ANN/THE STAR – Bees are pretty straightforward, without complicated needs.
To survive, they need a safe shelter, a place to have and raise offspring and, above all, plenty of food.
While many gardens don’t offer these things, it is easy to make yours a place that is safe and appealing for wild bees and honey bees.
Your efforts are likely to be appreciated, as bees are struggling, due to factors from pesticide use to the loss of habitat, drought, global warming and lack of food – many of which are linked, according to Greenpeace.
SHELTER AND NESTING AIDS FOR WILD BEES
Honey bees are looked after by their beekeepers, but wild bees depend on suitable spaces in the wild, or insect hotels that are designed for their needs.
There are different ways you can help the different species of wild bees. Sand bees like a patch of open, loose and sandy soil in a garden corner, while mason bees need cavities in walls.
You can create a simple, inexpensive nesting aid by tying the pithy plant stems from cuttings in a bundle, and hanging them up somewhere, says Bavaria’s regional office for horticulture.
Hang the stems so they are vertical, perhaps attaching them to your garden fence or balcony rail. Meanwhile tie reeds and bamboo canes horizontally to make small insect hotels. For bees that live in dead wood, drill holes of two to nine millimetres into wooden blocks and place or hang them up in the garden.
ELIMINATE THE RISK OF INJURY
When you’re making your own nesting aids, as with insect hotels you buy, you want to make sure there are no sharp edges so the bees don’t injure themselves.
If you are making a home for bees out of wood, then avoid coniferous wood like spruce, fir and pine due to the shape of their wood fibres. You are better off with hardwoods such as alder, ash and beech, said a German educational project.
Bear in mind too that many of the insect hotels available in shops are not suitable for bees.
Avoid models that are made with hollow and perforated bricks or concrete. Likewise wood shavings, pine cones and pebbles are “completely useless”, according to wildlife specialists.
Once you have a nesting box, place it in a sunny spot in your garden where it is protected from driving rain and wind, preferably facing south-east. Don’t put the shelters in a tree or hanging in a shady spot.
WATER FOR COOLING AND HOUSE-BUILDING
Honey bees need water to cool their hives, while wild bees need it to build their nests.
But both are only able to use water people offer them if there’s a dry spot for them to swoop down and land on, such as small stones sticking out of the water like miniature islands.
Alternatively, create natural collecting containers for water. You can place empty snail shells upside-down or set out plants with funnel-shaped leaves such as rhubarb and show-leaf.
Water features, spring stones and small fountains are also suitable because bees like standing water enriched with minerals.
FOOD FOR ALL BEES
Bees are not chiefly interested in the prettiest flowers. What they want is ones that provide food. That food also needs to be reachable, which is not always the case with some plants that are popular in our gardens.
The trouble is that some flowers which have an impressively large amount of petals, creating an attractive bloom, are actually impossible for bees to crawl through and access the pollen and nectar inside.
Some of these less bee-friendly flowers include double peonies and peasant hydrangeas, whose large coloured blossoms are actually sterile, shielding the less showy smaller flowers that bees like.
When it comes to bees, you are better off with open or cup-shaped flowers whose centres are full of pollen.
But even flowers that seem easily accessible are not necessarily bee-friendly as some cultivars are sterile, such as most forsythia.
The simplest tip for a bee-friendly garden is to pick up plants that are labelled as being bee-friendly when you are shopping. This has become widespread as awareness of the plight of bees grows.
But don’t solely rely on bee pastures as these are mainly plants for honey bees, who also need nectar and pollen. These meadows don’t really help many wild bees who often only stick to particular plant groups.
Ideally, design your garden so it is rich in flowers and has plenty of variety.