It may still be summer, but soon we’ll be saying goodbye to some seasonal friends
It’s likely you’re not seeing too many of those fuzzy, drunken pollinators—a.k.a. bumblebees—bouncing off the blooms in your garden. Honeybees and mason bees are still around, but not for much longer. Soon their oh-so-important work will be done for the year.
But what about next year? Creating welcoming and supportive habitats for pollinators, specifically bees, is integral to our food supply. When we feed them, they feed us. Now is the perfect time to assess your garden to see if there are places where you can enhance it to make it more hospitable to bees.
The most bee-friendly garden is one with a continuous bloom cycle from early spring to late fall, says Rachel Halliwell (pictured below), Bee Master-certified and founder of the Home Grown Bee in the British Columbia's Comox Valley.“It’s about the food we provide for our bees and that comes down to our garden. Habitat loss for any kind of feral species (honeybees aside)—if it’s the bumble bees or the mason bees, their natural habitats are getting pushed to the edge as we build more homes and take up more natural landscapes,” Halliwell explains.
It’s all about the nectar flow, which has three stages connected to specific plant varieties that nourish the bees: maple trees and heather in the early spring, then cherry and apple trees at the start of summer and blackberries for later in summer.
“It’s all the flowers in between that sustain their resources that are important to plant,” she says. “Lavender is an incredible bloom, and it has a really long bloom period. No matter what big bloom cycle that we have or what big nectar flow we have, the lavender will hold... it will feed the populations.
It’s not necessary to have a large garden or even a garden at all to create a continuous bloom. Planting the right flowers in pots on a balcony or patio can nourish bees. Halliwell suggests lavender, salvia, Russian sage, yarrow, phacelia, borage, sunflowers, bee balm, and some daisy varieties. The B.C. government has a full list of bee forage plants in the apiculture section of their website.
Even a lawn can be a source of bee food if you integrate clover into it or perhaps, if you dare, let the dandelions flourish, though Halliwell admits that dandelions might harder for homeowners to embrace.
“Westcoast Seeds carries a lawn alternative which is a clover blend and clover is epic for the bees,” she says. “It totally doesn’t need attention and you can mow it down and the flowers seem to persist.”
Letting herbs flower at the end of the season is another food source, especially mint and thyme.Halliwell says creating as much of a natural landscape as possible, like rock piles or leaves that are used as mulch, are optimal environments for bees to create nests. She advises that should a homeowner discover a nest and would like it removed, they should first take a photo and send it to either a local bee club or contact the provincial government’s apiary inspector in their area (listed on its website) before opting for an exterminator.
“Every region typically has a bee club,” she says. “Say you have a honeybee swarm, or some bee clubs offer bumblebee nest removal, you can reach out to them, or at least reach out for some advice. Taking photos if you can of the bees is helpful for identification because if you’re working with a wasps’ nest versus a bees’ nest, there are just different management techniques.”
As the end of summer approaches, keep an eye on the sunflowers. The end of their cycle signals it will be spring before the busy, buzzing foragers return.