For the bees
Why bee bothered?
When I first arrived in Bellingen I had the strange experience of watching my zucchinis flower and wither, flower and wither and if they began to set fruit, it would rot. This was strange as zucchinis in my experience were prolific and looked after themselves. Eventually I figured out I was watching a pollination problem and out I went each morning with a small dry paintbrush to collect pollen from one zucchini flower and transfer it to another. That got old really quickly. For the following season I made sure I had bees.
Plants need to be pollinated to fruit & seed. These are often the parts we eat. Wind, flies, bats, birds, beetles, other insects, and bees do this job.
Two thirds of our food crops are helped by bees and by volume of food we eat it’s one third.
That’s a lot of our food. Planting flowering plants means more food for domesticated and wild bees (and other pollinators), yours and your neighbours. More bees is a great thing.
When you think of bees you probably think of the European honey bee. However we also have a host of native bees, some that can be kept in a hive for honey and a whole lot more (1700 varieties!) who are solitary.
Solitary bees live in all sorts of nooks and crannies and can be helped and encouraged with ‘bee hotels’. Biro sized holes poked in mud bricks, hollow cut stems bundled together (lantana, bamboo) and varying sized holes (3-10mm) about 150mm deep drilled in hardwood and untreated softwood. An assemblage of these under shelter from rain will give solitary bees places to live. This is a good bee hotel guide for Australian bees.
Stingless native bees or sugar bag bees are social bees, as in they live in a hive situation. Two of them make enough (super sweet) honey to collect and can be kept in our warm area. The Australian Native Bee Book is the expert resource on these critters.
European bees & honey
The best way to get started with bees is to either (or preferably both) find a beekeeper mentor or join a local amateur beekeeping club. There’s a bit to learn and nothing beats hands on. Experienced people are the best resource for advice and sourcing or hiring equipment, and the bees themselves. There’s also some regulatory requirements. Our local one is the Mid North Coast Amateur Beekeepers Association.
Feeding the bees.
You don’t need tonnes of room or to plant anything ‘special’. Indulge in flowering plants. Let what you have growing go to flower. Be slack with mowing your lawn.
Leave the lawn weeds, it’s a great excuse to avoid or delay mowing – the flowers of dandelion, flatweed, ribwort plantain and others are popular with bees. In your vege patch let your brassicas go to seed. Think rocket, cabbage, all the choys, broccoli, cauliflower. Also the flowers of lavender and the other herbs in this family such as basil, thyme, lemon balm and mint and the carrot family, parsnip, dill, fennel, queen annes’s lace, celery, parsley are popular with bees.
What else? Tulsi (holy basil) can be so favoured by bees that if you have too much they will ignore your veges. Pigeon peas flower over winter when not much else is in bloom in a suburban garden. So do broadbeans. Borage is a renowned bee magnet for the vege patch. Then there are all sorts of ornamentals. Bees love gum blossoms, daisies, fruit tree blossoms, grevillea, bottlebrush, melaleuca and tea tree.
Even more here…
Night moths are hard working nocturnal pollinators that do arguably at least as much as the daytime ones. They like white flowers and nocturnal flowering plants.
Don’t forget your other friendly pollinators
‘Good bug mix’ is a varying commercial mix of annual and perennial flowers that bloom most of the year. The idea is to provide nectar, pollen and habitat for beneficial insects, such as predatory mites and tiny micro wasps, ladybirds, lacewings, hoverflies, tachnid flies and predatory beetles which help control aphids, scale, red spider mite, caterpillar and other pests without the use of chemicals. These ‘good bugs’ are generally small with correspondingly small mouthparts, so they are only able to feed on particular flowers with suitable attributes. By providing a plentiful food supply the ‘good bugs’ live longer and reproduce more.
The mix often includes: red clover, alyssum, cosmos, marigolds, Queen Anne’s Lace, buckwheat, lucerne, dill, caraway, coriander and phacelia, baby’s breath, Bishop’s flower, sweet alice, calendula, nasturtiums, wild bergamot, california poppy, baby blue eyes, and more. It’s a paradise of flowers. Plant these around the edges or in clumps in your patch.
Lastly, in case it needs to be said:
Insecticides kill bees.