We are all beekeepers, and the bees keep us. They keep us nourished; at least one third of our food depends on honey bees for pollination. They provide for us in other ways too – in 2014 it was estimated that the economic value of honey bees in New Zealand is $5.1 billion per annum. Bees keep our gardens flowering and our kitchen cupboards rich in honey; we have a lot to thank them for. In return the least we can do is make sure our gardens are as bee friendly as possible!
Fill the garden with bee-friendly plants
The basic idea is that you should be trying to make your garden attractive and functional for the bees. To draw them in, plant flowers in the colours that bees are attracted to; yellow, blue, white and purple. Bees can’t see the colour red, so don’t bother trying to use red flowers to attract them to your garden. It’s also best to plant flowers that allow bees to access the pollen easily; so flowers that only have a single row of petals are best. As you can imagine, it’s much easier to harvest pollen from a daisy than from a carnation.
There are also certain families of plants that bees are especially partial to, such as lavender, mint, rosemary, sage and thyme (the Lamiaceae family), the flowers of the Apiaceae family (such as fennel, coriander and parsley plants), and the Asteraceae family (such as sunflowers, zinnias and dandelions).
If you’re interested in planting some New Zealand natives in your garden, bees are attracted to ti kouka (cabbage trees), harakeke (flax), koromiko, tarata (lemonwood), houhere (lacebark) and pohutakawa.
The last thing to remember is to ensure that there’s something flowering in your garden all year round so there’s always something in your garden for the bees to visit.
Keep away from the pesticides
It’s good to remember that less than 2% of the world’s insects are harmful to your garden, and there are plenty of natural ways to help fight off the ones that are. First make sure your garden is as healthy and strong as possible by looking after the soil and using lots of compost and mulch. You’ve also got some allies on your side – ladybugs will help to eliminate pests like aphids, mites and scale. They love plants that have flat flowers that are either white or yellow – calendula, coriander, dill, fennel or parsley all work well.
There are plenty of concerns surrounding the use of pesticides and how it affects the health of bee populations. Just last month in the State of Carolina, 2.5 million bees were accidentally killed as collateral damage in the fight against the Zika virus.
One class of pesticides, neonicotinoids, which are used on crops such as grass, potatoes, maize and sweetcorn, has been shown to affect bee health. It doesn’t kill them outright – but studies have shown that bee colonies exposed to neonicotinoids produce fewer queen bees, and that neonicotinoids can cause bees to become lost and confused when trying to return to their hive.
So be kind to bees and make sure you always garden organically. You can be confident that anything you buy from Commonsense will be bee friendly.