I find it curious that so many people keep bees without paying attention to their need to eat and drink. Nobody would keep a horse or dog without having food and water on hand, yet many beekeepers plunk a box or two down in the backyard and let bees forage for themselves. Here on our farm I plant-plant-plant as much bloom as I can for each season.
Bees can forage up to a few miles away. When they leave our land, I fret about what they may be exposed to. I want enough CLEAN un-sprayed flowers that the bees will stick around and harvest from our blossoms.
How has your weather been? I’m concerned about our strangely early spring that’s caused the flower cycle to come on way too fast. It’s early June and our apples are already 1/3 harvest size and yesterday I saw the first goldenrod in bloom, a flower that’s I shouldn’t see until September. That’s never happened before.
With everything coming in early, I worry what the bees will find later this summer. We have more acreage than most which gives me the liberty of planting “much and often.” Joseph and I planted an acre of sunflowers two weeks ago — flowers that will bloom toward the end of summer. If everything keeps blooming a few weeks early like it’s been doing here in the Pacific Northwest, what are they going to eat in August and September?
Sowing everywhere helps the bees even if you have a postage size lot in town. It all helps. There’s a fine book I recently read and recommend if you’re serious about planting for bees, “The Bee Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity,” by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn. They’ve got wonderful advice for beekeepers in all kinds of climates, seasons, and conditions. (click the photo below for more info).
Bee Watering Stations
Today I’m focused on watering your bees. Why? If you don’t water them, your bees will find SOMEWHERE within flying distance to get water. If they find your neighbor’s swimming pool, you’ll soon have cranky anti-bee neighbors. Your bees may get into polluted or poisoned water after someone washes their car, drains antifreeze, or leaves tainted puddles around. It happens. If they can’t find water nearby, they will travel a long distance to a creek or pond, which gives you exhausted bees who spend too much time searching for water.
Last night I popped in on an internet gardening discussion. They were commiserating about honeybees AND OTHER PESTS in their ponds and birdbaths and (gasp!) sharing ways to kill the bees to keep them away. Please don’t let this happen to your bees.
It’s so easy to give them what they want and at the same time make your yard more beautiful. Here are some water stations we have around the farm and what it cost to make them functional.
Plain Old Birdbath
$20 at hardware store.
Really simple, I just added rocks, seashells and wood branches. Each morning I fill it.
$60-100 at farm store
I added a $35 fountain so we don’t breed mosquitoes, and threw in some pond lilies and irises.
This old pond was here when we bought the farm. We’ve repaired it twice when the concrete cracked and I added plants and fountain.
Bees prefer to keep their feet out of the water and like to stick their tongues in cracks to drink. That way they don’t risk falling in. In the concrete pond, the bees can stay a few inches from the pond edge where the water is drawn by capillary action up into the cracks. No need to get their feet wet.
Here’s a really simple one. I just piled concrete pavers a few layers tall, laid down a sheet of pond liner large enough to overlap the edge to a depth of one row of bricks. Then we built the outside wall six inches higher than the inside level and pulled the liner over the first row of bricks Another course of pavers went on top of that so the liner doesn’t show, then I added water. I filled it with plants that like wet feet. Suggestions are mint, calla lilies, asparagus fern. (Pavers courtesy of craigslist for the rocking price of “you haul and they’re yours.”
This is part of a fountain I got at a yard sale for cheap. The fountain doesn’t work so I just keep the top part filled. I put an old piece of pink coral on top in the water and the bees really like it. Random seeds took up residence and are growing in there, too.
For the Brave and Industrious
Now if you’re really industrious, you can do what Joseph and I are working on this week. A few years ago I paid $10 at a yard sale for a pre-formed pond liner. Our farm interns and I dug a hole and filled the new pond with water. From day one, the bees loved it. I didn’t prep the bottom right, however, so it eventually split. We decided to remove it and, hmm… yes, do it correctly this time.
We (Queen’s english, that actually means Joseph) dug a 10′ x 12′ hole, prepped the sides with shelves for plants, used flexible environmentally-slightly-better liner and collected rocks from our fields. It was a lot of work but, geez, it sure is pretty. Photo on the left is last week. Photo on the right was taken an hour ago. Yahoo!