This week’s blog is all about bees and how we can make our gardens more friendly for these little critters! More and more of us are waking up to the importance of bees for us and for the wider environment. As biodiversity in the UK has declined, bee numbers have also been declining, with two species of UK bees already extinct. So, what can we do about it you ask? Luckily there are some solutions for adapting our gardens to help the bees and I’m going to cover five easy ways here!
Why are bees so important?
As well as producing delicious honey, bees play an extremely important role as pollinators. Globally, there are 100 crops which account for 90% of the world’s food - 70 of these crops are pollinated by bees according to the UN. If you were wondering, this includes (deep breath): avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash, sunflowers, cucumbers, citrus fruit, peaches, kiwis, cherries, cranberries, melons, blueberries and almonds (phew!).
Bees also pollinate clover and alfalfa which are vital fodder crops for livestock. To further add to their importance, they also pollinate non-food crops like cotton. Clearly, bees are making a big contribution to our food system and beyond. If you're wondering what this looks like quantified, the University of Reading have estimated that bees contribute approximately £651 million to the UK economy annually. Can you bee-lieve it?!
Recently the importance of bees has become a popular topic and unfortunately it is because their numbers are in rapid decline. There are lots of reasons for this. Urban encroachment is one: as populations rise we need to build more infrastructure that transforms natural habitats for bees. We often replace these high biodiversity habitats with ones which are not bee-friendly. This is the same for modern agricultural practices, not only because they are often monocultures with only one species of crop grown (reducing biodiversity), but also because of pesticide use. In particular, neonicotinoid pesticides are contributing to the fall in numbers of bees across the world.
5 Ways to Make Your Garden More Bee-Friendly
1. Avoid using chemical fertilisers and pesticides in your garden
The first way that we can our gardens more bee-friendly garden is to stop using harsh chemical based products! Commonly sold pesticides and weed killers can be very detrimental to bees because many of them are indiscriminate in what they kill. Switching to a natural, organic approach is far more beneficial.
Nature’s method of pest control is beneficial predatory insects like ladybirds. Unfortunately, they are sensitive and often the last to join the party! As many people use pesticides, we generally have low biodiversity in our gardens, which means we're not providing enough nesting sites for the different species such as the ladybirds.
Using natural methods of pest control like removing them by hand or natural soaps and insecticide sprays is the first thing we can do. Picking weeds by hand or using weed control matting are other ways we can avoid using unnecessary weed killers.
You can also make natural fertilisers at home, 'nettle teas' (not for human drinking!) are great ways to use scraps from the garden. All you have to do is place cut up nettles and other weeds into a bucket with water and make an airtight seal, in 3-4 weeks you’ll have a fantastic fertiliser for the whole garden.
2. Plant a wide variety of flowering plants all year
The next step is to grow plants that attract bees (and other pollinators). These should have a supply of pollen and nectar for bees to continue doing their job year round. Bees are sensitive to the colour purple so they should always be some purple flowers in your garden. Tubular flowers like foxgloves and honeysuckles are great for long-tongued species like the garden bumblebee.
Below is a guide on what to grow for different seasons, these also include trees, perennial and annual plants.
Spring: Alliums, Bluebell, Crab Apple, Crocus, Flowering Cherry and Currant, Forget-me-not, Hawthorn, Hyacinths, Pansies, Peonies, Primrose, Pulmonaria, Rhododendron, Rosemary
Summer: Apple, Aster, Borage, Buddleja, Cardoon, Campanula, Chives, Comfrey, Cornflower, Dahlia (single-flowered), Delphinium, Foxglove, Globe Thistle, Geranium, Heather, Hollyhock, Ivy, Lavender, Marigolds, Mint, Nasturtiums, Oregano, Penstemon, Potentilla, Scabious, Sedum, Snapdragon, Stachys, Sunflower, Teasel, Thyme, Verbascum, Zinnias
Autumn: Asters, Borage, Nasturtium, Oregano, Goldenrod, Red Valerian, Sedum, Thyme, Witch Hazel
Winter: Hellebores, Mahonia, Snowdrops, Winter Clematis, Winter Heather, Winter Honeysuckle
3. Grow a wildflower patch
Another reason for such low biodiversity where humans live is the prevalence of neat lawns! Our lawns are often just one species of grass. To make our gardens more bee friendly we can grow a wildflower patch to mimic meadow habitats. If you can sacrifice a patch of your lawn you can provide more pollinating flowers for your local bees but also nesting sites. Meadows are associated with longer grass and this is a perfect place for ground nesting bees to live!
If you don’t have a garden or a patch to grow wildflowers don't worry, you can also use pots and containers to achieve this goal. Wildflower seed packet mixes are widely available. Scatter these into a pot, window planter or in your garden to grow a high biodiversity wildflower patch!
4. Build a bug hotel
Sometimes called bee hotels, these little DIY projects not only provide a nesting site for solitary and mason bee species, but also for all sorts of beneficial insects like the predatory ones we already mentioned.
You can buy these online but they are also really easy to make yourself. The general idea is to upcycle old wood, sticks, dry grass/straw, cardboard and bricks to create a habitat with lots of little holes and cavities for insects and bees to nest.
Make a frame of a desired shape with wood and fill it with lots of different sticks, logs, bricks and stones. If using old planks of wood or logs from your garden, drill multiple holes into them to increase their surface area. Bricks will often have holes which are perfect places for nesting. Use folded cardboard from your latest delivery box to create different textured environments in your bug hotel. Stuff some cavities with straw and dry grass and you’re finished! You can mount these onto garden fences/walls or you can simply have them on the ground.
5. Build a bee water station
Just like us on a hot summer day, bees can get dehydrated, especially after visiting thousands of flowers a day. Strategically placing watering stations for them will help them on their way. This is another great way to upcycle some ‘waste’ materials from your home.
Using a shallow dish or old takeout container, add some stones to provide a safe place for the bees to land without drowning. Due to their size, bird baths are often too deep for bees! Place one on the ground and one propped up higher. Regular fill up the water stations so they don’t dry out.
Over to you!
With these five steps, you’ll be well on your way to increasing biodiversity in your garden or windowsill, creating a perfect environment for bees to find nectar and pollen, as well as a place to nest. Remember to avoid using harsh chemicals and consider planting flowers all year round so the bees have a constant supply of pollen and nectar regardless of the season!
Why not try making a bug hotel? It's a great DIY project for the family to get involved in - cleaning up your garage of old pieces of wood, cardboard, bricks and also adding logs, sticks and dry grass from the garden. And finally, why not add a couple of simple hydration stations, to provide a much needed drink for busy bees in your garden!
Are you thinking of trying out any of our tips? Or maybe you already have? We'd love to see your bee-friendly gardens! You can share pictures with us on Instagram @squaremilefarms or email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Square Mile Farms bring vertical, urban farming to city dwellers in their homes and in the workplace. We aim to bring people closer to food production and help to create a culture of healthy, sustainable living. Find out more about our offering and get in touch here with any queries. Sign up to our newsletter for tips on a healthy lifestyle and a round-up of relevant news. You can also follow us on social media to stay up to date with our journey, find us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Why not join our online Urban Growing Community for advice on growing at home and much more!
UK Govt, Pollinator Strategy for bees and other pollinators - reference to University of Reading report.