After reading about the recent bee concerns experienced at the Kattenberg farm (Seedtime and Harvest) I was inclined to do a bit of research about Colony Collapse Disorder, the name given to the phenomenon of honey bee workers that simply disappear.  There is a lot of ongoing research out there, but in a nutshell it appears that the over use of pesticides, along with viruses and something called varroa mites are all key factors in their mysterious demise.  Certainly, providing an environment that is conducive to bee nesting and supportive of their life needs is something we can all do in some small measure.
 
Perhaps the most important thing to do is to drastically limit or better yet, just stop using lawn fertilizers and pesticides.  Many of the chemicals used in these products are deadly to bees, or at the very least can weaken their immune systems, making them much more susceptible to viruses and other plagues.  Try introducing more ladybugs, praying mantis and other insects that prey on harmful pests in the garden.  Less pesticide will also help these beneficial insects to do their job and allow the natural balance of the yard to return. If you must fertilize, look for natural, chemical free fertilizers.  
 
Hand picking troublesome insects is a time tested tactic, or using more natural spray treatments, like soapy water, or the tried and true Jerry Baker concoction for both feeding and pest control  (the Jerry Baker of the Talk to Your Plants, and Plants are Like People fame so popular in the 1970’s).  This uses tobacco juice (you soak 1/3 pouch of tobacco in a quart of boiling water, to which you have dissolved a package of Knox gelatin.  Allow it to steep and then discard the tobacco-no need to chew and spit!  Then add 1 cup of grated laundry bar soap solution (like Fells Naptha) and 1 cup of mouthwash.  Spray this with twenty gallons of water to feed your lawn and repel pests.   I have used this for years and it is fairly effective.  It does need to be re-applied pretty much every two weeks, or after a heavy rain, but it is poison free and safe for all ornamentals and edibles.
 
Another thing I do to repel slugs around hosta and other ornamentals is to save all my eggshells in a covered coffee can then smash them with a potato masher.  I then lay a crushed layer around the plants; wood ash poured in a protective ring around the plant is also a good deterrent, and as they eventually work their way into the soil, they add nutrients.
 
Something I just learned is that heavy mulching can block bee access to the ground areas where many bees nest, so a lighter hand here is preferred.  The use of groundcover, like creeping sedums, might be a good alternative for some of the border areas, as it still leaves some area open for them to dig.  Interspersing this with a few areas of mulch is quite attractive, and the sedum is a magnificent fall attraction. 
 
In an earlier blog entry, I mentioned adding white clover to my lawn to help attract bees and provide a natural weed control, and I am pleased to report that it is working. The area behind my fence is just thick with white bloom, it is crowding out some of the more noxious weeds, and as an added bonus, it appears the rabbits are going after this before attacking my small vegetable patch, as I was told they might.  I only mow this area every other time I cut my lawn, and set the blade a bit higher so it doesn’t deplete the blooms.
 
Although clover may be considered a weed by many, it isn’t unattractive or overly invasive, and bees are very fond of the fragrant blooms.  It has been suggested to allow a few weeds like dandelions to bloom as well, then simply digging them up just before they go to seed.  I suppose if one is diligent enough to do this, it would be another benefit.  However, I am not, and so dig them as soon as they catch my attention.  But the clover is a winner in my opinion. 
 
Although it is said that bees prefer flowers in hues of yellow, blue and purple, I have a big bunch of bee balm that blooms bright-red and it is usually thick with bees. Other popular flowers and plants include: Asters, Marigolds, and Zinnias, buttercups, clematis, cosmos, Echinacea, geraniums, hollyhocks and sedum (a big bee attractant in the fall).  Fruits and vegetables include: blackberries, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins, gourds and raspberries, strawberries and watermelon.  Herbs include bee balm, cilantro and fennel, lavender, all the mints, rosemary, sage and thyme.  A few shrubs are blueberry, butterfly bush, and honeysuckle, but any blooming shrub will find bees in attendance.  For instance, my spireas have a lot of bees when they are in bloom.  An added bonus is that butterflies are also attracted to many of these same plants.  Hello monarchs. . .
 
Finally, if you are a little bee-nervous, do some bee-related reading.  I learned last year that the scary bumblebees (also great pollinators) are mostly drones that do not sting.  Use common sense, don’t act aggressively around them and you may find you can happily work right along side them in the yard.   At the very least, just walk away and let them have the right of way to complete their important work.

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