These foods all rely on pollinators to exist. Without bees? We wouldn’t have some of the most nutritious foods on planet earth.
When you devour your dinner each night, one out of every three bites of that food you put in your mouth comes from plants that have been pollinated by bees.
So take out the bees and one third of our food supply would be wiped out.
Just think about the economical and nutritional impact of that?
Most of us just don’t need another bagel with cream cheese. But kale? Broccoli? Bok choy? Oh the pride we gardeners have when we grow these foods to eat!
So let’s talk about bees and why they need more than just your sympathetic ear. What you can do to help the bees now!
And timing couldn’t be more spot-on as we celebrate National Pollinator Week!
What is pollination?
If the process occurs on the same flower it’s called self-pollination. If it occurs between two different flowers of the same species it’s called cross-pollination.
Cross-pollination allows for more variety within the next generation, better adaptations to the changing environments, and better protection against diseases.
So cross-pollination is the movement of sex cells between flowering plants of the same species to enable fertilization.
These sex cells take the form of pollen. Bees aid in transferring this pollen when it gets trapped in the hairs on their bodies as they access each flower. Then they dislodge the pollen when they land on another.
This is a buzzing service for plants who being rooted in one spot are not able to spread their genes far and wide.
And not all plants are pollinated by bees and other insects. A part of the plant kingdom, including many trees and the entire family of grasses, instead rely on wind to transfer pollen.
What are pollinators?
So pollinators are animals that help with cross-pollination. They fly from flower to flower in search of nectar or pollen, and in doing so move pollen between flowers.
Pollen in an excellent source of protein that many animals eat or use to feed their young, white nectar is a sweet high-energy reward that gives many pollinators fuel for flying.
Cross-pollination is an extremely important process both in nature and in agriculture for the healthy proliferation of plants and crops all over the world.
What is nectar?
Bees require a very energy-rich food source so they can fly and still have sufficient reserves left over for other activities.
Flowers have the ultimate high-energy reward for bees in the form of nectar, which they offer in exchange for pollination.
Nectar is a mix of sugars, produced by plants by photosynthesis, carried around in the sap, and concentrated in glands called nectaries. A cocktail of 55% sucrose, 24% glucose, and 21% fructose.
Without pollinators there would be no more….
Why are pollinators at risk?
- Nutrient and habitat loss due to development
- Pests and diseases
- Pesticide exposure
- Climate change
These combined environmental threats and challenges have caused many pollinator groups to suffer severe losses in the last few decades, and in turn, has initiated concern about the future balance of our ecosystems and pollinator-dependent agriculture.
Facts to buzz about…
1 pound of honey takes up to 40,000 miles of flying to produce!
Fact or Fiction ~ Common Bee Myths!
- All bees live in hives – MYTH
There are 4,000 bee species in North America, however, the vast majority of them do not live in hives. Most bees are actually solitary, and live alone, only socializing to find a mate. Instead of living in a hive with thousands of other bees, solitary bees make their nests in the ground or in trees. Solitary bees make up the majority of our pollinators, so be sure to provide them with food and nesting areas!!
- Bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly due to their tiny wings and voluptuous physique – MYTH
The massive force needed to keep bumblebees airborne comes from the way the wings twist with each beat to maximize the force generated as the wing pushes down, while minimizing the air resistance when brought back up. But it’s the rate at which the wings move that is most startling. 200 beats per minute!
- The visual range of bees doesn’t compare with the human visual range – MYTH
Bees’ ability to detect colors at the ultraviolet end of the spectrum opens up a whole new world of color and pattern inaccessible to human eyes. True, bees can’t see shades of red, but they can view a range of colors at the ultraviolet end of the spectrum that are invisible to us.
- All bees make honey – MYTH
Honey bees are the only types of bees that make the honey we eat and consume. Other bees like bumble bees can create honey, but it is a lot harder to harvest. Honey is made by mixing flower nectar with enzymes in the honey bee’s mouth. The bees fan their wings to help reduce water, then cap the honeycomb with a layer of wax.
- Colony Collapse Disorder is killing all the bees – MYTH
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when the worker bees of a honey bee colony disappear. Although this affects the agricultural supply of honey, it is not the reason for the disappearance of bumble bees. Most bees are actually in decline because of:
- Lack of food (wildflowers)
- High pesticide use
- Phone signals
Small steps we can take to help bees!
Nonetheless, I appreciate the bees and want to attract as many as I can to my yard and gardens.
Not everyone has acres of land to cultivate bees. But even growing in a small space such as a patio or balcony can reap big rewards.
How about a few hanging baskets, a window box and a few tubs on your porch? Yes, even if you live in a city where between 20-25% of the average urban area is made up of private yards or public green-spaces.
These tiny spaces can be compact with flowers, at a higher species density per unit area than any wild habitat.
And make sure your garden creates color year-round if possible. From the first crocuses of spring to the very last sunflower in fall, aim to always have something in bloom for the bees.
Planting for succession provides bees with the essential continuity of food they need in order to build up stores of honey.
We also have the power to vary our gardens with trees, shrubs, climbers, creepers, herbs and perennial plants that bees love.
So here’s a few simple steps any of us can do.
1.) Plant bee friendly plants & avoid the flowers they don’t like.
By making informed choices about what we grow, we attract these beneficial buzzers.
So knowing that bees love blue, violet and yellow is helpful when you are selecting plants at the local garden center.
Equally important is remembering that bees can’t see red. So planting red petunias is a bad idea if you are trying to attract bees.
Petunias are also bad for bees as the blooms and petals are just not wide enough to provide a good landing area. Petunias also contain little nectar or pollen. So no value to bees.
But planting purple petunias as shown above in unison with bee loving plants like snapdragons is smart. The bees are attracted to the purple but will land on and glean from the snapdragon.
When planting for pollinators, try to choose flowers with a simple, open structure. Consider the class daisy flower, with its outer ring of petals and stamens in the center.
Still confused? Ask a worker at the local garden nursery. And don’t undervalue the power of observation. Choose a sunny day to watch which flowers the bees are drawn to at the garden center. Bingo!
Getting to know how bees and flowers interact with each other is paramount. How flowers signal their attractiveness to bees; and how bees pick up on those signals.
2.) Encourage nesting through bees houses & other habitats
But in the meantime, I purchased a small beneficial insect house to tie me over. I’m so glad I did! I can’t believe the use it gets. I placed mine outside the door that leads to the patio so I always get a glimpse of the insects flying in and out.
Pictured below is a piece of a bamboo cane that fell off an old wind chime. It wasn’t long before I noticed the bees gravitating toward it. So what was totally an accident on my part created an amazing nesting spot for bees.
Hole size is vital. Different hole sizes will attract different species of solitary bees, but they will not nest in holes over 1/2 inch (10 mm).
If you are using multiple bamboo canes make sure they are all similar in size. Mixing sizes in the same bee house encourages pests and diseases to jump between different species that cohabit. Not good!
Thick mulch around trees and shrubs suppresses weeds, but also prevents bees that nest in the ground from reaching the soil.
Leaving a few bare patches of earth around the yard and garden allows for mining bees to nest.
3.) Add water features to your yard
The shallow depth is ideal for bees as it won’t drown them. We put in a piece of granite from our countertops for the bees and birds to perch on while they sip.
It’s also nice because the water stays fresh, spilling over with a good rain shower and being replenished by wonderful rain water.
Because like all animals, bees need a dependable source of water year-round. It’s best if livestock or house pets don’t have access to this water.
I find it fascinating that although bees drink water like other animals, they also require it for other reasons. In winter, honey bees use water to dissolve crystallized honey and also to thin honey that has become too thick and viscous.
In summer, bees spread droplets of water along the edges of brood comb, and then fan the comb with their wings. The rapid fanning sets up air currents that evaporate the water and cools the rest to the correct temperature for raising baby bees.
How cute is that!
4.) Avoid bad breeding
Selective breeding has created flowers with disease resistance, more uniformity, a longer flowering season, and a greater range of colors. We end up with ornamental plants for the flower lover but also ones that offer little or nothing to foraging bees.
Think old-fashioned farmstead roses compared to the modern overly bred double roses. Only wild cultivars with their single, open flowers will interest pollinators.
When multiple concentric whorls of petals are produced in any flower, the maze of petals create a huge disadvantage for bees. They can no longer access the stamens and nectaries.
So the old cultivars of the Dianthus boasts an open structure that bees love. But bees can’t penetrate through the whorls of the petals on the almost “pompom” structure of the new cultivars.
And some breeding has gone to the extent of eliminating scent, nectar production and even pollen altogether!
5.) Join a conservation campaign
Amateurs can monitor invasive pests and create logs to keep track of the range of species.
Would it be the end of the world if every inch of our public parks weren’t mowed to the ground weekly? Sometimes mowed twice a week mimicking a manicured golf course.
What if a few corners of these parks were left alone to grow wild? What if we also added some bee-friendly flowers and plants for bee forage. Would this not add interest and color to our public parks?
So letting politicians know how strongly you feel about protecting the bees and their habitats makes a difference. Let them know you’d like more bee friendly parks in your city.
Just the other day, Tom, I and the girls went to Beaver Island State Park and noticed corners of milkweed in a few unmowed places. Wonderful for those pollinating butterflies! I hate seeing milkweed plowed down. Talk about essential!
Go ahead and sign that petition. Write a letter. Join a campaigning group. Get involved!
Those drug dependent bees!
Flower go out of their way to attract bees. They pattern their petals to get noticed, lavish themselves in scent like perfume so they are easy to find.
Flowers then buy bee loyalty with the sugar rush of nectar. But this takes energy to produce. So flowers conserve their energy by drugging their nectar to trick bees into finding them more attractive. Nicotine, caffeine and many other chemicals are found in small quantities in the nectar of certain plants.
The response is similar to the human response to these substances. Bees are stimulated and think they are getting a bigger reward than they actually getting~ so they come back for hit after hit!
One last idea to chomp on!
Herbs are generally good for bees that are drawn to them like magnets. And they’re good for you, too! The bees flock to the herbs and you get to use the herbs in all your creative dinners. A win-win.
Start with oregano. In the wild, oregano (majoram) can provide significant quantities of nectar for beekeepers lucky enough to live close by.
By we can grow the cultivated form, oregano, in the garden and use it in all our pasta and pizza dishes. Not to mention soups and stews!
Then throw in some garden mint. Spearmint. Peppermint. Apple mint. Your choice! All great with the tiny spikes of flowers they produce that are popular with the bees. Mint in your tea. Mint to garnish. Can’t go wrong.
I grow creeping thyme, too. A culinary herb that I can’t live without. Creeping thyme grows in low-growing mats of aromatic foliage dotted with small lilac flowers. Thyme brings the goods when it comes to producing nectar.
And how about sage with its densely packed purple flowers that bees love. You’ll love it too when Thanksgiving rolls around and you dried some for the turkey.
Last, but certainly not least is rosemary. A classic culinary herb from the dry slopes of the Mediterranean where it can flower almost year-round. Rosemary is more like a shrub with its woody stems.
The needlelike leaves make it very drought-tolerant and it’s fairly easy to overwinter. The bees think it’s the best! Agreed! I can’t imagine roasting potatoes without it.