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How to Help Bees

Updated on July 12, 2012

Some of the Bee Species you could be Helping

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Red tailed cuckoo bee on common spotted orchidWild tailed bumblebee on borageHoneybee on cloverRed tailed bumblebee in flightCommon carder bee on raspberryGarden bumblebee on rhododendronhoneybee on greater burnet saxifrageTree bumblebeeEarly bumblebee on brambleBuff tailed bumblebee on clover
Red tailed cuckoo bee on common spotted orchid
Red tailed cuckoo bee on common spotted orchid | Source
Wild tailed bumblebee on borage
Wild tailed bumblebee on borage | Source
Honeybee on clover
Honeybee on clover | Source
Red tailed bumblebee in flight
Red tailed bumblebee in flight | Source
Common carder bee on raspberry
Common carder bee on raspberry | Source
Garden bumblebee on rhododendron
Garden bumblebee on rhododendron | Source
honeybee on greater burnet saxifrage
honeybee on greater burnet saxifrage | Source
Tree bumblebee
Tree bumblebee | Source
Early bumblebee on bramble
Early bumblebee on bramble | Source
Buff tailed bumblebee on clover
Buff tailed bumblebee on clover | Source

Why do Bees need Help?

Populations of honeybees and bumblebees have been declining. Pesticide and herbicide use play a part in destroying the bees' food sources and killing the bees themselves, in honeybees the varroa mite, Varroa destructor, has been spreading round the world to all continents except Australia so far. It only reached the UK in 1992 (Beebase, DEFRA) but in 20 years has become widespread all over the UK. A hive infested with varroa mites will usually die out within three years unless beekeeper takes preventative action. For bumblebees loss of habitat is key as modern farming and gardening methods have reduced the available food sources (wild flowers) and nesting areas.

Thankfully the plight of honeybees and bumblebees around the world has now come to most people's attention and a lot of people are asking "how can I help bees?" Given our reliance on bees to pollinate many of our favourite and essential foods, efforts to halt and reverse the population declines of bee species are gaining momentum and there is a lot you can do to help.

Bees on the Verge

Encourage your local council to let road verges  flower for bees.
Encourage your local council to let road verges flower for bees. | Source

Help Bees in Your Neighbourhood

Road verges and roundabouts are often full of wild flowers if they are not kept closely mowed.You can encourage councils to allow road verges to grow long and mow them late in the year after wild flowers have set seed.

In the UK you can contribute photos of bumblebee species you have seen in your area to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BCT) so that they can accurately map the current distribution of different species.

In America you can join the American Beekeeping Federation and your membership fee will go towards supporting the countries honeybee population, Some states have there own bumblebee programs; for example in Texas you can contribute your sightings to Bumblebees of Texas.

Volunteer to help the your local beekeepers or bumblebee association, the BCT or Buglife. Opportunities include leading a bee walk in your area, manning a stand at a country fair or garden centre to enthuse and inform people about bees and what they can do to help and creating and distributing a newsletter about gardening for bees.

You could even decide to start keeping a hive of honeybees. If you are thinking about doing this you will usually find that local bee keepers are very generous with their time helping novices and that courses are run locally so that you can learn how to keep bees and collect your own honey.

Love Weeds

White tailed bumblebee on dandelion
White tailed bumblebee on dandelion | Source

Be Untidy

White tailed bumblebees leaving their nest.in my shed
White tailed bumblebees leaving their nest.in my shed | Source

Help Bees in your Garden

The good news is that some of these tips require less work from you rather then more!

  1. Love weeds - a lot of weeds are native wildflowers and very attractive to bees. Why not leave some weeds and watch what comes to visit them.
  2. Plant drifts of flowers that bees like. Bees and honeybees tend to return to the same species of flower during any one day, so they like finding a decent sized patch of the same flower because it reduces the time spent flying between blooms. I've watched bumblebees in a meadow containing red and white clover and a bee who has decided to collect white clover nectar or pollen that day will almost always fly over and ignore the red clover. This is handy for the flowers because it means that pollen is transferred between flowers of the same species and the flower can set seed and ensure more flowers are produced next year.
  3. Even if you only have a window box planting flowers that bees like will help. For example; a wild flower combination of blue self heal and yellow meadow vetchling could look great in a small planter or window box and bees would love it.
  4. Be untidy - bumblebees will often nest in undergrowth, a pile of raked leaves or, as I found in my garden, a nest in my shed under a heap of straw.
  5. Reduce or eliminate pesticide and herbicide use in your garden.
  6. Don't call in pest control - if you have bumblebees, leave them in peace, they are unlikely to sting you whilst they are out gathering food and only tend to get cross if they think you are going to damage the nest.
  7. Do call your local bee keeping association if you have a swarm of honeybees. They will often have someone available who will collect the swarm and be able to house it in one of their beehives.

Burnley's Bee Project

Wildflower meadow at Austin Street, Burnley
Wildflower meadow at Austin Street, Burnley | Source
Wild flower meadow at Crowther Street, Burnley
Wild flower meadow at Crowther Street, Burnley | Source
Buff tailed bumblebee on a thistle at Crowther Street, Burnley
Buff tailed bumblebee on a thistle at Crowther Street, Burnley | Source

Support Bee Projects

Your Local Council

Find out whether your local council are participating in any bee projects and if they are write and thank them. Councils are more likely to keep doing something if it is appreciated by the people who live locally.

Voluntary Organisations and Charities

These may be working locally with your council or landowners, nationally or even internationally on projects to help bees thrive.

To find out about bee projects in your area:

1) do an internet search. For example I tried 'bee project in North Yorkshire' and found out about the 'Bee Roads' project which aims to create two stretches of wildflowers from north to south and east to west across Yorkshire.

3) Walk around your area and you might get an inkling that something to support bees is going on around your town or village. I was very pleased to find lots of wildflowers on a brownfield site near my home in Burnley this spring. In June when I found yellow rattle I begun to wonder if they had been sown deliberately and I was even more suspicious (but in a good way) when corncockles flowered.

3) Send your council an email asking whether they are doing anything to help bees in your borough. I got a fast and helpful response from Burnley Borough Council about a combined project with Burnley Offshoots to support the native honeybee with bee friendly planting. The council have sown areas of wildflower meadow in parks and greenfield sites around the town and offshoots have set up bee hives and are training local people who want to keep bees and supplying them with bees. This is brilliant - Burnley at the forefront of conservation. The council and Offshoots deserve to have praise heaped upon them. If enough people send an email or letter of appreciation to a council, it should encourage them to continue with a bee project.

4) If you find there are no council supported bee projects, you could send them an email or a letter showing what other areas are doing for bees and encourage them to get involved.


Wild Flower Meadows

Whilst a lawn can be a good place for children to play and set off the surrounding planting, being made up of just a few species of grass means that lawns don't provide a habitat or food source for many different insects such as bees and hoverfles.

Why not turn part, or even all, of your lawn into a wildflower meadow? Wild flower meadows are brilliant - they're like having a mini Serengeti on your doorstep - don't worry, you won't find lions and wildebeest out there, but on a smaller scale you will find lots of fascinating invertebrate in addition to the bees. For example: butterflies and day flying moths such as the six spotted burnet moth, nocturnal moths resting for the day such as the angle shades moth, hoverflies, damselflies and solitary bees.

Insect Safari - What Could you Find in your Meadow?

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Comma on celandine hoverfly on herb robertAngle shades moth amongst grassDamselfly on cloverBee mimicking hoverfly on cloverSmall Tortoiseshell caterpillars on nettle Six spotted burnet moth on thistleMeadow brown on grassLadybird larva on marigold
Comma on celandine
Comma on celandine | Source
hoverfly on herb robert
hoverfly on herb robert | Source
Angle shades moth amongst grass
Angle shades moth amongst grass | Source
Damselfly on clover
Damselfly on clover | Source
Bee mimicking hoverfly on clover
Bee mimicking hoverfly on clover | Source
Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars on nettle
Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars on nettle | Source
Six spotted burnet moth on thistle
Six spotted burnet moth on thistle | Source
Meadow brown on grass
Meadow brown on grass | Source
Ladybird larva on marigold
Ladybird larva on marigold | Source

What to Do with the Spare Turf

1) Use it to patch other areas of your garden.

2) Give it away

3) Sell it - if you're taking out a big lawn

4) Compost it.

How to Make a Wild Flower Meadow

This isn't just a question of letting your lawn grow long and not weed killing the daisies and buttercups that appear. There are two options:

1) Cut the proposed meadow area very short and using a trowel insert plug plants of wild flower species in it. This is relatively expensive and it is hard for the wildflowers to compete with well establish lawn grass.

2) Strip off the turf in your meadow area. Sow a wildflower meadow seed mix - this will usually have a proportion of 20% wild flower seeds and 80% mixed grasses. You need choose a mix which will suit your soil conditions.

Wild Flower Meadows

Poppies and oxeye daisies in a wildflower meadow
Poppies and oxeye daisies in a wildflower meadow | Source
White clover, oxeye daisies and cornflower and corncockle in a wildflower meadow
White clover, oxeye daisies and cornflower and corncockle in a wildflower meadow | Source
Bee friendly meadow including Phacelia and Alyssum
Bee friendly meadow including Phacelia and Alyssum | Source

Make a Bee Friendly Meadow

If you use native wild flowers you can be confident that the bees will enjoy them and that they will provide food for other native invertebrates, but you could sow a non native bee friendly mix as an alternative or even have an area of both. This mix could include flowers from around the world that are attractive to honeybees and bumblebees and some may not have any grass seed in. If the flowers are annuals and not hardy you will need to collect seeds to resow the following year.

In the UK a non native bee friendly mix might contain flowers such as borage, phacelia, marigold, honesty, Lobularia maritima (alyssum) and evening primrose.

What will you Do to Help Bees?

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    • Cre8tor profile image

      Dan Robbins 4 years ago from Ohio

      Awesome, Awesome Hub! My parents raise bees and we are so fascinated by them and have learned so much about them and their importance to us all. This hub is absolutely AWESOME through and through. If I could keep voting it up, I would. Love the pics, love the info, love the hub and shared.

    • Nettlemere profile image
      Author

      Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Thank you cre8tor for your wonderful comments and votes. It's great to hear that you enjoy watching and keeping bees. They are quite extraordinary I agree.

    • wayseeker profile image

      wayseeker 4 years ago from Colorado

      What absolutely beautiful pictures! Though I don't often think of them, I have always recognized the importance of bees in keeping mother nature on track. This hub presents a lot of ideas of things I had not thought of before. We keep some flowers and flowering bushes and the bees love them. I try to teach my kids to be conscious of bees, but not afraid of them.

      That said, I'd love to see more honey bees around and fewer wasps where I live.

      Excellent work,

      Bert

    • Nettlemere profile image
      Author

      Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Thank you for visiting and commenting Bert and great to hear that you teach your children not to be afraid of bees when they visit your flowers. I'm sure it will help them grow up caring and interested in nature.

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 4 years ago from San Francisco

      I really appreciate this Hub and have linked it to my installing a bee hive Hub. I recently bought a bunch of bee-friendly flower seeds to plant. I'm excited to plant them!

      Thanks for getting the word out there. One in every three bites we eat is made possible from bees; their survival is incredibly important!

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      This is all great and incredibly important information within this well written and interesting hub, well done !

      Vote up and more !!!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, help the bees as much as possible. They really are having trouble in the world now. Luckily, the birds have been planting and there are lots of wildflowers and sunflowers at Boomer Lake Park. There are also many flowering thistles, too.

    • adjkp25 profile image

      David 4 years ago from Northern California

      We live in the country near a few orchards. We love it when they bring out the hives for the spring flowering/pollination cycle, I know our trees and plants love the extra buzzing attention too.

      The last few years have been hard on bees here with the colony collapse disorder, it has been very depressing to hear about their struggles.

      Voted up and useful.

    • profile image

      ecrachild 4 years ago

      So that's what became of our bees. I don't think I see any at all now, but I might now that I'm focused on looking. I already follow your advice to be untidy (!), but there may well be environmentalists' efforts going on to get a bee population here again, since their pollination affects crops. Beautiful photos.

    • Nettlemere profile image
      Author

      Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Robin - thank you so much for the link and for visiting. I hope you enjoy lots of flowers and bees when your seeds come up.

      Kashmir - thank you for reading and voting.

      Aviannovice - I've noticed that the bees here (and butterflies) love thistle flowers - I shall look forward to reading about some of the boomer lake wild flowers perhaps in between or amongst your wonderful bird hubs.

      adjkp25 - I bet the orchard owners are finding pollination levels have dropped with the bee colony collapse epidemic. Thank you for reading and an interesting comment.

      ecrachild -thank you for reading - I also find it comes naturally to me to be untidy in the garden! I hope some bees visit your flowers soon.

    • Mmargie1966 profile image

      Mmargie1966 4 years ago from Gainesville, GA

      What an educational hub! This information is invaluable for many reasons. I'm sharing it (even though your Shetland hub was my favorite).

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

      I love this hub! And your photos are so great - thanks for sharing your knowledge and your talent! Voted up and up!

    • Nettlemere profile image
      Author

      Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Thank you Mmargie for sharing it and Marcy for voting. Much appreciated!

    • Melis Ann profile image

      Melis Ann 4 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      Helping the bees is so important, and an attainable task for everyone. Thanks for writing this information that will be easy to share with others. I really enjoy seeing the honey and bumble bees visit my garden as I'm tending to the vegetables. It has been wonderful to see the garden buzzing!

    • Nettlemere profile image
      Author

      Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Thank you for visiting and commenting Melis Ann. It's always good to meet a fellow bee and gardening fan. I hope your local bees ensured that you had a bumper crop of veg this year.

    • Frugal Housewife profile image

      Frugal Housewife 4 years ago

      Awesome hub! I love gardening and bees. After all, when the bees are gone, how to we plan to eat?

    • Nettlemere profile image
      Author

      Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Thank you for visiting Frugal housewife - there are loads of foods I would miss in a beeless world and when I think of all the possible ramifications of a massive loss of the bee population, it's quite mind blowing!

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