Planting for Bees: Sustainable & Bee-utiful Landscapes
In honor of Earth Day, let’s talk about a crucial part of our global ecosystem that needs our help: bees. How can you help? Lots of ways! Read on for a few to get you started, including how you can support bees in your garden, or even from a tiny balcony.
It’s Earth Day! Officially, that is, because for the sustainable-minded folks at B&V, every day is Earth Day!
Here at Board & Vellum, we focus on ways to be sustainable in our industry. Typically, this means finding green products and implementing sustainable technologies. In celebration of Earth Day, however, we wanted to showcase a post that really speaks to a big, urgent, sustainable effort we all need to get behind: protecting bees!
You have to be living under a rock to not have heard about the serious problem the bee population is facing. Bees are declining at a rapid rate, and we are still trying to understand why. Mainly, this decline is due to Colony Collapse Disorder.
Colony Collapse Disorder: What is it and why should I care?
Scientists don't fully know why Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is happening, and at such high rates, as well. Bees have been on the decline: from 1947 to 2005, the number of bees in the US has dropped 40%, from 5.9 million to 2.4 million. Keeping that timespan of over 50 years in mind, in 2016, researchers reported that honeybee keepers had lost 44% of their hives within the past 12 months.
From a 50 year decline to a spike within the past few years, bees are disappearing. And this isn't good. At this current rate, it is estimated that bees will be extinct by 2035, which means we're also in serious risk of extinction.
Bees are crucial cornerstones of our ecosystem. Bees are pollinators, meaning that in order to cultivate the agricultural plants we depend on, bees and other pollinators need to do their work. Everything we eat requires bees; it's not just fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Even things like meat and dairy need bees. Bees pollinate the seeds, grains, and sprouts that are used in feed for animal agriculture. So, no matter if you are a vegan or an omnivore, if we don't protect pollinators, we'll be in trouble sooner than you think.
One of the biggest stresses bees are facing right now is their role in US agricultural production. Due to the high demand, and other factors such as rising pollution, bees are being overworked. Due to CCD, their systems are already fragile, and the stress of a demanding day of work can also cause bees to die.
How can you help bees?
So, in honor of the bees, we wanted to suggest ways you can help. Luckily, our awesome integrated team here at B&V has a range of collective knowledge about how to support bees — from our site design team that always designs with pollinators in mind, to the sustainability team that is always looking for tips and tricks to minimize our impact on our fragile ecosystems.
Plant Food for Bees
Providing food for bees doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking: you don’t need a lot of space, and your garden does not need to be naturalized or messy-looking either. You can easily provide vital resources for bees and other pollinators no matter the style, solar exposure, or size of your space.
Have a 12”-wide balcony off your tiny apartment? Try a small pot with a flowering sage or a honeysuckle to trail along the railing!
Have a modern front yard with clean lines? Try using different sedums to create a tidy succulent garden bees will love!
It can be simple and easy to provide for bees, and there are ways to support our crucial bee populations year-round. By choosing plants that have long blooming periods, or selecting a mix of plants with staggered bloom times, you can provide forage for bees from early spring into late fall.
This handy chart, Plants for Pollinators, will help you determine what species of plants are right for your personal aesthetic and how to prolong the forage season in your space.
Flowering sage (Salvia ssp.) is one of our favorite species for ornamental value and pollinator habitat. With dozens of cultivars hardy in our region, this small herbaceous shrub is drought tolerant, extremely versatile, and can be adapted to any garden style. Hot Lips Sage (Salvia microphylla x greggii ‘Hot Lips’) is one of our favorites for its delicious scent (reminiscent of pineapple!) and prolonged bloom time from July to October. Even if you don’t have a lot of space or sun exposure, a single pot with Hot Lips Sage or a small herb garden with rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano is a great start to supporting your local bee population.
Create Bee Homes
Aside from honey bees, most bees are solitary creatures. They either live underground or inside the holes found in trees. You can help create homes for bees by drilling holes into any dead trees or stumps on your property or build/buy a bee hotel to give these bees a place to call home. These are super easy to make and help more bees find refuge in urban environments.
Planting gardens to support bees is another way to create habitat. In addition to providing food for bees, flower and herb gardens can also provide shelter. Many solitary bees will use the hollow stems of plants to overwinter — by waiting until late winter to cut back spent flower and grass stalks, you can provide places for bees to shelter.
Buy Local Produce
Many food farms in California ship bees in order to meet high demands for pollinating crops. Over half the bees die during the journey. To reduce the impact of shipping bees, buy locally. You are not only limiting your personal contribution to the bee epidemic, but you also get to connect more with your community, buying from local farmers.
Avoid Harmful Pesticides
Synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides not only keep bees out of your garden but endanger their lives. Neonicotinoid is a harmful chemical that has been linked to killing bees. Avoid these and other pesticides. Instead, opt for organic pesticide options, like neem oil, and spray at night when pollinators are less active. There are also DIY options, that can be targeted to specific pests, or you can just opt for no spray all-together.
Read more and join the cause!
Thank you for reading all about bees and how you can help! We hope you feel inspired to support bees in your own yard or space.
Here are a few more resources, so you can learn more and be part of the effort for postive change:
- Xerces Society, a “science-based nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats.”
- Pollinator Conservation Resources for the Pacific Northwest.
- Bee-friendly gardening information from the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association.
- Pollinator Informtion from King County.