Monday, September 26, 2016

Bee-Friendly Gardens: Tips for Safely Sharing Your Garden with Bees

It's Bee Awareness Month here in New Zealand and the Great Kiwi Bee Count is in progress, so fittingly this month's Monday mini-series is all about the bees. We've shared posts on planting bee-friendly gardens, creating a bee-friendly environment, and controlling garden pests without harming bees.  This week, for our final post, we're sharing helpful tips for safely sharing your garden space with bees now that you've created a welcoming and safe environment in the garden for your buzzing bee buddies.

Diagram is an excerpt of a more comprehensive graphic at Fix.com. Check out their full How to Coexist with Bees and Wasps post and infographic for more ideas, including a great breakdown of common bees and wasps (location depending) with identifying characteristics.

Bees aren't usually aggressive, but that doesn't mean you can't get stung if you inadvertently make them feel threatened, like I accidentally did to one poor bumblebee who was caught in a blossom against my leg while I was stretching to prune spent roses - ouch! Fortunately, we both survived relatively unscathed.  Unlike wasps, bees stings usually occur in defense of themselves or their hive/colony.  The most effective way to avoid a sting in a shared space to avoid being perceived as a threat.

Be Bee Aware Remain conscious of bees in the vicinity when working in or enjoying your bee-friendly garden, and give them space when needed.  Be particular alert for bees when harvesting fruit on or near blossoming plants or in and around flowers when cutting/deadheading blossoms.  If you have an active hive or nest, take extra care in and around that area of the garden.

Avoid Being an Object of Interest Away from the hive, foraging bees are usually too busy collecting to be interested in us silly humans.  It can help to avoid looking or smelling like a delicious flower by limiting perfumes or other heavily scented products before heading into the garden. As a bonus, this can help reduce your mosquito bites as well. :) Dressing in muted colours can help as well, since bees favour flowers in bright colours like blue, purple, and yellow as noted in our  plant selection post earlier in the mini-series. Avoid shiny materials and jewellery. It can also help to avoid looking like a natural threat - black and dark brown carry predator associations for bees.  Not that you're likely to be gardening in faux-fur...hehe...but if you have dark hair, like me, then a hat can be extra helpful for bee safety.

Stay Calm  If a typical garden bee is close to or alights on you, try to remain calm so that you don't transform into a perceived threat for defensive stinging, and avoid rapid movements or outcries.  If you are targeted by aggressive bees, seek immediate shelter and alert anyone else in the vicinity to do the same - see more here.

Dress Safely When Gardening Make sure that you are well covered for added sting protection, when feasible.  Long sleeves/legs, closed toed shoes, gloves, and/or a hat can help, and it will also keep you sun-smart and help to avoid other injuries whilst working in the garden.  Avoid billowy clothing that they may become trapped inside. Eek!

Educate the Kids  If wee ones are sharing your bee-friendly garden space, it is especially important to teach them about maintaining a safe distance and staying calm around bees. Take the opportunity to talk about how to identify garden friends from garden foes, and which insects may bite or sting. If you're not sure, why not learn together?  I still struggle sometimes! 

Remember Your Pets  If you have active hives in your garden, keep them isolated from your pets. Position pet beds and houses away from high bee activity areas, and ensure that your pet bowls are not the only available source of water in the garden for foraging bees.  Know appropriate first aid for your pets in the event of a sting, as noted below.

Know Bee-Sting First Aid  In the event that you or a family member/guest (pets included!) experience a sting, know how to apply appropriate first aid, including safely removing a stinger, if needed.  Be attentive for signs of anaphylaxis (allergic reaction) in people and pets, and seek emergency assistance if a reaction is suspected. Remember, pets will sometimes sniff or bite/swallow bees, which creates a much higher risk of stings to the face than for us humans.  This can be incredibly painful in sensitive areas, but also dangerous. Seek advice from your vet in the event of a facial sting, especially if localised swelling has the potential to affect vision or respiration.

If you or anyone in your household is known to be allergic to bee-stings, do make sure that you always have the appropriate allergy kit(s) and knowledge to use them.  If you are close with neighbours, consider making them aware as well in case they see an emergency unfolding over the fence and rush to assist and/or call assistance. 


Have a tip to share?  We'd love to hear from you - comments are always welcome here, including related links if you wish to share.  To leave a live link, you can use the following format as a guide: <a href="http://www.yourlink.com">text you want shown for your link</a>.  Looking for more bee-friendly garden tips?  We'll have a new post every Monday this month, and you can take a buzz through our archives for more bee-related posts or visit our bee, bird, and butterfly gardening board on Pinterest.