Honey Bees

When now the golden sun has put
Winter to headlong flight beneath the world,
And oped the doors of heaven with summer ray,
Forthwith they roam the glades and forests o’er,
Rifle the painted flowers, or sip the streams,
Light-hovering on the surface.
From Georgics IV (written in 29 B.C.) Virgil

Honeybee and Verbena bonariensis Back in 29 B.C.E. the honeybee made big news as the protagonist in Virgil’s poem Georgics IV. Today this little creature is still making headlines. Only now, the news is not so good. According to a recent survey the honeybee population has declined by 30 percent in the past 20 years. This reduction was caused in part by parasitic mites and a virus spread by the Varroa mite. And now there is a new threat called Colony Collapse Disorder, which is the sudden and mysterious disappearance of all the mature bees in the hive.

The impact of this reaches far beyond our own gardens; honeybee pollination results in 5 to 20 billion dollars in agricultural revenue in the U.S. each year* and there is no substitute for the vital job they do. With all our modern marvels, we’ve yet to find a replacement for the work of the honeybee. I guess some things just can’t be improved.

A few years ago I had a hive in my garden, but this proved to be impractical in an urban setting. Every time the colony swarmed I’d get a frantic call from a neighbor. I finally had to transport my hive to the country where a fellow beekeeper now cares for the bees.

Although setting up hives may not be a possibility, as urban gardeners we can protect the honeybee by providing a safe place for them to forage for nectar and pollen. Reducing the use of pesticides and planting their favorite flowers such as rosemary, and lavender is a big help. And support your local bee keepers by purchasing their honey and honey products because they are working hard to keep the honeybee in good health.

Plants that Attract Honeybees
Bluebeard (Caryopteris spp.)
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberose)
Catmint (Nepeta cataria)
Crabapple (Malus spp.)
Holly (Ilex spp.)
Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)

*Cornell University Science News

Recommended Reading

Sweetness and Light,
The Mysterious History of the Honeybee

by Hattie Ellis

This is a delightful book that chronicles the history, myths and stories surrounding the honeybee.