My 5 Tips for bee friendly gardens
1. Create nesting opportunities.
This is easier than you might think and is one of those things that ‘keeping an wilder spot’ in the garden is all about. Hollow plant stems for instance; make the best BnB for ‘bugs’ of all kinds and bees are no exception. A bee hotel is a posh ready made version of this, so if you are buying or making one, make sure its stems and canes have a good amount of 7- 8mm diameter holes; pollinators are as choosy as us humans when it comes to the perfect home dimensions!
Fix your bee hotel firmly on a South or East wall at roughly head height and this should give you the best chance of having it occupied by Leaf cutter bees or Mason bees; two of the common species that use bee hotels. There are of course, an array of other pollinators that will come to stay and these will be OK with any range of 4mm right up to 10mm holes.
The other incredibly important nesting place for bees is in the ground. This is the thing that I find is over looked more than anything else, so I am keen to get this in at the top of our list!
Typically, undisturbed ground in a well drained sunny slope, bank, bed or lawn, will be a prime location for ground nesting bees. Some emerge in Spring and some are Autumn emerging bees, like the Ivy bee for instance, so leaving the ground undisturbed is key once you identify your reserved spot.
Saving a patch of ground or indeed building up a mound of soil in your garden if you do not have a naturally positioned sunny spot, can become a fascinating project for all the family!
Tip - Plant some creeping thyme to stabilise your ‘bee bank’ if you are making one yourself.
*Compost heaps, tufty grass and even bird boxes can all be valuable to a variety of bee species in a garden too!
2. Create forage opportunities.
Bees and other pollinators are as diverse in their food preferences as birds are, so plant a variety of shapes/sizes of bloom, for each of the seasons including the winter months and make sure the flowers are not ‘doubles’ as these are of little value. Did you know that pollen is a protein source for bees and nectar is like a sugary energy drink to them, so they need plenty of both all year round!
If you are stuck for ideas on actual plant species, I recommend starting with a really varied herb patch in your garden, from Santolina to Sage, these plants are exceptional!
3. Put down the pesticides.
Insecticides kill insects; we all accept this, so adopting a ‘weapons down’ mentality is key to healthy pollinator populations.
4. Actively learn more.
Many people I meet think that protecting pollinators is only about honey bee keeping, this is actually not an accurate picture and in fact their wilder cousins, solitary and bumblebees, need our help because they are so connected and vulnerable to what we do with our landscapes, wild and urban. It is not possible to ‘keep’ them in the same way we do honey bees. It is therefore essential we ensure diversity of species can flourish via our management of outdoor spaces.
If you have the time to get into identifying then recording pollinator species, you will help important citizen science programmes and really add another layer of value to what you do.
Get started by looking at the UK wide initiative for citizen science; Opal (Opalexplorenature.org )
Only love and connection to a subject will create a deep desire to protect it, so remember to enjoy the journey!