Creating a bee-friendly garden
In gardens, bees are vital to boost fruit and vegetable gardens and to bolster the garden's overall health and productivity.
All bees, whether they are honeybees, bumblebees or solitary bees, carry out pollination which is essential to the life-cycle of many crops and flowers. This type of pollination, called cross-pollination, involves a bee transferring pollen from one flower to another as it feeds. Like all pollination, this process produces seeds, but as cross-pollination mixes genetic material, it usually produces stronger and more vigorous seed than that produced by self-pollination.
Around a third of our food is produced from crops originally pollinated by bees, so, without bees, major food shortages are likely. In parts of China where the bee population has been virtually wiped out, pollination is already carried out by hand.
As recent research by the University of Leeds has demonstrated, there are many ways in which you can make your garden more bee-friendly, though the majority of bees have a solitary lifestyle - nesting in sandy soils or rotting wood with the female laying a single egg - so encouraging bees won't result in a swarm of bees in the garden.
Tips to encourage bees
- Bees love to nest in logs, crumbling walls and woody undergrowth, so resist the urge to clear away rotting wood, or to fix up the old garden wall. Create a habitat pile or invest in a 'bee hotel', which you can make or buy from garden centres.
- Bees love longer grass, so consider leaving just part of your lawn an inch or two longer to encourage bees. You can always cut the rest so your neighbours still know you care!
- Plant bee-friendly flowers! Avoid garden-centre annuals or double flowers which are often sterile and instead opt for flowers loaded with nectar such as lavender or fuchsias. Not only will you be doing your bit for bees, you'll also be saving yourself a fortune!
- Don't be over keen on your weeding: dandelions, clovers and forget-me-knots are great for bees - a great excuse to put your feet up!
Flowers which offer little reward to pollinators:
- Busy Lizzies
- Hybrid tea roses
To encourage people to find out more about bee-friendly gardening, the University of Leeds has launched a Facebook page dedicated to 'messy gardening' at www.facebook.com/GardeningForChampions.
Photo credit: Graham Soult