Help bees and wildlife through the winter – Food gets scarce in autumn. Many species may need a helping hand to get stocked up for a cold winter. Plant late blooming flowers to provide nectar and pollen for the honeybees, other bees and butterflies. Michaelmas daisies, sedums, asters and native ivy are good ones to start with.
Build a wildlife tower – Pallets nailed together and filled with sheep’s wool, straw, rolled corrugated paper in plastic tubes, broken pots, and egg boxes provide homes for over wintering insects such as lacewings and ladybirds. Bamboo canes will provide nesting holes for pollinators such as solitary bees. Add fir cones and thistle heads. Rotten wood down below will attract wood-boring beetles and fungi. Stones and ventilation bricks will give additional hiding places. Plant Sedum on the roof to help retain water and maintain a damp dark habitat for insects of all sorts. Near the wildlife tower, climbing ivy will provide more insect hiding places, nectar and food for caterpillars.
Keep a compost heap – Make out of layers of leaves, grass and weeds, mixed regularly. This will encourage creatures such as centipedes and woodlice and provide more cover for wildlife such as bumble bees.
Lawns – Establish a clover lawn. White Clover is a fantastic nitrogen fixer (it actually makes the soil better as it grows). It requires very little water or mowing, and attracts honeybees and other beneficial insects during its bloom cycle. Make your turf tough by using grass varities developed for your area. Use sharp blades to mow 3 to 4 inches high. Short clippings decompose fast to add nitrogen instead of thatch. Water deeply only when needed and aerate for dense, deep roots.
Build a pond – Ponds are an essential habitat for many species of animals and plants, including increasingly rare amphibians – frogs, toads and newts. Honeybees need to drink water just like we do. A pond in your garden can bring a whole host of interesting wildlife into your world. You will also be helping to protect an important habitat which is rapidly disappearing from our countryside. No room for a pond? – Set out a shallow edged dish of water with pebbles in it to help bees climb in and out.
Plant up a window box or hanging basket – If you have very little space or no garden at all, by planting up some tubs, window boxes or hanging baskets you can attract and support wildlife and provide a food source for bees.
The importance of ivy – Ivy is disliked by many gardeners but it is fantastic for wildlife and does far less damage than people think. Leave a healthy crop in autumn and you will be doing many species a huge favour. The flowers can provide insect species with nectar through late autumn and early winter. Insects like butterflies can take cover amongst the ivy during the winter months and honeybees love ivy nectar. Birds can feed on the berries throughout the winter when other food supplies are scarce.
Buy local honey if you can – For a regular supply, find a beekeeper in your area. This will help local beekeepers to cover costs of protecting the honeybees. Local honey is natural and complies with all food standards requirements without damage to the honey. It tastes different to highly refined supermarket honey and has a flavour that reflects local flora.
Become a beekeeper – If you’re really interested in helping bees, why not think about becoming a beekeeper? If you have patience and some spare time you will find it a very enjoyable and fascinating hobby and you get to eat your own honey too!
Host a beehive – Many beekeepers, especially in urban areas, find it difficult to find a safe place for their colony of bees. The hive would be looked after by an experienced beekeeper so you wouldn’t have to do any beekeeping. Access, however, at anytime would be needed. Just think what a difference it would make to your garden. Your vegetable plot will be overflowing, your fruit trees will have delicious, perfect fruit and there will be a delightful sound of buzzing!
I don’t like honey, why should I care? – About one-third of human food is derived from insect-pollinated plants. Honeybees are much more than just honey producers; they are responsible for 80 per cent of this pollination. The value of honeybee pollination to UK agricultural economy is more than £160m every year.
Help beekeepers to find swarms – If you see a swarm of honeybees contact a local beekeeper. Honeybees swarm to make new colonies. It is a natural process to increase their numbers. Honeybees in a swarm are usually very gentle and present very little danger but they can turn aggressive if disturbed or sprayed with water. Leave them alone and wait for an experienced beekeeper who will collect the swarm and take it away.
Bee Calm – No other insect (apart from the wasp) evokes picnic-time hysteria than honeybees. Most are docile and not aggressive even near the nest. Males can’t sting; and the female workers who can sting are not out to get you. They only sting when provoked. Curiosity may lead them to inspect you in case you are a source of food – unfortunately this normally results in people flapping their hands, which is exactly the wrong thing to do. Stay calm and move slowly away. The little bee will soon lose interest when she realises you can’t provide food that she likes. Remember that bees do not like leather smells which reminds them of animals like the horse. They are also not keen on alcohol smells are are often confused by scented soaps, perfumes and shampoos. Dark clothing is regarded by them as a threat – it could be a bear!
Don’t leave jars of honey outside – Honey imported from overseas contains bacteria and spores that are very harmful to honeybees. Do not keep unwashed honey jars outside the back door. Always wash out honey jars and dispose of them carefully. Honeybees will find it and feed on the remaining honey. This could infect the bee who may pass the infection on to her colony resulting in death.
Invite a beekeeper to talk to your local group – Listen to an illustrated talk about honeybees, products of the hive and pollination and you will learn more about this fascinating insect. Honeybees are a part of our folklore and are one of only two insect species that are managed to provide us with essential services. They have been on this earth for about 35 million years and are ideally adapted to their natural environment. Without them our landscape would be dramatically changed.
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