Raising and attracting bees in your home garden
In Columbia, backyard beekeeper
Lenny Capozziello has tucked two of his four beehives within a garden of wildflowers he planted specifically to attract pollinators.
“It would be like me living in a chocolate factory,” says Capozziello, a Taylor County RECC consumer-member who got into beekeeping with help from the Green River Beekeeping Association, based in Campbellsville.
For Capozziello, the small amount of work to plant the perennial garden has been well worth the effort for the personal enjoyment it brings, as well as the positive effect on the environment.
“Bees are the most fascinating creatures on Earth,” he says. “I’ve loved watching and learning about them. But I’m also happy to be helping any pollinator that stops by—bees, butterflies, moths, you name it.”
“Pollinators are the cornerstone of our environment, as far as I’m concerned,” says Linda Porter, an Inter-County Energy Cooperative consumer-member from Danville, who is the butterfly and pollinator chair for the Garden Club of Kentucky. “If we were to lose them, we would lose many of the fruits and vegetables that we eat, because those plants rely on pollinators.”
Recurring headlines about nationwide honeybee declines as well as the ongoing struggles of monarch butterfly populations have raised awareness about the central role pollinators play in our food chain. Factors in shrinking honeybee numbers include climate change, habitat loss, pesticide use and Varroa mite infestations.
Here in Kentucky, state apiarist Tammy Horn Potter—author of several books including Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation and Flower Power: Establishing a Pollinator Habitat—has been instrumental in helping launch the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s statewide Pollinator Protection Program, which aims to support the health of the state’s hardworking pollinators.
The plan provides guidelines for maintaining pollinators’ natural habitats. It also includes the launch of a new app that enables residents and businesses, such as orchards or farms, to voluntarily report when they plan to use pesticides or other chemicals outdoors so that area beekeepers can be alerted and take precautions to cover and protect their hives.
Lenny Capozziello tends
to his perennial garden. A
backyard beekeeper, he’s
happy to help any pollinator
that stops by. Photo: Joe Imel
Across Kentucky, more and more backyard enthusiasts like Capozziello are discovering the joy of beekeeping.
Roughly 80% of the Kentucky State Beekeepers Association (KSBA) members are backyard hobbyists with 10 or fewer hives, says association president Mike Mabry of West Point, a consumer-member of Salt River Electric.
“If you want to get started, get in touch with your local beekeeping organization—there are 54 operating across the state—or your county Extension office,” suggests Mabry, a Kentucky State Fair blue ribbon-winning honey producer who keeps 30 hives on his Bullitt County farm.
For Mabry, a longtime Bullitt County school bus driver, time with his bees is quality time.
“I go out in the field and I’m out by myself. You’re just amongst the bees and nature,” he says. “It’s pretty cool to see what they can do.”
Want to be a pollinator ally? Planting a pollinator garden doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, it can be quite easy if you just keep these simple goals in mind:
One of the most effective ways to attract native pollinators is to plant native varieties of plants.
“A lot of native plants like coneflowers and black-eyed Susans are easy to find,” says Porter. But even traditional backyard vegetable gardens can be a pollinator-friendly zone. “Tomatoes are a wonderful attractor for pollinators,” she adds.
AIM FOR COLOR
Pollinators are attracted to color—lots of it.
“What you really want to do to attract pollinators is to go for big groups or clusters of color. So, plant in clumps, rather than just doing a single plant of a particular flower,” advises Amy Aldenderfer, a horticulture agent at Hardin County Cooperative Extension.
ATTRACTING A VARIETY OF POLLINATORS
When shopping for plants, look for those with tags or packaging that note an appeal to more than one type of pollinator.
“There are a lot of plants that attract butterflies, hummingbirds and bees,” says Kristal DiCarlo of Vine Grove, a member of the Lincoln Trail Area Master Gardeners Association. “If you can get one plant that attracts all three, that’s great.”
PLANNING FOR A YEAR’S WORTH OF BLOOMS
Design your garden to feature blooms throughout the spring, summer and fall so pollinators have a food source throughout the year, suggests Joanna Kirby of Lancaster, a past president of the Garden Club of Kentucky.
Woodmint, a flowering perennial, is a favorite of pollinators in Kirby’s garden, as are Liatris, milkweed, goldenrod, hyssop, lamb’s ear and mullein, she says.
Appropriately titled, Beekeeping 101 is a short video hosted by state apiarist Tammy Horn Potter. Her first tip: Don’t jump in without doing your homework. Watch it here.