September 2010
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Conserving Calories In The Garden

“Evolution has not been kind to the bees.”

R. Hellmann

Plant ecologist Robert Hellmann has a lifelong love of studying plants. His passion is now being lived out as he restores six acres of abandoned farm land to reflect the native wildlife areas of New York. His approach is that of a scientist that loves to garden… after all he has advanced degrees in ecology and education… but you’ll never meet a more dedicated and down-to-earth teacher.┬áBob shared many gems of wisdom and knowledge with me as we toured his property, this is just the beginning.

Help Bees To Conserve Calories

In nature everything works in cycles, a delicate balancing act that is easily altered. The changing landscape of today has made it more difficult than ever for pollinators, especially bees, to carry out their jobs. How so? Aside from the environmental onslaught of pesticides and other synthetic chemicals, the way we garden affects how efficiently they perform their duties.

Bees, by their very nature, are programmed to forage from a single nectar source at a time. In a native wildlife setting you won’t often see a wide variety of blossoming plants, but rather the area undergoes several different phases with large masses of a single plant ultimately dominating the landscape for a period of time. This is ideal for the bees who expend a lot of calories searching for the same blossoms to collect from. In many home gardens the focus is, of course, color and flowers throughout the season which is excellent for pollinator food sources, but the way we plant them can be detrimental to the bees’ efforts.

How can we help bees conserve calories and encourage strong populations? Easy. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Grow gardens that include plants native to your area which are rich nectar sources for bees and other pollinators and food sources for other wildlife. (Your local cooperative extension has lists of  natives for your area.)
  2. Plan the garden beds so that there are periods with just one or two varieties of plants blooming at a time, and plant them together in drifts.
  3. Include larger plantings of late summer and fall flowering plants to help colonies survive through winter.
  4. In the vegetable garden the same idea applies. If you are seed saving and want to prevent cross-pollination of your open-pollinated varieties you can stagger the flowering times by starting different varieties from seed a week or two apart. (You can also isolate blossoms.)
  5. To ensure a healthy garden use organic and sustainable garden practices.

I confess my gardens are a jumble of flowering plants and vegetables at any given time. Now that we’re moving our vegetable beds and creating a new garden, I’m going to plan a bit more. Planting in drifts that bloom at different times isn’t a new design concept by any means… it’s just one I haven’t followed very closely. There’s always something new to try…and the bees are worth it! Happy gardening!

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