Put the buzz in your garden

Gardeners are being asked to think of the bees when planning their borders.

Loss of habitat, climate change and disease, most notably the Varroa mite, mean the country’s bee population is under threat putting both commercial crops and ornamental gardens at risk as pollination levels drop.

“Habitat changes have had the most significant impact on pollinator numbers,” says bee expert Keren Green. “All pollinators, including bees, need food and a home.”

Keren is a commercial bee farmer and keeps around 50 honeybee hives around the Three Counties, as well as working as a Seasonal bee inspector.

Bees can visit up to 1,000 flowers a day
Bees can visit up to 1,000 flowers a day

She explains that bees are divided into different groups: honeybees that live in colonies of between 50 and 60,000 and overwinter, feeding off food stores; bumblebees that have smaller nests of around 150, which die off in the autumn; solitary bees, which include leafcutter, mining and mason bees.

Worldwide there are more than 25,000 species of bees with around 270 in the British Isles, made up of one species of honeybee, 26 bumblebees, including short and long tongued, and the rest solitary bees.

Each transfers pollen between plants while collecting nectar, enabling the setting of fruit and seeds; bees can travel in a three-mile radius to forage and can visit up to 1,000 flowers a day.

And it’s making sure that gardens have a wide range of plants, with different flower shapes, particularly single or bell-shaped blooms, that will be the key to maintaining a healthy bee population.

“Make sure when you’re planting for these insects that you have plants that accommodate both short and long-tongued bees,” advises Keren.

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Lavender is a good source of nectar

It is also important to provide forage and habitat all year, not just the summer months when flowering plants are more abundant, and Keren suggests flowering shrubs and trees as a way of extending the nectar season.

Among the suggested plants for early in the year are crocus, ivy, pussy willow, snowdrops and mahonia. Spring and early summer see aquilegia, wisteria, wallflowers and fruit trees, while summer has a vast range of suitable plants, such as hollyhocks, sunflowers, lavender, campanula and delphiniums. Meanwhile, suggestions for autumn, which is important to build up hives before winter, include asters, Japanese anemones and dahlias.

“Even if you’ve got a small garden you can make it attractive with plants that are good for pollination.”

Even so, one of Keren’s top suggestions is unlikely to find favour with many gardeners: the dandelion.

“It is high in nectar, easy to grow and requires little or no attention,” she says. “For years I had been pulling them up and then I took up bee-keeping. Now our lawn is peppered with dandelions.”

Other wild flowers may be more appealing and the fashion for wild flower meadow planting is benefitting our native pollinators.

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Patches of wild flowers are good for pollinators

“It’s very important. Bringing native plants in gives the right type of flowers. Just leave a corner to have some dandelions,” adds Keren, with a smile.

National Honey Week is led by the British Beekeepers Association. More details are available from http://www.bbka.org.uk/

The RHS Perfect for Pollinators list is available at www.rhs.org.uk Look out for the pollinators symbol on plant labels. More information is also available from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust at http://bumblebeeconservation.org/

Gardeners are being asked to report any sightings of the Asian Hornet, an invasive species that is a honey bee predator and has recently been found in France. Smaller than the European hornet, it has an entirely dark brown or black body with a yellow fourth segment on its abdomen. Details on http://www.bbka.org.uk/

Details of Government policy on pollinators is available on http://www.gov.uk