Don’t forget about the birds and the bees

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By Jeneen Wiche

I am always a little annoyed when people ask me how to get rid of bees.  
Short of a deathly allergy, we should all be lucky enough to have a healthy population in the garden.  
I have tons out and about the landscape, in the clover where I walk daily, in the garden where I work, amid the flowers where I weed… and I have never been stung.  
Bees are vital; as I am sure you know, when it comes to pollination.  
It is not some romantic job it is a matter of serious food production. No bees, no fruit, no squash, no almonds, you get the idea.  
If you are interested in learning how to work with bees and maybe make some honey-money, you are in the right place.  
Upcoming classes are being offered around the state including the Northeast Beekeeping School Feb. 26 in Morehead; the Audubon Beekeeping School March 5 in Henderson; and the Bluegrass Beekeeping School March 12 in Frankfort.  
A special 4-day school will be offered by the Lake Barkley Beekeepers Association in April; and the Fayette County Extension office in Lexington will offer classes through their gardening tool box series. For details see www.kyagr/statevet/bees/ or call State Apiarist, Phil Craft at 502-564-3956.
Just like bees (and humans) birds need food, water and shelter. We don’t need to go to school for this one, we just need to plan for diversity in the garden.
The Audubon Society recommends that we provide seven different kinds of plants to do the trick: conifers, grasses, nectar-producing plants; summer, fall and winter fruiting plants; and nut and acorn producing trees.  
Providing a variety of food sources and places to seek shelter from inclement weather, heat or cold will keep seasonal birds in your backyard habitat. It will also attract migratory species, like the cedar waxwing, as they move through the area. When you are planning a garden scheme consider some of these plants for winter interest in the garden and food and shelter for the birds.
One of the first to ripen in the fall is the fruit of the dogwood. Nutmeat from oaks and walnuts packs a powerful punch for a high-energy bird.  The crabapples ripen next, which are usually picked clean in one day by a flock of hungry robins heading to the woods for the winter.  
You can enjoy the berries for a time, then the birds do the clean up.
Other winter-fruiting shrubs include viburnum, chokeberry, deciduous holly, American holly, nandina, and mahonia.  
Seeds persist on some plants, too.  Left over perennials in the garden can provide a meal or some protection; ornamental grasses, seeds from ripening cones on conifers, and over wintering insects under leaf matter are a special treat (plus the meal reduces pest problems later).   
If naturalizing the landscape with native plants is your goal, consider planting bittersweet, sumac or wild elderberry to provide a meal in the fall and winter. Sometimes leaving “weedy” underbrush is precisely what wildlife needs to thrive, too.  
Plants also provide necessary shelter for the birds: Eastern red cedar provides protection and berries; the Norway spruce and the Nordmann fir, two adaptable evergreens for Kentuckiana are excellent choices because of their rather dense growth habit.   
Nandina and Mahonia, two beautiful plants in the winter garden also provide both fruit and protection because they hold onto their foliage.  
Also consider some tall, twiggy deciduous shrubs by your feeders. Some birds like to dine at the feeders, other on the ground below and some do take-out. Give them a perch once they have found a seed, berry or nut.