Bees are an insect that you’ll, no doubt, be very familiar with. From a very young age, you will have seen them buzzing around your garden – “busy as a bee”. Sadly, the bee population has severely decreased in recent years, so it’s imperative to find ways of helping them. Where better to start than in your own garden?
In this article we’ll explain why bees matter so much, how you can help them, which bee friendly plants you can grow all year round, how it can help boost your wellbeing, and as a nod to the most famous of the species – the honeybee, we’ll share one of our favourite honey-based recipes for you to try at home.
Why does a bee friendly garden matter?
What did you have for breakfast this morning? A few grilled mushrooms and tomatoes with your eggs? Jam on fresh crusty bread? How about some fruit juice to wash it down? Surely bees didn’t help produce your breakfast if it didn’t include honey? In fact, bees are crucial in the production of most of the food we consume, including many fruits and vegetables.
Bees are amazingly built to pollinate, helping plants to grow, breed, and produce food. Bees keep the cycle of life turning by transferring pollen between flowering plants. In an article by Friends of the Earth, they explain that “Bees are crucial to our economy – without them it would cost UK farmers £1.8 billion a year to pollinate our crops. In a world without bees, our food would cost a lot more to produce and our economy would suffer.”
How can you help the bees?
Whilst many of the pesticides and destruction of open countryside have negatively affected the bee population, you can do wondrous things if you plan your garden with bees in mind. Did you know that there are over 200 species of bees? Only one of these is the honeybee, around 20 are bumblebees, and the rest are solitary bees. There are various ways to help the different species – here are a few easy ways you can start:
When you’re deciding which flowers to grow, try to put the bee at the forefront of your mind. Plants with lots of petals can be challenging for bees to penetrate. Look for flowers that are more open, so that it’s easier for your buzzing friends to access the pollen and nectar.
Consider an array of flowering plants that will fill your garden with beautiful colours and that are high in nectar and pollen for as many of the months of the year as possible. Focus on single stem flowers – this is because many cultivars have additional parts to them that make it difficult for pollinating insects to access the pollen and nectar.
The key is to find an array of flowers that bloom at different times. Gardeners’ World suggests the following are a good place to get started:
Spring: Flowering Cherry, Crab Apple, Hawthorn, Bugle, Daffodils, Pulmonaria, Sea Thrift, Alliums, Grape Hyacinth
Summer: Lavender, Agastache, Erysimum ‘Bowles’ Mauve’, Scabious, Comfrey, Foxgloves, Cardoon, Echinops
Autumn: Sedums, single-flowered Dahlias, Verbena Bonariensis, Japanese Anemones, Autumn Asters, Actaea Simplex
Winter: Snowdrops, Winter aconites, Ivy, Crocuses, Winter Honeysuckle, Hellebores, Mahonia, Clematis Cirrhosa
We’ve all seen them made by girl guide groups and scouting classes, and these little “bug-ingham palaces” really are helpful for many insects – including solitary bees. They’re a great way of inviting different species into your garden too. Gardeners’ World explains that “Solitary bees lay their eggs in the hollow cavities, leaving a small supply of food for the larvae to eat. The larvae then hatch, pupate and emerge from the stems. Always position bee hotels in full sun.”
If you’re looking for a way to help the queen bumblebee during her autumn and early winter hibernation, then you could create a bumblebee nest in an old plant pot. Creating a homemade, cosy safe haven would be a wonderful way to look after them. The Gardeners’ World website has a handy how-to guide for building your own bumblebee pot.
Alternative weed killers
Before you reach for the weed killer, consider the effect it will have on the pollinating insect population. We’re not saying to avoid it altogether, but perhaps try to find the ones that are lower in chemicals – more “bee friendly”, and spray at only certain times of the day. Eco Garden Solutions recommend that when weed killer is absolutely necessary, it’s best to do it in the colder hours of the day.
They also recommend some alternative options to weed killer if you have the inclination to be a bit experimental. They suggest homemade products made from Neem oil, vinegar, Epsom salt, castile soap, essential oils, and chrysanthemum work well on weeds, whilst also being friendly to the bee population.
Boost your wellbeing
Don’t forget, working in your garden is a fabulous way to boost your mental and physical wellbeing. Whilst working in your garden you will also be lowering stress, gaining a sense of achievement, increasing your intake of fresh air, awakening your senses, and creating home-grown nutrition. To find out more about why gardening is so good for you, read our article “5 Benefits of Gardening” in our Spring Home Comforts book – you can either request a printed copy, or view it online by clicking here.
You should also ensure you are looking after your posture whilst planting those bee friendly blooms, read our article “Posture in Gardening” to learn more about how you can do that.
Using honey in recipes
When anyone mentions bees, your mind will probably go to one of the most famous of the species – the honeybee. Everyone loves some delicious honey on fresh toast, but did you also know that honey is a great way of decreasing your refined sugar intake? There is a multitude of ‘low sugar’ recipes you can try, but you can find one of our favourites here.