There are many factors that can affect the life of bees, Verroa Mite, changes in temperature, and the careless use of insecticides – whatever the cause the bee population is in trouble.
Bees are dependent on the pollen as a protein source and food for their larvae, fruit and vegetables rely on bees to cross pollinate their flowers and ensure the production of a good crop – this is nature working at its best. Many insects visit flowers but because of this dependency the honey and the bumble bee are the masters.
The best way for us to help is by providing an environment for them to thrive by planting plants that are a good source of nectar. Bees prefer the old fashioned simple flowers usually single blooms rather than double flowers, avoid more complex flower heads as they are difficult for the bees to forage from and often contain little or no nectar this can be also true of flowers that have been hybridised or modified.
When thinking about planting food for the bees, then think year long especially for the colder weather – honey bees don’t hibernate in cold or windy weather but they will stay closer to the hive, the bumble bee will however will still forage in colder and windier conditions. Plant in mass, larger groups of plants will attract more bees to the garden; they will stay longer and keep coming back.
Herbs are a great source of nectar some a little better than others and of course you can use the leaves for cooking or cosmetic purposes.
Borage bees love it abundant blue flowers, but it needs to be controlled as it is a prolific self seeding plant. Useful around orchards then you can let the chickens loose on them in the autumn.
Pineapple sage leaves really do smell like pineapples, this sage grows about 1m and has bright red flowers that last spring through to autumn – it will die down a little in winter but come away again in spring
Lemon Balm is a plant that has been known for centuries for attracting bees, it is sweetly lemon scented and needs room to grow, often planted in mass around orchards to aid the pollination of fruit trees. The leaves can be used in salads, drinks, perfumes and hand creams.
Bergamot deserves to be planted everywhere so don’t just keep this in the herb garden it is a lovely plant for any flower border, it grows to at least 1.2m tall and has abundant red to pink flowers that are highly scented and nectar rich. Bergamot also makes a great tea.
Thymes from the carpet to the bush all attract the bees and are great planted in the corners of the vegetable gardens.
Rosemary and lavender of all varieties are very attractive to bees and you will always see them alive with bees in the summer. Of course if you want to pick the flowers then do this at dusk when the bees have gone to bed.
Our own native plants are a good source of nectar for bees and as they are suited to our climate they are easy to grow
Lemonwood – Pittospourm Eungeniodes easily distinguish by its pale yellow scented flowers that appear October through December and by the lemon scent the leaves have when they are crushed.
Pohutukawa – If your don’t have room for the larger trees try the smaller shrub form of Metrosideros ‘Tahiti’
Hoheria – New Zealand Lacebark masses of white flower late summer through to autumn
Rewarewa – Knightia excelsa reddish brown flower from October to December – tui loves these as well.
Hebe’s – Abundant with flowers that the bees love happy in many garden situations, try ‘Wiri’ joy for its strong pink to purple flowers.
If you are lucky enough to have plenty of room then let some of the garden go wild, even if it is only a strip border, perfect if it can be near your orchard or vegetable garden. Wild spaces provide simple single flowers that bees prefer , like Foxgloves, Chamomiles, Yarrow, Queen Anne’s lace (wild carrot) and Clover that are unaffected by the practise of hybridisation.
Create your own wild garden both Yates Cottage garden mix and Wild flowers of the world will give you a mix of old-fashioned meadow flowers that are attractive to bees. These mixes can be sown directly in to the soil then left to reseed them every year.
Let some of your vegetables go to seed especially cabbage, carrot, and parsley not only will they attract bees but other beneficial insects, then after flowering you can collect your own seeds.
There are many plants that the bees love and providing food for them is one of the most important things we can do but it is also important to practise good management of the application of insecticides, if you need to use an insecticide then there are a few precautions you can take to protect the bees.
Spray later in the evening when bees have gone to bed.
Avoid spraying when plants are in flower.
Be controlled – don’t just spray everywhere for good measure, attack only the areas you need to.
Choose sprays that have a low toxic formulation like Kiwicare Organic caterpillar spray or Yates Success Naturalyte.
If you already have a large garden and orchard then think about renting a hive these are available all over the country just Google your closest one.