World Bee Day
It’s World Bee Day, and a great opportunity to learn about how we can help these important insects. The fluffy busy bumblebee is one of the first animals many little children recognise. By having a positive connection to these little insects is vital for their conservation. Getting to know the wonderful world of bees is great to help children understand where their food comes from and how important biodiversity is for our planet.
There are 276 different species of bee in the UK. These range from the well known honey bee, 24 species of bumblebee, and well over 200 species of solitary bee. They all play an important role in pollination of our crops and wild flowers. Flying from flower to flower, they are responsible for pollinating 3/4 of our crops globally, and 80% of wild flowers. By increasing our bee and pollinator density and diversity, crop yields can be increased by a massive 35%. This would give greater food security, particularly in developing countries.
There are over 20,000 species of bee worldwide, with some bee species only pollinating a single species of flower. When one bee species becomes extinct it has a knock on effect throughout the ecosystem.
The Vanilla bean grows from an orchid flower from Mexico and is nearly exclusively pollinated by a single species of bee, the Melipona bee. This little bee is facing extinction, risking the extinction of the Vanilla orchid in the wild, and the labour intensive hand pollination of the vanilla crops that produce one of our favourite natural flavourings. By learning about bees and pollinators with our children we can raise awareness and protect these special little insects.
World Bee Day
World Bee Day is marked by the United Nations on the 20 May each year. This date was chosen as it coincides with the birthday of Anton Janša, who pioneered modern beekeeping in the 18th Century and who recognised their importance in pollination and hard working nature.
We are facing an unprecedented decline in bee and pollinator numbers. Thanks to the use of pesticides and herbicides in modern farming techniques, habitat loss and climate change – but we can help reverse this trend. From supporting organic growers to encouraging our councils to delay verge cutting and growing more wild flowers, there is something we can all do.
Making a bee friendly garden
A wild garden is a pollinator friendly garden.
Try and keep an area in the garden wild. Don’t feel guilty letting those weeds grow, you are doing our pollinators a vital service by providing natural flower food sources and cover.
Grow lots of herbs.
Some of our favourite culinary herbs are also a top source of nectar for bees. Rosemary is great for its flowers in early spring, and try growing thyme, chives, mint, marjoram, sage, fennel and lavender. These are all herbs loved by bees and other insects, and great for cooking with too.
This doesn’t have to be an elaborate water feature – a shallow dish with some pebbles and sticks for bees to safely land on will suffice. Honey bees need to drink, and will use the water to cool the hive in hot weather and make crystallised honey useable. It’s been estimated that a hive of bees will take in a gallon of water a day in hot weather!
Fill your garden with pollinator friendly flowers.
One of the easiest (and most fun) way of doing this is with Seedboms. Children love soaking these Kabloom seed grenades and dropping them onto a bare patch of soil. If you have a balcony then these are great for growing in pots too, and will quickly grow and produce flowers for the bees. Try growing different plants that flower from very early spring to the end of autumn so there is always something for pollinators to feed on.
Make a bumble bee house.
Many of our bumblebees build their nests in the ground. In early spring you will often see large queen bumblebees zig-zagging across the ground looking for a suitable nesting site. You can make a nesting site in a sheltered quiet corner under a shrub or hedge using a half buried terracotta pot. Fill the pot with straw or pet bedding and set at an angle so it doesn’t become waterlogged.
Solitary bee hotel.
These are a fun little project for the children and have a good success rate at attracting solitary bees. You’ll need a plastic tube – this can be a short length of pipe or guttering, a milk carton or drinks bottle with both ends cut off – and some bamboo canes or hollow stems.
Make sure that your cane or stem is hollow all the way through. Sand each tube smooth to protect the bees from splintery edges. Seal one end with clay or mud and pop a cardboard disk at the end to seal it off from predators.
Hang it up in a sunny and sheltered position where it won’t get too wet. Bees will fill each stem with eggs and pollen, and the young bees will emerge in spring. If you can, overwinter your bee tubes in a shed or greenhouse to protect them from the worst of the weather.
We hope that these ideas inspire you to encourage bees and pollinators into your garden, balcony or window box. Children will love watching their busy antics and it will provide so many great learning opportunities. By learning and valuing bees we will increase the chance of saving our amazing pollinators.