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.
For years I’ve been saying that herbs are the best plants anyone can grow. They’re easy and forgiving. They’re tasty and fragrant. They’re beautiful. And one more thing, they’re great for bees.
Plant an herb garden and let it grow for a while. Pinch and pluck the leaves for any number of uses, like cooking or cosmetics, eat the flowers, eat the foliage, go for it, because most herbs love to be sheared and pruned; the act of harvesting actually makes them grow fuller and bushier.
Then do something for the bees. Stop snipping and picking half of the herbs, or more if you’re feeling generous, and allow them to bloom. Herbs are always trying to bloom, you’ll see their stems start to lengthen like in the case of oregano or sometimes the leaves grow smaller and even change shape, as does basil or mint. Pretty soon the flowers will be covered with bees.
Bees love herb blooms because many consist of lots of little florets, perfectly shaped for browsing and foraging. When bees can work over a large number of blooms in a small area, it helps them to save energy while increasing the amount of nectar they can consume. Herbs save them from making extra trips back to the hive and that’s a good thing.
Bee on fennel flowers
Yes, herbs are easy to grow. But some gardening publications will say they thrive on neglect. It is true that established plants can survive without much attention, but whether planted in the ground or in containers a new herb garden needs care at first; lots of sunlight, well-drained soil and adequate water. (And no matter what you see on Pinterest, you can’t grow herbs in Mason jars. Without a hole for water to drain, they will quickly rot.)
Here’s a list of herbs to start your bee-friendly garden. Get bzzzzy!
My gardening friends think I've lost my mind. It wouldn't be the first time.
It started the other day when I was inspecting a possibly dead lavender plant. As I poked around pulling fallen oak leaves from underneath the dry, silvery fronds my trowel made contact with something spongy feeling. Oops. A bunny nest.
I quickly put the leaves back over the cavity in the ground, just then noticing the downy fur placed around the edges. I quickly counted five, tiny but plump, pink-gray shapes nestled together shivering in the cold. Their eyes weren't even open yet.
The bunnies at the center of debate
Of course, you know me. I mean if you read this blog, you know I'm curious when it comes to critters. I pulled out my phone and took the first in a series of the darnedest cutest baby pics. As I posted them to Facebook my gardening co-horts snickered and harrumphed about how those evil little sods wouldn't last the night in their gardens and it wouldn't be a coyote that took care of them.
The stuff of gardening nightmares?
As it happens this isn't my first rodeo, I mean rabbit nest. In previous gardens, even enclosed, supposedly rabbit-proof ones, I've hosted rabbit families. Maybe it's just the mom in me, but I always feel honored when animals find my garden a safe place to raise their young.
(I do make exceptions for snakes, that's well-known, when it comes to them you might say I'm shovel-ready. And pro-snake people save your breath, it's not gonna change).
Before when I've found the nests I worked around them. It's always funny when Mama Rabbit builds it smack dab in the lettuce patch, kind of cliche almost. I loved the one where the mother had used Swiss chard leaves like a canopy.
Any potential damage was forgotten after I got the chance to show the two year-old neighbor girl all the baby bunnies on Easter Day, with her talking about Mr McGregor. That's a future gardener there.
When baby rabbits are ready to leave the nest, and a friend tells me that is when the small white spot on their head disappears, they too simply disappear. And sure enough they did.
However the next day I looked down in the window well and saw a small, trembling shape huddled in the corner. My fears that they would find this deep abyss were founded.
I didn't want to open the window from inside and chance a rabbit in the house with our dog. So I got my hoe and leaned over a neighbor's fence, hooked and borrowed their pool scoop. I rescued the little guy and relocated him to the backyard, telling him that was it, he was on his own, that the next time we met might not be on friendly terms.
I've seen rabbit damage around the garden, but none of it is too bad. I continue to spray repellent and put up netting on young seedlings. It's a hassle but I believe in planting something akin to the angels' share. There's enough to go around.
-------Meanwhile a mother duck has started laying eggs in our window box, six feet off the ground. Stay tuned.
With such a long, long winter and the spring that hasn't sprung, this year, of all years, many people may actually find it cheerful when those first dandelions show their sunny faces. I know I will.
More than just a cure for this dismal weather, dandelions are a key to bee survival.
The tide is turning against huge swaths of perfect and purposeless lawns. But many still feel that need to get out the weed and feed, hastening the demise of the innocent dandelions the minute they pop up.
Dandelions and lots of the other "plants out of place" are actually not always the evil invasives we've been led to believe. In fact, even Creeping Charlie has a benevolent side when it comes to bees. Mind you not every weed, especially ones designated "noxious" belong in our home landscapes, but there are quite a few that benefit wildlife.
Bees and other wildlife count on these "first responders to spring" for survival. Maybe we should start thinking of the dandelion as not a weed but a wildflower? And who goes around killing wildflowers.
Three Reasons to Love Dandelions:
1. Dandelions are an important first source of nectar for bees and other beneficial insects. Their blooms act as a bridge to survival for bees and other bugs that have managed to make it through winter until more plentiful blooms of spring appear.
2. Dandelions' stubborn and seemingly endless taproots help to break up soil and actually draw vitamins and nutrients closer to the soil surface.
3. As long as they haven’t been sprayed with herbicide they are one of many foragers' favorite early herbs. Added to salads and stir-fries they impart a bright and bitter flavor. Then of course there’s dandelion wine. I ate them on ravioli at a local food-centric café last year and they were delicious.
And don’t forget to make wishes on their fuzzy heads!
Use native plants in your landscape. Sounds pretty straightforward. But with so much emphasis on food-growing gardens the past few years, it's sounds a little decadent to plant pretty flowers, almost like a guilty pleasure.
Yet that's what bees need. Lots and lots of flowers. Hopefully lots of native flowers that they are best adapted to for gathering nectar and pollen. Insects and plants that have evolved side by side have the best synergy when it comes to pollination. These plants have adapted in accordance to color, flower shape, bloom time, and the insects have adapted with their body parts, diet and reproductive cycles to benefit from each other.
So it sounds pretty easy, you just look for the native plant label and there you go. Well sort of.
Bee on native sunflower Photo by Rhonda Fleming Hayes
Whenever there's an opportunity marketers will find it. Lots of plants are labeled native, but in a country as broad and diverse geographically as America, you'll find not every plant can be native to every place in America. A plant native to Oregon might not be the best for a Minnesota bee. So when you're shopping online or in person, do a little google search on the side with that plant. Try to find plants local to the upper Midwest, and more so to Minnesota. That's not to say other plants will be of no value, but those plants will also have the best chance of surviving and thriving in our climate and growing zone. More plant labels and catalog descriptions are starting to identify bee-friendly plants.
So are all non-native plants bad for bees? Not necessarily. There are lots of "exotics", plants that have been brought here from other countries that flourish in our state that bees find attractive. You have to go no further than Minnesota favorites like lilacs and hostas for example. But do avoid "double" flower forms and sterile versions of bedding plants and ornamentals that have little to no food value left in them.
A great way to figure out what bees like is to go looking for bees. What do they seem to go for? Bees do well when they have different flowers blooming as the season progresses. Bees benefit from large swaths of the same flower so they don't have to spend as much energy foraging.
Now after all this, some people still don't want to use native plants. They say they're weedy looking or invasive. Not necessarily. There are design strategies for dealing with these objections, like using some straight lines, employing traditional plant spacing, choose clumping forms, and limiting the number of species. For more detailed ideas I highly recommend the Landscaping with Native Plants of Minnesota by Lynn Steiner.
Still have questions about using native plants in the landscape? Feel free to comment or email through The Garden Buzz.