Gardening wasn’t always a choice. Less than 100 years ago, most people gardened or farmed so all could eat. Then, between WW 1 and WW 2, for diverse reasons many parts of the world faced famine. In 1940’s USA, a major response was Victory Gardens. A badge of honor in many communities, our parents and grandparents provided necessary food for family and community, in back yards, on balconies, schools, parks, empty lots in town, When the US entered WW 2, those gardens were producing nearly 9 million tons that freed up large-scale food production for our soldiers.
This book explains the case for Victory Gardens for Bees – the field soldiers who are key elements in production of our food and other plants that provide oxygen in this world. Here’s a summary of why, the what and how we can do it locally,
Bees, native and honey, are in decline through habitat loss, colony collapse and other negative factors.
Colony collapse comes from multiple problems: varroa mites, malnutrition from monoculture agriculture, pesticide/fungicide poisoning, transportation stress as hives are moved to follow crops in bloom. These and other factors lead to loss of genetic diversity, including climate change … and so a downward spiral.
Habitat Loss, another component in colony collapse. Bees need biomass to raise broods, gather nectar and pollen from appropriate plants and do other tasks to complete their life cycles. Perfectly understandable, we need homes, food production and manufacturing spaces, too. For bees, these include pollinating plants to produce food for us, the humans also taking away that homey habitat.
WHAT and a few HOW TO’s: some of Weidenhammer’s tips include:
- Shun neonics (systemic pesticides stored in root, stem, leaf, flower & fruit) These are present in many plants sold at big box stores. They kill pollinators, birds and others who eat them. Ontario, Canada has banned them as killers. Tell the big box stores to stop carrying them.
- Plant for bloom succession – the pollinator buffet. See her charts and get a Transylvania County one at Cooperative Extension.
- Plant different landing platforms: flat daisy, ruffled berry or tubular trumpet shape are adapted to different bees and other pollinators.
Bees see things we don’t in plants.
- Teamwork: companion plant clusters for health, color, structure variety.
- Most plants like 6 + hours of sun. Here, under our trees, crowd several in a pot, then move them each week, as your small spots of sun move.
- Choose native plants for pollen and nectar: many cultivars and hybrids produce none by design; exotic and ornamentals may not provide enough nutrients.
- Vary color: honey bees don’t ‘see’ red, preferring yellow, white, blue, purple. Bumbles love red and will duke it out with hummers for the nectar.
- Leave ‘weeds’ at edges (unless invasive); keep end of season stalks: many are homes to eggs and larvae over winter. Vascular Joe Pye overwinters bumble and other bees – one of the many ways it’s a bee-garden essential. Plus, garden stalks are gorgeous in winter snow.
- Plant native ground covers rather than plastic barriers/landscaping cloth, which can smother ground dwelling pollinators. Leaves are a natural wonder for over wintering.
Bees and plants have symbiotic relations. Bumbles like forest edges of blue berries and their relatives to feed their brood. Other great, local plants for bees: fireweed, moving in when trees are cut, bee balm/horsemint (Monarda punctuate) and native fall asters, Fireweed (Purple Willowherb, another vascular plant for overwintering) and narrow-leafed fireweed.
Locally, we can plant more community pollinator gardens – You can picnic or volunteer at St. Phillip’s Community Garden, behind their parking lot on Main Street.
Try a pot of lavender by the patio step – releasing scent as you pass by, providing stop-overs for pollinators on the move – often when looking for mates.
Put pots on your balcony or patio, move them weekly to follow the sun. Plant more rows or long raised beds into your lawn. Do a bee hedgerow or a Victory Border for Bees, perhaps along town and residential streets. Interplant veggies amongst the native perennials. Provide perennial nectar and pollen paths for drought tolerant food security.
A true caution: with the wonderful uptake of bee-keeping, we need to also increase bee pastures … or those new hives may compete with natives for limited food. Limited food causes hive stress, leading to share bee species collapse. We have little data on native bee loss, but we know we don’t see as many as we used to … so plant twice as much as you first think necessary or that you have room for. Actually, plants LIKE to be crowded – look what they do in nature.
We need to provide perennial nectar and pollen paths: drought tolerant food security. Because, no bees, no seeds. No seeds, no future.
Victory Gardens for Bees, Lori Weidenhammer, is at the Transylvania Library. The book seems to include everything about bees … and also plants.
All kinds of bees – native , honey, bumbles, solitary and social … then by name, family and genus. Plus great factoids: wait till you find out what ‘lekking’ is and other bee behavior you might not have seen. Weidenhammer does suggest we become bee-spotters.
A key question is what’s a good bee plant? This is answered in chapters on Herbs for pollinators … and people; bee-licious edible and veggie gardens by season. what to do for wild/native bees (honeys now live on their own, too, escapees from the trade). Other chapters cover bee keeping, honey, plants that nurture the soil and how that affects bees. There’s a whole section of 3 plants containers, very small gardens, circles or coral reefs around areas of other use. And one on bulbs, cutting/propagating perennials. Trees for Bees are not forgotten, nor shrubs.
Each topic has plans, charts, how to sections, glorious pictures. Take a look, if only for the beauty of bees and native plants. And actively honor the bees, other pollinators, and their native plants.