Bees have been getting a lot of attention lately due to global declines. Pesticide use has been highlighted in the media as a major threat to bees, part of a complex set of factors contributing to colony collapse disorder.
Fortunately, you can help! Creating habitat for bees is fairly easy. Bees love gardens and mixed farms where there are range of flowers within a short distance of each other. Even a small patch of flowers can contain valuable habitat for bees. And if bees come to your garden they bring their pollination services with them – which can help to increase the productivity of your vegetable garden!
The David Suzuki Foundation has a lot of great tips for creating a bee habitat in your back yard. This includes building a bee house from a milk carton, planting your garden with a range of plants that flower at different times, and making a bee bath.
Plants and flowers
Small trees like serviceberry and dogwood are great for bees and other pollinators, producing flowers in the spring. Other native spring flowering plants include wild strawberry and wild columbine, while summer flowering plants include black-eyed Susan, blazing star, and cardinal flower. Fall flowering plants great for pollinators include several types of aster (sky blue aster, smooth aster, heath aster) and sneezeweed.
When planting your garden, bear in mind that as a general rule, native plants will attract native bees, while non-native plants will attract honey bees. Flowers bred to be particularly showy for gardens are often sterile and won’t be good for bees, so native or heirloom varieties are better. A variety of flower shapes and colours will be beneficial to the most bees, but bees will be able to find them more easily if each species is planted in groups rather than scattered together. Lastly, don’t use pesticides in your garden.
Creating a bee houses can be a fun, creative project and there are many different types. A simple design is to take some scrap lumber and drill holes of different sizes 3-5 inches deep (but not all the way through the wood). Cover the holes in chicken wire to keep birds away, and securely fasten the bee house onto the south side of a building, tree, or fence post.
Some other designs for bee houses can be found here.
Whatever type of bee house you go for, avoid using treated wood or using insecticides nearby. Also, don’t move the house once it’s in place until at least November.
Bees and other pollinators also need to drink water, but have a hard time drinking from a bird bath. Bee baths are small plates of water with lots of rocks, placed at ground level. The water should be shallow and not submerge the rocks, so that bees can land on the rocks and take a drink. Water should be refilled daily.
Want to do more?
Once you’ve created your own bee friendly paradise in your back yard, why not help others such as community groups and schools to do the same? Also, consider supporting farms with pollinator friendly practices, such as avoiding or reducing pesticide use and growing mixed crops. You can also encourage the government to take into account the full range of economic benefits of native pollinators and their habitat when reviewing agricultural policies. Together, we can make a difference!