This month I would like to concentrate on one of the trends that was highlighted last month when we looked at the natural world.
Turns out, one of the most invaluable living things on the planet is roughly two centimeters long and lives for only a few months - the busy little honeybee. Famed as a source of delectable honey (as well as long-burning candle wax and protein-rich pollen), honeybees have been part of human lore for thousands of years, from ancient cave paintings to Winnie-the-Pooh stories!
1. Install a solitary bee house to help solitary bees. These can be found in the nursery and they also make lovely gifts for gardeners and nature lovers.
2. Leave a patch of bare earth - some ground nesting solitary bees may use it for nests.
3. Include a wide variety of flower shapes - to suit a variety of bee species with different tongue lengths and foraging preferences: bees favour single flowers (Calendula, Sweet Alyssum, Heliotrope, Thyme are just a few) - over double ones – in the latter the pollen and nectar are too deep to reach
- long-tongued bees will be attracted to plants in the mint family, such as salvia, oregano, mint, lavender
- flat or shallow blossoms, such as daisies, zinnias, asters and Queen Anne's lace, will attract the largest variety of bees
- bees tend to favour plants in sunny spots and those with scented flowers - sow Starke Ayres' Bee favourite seeds to help you attract bees to your garden.
4. Select plants high in nectar & pollen -both nectar and pollen are vital for bees.
5. Provide flowers throughout the year - plan your garden to provide flowers for as long as possible – some bees may emerge early in the year, others may emerge late.
6. Provide a source of water for bees - include a source of water for bees for use back at their nests. A small pond will suffice – or even a shallow bird bath with stone inside to ensure bees can make their way to the water’s edge safely.
7. Leave the dead plant stems alone - don’t clip back and burn stems from shrubs – the hollow stems might be used by bees for overwintering (and other helpful invertebrates). Instead, cut them back in spring if you have to, and leave them (un-burned) in a pile at the back of the garden.
8. Cut out the pesticides - don’t use pesticides in your garden - it's not rocket science: insecticides are for killing insects – and of course, bees are insects.
9. Include indigenous wildflowers in your garden – create a wildflower area in your lawn, or add a few indigenous plants to the border.
10. Many flowering trees and shrubs are fantastic for bees - remember, flowering shrubs and trees provide fantastic, efficient foraging (and sometimes nesting) opportunities for bees - either in the trunks of trees or at the base of trees and hedges.
11. Have a flowering lawn - include clover in your lawn, or mow around patches.
12. Plant fruit and veggies - feed yourselves and the bees - remember, many fruits and vegetables provide fantastic foraging opportunities for bees:
- climbing beans add to vertical gardening and produce flowers bees will enjoy, with beans for you and your family later.
- cabbages and other brassicas can be left to flower, and produce a wonderful yellow mass
- autumn raspberries will tolerate some shade, and bees love the flowers!
13. Plant herbs - include herbs in your garden and allow them to flower – and please share with your neighbours – some are easily divided, such as chives. Pots of herbs for friends and family can make lovely, personal gifts too! Ever popular, and always in fashion.
14. Exploit different locations in the garden - plant clumps of flowers of the same type in several areas of your garden if you have space, especially if different parts of the garden have varied amounts of sunshine. This will ensure that some of the flowers will be at their peak a little earlier than others, thus extending the benefit to pollinators.
15. Plant cottage garden flowers - and in drifts if you can - beauty never goes out of style, and cottage garden flowers are ALWAYS in! Think lovely lupins, cute cosmos, dashing delphiniums, happy hollyhocks, fabulous foxgloves and wonderful wallflowers......the list goes on! Planting flowers in drifts is helpful visually ensuring easier foraging.
16. Speak with a local conservation organization - conduct an informal survey of the floral abundance available in your area: ask a local conservation organisation if it would be beneficial to help cultivate certain plants in your garden, to complement other conservation work to benefit pollinators.
17. Exploit small spaces - short of space? - use climbing plants to grow vertically, thus making efficient use of your available growing space: passion flower, jasmine, honey suckle etc. Window boxes, hanging baskets, and pots of plants can all help. Communal gardens can also be used to grow food and flowers.
18. Bees prefer blue and yellow flowers e.g. Acacia karroo, gazania, mimulus, snapdragons and hibiscus for yellow and agapanthus, felicia, lavender and scabiosa for blue
19. Steer clear of invasive plant species - some species of flowering plant are wonderful for bees - but invasive in some regions of the world. There are plenty of plants out there to choose from, so there is no need to put the local environment at risk. By the way, “exotic” does not mean 'invasive'. Many exotic plants provide superb amounts of nectar and pollen for different bee species.
20. Becoming a beekeeper is not always the best idea - honey bees and beekeepers are important but you do not have to become one!