A Thing or Two About Bees

My concept of bees is that there are only two types, honeybees and bumble bees. Well, yes, there are spelling bees as well, but my goal this week is to continue writing about the insect type of bee as part of my on-going series inspired by my participation in a master gardener’s program. I am still a student and still learning, with the scope of my ignorance being a perpetually expanding fact that is at the forefront of what I have learned thus far. And my concept of bees fits right in with this measurement of what I do not know.

There are a whole host of bee types and most do not make honey for human consumption. Most don’t live in hives either. In the last class session I found out that what look like small ant hills scattered around my property may indeed be bee abodes as I never see any ants scuttling in and out of them. It seems that a very large segment of the bee species are ground nesters and this not as a colony but as loners with a lifecycle that focuses on the collection of enough nectar to feed its young and perpetuate its kind. This may appear to leave us SOL when it comes to harvesting the type of abundance European honeybees so amply produce. But all bees provide a benefit for us as I was fortunate to learn.

Bees have two types of eyes, each type with its own distinct function. The smaller ocelli help them maintain their stability during flight, to navigate on their journey and to detect the UV color of flowers, which helps them to hone in on the best repositories of the desired nectar. The larger compound eyes, with thousands of tiny lenses, or facets, serve as their GPS system. So these guys come well equipped to do what their lives were intended to do. And while they may not be producing the delicious excretion we have come to cherish as a sweetener for everything we eat, they still provide a benefit to us, especially for those of us who are flower lovers.

Bees are masters at promoting the pollination process. Without them our lives would be less colorful, aromatic and diverse. Knowing what their likes and dislikes are can allow us to help them help themselves to a plentiful food supply, while they carry the much needed pollen from flower to flower.

Bees will visit a single flower type on a given forage flight. Planting large clusters of the same flower will facilitate this habit, while making sure that pollen is not wasted if the bees are forced to visit other flower types before being sated. Certain flowers make easy targets for the bees by having a literal bulls-eye at the heart of the flower, which is readily detectable with the bees’ keen UV detector system. And they like flowers with larger petals to serve as landing pads for them.

A compassionate gardener can take this information and put it into a landscaping design that will benefit the bees while creating a lovely, well pollinated garden fulfilling the gardener’s passion. But there is one more factor to keep in mind if helping bees help you is a goal. The best flowers don’t bloom all season long. So one more element to include when devising your own personal Eden is to plant a variety of flowers where some bloom in the spring, others in the summer and still others in the fall. This will give the bee a season long opportunity to feast, while keeping your garden colorful with blossoms that add a rich variety which is pleasing to the eye. Then we will learn that working in harmony can make the sweat equity of bee and human alike something sweet and well worth the effort.

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