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Help the bees: the many faces of beekeeping

People are intimidated by beekeeping, but even if you are allergic to stings, there are still plenty of ways to help your local pollinators.

By planting the right flowers, building some small housing units, or even putting in a simple birdbath customized for bees, you can make a difference and offer beneficial insects refuge from the hard life filled with pesticides, insecticides, and harsh chemicals that are killing these useful creatures.

Why help the bees?

This shouldn’t even need an introduction at this point, or so you would think.

The simple fact is that the online neighborhood has become a haven of information about bees that continues to perpetuate stereotypes that may actually be hurting pollinating insects in some respects.

The first is the idea that honeybees are the only pollinators that need saving, and this is a tragedy. Many members of the wasp and bee families provide the necessary pollination of numerous species.

Here’s a shocking note, bumblebees and butterflies, while not providing much honey to humans, are actually able to pollinate a lot of flowers and plants that honeybees simply can’t. The really long tongues of these critters allow them to dig deep into flowers that honeybees can’t reach.

There are also symbiotic relationships between many insects and plants. Karner blue butterflies are nearing extinction because of habitat loss and chemicals, relying on the wild blue lupine flower for survival. Since it’s considered a weed by most, the poor butterflies are losing out, and so are the flowers.

The great thing is, by doing a little to help the bees, you can also help several other species.

Help the bees: what you can do:

Plants for Pollinators, You don’t need a bee suit

Even if you don’t want to get into honey harvesting, there are a lot of plants that can help several species of pollinators, including honeybees.

If you are allergic to stings, you might want to plant some of these a little further from your front door, perhaps in a garden away from the house, but a few plants can make a huge difference.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at a dumpster outside of any fast food restaurant in the summertime, and you will see all kinds of bugs buzzing about, but they will include honeybees. Now think about what’s going into your local honey.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. When given the option, pollen-producing plants will lure bees away from our trash and give them something nutritious to nibble on.

What kinds of plants?

  • Redbud trees are a staple for leaf-cutter bees, and also small and decorative
  • Calendula has edible flowers and is a favorite of bees and butterflies
  • Marigolds attract butterflies and moths, while keeping rabbits out of your garden
  • Salvia and other sages are beautiful and attract lots of pollinators, and even hummingbirds
  • Grow Lavender for the bugs, and even turn them into a business selling herbs
  • Vervain and Clover look nice in the yard, as long as your HOA allows it
  • If you live in the country, let the Dandelions grow, and you’ll help the bees
  • Milkweed for monarchs
  • Borage for bees
  • Hyssop for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds
  • Monerda or Beebalm are lovely little flowers that will keep the bumblebees strong
  • Yarrow will attract ladybugs as well as bees, and you can put it on cuts as an ointment
  • Sunflowers are king for all kinds of pollinators, and will attract doves and other birds

There are many flowers that pollinators like, so if you have the space, plant them all.

Making a Simple Bee Bath

Bees need water too, as do lots of during the hot summer months. Most beekeepers will keep a water source nearby and full of cool running water for their hives, but you can do the same in your backyard.

The major difference between a normal birdbath and a bee bath is the landing zones. While birds can perch and dip, the wrong kind of watering can actually drown bees.

Take any shallow and wide dish, even a commercial birdbath, and fill it with large stones and smooth pebbles. Then fill it with water. While the birds will likely hover around the edge, the smaller bugs will have some rocks to land on and sip without the danger of falling in.

From Bee Haver to Bee Keeper

If you really want to dive deep and start keeping bees, some studying will be required on your part. But the good news is you don’t need to dive into a $1000 investment right away. Start by reading books and browsing or joining some beekeeping forums online.

Also check with any local requirements or your homeowners association about whether you are allowed to keep bees where you are. You might need to borrow some space from a local farmer, who will usually be glad to have your bees on site.

I recommend Langstroth’s Hive and the Honey-Bee. Even at over a century old, this book is still relevant and will teach you more about beekeeping in a couple weeks than most beekeepers learn after years of honey harvesting.

The basic essentials are usually available in kit form. A Langstroth hive is the standard, but may need some insulation added, especially in the wintertime. You will also need a hive tool, a smoker, a bee suit, and a large bag of sugar.

The hive consists of boxes, start with a couple deeps and a medium, a bottom board, an inner cover, an outer cover, an entrance reducer, and frames to fill the boxes. Beginners are best served to get a kit or at least frames with plastic foundation, as this makes things easier.

Set up your hives somewhere that gets a little shade in the afternoon if possible, and if you can spring for it, put up a little electric fence around the area to keep them safe from predators. This is especially important if you live where there are skunks. If you are in bear country, you might consider some stronger defenses, like a wooden fence.

You’ll need a stand to put your bees on. A couple cinder blocks, pallets, or a custom-made stand can all serve this purpose. It’s best to think about making the setup as difficult as possible to reach for ants, rodents, and other critters that your bees will find offensive.

Then you simple add the bees, check on them every once in a while, and make sure they are healthy and happy. Here’s a video on a simple installation:

Further reading:

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