How to attract bees into the garden
Bees are vital for the pollination of fruit and vegetables and for this reason alone, gardeners should be looking for ways to attract them into the garden. However, you may have noticed that bees are becoming more and more scarce in our gardens.
So where are our missing bees? It almost sounds like we misplaced something, and now we’re wondering where to find it again. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case – bees are not simply playing hide and seek somewhere, waiting for the right conditions to venture out. Our bees have been disappearing for some time now, in the case of wild bees, this has been gradual over the years, but we’re witnessing steeper declines more recently (and extinctions) of some species. It’s thought that growing levels of disease, several poor summers and the loss of wild flowers have all contributed to the collapse of bee colonies. If we want to attract them back, as gardeners, I think we need to look at what we’re planting and the chemicals we’re using, if any.
As a trend, I’ve noticed that more people are becoming increasingly aware of the need to plant flowers to help pollinators and other wildlife. Even in small spaces and difficult conditions, there is generally something we can plant to help bees. Ivy grows at a fantastic rate in Oxfordshire soil and I’m a particular culprit of eradicating it virtually on site because its dense growth can swamp other plants and dominate the foliage on trees. However… I’ve been having another think about this mass destruction of ivy and my role in it because it is a fantastic source of nectar for bees.
The best way of attracting bees into your garden is to plant clumps of bee-friendly plants in sunny places, these will be more attractive than plants that are scattered or in a shady place. Bee friendly plants are any with a rich source of nectar, Lavender, Jasmine and Foxgloves are good examples and easy to find in garden centres. As an added bonus, such plants usually have an attractive smell for bees and humans too.
Avoid double or multi-petaled cultivars of plants as they may lack pollen or nectar or it may be difficult for bees to reach them. Also avoid pollen-free cultivars of some plants, such as sunflowers, that are grown as florists’ flowers. If you have to use pesticides do so sparingly and don’t spray open flowers.
You could try providing nest sites for bees. Some will nest in hollow stems, such as bamboo canes, hole diameters in the range 2-8mm are required. Bee nest tubes can be bought in garden centres but if you’re really keen to attract bees, how about becoming a beekeeper? Another member of our book club has beehives in her garden so presumably there’s no shortage of honey for her this year. The British Bee Keepers association have an excellent, informative, website if you feel inspired to take this up as new.
More facts about bees
Once you have something to attract them into your garden, the two types of bee you’re most likely to see are the honeybee and the bumble (or humble) bee. Both are allies of the equally humble gardener, by taking pollen from one plant to another, and are known as ‘social bees’ because they live in amazingly organised communities in the middle of which lies… THE QUEEN.
Like many of us women, she is the heart and soul of the colony and the reason for nearly everything the rest do. Without her the colony can’t survive so, accordingly, she’s treated with great respect. She is, in fact, an egg-laying machine, capable of producing more than 1,500 eggs a day. Quite rightly, in return, she gets completely pampered – by worker bees. These are sterile females who collect food, care for the lava and build the honeycombs. Sorry boys, but in this female dominated society there is little role for the male or Drone. He fertilises the queen, is reared only when food is plentiful and then driven out to die at the end of the season. It seems that it’s tough love in the fascinating world of bees.