Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
June, 2010
Regional Report

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Double flowered wax begonia has round, shiny leaves in contrast to Stokesia's sword-shaped matte green.

Bee Gardens

The image of beekeeping as an unusual, mostly rural hobby is changing fast. Families, city-dwellers, community gardens and schools are buzzing and for good reason.

Bee Issues
By now you've read about colony collapse disorder, the large scale bee die-off occurring primarily in commercial hives. Manic research efforts are ongoing worldwide to find its cause among numerous threats: pest infestation, pesticide effects, cellphones, genetically modified crops, climate change and more are implicated. Each time a new theory is posited, more people become aware of the issues and some decide to keep bees themselves, as did my friends the Garletts and Indiana author Susan Brackney. Both have given me (and you) ideas to keep our gardens bee-friendly whether we get hives or not.

Getting Started
Look around your landscape and that of your neighborhood and community. Does something bloom each month? Bees are creatures of habit and will return to the same area in search of pollen and nectar if flowers are available year round. It may be a matter of joining the committee that selects plants for the subdivision's public spaces or encouraging the highway department to mow less often so wildflowers can bloom along the roadsides. Are beds planted at three levels&emdash; ground cover, waist-high and overhead? Bees work the entire scene. Planting for height variety also encourages the wild bees, too, whose populations are not what they once were, either. What colors predominate? Bees see different colors than we do and are mostly attracted to yellow, purple and blue. Unless red is a particularly high ultraviolet reflector, like Brackney's favorite poppies, the flower looks green to bees. High levels of pollen and nectar are the bee's reward for flying miles each day, but some modern flowers have little of either. In our rush to ever-fancier, bigger and more colorful flowers, some of these natural beauties can be lost. Don't forgo the double begonia, but add Stokes aster, daisies and old-fashioned zinnias to the bed. Is water available? You do not have to have a formal water feature, though if you need another good reason to have one, bees are it. You can meet their needs with a clay saucer nestled in the lawn under a sprinkler or tucked under a soaker hose. Bees are not fussy about water quality, but it is a good idea to dump and clean them before refilling to deter mosquitoes and offer cool water.

Stinging fear
Frank Garletts and his family have taken to backyard beekeeping as a family business with missionary zeal. Like many states, theirs offered a matching grant for equipment and bees, and veteran local beekeepers welcomed the Garletts to their monthly meetings and information exchanges. Now they're a fixture at events like farmers markets with a variety of bee products. Once you get past the fear of being stung, Frank says keeping bees is rewarding in many ways. Begin with the impact you have on sustaining the threatened population, add the joy of working towards a family goal and a genuinely sweet harvest can be yours. The rhythm of caring for bees can be a challenge, but the fervor of those who get into it is inspiring.

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