Local experts offer advice for drawing essential pollinators to your garden.
When you pull into the gravel drive atLatshaw Apiaries in Alexandria, Ohio, the first thing you see is an attractive farmhouse and a modest storage building. The property's surrounded by a large expanse of natural grasses with crimson and white clover and plenty of trees off in the distance. It's a perfect place for bees.
Dr. Joe Latshaw begins his tale by explaining he's had an interest in bees since he was young. "I started when I was 8 years old," he says. "My third-grade teacher brought in some bees from a local beekeeper, and that was fascinating to me … that you could keep your own hive of bees."
Today, he owns Latshaw Apiaries, and it's a family affair. His wife, Leah, makes honey for local farmers markets while their 6-year-old son, Jacob, helps at farmers markets and is an official honey taster.
Latshaw's day begins around 5:30 a.m. He has breakfast, then heads out to work on the bees, starting with the smallest colonies first. He checks the queens, making sure they have enough space to lay eggs and grow the colony. After lunch, he checks the larger colonies, making sure there's enough room to store honey. If he's shipping out queens, he takes them to UPS right before their last pick up, so they can be anywhere in the U.S. by the next morning. Yes, bees can be shipped via UPS.
With the widespread decline in bee populations, Latshaw's queens-Italian and Carniloan breeds-have become increasingly important to other beekeepers, who need healthy generations of offspring for their hives.
"Honey bees are important to agriculture, but also to the overall health of the ecosystem," he says. "If something impacts the honey bee population, it has a ripple effect in other parts of our environment."
According to Latshaw, bees fly out approximately one mile but will return to their own colony. The danger lies in that 1-mile radius, where the insects can come into contact with pesticides and herbicides from the plants they pollinate.
Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture magazine, says we have created monoculture deserts lacking enough food for bees. To combat this, he suggests homeowners plant herbs, mint and coneflower. "Plant herbs, and your food will be better," he says. "You'll eat better, it will taste better and you're providing food for bees."
"You want to make sure you have something blooming throughout the season to help support the bee population," adds Gretel Adams, owner ofSunny Meadows Flower Farm. "Include in your garden plants that will bloom spring, summer and fall. Bees like flowers that are flat, for easier access to the pollen. Bees love celosia, zinnias, Queen Anne's Lace and cosmos. The most important thing, though, is to make sure you aren't applying pesticides to your garden. You don't want to lure bees in with lots of good stuff to pollinate just to get them with chemicals."
Tom Sedor, nursery supervisor for Strader's Garden Centers, suggests designing a flower garden to bloom with a succession of tantalizing flowers, which provides an "exciting, nonstop level of activity for pollinators and foragers."
"Agastache is a very good choice to add long bloom time and height to a garden," he says. This blue-flowered, fragrant hardy perennial is highly sought after by foraging honey bees.
Bees need a water source, too, notes Oakland Nursery's Ivan Stefanov. A small pond, fountain or even birdbaths suffice. "Pick a location in the yard that gets five to six hours of sunlight and plant the bee-attracting plants in clusters or groups," Stefanov adds.
The discussion about the plight of the bees is worthwhile, local experts say. "We spend so much time trying to eradicate what's in our lawn, but let it go," Latshaw says. "Plant something for the bees."