5 Easy Ways to Help Bees this Summer

It is an unavoidable reality. Our bees are in trouble. As we become increasingly aware of the issues facing our pollinators and the detrimental impact their decline will have on our local and global food supply, we’re all looking for ways to help. Here are five EASY ways to help local bee populations that take very little time, effort and money.

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Bees are thirsty! They seek out shallow water sources to replenish from, so consider putting out a saucer of fresh water in your garden or on your patio. If you keep it full, in a few days time you will find that you have regular visitors. Bees are notoriously bad swimmers, though, so if you’re using something larger like a bowl or have a bird bath, consider putting a rock or some pebbles for the bees to perch on to drink safely.

4. Plant flowers

Bees are starving; one of the best things you can do to immediately benefit local pollinators is plant food in the form of annual or perennial flowers, as well as flowering trees and shrubs.IMG_0551 Plant in clumps, choosing  flowers of a variety of colors and shapes that bloom at different times throughout the year. Choose flowers native to your area. Native plants naturally occur in the region in which they evolved and subsequently, have additional advantages. They are adapted to local soils and climate conditions, typically require less water and are more often resistant to harmful insects and disease. Additionally, wildlife evolves with plants; therefore, local pollinators have a strong preference for native flowering plants.

Just be sure you do not purchase flowers that have been sprayed with neonics!

PhotoGrid_1432300694885It can be a devastating realization for someone that they may have inadvertently killed or weakened the bees they were trying to benefit by purchasing pollinator-attracting plants from a large retailer or major nursery. Home Depot and Lowe’s have recently made this easier on consumers by voluntarily labeling their plants. Albeit it is in tiny font, tucked away at the base of the plant on a separate, hard to spot, easy to dislodge secondary label, but it’s there. Usually. Unfortunately, the majority of their plants are still currently treated but, in response to customer demand, both major retailers have announced plans to phase out neonic treated plants by 2019. So, in the mean time, be vigilant.

3. Reduce or eliminate use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers at your home

Science has proven time and time and time and time again these are harmful to bees. Specifically, neonicotinoids (neonics) and glyphosate, found in the ever popular RoundUp. Not only are these killing bees, they are harmful to you and your children and are contaminating our soil and water supply. Please stop using them. Seek alternative methods. Pull the weeds by hand, or BONUS: if they flower, just leave them. Bee food.

2. Buy LocalIMG_1413a

Local fruits and veggies, local meat and, of course, local honey! Get to know your farmer/grower/beekeeper. Ask them questions; go visit their property with your children. In addition to supporting pollinators, buying local reduces emissions, leaving you cleaner air and water, helps strengthen your local economy, and bolster your community’s knowledge, health and ecological longevity.

1. Encourage and educate others

We can talk about wide spread regulation of pesticides and grand conservation efforts all we want, and trust me that is being done at length, but that takes time. The quickest way to make a positive impact is to start now in your own community.Talk to your coworkers and the individuals at your place of employment responsible for lawn care; talk to your neighbors and friends about reducing pesticide use and planting pollinator friendly landscaping. Take time to understand how our actions such as urbanization and suburban landscape, the loss of biodiversity through monocrop agricultural practices and pesticide use collectively impact bee populations and how our choices as individuals and communities play a roll in that.

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Landscaping a Small Urban Apiary

Update Spring 2015: Two years later our little urban apiary is as beautiful as ever! It is everyone’s favorite place to hang out and is the focal point of our yard. The ducks make their nests and hatch their young among the lavender, the chickens relax under the shade of the tree and the bees bustle about. We often sit on the retaining wall stones watching bees come and go, breathing in the sweet scent of rosemary and lavender. It is just as idyllic and well serving as I had hoped.

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The intent was to landscape a beautiful apiary for our bees so that they would have a functional and welcoming home. What we ended up with lies somewhere between apiary, herb garden and aroma therapy garden. I love when planting is multipurpose – edible, perennial, aesthetically pleasing and good at attracting pollinators – and this apiary is just that. It’s a lovely space for bee and beekeeper alike.

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Consider planting in your apiary during early morning on a cool, drizzly spring or fall day. I know these aren’t the gardener’s preferred working conditions, but neither are they the bees’, which means you are far less likely to cause a disturbance. Bees will not venture out of the hive for foraging activities until the outer temperature has risen into the mid 50’s. There may be the occasional security guard that comes out to supervise your activity, but in general, they will remain out of your way and you out of theirs.

A cherry tree, which is full of heavy blooms in the early spring to feed hungry, over-wintered bees, casts dappled shade to offer some reprieve from the Southern summer heat. Honey Bees are very particular about the temperature inside the hive, working year round to maintain 94-97°F. When you live in a climate with extreme heat, it may be necessary to help them out by creating some shade – not too much though, they’ll be wanting that sun come the cold winter months. Think of something native to your area that has sparse branching and will lose all of its foliage in the winter months.

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Lavender is a clear choice for apiary landscaping as it’s one of bees’ favorites. We included various varieties of lavender in different sizes, foliage color and flower color. There are hundreds of lavender cultivars to choose from; we recommend choosing native varieties that will flourish in your growing zone as they will require very little care once established. When planting for pollinators, consider planting in clumps or clusters, rather than a single plant. Not only do they find this more attractive, it makes it more worth their effort.

Lavender

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Rosemary is another bee (and chef) favorite. The blue blooms and highly fragrant foliage are calming for both bee and keeper. Here, rosemary acts as a slight barrier between the entrance of each hive and the boisterous activity of the backyard. Honey Bees take very serious the job of guarding the hive entrance. By planting a visual and physical barrier you’re helping them keep things around the entrance calm. This barrier should be at least a foot away, giving the bees plenty of space to come and go free of congestion.

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Heather acts an extremely low maintenance ground cover that produces droves of purple, pink or white flowers from very early spring through late fall. Meanwhile, fast growing Pampas grass will add movement and height as it matures. Remember to leave plenty of space to work in and around the hives. You don’t want to feel claustrophobic when the plants mature to full-size, so plan accordingly.

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A nicely designed apiary allows for easy foraging (like super healthy, beautiful fast-food for bees) and creates a space for all inhabitants of your urban property to share and enjoy.

Which means, while these happy ladies are busy working away…

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…we can relax with lavender-mint vodka tonic while enjoying the warm evening, aromatic garden, and gentle humming of the hive. Bliss.

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