One of the clearest signs that spring has arrived is the gentle hum of bees going about their business. However, all is not well for our buzzy little friends.
Chronic bee paralysis is a nasty viral disease affecting Honey Bees that kills 40 per cent of colonies that become infected. The disease has been in the UK for many years, but in the last decade, instances have exploded, with most of the UK and Wales now reporting cases.
On top of this, bees are also suffering from climate change, habitat loss and pesticides.
Bees are vitally important to humans as they pollinate around 70% of the world’s crop species. Other pollinators do exist, but without bees, our diets would be a lot less varied and nutritious.
There are lots of things anyone with a bit of outdoor space can do. Even if you only have a room for a window box, you’ll give your local bee population a helping hand by making it bee-friendly.
Introduce Bee Friendly Plants and Flowers
The best way to encourage bees and other pollinating insects to pay a visit to your garden is to plant a diverse mix of nectar and pollen-rich plants.
Where possible, choose native plant species, as they have grown and evolved with our insects, and it’s these plant varieties they have thrived on for thousands of years. Native species are also easier to look after as they tend to be better suited to the UK climate.
Having a good mix of flower shapes and sizes can help attract a variety of pollinators. Bumblebee’s, for example, have different length tongues that can feed from different shaped flowers.
If you have the space, you also want to pick plants that flower at different times of the year, from early spring to late summer. There are even a small number of winter flowering plants available.
When choosing your plants, avoid those with double or multi-petaled flowers. Bees can find these more challenging to access, and they often don’t have nectar or pollen.
For further more advice on which plants you should choose to create your bee-friendly garden, we recommend taking a look at the sites below;
Build a Bee Hotel
A bee hotel will help attract solitary bees as well as a variety of other insects to your garden. It’s a relatively simple process to build your own bee hotel using bamboo canes and a plank of untreated wood. However, if you’d rather buy one ready-made, then there are lots available online, including a great option from Marie Curie.
Many common insecticides that are available from your local garden centre or DIY shop contain neonicotinoids (thiacloprid and acetamiprid). Neonicotinoids are known as systemic chemicals, which means they are absorbed into the plant, making the pollen and nectar toxic to pollinating insects such as bees.
Neonicotinoids hit the headlines recently as the UK government lifted a ban on their use by farmers to treat sugar beat. You can read more about this at the Wildlife Trust website and sign the petition asking the government to reverse its decision.
Love Your Weeds
Bees and other pollinators aren’t fussy when it comes to flowers. They are just as happy visiting your expensive garden centre purchases as they are the dandelions popping up on your lawn. This may be hard for some gardeners to stomach, but allowing weeds and wildflowers to grow will help turn your garden into a bee paradise.
If you have a lawn, then consider extending the time between mowing to give wildflowers a chance to grow. Another option is laying Wildflower Turf in part of your garden. The turf is enriched with a variety of native wildflowers, which provide year-round colour and a great selection of flowers that bees will love.
Give Your Bees a Drink
Many people don’t realise that bees need to drink water. To finish off your bee-friendly garden, why not create a water source they can easily access.
To start, you need a shallow tray. When you purchase bedding plants from your local garden centre, they often come in these types of trays. Alternatively, a paint tray is equally effective, but please ensure it’s either brand new or thoroughly cleaned before using it.
Add a few stones, twigs and leaves and fill the tray with water. Make sure that some of the stones stay above the surface of the water, so bees have a place to land. The water will evaporate pretty quickly in hot weather, so keep topping it up, so there is a constant supply for your buzzy visitors.