“If Bees disappeared from the from the face of the globe, then man would only have four to five years to live”.
This famous quote was made by Albert Einstein, and although the apocalyptic statement is considered to err on the side of exaggeration, it does reflect how important and vital bees are to all of us.
30% of the bee population is dying every year and a new report states that 44% of the bee colonies in the USA have died in the last year. This is a major cause of concern for anyone who likes to eat. Bee’s are the major pollinators for much of the staple crops and vegetables we eat including rapeseed, cucumber, squash, tomatoes, nuts, seeds, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, avocado and hay for animals; accounting for the pollination of approximately three quarters of the worlds crops.
The exact cause for such an extensive decline is still a topic of debate, but in the last few years’ scientists have identified a number of contributing factors, with evidence pointing to an insecticide called neonicotinoids as one of the primary dangers. These chemicals and other pesticides are widely used throughout the agricultural industry, having a severe impact on a bee’s nervous system.
According to a 2014 study Harvard University, bees from six out of twelve colonies that were treated with “typical” levels of neonicotinoids, abandoned their hives and were eventually found dead. This complete destruction of beehives is referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder and is occurring across the globe at an alarming rate.
The other contributing factors are the Varroa mite – an external parasitic mite that attacks bees – and climate change that is having a detrimental effect on the bee’s natural habitat. With rising temperatures across the world, a number of plant and animal species have been steadily moving north.
Since the 1970’s (well before the use of neonicotoids) around 200 miles of bee habitat has been lost across southern Europe and the U.S. While other species have been migrating north with the plants, it’s thought that the extensive time that it takes for bee colonies to reach a sustainable population in new places is slowing their migration.
The crux of all of this is that bee’s need our help. Without their industry and pollination, many wildflowers, plants and animals that form the basis of complex food chains would all suffer if bees disappeared.
By taking some relatively simple steps, we can transform small areas of our gardens into the perfect habitat for bees, free from pesticides and a safe place for them to work their magic.
The most common types are bumblebees, honeybees and solitary bees.
- Solitary bees usually make nests in the ground, in sandy soil and along paths.
- Bumblebees build nests both above and below ground
- Underground: Abandoned holes, under sheds and in compost heaps.
- Above ground: Nests are made in clumps and tufts of thick grass, in bird boxes, lofts and in trees.
- Honeybees make nests inside tree cavities and under edges of objects to protect themselves from predators.
The corners of gardens will provide protection from the sun where you can leave cuttings from pruning, and by letting some of the vegetation grow naturally you can provide a small but perfect environment for bees to live.
The closer a plant is to its natural state, the better it is for bees. Try to buy organic plants, bulbs and seeds that have been grown without insecticides. Also hybridized plants often have double flowers, rendering them sterile and have little value to bees (these plants don’t produce any nectar or pollen).
Try to plant flowers in clusters that will reduce the work required for bees to travel between suitable plants, and single, ‘flat’ flowers or bell-shaped flowers make it easier for bees to access the nectar.
Planting throughout the seasons
A number of bee species are solitary, while other species nest communally producing multiple generations throughout the year. Bees that produce multiple generations throughout the seasons will require a continual supply of pollen and nectar throughout the year.
In the spring, bees are emerging from hibernation and need to replenish their food supplies, summer is the most active season and in the autumn, bees will be storing up for the winter months. By providing plants that have overlapping blooming periods you can help them all year round.
It’s preferable to stop using pesticides altogether. Garden chemicals containing the neonicotinoids (which are unfortunately still approved for home garden use) are available today at most garden centres, so it’s important to read the label carefully to avoid using these products.
Trees & hedgerows
Planting bee friendly trees or hedgerows can be great additions to your garden. Not only can they provide food for all types of bees, but also bumblebees may find an abandoned rodent hole to build their nest in at the base of a hedge.
It’s safe to say that bees are in danger and play an integral role in most of our lives, but by turning small areas of our garden into bee friendly environments, we can all play our part in ensuring the protection of this delicate and vital eco-system.
- Colony Loss 2015-2016: Preliminary Results, Bee Informed Partnership, May 4, 2016
Beetles, butterflies and bees, oh my! Pollinators face extinction, study says, CNN, February 26, 2016
Pollinators, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, accessed May 23, 2016
This post was written by Wildflower Favours. An eco-friendly business that provides vintage wedding favours that promotes the growth of wildflowers through seed paper and seed packets.