Honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies and many other insect species have been declining since the last war. The causes are complex but the most important seems to be the gradual loss of flowers and habitat. The honeybee is just one of many insects which feed on nectar and pollen.
The spread of intensive farming and mono-agriculture has greatly reduced areas rich in wildflowers, such as hay meadows. In the UK, 75% of our total land is now agricultural, so the scarcity of flowers is a major problem for our bees. Now is the time for us to channel our amazing enthusiasm for bees into growing more flowers.
Here are a few ideas here to make your garden *bee-friendly*
A pesticide free garden is easier than you think
Grow bee-friendly plants
Plant up a window box or basket
Let your garden go wild
Build a pond
Plant a native tree
Grow a hedgerow
Make a wildlife tower
Help wildlife through the winter
The importance of ivy
Leave the mess alone
Maintain a compost heap
Contact local authorities
Buy local honey
Unwashed honey jars
I don’t like honey so why should I care?
Help beekeepers to find swarms
Become a beekeeper
A PESTICIDE FREE GARDEN IS EASIER THAN YOU THINK
Pesticides can poison birds, fish, beneficial insects and other wild life. Your children and pets are exposed similarly. Residues stay in soil, grass, air, water, and on fruits and vegetables.
Reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides which are harmful to pollinating insects (e.g. bees and butterflies) and decomposing insects (e.g. ants and blowflies).
Most creatures that we see as pests are seen by our garden favourites as food and such insects are a vital part of a functioning, bio-diverse garden ecosystem and provide a food source which will attract other creatures such as birds and small mammals.
Encouraging more diversity within the garden will prove beneficial.
Many pests can be effectively controlled using NON-TOXIC METHODS. Remember that you are not trying to remove the pest completely, but to protect your plants and crops from serious damage. Many plant oils and other organic based deterrents are totally, environmentally friendly. Get a field guide to identify insects and learn life cycles so that you don’t treat unnecessarily.
(If you need to buy pesticides then read the labels before you buy and NEVER use more than recommended. Do not apply them in windy conditions, near water sources, people, pets or wildlife habitat).
1) Removing areas of infestation by hand may be beneficial to the rest of the plot.
2) Spray with water or a light soap solution to remove aphids and similar species from plants.
3) Encourage natural predators of any specific pest into the area. Ladybirds, lacewings, frogs, and birds limit the numbers of garden pests such as aphids and slugs.
Instead of using slug pellets use a hedgehog! Tempt them in by leaving out food such as tinned or dry dog food or bacon rind and provide a water source (bread or milk can cause digestive disorders so should be avoided). Nest sites can be incorporated into the garden hedgehogs like nesting in dry leaves and wood piles and really love slugs! Slug pellets can be harmful to hedgehogs, frogs and even domestic animals if ingested.
4) Plant crops close together and disguise vulnerable plants with plant species that attract predatory insects. Pests are less likely to find their food plants.
5) Some garden pests are sensitive to specific things e.g. slugs do not like the sharp edges of eggshells, so surround plants with them. Deter others with plastic bottles or straw around the base of plants.
GROW BEE-FRIENDLY PLANTS
In built up areas, honeybees rely upon garden flowers to ensure they have a varied diet and to provide their food – nectar and pollen. They like blocks of single flowered plants e.g. asters, sunflowers, mint, marigolds, melon, cucumber, willow & lime trees. Plan your planting for all year round blooming.
Check this link for bee-friendly plants:
Look for plants at garden centres that have the *RHS Perfect for Pollinators* symbol.
PLANT UP A WINDOW BOX OR HANGING BASKET
Even if you have very little space or no garden at all, by planting up some tubs, window boxes or hanging baskets you can attract and support wildlife. As well as brightening up your walls, windows or patios you are providing a food source for bees.
Before you buy plants consider the conditions that the box will be exposed to. Is it going to be in the sun or shade and would it be in a wind trap? Buy plants to suit the conditions.
Plant a few evergreens for year round interest, leaving gaps for colourful seasonal colour which can be replaced as they fade. In the summer marigolds, nasturtiums, impatiens and snapdragons will all provide good nectar and pollen for butterflies and bees. Add a few wildflower seeds
LET YOUR GARDEN GO WILD!
If you have some space in your garden let a sunny part of it go wild and sow some wildflower seeds. This mini meadow will support bees, butterflies, small mammals and birds. If there is any grass cut it as low as possible and rake away the debris which should leave bare patches of soil. Sow your seeds over the bare patches then rake lightly. Wildflower meadows do best on soils with poor fertility (on rich soils course grasses grow faster and can swamp out the slow growing wildflowers). When the seeds have germinated and the grasses reach a height of about 10cm, cut the area to remove unwanted weeds such as chickweed and groundsel. After that cut twice a year.
1) Late August/September after plants have stopped flowering and have set their seeds. Leave the cuttings on the ground for about a week, this will allow the seeds that haven’t yet dropped to dry out and fall into the soil.
2) Late March/early April (this will cut back thistles and vigorous grasses that may have established over the winter). Then remove debris or else it would enrich the soil. It will take two or three years for the meadow to look its best.
BUILD A POND
For centuries the pond was a necessary part of the British landscape. Nearly every village and farm had a pond and it provided water for both people and farm animals. Nowadays we don’t need ponds for water and most of the old ones, being man-made, have become overgrown with plants, built over or polluted. Over 80% of all ponds in this country are in private gardens. They are an essential habitat for many species of animals and plants, including the increasingly rare amphibians – the frogs, toads and newts. Add a pond or water feature. This will attract insects, small mammals and birds. It need not be big or contain fish but the pond and surrounding area should be planted with a mixture of native plants. You will be helping to protect an important habitat which is rapidly disappearing from our countryside.
Honeybees need to drink lots of water just like we do and also use it to cool their hive. No room for a pond? Set out a shallow edged dish of water filled with pebbles so that the bees can climb in and out and not drown. This container was part of an old fountain feature which was filled it with bits of wood, bark, stones, dry leaves and peat so that no large areas of water were left. Place the containers in the sun but don’t let them dry out the peat will help with this as it holds a lot of water. Don;t keep cleaning it out because honeybees like brackish water.
Enjoy controlled untidiness, not time-consuming lawn maintenance by cutting down the size of your lawn. Go Native! Native plants and weeds mean less care, less time, less expense so add more of these to your garden to make healthier habitats for the birds and the bees.
Maybe establish a clover lawn. White Clover is a fantastic nitrogen fixer (it actually makes the soil better as it grows). It requires very little water or mowing, and attracts honeybees and other beneficial insects during its bloom cycle.
Make your turf tough by using grass varieties developed for your area. Use sharp blades to mow 3 to 4 inches high. Short clippings decompose fast to add nitrogen instead of thatch. Water deeply only when needed and aerate for dense, deep roots.
PLANT A NATIVE TREE
Native trees are amongst the very best plants for wildlife, providing nectar- rich flowers, buds, berries, fruits, seeds and nuts, as well as places to breed, shelter and hibernate. By planting one or two of these you can bring the magic of the woodland wildlife to your garden!
Ashridge Trees – Native British Trees List
GROW A HEDGEROW
As woodlands have been destroyed over the years, wildlife and the wildflowers in them have become adapted to living in the hedgerows but many of these have been cut down.
So grow a hedge instead of building a wall or a fence, even a short one will be welcomed by all sorts of wildlife. One made of mixed, native trees such as holly, hawthorn, hazel, yew, beech, dog-rose, maple and wild privet will provide food and shelter for many garden birds and mammals such as weasels and voles.
Add some climbers such as bramble, elderberries, blackberries, rosehips. Allow flowers such as violets, dandelions, primroses, red campion, stitchwort and cow parsley to grow up around the base of the hedge. This will attract pollinating insects.
No room for a hedge? Then plant climbers such as honeysuckle, clematis and ivy against walls and fences to provide winter shelter for birds and over-wintering species of butterfly. Don’t tidy up the bottom of the hedge too much fallen leaves and long grass will provide shelter for animals. With careful trimming, so that the hedge grows thickly, you will be providing an excellent wildlife habitat as well as a very interesting garden for yourself!
MAKE A WILDLIFE TOWER
Recycled pallets nailed together and filled with sheep’s wool, straw, fir cones and thistle heads. Rolled corrugated paper in plastic tubes, broken pots, and egg boxes provide homes for over wintering insects such as lacewings and ladybirds.
Bamboo canes will provide nesting holes for pollinators such as solitary bees. Place rotten wood down below which will attract wood-boring beetles and fungi. Stones and ventilation bricks will give additional hiding places. Plant sedum on the roof to help retain water as this will maintain a damp dark habitat for insects of all sorts.
HELP THE WILDLIFE THROUGH THE WINTER
Food for wildlife gets scarce in autumn, and many species may need a helping hand to get stocked up for a cold winter. Few species are as important in the garden as bees. Numbers are declining dramatically which does not bode well for keen wildlife gardeners.
If you want some autumn creatures in the garden, it is important to make sure your garden is bee-friendly because once autumn comes around all the soft fruit the bees have pollinated will provide food for birds, mammals and other insects. Planting some late or winter blooming flowers will help to provide nectar and pollen to the honeybees, other bees and butterflies. Michaelmas daisies, asters and ivy are good ones to start with.
THE IMPORTANCE OF IVY
Ivy is disliked by many gardeners but it is fantastic for wildlife and does far less damage than people think.
Leave a healthy crop in autumn and you will be doing many species a huge favour. The flowers can provide insect species with nectar through late autumn and early winter. Honeybees love ivy nectar and pollen. Ivy honey has a very strong distinctive flavour and sets rapidly. Insects like butterflies can take cover amongst the ivy during the winter months and birds can feed on the berries throughout the winter when other food supplies are scarce.
LEAVE THE MESS ALONE!
It is very tempting to have big garden tidy up once summer’s glory is over but this is a crucial time for wildlife. If you disturb creatures now, they can waste energy trying to find a new habitat which is the last thing they need with winter on the way.
Leave some plants uncut through the winter to provide food (seeds and berries) and shelter for birds and other small creatures. Give them plenty of places to take shelter: e.g. Lavender and other evergreen shrubs are handy for insects to cosy down in, and butterflies rely on evergreen climbers. A pile of rocks and bark can be a haven for toads and newts that like to squash into small spaces.
MAINTAIN A COMPOST HEAP
Making compost is quite easy. All you need to do is provide the right ingredients and let nature do the rest. You can either make it right on the ground or use a bin. Locate it in a sunny or semi-shaded position, directly on the soil or turf and away from water-courses. Heap layers of leaves, grass and weeds and mix regularly. You can also use kitchen waste and paper products. About 40 per cent of the average dustbin contents are suitable for home-composting so it helps cut down on landfill too. The compost will encourage creatures such as worms, centipedes and woodlice and provide more cover for wildlife such as bumble bees.
CONTACT YOUR LOCAL AUTHORITY
Local authorities manage many parks, gardens and open spaces and most now recognise the importance of leaving areas uncut. These places can be green oases for bees, butterflies and other wildlife.
If they have not already done so, then ask if they can leave parts of the grass uncut and add some bee friendly wildflowers. These areas will turn into mini meadows and provide a good habitat and feeding ground for wildlife including birds.
Perhaps no other insect apart from the wasp evokes picnic-time hysteria than bees. Most bees are docile and not aggressive even near the nest. The males can’t sting; and the female workers who can sting are really not out to get you!. When kept properly, bees can be good neighbours and only sting when provoked.
Curiosity may lead bees to inspect you in case you are a source of food – unfortunately this normally results in people flapping their hands, which is exactly the wrong thing to do. Stay calm and move slowly away and the little bee will soon lose interest when she realises you can’t provide food that she likes.
Bees do not like leather smells which reminds them of their least favourite of animals – the horse, nor are they keen on the smell of alcohol and they are often attracted by scented soaps, perfumes and shampoos. Dark clothing is regarded by them as a threat – it could be a bear!
BUY LOCAL HONEY IF YOU CAN
There are many beekeepers in this country who work quite a considerable amount of hours and spend quite a lot of money to keep honeybees alive and well. Buying honey from local beekeepers helps them to recover some of the costs of protecting these extremely important little insects. This honey is processed naturally and complies with all food standards requirements without damage to the honey. It tastes different to highly refined supermarket honey and has a flavour that reflects local flora. It also has added benefit of pollen which could help with your hay fever! For a regular supply find a “real” beekeeper in your area and when you have purchased your jar, spend a moment reflecting on how much work the honeybees and their keepers have done to transform nectar into the sweet tasting, golden liquid called honey.
DON’T LEAVE UNWASHED JARS OF HONEY OUTSIDE YOUR BACK DOOR.
Honey imported from overseas especially can contain bacteria and spores that are very harmful to honeybees. Bees will find the jar and feed on the remaining honey. This could infect the bee which may pass the infection on to the rest of her colony resulting in death of the colony. Always wash out honey jars and dispose of them carefully.
I DON’T LIKE HONEY SO WHY SHOULD I CARE?
About one-third of human food is derived from insect-pollinated plants. Honeybees are much more than just honey producers; they are responsible for a major part of this pollination. They play a critical part in the human food chain. If we had a serious loss of honeybees in the UK, then we would have to import food from overseas and costs would go sky high!
HELP BEEKEEPERS TO FIND SWARMS
If you see aswarm contact us or your local authority. Also see our Swarm section. Swarming is a natural process so honeybees can increase their numbers. The bees in a swarm are usually very gentle and present very little danger but they can turn aggressive if disturbed or sprayed with water. Leave them alone and wait for an experienced beekeeper to arrive to collect the swarm and take it away.
Invite a beekeeper to come to your local group and give an illustrated talk about honeybees, products of the hive and pollination.
Honeybees are a part of our folklore and are one of only two insect species that are managed to provide us with essential services. Honeybees have been on this earth for about 35 million years and are ideally adapted to their natural environment. They have lived in England since 5500BC. Without them our landscape would be dramatically changed.
BECOME A BEEKEEPER
If you are really interested in helping bees, why not think about becoming a beekeeper?
If you have patience and some spare time you will find it a very enjoyable and fascinating hobby and you get to eat your own honey too! Every year PRBKA runs Beginner’s Beekeeping courses and helps people to find a colony of bees and the equipment they need.