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Harnessing the benefits of honeybees in your garden

In the Garden

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Courtesy Bradley Stokes, University of Idaho Extension

Often feared and worried about, but unquestionably essential to the production of fruit and many vegetables is the common honey bee.

Unless you have an allergic reaction or a reaction of some kind to the sting of a honey bee, or a low tolerance to stings in general, honeybees pose a low danger to people. When a bee stings you, it leaves the stinger, poison sac, and a portion of its abdomen behind, and the bee will die. This behavior is a defense mechanism and costs the insect its life, but is designed to protect the hive from attackers.

Bees that do not have a hive to protect or are scouting for food are less likely to sting you, but it doesn’t mean that they won’t. You are more likely to be stung when walking around a hive, as they feel that you are a potential threat. Most often the bees will start ramming and head butting themselves into you before they start to sting you. This is the bee’s way of saying that you need to leave the area and that they don’t want you to come any closer.

In the summer you may come across a mass of bees clustering around a tree branch, fence, or side of a home where they have never been before. These are new hives that are homeless and have many bees clustering around a new queen. They are less aggressive and less apt to sting you as they don’t have an established home to defend, but it is recommended not to approach the hive or bother it.

If you find a homeless cluster, contact a local beekeeper or honey company and inform them of a loose hive, and many times they will come and collect it. Too often people will make the mistake of spraying these homeless hives with an insecticide or foamy soap spray, which kills them.

It is best to help these beneficial insects find a new home and help pollinate plants in the area. Many times bees are the unfortunate victims of misused insecticide. To prevent damage to local bee populations, read and follow all insecticide chemical labels to prevent this from occurring.

The more bees in your garden, the better your pollination will be, so plant flowers that will attract bees and provide nectar and pollen for them to collect.

Bees like Asters, Zinnias, Hollyhocks, Marigolds, and Sunflowers. They aren’t limited to only collecting nectar off these plants, and will forage on the majority of flowers in our area, but it’s nice to cater to them a little and try to attract them. If you have some acreage, try planting clover or other flowering plants to provide food sources for your bees.

Becoming a home beekeeper is not overly complicated, is very rewarding, and you don’t have to own lots of space. Having some acreage to put your bees on does make owning a hive easier though. In most urban areas beehives are not kept in backyards as the chance of being stung is too high, and it can create negative neighbor relations.

Over the last decade, the interest in keeping bees has steadily grown.

There are many local farm and hardware stores that are selling beekeeping kits and supplies for a home beekeeper, but for most people, these do not prove cost-effective. The cost of the equipment, overall management of the bees, dealing with diseases,
death loss, and time far outweigh the monetary return from producing your own honey.

If you decide to own bees it’s going to be for the lifestyle, the home produced honey, the beekeeping experience, the pollinators, and self-sufficiency. Managing a few healthy hives will give you pounds of surplus honey for you and your family, and thousands of pollinators helping to ensure a successful harvest in your garden.