Planting for the Bees

Thursday 23 June 2022

It is always lovely to see your garden admired by honeybees in the summer, buzzing around collecting the pollen and nectar. It is even nicer to see honeybees pollinating our orchards and field crops. Beyond the garden, managed honey bees are an agricultural necessity here in Atlantic Canada, pollinating everything from blueberry fields to apple orchards. However, many crops that are bee-pollinated only blossom for short periods and cannot sustain honey bees year-round. In this blog, we explore how beekeepers and non-beekeepers alike can support local honey bee populations by providing floral forage throughout the season.

Planting for the Bees

Nutritionally it is essential for bees to collect pollen and nectar from a variety of plants. It can be challenging for beekeepers to find suitable areas for hives that will fulfill both the type and quantity of blooming flowers that the bees need to stay healthy. Creating a garden design that will be in bloom from spring to fall is beneficial for foraging honey bees. The plants you choose to incorporate can be of any flowering variety, but consider native plants to provide a dependable and healthy ecosystem. There are many native trees and bushes such as maples, red-osier dogwood, ash trees, cherry, or oak. There are also many flowering plants, such as butterfly weed, common milkweed, bee borage, canola, lupine, fireweed, and so many more. For more ideas, visit the Atlantic Rhododendron and Horticultural Society website. This website includes a descriptive Excel table which lists over a hundred plants and when they bloom on the Atlantic coast. In addition to growing a variety of flowering plants, planting in clusters instead of spread-out patterns can make foraging more efficient for the bees. These flowering gardens will attract more than just honeybees. Also, consider adding old logs or rock piles as nesting features to support wild pollinators!

While it is valuable to plant new gardens for honey bee foraging, it is also good to consider the management of the wild flowers that are already present. Managed and wild growth is often controlled by mowing, which eliminates blooms, nesting resources, and pollinators' natural habitats. Depending on the time of mowing, the blades can also eliminate individual pollinators that may be present. Managing where and when you mow is an excellent course to ensure that foragers aren’t eliminated and get optimum use out of the plants which are present. Leaving patches unmowed and trimming as close to the roadside as possible can help. Leaving areas unmowed for as long as possible while plants are in bloom allows foragers to use up resources and then move onto new habitat.

Sustaining the health of our honeybees is growing more challenging as natural habitats are lost. Planting pollination gardens and managing native plants can help. The more flowers planted, the more food it provides, and the better the bees eat. When the bees are healthier, they are more equipped to fight off harmful pests and diseases, such as Varroa mites. This is why it is so important to consider planting for the bees. 

Written by Rebecca Campbell, ATTTA Summer Research Assistant

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