Saturday, July 5, 2014

Why I Want Bees and Butterflies in My Garden

I read recently that bees are very calm insects, not out to get people, but only sting when threatened.
I suppose, hysterically swinging arms feel threatening. Many tend to get a little excited when a bee comes summing, too close for comfort.

And why is that? A bee sting hurts. I have had my share. From a painful sting behind my ear as a little girl, stepping on bees - to the night spent as a 5 or 6 year old and I slept in my grandmother's loft, not knowing there was a large beehive there. That night I acquired more than what was good for a little munchkin.

I have studied at a university in the Beehive State, love listening to the musician Sting, and had The Sting as one of my favorite movies as a teenager.

So, why write about bees? Lately there has been much talk about the extinction effect of bees.

Scientist are alarmed as bumblebee numbers plunge worldwide:
Dire implications for food production: “In fact, about one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Even cattle, which feed on alfalfa, depend on bees. So if the collapse worsens, we could end up being “stuck with grains and water,” said Kevin Hackett, the national program leader for USDA’s bee and pollination program. “This is the biggest general threat to our food supply,” Hackett said. -Fox News
Whole colonies of bees and bumblebees collaps and scientists have not been able to figure out why. The import of bumblebees to the US in the 1990 caused two species died out, another is about to. In South America the import of bumblebees to greenhouses have caused problems as the insects escape and cause imbalance and competition as they mate with other local bumblebee species. Bees can also suffer serious effects from toxic chemicals in their environments. Pesticides actually kill them.

We are dependant on these little creatures for pollenation. They also make excellent honey, a yummy treat that can be used in so many ways and is wonderful to have in one's food storage supply.
Without honey bees, 80% of the plants will disappear. We need certain plants so that butterflies won't extinct. We need fruits and vegetables not to diminish.

What can we do? I am not the kind that wave my arms around when bumblebees approach. I plant herbs that I know they love. My herbal patch is enchanted come late summer with bumblebees and butterflies. A beautiful sight and I laugh when I think of how noisy they are, never able to sneak up on anyone. As soon as they move around, they buzz energetically.

Which herbs and plants should we have in our garden or in planters on the terrasse to attract bees and butterflies? What can we do to help out? There are two things they look for in our garden, nectar and pollen. Nectar is the bees sugar and energy diet, pollen provides them with protein and fats.

Here are some tips from About.Com Gardening:
  1. Don’t use pesticides. Most pesticides are not selective. You are killing off the beneficial bugs along with the pests. If you must use a pesticide, start with the least toxic one and follow the label instructions to the letter.
  2. Use local native plants. Research suggests native plants are four times more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers. They are also usually well adapted to your growing conditions and can thrive with minimum attention. In gardens, heirloom varieties of herbs and perennials can also provide good foraging.
  3. Chose several colors of flowers. Bees have good color vision to help them find flowers and the nectar and pollen they offer. Flower colors that particularly attract bees are blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.
  4. Plant flowers in clumps. Flowers clustered into clumps of one species will attract more pollinators than individual plants scattered through the habitat patch. Where space allows, make the clumps four feet or more in diameter.
  5. Include flowers of different shapes. There are four thousand different species of bees in North America, and they are all different sizes, have different tongue lengths, and will feed on different shaped flowers. Consequently, providing a range of flower shapes means more bees can benefit.
  6. Have a diversity of plants flowering all season. Most bee species are generalists, feeding on a range of plants through their life cycle. By having several plant species flowering at once, and a sequence of plants flowering through spring, summer, and fall, you can support a range of bee species that fly at different times of the season.
  7. Plant where bees will visit. Bees favor sunny spots over shade and need some shelter from strong winds.

Save the honey bees is another site with good advice:

What you can do

  1. Check your closets for poison against ants and other crawling insects. These products can also contain the pesticides described above. Ant killers from Maxforce, Pokon, Admire, HGX and GAUCHO may contain the harmful pesticides. 
  2. Use eco friendly alternatives. For example; lavender expels lice. Plant mint between the cabbage and the caterpillars will not eat the leaves. 
  3. Bees love plants and herbs like showy stonecrop, catmint, New York asters, bee balm and many more. Help them strengthen and feed themselves and the colony by planting those plants in your garden or at your balcony. 
  4. Subscribe to our newsletter on the right site of this page. We will inform you on a regular basis about the honeybee friendly alternatives and what you can do to protect the honey bees. 
The Buzz about Bees site suggest the following herbs:
Borage, Catmint, Chives, Comfrey, Hyssop, Lavender, Sage, Thyme Marjoram/Origanum, Mints, Lemon Balm, Fennel, Angelica, Wild Bergamot, Woundworts, Betony, Myrtle, and Rosemary.

Lemon Balm is also used as an insect repellant. Rub some of the leaves on your hands to prevent bee stings.
In the past, beekeepers would rub a handful of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) inside the hive after hiving a new swarm, in order to help the swarm settle and to encourage them not to leave the hive. Rubbing hands with the leaves is also claimed to help prevent bee stings!

I have had many of these herbs in my garden and therefore enjoy both butterflies and bees close by. I have notoce that they especially love the peppermint, spearmint and lemon balm.

A who does not pick up a dead bee to check it out? Where is that stinger? What does it actually look like? I am as curious as the next person and like to learn.

A sleeping bee would be nice, too. Barbra Streisand sings about A sleepin' bee. A love song. But if you appreciate Miss Streisand's wonderful voice and ability to interpret music into stories, you should click on the link listen to it.

Today's art is a bouquet of flowers from my mother's garden and a photo from my herbal patch at the Duck and Cherry. The three photos of bees and butterflies sitting on the Echinacea purpurea, were taken in Finland on a business trip learning about that wonderful medicinal flower.


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