Planting a bee garden

We’re often asked how can we help the bees? Well, planting a bee garden or a bee border is a great way to start.

The bee garden should be in full sunlight, and planting should be in bold groups or patches, not in one’s and two’s.

What do the bees need?

  • Pollen to feed to the young brood (larvae). Pollen is rich in protein. Plentiful supplies of pollen, especially in spring, are essential to build up large colonies of bees.
  • Honey to give the bees energy. The bees collect nectar and convert it into honey by reducing the water content and adding enzymes.
  • One colony of honeybees can consume 25kg of pollen and 70kg of honey in a full year

Important for spring pollen

Crocus, winter aconite, grape hyacinth, snowdrop.

Important for pollen and nectar

Annuals

Mignonette, sweet alyssum, phacelia, limnanthes (poached egg plant, looks good in a large patch), borage and buckwheat.

Shrubs

  • Cotoneaster horizontalis. The bees love it, and we get reports of bees swarming when they are actually just working the flowers! Good against a wall.
  • Buddleia globosa. Round orange flowers, easy to grow from cuttings.
  • Heathers and heaths. They prefer an acid soil.
  • Mallow. Flowers for a long time and is good for pollen.
  • Cistus. The bees love working the pink- flowered variety “Silver Pink” for pollen.
  • Catmint. Use it for edging.
  • Ivy. The ivy flowers produce masses of pollen in October, and it is the last major nectar plant of the year. The honey sets hard in the combs, and we usually leave it in the hive for the bees.

Herbs

Lavender, rosemary, mint, pennyroyal, sage, thyme, marjoram, savory, hyssop.

Wild flowers

Rosebay willow herb, clover and blackberry.
Single poppy. This is the only common flower producing black pollen.

Hedging

Hawthorn, blackthorn, escallonia. Hawthorn may produce a crop of honey in an exceptional year. The picture shows a display of hedgerow harvest from Pensychnant Conservation Centre at the Conwy Feast in October 2015. These berries and seeds need to be pollinated by bees, and they provide food for wildlife. We need more hedges.   Cutting field hedges should be left until September, to give the bees time to feed on the bramble flowers, and giving the birds time to gorge on the blackberries.Hedgerow harvest

Trees

  • Large trees are unsuitable in a small bee garden, but of course should be encouraged elsewhere.
  • Willow is very good for spring pollen.
  • Sycamore is valuable for pollen and nectar, and can produce good crops of honey in May.
  • Lime trees can produce delicious honey in July.

Fruit

Bees are essential for good fruit pollination. Apples, pears and plums, raspberries and other cane fruit and all the soft fruits are pollinated by bees, and the bees will collect pollen and nectar from them.

Try Ian Sturrock for old Welsh varieties of fruit trees www.iansturrockandsons.co.uk and Walcot Organic Nursery www.walcotnursery.co.uk.

Please let us know of any other good bee plants to add to this list.

Further information

We highly recommend F.N. Howes’ book Plants and Beekeeping, one of the most useful beekeeping books. Every beekeeper should have a copy! Try www.abebooks.co.uk for a second-hand copy.

Compiled by Peter McFadden, Conwy BK, March 2017

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