If you have ever had trouble growing certain vegetables like cucumbers in your garden, it may not be the soil that is the problem. It is more than likely you are lacking bees. Throw away the notion that bees are nasty, stinging critters. They are actually quite passive by nature and only sting in defense, when stepped on or threatened.
Bees, pollinating and good harvests all go hand-in-hand. One out of three bites of food depends on a pollinator (creatures that move pollen from one plant to another, helping the plants create fruit or seeds. Bees are great pollinators.) Livestock also need pollinators for their food, as well as cotton and other fiber-producing plants. All total, 150 crops in the U.S. alone need pollinators. Those crops include apples, blueberries, melons, almonds, pears and citrus.
Bees tend to stay in an area if there is a constant source of food. You can make your garden a veritable buffet for these little friends. In turn, they will pollinate your vegetable plants.
How can we encourage bees to come to our gardens? Here are a few simple ideas to make our gardening season more productive, and help bees at the same time.
1. Grow Diverse Plants – Plant a variety of plants with either successive or long-blooming cycles. This will not only help bees, but it will look good, too. You will want flowers blooming from spring to fall, so use plants of different heights, shapes, sizes and species. Although you want vegetables to grow, you also will need flowers to encourage more bees to come. Wide flowers like daisies, coneflowers and sunflowers are good ideas.
2. Avoid Pesticides – It is best to avoid all pesticides, even organic ones. They are still toxic to bees. Use non-toxic weed and bug controls such as manual removal. Do not use pesticides on open flowers or bright sunny days when bees are around. The chemicals will sink into the ground and stick to plants. When bees land on the flowers, the chemicals will stick to them, too. If you need to spray, do so after dusk when pollinators are least active and the flowers have gone.
3. Plant Color – Bees are most attracted to blue, yellow and purple blossoms. By planting flowers and vegetables that bloom in those colors, you can greatly increase chances of bees visiting. You don’t have to plant flowers among your vegetables. You can plant a three-foot by three-foot area of flowers by, or around, your vegetable garden. This will get the attention of bees as well.
4. Provide Shelter –You don’t need a hive, but some sort of shelter will encourage bees to stay. With the right materials, they will build themselves a home. Bumble bees dig little tunnels in dirt and stack them with pollen. Other types of bees use cracks in wood or branches. If you want bees to come, avoid covers or mulch, as it prevents bees from making a home. Try leaving a portion of the garden bed with no mulch, the bees will go there to make homes and go through the vegetable garden for food. You can also let the yard become a little wild. Leave a small area unmowed; have a little bush pile and a bare patch of dirt.
5. Provide a Water Source – That’s right, bees need a drink of water once in a while. Provide them with a bird bath with stones for them to land on, or a small waterfall with rocks, a shallow pool or hose as a water source. Freshly watered potted plants (especially those potted plants using peat soil) tend to be a favorite drinking and resting spot for bees. Place the water near the garden.
6. Use Plants that Attract Bees – There are many plants that have both beautiful flowers and are tasty, too. The following plants will grow throughout the garden season: basil, thyme, watermelon, oregano, chives, pumpkins, mints, sage, berries, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes, among others.
7. Let Plants Flower – To encourage bees, leave the flowers on the plants. You can deadhead them so the bees can still get the nectar. When growing vegetables such as broccoli, you can harvest but still leave the plant whole. When you are done with it, let it flower for the bees.
8. Don’t Fear Weeds – Clovers, dandelions, milkweed, goldenrod and other flowering weeds are incredibly important to bees. By letting these weeds grown in or near your yard, you will be creating a safe place for bees right near your garden.
By planting even one patch of native wildflowers or flowering vegetables and herbs, you can attract bees who will eagerly pollinate your plants and help create a beautiful and bountiful harvest. You are building a safe haven for bees so they can help us create the wonderful and healthy vegetables we love.
What are other ways you attract bees to your garden? Share your tips in the section below: