Five ways with…..a bee friendly garden

Don’t worry….bee happy. Well, that’s easy enough if you’re not a honey bee – but if you are, you’re probably having a tough time of it. Honey bees and other species are disappearing from Britain in their droves, threatened by infections, foreign parasites and insecticides. Our recent wet summers haven’t been helping, either, as bees don’t fly in the rain. There’s plenty you can do to help, though, whether you’re a keen gardener, love honey or just want to protect Britain’s bees and other wildlife.

1. Plant friendly plants

Bees love brightly coloured flowers, and need pollen and nectar to help feed their colony. In exchange for their meal, they pollinate the flowers which then produce fruit or seeds. Bees are a huge help to gardeners, carrying out the pollination process efficiently for an increased crop, which also helps benefit other wildlife. They’re particularly partial to hollyhocks, geraniums, poppies, wallflowers, foxgloves and bluebells, and they also love a herb garden, with borage, lavender and rosemary.

2. Use less insecticide

Pesticides are a major threat to honey bees, as the chemicals kill indiscriminately. Natural and organic alternatives are available, so think about changing to these whenever possible. Specialist providers such as sell ‘good’ insect larvae such as ladybirds, lacewings and parasitic wasps, which attack aphids. Slugs can be repelled with the use of copper bands, a thick layer of coffee grounds or slug traps. Hang fly papers in greenhouses, grease the base of fruit trees to prevent crawling insects, or simply use a spray with no pesticide.

3. Make a bee haven

Honey bees are social, and live together in a community. Other types of bee are solitary, and prefer to take up residence on their own. There are more than 200 species of solitary bee, of which the best known are probably the leafcutter bee and the mason bee. Although they don’t make honey, these species are excellent pollinators and to be encouraged.You can buy a ready made bee house and hang it in your garden, but it’s also simple and inexpensive to make your own. Start with a sturdy open-sided wooden box, and waterproof it by staining or painting. Bees hate to get wet, so give one side of the box an overhang to create a roof. Fill the box with bundles of hollow stems, or with block of wood drilled with small holes. Hang it in a sheltered position, and your bee population should soar.

4. Adopt a bee hive

If you’d love to keep bees but don’t have the space, the British Beekeepers Association run a scheme to adopt a hive. You’ll get a pack of bee information and regular updates about your hive, as well as a jar of honey and other goodies. According to the association, your donation goes to support “vital research into honey bee health, and education into good bee husbandry”.

5. Create a wildlife garden

However big your garden is, you can turn a corner into a wildlife sanctuary. This does need a little thought though, and isn’t just a matter to leaving it to look after itself. Leave the grass long, which provides habitat for caterpillars and other grubs to shelter. Provide a source of water, and training climbing plants against walls to provide shelter. Leave any dead wood to encourage beetles, fungi and mosses. This will encourage not only bees, but other beneficial insects such as ladybirds, as well as providing  food source for a variety of birds.

Photo by Tom Pennington

By Sara Walker

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