Bugs on your Tower Garden can sometimes be cause for concern — aphids, spider mites, and caterpillars are all insects-non-grata on your greens. But there’s one winged creature that is always welcome among our plants: bees. For anyone who enjoys growing fruiting plants such as tomatoes, cucumber, eggplant, and peppers, you’re probably already aware of the essential service that bees provide. Without them, it can mean the difference between an overflowing basket of red, ripe, beefsteak tomatoes, or a disappointing harvest.
So how does one get bees a’buzzing in their garden? Unfortunately, bees aren’t as abundant as they were even just a few years ago. These MVPs of pollination are in decline, and it’s important not only to spread awareness, but also to take measures to boost the bee population. Using a Tower Garden already is a step in the right direction, as it grows food without pesticides and provides a little green to urban spaces. But how can we do more?
We spoke with Leigh-Katherine Bonner, the founder and CEO of Bee Downtown and a fourth-generation beekeeper, about creating a welcoming space for bees in our backyards.
Leigh-Katherine started Bee Downtown with the mission to install and maintain beehives on corporate campuses in urban areas to help rebuild healthy honey bee populations. “Honeybees are the pandas of the insect world,” she told the Tower Garden blog team. “[The bees] are trying to tell us a story, and if we don’t stop and listen to it, we’re going to be in trouble. When there are so many external factors that are causing a decline of a population, we need to be very serious and take a look.”
The first thing Leigh-Katherine recommended when it comes to creating a pollinator-friendly backyard is setting up a birdbath. Since the Tower Garden reservoir is covered, installing a birdbath will serve as a place for pollinators to hydrate during the warmer spring and summer months. “In the summer, just like humans, pollinators get hot,” says Leigh-Katherine. “They need water. What we’ve found is if you have a bird bath, yes, there will be birds there, but there are also bees sharing the bath with the birds. The bees drink the water and bring it back to their hives to cool their hives down.”
And while you might be tempted to spray for mosquitos with water or bird baths in your backyard, don’t. “Mosquito spraying causes a lot of harm to a lot of different insects,” says Leigh-Katherine. “And unless your entire neighborhood is spraying at the exact same time, it doesn’t really work. You might have a day of relief, but it’s not helpful [long term]. We try to tell people that it’s not worth the money for the harm it causes.” Instead of spraying chemicals, consider using all-natural mosquito repellent candles when you spend time in your backyard.
Another reason your garden might lack a buzz? Not enough flowers. “Our gardens are often in urban environments, so there needs to be something a little extra to attract bees and invite them to the property,” says Leigh-Katherine. “Bees are efficient. If there’s not a lot of flowers in the backyard, they’re not going to come. They’re going to go somewhere else that has more flowers that is a better use of their time.”
Planting the right types of flowers is an important factor. Choosing flowers that are native to your area will ensure that they grow well. “A native North Carolina plant isn’t necessarily a native plant in California,” says Leigh-Katherine. She recommends looking up what blooms do well in your planting zone and making sure to plant them during the right time of year, as spring occurs at different times across the country. Also, consider the shape of the flower. “Bees like broader, wider flowers with a good nectar source,” says Leigh-Katherine. “Bees are looking for flowers to meet their needs.”
Let’s say you have a jungle of flowers in your backyard, but you’re still having difficulty with your fruiting plants. It could all come down to timing. Making sure to plant the flowers so they bloom around the time your fruiting plants are fully grown and ready to start producing will ensure a healthy harvest.
Another reason to transform your backyard or your garden into a bee-haven? Bees are hardworking, smart creatures, and they set a great example for humans. “The bees are stewards of their environments,” Leigh-Katherine claims. “Everything a bee touches it leaves it in a better state than how they found it.”
Interested in adding more flowers to your tower to attract bees? Here’s a list of tower-friendly flowers you can grow!