During the summer months, some of us feel the painful repercussions of getting warned by bees that we’re too close. Aside from the discomfort from those warnings, bees are very much our friends. Without bees our crops would not grow and our grocery stores and gardens would be bare.
Approximately one third of our crops are pollinated by bees, but recently the declining bee population has made headlines with warnings about how that will affect our crops in the short and long term. Without our stinger friends, fruits and vegetables will become sparser, driving up the cost of produce.
Local beekeeper John Garner says, “Pollination from bees is essential to many crops that are locally grown and harvested.” Over the last several years the bee population has diminished, causing concern for many farmers and the produce industry.
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is becoming a common term when discussing the honey bee population. Researchers are not confident in the reasons for the declining bee populations, but the research is clear. CCD is the term used when entire colonies of bees die over the cold winter months. Prior to 2006, there was an expected bee population loss of 10-15%, but since 2006 that percentage has more than doubled. Some areas are seeing CCD exceeding 30%.
According to Garner, who maintains bee hives at SandyCreek Farm, “In the recent past we have experienced a decrease in population; however, the hives this year look strong and very promising.” This is encouraging for the upcoming summer months when produce yield is at its highest.
Sometimes farmers see that their entire bee populations will completely vanish. Often the reasons are unknown, although there are various speculations. Scientists believe that a combination of factors is contributing to the bee population decline. Insecticides, an increase in mites and disease, and even a decline in right types of bee-friendly foods are proving to cause the decline in bees. Although this vast decline can be scary, there are still things that we can do to improve the number of bees and give them the best shot of survival.
To help prevent harm to local hives, Garner suggests, “Avoiding insecticides that can be picked up and carried back to the hives is one way you can help keep the bee population thriving. One example of such insecticide is Sevin Dust.”
BEEcoming a Backyard BEEkeeper
Our dietary needs and transitional shift towards healthier year-round diets have added pressure on the need for all-year seasonal fruits and vegetables. This pressure has turned bee pollination into a year-round service and commercial industry.
If you’re serious about becoming a local beekeeper or want to know more, the local Davidson County Beekeepers Association meets once a month at the Davidson Cooperative Extension located at 301 E. Center St. Meetings are held on the 3rd Monday of each month at 7 p.m. Meetings are free to attend.
You can help contribute to the improved environment where bees can thrive by planting a BEEfriendly garden. Much like you, bees are attracted to certain types of fruits and vegetables. By planting the right types of fruits, vegetables, and flowers, we can give the bees the best pollen that can help them flourish.
Bees like multi-petal flowers and ones that have an easy area to retrieve the pollen. Flowers like daisies, roses, sunflowers, black-eyed-susan, verbena, and lavender are bees’ favorites. Flowering colors of pink, purple and orange are also a favorite of bees. Chris Mendenhall, a Master Beekeeper from Davidson County says, “the best thing a home owner can do is plant bee friendly plants like, Lavender, sage, thyme, sunflowers, geranium, poppy’s, zinnia.
Planting bee friendly plants will bring honey bees, butterflies, and solitary bees to your yard and garden and they will keep them coming back as long as there is a bloom.”
Bees are also attracted to apples, pears, melon, turnips, cucumbers, and avocados. Herbs too are a favorite of bees. Try planting lavender, catmint, sage, thyme, fennel, and chives as these are among those often frequented by bees.
Most importantly, if bees are visiting your summer garden, remember they are helping us all. By adding insecticides to your crops you could be hindering their progress. Welcome the bees into your garden as they are there as helpers, not harm. Mendenhall adds, “If there are honey bees in your area it want take long for bees to show up in your garden this time of year, only a day or so.”
Home for Honeybees
You don’t have to have an entire hive to help honeybees. Not all bees live in colonies. Many bees, like some varies of honeybees and bumblebees, are solitary. With a BEEfriendly environment you can help these loners feel at home.
Making a BEE board is an easy way to attract bees to your home and garden. You will need a piece of lumber or a sheet of wood. Make sure when choosing your board that it is untreated. Treated wood can contain chemicals, thus defeating the purpose of the new bee home. Take the board and drill holes up to half an inch wide. Place the BEE board in a sunny spot where it’s dry. The key to a good bee board is keeping it dry and out of the rain. If you are unable to find a structure that will keep it dry then you can add a piece of wood on the top of the board to act as a shelter or roof from rain and moisture.
To continue to protect the bees into the late fall and winter months, bring the board into your garage or shed. Make sure to store the bee board with larvae in a cool, dry place. Lastly, watch out for woodpeckers. Some birds will try to eat the bee larvae so you might add some chicken wire to the board to help protect the bee larvae from other creatures.
For bees to do the proper pollination work they need a safe accessible source of water. Traditional bird baths or water buckets don’t offer the proper landing pads a bee needs to access the water. A short try or shallow source of water is great for bees. Add some rocks or stones to the base and fill completely with water. This allows bees a safe place to land and get hydrated before they get back to their job.
With a little help from all of us we can help the declining bee population and bring back what helps our fruits, vegetables and flowers. Pollination is a key factor to keeping our produce thriving and cost lower. BEEfriendly and kind to bees this year and see the rewards they provide.
BEEs are our friends and, with a little assistance from all of us, we can encourage a healthy environment where they can pollinate our produce. Once bees arrive in your garden Mendenhall suggests the easy way to keep them there is to “Plant, plant, and plant. The best way to keep honey bees happy and healthy is education in bee keeping, learn all you can and find a mentor.”
For more information on beekeeping or protecting the honey bees you can contact the Davidson Cooperative Extension, the Beekeepers Association of Davidson County or Master Beekeeper, Chris Mendenall, at 336-442-9835.