Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Bee-Friendly Garden, by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn. Ten Speed Press, 2016

Did you know that there is a bee called the polyester bee? I didn’t. Upon reading the name, I didn’t know if the little critter made poly cocoons that were unwound like some silk substitute, or if their bee dance was disco. Turns out they exude a polyester compound instead of was or honey, but it’s not used for pant suits. It just lines their homes.

While honeybees are well known and mostly loved, there are a lot of North American native bees, too. They range from very small- green sweat bees- to big and fuzzy- the bumblebee, with everything in between. Bees, by the way, are vegetarian. It’s their cousins the wasps that walk on your sandwich, searching for a bite of your salami. Bees tend to be mild mannered and only sting when threatened.

This book covers the way a variety of bees live, eat, procreate, and pollinate. The landscape designer and the bee specialist together tell us what these creatures need from us as gardeners. Their emphasis is on plants- especially native plants- that provide food for the bees over as long a period as possible. They also specify what we can do to provide homes for them- other than honeybee hives and little blocks with holes for orchard mason bees, I’d never heard of or considered what bees use for homes. I’d never heard of carpenter bees that live in old wood, and, while I knew that some were ground dwellers (I learned that lesson the hard way; see: ‘sting when threatened’), it never occurred to me to leave areas with good soil with nothing on it for them.

The first part of the book tells us about the types of bees in North America. Then the authors concentrate on plants that are useful to them, from groundcovers to perennials to trees. Not all are native plants, but many are. The next section is on plants that are food for both humans and bees (many herbs are). Then they get down to things like how big a patch of pollen plants needs to be, siting the pollen patches, nesting sites, the need for healthy soil and plants, and water. Then the design portion- how to fit bee plants into various styles of garden- hint, replace your lawn with bee plants. There is even a chapter on becoming a bee activist- this book is definitely big on taking action. Finally is the obligatory plant lists.

I actually read this book from cover to cover- something I don’t usually do with garden books- and found it all very interesting. I’ve been very interested in inviting beneficial insects into my garden for years now, and this book told me a lot of things I didn’t know. There are flaws- their plant lists are fairly small and their recommendations get repeated a lot. I see bees using all kinds of plants they don’t list, but I understand that you can’t list every plant that’s useful; the list would be enormous. I very much recommend this book for anyone interested in making their garden a little more sustainable and helping the general ecosystem.

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1 comment:

  1. I will tell friends about this one. They "keep" bees and harvest the honey. Although they obviously know a lot, it never hurts to have a good reference book.