Cool Gardening Ideas: Bee Serious

By Betty Harris

Those of us who get the creeps when a bug gets on us, those of us who are allergic to wasps (which most people mistake for bees) and those who just hate bugs in general may be unintentionally causing some serious issues for bees in particular and insects in general.

How to get over our “creeps” about insects is not my main focus here. What we need to think of is how our attitudes towards insects in general can be detrimental to our own survival. For a long time I’ve been of the opinion (right or wrong) that everything connects and breaking some of these connections can be detrimental to all living things.

What we do know is that about 40% of all the food we currently eat depends on pollinators. These pollinators are various forms of flying insects. For a few years I grew Crowder Peas and am still trying to find the actual variety that my family grew one year that I truly thought was worth putting in my mouth. The variety they did grow was not my favorite and they didn’t grow the one I liked because it made a small pea and was more difficult to shell. In my opinion it was the only one worth eating and most of the rest of my life I’ve avoided those other varieties. What I learned when I grew these Crowder Peas a couple of years back was that for these to produce well they needed a pollinator…unfortunately these appeared to be wasps and yellow jackets (wasps) which didn’t bother me unless I made the mistake of picking the peas when the wasps were active. So thinking about bees I got to researching to see what foods we commonly grow need what kind of pollinators.

Some plants seem to need different kinds of pollinators, some honey bees, some bumble bees and lots of them use native bees that we don’t usually have names for and mostly don’t notice.

How does this effect us, if at all? Farming feeds the world for sure but most of us think of gardening in a different light than farming. This is probably because we think of what we do as fun food formats and not survival. Farming sounds more serious and it is serious business that grows plants for food for animals and humans as well as for fuel. It is also the attitude of agribusiness toward chemicals and insect and weed pests that fuels that 70% of pollution that poisons our water and air. But learning more about insects and food is important for human survival too.

“In their 1996 book, The Forgotten Pollinators, Buchmann and Nabhan estimated that animal pollinators are needed for the reproduction of 90% of flowering plants and one third of human food crops. Each of us depends on these industrious pollinators in a practical way to provide us with the wide range of foods we eat. In addition, pollinators are part of the intricate web that supports the biological diversity in natural ecosystems that helps sustain our quality of life.” Source quoted from: http://www.pollinator.org/PDFs/ColoradoPlateau.rx2.pdf

It seems that stuff we plant in our gardens… squash, pumpkins, melons need honey bees for pollination. However, tomatoes and corn are wind pollinated. An aside: I don’t grow corn because I’m not particularly interested in feeding the raccoons and squirrels.

Some plants we grow do not need pollinators at all unless we decide to collect seeds… in that grouping are most all greens, kale, broccoli and cabbages, lettuces, Swiss chard, onions, carrots and radishes. So depending on what you are trying to grow for food in your back yard then honeybees might not be important to you.

So why worry about bees? If you eat animals they normally eat alfalfa which needs honeybees. If you eat fruit these need honeybees. Then there are nuts like almonds which require honeybees and other insects.. Maybe this isn’t important for us because we can’t grow them here but the honeybees that are used are hauled in by huge trucks and unloaded and left during the flowering season and then moved elsewhere. If in the environment they are affected by chemicals that interfere with their survival and masses of them die then there will not be hives to move to the almond groves in the future.

This is only a miniscule amount of info on the importance of honeybees and even native bees but we need to understand that like the chaos theory small changes in one area can have massive impacts in others.

With this in mind we can make our world beautiful by planting flowers in our yards that help feed the bees a variety of “foods” that help them survive. Doing so improves our lives and helps all kinds of bees survive. So when you are planning the landscaping of your yard, whether you do it yourself or hire someone to design, think seriously about including flowering plants that bloom at various times during the warmer months to provide food bee and insect food. Plan accordingly. Grow more perennials and fewer annuals (which have been bred for color more than anything else and may provide very little pollen or nectar for bee food).

Since I went back to gardening in 2010 I’ve learned a great deal by experimenting with various plants. For early bloom I’m crazy about grape hyacinths (even with their great tendency to spread everywhere), crocus and tulips. I grow iris for me because I’m passionate about them, regardless of insects or bees needs. But I grow masses of daisies, penstemon, salvias, coreopsis, nautica, penstemons, autumn asters, thyme, veronica, jupiter’s beard, blanket flowers, phlox, blue mist spirea and marigolds (yes, one annual flower because it seems to be the last to get frost bitten). Mostly from April to November there is something blooming for the bees. Each year I evaluate which are doing best. I also deadhead anything that I know I can get to bloom again and thus keep a steady supply of beauty for me and the neighborhood and the bees.

So bee serious about this. Understand how things in the universe connect and how they are important to life on this planet because if there is a planet B, the people with the money aren’t taking us with them.

Bee Serious in trying to save those parts of life on this planet that are responsible for our survival.

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