Food for Bees

Bees in decline

When I started on my beekeeping journey I naively thought that all was well in bee-land. Not so of course. Bees, whether they are honeybee colonies managed by the beekeeper, or species of wild bees such as bumblebees and solitary bees, are on the decline. Around the globe disease and habitat loss are sadly threatening bee populations to the brink of extinction. In Ireland 30% of our bees are threatened with oblivion. Two bee species have already gone the way of the dodo in Ireland.

We depend on bees. They help pollinate wild plants and some of our favourite food crops. It is humbling that something as small as a bee can have such a powerful impact on our landscape and food security.

So bees look after our food supply via pollination, but the problem is that we don’t respect their food sources. The flowers that provide them with their nourishment grow in places controlled by us. Lawns, sport fields, road verges, woodlands, agricultural land, hedgerows, you name it. Where there’s a flowering plant, chances are, there’s an insect busily getting a meal.

Managing landscapes

It’s important to point out that their food sources are not usually removed by malice or greed, but by ignorance. People very often don’t realise until someone points it out to them, that their actions are leaving bees to starve. In Ireland the very excellent National Biodiversity Data Centre last year rolled out the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan. They’re spreading the word to land owners and community groups, showing them how, with simple tweaks, (that often save money in the long and short-term), flowers are left in the landscape for our pollinators to feed on.

Education is key. Bees are fascinating creatures. Getting your head around their life cycle is mind-blowing.

Beekeeping? Me?

Why not sign up for a beginner’s beekeeping course? The Federation of Irish Beekeepers lists your local beekeeping group. They all hold beginner’s courses. The beekeepers that teach the courses are inevitably in love with this insect, its honey and its life story. They will be only too delighted to pass on their knowledge and enthusiasm. You don’t actually have to keep bees at the end of it either, but what you learn there could change your views on all things that buzz.

I’m no beekeeper

If keeping bees is not for you, there’s still plenty you can do. Avoid the use of pesticides. Plant flowering pants, including shrubs and trees. Create as many wild areas as you can. For more tips to help bees, and by extension other wildlife, see the excellent how-to guides published to support the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan. Spread the word.

Meadowsweet: wild, fragrant and beautiful