7 Aug 2013

What's killing our bees?

Honeybee

Bees, it seems, are enjoying the city life. The environment suits bees rather well and recent projects to encourage and train more urban bee keepers was absolutely the right thing.

Leaving the telly on last week after Gardener's World, I serendipitously caught Horizon's report on BBC2 into the research that's been going on over the past decade as to the health and welfare of our bees and what's causing the recent decline in bee numbers in this country. Neonicotinoids were discussed at length - arguments for (scientific) and against (environmental ) were presented.  The way these pesticides interfered with the bees navigation systems made compelling viewing. Amazingly, it appears that the British government would still like to support the use of these chemicals, judging the research to be inconclusive! Un-bee-lievable!  The programme was fascinating, informative and well worth making the time to view on iplayer (link below), if you haven't already seen it.

Flower bee

My little veg patch here fairly well buzzes throughout the summer months as various flowers on the veg, fruit, herbs, shrubs and annuals come and go over the weeks. It may look like a jungle with orach, fennel and sunflowers towering above all else but the bees are happy! At the moment it's the sunflowers, raspberries, lavender, eryngiums and herb flowers that are drawing them in and it would be all too easy to believe, on numbers, that things were pretty hunky dory for our bee friends. Unfortunately not so for the countryside bees, as Horizon's documentary clearly demonstrated, but urban bees are actually doing quite well, helped by the wide range of food available to them from parks, gardens and allotments.  We're obviously doing something right, here in the city.

The bees have plenty of choice in the summer but nectar rich winter plants are even more important and many gardens have plants that, quite by chance, provide a winter food source for bees: Hellebores, aconites, crab apples, Chaenomeles (flowering Quince), Mahonia and Sarcococca to name just a few.  Planting beautiful snowdrops that will help to feed bees in the cold winter months is a win:win situation, in my book.  The extra warmth generated by city buildings would also help and we can carry on doing our bit by providing the right environment in our gardens and reap the rewards of a healthy, bio-diverse plot!

Eryngium bee

Catch the documentary if you can; it's available until 2nd September on iplayer:  What's Killing our Bees?

The British Bee Keepers Association has an excellent list of what to plant to ensure a year round supply of nectar and pollen rich food for bees; it can be found at this link: Gardening for Bees.

Sunflower bee

28 comments:

  1. Well, my garden is semi-urban, but quite close to open countryside. This year I have practically no honey-bees, but masses of the Bumble Bee types. Actually, I know they are not BBs because they are too small, but they LOOK like BBs - they are certainly fluffy! The flowers they like best are the Oregano and Mint - and fortunately Runner Beans.

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    1. The bumbles certainly dominate in the veg patch here but I've also seen plenty of honeybees. Hopefully your bees are doing a good job on your beans, Mark!

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  2. I saw a lot of dead bumblebees in Hyde Park the other day, it was really sad. I have no idea what would have killed them.

    My little plot has cornflowers, borage, bronze fennel, comfrey, nasturtiums... I think there's more there for bees than people at the moment especially as all my salad went to seed while I was on holiday!

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    1. Very interesting comment, Sarah - thanks. I wonder if pesticides are still used in the parks? I've also seen bees attacking other bees here in the veg patch and I've seen one or two very slow bees that I thought were dead - not just here but in other gardens as well. Your little plot sounds really lovely - have you been to the Skip Garden in Kings Cross? Loads of bees there as plenty of fodder for them; they're growing all that you do and more!

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  3. Came on here to add almost an identical comment to Mark's! We're semi-urban and close to open countryside too...

    Our local farmer's shop sells local honey, so local I know our garden is in the bees' range. The fact they're not visiting this year is rather worrying.

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    1. That IS worrying, VP, as I know you'll have planted to tempt the bees into your plot and garden. It's topsy turvy isn't it when you find more bees in the city and only a few in the countryside!

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  4. I find I'm always choosing plants with thought to how the bees will like them these days. I hope the subsidy to get farmers the plants strips of nectar rich flowers at the edges of fields will help.

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    1. Absolutely, Sue! I'm always picking up plants that are good for pollinators and tucking them inbetween the veg here. I think the green of a veg patch always looks better with a few splashes of colour!

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  5. I missed the programme Caro but will catch up with it at the weekend. We recently had Maureen Little as a guest speaker at our local garden club. She was fascinating to listen to and I will do a blog post soon. Maureen is a bee keeper, gardener and author and spoke to us about on the subject of gardening for bees. If you have a Kindle one of her books 'The Bee Garden' is available now for the princely sum of £1.19! I noticed the bees buzzing round my raspberry bushes at the allotment this morning :)

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    1. Ah, thanks for this Anna. I've just had a look at that book on Amazon, looks jolly good so have downloaded it to my Kindle reader. Amazon is so tempting - I was also tempted by her book about plants and planting for bees! How wonderful to have heard her as a guest speaker, I bet that was an inspirational evening!

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  6. A good, thoughtful post and terrific pictures.
    I've got a note to watch that programme on iPlayer. As I often mention the plot is generally buzzing with bees, at the moment on the sunflowers, and I would be concerned it if they weren't around. Flighty xx

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    1. Thank you, Flighty. I hope you managed to catch the programme and enjoyed it - I found it fascinating! I think we do rather better in the cities as we have lots of plants in a smaller space, allotments being a prime example. The bees do love the sunflowers don't they! As, indeed, do I. Well worth growing every year, even when they're self seeded, as mine are!

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  7. I didn't see the programme but it sounds really interesting, I'll try and catch it later if I find time. I've seen lots of bees around since we've had the good weather, though there were so few before.

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    1. Yes, the lack of bees earlier in the year was rather worryiing, Jo, and it's what prompted me to cut back our enormous Hebe to encourage it to reflower - it's a shrub that the bees swarm over in most years! I feel it's important to raise awareness as even the smallest changes will have huge impact collectively. I hope you managed to catch the programme! (and found it useful!)

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  8. I saw the programme a while back and agree that it is well worth viewing. We left most of our grass to become a wildflower meadow this year, and have found that we have had a lot more insects than usual, including bees. That might be down to the better weather this year, too, of course. We are surrounded by fields, which are regularly sprayed (we think with fertilizer, but who knows) for growing sileage. How I wish it was an organic farm!

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    1. Hi Firehorse! Thanks for a very interesting comment. You've seen first hand what happens when nature is allowed to run its course - lots of insects to create a more diverse habitat! I wouldn't want to go completely back to the wild in the garden but I try to be as bio-diverse as possible ... and organic! (I've stopped the contracted gardeners from spraying weedkiller on the paving around my veg garden, now I have to hand weed all the cracks but I don't mind!)

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  9. Beautiful photos, and an important message too. I will have to make time to watch the programme, though I am happy to say that my garden is alive with lots of different types of bees, and what a wonderful excuse to invest in more snowdrops and hellebores!!

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    1. Hi Janet, Yes I'm certainly being a lot more choosy about the spring plants that I put in. I'll be adding snowdrops and crocuses this year if I can find a space that I don't need for veg until later! And definitely more hellebores - expensive but so beautiful!

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  10. Hi Caro, just popped over from Jo.
    I did watch the programme and it was fascinating. We seem to have a lot of bees although, like Mark, most are the bumblers. I've seen very few honey bees.
    Very envious of your glorious patch, especially those wonderful walls!

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    1. Hi Rusty Duck and thanks for commenting! Even having bumble bees is something, they must like the flowers in your garden. Check out Maureen Little's book about her bee garden; I've learned that different types of bees like different plants and it's given me some good ideas for next year!

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  11. This is an important posting, Caro. As you probably know we are experiencing similar concerns in USA. This year, I am sad to say, there is also a decline in our butterfly population. Very troubling! BTW -- I came here from Jo's blog and will return. P. x

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    1. Hello Pam, lovely to meet you! Yes, I agree that if bees are suffering, other beneficial bugs will also be affected although perhaps we don't notice so readily unless we're in tune with the nature around us. I only really see white butterflies in the veg garden but have seen a wider variety over on Hampstead Heath. The politicians should start listening to the gardeners on the front line! Thanks for commenting - I'll be popping over to read your blog! C x

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  12. Over from Jo's blog, and really liking what I see here.

    I saw that programme about bees too, it chilled me to the bone. I'm planting a lavender hedge to try to help our bees.x

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    1. Hi Snowbird! Thanks for your lovely comment, I'm glad you've enjoyed your read! Lavender hedges are a wonderful sight in summer - rosemary makes a good hedge too = and the joy is that we enjoy it as much as the bees! Bees are collecting nectar and pollen to see them through the winter months now but don't forget spring flowers for when the bees wake up!

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  13. Thank you for the link, I've been worrying about the bees for awhile and am always happy to see them in the garden. I planted lots of lupins for them this year!

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    1. Hello Hannah! This has been so lovely for me to read everyone's comments and about the plants they're putting in specially for bees - Lupins are cheerful aren't they? A lovely splash of colour in the garden! There are lots of children in the gardens here (community garden between flats) but I've taught them to be kind to the bees and generally ignore them so our bees are allowed to go about their business! Hope you saw and enjoyed the programme!

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  14. Hi Caro, I too find it unbelievable that our government wasn't overly supportive of the pesticide ban. Very disappointing. I've noticed a rise in bee numbers this year though which is good so something is going well. I didnt see the documentary so will give it a watch tomorrow :)

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    1. Hi Anna!! Hope you managed to catch the documentary, it's a good one! It's been a really good summer for bees, lots of the right food and plenty of warmth for buzzing around to collect it. I hope this will have given them the opportunity to catch up and make up numbers. If I was a journalist, I'd be interviewing bee keepers to see if they've noticed a difference this year! (Hmmm, that's not a bad idea, actually!!) My patch is always stuffed full of herbs and flowers (they love alliums!) so plenty for the bees to enjoy - I know your garden and allotment are the same - a win:win situation for all!! Cxx

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Caro x

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