Monday, September 12, 2016

Bee-Friendly Gardens: Tips for Creating a Bee-Friendly Environment

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 have posts on planting bee-friendly gardens, creating a bee-friendly environment on your property, controlling garden pests with bee-safety in mind, and tips for safely sharing your space with bees.

This week, we're sharing some helpful tips for creating a bee-friendly habitat in your home garden

Food: See last week's post for tips on selecting plants to attract bees, including nectar rich food sources.  We also have a handy idea sheet in our archives with plants for bees, birds and butterflies.

Water: Ensure fresh clean water is reliably available. Bees need water to cool their hives in warm weather and dilute food for their larvae. A shallow pool where they can land on the margins (or rocks / water plants in larger sources) works nicely. Remember to keep it fresh and clean. 

Shelter: Allow or create spaces for bees to seek shelter and create homes. There are a wide variety of bee species, with different nesting habits and shelter needs. Here are some ideas for creating and supporting opportunities for shelter in your bee-friendly garden habitat: 

Respect the nesting (hive) sites of social bees. Bumblebees and honeybees are social bees, nesting in groups. Bumblebee nests are often in dry dark places, such as under structures or in ground burrows. You can read more here about bumblebees and their nests. Wile honeybees often build under the edges of structures or in natural cavities for cover and predator protection. If social bees make a home in our gardens, we should try to coexist, if possible. If a nest or hive is posing a significant safety risk or causing damage, call in an expert who can safely relocate the hive. 

Allow materials for tunneling and nesting of solitary bees. Most of us like to keep things tidy, which means we clean up dead branches, dispose of old building materials, and keep our structures in good repair. Solitary bees nest in small holes and tunnels, such as inside of dead wood, crumbling walls, or for some species even bare soil. Removing these eliminates habitat. If you can't allow natural accommodation, consider a neat and tidy insect hotel per below. 

Install an insect hotel for solitary bees. You can buy insect hotels, but do make sure that they are suitable for the local species you want to shelter (see more below on being a good landlord). If you'd like to customise for your local solitary species and/or available space, there are plenty of great DIYs online (check our Pinterest board for ideas). As shown in the infographic accompanying this post, there are many ways to make and site a shelter.  Don't forget to include holes of varying sizes for different species. We haven't (yet) built a bee hotel for our garden, but Air Bee and Bee has a nice ring to it! :)  Diagram shared from Check out their full Insect Hotel post and infographic for more ideas! 

Many bee hotels (bought or made) are, unfortunately, not as luxurious as you may think. To avoid accidentally becoming a bee slumlord, make sure that your bee hotel offers sufficient protection from wet weather and enough backing to avoid wind tunnelling through. It is best to avoid using materials that don't breathe, will become waterlogged, or are likely to attract condensation. Remember to provide good housekeeping for the hotel guests. Check out this excellent article for a comprehensive tips on building, siting, and managing a bee hotel

Become a backyard beekeeper.  If you want to go a step further and become a backyard beekeeper with your own little hive of honeybees, check your local council regulations to see what is and isn't permissible in your area.  It can also be helpful to speak with your neighbours before installing a hive.  If you're good to go and keen to start, get in touch with your local beekeeping association or group for experienced expert guidance. 

Toxins: Minimise use of chemicals. Many insecticides are generic killers, affecting your bad bugs as well as your beneficial insects, including friendly bees and butterflies. Many fungicides and other garden chemicals can be harmful as well. We'll share more about chemicals and pest control in part three of this mini-series later in the month.

Disease: Support local bee-health initiatives. The diseases and parasites affecting bees will vary depending on your local area.  Be alert for warnings and safety tips from your local agencies, and always abide by the restrictions regarding the transport/import of honey.  As a general bee health practice, always make sure empty honey containers are thoroughly washed before recycling.

Predators: Protect your nesting sites. Some predator activity is inevitable, such as birds and spiders while the bees are foraging, but we can offer a degree of protection in other areas.  The predators affecting bees will vary depending on your local area. Check your local risks and ensure that you have adequate siting and protection if/as needed for any nesting sites that you have created.

Diagram shared from Check out their full Insect Hotel post and infographic for more ideas! 

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="">text you want shown for your link</a>.  You can also leave a comment or share a link on our Facebook page.   

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.

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