Beekeeping is popular. It seems that after chickens and goats, bees are the most coveted hobby farm “livestock” endeavor. However, beekeeping can seem daunting, not to mention expensive. Not everyone feels confident donning a suit and maintaining a hive. Lots can go wrong when you keep bees, above and beyond the obvious risk of being stung. If you don’t do things properly, queen bees can die, colonies can starve over the winter and bears can ransack hives looking for honey.
But the world’s bee population is in trouble. Overuse of chemicals and other toxins have wreaked havoc on them. Colony collapse disorder has brought the number of honeybees down by more than half over the past 10 years, which is a scary thought because without bees, we would have no food. If flowers don’t get pollinated, fruits and vegetables don’t form. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to invite bees to your farm without diving into formal beekeeping.
1. Go Native
They don’t make honey, but native bees will pollinate your plants. Because native bees don’t have hives to protect, they tend to be more docile and less likely to sting than honeybees. Native mason bees are more efficient pollinators than honeybees. Mason bee houses are available commercially, or you can simply tie together a bundle of paper drinking straws or bamboo sticks and hang them in your garden as a place for the bees to lay their eggs. Other types of native bees nest in the ground, making a mound that looks like an anthill. So before you grab the ant killer, be sure it’s not a bee making a home.
2. Use Caution With Pesticides & Herbicides
Pesticides are detrimental to bees and other pollinators. Even some “natural” pesticides can be harmful to bees, so be cautious how you use them. Herbicides can harm bees as well. Instead, consider hand pulling weeds, or even better, let dandelions, clover and other weeds in your lawn go to flower, providing even more food for the bees. Don’t mow quite as often to give the weeds a chance to prosper. Gradually reduce the amount of lawn you have and increase the amount of open field. Let weeds and wildflowers take over as much of your property as you can.
3. Plant Native Flowers
Native bees will naturally be attracted to native flowers, especially those that are yellow, blue or purple. Planting native flowers gives bees a veritable buffet to choose from. Some favorites include asters, bee balm, echinacea, goldenrod, honeysuckle, lilac and roses.
4. Let Herbs Go to Flower
If you grow herbs, letting some go to flower will provide bees even more variety. Basil, cilantro, dill, mint, oregano, rosemary and thyme enhance our cooking, their flowers are beautiful and bees love them.
5. Provide a Drinking Station
A dripping faucet offers bees a place to drink, as will a small dish with some stones in it. If you have a birdbath, consider setting a large rock in middle so bees have a spot to perch while they drink.
This story originally appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of Hobby Farms.