Thursday, January 24, 2013

Planning a Bee Garden


Whether you keep your own bee hives or count on wild bees to pollinate your homestead plants,  most people have a certain respect for the job of a bee.  As gardeners, we rely on bees to pollinate our crops and often benefit from the surplus of their honey production.  More than 100 food crops rely on bees to pollinate their flowers, and the recent decline in honeybee populations means less of those crops are getting pollinated.  While honeybees are incredibly important, they aren't the only ones out there helping to pollinate, around the world there are about 20,000 species of bees, many operating in colonies and still others operating individually.

You can help encourage bee populations by becoming a beekeeper, buying local honey, reducing pesticide use, or simply creating a habitat that encourages and strengthens bee populations.  A well planned bee garden can include edibles and can also become an attractive part of your yard.  If you are concerned about getting stung by bees, remember that bees sting as a defensive measure, and keep in mind the statement 'live and let live.'



Last year we started to build a bee garden around our hive, as a way to encourage pollination, create a barrier around the hive, and also add some color to that side of the yard.  Our bee garden also attracts butterflies and other beneficial insects to our yard.  Here are a few thoughts to consider in planning your bee garden.

Select a Site

The ideal location for a bee garden is somewhere that provides some shelter and protection from the elements.  If you can help it, don't place your garden in the middle of a windy field.  Make sure that the plants or other elements in the garden provide wind barriers.  This also means that you don't need to change everything since bees love small spots to hide like logs and under rocks. If you use a lot of mulch, consider keeping some areas mulch-free to encourage ground dwelling bees.




Choose Plants

Evidence shows that not only are bees attracted to certain types of flowers, but they are attracted to a garden that has a variety of flowers.  Select a number of different types of flowers with a variety of colors, shapes, size, and blooming time, and you are guaranteed to attract bees to your garden. You can check local resources for plants that grow in your area, or try looking at this list for some ideas of plants to select.

Don't forget to include edible plants in your garden so you can get some of the benefit from increased pollination.  Herbs are especially good choices when looking for plants that are likely to attract bees.

Provide Water

Keeping a small, shallow water source in your garden is an added bonus for attracting bees.  This can be as simple as a birds bath or as elaborate as a small pond.  If you are adding water with bees in mind, keep it shallow or add pebbles to keep the bees from drowning.



Keep it Natural 

Using pesticides on a garden intended to attract bees is simply contradictory.  Don't lure bees to your garden simply to poison them!  Even small doses of pesticides can harm a bee and travel back to the hive to harm the whole colony.  Instead of using pesticides in your bee garden, try coping with pests as needed using less poison and better gardening.



Don't overlook the Weeds

 When you're planning a garden, it's easy to overlook the benefit of weeds.  Native weeds are often a favorite for native bees, so don't overlook this valuable resource growing right in your yard.  Even if you don't want to leave weeds in your garden, consider letting them grow along the edge of the woods or in other areas around your yard.  Those dandelions growing in your yard are one of the bees favorite plants.  In our not so tidy yard, we usually let the dandelions bloom a few days before we mow them down.


A garden is a thriving ecosystem, and bees play a crucial role.  Consider creating a space to attract bees in your own backyard, and you will shortly see the benefits of increased pollination.  

Have you created a bee garden?  What plants do you use to attract bees to your garden?


I shared at Wildcrafting Wednesday

19 comments:

  1. Meredith/GreenCircleGroveJanuary 24, 2013 at 7:57 AM

    Thank you! This was just the post I needed to read this morning to take my mind off the minus nothing weather. I don't keep bees, but I plan beneficials around my gardens. Thanks again for thoughts of spring!

    I shared this, by the way, with the Green Circle Grove community.

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    1. So glad it added to your morning. I keep thinking spring has to be getting closer. Thanks for sharing this.

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  2. Great tips! My husband is just finishing up "Beekeeping for Dummies" and can't wait to start beekeeping! I need to read the book next because I have very limited knowledge of bees. This will come in handy for the future when we actually do get bees. I'll have to show this to my husband!

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    1. You're going to love beekeeping! We're hoping the bees make it through the winter.

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  3. Inspiring pictures! Thank you! Made me think I could grow a garden like that and I really will conquer the Bermuda grass this year. (Aren't we all optimists in January?) I have spent this week going over all my bee equipment, fixing and building new frames and painting the hives I hope to expand into this spring. I am going to transition to foundationless frames this year. Optimistic and rebellious! I love January! So many possibilities!

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    1. Hm - Bermuda grass sounds like a challenge - we have horsetail here which isn't awful, but persistent.

      I LOVE the idea of rebellious beekeeping. January is when it all seems possible.

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  4. We dont keep bees YET!!!, but would love to venture off into that someday. I do plant beneficials in and around the garden. The bees love the zinias, cosmos, sunflowers,and lots of marigolds. I also have a wisteria planted as a backdrop to our garden. Loved your article, how long ago did you but in your bee garden, love that it looks so natural, and the squash plants mingle in beautifuly.

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    1. We started the garden just last year. Those before and after photos are just 4 months apart. I'm looking forward to getting back out there this year.

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  5. Thanks for this post, and the link to the list. We're in the process of planting lots of flowers around the property. Right now our bees are loving the broccoli that has bolted...

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    1. I'm really looking forward to planting more this year. Glad you're already out there!

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  6. I can't convince my husband that we should keep bees in the city, but I have planted what I call a "meadow" which is full of plants that attract bees and other beneficials to our yard. This year, though, I think I am going to dig them up and move them within my vegetable and fruit garden rows to spread them around the yard instead of having them all in one cluster.

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    1. I love the idea of a meadow and inter-placed plants. What city do you live in? I have some friends who keep bees in Seattle, but I know it has extra considerations. Good luck!

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  7. I am planning to start a beehive soon. We will be setting it up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California where there are black bears. Do I need to put a metal cage around the beehive, or perhaps put it up on a very tall pole, or is it a myth that the bears will tear apart the beehive to get to the honey?

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    1. I have heard about bears being a problem for some folks. There aren't that many bears near here truthfully. It would be frustrating to have your hive torn apart in just a few minutes.

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  8. I enjoyed your post! It's a great article to promote growing for bees in general. I grow loads of herbs and flowers in our very small backyard space to provide food for the wild bees and other pollinating insects. They really love mint the most, or at least the mint is covered in pollinators when in bloom. It's great to encourage people to plant for bees as so many native meadows and flowers are not available plus they help to pollinate our garden as well...it's a win-win situation! :)

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  9. Hi Gretchen,
    This is a great post for me, since I am planning to add a beehive to the homestead this year :) Would love to have you share this on Wildcrafting Wednesday at:
    http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com/2013/01/wildcrafting-wednesday-7.html

    and The HomeAcre Hop tonight at:
    http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com/2013/01/the-homeacre-hop-5.html

    Hope to see you there!

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  10. What a beautiful garden! I'm so glad you shared it with us on Wildcrafting Wednesday! :)

    ~ Kathy
    http://mindbodyandsoleonline.com/herbal-information/73rd-wildcrafting-wednesday/

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  11. Thank you for sharing. I'm planning a community garden about a block away from my house and my brother just built me a top bar hive. I'll be picking up the bees as soon as it's practical. This is exactly the kind of info I need to share with the city folk who want to work in the garden!

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  12. Beautiful! I especially like what you say about native weeds. we've been growing bee wildflower blends, borage and sunflowers every year in our garden (and it's lovely as poppies and borage find themselves randomly all over our garden!). we also leave weeds in certain areas of our garden, which may sound weird, but many of them are edible (lambs quarters, nettle, burdock, dandelions..) we also leaves the masses of wild thimbleberries that grow rampant over the acreage as they flower all summer long and we let many spring harvested veggies go to flower and seed just so there are more flowers for the bees!

    It makes me sad this time of year as it just got very warm and all the bees came out and then we got a cold snap and a dump of snow.. sadly from word of mouth I hear most people lost most of their hives..the poor confused bees

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