We are living through Beemageddon. Recent studies by such august organizations as , , and tell a dire tale of the disappearing honeybee. How important is this issue? Albert Einstein once prophetically remarked, “Mankind will not survive the honeybees’ disappearance for more than five years.”
For over a decade beekeepers have consistently reported that the honeybee populations are dying off. Researchers have been scrambling to come up with an accurate explanation. The most likely culprit? Herbicides and parasites brought to bear by the parasitic Varroa mite. Up to 20% of honeybees are coming down with stomach ailments that leave them subject to wing malformation, infection and sterility.
This news is alarming! The eventual survival of the human race may be at stake! The question is, what if anything can be done? Just as in the case of climate change there is a lot of talk and very little action taking place.
Actually, the individual gardener can help. Thousands of individual gardeners can make a real impact on the problem. Bees are workhorse pollinators. What if every home gardener in the nation took the easy, but necessary, steps to increase food and habitat for bees? Tens of thousands of new acres would become habitat for the little pollinators to call home!
Let’s start with some ground rule basics. Then we will talk about specific flowers and plants to select. Together, real change can happen, and soon!
Plant wildflowers and native species: Because bee populations and wildflowers evolved together, we can be confident in the ability of native wildflowers to provide bees with prime sources of pollen and nectar. A skilled gardener may be able to grow pineapple in South Carolina. That doesn’t make it a native of the Palmetto State.
Create habitat: We all want our yard to look like it was razor cut and manicured. We think the 18th green at Augusta National looks a little messy. The bees believe otherwise. A perfectly neat yard doesn’t provide the materials wild honeybees need to construct a good nest. Instead of landscaping too severely, provide good nesting habitat with a smallish brush pile and areas of dry grass and random wood. A muddy area will provide essential nesting material for mason bees.
Are you okay? I know that last one was hard to take.
Cultivate single flowers: A single ring of petals provides more nectar and pollen than do double flowers. Double flowers make it more difficult for bees to reach the inner flower parts. That’s where the good stuff lives.
Choose blue, purple and yellow: Honeybees are amazing and adaptable creatures. They are also a little bit colorblind. Reds, greens, and whites strike a bee’s optic center as variations on a gray theme.
Avoid using pesticides: We can’t stress this one enough! Organic pesticides are toxic to bees and other pollinators. Non-organic pesticides are harmful to every living creature. Use crop rotation and row covers to control pests. Trap and hand-pick them. If you must use a pesticide, use it only as a last resort. A very last resort.
Consider backyard beekeeping: Anyplace with a yard can be a place to keep bees. Small urban green spaces can be excellent for this task. Keeping a beehive or two in the backyard was a common practice 40-50 years ago. And what a sweet return!
Alyssum: A relatively warm climate under 1,000 feet in elevation is perfect for the beautiful Alyssum. It is heat and drought resistant, though not frost-resistant.
Trifolium (clover): Most cultivated Trifolium is white clover, raised in the temperate regions of North America and Europe. This is a good choice because recent clover decline is related to the poor health of the pollinators. So, this choice helps in both directions of the evolutionary line.
Anise hyssop: The northern Plains and southern Canada is native ground for this lavender beauty with a slight floral fragrance. The anise hyssop will attract hummingbirds, in addition to butterflies and bees. The Native Americans used it as a catch-all cure, providing comfort from fevers and diarrhea.
Black-eyed Susan: The State flower of Maryland actually gets around. It has been seen in every State in the Lower 48, as well as in all ten Canadian Provinces. That kind of climatological hardiness makes it an easy choice for the home gardener.
Butterfly weed: Don’t let the name put you off. It’s called the butterfly weed because butterflies love them. Bees love them, as well. Striking orange flowers adorn this native to the northeast flower. It likes full sun and should not be handled by nursing or lactating women.
Poppies: The yellow California poppy is the best-known of the species, but poppies can come in almost any of a rainbow of colors. Red poppies, grown in the northern United Staes and in Canada are increasing in popularity. They are also a source of latex and edible seeds.
Aster: The name “aster” was once given to a great number of flowering plants worldwide. Since then the North American aster (or Aster alpinus) was sub-sectioned out. The striking purple flowers are eye-catching and grow in all hardiness zones.
Bee Balm: The name alone gave this one away. Known more accurately as “Monarda,” bee balm has a vague orange fragrance. It can be grown anywhere in North America except for elevations of more than 5,000 feet.
Coneflower: You may know this relative to the daisy by another name and it may be in your bathroom cabinet. The coneflower is echinacea, and it likes wooded areas in central and eastern United States. Gardeners in those areas are urged to plant them in abundance. The smooth coneflower (Echinacea laevigata) and Tennessee coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis) are listed as endangered.
Cranesbills: You may know them as geraniums but they are 422 species of flowering annual, biennial, and perennial plants commonly known as the cranesbills.They are hardy and normally grow in part shade to full sun. They like well-draining but moisture retentive soils that are rich in humus.