To Bee or Not to Bee

Christine Maccabee

Recently I spoke with my brother-in-law John about a problem he is having with his fruit trees. The problem is: no pollinators, resulting in no fruit. I was amazed to hear this, as my gardens and trees are a-buzz with all sorts of pollinators all spring and summer long. Then it hit me. I have lost of flowering plants in my gardens, from the tiny thyme flowers and red monarda blooms, to the myriad wildflowers which encircle my property like a prayer. No pollinators is no problem for me.

Shortly after talking with John, I read an article in The Kitchen Garden magazine which is as thorough a study on the subject of pollinators as I've ever seen. If you, too, are missing the "buzz" in your garden, this article is for you. There are many, many things one can do to enhance bee populations, which in turn, will enhance the health of our beleaguered environment in general. As you may or may not know, honey bee populations, both wild and domestic, have nearly been killed-off in North America by two species of

Russian parasitic mites. Reports in Pennsylvania of plenty of blossoms on squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and fruit trees but little or no fruit, all point to a very real problem. But, like so many other problems in life, the human being manages to come up with solutions. Briefly, here are a few helpful suggestions as enumerated in the article I read:

  1.  Plant herbs like lemon balm (its scientific name "melissa" means "bee" in Greek) and let it spread. Mine grows all along the sunniest wall of my home, and it is spreading by seed for other garden areas. Its leaves make pleasant tea and can be used in potpourri.

    Lavendar and thyme, which bloom prolifically are also wonderful. Plant them near or in your vegetable garden so that bees, searching for nectar, can pollinate cucumbers, squash and peppers on their way in and out of the garden. Catnip and monarda are two favorites and if you have red monarda you may be blessed with visits from your local hummingbird family. Any favorite herb with a nice bloom will bring in pollinators.
  2. Special plantings of favorite flowers such as sunflowers, poppies, ornamental onions, sedum (a ground cover) , liatris and many others area sure-fire attractors of pollinators. I keep saying "pollinators" instead of "honey bees" because they are only one of a thousand of the insects which potentially may be drawn to your flowers. There are bee-like butterflies, the all-favorite bumble-bees, and about 4,000 species of native ground-nesting and twig-nesting bees in the U.S. alone!
  3. Wild areas on or around your property will produce milkweed, wild daisies, and asters and golden-rod which are critical to late-season food for our friends the pollinators if they are to survive the winter famine.
  4. These same wild areas provide pollinators with nesting and hibernating sites. Many native bees are ground-nesters and build burrows in loose, undisturbed soil. Others nest in abandoned mouse tunnels, dead wood, or stems of bramble bushes. These critical nesting areas are increasingly destroyed by excessive clearing along roadsides, betweenfarm fields and to make way for more and more suburban housing. So, if you have the space to provide a habitat on your property you will be playing an important role in the survival of pollinators.
  5. Do not use pesticides or herbicides on your lawns and gardens. Both are toxic to your pollinators and birds and small animals, as well.

One final way to bring bees to your garden might be to learn the art of beekeeping. Then, you'll have the bees, and the honey to boot! I personally are not yet prepared to spend the money on such a venture nor all the time it takes to learn and maintain pet bees. For now, I will just enjoy the beauty of all my flowers and the ecstatic buzz of happy pollinators all around me.1 will also have the pleasure of watching the carpet of bees on my purple thyme and of finding sleepy bumblebees on my sunflowers when I visit the garden at dawn.

Read other articles by Christine Maccabee