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Bees in your backyard

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Plant some native New England Aster and the bees will come.

SHIRLEY FROEHLICH, PRAIRIE ORIGINALS Enlarge Image

Plant some native New England Aster and the bees will come. Photo Store

Knobby raspberries, lopsided tomatoes, curlicue cucumbers — all signs of poor pollination.

Bee populations are crashing worldwide, and with much of our food production dependent on them, we’re feeling it. Is there anything we can do in our own backyards, to create places of refuge for bees? Absolutely.

Bees need a continuous supply of nectar and pollen throughout the entire summer. If you don’t have much in the way of continuous flowering, boost it up. There needs to be something in flower, preferably in blues, purples, and yellows throughout the season. Lots of flowers in one location are best, so add more plants to an existing bed, enlarge a bed, or plant along or within the vegetable garden itself. Think of it as a food court.

If you’ve got a reasonable full-season floral display, simply add a few bee-delectables between and among your existing plants.

Native plants are considered gourmet; many introduced cultivars are acceptable; cultivars selected for double-petals tend to offer very little to bees.

Among our more delectable native prairie plants, Wild Iris, Milkweed, Culver’s Root, Wild Bergamot, Joe Pye, Turtlehead, Obedient Plant, Goldenrod, Helenium, Black-eyed Susan, and Asters are big hits. Many cultivars of Thyme, Yarrow, Coreopsis, Bee Balm, Purple Coneflower, Blue False Indigo, Goldenrod, Black-eyed Susan, Currant, Lilac, Honeysuckle, and Roses are bee-magnets. These are simply a starter list — there are oodles more.

All living organisms need water, including bees. A shallow dish with a layer of stones partially submerged is ideal. Be sure to change the water regularly.

Bees and insecticides don’t mix. If you are trying to create a bee-friendly garden, don’t use insecticides.

For the bee-anxious (and when one arrives buzzing and blustering around, who isn’t?), we aren’t that interesting to a bee. It’s simply checking us out as a possible source of pollen or nectar. Just sit quiet and it will continue on its way. Start swinging and swatting and it’ll think it is being attacked and it might counterattack.

Many of us have seen too many movies of involving hives, swarms, and no end of bad. Most of our native bees are solitary creatures and don’t build hives. The bumblebee does build hives but if your garden is so privileged, bumblebee hives tend to be small. Keep your distance.

Nests contain the young, and all organisms protect their young.

Make space for the bees, and they’ll thank you with a well-pollinated bounty.

Carla Keast has a master’s degree in landscape architecture and is a Winnipeg-based freelance landscape designer. She can be reached at contact@carlakeast.com.

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