Honey bees are the greatest pollinators that farmers have, according to The Nature Conservancy. Unfortunately, bee colonies have been rapidly disappearing, and humans should know that they can do their part to create a bee haven in their own yard. There are many reasons – most of them largely speculative – as to why bee colonies are being abandoned by their inhabitants. But methods for preserving the bee population are proven. If certain measures are taken in gardening practices, we can help ensure that bees continue the pollination process so critical to man’s food supply.
Bees’ Role in Food Production
Cross-pollination is the activity that makes bees so valuable to human crop production. When a bee extracts pollen from one plant and transfers it to another – extracting protein for its young from the pollen and nectar for itself along the way – the recipient plant can produce seeds. This, in a nutshell, is pollination. These seeds play a critical role in the planting and harvesting of many crops that we consume as food.
The National Resources Defense Council explains that bees’ pollen extraction and dispersion process is responsible for the successful production of approximately 30% of the world’s crops. It also, according to the NRDC, allows 30% of wild plants to bloom. Though these figures can be difficult to measure, it is widely accepted that bees play a monstrous role in the world’s food production. For this reason, the widespread collapse of bee colonies is a matter of great concern, and as individuals we must do what we can to create gardens that will be attractive to local bee populations.
Saving the Bees
The Pollinator Partnership documents the effects of what has come to be known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). A combination of parasites, viruses, bacterial infection, and certain pesticides is thought to have resulted in a 30% loss of the managed bee population, and the problem has only gotten worse since that measure. We know this bee loss is a major problem, but what can we do as individual gardeners to help preserve the bee population to whatever extent possible?
Begin by planting flowers that bees are attracted to. These species of flower are many – the Gardener’s Supply Company lists several of them – and they include poppies, clover, and butterfly weed. Knowing which species of plant is native to your area, and planting plenty of native species that are also bee attractors, is a sure way to ensure your garden remains pollinated by frequently-visiting bees.
Veggiegardener.com also explains that vegetable farmers can plant several species that are bee-friendly. The scent of certain herbs including mint, basil, rosemary, sage, fennel, along with many others will attract bees, who will aid the crop yield through pollination.
These species serve as a checklist for beginning gardeners who are unsure where to start when shopping for plants and herbs. First-timers should follow these steps, courtesy of Gardens Alive!, when it comes to starting a garden for the first time. Before plant species can be raised, building garden beds and learning how to properly cultivate, water, and maintain a garden are must-knows. All gardeners, novice or veteran, should have a water source available for bees. If a bird bath or other water source is near the garden, bees will be even more likely to make your garden their primary pollination location.
Some of us are limited when it comes to how much room we have to establish a garden. This may be especially true in urban areas. By using local resources, planning your space well, and preparing your beds and containers in a way that will help your plants thrive, you can overcome the constraints of small-space gardening.
Bees are much more than buzzing insects put on the planet to occasionally leave painful welts on our skin with their stingers. As a whole, they do far more good than harm. Most of that good comes from the pollination of crops and plants that humans consume and enjoy. With bee colonies disappearing at unprecedented rates, gardeners should do all they can to create an oasis for bees. Your plants will have a better chance at survival and you will have done your part in preserving the world’s bee, and in turn food, populations.