Backyard bees, late is better than never, 6/19/2014

Last week I was lamenting about the lack of bees in my yard.

A backyard beehive would be fun, and perhaps fruitful. But those hopes were dashed after a conversation with the city’s code enforcement officer. Wouldn’t you know it: the property I rent is too small.

I had the fleeting thought of illegally harboring and abetting honey bees, or asking my neighbor Bob to break city code by getting a buzz on.

Then, something strange happened.

Bees appeared.

After careful inspection, I realized the “weeping wall” is in bloom and now attracts bees in droves.

The wall is covered with “needle-nose” ivy, planted by a neighbor Mark circa 2000. His intention was to grow something that would completely cover the cinderblock wall that made the alley look like a barracks.

As ivy is known to do, the vines took. Mark bought a house of his own before the ivy had a chance to cover his eyesore.

One day, years ago, I thought I heard a light rain. It was July, but stranger things are known to happen. The “rain” was actually seed pods gently cracking in the heat, with tiny seeds cascading onto the open, fully green ivy leaves.

It sounded like rain.

I never made the connection that ivy seed pods must be preceded by ivy flowers. The pale green flowers are easily overlooked.

When it is not a drought there are colorful things in my yard that distract my eye.

However, the bees did not overlook the ivy flowers. They’re probably desperate for anything they can find.

This week there have been so many bees I wondered if an actual hive had moved into the cinderblock wall. Stranger things have happened.

Plus, hadn’t I only recently been wishing for bees?


Last week I chatted with Richard Jones, a local bee keeper (see last week’s column for useful information: )

When bees forage, they are looking for “three essential nutrients” pollen, nectar and water, which they bring back to the colony, Richard explained.

People who have swimming pools may notice more bees tapping at the water, or drowning, Richard continued. Perhaps I should create a water source, he suggested.

I’ve been doing such a great job NOT using water, there’s no water on leaves or in puddles. In fact, mosquitoes haven’t even tried to devour my tender flesh.

A quick internet search suggested a bird bath or a small fountain to lure bees. Note that any standing water will also soon have mosquito larva swimming like they’re at a day spa.

I think I’ll try a dog bowl, which will mean very little investment.

Ideally, Richard said, I would grow plants that attract bees. But it’s a drought. I’m lucky to be growing a few vegetables in pots.

A single dianthus has survived and a few Vinca rosea are watered wisely near the doorway.

Richard said lavender is a good bet for bees. It was. Those blooms arrived and faded.

For a list of UC Davis recommendations for attracting bees, plus some cool info on native pollinators:

Based on beekeeper observation, Richard said red bottlebrush seems to be a bee favorite. Bees are also partial to oleander, he said, which means living near a freeway might not be the worst thing. Star thistle, the bane of any owner of an empty lot, is also a great bee lure.

Richard said bees also love artichoke and other thistle-like plants.

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