We can all do our bit for the bees around us. Here are ten things you can do to help bees.
1. Let there be weeds in your garden
Weeds provide excellent forage for all types of bees (honey bees, bumble bees and solitary bees).
If you have space, why not allow a ‘wild area’ in your garden, where you can literally throw a handful of wild flower seeds and see what comes up over the following years. It takes a long time to establish a true wild flower meadow (and NO FERTILIZER!) but even in the first year when you let the weeds flourish, you will find that there are hundreds of little native flowers which the bees will really appreciate. Remember, to bees, the lawn is just a desert.
2. Plant early flowering trees
The beautiful spring flowering trees suitable even for small gardens can provide excellent sources of pollen and nectar for bees. Avoid those with double flowers, though, as they tend to have little pollen or nectar and in any case the multiple petals make access difficult for pollinators.
3. Plant flowers of one type together in generous groups
This enables the bees to find rich sources of pollen and nectar in one place, when the group flowers together. You can achieve a long flowering period by removing the dead heads of the flowers, and this will encourage the plants to flower again. Even a quick chop with your garden shears (‘Chelsea Chop‘) when the first flowering is past will bring rich new flower rewards for you and the bees.
4. Plant flowers with open faces
Plant flowers with simpler forms and open faces, like daisies, rather than hybrid double forms. The hybrids usually lack all pollen and nectar, and the double forms are very difficult for bees to forage.
5. Avoid using garden chemicals
Unfortunately many products sold for garden use are harmful to bees; even some which contain neonicotinoids are available. Similarly, many garden paints contain insecticides. Search out the ones which do not!
6. Do not tidy up too much
Many bumble bees nest in the ground, or near it. Old clumps of dead grass, the leaves at the bottom of the hedge, the compost heap – all provide excellent nesting sites for bumble bees.
7. Leave a bit of ivy somewhere
During the winter, the bees sometimes leave their nests to forage if the weather is sunny. They need to find food if they come out at this time, and ivy provides both pollen and nectar for them.
8. Teach your children (and others) to enjoy bees
Bees are not aggressive creatures. Although they can sting if you tread too near to their nests or hives, they are far too busy about their own business to bother you unless they are threatened. Teach your children to respect them and see the good work which they do in the garden, providing pollination to your crops and other plants.
9. Think of your garden as a haven
By encouraging bees in your garden, you are providing a haven for these vital pollinators, whether you live in town (the asphalt jungle) or in the countryside (monoculture crops).
10. Why not become a bee watcher?
Visit the Biodiversity Ireland website to find out about the Bumble Bee Observation volunteering project.
With thanks to Mary Montaut.