If you are interested in sheltering your own bee colony or simply supporting the native bees in your area, it is worth considering what bees need in order to survive and thrive. Two essentials for bees, as with all living creatures, are a source of water and adequate food stores.
In the Southwest, with our frequent dry spells, Bees benefit from the presence of water in the garden. If you are not fortunate enough to live near a natural water source, you might consider setting out a simple “chicken water feeder”, a recirculating fountain, or installing a pond in your garden. Whatever the form, bees need a shallow spot to rest and drink, since they do not swim and can drown. If your water source is deep, then rocks or sticks can be placed so that bees have a space to land and drink their fill.
Bees also require an abundant food source, benefiting the most from diverse plantings that bloom throughout the season. Bees can starve without adequate nutrition. When adding plants to your garden, it is important to consider the existing resources in your area (a cluster of native chamisa shrubs, an orchard near by, or a perennial bed next door). It is critical that bees have forage available that will bloom all season long. When adding plants to the garden it is helpful to think about how we can “fill in” with what you might already have in your particular area. When adding plants to your garden, consider adding a mix of trees, shrubs and perennials.
Trees, such as fruit trees, Honey Locust and Linden trees all provide huge amounts of nectar but only when in flower. When your trees (and your neighbor’s trees) are not in flower, it is good to fill in your nectar season with shrubs and perennials. Some hardy shrubs that thrive in the Santa Fe area and provide nectar include Cotoneaster, Blue Mist Spirea, and New Mexico Privet. Perennials to consider include Lavender, Columbine, Salvias, Hummingbird mint, Asters, and Bee Balm. An economical alternative to purchasing plants is to throw seed. Many Annuals are easy to grow from seed and can prove a great resource for bees, try Sunflowers, Cosmos, Gaillardia and California poppies. (plants sourced from Les Crowder & Heather Harrell’s book ‘Top Bar Beekeeping’)
If you want to get started becoming a beekeeper and you live in Santa Fe, a great way to begin is to join the Sangre de Cristo Beekeepers Association and attend their monthly meetings (the last Thursday of the month). For information about these meetings and a list of drought tolerant plants that will provide forage for bees, go to the Sangre de Cristo beekeepers website. http://sdcbeeks.org/water-wise-plants-for-honey-bees/
The Sangre de Cristo beekeepers association also has a resource page that can help you find a place to purchase a bee hive and bee packages (a queen bee with 3-5 pounds of bees) or a Nucleus Hive (a starter hive). Check out the Sangre de Cristo Beekeepers association website, particularly the Resources tab. http://sdcbeeks.org/resources/ for places to purchase bee hives and bees.
Peggy Wright (Masters in Landcape Architecture)