Hints & Tips
Bees – where would we be without them? Stories of a big decline in the bee population have made headlines in recent years, with many at a loss to explain why this is happening.
If you're not a huge fan of bees, you might be wondering what the fuss is about. But the insects play a vital role in the ecosystem, pollinating many of the crops we eat. Without them, around one-third would need to be pollinated in other ways.
According to Greenpeace, the global economic benefit of pollination amounts to €265 billion (£216 billion). Plants that would be affected by a loss of these insects include key fruits and vegetables and fodder for cattle.
Man-made chemicals could be playing a role in the decline, along with the loss of natural habitat caused by changes in land use.
This is all very worrying, you might think – but what can I do about it? Well, gardeners could help to halt the decline by creating a good habitat for the insects. 'Bee gardening' is one of the major trends causing a buzz this year and it's relatively simple to put into practice.
If you want to encourage bees into your garden, you can start by including flowers that are particularly attractive to pollinators.
Double flowers tend not to attract bees, so they are best avoided. Some plants have petals that form tunnels that are too narrow for bees to enter, so it's best not to include these varieties.
There are a wide range of plants you can use that are attractive to bees. Viper's bugloss is one such variety – ideal for a herbaceous border, it produces flowers up to 60cm tall.
Many species of long-tongued bees are attracted by the deep flowers of plants such as honeysuckle and foxglove.
Comfrey is another ideal plant which is particularly attractive to bumblebees. It is well-suited to damp areas but grows just about anywhere and can be used to make potassium-rich compost.
Placing plants in clumps in areas of bright sunlight makes them more likely to attract bees than plants scattered in shadier areas.
Limiting your use of pesticides will be a great benefit to bees and it is best to use products that are based on fatty acids or plant oils. Spraying your plants in the evening, when bees tend to be less active, will also help.
If you're really keen on making your plot into a bee paradise, you could even make a bee hotel. Five-star accommodation is available to buy on the internet and in garden centres, but environmental group Friends of the Earth has a guide to building your own.
All you need before following their guide is some wood or an empty plastic bottle, bundles of bamboo or dead stems, a hook and some tools. Easy.
The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has an online tool that can help you to measure how bee-friendly your garden is. 'Bee kind' provides you with a score and can recommend plants that could help make your garden more attractive to pollinators.
Bee gardening – gardening and saving the environment at the same time. What could be better?