Bee Friendly Gardens

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How to Make a Backyard Compost

Peppers and tomatoes are easy to grown AND they attract bumblebees as their pollinators

Peppers and tomatoes are easy to grown AND they attract bumblebees as their pollinators

The ABCs of Composting

Composting is easy and inexpensive. It turns almost half your trash into plant food, which can feed your trees, shrubs, flowers and your garden (whether it’s in the earth or pots).

Take your vegetable peels, fruits peels, core or pits, coffee grounds, tea leaves and rinsed crushed eggshells, which are all full of nitrogen, and add them to dry leaves,  plant stalks, shredded newsprint or better still shredded brown paper bags and cut up cardboard. We recommend also adding pet hair, it will help repel rodents.


Select a partially shaded spot with good water drainage to place your well-aerated compost bin (which you can either make or purchased from your local gardening store). Be sure to leave at least a foot-and-a half between fences, walls, bushes, doors or windows.

Whenever you add a food layer to the pile  it must be topped-off with equal amounts of shredded newsprint or shredded brown bags, strips of cardboard or we recommend dried leaves (browns).

To encourage oxygen for the beneficial microorganisms leave lots of air space in your bin. We suggest using a pitch fork to mix the contents once every week or two.

Collect dry leaves, storing them in a dry container, so you can add them year-round.

Your compost will be ready within a couple months.

If the pile begins to steam or it stinks — that’s a good sign because the material is decomposing.

Got these problems…

  • Compost is too wet and very smelly? You’ve added to many greens, try adding browns and turning the pile with a pitch fork.
  • Compost is too dry? You’ve added to many brown and not enough water. Try adding fresh kitchen scraps, moisten the pile with water and cover it to reduce evaporation.
  • Compost pile is cold? Try adding some greens.
  • Compost pile is attracting critters like racoons or rodents? Likely you’re adding incorrect material and there’s inadequate cover. Use pest/rodent resistant bins. And do NOT add oils, meats, grease or breads to the pile, ever.
  • Got fruit flies? Likely your food scraps are exposed. Try putting your kitchen scraps in the center of the pile and cover them with browns.

Do NOT add the following food scarps to the compost: Bread, pasta, rice, sauces, dairy products, nuts, fish, meat, oils, fats or bones.

  • Don’t put dog, cat or human feces in the compost.
  • Don’t put kitty litter in the compost.
  • Don’t put garden weeds with mature seeds in or you’ll inadvertently spread then throughout your yard.
  • Don’t put any treated wood products in the pile because they contain harmful chemicals.

Fact: Compost gives your garden far more healthy nutrients than buying a bag of sterilized peat moss.

Did you know? Organic household waste that winds up in landfills decomposes without oxygen and turns into methane — a gas that is at least 70X more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

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Making Honeycomb

Honeybees working on the comb

It takes 66,000 bee-hours of activity to produce the 77,000 splendid hexagonal cells that form the comb of the hive. Almost 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of honey are required for a young worker bee to produce  2.2 pounds (one kilogram) of beeswax. Bees eat the honey and trigger a gland in their abdomen to secrete wax. The bees then chew the wax flakes to soften them. One kilogram (2.2 pounds) of this hearty wax can support 48 pounds (22 kilograms) of honey, or more than 20 times its own weight. Many decades ago, the aeronautics industry recognized the strength of honeycomb and adapted nature’s design to enhance the bending and stiffness of aircraft wings, as the wings must support heavy loads of fuel in the aircraft.

To construct the honeycomb, hair plates at the base of a bee’s neck act as a plumb bob to determine the changing orientation to gravity. When a worker bee turns relative to the Earth’s gravitational field, the pressure of the hair plates on its legs tells the bee which way is up. Without these hair plates, workers could not build honeycomb. When honeybees were transported into outer space on the 1984 Challenger shuttle flight, they were unable to construct honeycomb, due to the lack of gravitational force.

Workers use the tips of their antennae to assess the thickness and smoothness of comb cells, but the exactness of the cell diameters and their orientation is still not explained. Bees construct honeycomb horizontally. Amazingly, chambers are back to back at exactly a 13-degree angle to prevent honey from dripping out.

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Medicinal Benefits of Honey

A golden treat packed with Nature’s medicines

Over 2.65 billion pounds of honey are produced each year on Earth. Honey contains over 200 substances. Bees secrete a glucose oxidase enzyme that assists in converting nectar into honey. Along with oxygen, the glucose enzyme splits the glucose molecule into water and hydrogen peroxide. Due to its hydrogen peroxide and glucose oxidase content, honey is a powerful antiseptic. High amounts of malic, citric, tartaric, oxalic and other organic acids combined with the enzymes catalase and peroxidase give honey its renowned antibacterial properties.

The ancient Mayans revered the stingless honeybees, and a thousand-year-old document of theirs, the Madrid Codex, pictures shamans successfully treating cataracts, conjunctivitis, chills and fever with honey-based medicines. With over 80 percent sugar content and its natural acidity, honey creates an inhospitable environment for the single-celled microbes that form infections. The low water content of honey keeps bacteria, which thrive in water, from flourishing. Ancient Greeks and Romans had also discovered these properties of honey; they used honey to treat cataracts and heal open wounds. Some modern bandage companies line their products with diluted traces of honey.

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The Bee Tree: American Linden

Honeybees love the American Linden — that’s why Halter Brothers call it ‘The Bee Tree’

Trees are remarkable for many, many reasons. They suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere turning a greenhouse gas into a solid (wood). As a by-product of photosynthesis trees give off oxygen. In fact, for every metric tone of wood created, 1.5 metric tons of CO2 is absorbed and 1 metric ton of oxygen is released. Trees planted near homes, schools and colleges, and hospitals also reduced heating and cooling costs by as much as 40%.

Some trees like American Linden or basswood have exquisite fragrant yellow-white flowers that attract pollinators like bees. They attract so many bees Linden’s are affectionately known as ‘The Bee Tree.’ Bees take the Linden nectar and turn it into honey, which is light in color and full of a floral bouquet.

‘The Bee Tree’ honey is loaded with vitamins and minerals. It contains water-soluble B1, B2, B6, pantothenic and nicotinic acids, vitamin C – as well as high amounts of fat-soluble vitamins E, K and A. Honey also provides us with essential minerals: calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, copper, manganese, magnesium and sulfur. Some of these minerals in the specific concentrations found in honey mimic the concentration of blood serum. If you suffer from anxiety or insomnia a tablespoon of ‘Bee Tree honey’ just before bedtime will help cure these conditions.

Since honeybee and wild bee populations are crashing around the globe, planting bee-friendly trees is one way each of us can lend a helping hand. Another way to help the bees is by not using insecticides, herbicides, miticides or fungicides in your yard or balcony.  The bees are incredible and they need our help.

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Bumblebees: Buzz Pollination

While most bees are proficient pollinators, bumble and some solitary bees perform an even more astounding fertilization feat called buzz pollination, or sonification.

Buzz pollination entails a bee grabbing hold of a flower and curling up her abdomen – the rearward segments of a bee that contain its digestive and reproductive organs – to form a ‘C’ shape. Closing her wings over her thorax, or midsection, the bee shivers her strong flight muscles to create a sonic vibration. This robust vibration shakes the flower and, importantly, the male anthers, where the pollen is stored. A copious amount of pollen dislodges from the anthers and coats the bee by means of  the electrostatic attraction.

The bee then grooms and moves on to continue foraging; invariably, pollen reaches the female stigma of another flower. Pollination accomplished!

These bees’ magnificent sonification technique is responsible for the pollination of – to name only a few – sunflowers, canola, rapeseed, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, lentils, peas, tomatoes, chilies, red clover, alfalfa and all species of potato, worldwide.

With more than 8 percent of  the 235,000 flowering plant species in the world  relying on the unique buzz pollination technique to reproduce, the importance of bumble and solitary bees is clear.

Please do not use insecticides, herbicides, miticides or fungicides in the yard or on your balcony.  Bees are being poisoned  around the globe. If we each lend a helping hand, we can ensure urban bees do not succumb to human-made toxicity.

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Bee Friendly Gardens: Making a Bee Bath

Bee Bath

As temperatures begin to warm our friends the bees are awakening after their winter rest.

Did you know that pollinators are responsible for cross-pollinating in excess of 336,000 plants or about 87% of all flowering plants (almost 400,000 known species).

Bees including honey-, stingless-,  bumble-, and solitary- conduct the lion’s share of that crucial task: Pollinating.

Just like humans and all other life forms bees require water. When you select your wide array of native plants that flower throughout the spring, summer and fall as a safe food source of nectar and pollen (insecticide-, herbicide-, fungicide- and miticide-free). You also need to build a bee bath so all the different kinds of bees can drink fresh water in between pollinating.

Bees cannot land in a convention bird bath because there’s nothing (usually) for them to safely perch upon.

Create islands in the bee bath for them to safely touch down and drink from.

We suggest that you line a bowl with stones.

Add water but allow the rock islands to remain dry,  providing a safe-zone for bees to land and drink.

Place the bath at ground level in your garden and move it around, carefully.

Replenish the bowl daily (making sure to always leave exposed rock islands).

If you have any plants attacked by leaf-sucking insects i.e. aphids, place the bee bath next to those infested plants, watch how Nature’s beneficial insects correct insect infestations post haste.

Interested to learn more about creating your own water-smart, bee-friendly garden?

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How Can You Help the Bees?

Native northern Florida critter

There are many things that each of us can do to help urban honey-, bumble- and solitary-bees. Creating habitat for urban pollinators in your yard is easy and it’s a fun family project.

Consider the following:

  • Buy organic foods.
  • Buy organic cotton.
  • Support your local beekeeper by purchasing their honey at local Farmer’s Markets or visiting their farms.
  • If you ‘Google’ local beekeepers, make it a family day and drive to their farms, see the bee hives, ask questions and purchase their honey, beeswax and propolis.
  • Do not use herbicides, insecticides, miticides or fungicides in your yard. If you must use an insecticide, the Indian neem tree is a wonderful natural powerhouse. Neem-based products do not harm bees, moths, bats, hummingbirds nor any other beneficial insects including spiders,  ladybugs and dragon flies. Neem products do not harm any warm-blooded animals or birds either.
  • Plant a wide variety of native flowers – especially yellows and blues in solid blocks of 3X3 feet so the bees can see them.
  • Provide somewhere for bees to live in your yard, such as a thick, dead tree branch (with a few sizes of drilled holes which they will use a burrows) or a wooden bee block (also with various sizes of drilled holes). Or clear a bare patch of earth (1X1 foot) and make a small (about the size of a quarter) burrow an inch-deep.
  • Let some of your garden’s leafy plants go to seed at the end of the season;  they’ll provide food for some species of bees before the cold months.
  • Bees need water, too, so place a water bowl with ‘dry rock islands’ in your garden, replenish it daily.
  • Become a citizen scientist.
  • In the U.S.A. join The Great Sunflower project: 
  • In Canada join Plant Watch:

Climate change is occurring rapidly and it has dramatically affected plants by speeding up the timing of flowering. Native bees and other pollinators time their awakening in the spring to floral blooms. If pollinators incorrectly time their spring emergence and miss the bloom, both plants and animals perish.

Please consider becoming one of the thousands of volunteers across the North American continent helping scientists and beekeepers track the timing of local blooms.

Visit the National Phenology Network

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