How to make your garden bee friendly

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I love spring because the insects come out. Saluting the sun, baby mantises emerge from their egg crates, mosquitoes moan in the air peddling their sinister wares, and my garden comes alive with bees. From their phenomenal geography memory to their astonishing ease with the concept of zero, bees deserve their place as the public face of all insects, and for millennia have been a source of fascination, terror and dismay. For me, the dominant feeling is melancholy. Impossible to contemplate their wonder without also evoking the collapse of the colonies, the crises of extinction and their mysterious disappearance, echoing the catastrophic declines of the insects in the world. This fear has led me into the rabbit hole of researching how to make my garden more pollinator friendly, and I hope the fruits I have gleaned may be of use to someone.

If you want bees in your garden, you need flowers (verily, I impart great wisdom). Yet the challenge, of course, is deciding which ones to obtain, especially whether to opt for native or exotic cultivars. I love native gardens maybe more than the following man, but bees are surprisingly flexible. Our backyard marigolds are a crowd favorite among stingless bees, and the blue-banded bees go absolutely crazy for a shot of Thai basil nectar (although they fly too fast for me to ever photograph. , the bastards). Bees are even more versatile pollinators, loving everything from low clovers to the tops of a bottle brush. Scientific research broadly says the same thing: Different plants attract different species of bees, but anything that has flowers is enough to get started.

Although the variety of plants is not particularly important, as long as they have a sustained and extensive flowering, what is is the important thing is how you plant them. A beginner’s mistake is to sequester many different flowers in individual pots; instead, a bee-friendly garden should have sprawling bushes, covered in dense flowers. When a worker bee dances to communicate the location of a field of flowers, the duration and urgency of its movements reflect the abundance of nectar, which in turn attracts others to plug in and follow it when ‘a second trip. I saw with my own eyes how a chance visit of a single bee to a cherry blossom tree quickly turns into a veritable swarm.

Variety is ideal in any bee-focused garden – there are over 200 species of bees in Sydney alone, each with their own preference for height, color, and flower shape. For some, their tongue is so short that a bell-shaped flower is a forbidden fruit, forever out of reach. Therefore, opting for a hearty combination of flowering trees, shrubs, and ground cover is the best way to attract as many visitors as possible. If you want to leave casual servers and step into the world of ranked competitive gardening, choosing species with different flowering times, to cover the spring-fall period as much as possible, will add even more panache to your design.

If there was one simple thing you could do to help our pollinators, it would be to stop using pesticides. A determined worker bee can travel many miles in a day, so no garden will make or destroy a day of foraging. On the other hand, the slightest traces of insecticides or fungicides can be fatal to native and European bees. Nurseries and garden centers, with seedlings grown under the fluorescent lights of sealed greenhouses, sell us a myth of perfection in which all plants are green and spotless; not so in nature. By excluding a swarm of monster locusts, the pests can steal a few leaves but rarely kill their host plant, so I promise your garden will live without the help of sprays. A well-seasoned garden will also be home to predators that regulate the number of caterpillars and aphids with little or no human intervention. From my bedroom window, I can watch the spider wasps fly determinedly through the cobwebs and capture the orb weavers unwittingly, the hunter becoming the hunted as the two predators watch each other. other. It is a delicate balance, which it is better not to ruin by the smell of pesticides.

The secret is that a pollinator-friendly garden is a wild garden, mimicking fields before dividing them into backyards. It is simple in concept but enormous in all its implications. A tidy square of flowers is of course better than nothing, but truly loving bees is embracing chaos and letting nature take its course.

Alternatively, you have the option of cutting out the middleman and creating your own hive. A bee is a simple creature, oblivious to your labors, and tender care exudes such warmth and humility. For me, it’s so human. The most seasoned keepers I have encountered refuse to crush even a single worker when checking the brood or cleaning the comb for honey. While this is not really my area of ​​expertise, I am extending two pearls of wisdom that I have gleaned in my lean years: bee hazard pheromone. Good luck.

I have reserved space here for one of my pet peeves: bee hotels. If you’ve never seen one, it’s a group of hollow sticks, designed to mimic the habitat of the elusive solitary bees (widely recognized as the “sigma males” of the insect world). People stumble to buy them, mesmerized by the prospect of entomological weight. And yet, this particular emperor is completely naked. When insect visits are actually measured, the hotel is on display like a mausoleum, overrun with invasive species and predators like the parasitoid wasp ichneumon (see below). Personally, I find wasps quite endearing, but keep in mind that my ideal wife has an ovipositor. Still, solitary bees are a valuable addition to any backyard, and to provide shelter for them you don’t need artificial tunnels, but rather trees and shrubs whose branches will naturally form hollows in the middle. as the garden matures.

Carl Sagan once postulated, “If you want to make apple pie from scratch, you have to invent the universe first. The less cited corollary is that if you want to save the bees in your garden, you must first invent a whole ecosystem. There really isn’t a silver bullet: A thriving bee community needs nothing less than a healthy balance of flowers, habitats, and even natural predators. It’s a microcosm of the futility of individual action in the face of impending climate catastrophe, and the anxiety I feel is very similar. Do we judge our actions on their morality or their consequences? Is it better for the effort deployed in collective action? There are no questions that cannot be answered, so I can only consider what I know to be true: if beekeeping is an act of humility, saving the bees is an act of grace. Planting a flower, repelling pesticides or resuscitating a tired worker with nectar, even if kindness is not its own reward, these gestures always carry hope and empathy. For me, that is enough.


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