Helping the Honey Bee

Bee on Borage

Bee on Borage - Credit: Archant

Last year the national honey survey reported that the honey harvest across the country was down 72 per cent on 2011, with beekeepers across the South West only scraping seven pounds per hive, compared to a yearly average of thirty pounds.

Bee drinking station

Bee drinking station - Credit: Archant

“The cold spring was very difficult for the bees, keeping many confined to their hives for much longer than normal,” says Pat Pegrum, a beekeeper based in the South West who belongs to the British Beekeeper Association’s Adopt a Beehive scheme.

“Going into the winter I had four hives in the apiary in my garden, throughout the winter I topped up their food supplies to keep them going, something that’s that was doubly important after the poor honey harvest of last year.”

Prime bee egg laying season starts after the winter solstice as the days get longer. Bees hatched at this time of year tend to be stronger and have a higher survival rate than their later summer counterparts. As the summer hits, the colony should then have a healthy sized army to gather nectar. This year’s cold spring, coupled with last year’s abysmal summer, has meant that the bee-laying season has been severely disrupted, as bees have been confined to the hive and unable to collect pollen in order to support new brood.

Help the honey bee

Helping the honey bee is easier than you think. Planting flowers and fruit trees is the most obvious way; even a window box with herbs will provide forage for the honey bee. Herbs such as chives and rosemary are great, and the small clusters of flowers on marjoram are an especially useful source of pollen and nectar for the bees.

Like humans, bees also need water, and gardeners can help them by providing a plentiful supply. Making sure there’s a sheltered spot where vegetation touches the water which bees can stand on to drink without getting wet is an easy and practical way to help them and other pollinators.

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You can make your own bee drinking station by fill inga shallow bowl with moss or dry grass under a slowly dripping tap or water butt.

Vegetable patches and allotments are at the height of activity during the summer and growers will find encouraging bees will bring dividends – beans, peas, tomatoes, marrows and courgettes all benefit from pollination. Help to guide bees to your veg patch with a border of fragrant herbs, like rosemary and thyme, to attract them.

Lastly, when choosing your annual plants you can also help bees by selecting wide open flowers similar to daisies, making it easier for the bees to reach the nectar and access the pollen.

The BBKA runs the Adopt a Beehive scheme, the only campaign in the UK that directly funds applied research and education projects into honey bee health. It’s the perfect gift for anyone who has always wanted to be a beekeeper but perhaps never had the time. With three newsletters a year you can follow your adopt beekeeper from one of 14 regions including the south west throughout the year’s highs and lows of beekeeping.

“I’m hopeful for a good strong pollen harvest this year and I’m looking forward to seeing my bee’s busy foraging for nectar to build up next year’s honey store,” says Pat.

“The work BBKA and Adopt a Beehive do is vital to supporting the health of the honeybee. As an Adopt beekeeper, I love being able to share my news about my bees, including their foraging adventures, throughout the year with the Adopt a Beehive supporters’. n

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