How to help the bees without keeping a hive.
So you want to help the bees, but you’re not able to keep a hive at home? There are a number of ways in which you can help the bees, no matter where you live. Although the European Honey Bee is almost universally recognised, there are over 20,000 known species of bees spread across every continent except Antarctica.
Feed the bees!
Bees depend on the flowers upon which they forage for two essential staple food items – pollen and nectar. The nectar is ingested by the foraging bee and stored in its honey stomach, or crop, which is a separate structure from its true (digestive) stomach, so technically it may not be accurate to refer to honey as ‘bee vomit’! Back at the hive, the nectar is converted into honey through the action of enzymes and reduction of moisture content. Pollen is also collected by the bees, and stored in ‘pollen baskets’ located on their back legs. Later at the hive, this is made into a pollen ‘bread’. I call this the bees’ steak, as it is a rich source of protein which is used in the production of royal jelly and feeds the growing brood.
Flowering plants bloom at different times, and it’s important to cultivate a variety of flowers in your garden, so the bees can forage throughout the year. No matter how small your yard, a few flowers can help the bees. Many herbs that we use in the kitchen are great for producing nectar, including rosemary, thyme and basil. Even if you live in a fifth-storey apartment, you will be rewarded with the sight of the odd bee industriously gathering pollen and honey if you grow a few herbs on your balcony!
My all-time favourite flowering plant is borage. Planting borage is guaranteed to attract bees to your garden. Many flowers only produce nectar for short periods (morning, afternoon, or sometimes even at night) but borage releases nectar relatively consistently throughout the day. If space permits, many Australian native plants bloom prolifically and provide great foraging for bees. Eucalyptus, of which there are more than 700 species, and tea tree (more specifically Leptospermum spp.) are fantastic for bees. Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) is a type of tea tree and is legendary for producing honey with magical properties. Bottlebrush, banksias and paperbarks come in all shapes and sizes and are relished by the bees when in flower. Incidentally, don’t be too hasty to pull weeds from your garden, as these can also provide a diverse variety of food for the foraging bees.
Clean water, not chemicals!
A cool clean source of water is also important for bees. A pond is ideal, but even a bucket of water of fresh water in the shade will provide them with a cool drink in hot weather. Float a piece of cork or styrene on the surface to give the bees a landing area, so they don’t drown.
Whether indoors or outdoors, avoid using anything that ends in ‘cide’. Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are all harmful to bees. If you have a vegetable garden there are now many organic sprays or other options to get rid of pests. Yates Nature’s Way Caterpillar Killer is a great product that is safe for bees. It is an insecticide derived from beneficial bacteria found in soil and plants, and also in insects. The Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki bacteria specifically targets caterpillars, but is harmless to helpful insects such as ladybirds and bees. It acts by producing a toxic protein that paralyses the caterpillar’s gut. Upon consuming treated foliage, the caterpillar stops eating; it will subsequently die and fall from the leaf.
Remember that if a bee manages to wander into your house, there is no need to kill it! Simply use a jar to carefully collect the bee and place it outside. It won’t sting you unless you grab it with your hands! And if you see a bee that appears lethargic, don’t give it honey. A white sugar solution should provide it with enough energy to fly back to its colony.
The trend to a more organic lifestyle is fast gaining acceptance and promises a better future for the bees, and the next generation. By saving the bees we are also helping to save the planet!