August 18, 2010

How to garden even if you're afraid of bees

At over 20,000 species worldwide, bees are the world's most effective pollinators. Without them, we would no longer be able to enjoy many of the foods we do today such as strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, chocolate and squash. Since 2006, researchers have been investigating the sharp decline in European honey bees, the main hive bee used to pollinate commercial crops. Abandoned, queenless hives are being discovered in areas of ample food supplies. Growers have begun turning to the remaining bee species for help. Non hiving native bees have actually been shown to be better pollinators than European honey bees, and there are things that we can do to attract them in our home gardens. Planting a broad variety of nectar rich flowers and leaving some areas of our gardens mulch free can give our ground dwelling native bees a place to reproduce.

Irish tradition tells that bees come from heaven and bring secret wisdom with them. The Irish in me (my dad's family was from Cork County Ireland) thinks that's nice, but pictured is what you get when a bee lands on me while snapping pictures. It’s the sad truth; buzzing things freak me out a bit.

I’ve grown to enjoy watching bees gather nectar in my garden, and purposefully have added plants to attract them, but I still flinch when they get close. We won't talk about the time I put my car into park without slowing down when I found a bee in my car.

This is a shot of my favorite spring bed with the dark purple bearded irises, Chartreuse foliage of the gooseneck loosestrife, and the sparkling flowers of the spiderwort. By mid August, it all looks very ratty, and my out of control invasive gooseneck loosestrife is growing under the stone edge and choking out everything. Time to say goodbye to it, this is too much maintenance in an area I don’t want to dig up every year.

I recently read an article describing how pollution interferes with a bee's ability to find food by reducing how far scent is carried. If I see myself not just a gardener, but also a caretaker of the land I'm on, then my needs should come second; the bees can have their nectar. I'll focus on fragrant plants to attract more bees, and will replace this single invasive loosestrife with a variety of flowers known to attract bees. Still needing to do back to school shopping for the kids, I'll keep what I can and plan to do this complete full sun redo for less than $5.

My after is now destined to plant its feet this year, and look more amazing next year and the following year.
  • I've moved the cardinal flowers growing in a nursery bed to the back corner. Though they bloom the second year, they're getting flower stalks on them this year, so I'm very hopeful.
  • I've repositioned the dark purple bearded iris, which gave me a great chance to get rid of some unhealthy rhizomes and fix a cutworm problem. So gross!!
  • I've kept the spiderwort. With a good shearing it blooms a second time during the summer, and the flowers absolutely glisten.
  • Dwarf Joe pye weed with it's mauve flowers is something I've always wanted, and my big purchase.
  • I've salvaged the pale yellow columbines I grew from seed a few years ago, and planted them in some open spots. With the loosened, improved soil, they’ll thrive.
  • I’ve added a gaillardia given by a friend who responded to my request to gather seed by digging up a spare plant instead
  • Reseeds from penstemon red rocks in the front (though relatively hidden in this shot) are loved by bees and will provide a good jolt of hot pink color.
  • A trio of sedum grown from seed last winter have been repositioned in the front
  • A loose scattering of mulch decorates but will still allow the ground dwelling bees I see a place to lay their eggs in the spring
I'll continue to water well to help these plants get established, but now that it's getting closer to fall, they'll have plenty of time to set down roots in the cool fall weather before the first winter freeze. I know I may have a few stray gooseneck loosestrifes popping up. I'll pluck what I can, and everything planted can take some handling, so iveif I need to root around, I should be okay.

I'm proud to say I was able to complete this bed redo for a whopping $4.21.

This is a guest post by Lisa Ueda, offering home gardening tips at thefrugalgarden. Her aim is to inspire, awaken and motivate new gardeners into discovering their inner green thumbs.


Rose said...

I used to run from bees, but when I started gardening, I discovered that they really had no interest in me. We co-habit the garden peacefully now, and I'm happy to report that my garden is always full of bees. Your new planting is going to be lovely, Ewa--you'll love the Joe Pye weed--and what a bargain!

Dave T. said...

Great article Lisa. I plan on trying some of the tips. I am just a beginner gardener but I remember my mom always talking about how improtant it is to have bees around the garden. Your article has inspired me to invite more bees. Wish me luck! said...

Dave, I'm glad you enjoyed it. For me it was my dad, we'd plant fragrant stuff next to the vegetable garden to make sure we had bumper crops. Good Luck!