New Year is a time when we look forward and plan for what's ahead. This may include planting bee friendly seeds, shrubs and trees. I am currently planning what to plant on children’s projects at our woodland apiary this year, with 2 goals. To advance the children’s personal development and to increase NECTAR sources and biodiversity. A few simple guidelines to follow when planting for bees:
SUGAR, AHH HONEY, HONEY.
Understand which nectar rich flowers have a higher concentration of sugars. Who would have thought the common little weedy sunshine dandelion has a 400% more sugar content than a pretty pear or plum tree! All children love to play “dandelion clocks” and each blow spreads the seeds through wind dispersal, helping provide vital forage for honey bees!
MOW LESS & LOVE WEEDS.
Let your grass grow a little longer to encourage clover, dandelion, poppies, knapp-weed and more. Also some descratched bare earth for mining bees! If your manicured lawn is a source of pride, reserving areas to grow wild can add lovely layered textures to your garden. Our small plant sowing plan for the woods, as we clear some huge nettle patches - which will mulch down into great fertiliser: Borage, Aconite, Lungwort, Forget-me-Not, Globe Thistle and Mallow. We are lucky to already have lots of wood anemone (early Spring forage) and Hypericum (summer). And just up the path in the Country Park, tons of Clover, Dandelion and pollen-rich Gorse.
PLANTING TREES FROM SEED.
We are growing Horse Chestnut and Ash saplings after collecting seeds from local park's and neighbouring woodlands and these will be planted out once strong enough. 1 year old baby trees - known as whips - need rabbit guards (rabbit and deer will eat the young tasty shoots) so the children are given the knowledge and responsibility of fitting the guards to give their trees the best chance to grow and thrive. I am in Sri Lanka for New Year, where it's porcupines that ravage new tasty tree leaves. So think native trees - be that in Britain, Sri Lanka or wherever, then soil type and research NECTAR yield for bees. The Chestnut for example is not considered native to UK (brought over by the Romans 3000 years ago) but grows well and bees love it. Tree planting season will vary around the globe. So plant in winter or rainy seasons in the southern hemisphere, when the roots can get nourishment from rich soils.
In our changing climate we may find that other non-native trees suit bees better. Hot dry days can be good for bees as much of the water has evaporated from the NECTAR offering more concentrated sugars. During a hot dry spell bees may collect honey dew from a Lime tree (excellent for anti-ageing). On a humid overcast day, horse chestnut, which produces a strong flavoured honey. It's curtains drawn and flower shop shut when the rain falls however. This can cause problems and even starvation for bees.
ABUNDANCE IS GOOD.
Bees like to feast on one singular type of flowering plant at a time. They will forage 100 flowers per trip and go out 20 times a day. That's 2000 flowers in a day! Which is why of course we can taste distinct honey types such as Acacia, Chestnut, Manuka and many more. So planting a NECTAR rich tree is abundance for the bees, big time! I have been running my memory tree projects for some years with children, particularly for those that have experienced loss. Planting a tree in memory of a special person, a pet or even parental separation is very empowering. Having the knowledge too, that the bees at our woods will bring stronger life to their tree adds an even deeper meaning, creating a lasting bond between the child, their tree and the wider environment. When the kids can also use the flowers and fruits our bees have pollinated there is another profound connection children make with ecology and their place within it. So which trees will we plant at our woodland apiary? As I often use the tree Ogham with children - an ancient tree alphabet - incorporating history and psychology, I will begin with our native Celtic trees: HAZEL - symbolising wisdom: on a practical level offering an important early Spring pollen source for the bees via Hazel catkins. ELDER - symbolising protection and renewal: a mass of tiny white flowers clustered in huge swathes. We use elderflower in wild food cuisine with the kids, and elderberries in a special honey and propolis cough syrup. We will also plant ASH, HOLLY linked to the Tree Ogham.
Bees see in infrared so purple, blue and pink flowering plants, including many herbs, are winners. Reds are not so popular. This is another opportunity for children to see themselves as positive eco warriors planting neighbourhoods with herbs and providing a mutually beneficial food source.
BEE OR NOT TOO BEE? Just because a plant says it's 'bee friendly' does not mean it will attract honey bees. There are only seven types of honey BEE in the world. But there are hundreds of types of bumble bee, with 37 varieties in the UK alone. However it is honey bees that are mostly responsible for pollination of vital food sources and vitamin rich medicinal plants. So double check with a quick Google search to see which bees you will provide forage for. Many ornamental flowers are more suitable for bumblebees as they can dig into the deeper NECTAR source of the flower with longer proboscis. Honey bees have short 7mm proboscis bee tongues.