In the Yard

Rhonda Hayes is a garden writer, photographer and blogger. She also volunteers as a Hennepin County Master Gardener. Rhonda chronicles her gardening adventures and advice at her award-winning blog, The Garden Buzz. She is a frequent contributor to Northern Gardener magazine and the Star Tribune Home + Garden section. At Your Voices, she writes about life around the city lakes, occasionally veering off the garden path with essays on the silly and serious issues of the day.

Top Ten Bee-Friendly Tips: #4-Provide a Safe Water Source

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: May 19, 2014 - 1:54 PM

Bees get thirsty just like you and me. They are out seeking water as often as they are foraging for nectar and pollen. They find it in places like puddles, ponds and creeks. They drink from the tiny beads of water collected in a leaf. But they are just as likely to search it out in dog dishes and birdbaths. Damp laundry on a line will do.

Water lilies, a beautiful water source for bees

Bees need water for more than just a cool drink on a hot day. The bee version of air conditioning uses a film of water placed over the cells of their hive, which some of the worker bees then fan for evaporative cooling. Water is used to dilute honey to feed  larva. It's also needed to dilute crystallized honey during winter.

Bees gather and transport all this necessary water in their crops. They then transfer it to other hive members for whatever purposes are required at that time. It accounts for lots of trips between hive and water source.So a consistent, reliable source saves energy.

It is said that bees like "aged water". An explanation may be that water with some algae in it has a notable smell whereas bees haven't evolved to detect chlorinated water. Yet why do they always land in the pool?

Birds and bees both prefer a shallow water source where they can stand or cling to a platform of sorts while they drink. Providing a safe source may be as simple as using landscaping rocks or pavers with shallow indentations that accumulate rain water. Bees may be using your water feature or koi pond already, so make sure there are some floating plants they can use for secure footing. 

Hopefully any water source provided specifically for bees is free from pesticide runoff.  

Dr. Marla Spivak, noted bee researcher at the U suggests floating tennis balls in the birdbath. This gives them a fuzzy surface to cling to while drinking.

And finally there's a "bee waterer" project going around the internet right now. It's a shallow saucer or basin like that of a flowerpot or birdbath. It's filled with inexpensive marbles that florists use in vases for anchoring stems. Water is added so that the bees can make their way over the marbles while drinking in the crevices in between. 

Lately I've been adding foliage to my landscape that has the potential to collect water like the Hosta 'Abiqua Drinking Gourd', lady's mantle or water lilies. I'm always interested in seeing plants from a bug's-eye perspective and this is a fun way to evaluate your plants for possible habitat value.

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