Saturday, October 31, 2020

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Home Issue 41 The bee or not to be

The bee or not to be

By GEOFF MIERS

Bees are absolutely essential insects necessary for a healthy garden. Did you know that bees pollinate one in every three foods we consume and did you know that bees in parts of the world are in decline or are extinct?

Unfortunately bees in our community are in serious trouble as a direct result of environmental factors, our modern gardening practices and loss of habitat. It is essential that we act in the interest of these most essential and wonderful pollinators by making our gardens bee friendly.

Keeping bees and creating bee friendly gardens has increasingly become popular over the past three years in Alice and we now have an active bee society meeting regularly. The bee population could in fact be increasing due to this increased interest despite the almost drought conditions over the past twenty-four months.

In China today there are literally no bees. Every flowering plant, fruit bearing tree, every vegetable and herb has to be daily hand pollinated for the plants to be productive.

By inducing bees into your garden your plants will be pollinated and be productive. We do not want to be in the situation the Chinese are in and it can happen with poor planning and bad practices that can be harmful to bees.

Have you experienced having healthy food plants like tomatoes and zucchini in your garden and they have produced little? One reason maybe the absence of pollinating insects.

Irrespective of the type of garden you wish to plan try to incorporate plants and plant combinations that will attract bees.

There are numerous ways you can create a bee friendly garden by developing a garden that services bees but also works towards improving productivity in your garden. Bees are the best pollinators be it for herbs, fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants in your garden.

By introducing bee attracting plants that are seasonal and flowering at different times of the year you can have bees all year round.

By having permanent water in a bee friendly container you will have bees visiting all the time, particularly over Summer. A deep bucket or container of water will see many bees drown daily.

You need a shallow container where they can land safely and wade to the waters edge for a drink. Bees are attracted to water particularly in this arid environment.

You need to be extremely careful about how you manage garden pests in your garden as many garden insecticides can be quite harmful to bees. With contact sprays its best to spray very early morning or in the evening as the sun goes down as it’s then when the bees return to their hives.

There are many ways to create a bee friendly garden by using a range of quite natural ways to create a balanced environment.

Restricting the use of chemicals in your garden, using chemicals carefully when bees are gone, companion planting, encouraging pest predators, using traps and barriers and being somewhat tolerant of some insect damage in the garden.

Silverbeet, spinach or rocket is quite unaffected by a few grub holes in the foliage as an example.

Creating a bee and insect hotel can be a creative and fun activity for the whole family. With a little imagination you can build an insect hotel all with recycled materials.

Stagger plantings of annuals that attract bees to keep them longer in the garden. By creating a year round banquet of plants that are flowering and producing lots of pollen you will have bees visiting the garden.

Allow some plants in the garden to flower and go to seed particularly in the annual vegetable and flowering annual garden. Collect the seed and replant next season. Heritage seeds and seeds not treated with pesticides and fungicides will not harm bees.

Plant masses of bee attracting plants of at least one metre square as this will guarantee to catch their attention.

Allow flowering plant attractors like dandelions to invade your verge garden. Alternatively plant lippia as a lawn alternative to grass, most certainly the bees love it when it’s in flower and it can be less thirsty than most warm season grasses.

Lippia is however not good for lawns if you have young children. Children and bees that both love a flowering lawn are not a good combination.

Having herbs in the garden is one of the best ways to attract bees. By having a large herb garden with a wide range of herb plants bees will always be visiting this part of the garden. Importantly plant different herbs according to the season to keep bees around all year.

Hyssop, mints, borage, sages / salvias, basils, lavenders, rosemary, marjoram, comfrey, fennel, lemon balm, thyme and catmint will all attract bees. Borage is an absolute winner along with basil in the tomato patch.

Peas, beans, clovers, cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelons and strawberries will all attract bees to the vegetable garden.

Sunflowers are absolute winners in bringing bees in. Hollyhocks, nasturtiums, salvias, marigolds, dandelions, zinnias, foxgloves, poppies and cosmos are also great attracters.

Bees absolutely love citrus blossom, along with the winter and spring blooms of peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots and mulberries. Mango, avocado and almond trees are also loved by bees when they are in bloom.

A bee hotel I photographed at the Canberra Floriade several years ago.

Stand besides a citrus tree in bloom this week and you will be seduced by the perfume of the citrus flowers and listen for the hum of the bees feeding on the nectar of the citrus blooms.

Eremophilas and grevilleas are great bee attracting plant species along with many flowering gums, bottlebrush, westringia and tea trees. Amongst the exotics honeysuckles, abelia, gazanias, russellia and murraya (commonly called Mock Orange) are popular with bees.

As with citrus stand beside an eremophila or grevillea in bloom and note the bee activity.

Remember bees will work for you if you work for them.

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