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Bees - Where Would We Be Without Them
September 4, 2011

Have you ever noticed that non-gardeners have two distinct reactions when bees come near them? Either they wave their hands about madly while letting out ear-piercing shrieks, or, they freeze every possible bodily movement, except their eyes, which warily follow the bees around. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of middle ground.

Gardeners, on the other hand, know better. In fact, many purposely grow plant material that invites bees to visit and stay a while.

Nothing evokes the sense of a productive garden like the industrious hum of honeybees toiling among the sun-warmed blossoms. Throughout the growing season, honeybees work from dawn to dusk collecting pollen and nectar, their colony's only source of food. In the process, these hardworking women (as all foraging honeybees are female) pollinate scores of plants –– apples, berries, melons, vegetables and more. Not only do bee-visited blossoms produce larger better formed fruits, but some plants can't bear crops at all without the intrepid honeybee.

Bees are –– in those now infamous words –– a good thing.

Bee-licious Flower Bulb Blossoms

Honeybees favour blossoms that are highest in nectar or pollen on any given day or hour. Their choices can vary from region to region, and even within local neighbourhood, depending on what might be more delectable in the garden restaurant.

There are even some bulb flowers for which bees have shown definite preferences. If you want to encourage bees to visit, following, from the Technical Department of the International Flower Bulb Centre in Holland, is a tempting bee-menu of bulb flowers:

  • Spring flowering If temperatures are warm enough, the very first flowers of the season from which bees can collect food are Crocuses, Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa) and the very early flowering, golden yellow, Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis). Other spring bulb flowers which attract bees are: Anemone blanda; all Alliums, but especially the darker coloured ones; Scilla siberica; any of the pink Hyacinths, Muscari, Camassia and the intriguing Nectaroscordum siculum.
  • Summer flowering Bees have been spotted supping at some Dahlia varieties; the wonderfully fragrant Ethiopian gladioli (Acidanthera a.k.a. Gladiolus callianthus) ; some Lily species and most varieties of stately Nerines.
  • Autumn flowering If you'd like to send bees off into winter with a maximum of nourishment, grow any, or all, varieties of Autumn Crocuses.
    Bee provisions

In order to encourage bees to visit your garden, you need to provide them with the following:

  • Water. Bees need a reliable supply of water throughout the growing season. They use water to cool their hives and dilute the honey they feed to their larvae. To prevent bees from drowning, provide sources of shallow water, such as bird baths. Oh. If you're going to be politically correct about the water, vis-à-vis West Nile Virus, make that's shallow running water.
  • Pollen and nectar. Foraging bees identify desirable flowers by colour, shape and smell. Generally invisible to the human eye, the nectar serves as a neon billboard for bees. Yellow, the colour of pollen, is another bee favourite. Regardless of the colour, if a blossom doesn't provide enough pollen or nectar, bees will totally ignore it.
  • Good soil. Through thousands of years of natural selection, plus some recent human tinkering, plants have developed definite preferences when it comes to their environment. If gardeners ignore these needs, the flowering plants will fail to produce enough nectar to attract the bees.
  • Temperature. In general, bees, like many humans, like to work in warmer (above 15°C) temperatures. Although early in spring, on sunny, 11 to 12°C days, honeybees have been spotted in crocus flowers, while bumblebee queens have been seen gathering their meals at even lower temperatures.


Rest assured that foraging honeybees rarely sting while away from the hive. If threatened, they usually flee. If you make one angry, it helps to know that honeybees tend to fly in straight lines, so you can usually shake a pursuing bee by sprinting around a tall shrub.

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