Bees, our little pollinators, are vanishing...fast. As the Clash's Joe Strummer sang, “If you’re after getting the honey/Then don’t go killing all the bees.”
The sudden disappearance of these helpful insects has been dubbed “colony collapse disorder” and can be traced to the use of insecticides on blooming plants that kill many bees, both by poisoning them and their food supply; to our shrinking green space; and to the phasing out of beekeeping as an occupation.
The good news is that anyone with a yard or balcony can pitch in to invite bees back to the garden. It’s as simple as decreasing the size of your front lawn grass and replacing it with native flowering plants and vegetables attractive to local bees or loading up pots with flowers and placing them in a sunny spot.
Single flower tops—such as daisies and marigolds—are ideal as a a direct target for the bees to find nectar. More showy double blossoms may look cool, but they make it more difficult for the bee to get in and get out. Hybridized plants are not going to work either. Because they don’t seed and therefore produce very little pollen for bees.
Communal honey bees as well as solitary bees can also be found nose diving into such delectable crops as kiwi, beets, broccoli, turnip, cabbage, mustard, chili pepper, tangelo, squash, persimmon, berries, and tomatoes to name but a few.
Southern Californians are especially lucky because we can plan for blooms year round, thus providing bees with a constant source of food. With spring upon us, we should already be seeing bees at crocus, hyacinth, borage, calendula, and wild lilac. For a summer feast plant bee balm, cosmos, echinacea, snapdragons foxglove, and hosta. And in autumn, late bloomers on the menu should include zinnias, sedum, asters, witch hazel and goldenrod.
TYPE BEE BEHAVIOR
Bees are shy and really have no interest in stinging us. They are attracted to gardens that are more overgrown than manicured, simply because they can get lost in the vegetation and more easily locate nesting places in the ground or in trees without human disturbance.
If you want to attract honey bees, plant Lavandula, Rosemary, Red Apple, Borage and Oregano. If you want large native bees, try Aster, Coreopsis, Cosmos, Helianthus, Agastache, and Salvia.
And remember, the more the merrier. Install as many like flowers as possible in one place. Bees work hard. They are constantly using their wings, much the way a helicopter takes flight. They like to gather nectar in one specifgic area and will return to it. So clump your poppies or borage or salvia together.
WHAT TO DO:
Leave a patch of the garden in a sunny spot uncultivated for native bees that burrow. For wood- and stem-nesting bees, leave piles of branches, bamboo sections, hollow reeds.
Only use natural pesticides and fertilizers. Ladybugs, spiders, and praying mantises will naturally keep pest populations in check.
Good California bee-attractions include: Birds Eye, Borage, Calif Buckwheat, Calif. Gilia, Calif Poppy, Calliopsis, Cape Mallo, Catmint, Cosmos, Gaillardia, Lavender, Penstemon, Rosemary, Sunflower.
STEAL THIS IDEA:
Create a bee bath. Fill a shallow container of water with pebbles or twigs for the bees to land on while drinking. They will return to the same spot everyday. Change water daily.