Great news! Attracting native bees to your garden and growing your own herbal medicine can work together in beautiful symmetry. If we all begin growing our own herbal medicine we could radically change the future of our planet by creating healthier humans AND healthier garden ecosystems at the same time.
(ABOVE: a bee garden I've created at the local Greenbushes Community Garden)
One of the most exciting things I've discovered over the last few years is that many of the medicinal herbs I grow attract native bees and all sorts of beneficial insects into my garden. The diverse native bee species on my 5 acres are thriving and to date I have identified over 30 different species. This photo below is a great example of 'medicinal herb-meets-bee habitat'. I grow an abundance of calendula flowers to use in healing ointments and for many months of the year I have these male Lassioglossum bees roost in them overnight.
The petals of their soft beds closes over them, keeping the protected and reopens in the morning once the sun has warmed. I always make sure I leave plenty of flowers for them to roost in.
(ABOVE: male Megachile species bees roosting on Lemon Verbena bush)
Since 2013 we've been purposely gardening with the intention of creating spaces to care for native bees. Bees are actually just like us when it comes to their basic needs; they require food, water and shelter to survive, but I always say that we must go a step further to help to them thrive. Bees need to feel loved to really thrive and they certainly get lots of that from us!
(ABOVE: Megachile bee stopping to clean itself on my finger)
The following guide contains my tips on how to create gardens that attract and care for native bees by providing shelter, food, water and love!
Let's start with shelter....
(ABOVE: just one of the many Bee Hotel designs in our garden)
Solitary native bees don't live in a hive or produce honey, they are purely pollinators. They will either nest in cavities or in the ground. We can easily replicate these requirements by building Bee Hotels. I've already written a great blog on how to do this. Just look for the "How to Build a Bee Hotel" in my blog section. Once you have created your hotel you then need to position it in the right place in your garden.
The bee hotel should be placed in a morning sunny position, as solitary native bees are mostly cold blooded and require the heat of the early morning sun to warm them.
Position it so it will be sheltered from the hot midday & afternoon sun and from high winds, such as close to a building or under a shady tree. Face the opening east or north east, at least a metre off the ground for cavity nesting hotels (no higher than 2.5m). Ground nesting hotels should be placed close to the ground in a similarly sheltered location.
Ensure there is no vegetation in front of it obscuring the entrances to the tunnels.
Add some scrumptious bee food.....
(ABOVE: our Leucospermum cordifoliums in full bloom with purple convulvulus ground cover)
Food is simply flowers! Bees eat two things: nectar & pollen. The nectar loaded with sugar is a bee's main source of carbohydrate/energy and pollen contains the proteins and fats. I have gone a step further when considering what to plants to include to provide food for bees as I feel we need to provide food for all insects to create a healthy insect community. The result is called an Insectary Garden.
An Insectary Garden is an area of flowering plants designed to attract, provide shelter, food and harbour beneficial insects. Many plants and beneﬁcial insects support each other and together make organic gardens more productive and healthy. The more diverse our insect species are in our backyards, the more we are allowing nature to take its course with the 'good' insects controlling the 'pests' insects.
(ABOVE: our mixture of sages, sedums, scaevoleas, agastache and cosmos)
Your insectary garden will not only attract native and honey bees but also butterflies, various other pollinators (wasps, flies and beetles) as well as predatory insects such as hover flies, tachinid flies, ladybirds, lacewings, praying mantids and spiders.
An insectary garden creates a wonderful balance of the three categories of beneficial insects you want to attract to your garden - predators, parasitoids and pollinators. Predators eat other insects while parasitoids use pest insects as hosts for their eggs and larvae. The pollinators - our glorious bees - facilitate pollination so plants can produce fruits, vegetables and seeds.
By nurturing your insect communities (and holding back on the natural or chemical pesticides), we are allowing the natural food chains in the web of life to thrive in our gardens. We have not only seen an amazing myriad of insects arrive since beginning this style of gardening, but also had a surge in all insectivorous birds, lizards, frogs and more.
Tips for a successful Insectary Garden (aka) Bee Food!
Plants should be of varying size and height to provide shelter for insects in different niches
It should be a long term and permanent feature of the garden
Densely planted and interconnected by plants with little disturbance
Provides small flowers for parasitoids (insect parasites), hover flies, wasps and robber flies
Provides large and long flowers for butterflies and larger bees
Provides sturdy herbaceous shrubs for mantids to lay their egg casings against
(ABOVE: california poppies, globe artichokes, lemon balm, borage, native hibiscus, correa and more)
Choose a variety of plants that flower at different times, with overlapping, so there's always a snack available when bees are out and about. Many native bees lifecycle's see them active from Spring through to mid Autumn. It's most important to develop your garden to have lots of flowering plants around December - March by introducing hardy perennials, annuals and natives. Many gardens have an abundance of flowers in Spring and then are a bit of a food desert for bees in the middle of summer. But this is when they are most active and busily collecting food to put inside their nests.
Bees have great colour vision — that's why flowers are so showy! They especially like blue, purple, violet, white and yellow. Plant flowers of a single species in clumps about four feet in diameter instead of in scatterings so bees are more likely to find them.
(ABOVE: anise hyssop and white cosmos)
Avoid hybrids - they may look pretty but they lack food
Bee species all have different tongue lengths, so a variety of flower shapes is best. Include umbels (like fennel and spring onion flowers) & composites (like the daisy family).
(ABOVE: flowering spring onions)
Plant lots of herbs (says the naturopath!) Not only can you pick these to make delicious, nourishing herbal teas but they're also a great food source for bees. They all contain highly nutritious resin, pollen and nectar and I call them 'superfoods’ for bees. You must allow them all to flower! Including: borage, mint, hyssop, anise hyssop, lavender, dill, fennel, oregano, thymes, sage, calendula, chamomile, california poppies, Italian parsley, bacopa, rosemary, lemon balm, yarrow, comfrey, chives, elder, echinacea, basil, queen anne's lace.
(ABOVE: native bee resting on chamomile flower)
Natives to include: brachyscome, myrtles, baeckea, bottlebrush, eucalyptus, grevilleas, violets, correas, hardenbergia, hibbertia, leptospermum, melaleuca, westringia, verticordias, scaevola, pincushion, dianella, kunzeas, acacias, banksias, leschenaultia, hakea, eremophila. Plus any flora endemic to your region. A great small eucalyptus tree for any garden is E. macrandra - this flowers just before the Marri's and provides my bees with an abundance of food.
(ABOVE: native Lipotroches species bee buzzing around Coral Pea Vine flowers)
Non-natives to include: abelia, buddleja, cornflowers, roses, salvias, agastaches, sedums, non-invasive purple lantana, pink diosma, viburnums, echiums, california lilac, purple convulvulus ground cover & anything from the Daisy family - sunflowers, calendula, chamomile, cosmos, erigeron, African daisy, marguerites, anthemis.
(ABOVE: Megachile species roosting in daisy flower)
Add a splash of water...
Bees and other beneficial insects — ladybugs, butterflies, and predatory wasps — need fresh water to drink but most can't land in a conventional bird bath without crashing. They need islands in the water to touch down on or they can easily drown. Refresh the water daily.
Simply make a Bee Bath by piling rocks in your bird baths or line a shallow bowl with rocks or pebbles or marbles. Add water, but leave the rocks as dry islands to serve as landing pads. Place the bath less than a metre high in your garden. (Put it near "problem plants" — those that get aphids, for example — and the beneficial insects that come to drink will look after them.)
(ABOVE: a large deep glass bowl filled with rocks as landing pads and fresh water)
And lastly - and most importantly - is the Love!
No garden can really thrive when we are applying chemicals that upset the natural balance of insects. I want to encourage you to seriously reassess your need for pesticides – natural or chemical , but especially the Neonicotinoids.
Neonicotinoids are very effective at killing insects when sprayed on plants because the whole plant, including the pollen and nectar becomes poisoned. It is a systemic neurotoxin and if it doesn't kill the bees directly, it weakens the nervous system. The poison is taken back within the food and stored inside the nest for the young to feed on when hatched. All Neonics are easily accessible and are sold in all hardware store and even supermarkets, like Yates 'Confidor'. Check your labels, it will often carry the warning ''will kill bees''.
Look for these ingredients to know if the product contains Neonics:
Imidacloprid: Foliar spray for turf and ornamental flowers, trees, and shrubs; soil drench for garden fruits and vegetables, and ornamental flowers, trees, and shrubs; trunk injection for trees; granules for turf and ornamental flowers, shrubs, or trees.
Clothianidin: Granules for turf, and ornamental flowers, shrubs, or trees.
Thiamethoxam: Foliar spray for turf and ornamental flowers, trees, and shrubs; granules for turf and ornamental flowers, trees, and shrubs.
Acetamiprid: Foliar spray for garden fruits and vegetables, and ornamental flowers, trees, and shrubs
Dinotefuran: Granules for turf and ornamental flowers, shrubs or trees; soil drench for ornamental flowers, trees, and shrubs.
Some say that Sulfoxaflor is also a neonicotinoid
REMEMBER: 999 OUT OF 1000 INSECTS ARE ACTUALLY BENEFICIAL OR HARMLESS.
Do you really need to spray (and this includes homemade organic sprays), or can you wait for the natural predators to come in and do what they do best?
(ABOVE: Megachile species leafcutter bee next to the tiny Reed bee)
We can all play a significant role in the health of our backyard biodiversity, insect ecology and bee populations. Imagine the difference if an entire street, or town, or suburb, or city were to follow these guidelines! Never underestimate the impact and importance of your individual efforts.
Contact me if you would like me to come and present a Native Bee & Bee Friendly Garden Talk in your area firstname.lastname@example.org
Green Tree Blessings x