30 Oct 2009

Bees on Earth … Goodwill to all men

Recently, a friend of the York Rise Growers wanted to come over and show our children how to build bee hotels but, in the end, didn't have time.  The idea, though, remains a good one - I love bees; for me, they signal the arrival summer - and children, taught properly, have a healthy interest in bugs and the environment.

I took the photo above during a walk earlier this summer.  This little fella was too busy collecting nectar (and pollinating the flowers) to notice my camera lens nearby.  I've also had a number of buzzing visitors to my balcony this summer - by chance I grew lavender, marjoram, mint and marigolds (amongst others) which they love - and several have found their way indoors and had to be rescued with the old "tumbler and card" trick.

But there's a continuing international crisis in the bee world: a Bee-mergency, if you like.  Their numbers are rapidly diminishing due to an inability to resist larvae-borne disease and environmental factors such as loss of habitat (chalky grasslands, meadows and hedgerows).  In the UK alone, three species have become extinct - including the wonderfully named Bombus Pomorum (Apple Bumblebee).

Several campaigns are under way to try and reverse the trend but, amazingly, the plight of the bumblebee is not yet a conservation priority.  Not only are bees major pollinators of wildflowers but they're also commercially important due to their vital role in pollinating many arable and horticultural crops.  No bees: no crops to harvest; no wildflowers; no colourful UK countryside; loss of rare plants and a knock on effect on other wildlife.  Now times that by Europe, USA and Asia.  Okay, now you're getting the scale of the problem. 

There are ways that we can - and should - help.  After all, bees are the only insect to make food for mankind.  On a modest scale, if we make space in our gardens for more traditional flowers - the cottage-garden varieties or wildflowers - everyone should be able to attract at least 6 species of bees into their gardens.  Fruit and veg growers especially will benefit as we need bees to pollinate our plants.  (Beans in particular will thrive if companion planted with marigolds at their feet to draw in bees, as their scarlet flowers must be pollinated for an abundant crop.)

Until the end of December in the UK, look out for special jars of Rowse Blossom Honey which have a unique code for claiming a free packet of wildflower seeds.  (Rowse has already donated £100,000 to the University of Sussex's Apiculture Lab for research into developing disease-resistant UK bees.)

As they said at the Isle of Wight Festival this year:  (All.We.Are.Say-ing)… is Give Bees a Chance!

Here's how to help:

Build little Bee Hotels so that the queen bee has somewhere nice to make more baby bees. Find out more at BBC Gardener's World (Loving this one as I can use dead Japanese Knotweed stems – of which we have many – instead of bamboo!) 

Build a bee nesting box - lots of ideas here from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Plant flowers which will attract bees (and butterflies!).  Here's a list of flowers to get you started from (unsurprisingly) the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Teach your children about bees:  Rowse Honey have set up Bee School (a teacher's resource for children aged 5 - 7), including a free honey tasting kit and free seeds for the class!  (There's also honey recipes to be found on Rowse's own website here.)

More fun can be found on the Edible Playgrounds website - scroll down to Help the Honey Bees.


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