Bees play a critical role in our food system. When we think of bees, we first think of honey, but actually honey is just a delicious by-product of the honey bee. The most important role of the honey bee is pollination. Bees are responsible for pollinating hundreds of agricultural crops and flowering plant species worldwide. In the United States alone, bees pollinate about 150 different crops. The gardening experts at Southern States recommend that your garden planning this year include bee friendly plants.
Pollination occurs when pollen is transferred from one flower to another of the same species. The plant is fertilized and thus begins the process of fruit and seed production. These plants depend on bees or other insects as pollinators in order to produce the food that we eat every day. Every year, bees cross-pollinate fruit and seed plants such as apples, pears, asparagus, broccoli, cantaloupes, cucumbers, watermelons, and pumpkins. Many of your favorite berries – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries – rely on bees for pollination. If the bee population stopped pollinating plants, nuts such as cashews, almonds, chestnuts and macadamia nuts would have to be hand pollinated. Supplies would become very limited and expensive as a result. Our dependence on bees is much more extensive than most people realize. While other insects contribute to the pollination process, bees naturally focus their energies on one species of plant at a time which results in a higher quality of pollination. Bees clearly dominate the pollination business.
When planning your summer vegetable garden and flower beds, make sure you make them attractive to the local bees. Create a bee garden that will keep the bees coming back all summer long. Your vegetables will be well-pollinated, and you will be rewarded with an abundant harvest. Flower gardening for bees is really quite simple. Choose plants that attract bees – there are many to choose from. Bees love native wildflowers as well as some of your favorite flowers and herbs. Bee-loving flowers include: tulips, crocus, jonquils, sunflowers, black-eyed susans, cosmos, asters, dandelions, clovers, lilac, wisteria, lavender, goldenrod, monarda (Bee Balm), peonies and honeysuckle. Don't forget the herbs! Create an herb garden with mint, basil, thyme, oregano, sage and chives to attract bees. Limit the use of organic pesticides and herbicides in your garden, lawn, or yard.
What better way to ensure that bees are nearby than to have your own bee colony, right? If you are thinking about beekeeping, there are a few things you need to know. First, check your local city codes. There could be limitations on the number of hives allowed in your county. Check for space requirements, if any, between your hive and the property line. Place your hive(s) in an area where the bees will have a clear flight path and are protected from the elements. A field near a wood line makes an optimal location. Remember, a steady stream of bees will constantly be moving in and out of the hive; give them plenty of room.
Set up your hives and get your bees in the spring; the earlier the better. Bees start to get busy as soon as the weather warms up. Get them started so they have plenty of time to build up a strong hive before winter. In some cases, a colony does not survive its first winter. Don't give up. Often, the second attempt proves successful.
To get started, get your beekeeping equipment. The essential list of what you need consists of: bees, beehives, a bee suit, and bee tools such as a bee smoker and hive tool. When ordering your bees, order what is known as a "nuc" - it is a colony of bees including the queen. Your bee suit should consist of a hood, gloves and coveralls. Modern beehives come built with all of the components necessary for easy beekeeping. Make sure it includes removable frames that make inspecting the colony and removing honey easy. You can find the beekeeping supplies you need at your local Southern States.
As a new beekeeper, there are many sources to help you get started. Your local Beekeeping Association can provide helpful information for beekeeping in your area and prove to be a valuable resource as you are learning the ropes. They often hold classes for new beekeepers and, in some cases, will help you order the bees for your first colony.