Bees are disappearing at an alarming rate which could impact our food supplies but also turn our brightly-coloured meadows into grey hinterlands. By moving from flower to flower, they are vital pollinators of many garden and wild flowers. So how do we attract more of them to our gardens? Here are Jean Vernon's top tips.
1. Bee safe
Reduce - or preferably stop - using pesticides altogether. Garden chemicals containing the neonicotinoids thiacloprid and acetamiprid, which are still approved for home garden use, are available today at most garden centres and DIY stores. Read the label.
2. Offer a home
Add an insect house to your garden to provide nesting sites for solitary bees and insects. Make your own but ensure it has a waterproof roof, or invest in a bespoke bee hotel such as the Big Insect Biome, £59.99 (wildlifeworld.co.uk).
3. Act local
Lobby your MP and council to reduce or stop pesticide use in your area, it will save taxpayer's money and benefit wildlife and the environment. Ask your council not to cut the road verges and to leave wildflowers for wildlife. Encourage local groups to plant native wildflowers.
4. Re-wild your lawn
Rethink your take on lawn weeds. Dandelions are excellent bee plants, providing vital pollen early in the season. White clover is a honeybee magnet, while the longer tongued bumblebees prefer red clover. Let the grass grow longer and allow the lawn to flower.
Or replace the lawn altogether with a wildflower meadow. MeadowMat, £12.60 per sqm, is a great way to support and attract wildlife. It's laid like turf and is packed full of pesticidefree wildflowers. There's a special Birds & Bees version, with 42 species of perennial and biennial grasses and pollen, nectar and seed-rich plants for wildlife (meadowmat.com)
5. Buy organic
Seek out and buy organic plants, seeds and bulbs that are pesticide-free and grow them without using insecticides. Organic ornamental plants are hard to find, but becoming more widely available; the thinking seems to be that because we don't eat them it doesn't matter. The Soil Association lists organic nurseries and plant suppliers (soilassociation.org).
6. Check your shed
It is illegal to buy, sell or use any pesticides containing the three neonics (imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam), withdrawn by the EU for gardeners. If you find an old bottle in your shed, it must be disposed of responsibly. It cannot be thrown in the rubbish or tipped down the drain.
Contact your local council for details of which household waste sites accept chemicals and take them for disposal. Visit the Crop Protection Association (CPA) Common Sense Gardening site at gardenchemicaldisposal.co.uk.
7. Plant trees for bees
For effective foraging, bees need masses of flowers in one place. Large shrubs or small trees are a vital food source. Five established trees would provide a similar amount of pollen and nectar as an acre of meadow. Choose winter and early spring flowering trees such as wild cherries, willow and hazel. Walcot Nursery (walcotnursery.co.uk) and Harrod Horticultural (harrodhorticultural.co.uk) sell organic fruit trees.
8. Put out water
Beesneed to drink and evaporate water to cool their hives. They collect water droplets, such as the morning dew on leaves, but they drown in water bowls, so fill the bowl with glass sea beans, pebbles or even marbles to provide a surface for them to drink from.
9. Grow forage plants
The RHS has a comprehensive list of plants for pollinators (rhs.org.uk). Choose plants with single, open flowers for easy access to the pollen and nectar. Jekka's Herb Farm sells organic herbs, which include some great bee and pollinator plants such as sage, thyme, nepeta and lavender (jekkasherbfarm.co.uk).
10. Grow from seed
Choose organic seed or ask about neonics and chemical treatments. For example, Suttons and Dobies say that their seed ranges are free from neonics. The BeeMat, £9.99 is a ready seeded (free from neonicotinoids) biodegradable mat (200cm x 50cm) with mixed wildflower seeds chosen for bees (beemat.com). Simple Sowing has a range of neonic-free, wildflower seed mixes in 45.7cm x100cm seed carpets. The Perennial Wildflower Bee Carpet, £7.99 is a ready to lay seed carpet with beefriendly wildflowers (simplesowing.co.uk).
11. Choose organic flower bulbs
Especially those that flower in early spring when bee food is scarce, such as daffodils, crocus and early tulips. The Organic Gardening Catalogue sells a range of bulbs for autumn delivery (organiccatalogue.com).