If you’re growing plants that need to be pollinated – such as tomatoes, courgettes, peas and beans – it’s a good idea to make your garden as attractive as possible to bees and other helpful pollinating insects.
British bee populations are depleted, and they need as much help as they can get. In particular they need:
- Nectar and pollen for food
- A non-toxic environment
- Places to live and nest
Plants that bees like
Generally speaking, bees like single flowers rather than the more fancy modern breeds of decorative double or ruffled flowers. It’s easier for them to feed from them. Some people also say that bees are especially attracted to blue flowers, although they also go mad for the tiny white scented flowers on lemon balm plants (also known as melissa or bee balm).
If you can, plan to have a few bee-favourite flowers around your plot that bloom at different times of the year. There are some very useful lists of bee friendly flowering plants on the RHS website.
FoE and other organisations also run campaigns and give out free packets of ‘bee seeds’ every now and then, which are mixed wild flowers that bees love. They can be sown on derelict sites to give local bees some help, and they can also be grown in pots to be moved around kitchen gardens and allotments – if any of your crops need extra help simply put the pot next to them for a few days.
A non-toxic environment
Many pesticides and herbicides kill bees as well as pests and weeds, and it’s best to avoid them if at all possible. There are many organic and bee-safe alternatives available, they’re usually cheap and some you can even make yourself for pence.
If you must use toxic chemicals, wait until the evening to apply them to your plants, a time when the helpful flying insects are not so likely to be active around the garden.
Places to live and nest
There’s been an upswing in interest in bee keeping recently, including in urban areas. Generally speaking I think this is to be applauded, but some caution is needed since bees sting, people have allergies, and an angry hive can be quite dangerous in amateur hands (many years ago I went on a beekeeping course, so do have a rough idea of what I’m talking about). If you have an allotment or large garden then a hive or two should be fine, and it can give you lots of beautiful honey, but it’s better to be more careful in small gardens, especially if you have young kids or active pets.
However, there are schemes where you can own hives and keep them in local parks etc, so if you have your heart set on keeping bees then there are still options available. Not all bees live in hives, so you could have a wildlife area on your plot where ground-digging bees can live, or you could make an ‘insect hotel’ in the autumn to give bees and other friendly insects a safe place to hibernate.
Do you have any tips for happy bees?