Bee friendly to reap the rewards

Bee friendly to reap the rewards

The sweetest thing is a bee

As National Honey Week approaches, (25-31 October), it's time to celebrate the honey harvest. But will any busy bees be joining in the party? Depending on the weather, the answer will probably be no, they’ll be huddling in a cluster in order to keep warm.  Let’s look at why bees are so important – and see what we can do to help these flying insects.   Bee or hoverfly on lavender Both bees and hoverflies enjoy Lavender Back to school for a brief moment: what is honey? Yes, it’s something yummy that we dribble onto toast. It’s not made in a factory, by the way, it’s a basically natural product made from nectar. Nectar, isn’t that a plastic shopping points card? This might be so, but the real thing has been around much longer. It’s a sweet substance that plants manufacture in order to attract bees and other insects. Why? So their flowers will be pollinated – or fertilised. The bee brushes against a stamen that’s loaded with pollen, and rubs it off on the pistil as it goes to collect the nectar. This fertilisation starts the process of the production of seeds. And hey presto, what do seeds produce? Fruit; vegetables; more plants. We are all pretty basic, we just want to reproduce. A plant is just the same. And a buzzy bee is doing this thing too. The main aim of the honey bee ‘worker’ is to collect nectar. It stores it in its honey tummy, which is actually different from its food stomach; takes it back to the housing estate that we call a hive and passes it on to its co-workers. The bees actually kiss and pass it on by mouth. Bees passing nectar by mouth Bees collect nectar and pass it to each other by mouth before chewing it.   Then they all chew the nectar for half an hour or so until it becomes sticky, then spit it out into little storage jars made of wax. It’s still a bit wet at this stage so the bees fan it with their wings to dry it out a bit before popping the lid on the jars. Bees filling their wax honeycomb Bees fill their wax storage jars with honey before cooling it and then sealing the chambers     The purpose of all this shopping is to produce enough food to keep the hive fed over the winter. And they need to ensure they survive so they can breed the following year. How much honey can a bee make? Eight bees, making honey for their entire lives can produce just one single teaspoonful of honey. So if you waste a spoonful of honey you are pouring away eight entire little lives. So just remember to lick the spoon.   Pooh Bear licking the honey spoon Don't waste any honey! Why do bees matter? Thinking about food, around 52 per cent of everything in a supermarket needs to be pollinated and bees are the main workers. In a bee-less world we would get few apples, avocados, beans, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, kale, leeks, onions, lemons, melons, strawberries and many more vegetables and fruits.   Fruits and vegetables pollinated by bees All these fruits and vegetables require bees! In fact, the UK is said to face a food security catastrophe if the number of honeybee colonies keeps declining - because they pollinate many crops. Bees are a vital link in the food chain for humans. Without them it could cost British farmers an estimated £1.8bn to pollinate by different methods. Artificial pollination by a robot bee Robot bee! Artificial pollination is expensive.   Bee happy – positive steps can help Happy baby Happy people are bee-loving folk!   The most important things you can do for bees is to give them a good ‘press’. This doesn’t mean putting them between two sheets of blotting paper and squashing them flat.  Flower pressing Don't press your bees as if they are flowers! But being positive when you see them or refer to them. Your love (or hate) of something or someone is definitely catching and if your friends or your kids see or hear you bad mouthing a bee, they will probably imitate you. Show wonder and awe when you notice a bee at work. It really is an amazing thing. Plant lots of bee-friendly flowers and encourage as many as possible into your own garden. You will reap the rewards because they will help your garden reproduce – giving you more flowers, fruit and veg. in the future. Bee pollinating a runner bean This pollinating bee will result in lots of lovely runner beans  

Here’s seven easy steps to help you ‘bee’ friendly:

  Cartoon bee
  • Allow a little biodiversity within your lawn. ‘Bee’ happy to welcome clover, daisies and dandelions. They are all loved by bees.
  • Avoid using chemicals on your flowers. It will probably affect the pollen and nectar and will be taken back to the hive, where it will eventually transfer into the honey. You probably don’t want to eat chemicals, so don’t make the bees do it.
  • Leave a dish of water out – not only for the birds but the bees need it too. Include a few stones so they can crawl on them and lessen the risk of drowning.
  • Buy British honey! It’s so much better than buying imported. Fewer food miles and support for local beekeepers. If you can possibly buy at the gate, that’s even better.
  • Grow bee-friendly plants. They love sedum; sunflowers; poppies; cornflowers; foxgloves; honeysuckle; thyme; oregano; lavender; dianthus; roses and many more. Check the RHS ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ list by visiting rhs.org.uk.
  • Adopt a beehive! This makes a great gift too and adoption includes a jar of local honey. Just visit the British Bee Keepers Association (bbka.org.uk) to find out what to do.
  • If you don’t fancy keeping a hive yourself, install a bee house into your garden. It will provide a hibernation site for solitary bees and other flying insects – and it looks good too! You just need to drill a few holes into a log, or you can purchase a bee house from perfectplants.co.uk.
Bee house in log Drill some holes in logs - it makes a great bee house. Bee house gazebo This bee house gazebo makes a nice little feature Click on the photo for more information Bee house Bee houses and insect hotels, click on the photo for more information