The Plight of the Honey Bee
In mid summer, our gardens awash with colourful seas of showy blooms, may appear to be a haven for bees. Over the last few decades there has been a garden centre boom in cheap and cheerful bedding plants or cultivars which produce ever more stunning flowers. The trouble is that many of them are of little or no use to honey-bee or bumblebee. Double blooms and many cultivars contain neither pollen nor nectar. Their sole purpose seems to be for us, for that glance across a splash of colour whilst we sip a cool summer drink.
Outside our cities and gardens the situation is not much better; there has been a staggering decline in flower-rich hay meadows, wild spaces and wildflower leys. About 97% of our original flower-rich habitats have been lost in the past 60 years. And with these, fast disappearing from our landscapes, are flowering plants which have evolved over millennia alongside bees and in perfect symbiosis with them. These provide bees with the absolute ideal in terms of pollen, nectar and propolis, with different species flowering in succession throughout the year.
Add to this, bees have their fair share of parasites and diseases; And for a final blow, a new generation of insecticides originally developed in the 1990’s to protect fruit trees from aphid attack are, ironically, apparently harming bees. There is science-based evidence coming out of France which proves that many pesticides, in sub-lethal doses, are harmful to bees.
Bees urgently need our help!
Luckily there is much we can do: Think of bees when you garden. This is so easy because many of bees’ favourite plants are also culinary or medicinal herbs, wildflowers or fruits of every kind. Most of them are unadulterated species plants. These don’t just look good, they do us and the bees good too. We can provide many of these kinds of herbaceous perennials, shrubs and trees. The bees’ favourites are our priority
*Leptospermum scoparium (Wild, New Zealand, Alpine Manuka) – An absolutely star bee plant fresh from the pristine New Zealand wilderness. We think we are unique in being able to offer you this amazing plant, with extremely important beneficial and protective effects on the bees..
Organically raised plants and growing methods
To ensure that the environment within our ‘bee-plant’ plantation, along with all the plants we raise, are 100% safe for bees, we use no harmful pesticides whether or not organically approved by derogation. We are certified by the Soil Association as organic growers.
All of our plants are propagated from seed rather than by cutting, where possible; here are a few of the important reasons why:
- Guarantees disease-free plants (in the majority of cases).
- This also guarantees the full life-expectancy of a plant when raised from seed, as against when raised from cuttings (which will only have the remaining life-expectancy of the original ‘mother’ plant and can lead to disease risk).
- Seed-raised plants provide richness in species’ diversity – enabling natural variation and adaptation to the plant’s habitat, which in the long run will lead to stronger, healthier plants in our gardens and greater environment.
- Some species need both male and female plants to produce fruit, and so must be seed-raised to ensure a natural mix of male and female plants for pollination.
Checklist for Plants for Bees
There are a just a few keys points to remember when choosing plants for bees:
- Approved by bees - Anecdotal evidence has been collected from all over the world, from many people, beekeepers, entomologists, wildlife enthusiasts and gardeners who have observed bees' foraging preferences. We are also planning scientific field studies for 2012 to confirm which garden plants do prove the most popular with our bees.
- 100% safe for bees - Plants that are grown without the use of pesticides (especially neonicotinoids such as 'Clothianidin', 'Imidacloprid', 'Thiacloprid' or 'Acetamiprid') or other chemicals that may harm bees. Organic (or Biodynamic) plants are 100% safe for bees.
- Speices plants - You can't go wrong with natural, 'species' plants that have evolved with bees over millennia. Many artificially bred cultivers or clones, are sterile and often do not produce nectar (for example, the nectaries having been bred into extra petals). Though most fruit cultivars are fine.
- Produces plenty of nectar or pollen - Some of the bees' favourite plants produce greater quantities of pollen or nectar than others - that is the kind of information we will try to include in our plant descriptions - especially after the scientific studies being carried out in our bee sancturay have concluded in 2012.
Flowers throughout the times of greatest need - There are certain times when pollen or nectar are needed: Early spring is a time of great need for pollen (which triggers egg-laying by the queen); All season from early spring to late Autumn nectar is needed, though there is a 'crisis period' from the end of June until September (in the South of the UK) when adult bees' numbers are at a peak and their need for nectar is vital. This summer period is one we should concentrate on providing copious amounts of nectar in our gardens.
A honey bee foraging on a Foxglove (above) - normally favoured by bumblebees (picture courtesy of Vita Gallery, Vita (Europe) Ltd.)
Other Things You Can Do for Bees
Taking up beekeeping is a fun and absorbing hobby, with its’ perk of honey, but more importantly you will be providing a vital service as your bees will be efficiently pollinating all the bee plants in your garden and surrounds, ensuring bumper fruit crops and maximum seed production on all these plants.
The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) works to promote bees and beekeeping and to provide a range of services to its members. Click here to go to their website… www.britishbee.org.uk
Click here to read what the Soil Association have to say about these pesticides with excellent information on which brands to avoid...
Or click here if you are scientifically minded and would like to see a translation of the extensive report by French scientists which proves that this new generation of insecticides – Neonicotinoids, is harming our bees… www.buglife.org.uk