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Solitary bees are unsung garden heros. Our friends at Green&Blue suggest 7 easy ways to help them, and share some fascinating facts

Solitary bees are the remarkable, unsung heroes of the pollinating world. Responsible for around a third of all food we eat, they are generally forgotten or confused with their winged relations, bumblebees and honeybees. Here are some simple things you can do in your garden to reward these little guys for the work they do.


1. Just like shopping local – plant local

By planting local flowers you will have a far better chance of a successful garden – and you will also be providing food sources that local bees are already adapted to and familiar with. This means the flowers are far easier for bees to locate.

2. Choose nectar rich flower varieties

Do your research to find varieties that will provide the most nectar and pollen for visitors. Good examples are honeysuckle, crab apple and lavenders. And avoid plants with double or multi-petalled flowers – for example camellias and carnations – as these are usually lacking in nectar and pollen, and many insects will find it difficult to access them. A mix of local wildflowers can be a simple (and stunning!) way to cater for bees.


3. Try to plant blooms for all seasons

By giving consideration to seasons when you plant you can make sure that there is a food source all year round for bees – vital for early risers who emerge from the nest and need food quickly. At the very least make sure your garden diner is open from early spring to late autumn, with some consideration for winter flowering if you can.

Red mason bee
Snowdrops

4. Let nature take its course

If you have the space, then one of the greatest things you can do for bees and other insects is nothing. Allow a patch of your garden to run wild, and don't over-cut the grass or hedges. And an abandoned pile of logs could be providing shelter to all manner of garden pollinators!


5. Use only natural pesticides

Alongside loss of habitat, the increased use of pesticides is one of the biggest threats bees face. If you do your homework you can work with Nature and avoid the need for any chemicals at all.


6. Create a bee bath

Just like us, bees need water too. With a little thought and care you can create a simple, perfect 'bee bath' in your garden. Ensure water is not too deep and that you have places bees can land – easily achieved by placing some rocks in the water, for example. Make sure you check the water daily and keep it topped up.

7. Provide habitat

Finally bees will be looking for somewhere to call home, somewhere they will feel safe to lay their eggs and leave their offspring to emerge the following spring. You can help the bees by giving them some possible nesting sites in your garden, balcony or allotment.


Green&Blue design and make a range of stylish products created to provide nesting and resting places for solitary bees. Their newest innovation, the bee brick (pictured above, left), is a nesting site for solitary bees that can be used in construction and garden walls.


Or try a beepot (pictured above, right), which contains a nesting site alongside a place to plant up some nectar-rich flowers.

Green and Blue bee brick
Green and Blue beepot

Solitary bees are different from honey bees and bumble bees

Solitary bees are not simply bees who have left the hive and are now alone. There are over 200 species of solitary bee and, as the name suggests, they live alone. They do not produce honey or wax.


They are responsible for around a third of all food we eat

Solitary bees carry out a vital role in pollinating our crops, and also flowers and trees. In some parts of China, pollination is already being undertaken using paintbrushes because there are no bees left to do it naturally. We used to think that honey bees were the biggest contributors to crop pollination – but that isn't the case today. All types of bees are important.


They are non-aggressive

Because solitary bees do not have a store of honey to protect they are non aggressive, meaning they are safe around pets and children. The males generally have no sting and the females will only sting if handled roughly, or trodden on. Perfect therefore to encourage into your garden or allotment or new build development.

They have a short, but busy, life cycle

Generally (across the species) solitary bees emerge from their nests in the spring. Males emerge first and, after feeding, they hang around the nest waiting for the females. Once mating is complete the males die fairly quickly. After mating the females will begin the process of nesting, selecting a suitable site, constructing the nest and laying anything between 1 and 20 eggs. The female eggs will be at the back of the nest and the males at the front. The eggs will hatch into larvae, which feed on pollen and nectar that the female has stored within each nest. The larvae develop and pupate, emerging the following spring and repeating the cycle.


Their habitat is under increasing threat

There are many factors in declining solitary bee numbers, including increased use of chemicals in farming, less wildflower meadows and less suitable habitat. As fields become bigger we lose more hedgerows, which used to provide ample homes to a wide range of wildlife. Also as we build more and more properties and landscape our gardens we unwittingly destroy habitat and nests as we do so. Green&Blue's bee brick can be used to create a habitat for solitary bee in each new development, garden or wall.

Little Green Space October 2017

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