Honey bees of Indiana

Anyone else remember stopping by a Nickerson Farms roadside restaurant and watching the honey bees of Indiana work industriously through the Plexiglas hive set in the wall?

Honey Bees of Indiana

My dad, an engineer who couldn’t have cared less about plants or gardening, loved watching the bees: a bit messy-looking in that presentation, but actually orderly and industrious. There is a dilapidated Nickerson building along Interstate 70 that I pass sometimes as I head east toward Richmond, IN. It always makes me think of our family vacation road trips and wonder why Stuckey’s didn’t have something that cool.

Bee Colonies

We’re all aware now of the decline of bee colonies, both domestic and wild. Bees are just one of the many creatures that fall into the category of pollinators, doing loads of heavy lifting in nature, perhaps most importantly when it comes to food production. Bee colonies – whether in hives, nests or some other type of home – can be fragile, succumbing to weather, animal attack, mites or pesticides.

While many gardeners may not want to go into the hive business, they do want to be bee-friendly. One way to do this is to plant – or in some instances, not kill – the flowers, shrubs and weeds that bees like. For starters, consider leaving the dandelions alone, likewise other would-be weeds that help provide food for bees under tough conditions. Then choose the plants you and the bees will both enjoy – it’s easy because there are so many! Check out my friend Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp’s great website hoosiergardener.com for excellent suggestions in Indiana’s climate.

Bee Careful

Then, “bee careful.”

Conscientious gardeners may have been confused by the message that even though they’re trying to plant bee-friendly flowers, etc., they may be doing more harm than good. That’s because it can be difficult to determine if the plants have been treated with a type of pesticide known as a neonicotinoid, harmful to bees. Sharp, a long-time garden author and educator, has some promising news.

“It’s almost 100 percent certain that the annuals you buy at both box stores and local garden centers are safe and neonicotinoid-free,” she explains. “So your petunias and other flats of annual flowers are good. But what about perennials? That can be hard to know because different nurseries treat their plants differently. It’s safe to say about 90 percent of those have not been treated with neonicotinoids, but it’s hard to get more definite than that. It matters because the chemicals are systemic and long-lived in the plant, staying through the growth cycle from seedling to flowering to seed-setting.”

The Best Action Is to Ask

Sharp says the best action is to ask, because this puts pressure on the retailer to know how the plants they sell are grown. Retailers take these concerns back to the growers and thus consumers have made an environmental impact by voting with their wallets.

So help bees and other important pollinators by making good plant choices and learn how to keep from damaging their homes and food sources when you clean up your landscape. And when you see them out and about, you can “bee happy,” too!

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