Comment: Help to ensure honeybees survive this winter

Wildlife Gardening. Photo by Tom Marshall.
Wildlife Gardening. Photo by Tom Marshall.

The transition from winter to spring and, later, summer is one that we can all look forward to. Although winter plays host to a rich array of plants and animals,

it’s the warmer months when our gardens begin to thrive once more – and perhaps when you start to make the most of your outside spaces again.

In celebration of Wild About Gardens Week (October 23 to 30), I’d like to take a moment to discuss some of the ways you can get your winter garden ready for bees; this furry pollinator needs our help now, more than ever thanks to insensitive land use, depleting landscapes and wildflowers, and the growing popularity of pesticides.

While bumblebee queens will mate, and then hibernate during the winter, honeybees continue to work, rest, and play whatever the weather is doing.

Honeybee colonies tend to deplete during the winter months, but this fuzzy favourite still needs your help.

The simplest way to protect pollinators, and ensure their survival is to create a wildlife-friendly garden; a space that animals, birds, and bees of every kind can enjoy the whole year round. Indeed, there are a few things that you could be doing right now to ensure your garden is ready for bees, weather its winter, spring, summer, or autumn. I’d never really taken much notice of what my garden was doing before, but planting for wildlife has allowed me to better

appreciate the sights, sounds, and smells.

The best way to help bees is to plant seasonal containers, filled with wildflowers that continue to bloom as the months march on by. Bluebells, crocuses, pussy willow, hyacinths, wild lilac and calendula are great for spring bees, while poppies, sweet peas, thyme, alium, bee balm, echinacea, and snapdragons will attract insects during the summer. Late summer and autumn blooms include buddleia, cornflowers, honeysuckle, lavender, foxgloves, zinnias, and witch hazel, providing a valuable source of food for bees.

As much as possible it’s important to allow your lawn to grow wild, with grasses of varying lengths, and flowering ‘weeds’ such as selfheal, dandelions, and

daisies. These open flowers will attract bees and provide a vital source of nourishment, while long grass is an excellent shelter and hiding place. Consider

creating a wild corner if you’d rather not leave your lawn to overgrow; a rockery surrounded by wild grasses and flowers would be perfect for creatures of all kinds.

Bees need shelter, particularly as the weather turns. Upturned and broken plant pots provide an excellent haven from wind and rain, while flower pots or

smallish crates filled with pine cones, grasses, and bamboo canes should encourage solitary bees to move into your garden. You could also drill holes into

thick pieces of wood, enabling burrowing bees to set up home.

Bees need access to water all year round, as do birds, butterflies, hedgehogs, and other insects and mammals. To make your garden a true haven for wildlife consider building a small, shallow pond, with pebbles or twigs providing a safe entry and exit for animals of every size and kind. Pebbles nestled in a shallow dish make an excellent suntrap and water source for insects.

To create a truly wildlife, and bee friendly garden it’s essential to think about the pesticides and weed killers that you’re using. There are numerous chemicals on the market that are labelled as non-toxic; unfortunately this doesn’t always apply to bees. Take a moment prior to purchase to compare products, choosing those labelled as bee-friendly wherever possible.

It’s estimated that the humble bumblebee is only ever 40 minutes away from starvation. Would you know what to do if you came across an ailing, or exhausted bee, and there were no flowers in sight? There’s a simple rescue remedy that you can create to do just that; comprising one part white sugar to two parts water the solution can give a bee the jumpstart it needs to fly away. If the bee appears to have become waterlogged in the rain, it’s also helpful if you

can provide a little shelter so it may dry off and warm up, too.

It can be tempting to view winter as a time of decay; the season when you’ll perhaps never venture into your garden, let alone do any gardening. However, if

we’re all to do our bit in order to save bees, and their pollinator friends, it’s essential that you start viewing gardening as a full-time hobby – or at least commit to planting a space that’s going to thrive whatever the weather. Big or small, overgrown or well kept, your garden could make all the difference to bees, butterflies, and other insects, birds, and animals. It’s time to get your garden ready for bees – and the seasonal changes ahead.

To find out more about bee-friendly gardening please visitwww.wildaboutgardensweek.org.uk, or check out our own website at www.derbyshirewildlifetrust.org.uk. You’ll find plenty of information regarding the plight of pollinators, and how you can help on either site. To share tips, or gather a little advice be sure to check out the hashtag #WildAboutGardens; let us all know what you’ve been up to! It’s time to create a buzz about bees, and to make our actions count for the better.