It takes more than soil, water, and sunshine to make the world green. At least 30% of the world’s crops and 90% of all plants require cross-pollination to spread and thrive, and here in Ireland, bees are our most important pollinators.
Unfortunately, bee populations here and around the world are in decline.
Climate change causes some flowers to bloom earlier or later than usual, leaving bees with fewer food sources at the start of the season. Bees suffer habitat loss from development, abandoned farms, and the lack of bee-friendly flowers. Some colonies collapse due to plants and seeds treated with pesticides, or harmful parasites like mites.
The good news is there are ways gardeners can help bee populations bounce back. Planting a bee-friendly garden will not only lead to healthy and vibrant plants, it will ensure that bees continue to play their critical role in our ecosystem.
Let’s explore five of the reasons bees are important to the environment.
What’s your favourite summer crop? If you love apples, or broccoli, you should tip your sun hat to our fuzzy, insect friends.
To germinate, these plants require the transfer of pollen from the male part of the flower (the anther) to the female part (the stigma). As bees move from flower to flower in search of nectar, they leave behind grains of pollen on the sticky surface, allowing plants to grow and produce food.
Bees earn their reputation as busy workers by pollinating billions of plants each year, including millions of agricultural crops. In fact, pollinators like bees play a key role in one out of every three bites of food we eat. Without them, many plants we rely on for food would die off.
With world authorities now telling us that we need to eat more vegetables to help the environment , a thriving bee population is even more important.
2. Wild Plant Growth
It’s not just farm-grown fruits and vegetables that rely on pollinators to thrive. Many species of wild plants depend on insect pollinators as well. Bees are responsible for the production of many seeds, nuts, berries, and fruit, which serve as a vital food source for wild animals.
3. Food Source
Bees produce honey to feed their colonies during the cold winter months. Humans have harvested honey for thousands of years, but we aren’t the only ones who consider it a sweet snack. Birds and insects will raid beehives for a taste of nutritious honey (and bee larvae).
Bees themselves are also a part of the food chain. At least 24 species of bird, including the blackbird and starling, prey on bees. Many spiders and insects eat bees as well.
4. Wildlife Habitats
Bees are known for their elaborate hives, but they also help build homes for millions of other insects and animals. Their role as pollinators is vital in the growth temperate deciduous forests. Many tree species, like willows and poplars, couldn’t grow without pollinators like bees.
Even your own garden serves as a home for hundreds of tiny creatures, from birds and hedgehogs to thousands of tiny insects. If bees disappeared, the animals that depend on these plants for survival would vanish as well.
As pollinators, bees play a part in every aspect of the ecosystem. They support the growth of trees, flowers, and other plants, which serve as food and shelter for creatures large and small. Bees contribute to complex, interconnected ecosystems that allow a diverse number of different species to co-exist.
There is no doubting the importance of bees to our food supply. Without them, our gardens would be bare and our plates empty. But we should also remember the other reasons bees are important to the environment.
Plant Bee-Friendly Flowers
are a great way to attract bees to your garden. Flowers with a single row of
petals, such as bluebells and poppies, are more attractive to bees. These
single-petal flowers have more pollen than other flowers, so they provide more
food for bees.
Here are some flowers that are best for attracting bees:
Most garden centres carry packets of wildflower & meadow flower seeds nowadays which are pollen rich & attract bees – making it easy to dedicate a corner of your garden to bee friendly flowers.
Plant in Clusters
Flowers clustered into bunches of one species will attract more bees than individual plants scattered throughout the garden, so make note of this when you are planting your bee-friendly plants.
Plant Flowering Fruit , Vegetables & Herbs
grow your own fruit and vegetables at home, bees will also benefit. A lot of
vegetables, fruits and berries, especially cherries, yield fragrant flowers
that are attractive to bees.
Here are a few bee favourites:
Bees also like herbs , here are a few of their favourites
Plant Yellow, White, Blue & Purple Flowers
colours attract bees more than pinks, oranges and reds. You don’t have to
exclusively plant your garden with these colours, but having a good amount of
them will help.
all other wildlife need to drink, so include a suitable water feature in your
garden if you can. Bees aren’t able to land in deep water; they need an island
to land on so they can walk to the edge and take a drink without drowning. You
can use a wide and shallow dish or tray and line the edges with flat rocks.
Pour water in and place it near the flowers that attract bees.
susceptible to pesticides and other chemicals used in gardens, so avoid them
where possible if you wish to create a bee-friendly garden.
Provide a Bee Shelter
Bee shelters can be bought from garden centres, but you can also make your own by simply drilling holes into the side of a log. These holes will provide small chambers for the bees to live in. Carrick on Suir library has created one of these.
Leave Some Ground for Burrowing
Leave some ground uncultivated in a sunny spot to allow burrowing bees to seek their own shelter and nesting spots. There are over 70 species of burrowing bees in Ireland.