A Welcome Habitat for Bees

Guest Post by Sally Keys

Bees are vital to every aspect of the ecosystem. As well as producing honey, their main contribution is pollination, and their hard work adds $15 billion to the US agricultural output each year. Pollination produces bigger and prettier fruits and vegetables and so bees are very welcome visitors at the Tuckahoe Plantation’s organic vegetable plot and parterre herb garden. And without bees, the formal floral gardens would no longer yield the blooms used to create the exquisite flower arrangements and wedding bouquets displayed at the venue.

Thomas Jefferson on Bees

The rewarding pursuit of beekeeping is becoming more common and it has a long tradition dating back to when honey bees were first brought to America in 1622. Thomas Jefferson was an avid beekeeper and wrote a little about the honey bee in North America in his nature book, Notes on Virginia. Like any good farmer in the 18th century, he kept bees on his estate not simply to collect their valuable honey and beeswax but, more importantly, to pollinate crops. He may well have seen from his childhood at Tuckahoe how, even though they can self-pollinate, a healthy yield of tobacco plants was still dependent on bees to create beneficial genetic mixes.

Restoring Bee Populations

What Jefferson will not have known is that the tobacco plants helped keep bumble bees healthy, as scientists have only recently discovered that the naturally occurring chemicals found in the flowers can reduce infection levels of a common parasite by more than 80%. The state of Virginia loses a third of its hives each year, and the Department of Agriculture takes measures to attempt to eradicate and control bee diseases as well as offering advice on helping to restore bee numbers. This includes asking residents to plant even the smallest of flower boxes, so extensive gardens like those at Tuckahoe are a very welcome habitat for dwindling bee populations.

Bees and the Tuckahoe Gardens

As an exclusively outdoor venue, the gardens are a vital element of the plantation and are designed to delight all year round. The delicate yellow flowers of the Wintersweet and other winter blooming plants help bees overwinter, to be ready to gather nectar from the peonies and old roses in the summer. Early bee species, like the orchard mason bee, might enjoy the Japanese apricot blossom in February, but the crocus provides the first substantial pollen source after a long, cold season. Although it doesn’t require pollination, even the muscadine grape vine benefits from the presence of bees as the crop is stimulated by the increased biodiversity where they are working.

The beautiful gardens at Tuckahoe welcome guests to celebrate, enjoy the peaceful surroundings, and explore their history. Working alongside the attentive Tuckahoe gardener, bees are vital to the flourishing of the flowers, plants and vegetables, encouraging beautiful blooms, fragrant herbs, and healthy crops all year round.

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