Honey from the Garden

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Honeybee foraging in Thyme

Growing our own food in our home gardens continues to gain popularity.

To achieve great fruit and veggie yields from our home gardens, we invest in developing rich soils. We take time to plant seeds, transplant starts, and monitor our crops daily from the moment we plant the seed to the heady days of harvest to the moment, at the end of each season, when we deposit spent annuals into our compost heap. Yet, often food gardeners forget or simply overlook another garden worker, without which our fruit-bearing edible crops would yield next to nothing.

That worker? Why, she’s tiny honeybee.

Honeybees are credited with pollinating around 70% of our food crops. And, sadly, their numbers are in decline. Why bee populations are dwindling continues to be a subject of investigation. And, until there’s a rock-solid answer, there are a few simple things home gardeners can do to attract bees to their gardens and help improve their prosperity and longevity.

 

Harvesting edible sunflower heads with Fiskars shears following pollination by the honeybees

 

Begin by creating habitat that honeybees love. Start by growing diverse plantings that offer pollen and nectar all year long. In areas where your food crops grow, augment your beds with herbs like Oregano and Thyme to which they’ll make a beeline. Not only will you be feeding the bees their favorite foods, but you will also lure them close to edibles like tomatoes, which they might not otherwise visit. Too, pop several sunflower seeds into the ground in spring. When the bees visit them in summer to gather pollen, their harvest will help produce your own protein-rich seed crop come fall.

Expand your bee-friendly habitat by setting out slow-moving or regularly changed water sources. Honeybees collect water to drink and to use to cool their hives in summer.

And, resist the urge to use herbicides and pesticides in your garden. More and more, scientific reports are indicating that their use is negatively impacting these sweet, beneficial insects.

 

Ballard Bee Company Apiarist shows honeybee hive frame filled with bees & capped honey

 

While attracting bees of all kinds is a great place to start, some gardeners choose to take the plunge into keeping honeybee hives in the garden. Keeping bees can be a complicated and expensive enterprise. Laws vary from location-to-location, so always check into that before you do anything else. Then, consider joining a local beekeeping association where you can learn more about the daily in’s and out’s of maintaining an apiary. The Xerces society is a great place to begin getting information.

If the thought of purchasing equipment, checking a hive several times a week, and potentially being stung on a regular basis makes you wary, ask around to see if any local beekeepers offer “hive hosting” opportunities.  Hive hosts are the residential landowners who offer an ideal garden setting for honeybee hives, which a beekeeper installs and manages. Once the hives are installed in a host location, the host likely pays a beekeeper a small fee to manage bees throughout the season. In return, hosts like myself, are rewarded with fantastic pollination, never-ending entertainment via hive activity, and several bottles of local honey delivered by the beekeeper.

What to do with that honey once you’ve got it?

If honey has never been a part of your diet, you may wish to check with your doctor before adding it in. Diabetics may wish to avoid honey altogether due to its high glycemic index. Also, young children should never be given honey until cleared by a doctor.  Once your medical practitioner gives you the okay, here are some tasty ways to enjoy it.

A glob of raw honey, savored right off the spoon, is a delicious way to satisfy a sweet craving.  Plus, honey can offer a number of medicinal benefits, especially if it is left unheated. A bit mixed with lemon or cinnamon can help sooth sore throats and colds.

Or, go ahead and let it warm up by swirling it into a simple cup of flowers (aka tea). 

One of my favorite treats:Toast thinly sliced bread until crisp. Slather on a thick layer of toasted sunflower butter. (Perhaps made from your own seed harvest!) Then, drizzle honey over the top. Yum!