This year I broke a bad habit in my urban farming: the incessant desire to pluck every little flower off each stem of basil, tarragon, oregano, sage, thyme, cilantro, and mint. Why was I obsessed with doing this before 2016? The flower produced by the plant stunts its growth, as the energy shifts to the flower instead of production...and boy, did I want to produce a hearty harvest!
Selfish, I know. By clipping the flowers off the herbs and veggies, I was inadvertently starving the bees that had come to Ike & Eli's for a nice treat. (#permaculturistshame)
Maybe you've heard some recent news regarding the shortage of bees and the impact on our food supply. Or maybe you've heard the retraction or oppositions regarding this topic, which stated we have nothing to worry about. Regardless of what the experts on either side of this declare, I'm still leaning towards the notion that bees are vitally important to our agriculture, and while we can't force legislature, we can certainly help them from our own home gardens!
Why am I convinced? Studies from 2010 showed that our 4,000 species of bees in the U.S. produced $19 billion in produce for us, which was about a third of our produce. In addition, bees make the landscape beautiful by pollinating and sprouting new flowers. We've also seen the impact of pollination by our bees by the amount of fresh, healthy basil plants have started sprouting up here at the urban farm!
Texas Tarragon in November
There are a few easy ways you can help the bees prosper in your own home garden:
First, leave the flowers on your plants for as long as you can stand it. This will provide nectar for the bees to pollinate and spread the love!
Secondly, keep the areas around your plants free from dead plants and weeds free so that your bees aren't disturbed by harmful pests or potential pollinators. (Mulch it or compost it...never waste what your garden provided!)
Thirdly, if you're so inclined, set up a bee shelter facing east so they can stay warm at night. Facing the shelter east allows the bees to wake up and warm up as the sun rises, so they can get to work. If possible, incorporate a wind break for them in the form of plants or trees. (My favorite is a barrier of Jerusalem artichokes, which also act as a sunlight trapper.)
Lastly, try my permaculture trick to keep the bees protected from dangerous wasps or hornets: place a potted lemon balm plant in the center of your herbs (or close to them, depending on your garden design). Lemon balm wards off wasps and creepy stingers, and also makes great tea! Make sure to keep it in a pot though, or this member of the mint family will spread out and take over your garden.
What other ideas do you have to keep your garden plentiful with bees? Let me know in the comments below!
Till next time,
Dallas Farmer Gal