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 ideally 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. The beekeeper may harvest an additional 25kg of honey if they manage the bees well.
- A supply of water. Bees love drinking from a bird bath.
Important for spring pollen
Crocus, winter aconite, grape hyacinth, snowdrop, hazel and willow trees.
Important for pollen and nectar
Mignonette, sweet alyssum, phacelia, limnanthes (poached egg plant, looks good in a large patch), sunflowers, borage and buckwheat. Tubingen mix is a useful annual seed mixture for bees.
- 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. Our 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 very quickly, and we leave it in the hive for the bees’ winter stores.
Lavender, rosemary, mint, pennyroyal, sage, thyme, marjoram, savory, hyssop. Any herb with a blue flower is popular with the bees.
Rosebay willow herb and dandelions (not really garden plants) clover and blackberry.
Single poppy. This is the only common flower producing black pollen.
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 at least until September, preferably as late as February, if road safety is not an issue. The bees will work the bramble flowers for pollen and nectar in July and August. The birds will gorge on the blackberries in September, and they will enjoy ivy berries, rose hips and sloes as late as February.
- 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. See our website page In praise of the sycamore.
- Lime trees can produce delicious honey in July. Eucryphia trees are great for the bees. They like an acid soil and a large garden. They flower in August and look magnificent. Bodnant Garden in the Conwy Valley has a National Collection of over 20 varieties of eucryphia. Tasmanian leatherwood honey and Chilean ulmo honey are produced from varieties of eucryphia. Burncoose Nurseries have a wide range of varieties.
Many of the vegetables need pollinating by beneficial insects, eg. tomatoes, cucumbers, squashes, peas and beans. Vegetables allowed to flower and run to seed are great for the bees, eg. any of the brassicas, onions, parsnips and carrots
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.
Please let us know of any other good bee plants to add to this list. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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, updated August 2018.