Britain’s bees need your help. And even in built-up Croydon, you can put a buzz into your garden or window box, writes SUSAN OLIVER
Spring can be a difficult time for bee-keepers. This is when, for the first time in months, we are able to look into the hives to see which colonies survived the winter.
Bees don’t hibernate. Instead they huddle into a ball, reduce their activity to next to nothing and feed off the stored honey they accumulated the summer before. Most bee-keepers leave enough honey so that bees have enough to eat in the winter. Some even put in candy (baker’s fondant) to supplement the honey.
But even if we left 100 pounds of honey in the hive, it doesn’t guarantee a hive will make it. Sadly, nothing does. A number of things can happen: the bees don’t find the honey or the colony is too small to survive, and sometimes it’s just a mystery why a colony dies. To be honest, at times bee-keeping is a pernickety hobby and winter losses are probably the worst aspect of this otherwise amazing activity.
Fortunately, public awareness of the importance of bees has grown and many people want to help the bees so let’s go over how you can help bees in Croydon.
1) Don’t use pesticides!
As you may have heard in the news, one group of pesticides that is particularly debilitating to bees are known as neonicotinoids. As of today, it has been announced that the EU will forbid the sale of anything containing these nasty chemicals. You still may have some in your garage so please look here for a complete list of things you should no longer use.
2) Plant stuff in your garden that bees like
a. Fruit trees and bushes (apples, pears and any kind of berry)
b. Herbs such as oregano, sage, thyme, lavender (these have very sweet nectar). Borage is exceptionally good.
c. Sarah Raven recommends cosmos, knapweed, calendula, foxgloves, cornflowers, perennial wallflowers, scabious, and dahlias that open fully.
d. Vegetables that flower such as beans, peas and squashes.
e. Green manures that flower – especially phacelia!
f. Wild flowers.
g. Spring bulbs (daffodils, tulips).
h. Other goodies are buddleia, old fashioned roses that open fully and clover
3) Try to have something in flower throughout the year
4) Leave the flowers of weeds until they go to seed (if possible) so bees can take advantage of the flower
5) If you have a bird bath or other kind of standing water, put a couple of rocks or bits of wood so that bees can have something to sit on and drink
6) Keep your plants well-watered in the summer. Even if flowers are present, there needs to be sufficient water levels for a good nectar flow
7) Teach your children about the importance of bees and teach them the difference between a bee and a wasp
Along with supporting bees, you can also support your local bee-keeper. You can do this by buying local honey – bee-keeping is not inexpensive. Even if supermarket-brand honey is less pricey, please consider the time and money invested in producing a jar of local honey. Local honey also contains pollen of the local flora, which some people consider effective in preventing allergy reactions.
You can also be supportive if a neighbour is considering taking up the hobby. Sometimes people get a bit nervous once they hear that a neighbour is planning on keeping bees but the nervousness is quickly replaced with pride once the hives are in place.
If you’re worried about your neighbour’s bees being aggressive, here’s the deal: bee-keepers should look inside the hives once a week during the summer months (between May and September). This is done for a number of reasons, the most important is to prevent disease and swarming and also to keep an eye on the temperament on the bees. A colony’s character is determined by the queen, so if a colony becomes too aggressive, the queen can be replaced. Simples.
If you’d like to get a taste of bee-keeping, get in touch with the Croydon Bee Keepers Association (CBKA), a friendly group that has an apiary in Purley. They meet on the second and fourth Sunday of the month and keep extra suits on hand for newbies. Mark Stott, Chairman of CBKA, advises to email beforehand and their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The CBKA will also be at the Croydon Green Fair on Saturday, June 15.
The CBKA can also help people who can’t keep bees at home by allocating them space at their apiary.
Please don’t forget about our bumble bees, either. They are gorgeous and peaceful critters that are also important pollinators and usually ignore passers-by.
By the way, unlike wasps, both honey and bumble bees are protected by law and can only be exterminated if they happen to nest in a place that is hazardous to humans. Sometimes they can be moved instead of killed, too, so please look into this option first if you have a problem this summer.