A Voluntary Approach to Helping the Honeybee

Today, the Competitive Enterprise Institute published my paper on the honeybee health issue and pesticide use. We have had several media outlets ask, why is CEI focused on the honeybee issue now? If you read this blog, you know that I have been writing about pesticides and their impact on public health and well-being for at least a decade and a half.

CEI selects issues based on our goals to promote freedom and prosperity, using the market to advance public health and well-being. I focus on chemicals, which I believe are under appreciated and misunderstood market-generated technologies that advance human well-being.  My work on pesticides has focused on allowing strategic uses to control disease carrying vermin such as mosquitos and ticks as well as the benefits and importance of crop protection chemicals for producing a stable food supply. 

But I have another agenda when it comes to honeybees. As long as I have owned a piece of land, I’ve poured my heart and soul into my wildlife garden. While other people complain and look for regulations and government intrusions, I’d rather be part of the solution. And when it comes to public policy, we won’t help pollinators unless we use science and reason rather than alarmism-driven, anti-technology agendas.

That said, there are things that private parties can do to help honeybees, and other wildlife, without asking big brother to ban valuable technologies. Consider what I’ve done to my yard.

When I first moved in, the grass grew up to the house, and I barely saw a bird or butterfly. With lots of digging and effort, my yard is now a destination for myriad butterflies, bumblebees, and bugs I can’t even name. It’s also a favorite destination for all kinds of birds, from hummingbirds to finches and mockingbirds to crows and mourning doves. I even periodically see a crazy beautiful moth called the clearwing hummingbird moth. This amazing little creature really does look like a hummingbird! The feeders in the backyard attract a wide array of birds as well.

So, for those people who want to help the honeybee, consider growing some plants that will benefit them, whether it’s in your yard or simply in flower box. Habitat is critically important for these creatures. Here are some plants that do well in my Virginia garden (click the thumbnails for a larger image). Why not try them in yours?

Inkberry Holly: These are not the most beautiful plants, but they have berries (not really visible) that feed the birds in the winter, and they are evergreen. Spring and sometimes fall pruning keep them full shaped. You need to make sure you have male and female versions to get the berries.

Purple Cone Flower: If you love the sweet and beautiful American goldfinch, plant this flower and let it go to seed. These birds will feed on it into the winter. I have tried planting the white ones too, but with less luck. I may have some volunteers.

Shasta Daisy: Here we have simple beauty with easy care. I had two varieties and one has outlived the other. I think mine is called “Becky.”

Lacecap Hydrangia: These add a little pop to those shady areas of the yard, and they bloom all summer without any effort on your partother than a little fertilizer.

Butterfly Bush: The name says it all! No plant I have brings as many butterflies, and I have lots of volunteers. Mine are all purple, and you can see from the photo that this one has just started to bloom.

Bee Balm: I started these from seeds in the house a couple of years ago, and they reward me every year with lots of flowers that the bees and butterflies just love.

Catmint: Billowy and blue, this is easy to start from seed indoors before spring.

Salvia Farinacea: These are annual plants bloom all summer and into the fall without need for any “deadheading,” or much of anything other than water. I picked these up this year at Walmart in affordable six-packs.

False Indigo: This is one surprised me with its elegance and beauty. It looks like asparagus when it comes up in the spring, then grows into a 3-4 foot bouquet of total bliss that looks like it’s sitting in a vase. The rest of the summer it’s a round beautiful green plant about 3 feet high.

Foxglove: These spring show stoppers will bloom the second year after planting and will reseed. I planted some years ago and they have continued to reseed and send me flowers every spring, usually nearbut not exactlyin the same places. The leaves are large and lettuce-like, so they are easy to differentiate from weeds. Note, these are poisonous, so don’t let your dog eat them.

Hummingbird Plant: I picked these up at a nursery a few years back, and they proved to be a great annual for constant color all summer. For the past several years, these plants have re-seeded, so I just move them to my desired locations once they start to emerge.

Miss Kim Lilac: These lilacs are designed for smaller spaces, but mine got pretty big. I had to cut it back and hope it returns. It’s beautiful and fragrant in the spring and green all summer.

Jackmanii Clematis: Perfect for the picket fence! Lots of blooms.

Foster Holly, Eastern Red Cedar/Juniper, and other Evergreens: Birds need evergreens to hide in and to keep warm in winter, and some produce berries, such as junipers, that provide winter food. My junipers produce volunteers that have I have a hard time pulling up because they are such beautiful trees. I recommend foster hollies because they produce prolific berries, but I also periodically find volunteer American Hollies. So if you want a juniper or American Holly, let me know. I also have Green Giant Arborvitae, which can actually be rooted from clippings.

This year I am adding Blue Mist Spiraea and butterfly weed for the Monarch Butterflies. In addition to helping the birds and the bees, another benefit of a wildlife garden is how it transforms the way your home looks—as you can see from the photos here. For more pictures of my garden and plan suggestions, see my Flickr page.