Just a tiny flower pot or patch, can provide valuable pollinator habitat. You can make a big difference just by creating a bee-friendly space in your garden.
Create a welcome place for bees
- All creatures that eat plants (including humans!) depend on pollinators.
- ¾ of the foods we eat — fruits, nuts, vegetables, and herbs — need pollinators to reproduce.
- Creating hospitable homes for beneficial insects in your garden means they are less likely to move into your house.
- You’ll triple the yield of fruit and veggies in your garden — no more lumpy strawberries or shrunken squash!
Build a bee house
- House walls: an empty milk carton (waterproof) with the spout cut off — leave the bottom intact — or a box about that size made of wood scraps (not cedar).
- Paint a wooden house a bright colour with exterior zero- or low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint. At first, the bees will fly around taking mental “snapshots” of their potential new home, but they’ll soon learn to make a bee-line to their new abode. If you plan to make more than one bee house, be sure they’re different colours.
- Fill the box with layered stacks of brown paper nest tubes, which you can buy at a garden store. Cut the tubes to six inches (15.75 cm) long, closing the end with tape or a staple, or fold them in half. Commercial nest tubes are 5/16 of an inch (.79 cm) in diameter, the exact size of an HB pencil. Make your own by rolling a piece of brown paper around a pencil, then pinch off the end and seal it with tape.
- Hang the house somewhere out of the rain, facing south or east, at eye level, once the temperature outside has warmed to 12-14º C (54-57º F). Did you know that honeybees-work-harder-before-rain-comes?
Dig down below your garden soil adjacent to your bee house until you expose the clay layer, or keep a bowl of moist clay near your bee house for the masons to use as construction material.
Provide nutritious bee food
Bees eat two things: nectar (loaded with sugar, it’s a bee’s main source of energy) and pollen (which provides proteins and fats).
- Choose a variety of plants that flower at different times so there’s always a snack available for when bees are out and about. (Rule: native plants attract native bees and exotic plants attract honeybees.)
- Flowers bred to please the human eye (for things like size and complexity) are sometimes sterile and of little use to pollinators. Native plants or heirloom varieties are best.
- Bees have good 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.
- Bee species all have different tongue lengths — adaptations to different flowers, so a variety of flower shapes will benefit a diversity of bees.
Make a bee bath
Bees and other beneficial insects — ladybugs, butterflies, and predatory wasps — all need fresh water to drink but most can’t land in a conventional bird bath without crashing. “They’re like tanks with wings,” says bee master Brian Campbell. “They need islands in the water to touch down on.”
- Line a shallow bowl or plate with rocks.
- Add water, but leave the rocks as dry islands to serve as landing pads.
- Place the bath at the ground level 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.)
- Refresh the water daily, adding just enough to evaporate by day’s end.
It’s not hard — bees are easy to please!