How to help honey bees – in the garden
10 ways a gardener can help honey bees.
All over the world honey bees are facing problems of survival, the reason for which are numerous but sadly usually related to human activity. We’ve put together some ideas on how to help honey bees in the garden here:
The native, dark European Honey Bee – Apis mellifera has shown a sharp decline in numbers over the last decade. This is concerning, not only because of the importance of bees as a honey producer, but because of the invaluable contribution bees make in pollinating crops and wildflowers. All of us can do a few small things to help reverse the decline in our native honey bees; small things done on a large scale can make a big difference. As part of our quest to make gardening more sustainable here are some ideas on how to help honey bees.
- Plant in blocks. The best way of attracting honey 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. Honey bees don’t fly randomly from one flower to another but collect pollen mainly from the same type of flower or plant. It’s best to plant in drifts of the same species of plant so the bees have plenty of what they like in a seamless succession.
- Plant for all seasons. Good plants to grow for winter, often when the bees need it most, are berberis, viburnum, escallonia and skimmia. It might be tempting to cut back ivy but if left to flower, it provides the last source of nectar and pollen for bees before they cluster into the hive for winter. As an added bonus once pollinated by the bees, the flowers develop into berries to feed the birds over winter. In winter, the snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis is vital for pollinators, as are the hellebore species such as Helleborus niger (the Christmas Rose.) Growing drifts of the winter flowering crocus in a lawn will provide a delightful splash of colour in the early spring and a vital source of early pollen for the bees.
- Choose plants that have open, simple flowers. These give easy access to the pollen and nectar honey bees require. Member of the daisy family, or any set on a ‘bobble’ such as scabious or members of the thistle family attract honey bees, are easily grown and a feast for the human and insect eye.
- Grow herbs in containers. Herbs grown in window boxes or pots smell wonderful to us and the honey bees too. Lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage and marjoram are all good choices and very easy to grow in a sunny position. Our gardens, balconies, window boxes and containers can all provide honey bees with a banquet of nectar and pollen. We don’t have to have a large garden to help honey bees!
- Weeds in the lawn. If you can bear it, try to leave some dandelions to flower and flourish, if you don’t want them to seed everywhere cut off the heads straight after flowering and dispose in the green waste. Many of the plants we consider to be weeds are actually great sources of food for the honey bee and other pollinators. The combination of leaving a few weeds alone until flowering finishes, as well as growing nectar or pollen rich plants can make a huge difference.
- Look out for bee-friendly annuals to grow. Annuals, such as Cosmos bipinnatus, grow easily and prolifically from seeds, just look for seed packets labelled as ‘bee friendly.’
- Grow plants with a long season of interest. I love the bee-magnet Verbena bonariensis for its elegant, long lasting flower heads which last from July through to the first frosts. It makes an excellent partnership in autumn with the daisy-like flowers of Echinacea purpurea, another bee magnet.
- Plant flowering trees. Bees love flowering trees such as willows, sycamores and fruit trees such as pear plum and apple. Our old damson tree is literally smothered with honey bees in the early spring and having done their job as pollinators there are an abundance of damsons for humans and birds to enjoy later in the season.
- Grow fruit. Fruit bushes such as blackcurrant, gooseberry and raspberry are very attractive to honey bees, whose work is essential if the bushes are to bear summer fruit.
- Become a bee keeper. I’m soon to become the proud owner of two beehives and I know virtually nothing about beekeeping! Thanks to Helen Raine, from the Oxfordshire Beekeepers Association, I am getting all the benefits of having my own honey with none of the hassle. Helen provides a complete bee keeping service so you can enjoy making an immediate green impact and increased pollination in your garden and surroundings. See Helen’s Local Honey for more information.The British Beekeepers Association have an excellent website as a starting point. https://www.bbka.org.uk/Listing/Category/bees-beekeeping