Where would we be without the ‘birds and the bees’? As far as workers go in the garden, bees have to ‘bee’ the hardest workers of all. For years only a few environmentally orientated people and bee keepers understood and acknowledged the work of bees, until recently they had become underrated and misunderstood.
Now the plight of the bee has come to the fore, with numbers dwindling all over the country, gardeners are being urged to think carefully about encouraging bees back into the garden by planting flowers and plants which provide food and shelter for them. Also gardeners are being educated about excessive use of sprays and chemicals which often inadvertently kill bees and their communities. Alternatives are available; choose either bee friendly insect sprays to treat crops, or eliminate pesticide use all together.
Honey bees and bumble bees are the two most prominent kinds in New Zealand gardens. Bees feed on the nectar produced by flowers, and while they are busy extracting the nectar, pollen sticks to their legs or bodies and rubs off onto other flowers as the bees move from one flower to another, resulting in fertilisation. This is a vital process to ensure fruit, crops and seeds are produced.
The list is long of flowers that encourage bees into the garden. Essentially the best flowers are single with open, flat shapes or clusters of tiny flowers, rather than ruffled frilly double flowers. These are the easiest for bees to get into to feed. For the vegetable garden it’s particularly important for some crops such as tomatoes, beans and Curbits (cucumber, pumpkins, watermelon etc) to have the help of bees for pollination. Crop failure is common in these crops if bees are in short supply.
What to plant to encourage bees:
- Annual flowers: calendula, marigold, sunflowers, poppies, cosmos, hollyhocks, fox gloves, echium, clover, nasturtiums.
- Perennials: comfrey, dahlias, echinacea, geraniums, aquilegia, gladiolus.
- Shrubs: Californian lilac, buddleia, echium.
- Climbers: honeysuckle, clematis.
- Fruit and vegetables: blackberry, cucumbers, pumpkin, courgette.
- Herbs: bee balm, borage, coriander, rosemary, thyme.
For more information on flowers - look for The Tui NZ Flower Garden book.
Dealing with bad bugs:
One of the biggest threats for bees is the use of insecticides in the garden. Most bug sprays are generic and kill both the good bugs and the bad ones. Excessive use of these sprays is part of the reason that bees and other good bugs are in decline.
The solution is to reduce the risk of insect attack, by keeping plants healthy, well watered and well fertilised to maintain a strong plant. Insects are more likely to attack weak plants. If insect problems do occur, check at your local garden centre for a suitable spray, bee and lady bird friendly insect sprays that kill only the bad bugs and leaves the good ones to carry on doing a sterling job in the garden.
Bees for hire:
In some areas, local bee keepers hire out hives and offer classes to those that are interested in bees. Contact the National Bee Keepers association to find local contacts www.nba.org.nz.
By Rachel Vogan