There's a buzz about all the great work bees do in gardens, hedgerows and fields. Just one bee might visit up to 100 flowers on a single trip gathering nectar and spreading their pollen. No wonder we call them busy! Yet in recent years environmental challenges and the impact of harmful pesticides have resulted in declining bee populations. With green space continually shrinking in urban settings and the loss of as much as 90% of upland and lowland heath in our countryside, bees are struggling to find food to forage and survive.
But it's not all gloom and doom. We can help reverse the decline and boost bee numbers by planting flowers that provide bees with food throughout the seasons. Bees need to forage from March to September, and even into the autumn if it's mild enough, so it's a good idea to think about providing food for most of the year. Mix climbers with bushes, flowers and herbs for a variety of scents and colours. In exposed spaces choose hardy, wind-resistant plants that will stand up to the elements and provide forage for bees.
seeds of change
At this time of year, sowing seeds directly into a garden border or vegetable patch is often the next must-do on the gardening list. But it's worth checking the temperature of your soil first. If the soil feels cold to touch, the seeds are less likely to germinate, take root and flourish. So it's better to hold off until the soil warms up. If you're keen to crack on, you can bring your seeds on indoors or under cover in seed trays and pots. You may even have some old trays and pots lurking in a corner of the shed or workshop that you can recycle and reuse.
Once the soil has warmed up, a tried and trusted way to plant seeds directly into your garden is to make a seed bed. It can be a small patch of ground measuring as little as a couple of metres square where you can sow the seeds in short, closely spaced rows that are clearly labelled. Then when the seedlings have grown and are large enough to handle, use a trowel to lift a clump and with plenty of soil stuck to the roots, transplant them into your chosen location and water them in well. And again don't forget to label them so you can keep a track of different seedlings as they grow into healthy plants.
Wildflowers can be an important source of food for bees but they need huge quantities of plants and that means more than sprinkling a packet of seeds in a corner of the garden. But if you've got the space to spare, daisies, dandelions, rosebay willow herb and bramble bushes all have bee-friendly wildflowers and grow in abundance. Leaving your lawn rather than keeping it regularly mown and clipped will also let not only the grass grow under your feet, but daisies, clover and dandelions too, providing valuable sources of pollen for bees.
Just like us, bees love an edible garden, so planting strawberries, raspberries, beans, carrots, garlic, parsnips, broccoli and pretty much anything else is just as good for bees. But try to share the crop by planting more than you need for the kitchen and leaving the rest to flower for the bees - and leave some of your herbs to flower too.
Whether you have a window box, balcony, patio or herbaceous border the envy of your neighbourhood, planting a mix of flowers, herbs and vegetables that attract bees can make a positive difference to helping them survive and thrive. And that's definitely going to bee good for our precious planet!