If you ever thought about how to create a bee habitat, read on! It is much easier than you may think – All you need are flowers, shelter and a water source!
Considering that bees can only forage for food within a certain radius of their hive, a single garden or even a balcony can be sufficient to provide everything the little bees need. If you wish to create bee-friendly spaces, here are a few simple things you can do:
Flowering Plants & Herbs
Planting a variety of ﬂowering plants that bloom from early spring to fall provide a continuous food source. Native plants, trees, herbs and perennials are ideal. Choose flowers that only have one ring of petals. They are easily accessible and provide rich sources of pollen and nectar. Tubular flowers are great for bees with long tongues, while shallower flowers are better for those with short tongues. Bees can see colors, thus planting bright colored flowers improves your chances to attract bees and other pollinators, According to research, the most likely colors bees are attracted to are purple, violet and blue.
Herbs are great for humans and bees alike. Bees like flowering herbs like marjoram, chives, sage and thyme, or bushy herbs like hyssop, rosemary, hebe, and lavender. The same goes fruit and vegetables, such as strawberries, tomatoes and beans.
If you look for inspiration, why not observe which plants attract bees on your next walk in your local area? Note whether they grow in full sun, in the shade or somewhere in between. Will you be using pots or plant directly in the soil? Some plants thrive in rich top soil, while others prefer sandy or gravely soil. Remember that you can always change your selection of plants but you cannot adjust the location of the sun! If in doubt, ask your local garden center or beekeeper!
Toxic Honey Plants
Avoid planting large amounts of certain plants that contain a chemical known as grayanotoxins, such as Pontic rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum), Honeysuckle azalea (Rhododendron luteum), Jacobaea vulgaris (Stinking Willie), or Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia).
These plants are not toxic to bees but they can produce honey poisonous to humans. If bees have access to lots of other flowering plants nearby, the toxins are usually well diluted, However, if they are the primary source of nectar and pollen, consuming the honey can lead to digestive problems. Some cases may experience dizziness, blurry vision, and a stinging sensation in the mouth and pharynx. Rare reactions can include heart and lung problems.
Toxic Plants for Bees
Various plants are known to have pollen that is toxic to honey bees. Zigadenus for example can kill adults while Heliconia only creates problems when passed to the brood. Other plants with toxic pollen include Spathodea campanulata, and Ochroma lagopus, Both the pollen and nectar of the California Buckeye (Aesculus californica) are toxic to honeybees, and it is thought that other members of the Buckeye family are also.
Location, Location, Location..
Plan the location for your ´bee attracting´ plants thoughtfully to avoid stings! Bees are generally not aggressive, but they will defend themselves if they feel threatened! Kids and bees do not mix well! If you have a play area in your garden, make sure it is well away from the location where you want to attract bees.
If you plan on setting up a beehive or an bee hotel, remember that bees don´t like to be exposed to weather conditions. Place the hive or bee hotel in a sheltered yet sunny area away from areas that are frequently used by humans.
Not all honey tastes the same. Honey made from different flowers has different tastes, color, aroma, composition and even different medicinal properties depending on the types of flowers, location, climate, and season. That´s something to keep in mind when choosing plants if you want to create a bee habitat to harvest honey.
Plants or Seeds?
For smaller gardens or balconies and depending on your budget, it is easier to buy plants or immature plugs rather than seeds. The advantage of buying established plants is that they attract bees faster because they bloom sooner. For larger areas you may want to consider seeds or a mixture of seeds and plants. Be patient! Bear in mind that some plants can take years before they become a seeded pollinator habitat.
If you want to be successful creating a bee habitat it is vital not to use herbicides and insecticides in your garden and on your lawns, – not just for your own health but also for the bees! Neonic-treated plants and seeds pose the biggest threat to native bees, so only buy plants and seeds that are neonicotinoid free. Neonics are systemic pesticides that contain nerve poison to kill pests. The most common neonic ingredients are acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran.
The poison affects the entire plant, i.e. the stems, leaves, flowers, pollen, and nectar. Most seeds are infused with neonics as they grow so it´s important to buy organic seeds. Nursery plants are generally treated with much higher concentrations of neonics than crops. To put it into perspective, 1 single corn plant typically takes up 1.34 milligrams of the pesticide. A 3 gallon (11 litre) perennial nursery plant receives 300 milligrams of neonics!
Although mulching has many benefits, including keeping moisture, creating a temperature barrier and keeping the soil compact, leave a little bare ground. Most bees are solitary insects and around 70 % percent make their nests in the ground to raise their young. If everything is mulched, they cannot build their nests!
You don´t have to re-arrange your entire garden to attract bees. Just allowing the edges of your garden to remain wild and not weeding can make a major difference in helping to create a more bee-friendly habitat. Dandelions, white and red clovers, goldenrod and milkweed are all plants that bees love.
Another option is to border your fruits and vegetables plants with native flowers. It helps to improve pollination and provides food when the crops stop blooming. It will also attract and support other pollinators such as wasps and hover flies that control crop pests.
Even if your garden is on the small side, you can still plant trees and enjoy the fruits of your labor! Espalier or topical trees are small enough to fit in a pot on a balcony and their blossom attract bees.
Like all living things bees need water to survive. Bees love water gardens with ﬂoating plants and rocks where they can perch but a small shallow container of water with a few stones or leaves will also do the trick. Pools or dog bowls are dangerous as there is nothing for them to hold onto so they can drown easily!
A Bee Hotel
Wild bees won’t tolerate manipulations of their nests like honey bees. Buying or making a bee hotel is a great way to attract pollinators. Most native bees are solitary insects with small stingers. They most likely attract species like red mason bees, blue mason bees, leaf cutter bees and white faced bees. Bee hotels provide a great shelter and contain hollow tubes where the bees can set up home.
There are plenty of ready-built bee hotel on offer or you can build a basic bee hotel yourself. Please remember just buying and installing a bee hotel is not sufficient, you wouldn´t want to stay in a hotel with no room service either! Here are a few tips of where to place a bee hotel and how to maintain it! Install link or write article on bee hotels
Tree trunks and Logs
Creating a bee habitat can be as simple as placing a dead tree trunk or logs in the garden. It is a great alternative to a bee hotel. Because the material is natural and untreated, it poses no real danger, and can provide a great habitat for all sorts of wildlife.
A dead tree trunk or a log is its own mini-ecosystem: Beetles and carpenter ants burrow into the dead wood and subsequently become food for birds, which leaves cavities in the wood where nesting bees lay their eggs.
The other alternative is becoming a beekeeper and good old-fashioned beekeeping. It is not as dangerous or complicated as it may seem. There are plenty of beginners courses for budding bee keepers around the world and lots of tips on how to keep bees.