With the return of victory gardens, garden to table eating, colony collapse disorder and all things organic (move over Monsanto) the insect world is coming alive. As a culture we’re suddenly asking the question, “is it a bee?” Or, “is it a pollinator? How do all of these animals work together?”
I find myself thinking of these things as blurs. What was once the green blurs is now the insect blurs. It used to be, when in college and in the thick of plant taxonomy classes, we used the term “green blurs” to describe the state of being when no two plants could be told apart. It ends with a bit of study and suddenly plants pop from the landscape as unique, exciting individuals — the world coming alive in unexpected ways. And now it seems to be the insects turn. I love these moments.
Decorative mason bee houses have evolved into elaborate native bee walls and insect habitats designed to support native bee populations and encourage vibrant systems of insects. Which in turn support gardens, farms and ecosystems.
The insect habitat above is one of my inspriations. Designed and sculpted by craftsman and builder Kevin Smith, it can be admired at Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco, California. It’s a fab fusion of art, nature and curiosity wrapped up in a cool organic, modern package. Why not one for every garden? But I also love the rough-hewn makers appeal of the bee walls by Wildbienen.
Native bees tend to be solitary and are often stingless. Unlike honey bees they don’t live socially in hives but tunnel in soil, wood or mud where they lay their eggs and store provisions of pollen for the early life cycle stages of their young, the larva and pupa, holding them over until they can live their short, but important lives as adults. This is the part we see and, if we’re lucky, the question, “is it a bee?” will be replaced with, “which little bee is that…?” Our curiosity will get the better of us and we’ll begin to understand these animals as uniquely wonderful.
Gardening tips for native bees:
- Grow a variety of plants that bloom throughout the seasons.
- Plant natives.
- Garden organically. Don’t use pesticides, herbicides or weed and feed.
- Place plants in large swathes or groups, growing the same plant for a meter square if you have the room.
- Choose plants with color. Flowers ranging from blue to lavender, mauve to pink or are yellow or white are a good start.
- Make room for bare soil. Mulching is good for your garden but bare soil is good for bees and other animals like butterflies.
- Consider constructing your own bee wall or insect habitat and see what happens.
To learn more about native bees and what you can do to encourage native bees and insects visit these sites:
- Wildbienen via http://www.wildbienen.de/index.htm
- The Honey Bee Suite via http://www.honeybeesuite.com/
- Permaculture Noosa via http://permaculturenoosa.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/BEE-WALL-and-HABITAT-5-page.pdf
- The Xerces Society via http://www.xerces.org/pollinator-conservation/native-bees/
- Flora Grubb Gardens via http://floragrubb.com/idx/index.php
*To see more photos by Caitlin Atkinson, the photographer for Kevin Smith’s sculptures, visit her site. Learn more about Kevin Smith’s range as an artist and builder here.
Grow what you love. Garden for bees. Pass the pistil.
Wow, those are so pretty! I think we actually found some mason bees in our garage yesterday. I told my husband we were very lucky to have them!
Very lucky! Would love to see them! And let me know if you get visitors this spring.