In my last post I wrote about the findings of scientists in identifying the world-wide crisis in bee farming and their investigations into why up to 80% of beehives are dying each year.
In this blog I want to share what I have found out about good practices in your garden for maintaining healthy bees that help you produce a bountiful crop. At the end I introduce some flowering plants that will have the bees flocking … er … buzzing!
Tomato Leaf Spray (from About.com)
Tomato plants, as members of the nightshade family, contain toxic compounds called alkaloids in their leaves. When the leaves of tomato plants are chopped, they release their alkaloids. When the alkaloids are suspended and diluted with water, they make an easy to use spray that is toxic to aphids, but still safe around plants and humans.
- One to two cups of tomato leaves
- Two cups of water
- A strainer or cheesecloth
- Spray bottle
To make tomato leaf spray, simply soak one to two cups of chopped tomato leaves in two cups of water. Let it steep overnight. To make the spray, strain the leaves out of the liquid using cheesecloth or a fine strainer. Add another one to two cups of water to the liquid and add it to a spray bottle.
To use the tomato leaf spray in your battle against aphids, spray the stems and foliage of the infested plant with the spray, paying special attention to the undersides of leaves, since that is where aphids most commonly congregate. The tomato leaf recipe, above, won’t harm beneficial bugs like ladybirds.
Garlic Oil Spray
Organic gardeners have long relied on garlic as part of their pest-fighting arsenal. Garlic contains sulphur, which, besides being toxic to pests, is also an antibacterial and antifungal agent. The dish soap in this mixture also breaks down the bodies of soft-bodied pests, such as aphids.
- 3-4 cloves of garlic
- Mineral oil
- Strainer or cheesecloth
- Liquid dish soap
- Spray bottle
Mince or chop 3-4 cloves of garlic finely, and add them to 2tsp of mineral oil. Let this mixture sit for 24 hours. Strain out the garlic pieces, and add the remaining liquid to one pint (600mls) of water. Add one teaspoon of liquid dish soap. This mixture can be stored and diluted as needed. When you need to spray, use two tablespoons of the mixture added to one pint of water in a spray bottle.
To use your garlic oil spray, first test by spraying an inconspicuous part of the plant to see if your mixture harms it at all. If there are no signs of yellowing or other leaf damage after a day or two, it is safe to use. If there is leaf damage, dilute the mixture with more water and try the test again. Once you have determined that it won’t harm your plant, spray the entire plant, paying special attention to the undersides of leaves.
Warning: Garlic oil is a non-selective insecticide, which means that it will kill beneficial insects (such as lady bugs, who are natural predators of aphids) just as easily as it kills the bad guys. It’s best to keep as many beneficials around as possible. This spray should only be used if you haven’t seen any beneficial bugs in your garden.
Rhubarb insecticide Spray
Rhubarb garden spray is an effective spray for controlling aphids and other sucking insects, as it suffocates them. It is excellent for plants such as roses, which tend to suffer from aphid problems.
- 1kg / 2.2lbs rhubarb leaves (not stems – use the stems for cooking rhubarb for dessert)
- 2 litres / 67 fl.oz water
- Place the rhubarb leaves into a large pot
- Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes to half an hour
- Strain off the leaves
- Dilute. The solution should be diluted 1 part solution and 9 parts water; in other words, add 9 litres / 2.3 gallons water to create the spray.
Note: This spray should not be stored but should be used within 24 hours to achieve the best effectiveness.
Feed the bees
Here are some flowers you can plant in your garden to ensure bees have plenty to eat, while you attract them in as pollinators. Try to plant a range that flower at different times of the season from Spring through to Autumn.
Bergamot/Bee balm (left) and Black-eyed Susan blooms (right) attract bees
Bright flowers and a minty fragrance make bergamot (Monarda) plants ideal for perennial borders. Bergamot is known by several other names, including bee balm, monarda and Oswego tea.
Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia
Black eyed Susan plants are drought resistant, self-seeding and grow in a variety of soils. Growing black eyed Susans prefer a neutral soil pH and a full sun to light shade location. They can be propagated from seed heads. Blooms late spring through summer.
The flowering currant (left) and Lupin are two old-fashioned bee attracting blooms
Flowering currant or Currant Ribes (above) is a breath of heaven as Spring warms up. the scent spreads and is a signal to honey bees that nectar is around.
Lupins are later bloomers, but can be planted in autumn for winter soil conditioning. Keep a plant or two to flower on over the season and then collect the flower seeds for another blooming.
Penstemon (above) blooms in Spring and Purple Coneflower later in the season
Penstemon is in the foxglove family and blooms in spring. It grows from 2-5 ft. and is a robust perennial topped with stalks of clusters of white, tubular, unevenly-lobbed flowers. Inside the flowers are purple lines especially to attract bees.
Purple coneflower Echinacea
A perennial plant with purple petals around a domed spiny centre. A highly attractive nectar source frequently visited by butterflies and bees. A good choice for mid-season blooms.
Sages like Variegated Sage (left) and Pineapple Sage have enticing trumpet-like flowers
Here are some other examples of bee-loved garden flowers
- Basil Ocimum
- Cotoneaster Cotoneaster
- English lavender Lavandula
- Giant hyssop Agastache
- Globe thistle Echinops
- Hyssop Hyssopus
- Marjoram Origanum
- Rosemary Rosmarinus
- Wallflower Erysimum
- Zinnia Zinnia
Visit the the website below for a list of plants to grow in New Zealand for bee fodder.