Hearing about the decline of honeybees has made me wonder about what I can do right in my own backyard. I know, we all have mixed feelings about a family of bees moving in but the truth is that we need our bees. We have many types of native bees, all of which we can help just by doing less yardwork. First of all, never, never spray pesticides. Leave some patches of bare dirt, some overgrown grasses and piles of branches, especially on south-facing slopes, in your yard. If you have an abandoned rodent hole, consider leaving it alone and it may become the home of a colony of bumble bees. Allow your vegetables to bolt before removing or tilling them under. If all this just sounds too untidy, then planting a succession of native flowering plants or even a small clump of garden flowers can help.
If our bees don’t have flowers to gather nectar and pollen, we won’t have fruits and vegetables to eat. Oh and by the way, while you’re at it they prefer blue, violet, purple, white & yellow flowers. The bumble bees in the photos were bingeing on our cerinthe, also know as honeywort. Plant once and forever after you will have a lovely clump of this low maintenance self-sowing annual. As an added bonus, hummingbirds also will belly up to the cerinthe bar.
Mason bees are the perfect pollinator for a backyard orchard in the Pacific Northwest and are very common in the Puget Sound area. They are well adapted to our cool drizzly weather and for nectar, they prefer blossoms in the apple family. Ideal garden guests, they spend most of their time pollinating, especially the females. Mason bees are very gentle, reserved and will only sting if they are seriously threatened. As far as guest quarters go, hollow stalks or holes drilled into a block of wood will suit them well. Don’t expect them to outstay their welcome, their season is a short 4-6 weeks.