Grow. Share. Prepare.
Prepare your garden for honeybees and other pollinators
Are you intrigued with the idea of keeping honeybees at your home, school or community garden? Perhaps you’re excited about the prospect of harvesting honey and beeswax, or you know that more bees in the area will improve pollination rates for your fruit-bearing garden crops.
Maybe you’ve heard that honeybee populations are in decline and you want to help out. Whatever your reasons for aspiring to keep bees, it’s important to prepare your site. By preparing your site for honeybees, you’ll also welcome other pollinators, like native bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, which will be an additional boon to your garden and a joy to observe.
The best way to welcome honeybees to your site is by offering them abundant food. Honeybees forage for nectar and pollen generally within a 2-mile radius, but they prefer to save energy by finding food as close to home as they can. They’ll spend plenty of time at your site if you follow these guidelines:
Plant a diversity of flowering plants. Native plants or those adapted to Central Texas will thrive best and will appeal to native pollinators as well as to honeybees. Honeybee favorites include many members of the mint (Lamiaceae) family, including basil, rosemary, peppermint, lavender, beebalm and salvia. Bees also love purple coneflower (echinacea), spiderwort, sunflower, yarrow and California poppy, as well as shrubs like huisache and kidneywood and trees like the redbud. For more species, browse the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center’s extensive list.
Choose plant species that bloom at different times of the year. This will ensure a steady food supply for the bees, and as a bonus, you’ll enjoy nearly year-round displays of colorful flowers.
Group together several of each type of plant. Bees are attracted to large blocks of color and do their most efficient foraging when they can visit many flowers of the same type at once.
Beyond providing plenty of food, prepare for your honeybee hives by doing the following:
Provide a source of water. Ensure that the bees have a place to land and approach the water without falling in. A birdbath filled with river pebbles that extend above the surface of the water works well.
It almost goes without saying never to use synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. These are harmful or deadly to bees.
Ensure that there is an appropriate location for the hives at your site. Honeybees are docile unless they feel their home is being threatened, so it’s important to place hives in a location that’s out of the way — not in an area with a lot of foot traffic. According to Austin’s City Code, hives are required to be at least 10 feet from your site’s property line, and if they are located within 25 feet of the property line, a 6-foot high flyway barrier placed parallel to the property line is required. (See city requirements for keeping bees: City Code Chapter 3-6-1.)
Place ground cover in the hive area to prevent tall grass from growing. Honeybees go into defense mode when they hear lawnmowers and weed eaters near their home — that means using their stingers. Mulch or low-growing plants like silver ponyfoot can work well as ground cover.
Whether you introduce hives after following these guidelines, your site will be buzzing with pollinators. If you’re ready to learn more about beekeeping, join us at Sustainable Food Center’s beekeeping classes, taught by Tara Chapman of Two Hives Honey at SFC’s Teaching Apiary. Up next is Essential Beekeeping Skills: Hive Tour on April 29. We’ll take a look inside the hives at SFC’s apiary while learning beekeeping basics. Read more about native pollinators in Spotlight on Native Bees, published in the SFC blog two springs ago.
— Brandon Fehrenkamp of Austin Bees contributed to this story.
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