If you hadn’t heard the news, I’m now the very proud, very amateur, owner of a beehive and a humming colony of busy ladies and lazy males! I am on a quick learning curve to say the least (it was an unexpected but very gratefully received surprise gift).
In the past I’ve had people buy herbs off me specifically for the bees and I have had a fair idea of what herbs would be best~ but now my interest has double folded and I’m looking at a lot of my plants in a new light!
A Bit of Bee Backstory…
Bees need pollen and nectar. And depending on what time of year it is and what your hive is trying to achieve, sometimes they’re searching for mainly pollen (pollen is their source of protein and is essential for the feeding of larvae) or nectar (nectar is their carb source, it is converted into honey- honey for them to live on, and stored for the cold months when plants are not flowering). Often when searching for nectar they also inadvertently collect pollen~ pollination.
You can see the pollen stashed on their back legs, nectar is transported in their stomach. It is in the warmer months when lots of flowers are producing the most nectar and this is called “the flow”.
Honey bees also need to collect water for the hive and resin (from trees and buds) to make into propolis.
Many of our native trees are excellent for nectar and pollen, a lot of our fruit trees are great for pollen but some don’t have nectar sweet enough for their taste buds (Pear as an example). But as they say (they being me), there’s a bum for every seat and an insect for every flower!
In New Zealand we have four different types of bumblebees, 33 ‘native’ bee species and four introduced bee species, one of these being the honey bee.
What Can We Plant for the Bees…
Being a herby person I’m going to focus on herbs that you can grow that the bees will love and appreciate (my idea of herbs is quite broad!). Firstly though, lets acknowledge their amazing visual spectrum which includes the short wavelength ultra violet range which is beyond our mere mortal human eyes. So blues, yellows, light pink/purple and white are more on their radar than reds and oranges. This is quite a cool clip I found on YouTube that shows how bees and butterflies see, I mainly like it for its music!
It’s a pollen a go go in Spring – the Queen has started laying and there are hungry mouths to feed..
- Poppies; all and any, plant them in large swathes so it’s like a billboard for the bees, advertising food for the needy.
- Lacy phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia); often used as green crop- let the bees in before you dig it in
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
- Honesty (Lunaria annua)
- Borage (Borago officinalis)
- French lavender (Lavandula dentata)
- Let any brassicas you’ve got go to seed- the flowers are an excellent source of nectar
- Let your dandelion flower and if you can stand it, the buttercup too.
SUMMER ~ The flow is on!
Honey bees are native to the Mediterranean and naturally will go gah gah over thymes, rosemary, sage and oregano. There is also (in no particular order)
- Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
- Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
- Rue (Ruta graveolens)
- St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
- Mint (Mentha sp.)
- Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
- Catmint (Nepeta mussinii)
- Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea)
- Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
- Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
- Chive flowers (Allium schoenoprasum)
- Borage (Borago officinalis)
- Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
- Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
- Marjoram (Majorana hortensis)
- Fennel (Foeniculum sp.)
- Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
- Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris)
- English lavender (Lavandula spica)
- Basil (but if you want basil for your own needs wait until the end of the season)
A lot of salvias wait until autumn to flower or are flowering well into autumn. Sunflowers. All the herbs that are onto their last hurrah/going to seed before dying (annuals like basil and dill) or going to ground (perennials like chives and echinacea etc).
Even if you don’t have hives it’s really important to have flowers in your garden for the bees and all the other pollinators out there. For their health and well being as well as your gardens productivity.
And I really really hope that it goes without saying that the use of pesticides is an absolute no-no and pretty counter-productive if you’re trying to attract pollinators!
Now go to your garden and watch the bees, see what they’re gunning for, watch whether they’re lolling about in pollen or head down supping up the nectar. Wonder at how they see the world and hope that they are as thankful for your garden as you are as thankful for their existence and the food on your table!