AdviceGardening

Where’s the busy bee?

Most of us don’t necessarily hold an affection for honey bees. They sting, you can’t cuddle them and they make an annoying buzzing sound. However, honey bees are in decline and are rapidly growing extinct (along with the bumble bee and the solitary bee). Astonishingly, the number of bees in the UK decreased by 50% between 1985 and 2005 and the recent figures don’t seem to improve – what’s so remarkable is that no one seems to know why.

Factors such as wild meadows and natural habitats disappearing, pesticides, synthetic fertilisers, global warming as well as radiation from mobile phones (this may disturb the bees navigation), have all been blamed, but there’s no single culprit to bear the brunt. Whatever the cause – it’s time to take action.

Although bees need our attention and care all year long, the summer is the perfect time to start supporting the honey bee. By creating bee-friendly gardens and environments, we’ll contribute to boosting the bee population and hopefully save one of our most important food producers. In fact, bees pollinate a third of the food we eat and should it not be for these little guys we wouldn’t be able to enjoy apples, carrots or even tea.

So, how to start?

Gardening

Firstly, if you’ve got a green patch in your garden, you can start planting bee-friendly nectar-rich flowers and plants. Red clover, knapweeds and field scabions would be appreciated, as well as honeysuckle, lavender, wild roses and clematis.

Should you have limited garden space (or no garden at all), you can create a herb patch or a window box of herbs. Grow chives, dill and parsley and feed the bees as well as yourself. Another alternative for homeowners with bigger garden spaces is to cultivate vegetables and plant fruit trees (apples, cherries and plums). Owning a fruit orchard is something most of us dream about, and now there’s a great incentive to get seeding.

One heads up however, make sure you don’t use pesticides, as this won’t do the bees any favours. If you must, only use pesticides after dusk or during the autumn. Similarly, take note when you buy domestic gardening products. If they contain the chemical Neonicotinoid, they might hurt the bee more than it will do good.

Beekeeping

Another (quite obvious) way of boosting the bee population is to have a go at beekeeping. This activity isn’t just limited to rural areas – London has over 2,500 registered bee hives. You can keep an apiary, or a bee box, on your rooftop (like the Tate Modern)  or in a more obvious spot like your garden or allotment. You can also adopt a beehive, which means you help to sponsor honey bee research and education programmes. There are plenty of beekeeping courses up and down the land. Here are just a few:

North Pennine Bees run taster and weekend classes in Northumberland, Tyneside and Cumbria.

At the Oak Tree Cottage Apiary in Gloucestershire, Jeff and Chris teach beginners beekeeping courses.

For Londoners, Urban Bee in King’s Cross will set up you up with essential urban beekeeping knowledge.

Other suggestions

Other ways to keep the bees happy is to buy organic food (remember, no pesticides!) and grow your garden grass longer so the bees can take shelter when it rains (apparently, we’re not the only ones who detest precipitation). Bees also need to drink water, so place a shallow dish on your patio and create a “bee bath”. And the most obvious suggestion, don’t tarmac your garden – the bees need their natural habitats now more than ever.

If you need help with your garden and want to create the best bee-friendly environment possible but you’re just too short on time, get in touch with a local gardener or garden designer on Rated People.

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