Plant a spring garden and help the bees!

March 14, 2008 10:53:03 AM PDT
Few of us pay attention to honey bees buzzing in our gardens and our backyards -- or miss them when they're not around. But without honey bees our gardens would not be as colorful and our meals would not be as tasty. The insects are responsible for one of every three bites the average American eats. Honey bees pollinate more than 100 different crops, $15 billion worth annually in the U.S., and are a key factor in the agricultural industry's ability to provide food products to the rest of the world. But honey bees are dying at an alarming rate. Over the last several winters, more than 25 percent of the honey bee population in the United States has vanished. Beekeepers say this phenomenon is continuing in 2008. This disappearance has scientists stumped and may make it more difficult to get many of our favorite foods, including nuts, fruits and berries.

One way to help is to get your own garden growing, says Robert Berghage, Ph.D., associate professor of horticulture, bee garden expert, Penn State University. With a little effort you can create a bee-friendly garden with plants that attract honey bees.

Here's what you'll need to get started:

Gardening Tools

  • garden tote
  • knee cushion
  • trowel
  • cultivator
  • pruner
  • gloves
  • Plants & Seeds

  • Pollinator
  • "Attractor" Seed Collection
  • Seed germination containers
  • Fertilizer
  • Bird Feeder and Seeds

    Dr. Berghage is among the prominent university researchers, scientists and bee keepers who have been recruited by the makers of Haagen-Dazs ice cream to call attention to the honey bee crisis. The ice cream company has become involved in a campaign to save the bees because more than 40 percent of the ice cream they make includes ingredients dependent on honey bees for pollination. Those ingredients include vanilla, nuts, fruits and berries. Ice cream production is also dependent upon honey bees for alfalfa pollination, a key ingredient in milk production. Dairy cows rely on alfalfa for feed; without the cows we would not have milk, and without milk we would not have ice cream

    Other members of the Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream Bee Board are:

  • Diana Cox-Foster, Ph.D., professor of entomology and CCD researcher at Penn State
  • Dennis vanEngelsdorp, acting state apiarist with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and bee specialist at Penn State
  • Sue Cobey, bee breeder, geneticist and leader of the bee breeding program at the UC Davis Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility
  • Eric Mussen, Ph.D., extension apiculturist at the UC Davis Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility
  • Michael Parrella, Ph.D., professor of entomology and associate dean, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Division of Agricultural Sciences, UC Davis
  • Randy Oliver, beekeeping expert and teacher
  • David Hackenberg, beekeeping expert and owner of Hackenberg Apiaries
  • For more information visit


    Robert Berghage, Ph.D., is an associate professor of horticulture and bee garden expert at Pennsylvania State University. Berghage is the director of the Center for Green Roof Research at the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, and teaches a course in Eco-roof technology. He is the extension specialist for greenhouse crops and is involved with garden use of herbaceous plants and new plant evaluations. Berghage teaches a course in herbaceous plant identification, production and use, and teaches plant propagation. Dr. Berghage performs both research and extension outreach at Penn State on flower gardens and green roofs. He manages the Penn State Master Gardener program and is interested in developing pollinator-friendly plantings for the enhancement of pollinator populations.