Beekeeping is a fantastic hobby, but it is a labor of love and not necessarily for everyone. Happily, there are things that everybody can do to help both native bees and European honey bees – such as planting flowering plants, leaving some bare dirt patches around the garden un-mulched, allowing last season’s leftover stalks to lie, and installing pollinator houses.
European honey bees pollinate a third of our food crops, making a huge contribution to our food supply chain, our economy and the broader ecosystem, so the more we can help them do their thing, the better off everyone is. European honey bees will feast on a range of flowering plants, but they do have preferences.
Like humans, bees love herbs. And they’re great to plant as they’re handy in the kitchen and around the house too. And there are many beautiful flowering shrubs and trees you can plant which will have nearby bees waggle-dancing with joy.
Bees are also attracted to many food plants. The great thing about planting some citrus, strawberries or a passionfruit vine is the symbiotic benefit. The bees get their pollen and nectar, and the plants produce bigger, healthier, better formed fruit in greater abundance.
The thyme is right
Bees looooove thyme. It’s a one-stop shop for foragers, providing high yields of both pollen and nectar.
Give it good drainage, and it will prosper in most climates. You can even use it on paths and as a lawn plant. It’s also a delicious culinary herb. Popular throughout the Mediterranean because it makes for super-yummy honey, neighbouring beekeepers will love you if you plant this.
Bees love blue and violet flowers best, especially the many species of lavender you can grow at home. Like thyme, it produces an abundance of both pollen and nectar.
A beautiful plant to grow, you can use sprigs to scent your home and nothing’s nicer than being downwind from a lavender bush on a sweet, breezy summer day.
Sage costs a fortune at the shops, so planting plenty of it in your yard or on your balcony is fantastic for the home cook. It also happens to produce flowers that are among the honey bee’s very favourites.
They go crazy for it! When they find some they will do a dance so the rest of the colony knows where the party is.
Other plants bees love
What about native bees?
We have more than 1,500 species of native bees in Australia – ranging from larger bumblebees to smaller native bees.
Some live in colonies, while many work and live a solitary life. There are both ground and twig nesting varieties. Not surprisingly, many native bees prefer native plants!
Invite native bees to move in with a pollinator house
Most of the native bees in Australia are solitary and they come in all shapes and sizes. Essentially, a pollinator house is a structure which accommodates solitary nesting native bees by providing cavities in natural materials for them to live in. You can make your own, from a very basic design (drilling some holes into a block of wood) to as complex and creative as you like.
Recycled cupboards, drawers, crates
Tips for building five-star pollinator accommodation
Use only natural, solid untreated materials (no chipboard or composites)
Go for cavities of various depths, but up to 15cm should be plenty.
Create homes of various widths. Australian native bees range in diameter from 2mm to 1cm
Place in a warm but sheltered spot between three to seven feet off the ground
Ensure the suites in your pollinator house are secure
Use a sloped roof to keep the everything dry
Tips for bee-friendly gardening
Plant flowering plants in bountiful clumps so bees don’t have to search far for forage and can work more efficiently
Avoid pesticides. Companion planting is the way to go if you want to control pests. Pesticides are one of the reasons bee populations are in decline
Plant several species to ensure you have forage for every season
Maintain multiple water sources around your garden
Spread the word among your neighbours, family and friends
We speak with Lori Harris of Salt Creek Butterfly Farm in Western Springs, Illinois, about her work as a butterfly conservationist, educator and Flow Hive beekeeper. Lori's passionate about protecting pollinators and inspiring curiosity about nature in children and adults.
We chat to lavender farmer and Flow Hive beekeeper Kirby Bivans from the Old School Farmstead in Wisconsin, about what led the Bivans family to embark on this colorful endeavour and how bees have become a vital part of their business.