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Helping the Honeybee
HELPING THE BEES
You must have noticed in the various news media that honeybees, and in fact
other types of bee populations are in decline the world over. There are experts
in many countries working on this now, but we can contribute as well-- each in
our own small way. We do not have to do complicated research in labs at
universities or produce esoteric papers; but what we can do, is grow plants in
our gardens that are known to attract and are favoured by bees for gathering
pollen and nectar.
WHAT A BEE NEEDS
The essential elements for honeybees are: Nectar, pollen, water and shelter.
Bees live solely from vegetal nutrients: pollen, nectar and honey dew. They have
several uses for pollen during the brooding phase, and nectar is used to satisfy
the hive's energy requirements. They also need water and shelter.
Anything that interferes with these elements will affect the well-being and
propagation of the bees.
1-Nectar: Contains carbohydrates for the bees. Besides carbohydrates such as
sucrose, glucose and fructose, nectar also contains proteins, amino acids,
vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, organic acids, lipids, antioxidants, alkaloids and
Bees gather nectar to make honey, the food source for the hive.
** Bees also gather "honeydew"-- secretions of various "sucking-insects" such as
2- Pollen: Contains proteins, lipids (fats), and vitamins among other things
necessary for larval development, especially during the spring.
3-Water: Bees need water for temperature and humidity control in the hives,
raising the brood and for the dilution of food sources.
A shallow, sunny source nearby. They are attracted to salty water.
Some worker-types have the job of exclusively carrying water. They typically
make about 50 trips a day.
4-Shelter: If you have no training as a beekeeper, then providing a shelter is not
something that you would be doing. I am concentrating on the first three
elements in this article.
BEES AT WORK
Honeybees are primarily active between the months of March and October. They
mostly are looking for pollen during the Spring to help build-up the hive colony
quickly. They also need nectar, and lots of it, to give the hive members energy
and; of course, to make wax.
There is a spell after the spring, occurring in June called "the June Gap". This
refers to a period of time between the dying of the spring bloomers and the
flowering of the summer blooming plants. It is a time when there are typically
significantly fewer flowers available to the bees.
We can plant and grow plants that bloom in this time to help the honeybee out.
During the summer phase, bees will primarily be gathering nectar to make honey
to eat during the winter months.
Now it is important to say two things here: Firstly, that bees gather pollen and
nectar throughout the entire season, it's just that there are times when they tend
to primarily focus on one or the other. Secondly, pollen is the most important
thing that they gather. They cannot live without it. I will not get into all that
here; however, as the focal point of this article is on "plants that can help bees".
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Planting For A Bee-friendly Garden
It is known that honeybees actually prefer coming to large patches of the same
sort of flowering plant. Of course they will visit singular plants, but it is not what
they would rather do.
The bees like to visit plants in sunny places sheltered from the wind. This is not
always possible in our gardens since we are stuck with the land that we have and
the way it lies. Having said that, we can think before we plant and try and adapt
our planting choices to the bee's preferences. If that simply isn't possible, then
planting any kind of flowering plant for them is still good a good idea.
How can we know what plants bees like? Well, one thing that you can do is to
pay attention as to what flowers bloom in your and other people's gardens. Also
take note when the preferred flowers bloom; as well as, which ones the bees
frequent. Jot it down. With this info you can try and find these seeds or plantlets
in your garden centers.
You can also search the internet or your local library for this information.
This link is but one of many:
Listed below are some of the more favoured plants; hopefully you will be able to
find some of these.
Trees: Acacia (Robinia species)
Maple (Acer species)
Willow (Salix species)
Bushes: broom (Cytisus scoparius)
Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas)
Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa)
Hedge (Buxus sempervirens)
Flowers: Rapeseed (Brassica napus subs. napus)
Snowdrops (Galathus nivalis)
June Gap Bloomers:
Tree: Small-leaf Lime/Littleleaf Linden (Tilia cordata)
Bush: Blackberry (Ribus 'Thornfree')
Spiraera (Spiraea Japonica 'Little Princess')
Flowers: Clover (Trifolium species)
Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Trees: Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)
Bushes: (clandonensis 'Heavenly Blue')
Flowers: Cosmos (Cosmea)
Mountain Fleece (Persicaria amplexicaulis)
Ivy (Hedera helix)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Marjoram (Origanum laevigatum 'Herrenhausen')
Whirling Butterfly (Gaura lindheimeri 'Whirling Butterflies')
Common Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
Another thing is that some plants which we regard as weeds are actually
favourites of bees. Plants such as thistles and dandelions, for instance. You could
let these plants stay and just remove their bloom heads as soon as the flower has
died (before the seeds have been formed). The plant itself could then be removed
once all flowering has stopped.
I am not suggesting that you let your lawn be overrun with these; I am speaking
of the ones that might find their way into your borders and patches. It's a
thought that goes against the idea that one should have a tidy garden, I
know...but it would be helpful.
Providing A Water Source
You can place a shallow container full of water in a sunny and open location in
your garden. Your water source should be as big as possible. Ideally the
container ought be at least one meter (1 yard) in diameter. The reason for this is
that the more water there is, the more water molecules are released into the
air. Bees detect this humidity and are attracted to the source.
It's a good idea to place small objects that float on the water's surface for them
to land on. You could also cover the water container with some sort of wire
mesh to keep other things (such as birds) out of the water.
Usually beekeepers have water sources near the hives, but it does not hurt to
have some water for them to drink in your garden as well--especially during
This article highlights what bees need and how we, as gardeners, can help them
by providing most of the essential elements bees need for living, working and
successfully furthering themselves.
I have tried to give a little background without being too technical so that
readers generally can understand how it works with bees and yet won't be put
off by reading reams of scientific fact.
There are suggestions as to what each of us can do to help the bees. It is in our
own interest to help actually, if one realizes how much we owe to these little
Further, I have listed some trees, bushes and flowering plants that we can plant
in our gardens to attract and assist bees in their work and survival. To be sure,
there are many more plants than the ones listed above that a person can add to
their garden. These are but a few of the bees' known preferences.
Perhaps when you are ordering or buying seeds and plants for your gardens for
the coming season, you might consider some of the plants listed above to give
the bees a hand. They can use our help.
© sjoerd 2006-2015