WooHoo! It feels like spring and the bees are flying! We've had sunny days in the upper 50's all week. Being a beekeeper, I’d be remiss not to take this opportunity to point out that bees are not bad. Bees of all kinds are beneficial insects and they pollinate the plants that grow our food!
Honey bees not only give us healthy honey and natural wax, they pollinate loads of crops that produce the foods we eat. Without honey bees we’d see a huge reduction (and some sources claim elimination) of many of our fruit, nut and vegetable crops. Likewise bumble bees (used in commercial greenhouse pollination), leaf cutter bees (which are responsible for the circles cut out of your rose leaves for their nest materials), ground nesting bees, mason bees (also commercially used for crop pollination) and the bee fly are pollination pros.
Wasps, hornets and yellow jackets are pollinators and voracious bug eaters, chowing down on grubs, caterpillars and aphids, so while they are to be respected for their defensive stinging abilities they are not to be exterminated at all costs. If they are starting a nest that is above your front door, you may want to scrape it off while it’s still tiny, prompting them to build elsewhere, but if it’s on an out-building or garage that’s not too near people traffic you may consider leaving it for the benefit they bring. These are good bugs that help us keep the bad bugs at a manageable level all the while pollinating too.
You may also see the Syrphid fly, which looks a lot like a bee. Their larvae are insect predators and the adults pollinate as they visit flowering plants.
Since there are so many types of ‘bees’ and I often come across people who are confused as to which are the much loved honey bees, I’m including these photos, taken in my garden to help identify the visual differences in the flies, bees and yellow jackets that may visit your gardens.
If you are allergic to bee or wasp venom, even to the point of serious reaction, I still urge you to have an informed respect for these insects. The allergic person should always keep an Epi-pen with them during the warm months when honey bees and wasps are flying. Your doctor can write you a prescription for it. Understand, honey bees are not aggressive but simply defensive and will not attack unless they feel threatened. I work with my bees wearing no gloves and rarely get stung. Africanized bees in the warmer southern regions are a different matter all together. If you live there and are allergic you should keep an Epi-pen with you at all times. Africanized bees have a heightened sense of defensiveness and will defend for a much further distance from the nest than the calmer European honey bees used for managed beekeeping in the USA and worldwide. I could go on and on about honey bees, but that would digress from this post, so if any readers want more information about gentle honey bees, please leave a comment. If you are bee venom allergic there is hope of cure. Api-therapy uses bee venom to cure allergic reactions to bee stings and claims to be successful in treating many other serious ailments. I know a beekeeper that after years of not being allergic, became allergic. After treatments he can safely keep bees again, without a dangerous reaction.
If you are interested in pollinators, there is a fantastic website that goes beyond the bees. At pollinator.org you can find loads of information and an awesome eco-regional planting guide based on your zip code. This will tell you what plants to plant in your garden to attract beneficial insects and birds based on your locale in the USA. For my readers in the UK and elsewhere in the world, if you have a site like this I’d love to know about it! Please drop me a line in comments.
If you want info about other garden bugs in our North American gardens, an extensive resource to identify good and bad bugs of all kinds is Whitney Cranshaw’s Garden Insects of North America. It has a pollinator section and is full of wonderful color photographs and descriptions for easy identification. You may just find yourselves squashing less bugs and letting them do their job, making your life easier in the garden. And by all means, don’t buy that chemical/petroleum based insecticide/pesticide! Insecticides/pesticides kill honey bees too! Please BEE careful!! Turn to organic control methods, use organic sprays only when absolutely necessary and use them at dusk when bees and birds are not flying. Even some of the organic ingredients can kill a bee if it gets sprayed or is rummaging around on flowers that are still wet with spray. Your local beekeeper and bees will THANK YOU!
This is a post on bees, but I must mention our feathered friends too! Many birds, even hummingbirds help pollinate and eat lots of bugs, so put out those feeders and keep ‘em full to attract birds to your garden. Then have a heart to heart with your kitties that the birds are off limits.
Enjoy your summer and look around, you may just be blessed with a honey bee in your blossoms!
In bloom in my garden today: Daffodils, Daphne, Cyclamen coum, Galanthus elwesii (snow drops), crocus, primrose (double English), Sarcococca confusa, hellebore
Photos courtesy of Pat Chissus