Honey bees, which are in good supply on both the Golden Hill and Birchall Road allotment sites, are not the only pollinators! Bees of all species are important for pollination.
Whilst many food crops, especially cereals, produce massive amounts of pollen, which is spread by the wind, and even apple trees can be moderately well pollinated, a good mixture of local bees and hoverflies will give higher rates, and thus better crop yields.
Bees come in many sizes, from rotund queens, which can emerge from hibernation on a sunny February afternoon, to small solitary bees. Only honey bees and bumble bees are social, and live in colonies. The rest of our 250 + species are solitary, though some will live close to each other, often in the middle of one’s lawn! (Mark off their territory with canes, and leave the grass to grow over the summer).
Only the honey bee colony, queen and workers, survives the winter; even they eject the drones at the end of August. With other species, it is just the fertile queen which hibernates, in sheltered, well insulated and undisturbed places, like holes in the ground, compost heaps, and in piles of debris at the back of your shed. Our hedges and trees provide excellent habitat, with both forage and nesting sites. The tidy plot is less helpful to them!
Different bee species have different length probosces, and so will gather nectar, and thus pollinate, different plants. Bumble bees can reach into the relatively long corollas of lavender (varying lengths depending on the cultivar), Research (google “pollinator project”) found a vast range of flower-visiting insects with a diversity of preferences.
- Don’t use insecticides (if it’s unavoidable, dusk or dawn, before bees have emerged).
- Leave mess for nests and hibernation; hollow stems, undug ground, unturned compost heaps.
- Ivy, willow and mahonia are useful edge-of-season pollen sources.
- Sow spare / fallow beds with green manure crops such as mustard or phacelia, which bees love. Let your comfrey flower. Grow ‘cottage’ flowers rather than ornate cultivars.
- Bee hotels, wooden posts with holes (exit end slightly downhill for drainage) and inverted clay flowerpots on sunny banks offer a choice of nest sites.
And if you want to keep honeybees….
- Join a beekeeping association, get some practical experience and go on a beginner’s course first. Associate membership is under £20 a year. Becoming a beekeeper is a long process!
Whilst buying a nucleus in May is easy, by August, you will have 50,000 hungry, bad-tempered stinging insects on your hands. You need to understand how to manage them first!.
If you are considering bee keeping on your plot please consult your field rep. There are rules governing the number of bee hives allowed on each allotment site, and other aspects of beekeeping on your plot.
Permission must be sought from the Committee.