I love bees of all kinds and honeybees in particular. When I was about five years old, my father left me in the house while he worked outside. When my mother came home from an errand, she found me standing by a plate of honey I was using to feed my father’s honeybees. He kept bees and sold honey for years until the mites and diseases killed them. I remember them crawling up my legs as I lured them with honey. No bees stung me that day because of, I believe, my calmness around them. I was not scared of them, and meant them no harm, and they knew it.
Last week, I noticed that the shrubs enclosing an area of my garden were buzzing. They were the ordinary holly, Ilex ‘Compacta,’ commonly used in landscapes. Hundreds of tiny white flowers, so small I might not have noticed them if the bees were not on them, were blooming, and the bees covered the shrubs. Dozens of bees furiously worked the blossoms to grab every bit of nectar they could find.
If you are allergic to bee stings, you might understandably find the sight of so many bees alarming. Many folks are scared of bees because they don’t understand their behavior and think they are aggressive. Bees (and in this discussion I include wasps, yellow jackets, bumble bees, and any other sort of flying insect capable of stinging although it’s not technically correct) will not hurt you unless you bother them first. Many of them are so tiny you might not notice them, but they are critical to pollinating flowers and vegetables. I have suffered many bee stings in my life, but I always bothered the bees first, by either stepping on it or threatening its home. They are happy to go about their bee business as long as you leave them alone.
Without bees in the garden, there would be no flowers, vegetables, or fruit. Bees must move pollen from the male flower parts to the female flower parts for pollination to occur. If you spray your garden with insecticides, you will kill the bees, which are more sensitive than other creatures, along with the harmful insects. Sometimes a pest threatens to devour all your plants if you do not spray some sort of insecticide, and even organic ones can harm bees. When I spray insecticides, which is very rare, I do it in the evening, when the bees have gone to bed, but I hesitate to do even this because I often find bumblebees sleeping among the bean leaves.
I only use pesticides to target a very specific pest that I have first identified and am sure I am treating correctly. For example, snails, slugs, Japanese beetles, caterpillars, or many other creatures may cause holes in the bean leaves. If you just spray an all-purpose insecticide, you will kill all the creatures instead of just the one causing the problem. Maybe some Sluggo® bait sprinkled on the ground might take care of the snail and slug problem, without harming the bees, and shaking the Japanese beetles into a bucket of soapy water might take care of them, again without harming the bees. The plant might be able to tolerate the damage from the creature without any intervention.
To attract bees to the garden, plant a variety of plants that flower in succession during the year. Bees usually like native, heirloom plants better than hybridized plants. Some plants you might add to your garden to attract bees include asters, Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Penstemon, Joe-Pye weed or Eupatorium, Salvia, Zinnia, Sedum, Helianthus, Agastache, Goldenrod, Rosemary, and Basil. Most of these plants flower in my garden during the year, and bees usually cover them. Visit this link for additional information about attracting bees to your garden.