“You can spoil some apples, but leave me the birds and the bees.” – Joni Mitchell (Big Yellow Taxi)

Close-up of honeybee on red & yellow sunflowerSadly, those words written by Joni Mitchell in the 1960s were not heeded well. We did get rid of DDT, but other insecticides and gardening practices, though not as devastating, have taken their toll. In 2006, the honeybee population began to die out. By 2014, we have lost nearly 70% of some bee populations. Honeybees are incredible pollinators and a major player in food production throughout the world. Though other species of bees do pollinate, they are not as efficient. It’s up to all of us to do all we can to keep all bees healthy.

1. Keep your garden chemical free!

Mason Bee on native huckleberry blossomMany countries have banned the use of insecticides because of their effect on the health of honeybees. Until things change in the United States, it will be up to the discretion of the homeowner. Do your part by finding alternative methods for pest control. Insecticides can’t tell the difference between honeybees and yellow jackets. Wasp traps work well; put a few in your outdoor dining area to keep them at bay. Insecticidal soap keeps garden pests like aphids under control. Chemical herbicides like Round-up don’t discriminate either. A mixture of salt, water and white vinegar can be just as effective. So can a good weeding tool and some muscle! If your neighborhood does not have an overly enthusiastic HOA, consider allowing some dandelions to flower. They’re a great early source of food for the bees while they wait for spring to arrive.

2. Fill your garden with plants that entice pollinators.

Whenever possible, use plants native to your geographic area. They’ve evolved with the bees and provide the best food possible. The bees will come for the natives and stick around for your fruit trees and bushes and all your flowering vegetables. Bees especially like blue, violet, white and yellow flowers. Group flowers of the same species together so the bees will have an easier time finding them. Plant to have blooms all through your growing season.

3. Bees need water too.

A shallow bowl filled with rocks makes a bee bath.Your bird bath can double as a drinking fountain for bees. Just be sure to place a few rocks in the basin so the bees can climb out easily. Sadly, they are not good swimmers. I have rescued more than one bee from drowning. This year, following instructions from The David Suzuki Foundation I made a bee bath using a shallow plant saucer lined with agate and petrified rock we had tumbled years ago when my daughter was little. I put it by our blueberry bushes.

4. Provide nesting places.

Mason Bee HouseNative bees are more than capable of making their own homes in decaying wood, cavities in rockery, or in the ground. To keep the bees from nesting where you don’t want them, you can provide a home where you do. The Suzuki Foundation has instructions on building homes for bumble and honeybees here. Mason bees are good pollinators and not prone to sting so they are great for a garden shared with children. They rely on “pre-fab” holes for nesting. Help nature along by building them a home out of a 4 x 4 (anything but cedar). The National Wildlife Federation has easy instructions here. My hubby used a piece of scrap copper to roof this one that sits in our veggie garden.

Whatever you do, just remember that bees are our friends. The next time you see one, don’t swat—smile. Be glad they’re still here! Find more information on ways to help the bees on my Resource page.