This seems to be a pretty strong statement, right? We know that flowers are pretty and make people happy, but we should be ripping those lovely blooms out and planting some useful plants right? Ones we can eat? Thats the message we've been told. But it isn't the full story.
The other night I was watching TED on my iPad and I came across a talk about bees. I've been interested in bees since I went to the Australian Garden Show in Sydney a few weeks back and listened to Indira Naidoo talk about vegetable patches in small spaces. She lives in Potts Point, Sydney, where space is incredibly limited (and you are lucky to have a balcony, actually) but she planted an amazing vegetable pot garden on her balcony (and subsequently wrote a book about it – soon to be released in the US). Now, there aren't too many bees on balconys in the inner city, let me tell you and when Indira wondered why her flowering eggplant plants weren't producing any actual eggplants she began to wonder if there was something missing.
And what do bees need? Flowers.
Flowers attract bees and bees are essential for pollinating those little flowers that appear on your fruit and vegetable trees and plants. I know you know that those little flowers become fruit and vegetables but have you ever wondered what would happened if there were no bees?
There would be no flowers.
There would be less fruit and there would be less vegetables.
Already there are places in the world (including the US) where the bee population is reducing wildly and I'm not sure that many people are actually thinking about what might happen if the bees disappear altogether. Bees cannot keep up with the demand for the agricultural produce that we buy in the shops. There are in fact people in some places who are employed purely to use a paintbrush to pollinate crops because the bees are no longer around.
I cannot bear a world without flowers or fresh fruit and vegetables. Can you?
So there are simple things that you can do in your garden (or balcony, or window!). Plant some flowers. Bees love purple, blue and yellow flowers. Do you like lavender? Plant those blooms! Mix your vegetable patch with some marigolds (which also double as an insect deterrent). There are plenty of edible herbs which will flower and attract both bees and butterflies.
Two weeks ago I picked up a type of sage which would flower, provide me with edible herbs and attract bees. My garden has a mixture of spring onions, lavender, flowering bulbs, annual flowers, tomatoes, oregano, thyme and parsley, all packed into the one bed! There is nothing more beautiful than a colourful garden and I think this is one of the easiest and most pleasant ways that we can make an impact on our environment.
The only thing that I suggest is that you maintain an organic garden as much as possible. Bees ingest all chemical herbicides/pesticides/fertilisers that you use on your soil and plants (and this can kill them). How can you do this?
- Start a worm farm (great for small spaces and for kids) and use the worm wee and castings to feed your plants
- Use organic potting mix and fertilisers
- If you have the time and space, start your own compost heap, throwing all of your kitchen scraps, newspaper, garden scraps into it. It will take time to break down but definitely a worthwhile way to recycle and improve your garden soil over time.
- Throw your used coffee grounds on your plants – they love them!
I understand that some parents have concerns about attracting bees when they have small children around the house. I have two very small children myself and the last thing I want is for them to be stung, however, unless there is a child that will react badly (anaphylaxis) to a bee sting, I believe the best precaution is education. Teach your children to respect bees and have a look but not touch approach.
Have I convinced you that planting flowers is good for the environment? Get started this Spring and watch your vegetable patch (or maybe your neighbour's if you aren't that way inclined) absolutely bloom this Summer.