HONEYBEES NOT only produce delectable honey and pollinate almost every fruit and vegetable we eat, they are also the barometer of our world’s ecological health.
Planting for bees benefits our whole environment. We can plan a bee-friendly garden, streetscape or farm by sourcing seeds, plants or trees for the veggie patch, flower bed, backyard orchard, hedge or area of natives.
A single garden is insignificant in a beehive’s 3,000 hectare foraging area, but a whole town filled with bee-friendly plants can play a major role in restoring the balance of nutrition for honeybees. Biodiversity and abundance are paramount. A packet of seed can produce hundreds of plants for a long floral display to delight us and feed the bees.
In the edible garden, berries and fruit trees yield blossom for bees in early spring, and luscious treats for us in summer and autumn. Grow more! If space allows, surprisingly lovely flowers of overwintered vegetable (carrots, parsnips, brassicas, salsify, lettuce, radish, celery, leeks) provide abundant early-season nutrition for bees. Flowering herbs such as thyme, hyssop, rosemary, lemon balm and oregano are well-known bee magnets. Leafy herbs such as parsley and coriander can be allowed to bolt, feeding the bees and regenerating freely.
Our choice of flowering plants is important for optimum honeybee nutrition. Pollen is essential to bees as their only source of protein, but not all are equal nutritionally. Weed pollen is high in protein; over-zealous eradication can deprive bees of essential supplies. Cutting weeds after flowering is best.
Rather than fussy modern hybrids, select bee-friendly flowers closer to their wild progenitors. Other countries cultivate these specifically for high yields of varietal honeys.
Lavender is a buzz of activity through its long flowering season. Perovskia and Phacelia are grown on broadacre scale in Europe as bee forage, and deserve to be popularised here. Catnip (a superior mosquito repellent) does not deter bees which cover it for several months. The blue and purple flower spikes of Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) are irresistible to bees, and make a refreshing herbal tea.
Spires of tiny florets opening progressively through a season are especially useful. (Liatris Spicata, Veronicastrum, Teucrium Hyrcanium, Eucomis, Eremurus and Echium.)
Angelica, Queen Anne’s Lace, Dill and other umbelliferous plants are a tempting landing pad for bees, and add to a garden’s structural beauty. Allium, Salvia, Sedum, Echinacea, Aster, Coreopsis and Rudbeckia, all make an impressive autumn display.