1 PUT UP NESTING BOXES
Homes for solitary bees, such as the leafcutter bee that nibbles the edges of rose leaves, can be made from wood or small logs (for instructions on making, siting and aftercare, see foxleas.com). Honeybee nesting boxes (not hives for honey collection) designed to help conserve wild bees populations are available from Bees for Development.
2 HERBS FOR ALL
The beauty about growing culinary herbs is organic plants are easy to source even from mainstream garden centres. You can first pinch leaves for cooking and then let the plants flower for the bees. Thyme and origanum are perfect for window boxes or hanging baskets as are compact varieties of lavender and creeping varieties of rosemary.
3 GARDEN NATURALLY
Simply doing less garden tidying will help bees. Leave some areas of grass to grow a bit longer, for example, on a sunny bank or alongside a hedge, and you will see wild flowers grow. Most of the pollen collected by honeybees in autumn comes from ivy flowers, so if you can postpone cutting back mature ivy until winter this will also help the bees.
4 PLANT CHOICE
As there are now fewer flowers in the countryside, gardens are an increasingly important source of nectar and pollen. There are plenty of bee-friendly plant lists available so you can improve the menu on offer and simply observing neighbouring gardens to see which flowers are visited by bumblebees or honeybees in your locality will get you started. Aim to have a mix of different flowers, a cottage-garden style rather than be minimal. Raise your own plants from seed or cuttings if possible so you can grow them organically.
5 LOCAL LINKS
Could you buy honey from a local beekeeper? Is there a nature reserve in your area? Even if the latter was initially set up to conserve wildflowers and butterflies they are also useful foraging places for bees so visit or support them if you can. Could you campaign for your local park or cemetery to be more environmentally friendly by cutting the grass less often?
6 THE BIGGER PICTURE
There is now evidence that neonicotinoid insecticides, widely used in agriculture on oil seed rape, in commercial horticulture for raising plants and in some garden bug guns, can harm bees. While there are other studies that have found no correlation you might want to support businesses that are trying not to use them. Rest assured it is quite possible to have a beautiful garden without using these insecticides.
7 DO YOUR RESEARCH
To find out how bees live in the wild read Thomas D Seeley’s Following the Wild Bees. This will help you understand these wonderful creatures. A world authority on wild bees, Professor Seeley has been studying wild bees in Arnot Forest in New York State for 40 years.
Here in the UK, Professor Dave Goulson based at Sussex University gives unequivocal advice based on his research. There is a YouTube clip of his bee-friendly garden and he blogs regularly on the science of bees. He is also involved in Buzz Club whose motto is ‘bee science starts at home’. Members, who pay an annual donation of £24, can contribute to research projects using their garden as a living laboratory.
8 BEGINNER BEEKEEPING
We recommened anyone interested in keeping honeybees attends a beginners’ course first before jumping straight in and buying a lot of kit. Getting the right hive will be an investment in itself and there are lots of options to consider. If it isn’t for you, remember there are lots of other ways you can help bees.
- Words: Liz Dobbs
- Photograph: DanyL / shutterstock.com
- Article extract from issue 7 of Breathe – order digital edition here