Transition Town Letchworth: How to make your garden ‘bee friendly’

In her latest column, Diane Ketcher extols the virtues of bee life our gardens. Picture: TTL

In her latest column, Diane Ketcher extols the virtues of bee life our gardens. Picture: TTL - Credit: Archant

Bees have been pollinating flowers for more than 120 million years and they are exceedingly good at it. One species even gives us honey. What’s not to like?

In parts of South West China, bees are now so scarce due to over-zealous use of pesticides, that the apple and pear orchards have to be pollinated by human hands – with paintbrushes!

We need to look after our bees to stop their numbers declining further. The same goes for other pollinating insects. Remember: If they die out, so do we.

The most obvious solution is to to use fewer pesticides, or none at all, as well as provide suitable habitats for feeding and nesting. Gardeners have a vital role to play here. Bumblebees nest in the ground or hollows of trees, so a bit of dead wood and an unmowed lawn can be a good start.

Leaving a patch of lawn to grow long in the summer – and only cutting the grass once the flowers have finished – provides nectar and nesting areas for many insects. Dandelions are beautiful flowers which provide nectar early in the year. But remember, cut the seed heads off to prevent an invasion later...

You should also aim for a selection of open headed flowers (not doubles) all through the growing season, but beware ‘bee fiendly’ labels in garden centres. They may be friendly but it is quite likely they were sprayed with pesticides during their time in the nursery. By the time you purchase them, the poison might well be in the pollen! Always ask before you buy.

Dave Goulson, in his book ‘The Garden Jungle, or Gardening to Save the Planet’, provides a wealth of information and ideas on this issue – I believe David’s Bookshop stocks it.

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Through reading it, I realised that dog and cat fleas are often treated with a proprietary product containing pesticides, some of which are lethal to bees, some of which must find its way into the garden or the water supply, or both.

Not enough testing has been done on this issue yet, and I’m not taking chances anymore. From now on, my cat gets groomed daily with a metal flea comb and my ‘catches’ dropped into soapy water to die! It’s quite satisfying in a weird way...