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Updated: Sep 14, 2021

What better way to begin spring 2021 than planting a bee-friendly garden that will please honeybees and preserve their species! Last summer, I wrote a blog about planting a bee friendly-garden with references relevant to gardening in general but also with some important tips about planting pollinator-friendly gardens in Hawaii, including links to some online resources for further reading. So I do recommend that gardeners and bee enthusiasts alike read the blog as a good starting point for bee-friendly gardening this spring!

Given the growing number of inquiries I have been getting about bee-friendly gardening, I thought I would also reprint a little feature with tips on the topic (with a few extra photos here), which was sent out in Pualani Bee Farm's newsletter in February. So here it is:

When we first started keeping our own hives in lower Puna less than a year ago, Pualani Bee Farm had only three colonies. Thanks to the ideal conditions for beekeeping on east Hawaii Island and the abundance of TLC that we give our bees, we now have seven colonies—and still growing! Our little piece of paradise is a better place with more bees in it.

Our tireless efforts to maintaining healthy and happy colonies are also helping to preserve Earth’s bee populations, especially in light of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Since 2006, this abnormal occurrence of disappearing worker bees and the subsequent loss of bee colonies has posed an existential threat to bees worldwide. Since then, beekeepers and bee enthusiasts have become more aware of the multiple and often overlapping threats leading to CCD, which includes the increased use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides; loss of habitat and nutrition diversity; climate change; the introduction of new pathogens, pests, and parasites; lack of genetic diversity; bee immunodeficiencies; and harmful beekeeping practices.

Today, most beekeepers participate in a number of interventions to decrease the chances of CCD and to create a healthier environment for their bees to thrive. With simple mitigation methods, anyone can participate in supporting bee populations. Minor actions can make a major difference in the wellbeing of honeybees—and all pollinators, for that matter—steps that begin in one’s own garden:

[The wildflower garden, Tatton Park walled garden, Copyright: kitmasterbloke, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons]

[Herb garden at Grimburg Castle, (2020). Copyright: Stefan Oemisch, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons]

1) Fill garden borders and flower beds with bee-friendly plants that provide wild and managed bees with a more diverse and nutritious diet. A great way to start a bee-friendly garden is to plant a medicinal herb garden (or a half-barrel filled with planted herbs). This is as effective for human health and wellbeing as it is for bees. Many common cooking herbs have anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal properties that stimulate bees’ immune systems and increases their ability to resist sub-lethal stressors. Bee-friendly herbs include rosemary, lavender, mint, thyme, sage, comfrey, oregano, chives, marjoram, catnip, feverfew, yarrow, dandelion, chamomile, borage, hyssop, bee balm, elecampane, nasturtium, echinacea, lemon balm, red clover, motherwort, and elderberry, among others.

2) Reduce or cease the indiscriminate use of harmful pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Seek organic or natural methods of control as alternatives to chemical solutions. If unavoidable, apply chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides in the early evening hours, when most foraging bees have returned to their hives for the night.

3) Mow the lawn less frequently, allowing patches of grass and weeds to blossom, thus serving as nutritional food resources for bees during the seasonal dearth of flowering trees.

[When flowering trees are scarce, many weeds, blossoming groundcovers, and flowering bushes offer bees important nutritional substitutes. Copyright: Pualani Bee Farm.]

4) Install a fresh source of water in your yard for your neighborhood bees, such as a pond or other water feature. Make an easy water fountain using an old ceramic or stone flowerpot (without the hole in the bottom), and keep it filled with fresh tap or rainwater. Float a solar-powered fountain pump under a piece of screen, for the bees to use as a landing pad. Alternatively, floating old wine corks on the surface of the water allows the bees to land and not drown as bees cannot swim!

5) Install a native bee house or insect hotel to help protect native bees, while providing a great opportunity to teach our little humans about bee conservation!

6) Adopt an organic lifestyle and help protect natural resources of all kinds.

You will surely see happier and healthier bees in your garden by using just a few of these mitigating methods. In return, they will profusely pollinate your garden. Meanwhile, you will be helping preserve the health and food security of bees and humans alike!

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