Home & Garden

Honeybees and other helpful garden insects

Beekeeper Terry Oxford tends to one of his hives

Bee pollination is directly responsible for more than $15 billion annually in increased crop value. This translates to about one mouthful in three of our everyday diets that directly or indirectly benefit from honeybee pollination. Commercial farming of many specialty crops like almonds and other tree nuts, berries, fruits, and vegetables, are dependent on honeybee pollination. These are among the foods that give our diet flavor, nutritional value, and diversity. Almonds, for example, are completely reliant on honeybees for pollination. The California almond industry requires 1.4 million honeybee colonies, or roughly 60 percent of all managed honeybee colonies in the United States.

Honeybees are not native to the United States and first came from Europe with the early settlers. The United States does have native pollinators, but the European honeybees are more prolific and easier for commercial-level pollination of a wide assortment of crops.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive abruptly disappear. The total number of managed honeybee colonies has decreased from 5 million in the 1940s to only 2.5 million today. Because a great many of our food sources are directly tied to honeybee pollination, CCD is of great concern. Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides with properties similar to nicotine. The use of these insecticides in some countries is restricted due to some evidence of a connection to CCD.

Although it might not seem that honeybees are prevalent in San Francisco, they actually do thrive in the city — thanks to the efforts of beekeepers and honeybee activists like Terry Oxford ( Oxford tends to healthy rooftop colonies atop some of the city’s finest eateries: Quince, Cotogna, Jardiniere, Nopa, and Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Oxford is just one of several urban beekeepers that include the San Francisco Chronicle, which also keeps rooftop hives.

What can you do to help the honeybees? Plant flowers, vegetables, and herbs that attract honeybees. When purchasing your plants, make sure to confirm with the garden center that neonicotinoids insecticides are not used on the plants that they offer. Here are a few honeybee favorites:

Herbs: anise hyssop, bee balm – monarda, borage, catnip, cilantro, echinacea, fennel, lavender mint, oregano, pennyroyal, rosemary, sage, and thyme

Flowers/Annuals: calendula, marigold, poppies, sunflowers, and zinnias

Vegetables: cucumbers, melons, peppers, pumpkins, squash, and watermelons

Perennials: lavender — French and Provence, scented geraniums, and sedum autumn joy


Both pest and beneficial insects have always been around, maintaining nature’s balance. Beneficial insects fill two main roles in the garden ecosystem: plant pollinators and pest insect predators as a natural form of pest control. When native and other desirable plants are allowed to bloom, they attract beneficial insects with their nectar and pollen.

Ladybugs add attractive color to a garden while fighting pests. Release them at night (so they don’t fly away), at the base of plants. They naturally climb up plants and will eat aphids, mites, thrips, leafhoppers, and many other destructive soft-bodied insects. They continue until the bad guys are gone, laying their own eggs in the process. When new pests arrive, fresh ladybugs will be waiting.

Praying mantids are an all-purpose garden guardian and eat a wide variety of insects, including crickets, aphids, and spiders — virtually any pest that moves. Because they don’t fly, they stay in the area where they are released.

These plants will attract beneficial bugs to your garden:

• Parsley family (parsley, fennel, coriander, dill, and chervil)
• Sunflower family (sunflowers, daisies, asters, and cosmos)
• Sweet alyssum, native buckwheat, baby blue eyes, and tidy tips

These insects can be purchased to add to your garden:

Beneficial nematodes assault flea larvae in the soil, bark, or ground litter. They also attack more than 230 kinds of garden pests and go to work quickly.

Earthworms, such as Red Wrigglers, burrow 24 hours a day and aerate the soil, bringing oxygen to the roots. Organic material is turned into nutrient-rich casting.

It is important to note that beneficial insects do not tolerate residual pesticides well. If you have been using one, discontinue use and wait a month before introducing beneficial insects to your garden.

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Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator of Cole Hardware and can be reached at [email protected].