Bees Are Dying Out: How To Help Bees Even If You Don’t Have a Garden

Is there anything you or I can do to save bees from extinction? This article outlines some basic actions that anyone can take to help the preservation of bees.

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Bee populations are declining rapidly, the result of a global phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder. Whole colonies of bees are dying and we’re not sure exactly why. However, everyone has the power to help the bees by planting a few of the right plants and flowers. We find out how to help bees, even if you don’t have a garden.

Alex Owen-Hill

The whole world is in the middle of an environmental crisis. Bee populations are declining rapidly, the result of a global phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder which causes whole colonies of bees die out (1). Why they are dying out is not completely understood, but is thought to be the combined result of a cocktail of factors including bee-harming parasites, pesticides and low nutrition from plants.

It is predicted that the extinction of bees would be devastating for us because of the huge number of crops which depend on them for pollination. Without bees, foods as diverse as papayas, cucumbers, kidney beans, avocados and tomatoes would probably vanish.

However, all is not lost. At least, not yet. There are things that we can do which can boost bee populations and may save them from extinction. One of the possible causes of Colony Collapse Disorder is the increase in monoculture – the cultivation of only one single crop over a large area. We can lessen (2) the effects of this by growing a variety of different “bee friendly” plants.

 

Horticulturist Jackie Bruce (who we interviewed this month about her work for Edinburgh charity Tiphereth) grows plants specifically to attract bees and other pollinating insects, such as butterflies.

It’s important to have a variety of different plants that are natural to the country.” she says. “It will help strengthen the bee colonies. Many of the flowers and plants you buy in garden centres are manufactured to look good, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to be what insects will like. They’re also imported from other countries and interbred (3) to produce double flowers, but bees don’t like double flowers they like single flowers.”

Where Bees Go

Bees love a diversity of plants, and traditionally such a diversity has been most easily found in the countryside. However, it seems that our traditional views of country versus city are being completely turned upside down, at least from the bee’s perspective. These days, the country might not be so attractive to a bee.

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Farmers are trying to maximise their yield by planting right up to the edge of the field.” says Jackie. “If they had a margin in each field where they could grow wild flowers these places would be beneficial for bees. The same is true for roundabouts and verges on motorways.”

On the flip side (4), environmentally conscious people in the cities have been getting hands-on in an attempt to help the bees. Recent new stories, such as a stream of cases where swarms of bees have been spotted in inner cities, are a sign of these changing times. This month, a swarm in Manchester was found using a post box as a place “to get themselves organised while searching for a new home.” Last month, a huge swarm brought Leeds to a standstill. These caused problems because they were big swarms of bees with no home. Yet, many bee colonies have already taken up residence in the city, and are thriving as a result.

“There are actually a lot of bee hives in the city these days.” say Jackie. “People think “what are the bees going to be able to forage in the city?” but there’s actually more than you think. There’s pollen on tree flowers, grasses, wild flowers. It’s quite amazing the diversity that can be grown if you just make a small effort. Everybody can help the insects.”

How To Help Bees if You Don’t Have a Garden

Jackie believes that everybody can do their bit to help bee populations by planting flowers and plant that are “bee and insect friendly.” Even if you don’t have a garden, planting a just a few plants can help add to the overall variety of pollen available to city and countryside bees.

“There’s a lot of things people can do.” she says. “If you have a garden, stop using chemicals in it. If you don’t have a garden, you can have a window box (5). Everybody can have a window box and grow plants that bees like. People can also grow things in roof gardens and balconies. If you have a small balcony and you plant it up with plants for bees, you will be amazed how quickly the bees will find it.“

If you have a small balcony and you plant it up with plants for bees, you will be amazed how quickly the bees will find it.

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Jackie recommends these plants as a great start for your bee-friendly window-box to attract bees all summer long.

  1. Start with Early Crocuses
  2. On top of these, sprinkle some Limnanthes seeds
  3. Fill in the gaps with Lavender and any Geranium or Ornamental Lamium.

Also, if you’re a keen cook, bees love most flowers from herbs. For example:

  1. Mint
  2. Marjoram
  3. Bergamot
  4. Sage
  5. Rosemary

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You can also find some great information on bee-friendly plants from these links:

British Beekeepers Association: Pollen & nectar rich plants for your garden

Royal Horticultural Society: Plants for pollenators

London Beekeepers Association: How to plant a bee-friendly window box


Use of English for Spanish Speakers

(1) Die out

  • Definition: to cease to exist, to become extinct.
  • Example: “[…] the result of a global phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder which causes whole colonies of bees die out”. (“[…] el resultado de un fenómeno global llamado Síndrome del Colapso de la Colonia que causa la extinción de colonias enteras de abejas“).
  • Translation: extinguirse.
  • Comment: pay attention to the different uses of “to die” followed by a preposition (e.g. die away/down/off).

 

(2) To lessen.

  • Definition: to cause/ become less. To reduce.
  • Example: “We can lessen the effects of this by growing […] “. (“Podemos reducir estos efectos cultivando […] “).
  • Translation: disminuir, reducir.
  • Comment: Spanish speakers tend to use little this verb maybe because of the similarity with reduce (reducir). In some contexts where we aim to be more subtle sounds much nicer “lessen” (e.g. “His shyness lessened as he grew older or Cold lessens feeling”. “Su timidez fue disminuyendo a medida que envejecía” “El frío merma los sentimientos

 

(3) Interbreed.

  • Definition: to crossbreed (Genetics) to breed or mate with a closely related individual, as in a small, closed population.
  • Example: “[talking about flowers] they are also interbred to produce double flowers”. (“[hablando de flores] también se cruzan entre ellas para producir flores dobles“).
  • Translation: cruzarse con.

 

(4) On the flip side.

  • Definition: reverse, other side.
  • Example: “The flip side of the album also have good songs”. (“La otra cara del disco también tiene buenas canciones“).
  • Translation: por otro lado.
  • Comment: pay attention to the various uses of “flip”  followed by prepositions (i.e. out/over) as well as several compounds such as flip-flop or flip-top.

 

(5) Window-box. 

  • Definition: an outdoor rectangular flower pot that hangs out of the window.
  • Example: “If you don’t have a garden you can have a window box.”. (“Si no tienes un jardín, al menos puedes tener una jardinera“).
  • Translation: jardinera.

 

Autor: Alex Owen-Hill

Alex is an Edinburgh freelance writer and blogger. As an ex-robotics researcher he's passionate about science and fascinating research in any field. He's also a dedicated food geek, filmmaker and occasional jazz musician. You can find him at www.AlexOwenHill.co.uk or on Twitter at @AlexOwenHill.

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