Quite simply, we need to start being a little bit more bee friendly. They need our help!
Last weekend I signed up for the ‘keep your garden buzzing’ Ransoms event, to find out why. The brilliantly animated Bob Hogge of the Jersey Bee Keepers Association gave us a whistle stop tour of pollination, an insight into the causes of bee decline and, helpfully, provided loads of tips for being more bee friendly.
Bottom line, healthy bee populations are vital both for human health and wellbeing. Bees pollinate many agricultural crops and if they’re not around to do the job, there simply won’t be food on our plate.
Shocking fact: of the 27 species of bee in the UK, three are now extinct and many more are under threat. Recent predictions indicate that if nothing is done to stem the decline, the honeybee population could be wiped out in ten years. A species that has been on this earth for about 25 millions years wiped out by humans in less than ten! But it’s not too late.
Pollination is win-win
The quick science bit… there are two main ways pollination occurs; either by the wind or by a third party such as bats, birds and, more commonly, insects. Hooray for insects! The most common pollinator is the fly but for this post I’m focusing on the bee, because it’s this buzzing beauty that makes such a critical difference in our lives.
Pollen is a fine powder produced by the male flower. The pollen fertilises the female flower, which in turn produces seed. BUT, this can only happen if the pollen particles are transferred from the male to the female plants. This is where it gets really cool. Plants have developed a fascinating way to encourage these third party helpers to transfer the pollen… call it a form of bribery. They produce nectar that attracts insects. Whilst tucking in to the nectar, the bees and their other flying friends pick up pollen and transfer it to other flowers and plants. And ta dah, fertilisation occurs and we are able to grow and consume bountiful crops.
But this all sounds like a lot of hard work for the bees. What’s in it for them? Nectar is a sweet substance packed with carbohydrates that bees collect and make into honey. The pollen they carry is full of protein and it’s a really valuable source of food, especially for those insects that are going to lay eggs.
Bee Friendly – It’s not too late!
The good news is that it’s not too late to help the bees. We can all do our bit to help them survive and thrive. If you only do five things this summer, keep your garden buzzing and:
1. Let your grass grow
Don’t rush to cut your lawn. Celebrate the daisies and the dandelions, as they are a great source of food and shelter for bees. When you do cut the grass, raise the notches on your mower to lift the cutting blade by a few centimetres.
2. Keep planting
Whether your garden is a sprawling delight or a small patio, every space can be enriched for bees. Pots on a patio, herbs in a window box, hanging baskets, trees, shrubs and flower-filled beds provide year-round colour for you and food for the bees. Bees love vegetables too so, if you fancy growing your own, the bees will help pollinate your veg patch. Particular bee favourites include peppers, onions, aubergines, French, runner and broad beans.
3. Make or buy a bee hotel
These are great for providing cover and places to raise young for bees. Put them against a wall in the sun and remember not to spray any pesticides nearby. I really like the look of this Scott & Co one on Amazon which comes with bee friendly seeds too:
If you’re feeling adventurous, why not make your own? Check out these easy instructions from Friends of the Earth
4. Buy local honey
Local honey will have been lovingly prepared by local beekeepers. Buying local honey keeps the food miles down and helps cover some of the costs of beekeeping. Inevitably, local honey hasn’t been mistreated to give it a longer shelf life and tastes noticeably different from the foreign honey we find in supermarkets.
5. Learn more
Beekeeping is fascinating so why not find out more? The Jersey Bee Keeper’s Association website is full of facts and useful information. The Association runs theory and practical beekeeping courses in spring if you’re tempted to take your interest further. Other great websites include: