The Happiest Bee on the Block
This article is a guest post from Christy Erickson.
Plan your landscape to help those who help us: the bees!
The sound of a bee buzzing nearby sends many running for cover. But, bees get a bad rap for no good reason; most are not aggressive unless defending themselves or their hive. And since we need the bees to pollinate the vast majority of wild and domestic plants, including food crops, it is in our best interest to provide these industrious insects with everything they need to survive and thrive.
Bees and trees
According to Tree New Mexico, there are a number of trees native to the area that offer abundant stores of pollen and nectar for our flying friends. Fruit trees, including cherry and apple, are favorites among the bee population. As a benefit to us, fruit bearing trees frequented by bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are more abundant producers. Check with your local nursery or garden club for varieties best suited for your location and elevation.
Other trees attractive to bees include the honey mesquite, which despite its reputation as a nuisance, produces fragrant blooms that make for some of the most flavorful honey in the world; Japanese pagoda, a late-summer bloomer that will enhance your landscape when most everything else has succumbed to the heat; and the bee bee tree, which blooms in mid-summer and provides a cascade of color that is attractive to honeybees.
In addition to trees, there are a number of flowers that will encourage an active bee population. Attracting annuals include the prairie sunflower, golden crownbeard, and basil. Red dome blanketflower, whorled mountain mint, and white prairie clover are bee-baiting perennials that are easy to grow and will provide you with hours of detainment watching bees flit and flutter around their bright-colored blooms.
The Pocket Guide to Native Bees of New Mexico provided by the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center offers a more comprehensive look at native bees and which plants are best for the many species of bee native to the state.
Many bees are ground nesters and won’t swam or colonize. With this in mind, you can offer a variety of bee habitats to bolster the growth of the local bee scene. A bee box is a simple construction of untreated wood dotted with varying-sized holes. Stacked bamboo shoots and even old logs placed around the perimeter of your property make excellent cover and may be incorporated into your landscape design. (Looking for a fun and educational project to do with the kids? Check out this simple bee box that uses supplies you probably already have on hand.)
Yale University recently released a paper citing the sudden decline of bees as a danger to the world’s food supply. Bees play a direct role in the production of more than one third of all food produced in the word, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and meats. Alarmingly, throughout the last decade, beekeepers in the US have experienced major losses of their active colonies. Colony collapse disorder, the name attributed to the sudden plague haunting the nation’s bees, is due in part to the widespread use of well-intended pesticides.
In California, the state’s 800,000 acres of almond orchards (a crop 100% reliant on bees) are too large to depend on wild bees alone. Commercial pollination services have struggled to keep up with demand for colonies to pollinate this and other necessary crops.
Though a backyard bee habitat might not solve the nation’s bee crisis, it’s a great start. Additionally, gardening is a great activity for children that instills a sense of respect for nature and can help dispel irrational fears of our buzzing buddies. After all, today’s kids are tomorrow’s leaders and it will be their actions that ultimately help (or hurt) the bees and, thus, the agricultural output of the nation.