more open flowers such as cosmos and sunflowers make syrup and pollen easier to collect.
Tunnell reminded, however, that a beehive’s foraging spot can span a number of miles in different directions.
"If you define 'surrounded by pollinator-friendly perennials' as a yard filled with such plants, that is woefully inadequate for a single beehive,” he explained.
Here’s a tip for gardeners: focus on planting for availability and not just mere quantity. Implement what is known as succession planting using species blooming from early springtime to late autumn, as pollinators’ food supply is specifically scarce in the early and latter parts of the year.
Mace Vaughan, spokesperson for Oregon-based Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, considers this move critically important. Honeybee hives delivering greater pollen diversity, he said, are more vigorous and better cope with forces such as pests, disease and even pesticides.
Vaughan added that since bees are active all year, natural nectar or pollen supply can run low at certain times. To help honeybee hives better thrive, gardeners should work to have blooms consistently available during the entire growing season.
Native plants emerge as the best option at times – they create plenty of nectar and pollen and are low-maintenance. But give chance to non-native ones as well, added Vaughan.
"Lawns full of clover or crop fields full of buckwheat or phacelia can be very valuable and inexpensive to establish," he said.
Photo: Paul van de Velde | Flickr