Feel the buzz

TAKING CARE OF BEES-NEES: Nature’s pollinators need our help as much as we need theirs.
TAKING CARE OF BEES-NEES: Nature’s pollinators need our help as much as we need theirs.

I know it's been said before but, without bees, basically, we're stuffed.

Forget technology. We may have invented wi-fi and found the Higgs boson particle, but we still have to rely on bees for our existence.

That's because they pollinate so much of the food we eat.

Admittedly, some foods like cereals and olives are wind pollinated but, much as I love them, I certainly can't live by bread and olives alone. I like my fruit and veges as well.

Meat eaters should also be aware how much our livestock industry depends on clover, which needs bees for pollination. Then there are the billions of dollars in bee-dependent agricultural export earnings we all live off.

So, call it self-interest but, in addition to their other many worthy and skilful attributes, such as making honey and wax, I'm always keen to help bees.

Have you noticed how they're starting up in the garden at the moment? Give them a bit of blossom and some sunshine and the first of the season's bees are out sucking up nectar and gathering pollen.

It's not a bad life, providing spring arrives, the blossoms open and pests are kept under control.

Poignantly, though, while we might depend on bees for survival, with the arrival of the varroa parasite and, because of diseases, chemical threats, habitat and food decline, we're told they're also now dependent on us.

Which is why in a mutual self-help initiative you can make a difference by turning your garden into a bee-friendly place.

That's what's behind the National Beekeepers' Association and Federated Farmers Trees for Bees programme and the Save our Bees campaign.

What really helps though, is not just a suitable pollen or nectar supply, but that they are available as a continuous supply right through from early spring into late autumn to keep the hive alive.

Bees need nectar for energy and pollen for protein, and in spring bees need to feed their expanding families. And every parent knows what a relentless task that is.

Over the next few weeks and months the bees will be looking for nectar-laden flowers and you'll see them going from plum to apricot and cherry blossom on warm, sunny days and, in October, migrating to the apple trees.

And, if you feel tired of the constant rain August brought, think of how hungry the newly emerging bees are when they can't fly out and about for dinner.

Wet weather at flowering is one of the main reasons for poor pollination.

Lack of bees is another.

You can always try giving nature a helping hand with a paint brush and pollinate your way around your garden to help fruit set, but no amount of brushing will stop pollen washing away in heavy rain.

However, you can help the bees to hang around this summer by planting lots of bee-friendly flowers in your garden. The best flowers are those with shallow nectaries (nectar secreting glands) and where the flowers have single, not double or multiple rows of petals that make it difficult for bees.

Even if you haven't kept a record of favourite bee flowers, you can't help but notice how they flock to plants like lavender, rosemary and of course, clover flowers when you leave the lawn uncut.

Bringing the bees into your backyard means they'll not only notch up a feed or two for themselves but also assist by pollinating your essential summer crops such as tomatoes and zucchini.

Without the bees to do their biz and buzz your flowers, you won't get a good crop of berries either.

There are plenty of flowering plants you can put in now for a bee-friendly summer.

Many are in the same plant family because they share similar floral structures and most fruit trees are important sources of nectar and pollen, making them multi-purpose and especially attractive for the home garden. Some of them, such as Mexican sunflowers, will also attract monarch butterflies, also under attack from paper wasps.

Planting forage-friendly plants in your garden may seem trivial in the scheme of things, but it's a solution where the “think global, act local” mantra can actually make a real difference. Bees will only fly a few kilometres from their hive so, to survive, they need a constant source of locally available nectar.

Bees also seem to like living in towns. Research shows urban beehives produce more honey than those in rural areas.

However, rather than just saving bees in a once-a-year campaign, we need to embrace their place in the world and make ours a bee-friendly planet all the time. Otherwise, it's lights out.