Bees are an essential part of the natural environment. Along with other beneficial insects they play an important role in our fruit, vegetable and flowering plant production. Over 60% of crops depend on insect pollination to assist with their growth, with honeybees and bumblebees taking responsibility for a large proportion of this. There has been a noted decrease in the bee population over recent years, mainly due to climate change, industrial agriculture and the destruction of their natural habitat. However, there are steps we can take to support the dwindling bee population, providing the right conditions for them to prosper.
Bee Friendly Planting
Make the most of your garden and fill it with the type of plants that bees are looking for. Bees feed on nectar and pollen, found in flowering plants, their source of essential sugars, fats and proteins. Choose native plant species, they are sure to prosper wherever you are and are better suited to the local bee population. Bees are said to be attracted to bold, brighter coloured plants and will spot them easier amongst garden greenery. Cultivate a variety of plant species to provide a show of colour throughout the year and allow them to bloom in sequence, bulbs are perfect for this. A seasonal succession of colour will keep the bees busy and well-fed throughout their active time. Pots and planters on the balcony or patio containing flowering herbs and perennials are just as effective at attracting hard-working bees.
Give them a Drink
Bees do need to drink as they go about their busy lives and will often suffer from dehydration. During hot dry spells place a dish or a shallow container of water in your flower bed or a shady spot. The bee will easily find this thirst-quenching treat and take a break to top up before heading out to work again.
Bees are extremely vulnerable to herbicides and pesticides and their numbers will continue to dwindle unless the invasive practice of chemical spraying is addressed. If you have problems with garden diseases and pests then seek out organic and other natural alternatives. A light mixture of garlic and water or a soapy solution will tackle aphids and other threats to your fruit and vegetables without harming the bees.
Go Easy on the Weeds
Weeds are considered the scourge of most gardeners, taking the blame for failed crops and ruined lawns. However, some gardeners often consider a weed as a flower growing in the wrong place and has just as much right to exist.
Bees regard dandelions as a rich source of nourishment and will happily take their fill from them, even if they are in the middle of your lawn. When you are mowing and strimming in the garden, leave patches of clover and other wildflowers for the bees to feed on. They can be cut back after they have flowered.
Build a Home
Honeybees live in hives as part of productive, well organised colonies. Solitary bees, on the other hand, live and work alone, nesting wherever they can find a home. They choose to make their nests, and lay their eggs, in drills and tunnels, often among fallen and decaying wood or just below the surface of compacted ground. Building a nest site for bees can be an excellent way to protect them. Their favoured habitat is among decomposing vegetation. Try and refrain from tidying up or burning rotting timber and windfallen branches, leave it alone or, if it is causing an obstruction, create a log pile. As leaves and other garden debris collects around the pile the bees will take up residence along with other insects, all beneficial to the well-being of your garden.
If you don’t have the space for a log pile you can buy or make a purpose-built bee hotel using natural materials.
Make the decision to buy organic, locally sourced produce. Discouraging the use of chemical pesticides that harm bees is the first step towards challenging damaging agricultural practices. Promote and publicise your decision to friends and colleagues and enquire regularly at local shops and markets if organic alternatives are available. Encourage activism by talking about the subject.
Protecting the struggling bee population is part of a growing awareness of environmental responsibility. Living sustainably goes a long way towards protecting our fragile eco-system and the precious wildlife that depend on it. By helping the bees, we are starting to address the consequences of climate change and the health of our planet.