Insects are nature’s pollinators. As a gardener there are things we can do to encourage bee populations and visitation. There’s no reason not to encourage bees to visit your garden. Not only do they improve the health and productivity of your plants and vegetables, they are fascinating to watch, fun to look at, and a part of nature.
You can encourage bees to visit your garden in a variety of ways—planting bee friendly plants, using bee friendly insect control, and even providing water and a resting area for weary workers!
First of all—why do we need bees? Bees are pollinators. As you watch them go from flower to flower, you’ll see them gather pollen on their legs. Some of that pollen ends up staying on the plant, and from there, the plant will create seeds. Some common Alaska plants that require insect pollinators, such as bees, include celery, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cucumber, strawberry, lupine, many species of clover, blueberries, cranberries, and tomato. If you have these in your garden, then I bet you’ve seen some little ladies hard at work pollinating!
Now, there are many ways to bring bees to your garden. You’ll want blooms all through the season, as much as you can. That way the bees will keep coming. When they realize there’s always some flowers around, they’ll return to see what you have that’s new!
Bees do best with plants native to the region. There’s a reason fireweed jelly is so widespread in Alaska. Fireweed does well, and so do the bees! You can also choose very specific flower colors. Bees love blue, purple, and yellow. What’s native and in those colors? Lupines, bluebells, forget-me-not, foxglove, poppy, columbine, raspberry, blueberry, just to name a few! And those are just perennials. Imagine how easy it would be to just let your usual plants grow, not have to plant new things, and still help nature!
Other flowers that are very common are barberry bushes, primroses, spirea, and petunias. For the most part, if it flowers, they’ll stick their head in and see how it tastes!
No one wants bugs in their garden, but using harsh chemicals can harm bees and discourage them from visiting. Try things such as salt if you have slugs. If you do have to use chemicals, read all labels. Some organic choices are okay for bees to use, but only if you do not spray while they are working. For aphids, some dish soap in some water sprayed on and rinsed off will get rid of them. Some people swear by vinegar for getting rid of aphids as well. Above all else, you’ll want to avoid any pesticide that is labeled as systemic – this gets into the pollen itself and poisons bees. You can also spray at night, when the bees are not active.
A fun project you can do to encourage bees is to make a bee watering station! Like any animals, bees get thirsty, but it’s hard for them to find a place shallow enough to drink without drowning. Making one is easy. Get a smaller planter or tub, put some water beads or marbles in, and fill it enough that they can land and drink from. There are many tutorials online.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you could always try beekeeping, or find someone in your area that already keeps bees and ask what you can do to help their bees stay happy and healthy. Some bees need materials to build their nest, though any good beekeeper will provide for them already.
If you see a bee struggling, lethargic and weak, you can always give them a little drink! They get tired like anyone else. Pick up the little lady, carefully, and put her someplace warm and dry to rest. A bit of sugar in water will do the trick. Most places recommend a 1:2 ratio of sugar to water. You can place it in a spoon, or a small dish. The bee will find it’s way to the water, drink up, and fly off when she’s ready.
Have fun with your bee garden, and next time you eat some local honey think about how you helped make it!