I’ve spent a lot of time teaching (and therefore learning) about bees. My work as an instructor for a farm-to-school program means spending most of my time outside in the garden with children, ages 4 through 12. Kids are so curious about bees! I’m asked many questions everyday (i.e.: What species of bee is that? What animals eat bees? What is that bee’s name… no, like, its personal name?) so I have to be fully equipped with answers for so many of these eager young minds.
Did you know bees see ultraviolet light? I didn’t until I studied a bee’s vision with my fourth graders last fall. Flowers have evolved alongside bees, developing beautiful patterns that guide the pollinators to the plant’s nectar (and therefore pollen) like a bull’s eye! If you’ve never seen images of how bees see flowers, do yourself a favor and google it.
We also spend a lot of time discussing the importance of bees and the role they play in both their ecosystem and for human food supply. Even students who are slightly fearful of bees in the garden are incredibly respectful of their little garden buddies. “Step back, let ’em drink!” is something I’ve overheard students say countless times to one another whenever a crowd forms around bees pollinating in the school garden. I love the respect they demonstrate for these important creatures.
I think of my home garden as a safe haven for pollinators, too. I know the importance of protecting our at-risk bee populations and do my best to make my yard & garden a safe, non-toxic, abundant space for visiting pollinators. Below are some of the easy ways to create the same environment in your own space:
1. Provide a drinking source for bees and butterflies.
My pollinator water source, made from an old shallow bowl and some conch shells.
I have seen a lot of creative ideas (shoutout to Pinterest) about how to provide drinking water for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. The simple concept is that, differing from a bird bath, insects need a dry place to land and sip, so they don’t drown. I’ve seen people use marbles and large stones for this purpose, but I didn’t have either, so I used some conch shells I collected from a nearby beach instead. I found this pretty leaf bowl at a thrift store a few months back, added the shells, and filled with water while not fully submerging the conchs. Voila! An easy, inexpensive (and potentially free) way to keep pollinators hydrated on a hot summer day. (Side note, I do pour the water into a garden bed every couple of days and refill with fresh water to prevent breeding mosquito larvae.)
2. Let your annuals bolt/flower/go to seed.
African Blue Basil in bloom
In my garden, I let some of my basil plants begin to flower. The bees go crazy for basil flower nectar! Every few days, I pluck the flower heads off the top and sprinkle them in the soil. I repeat this process for as long as possible until the plant totally ends its life cycle. I do this for many of the annuals in my garden including lettuce, cilantro, and dill. Not only does this provide an additional food source for pollinators, but it is also results in the beautiful process of self-seeding! There’s nothing quite like returning to your garden in early spring and finding plant babies from last year’s garden sprouting up from the soil! (Obtaining a maximum yield with minimum effort is one of my favorite of the 12 permaculture principles for obvious reasons.)
3. Plant pollinator-friendly flowers, of course!
Gulf fritillary butterfly drinking from a marigold flower
I sow most of my flower seeds directly into the soil in early spring. When planting transplant flowers from your garden center (especially from a big box store like Lowe’s or Home Depot), just ensure that the flowers haven’t been treated with chemicals. Local, independently-owned gardening stores are usually more conscious of consumer’s organic demands and can tell you if anything they sell has been treated with pesticides. When in doubt, just ask!
4. Let the non-invasive weeds in your grass bloom!
Crimson Clover in all its wild beauty
If you’ve been following along with my posts so far, you know how I feel about growing a natural, organic yard. I love watching bees dance through tiny chickweed blooms popping up in my grass. Chickweed, by the way is an incredible edible. You can eat the stems, leaves, flowers and seeds! But more on that in another post.
Thanks for reading!