The decline of pollinator populations–especially bees–is one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time: affecting everything from the productivity of the food system to the flowers in gardens. Though action to protect bees ultimately has to come at the societal level, there are small changes individuals can make to their gardens to make them more pollinator-friendly, and in doing so pitch-in to conserve these hard-working members of the ecosystem. It goes without saying that the first thing any gardener can do to help bees is ditching the pesticides and herbicides.
Planting flowers to attract bees
The next step is a little more involved: planting native and nectar-rich flowers, and planting them abundantly. It’s a simple and elegant solution that can give any space the appearance of a classic cottage garden. Going the extra mile and planning gardens so that there is always something blooming will provide pollinators of all stripes with a more constant source of food, which helps keep their populations stable.
The third step in planning for pollinators is in creating habitat, and contrary to what most may think, that doesn’t necessarily mean installing bee boxes. While honeybees are certainly threatened by disease and colony collapse, they hog media and conservation attention. In the UK alone, there are around 250 species of bee, 225 of which are solitary (they don’t live in colonies).
Many bees live in decomposing wood: so garden features that involve driftwood, logs, or wood mulch can become a safe place for solitary bees or small colonies of bumblebees to move in. Far from being dangerous, these fuzzy pollinators will keep to themselves unless directly threatened.
Decomposing wood and layers of wood or bark chips also facilitate the growth of fungal mycelium: the renowned mycologist Paul Stamets demonstrated in a recent study that bees sip water droplets from these fungal “roots,” and the compounds they ingest help them strengthen their immune systems, arming them against parasites, disease, and pesticides.
Creating a bee and insect hotel bee_hotel
For the gardener looking for something a little more polished than a rotting log in the garden, another option is a bee and insect hotel. These structures can be created with recycled or upcycled materials, and provide a multitude of habitats for different bee species. Chambers containing logs with drilled holes, tubes from reeds and other hollow plants, conifer cones, and bundles of sticks provide an array of habitats and can make a rustically beautiful conversation piece in the garden. With a little thought from a bee’s point of view, a garden can provide a refuge for these important biome engineers.