GRANBURY (CBSDFW.COM) – You have likely heard about current troubles with the honeybee population. A combination of disease, lack of food and pesticide use have stressed the honeybee population across the United States, including here in Texas.

There are native, wild honeybees in North Texas, and they need your support. Every backyard in North Texas can help by taking just a few small steps to help increase the population of one of the biggest heroes of the insect world.

CBS 11 News found the perfect person to talk to about this subject. Katie Toon owns and runs the Woodbine Flower Farm, located outside of Granbury. It is a cut flower business with most of its customers coming from nearby Fort Worth.

Toon’s parents moved to Granbury when she was a child, and turned an old farmhouse into a successful bed and breakfast operation. When they took over the century-old property, there was a wild honeybee colony in an old oak tree right next to the house.

Now, some people would be narrow-minded enough to declare the bees as pests and destroy or remove the colony. Toon’s parents, however, are extremely environmentally conscience, and that would have been the last thing that they would have done. So, for decades, the bee colony stayed high up in a oak tree, growing right next to the house.

In fact, as years moved on, Toon’s family had to redesign and rebuild part of a room and the roof next to the tree in order to keep out of the colony’s way.

Toon went to college at Texas Tech and majored in agriculture. She started her flower farm on the family property, because she knew that she already had the key ingredient for her business to flourish — a healthy and rather large bee population located right next door.

“Our bees obviously take care of all our pollination needs out at the farm,” said Toon.

After attending some bee classes and consulting with honeybee experts, Toon learned a few things to keep her bee colony thriving. “We take really good care of it by just leaving them alone,” Toon said. “Bees don’t want to hurt us. They just want to do their own thing. So, we just let them be up there.”

Toon noticed that the bees were taking a break at around the same time every afternoon, just around 3:30 p.m. or so. They were gathering around the water hose, where water would gather around pipes and on the ground. It did not take long to derive a conclusion. “We realized that they needed to have their own fresh water very close to the flowers,” said Toon. The bees were getting thirsty and hot after working all day. She immediately put out a small bee bath to provide water and a break. Within days, hundreds of bees would gather, taking turns sipping water. And, yes, it was always at around the same time of day.

During the summer months, there is plenty of food for the bees. The problem comes in the early and late parts of the year. (The bees begin to hibernate in December and start coming out to look for food by early February.) “The number one thing to do is do fall planting,” Toon said. “For us, we plant Bachelors Buttons in September or early October. They actually have nectar inside of the stem, so bees can go to it before there is even any flowers, and they can go and have a little snack.”

The third — and very important — thing that Toon does to keep the bees healthy is to avoid harsh chemicals when treating her crop. “Pesticides will be picked up by the bees and tracked back into their colony, and kill off the healthy members that are in there. So, we try to be very careful with the pesticides and herbicides that we use,” Toon said.

Toon only uses neem oil, insecticide soap and Spinosad to control insects. These do not appear to bother the bees at all.

Do you want to feed the bees in your yard? The main things that you can do are plant late fall and early spring flowers, and avoid using dangerous pesticides. Provide a little water for the bees as well, along with the birds, and your garden will become BEE-utiful.

Here are some other tips from Toon:

  • Bees love fresh herbs, and herbs are also useful for humans to use in homemade recipes. Toon recommends herbs such as lavender, basil and sage for bees. Eating locally and organically, including things grown in your own garden, helps save the bees, because fewer pesticides are sprayed.
  • Summer flowers that are great to plant right now for bees are calendula, sunflowers, zinnia and geraniums. Try planting summer flowers next tomatoes and peppers for better pollination and more veggies!
  • Bachelor Buttons are great to plant in the fall because they have nectar in their stems and flowers, which makes them a great source of food for bees in late winter and beyond.
  • Toon recommends not killing weeds, such as dandelions, because they are one of the first sources of nectar for bees. You should also try to avoid pesticides and herbicides, which can bring poison into hives.
  • Bees don’t want to sting you, because they die when they do. So, don’t be afraid of bees. Just let them “bee!”
  • For more information, visit Woodbine Flower Farm at woodbineflowerfarm.co.
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