These quiet winter months are a good time to plan your garden for the coming year, and while you’re doing so, why not think about helping our precious bees at the same time.
Bees in the UK (as well as around the world) are having a crisis at the moment. Much of their natural habitat has been lost over the last 50 or so years, particularly wildflowers in meadows etc., by building and farming. And some of the widely-used pesticides are toxic to bees. We need to help them now before we lose our wild pollinators which would be detrimental to our crops. More than 70 of the 100 crops that provide 90% of the world’s food rely on bees for pollination, according to a recent report by the UN. There are things we can do to make our gardens bee-friendly:
Buy organic plants, seeds and bulbs that are free from pesticides.
Try to reduce any pesticides used in your garden – ideally, stop altogether if you can, and certainly don’t use them on any plants in flower. At any rate, pesticides containing imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam are illegal – they were banned by the EU in 2018. If you have any old bottles lying around containing these neonics, they must be disposed of properly.
Why not put a bee house in your garden. This will provide a place to nest for solitary bees. You can buy these online – or you can even make your own. Apart from helping the bees, these can make an attractive feature in your garden. Here’s a link to Friends of the Earth’s website page on how to build a bee hotel: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/bees/make-a-bee-house and the RSPB’s website on a bee B&B: https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/give-nature-a-home-in-your-garden/garden-activities/buildabeebandb/.
Plant some bee-attracting flowers in your garden such as wildflowers, bluebells, foxgloves, honeysuckle, and red and white clover. You can buy packets of flower seeds that have been put together especially with bees in mind. They particularly like blues, yellows and oranges. Here is a link to the Royal Horticultural Society’s comprehensive list of plants that are good for bees: https://www.rhs.org.uk/science/pdf/conservation-and-biodiversity/wildlife/plants-for-pollinators-garden-plants.pdf.
Try to be a bit more laid-back about weeding. Bees like weeds, e.g. dandelions!
If you have the space for it, consider planting some large shrubs or small trees. Trees that flower in the winter and early spring such as wild cherries, willow and hazel are a good choice as well as apple trees.
And don’t forget to put out water as bees need to drink too. They also evaporate water when they are cooling their hives. Put some water in a bowl and fill it with some pebbles or some glass beads so the bees have something to stand on, as they can drown in the water otherwise.
If you see an exhausted bee in your garden, you can put out a sugar solution to give it a quick emergency burst of energy (ratio 2:1 sugar to water). However, you shouldn't leave this sugar solution out permanently as it might make the bees lazy - nectar is best for them, and of course we don't want to put them off pollinating.
These wonderful creatures do so much for us – I really think it’s our turn to do something for them before we lose them.
Written by Leslie Chetland
26th January 2019