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How We Can Help Bees and Pollinators in our Garden

July 27, 2016

How we can help bees & pollinators in our garden

It’s easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed as we’re bombarded with negative news about the damage civilization is raging on the environment and the effects of a warming planet. In particular there has been deep concern about the plight of bees and pollinators and this week published research suggests a leading insecticide cuts bee sperm by 40% which is devastating news for the bee population.

How to help bees and pollinators in the garden

Credit: National Biodiversity Data Centre

Habitat loss and the decline in wildflowers are subjecting our pollinators to starvation. Our tendency to tidy up the landscape and not allowing wildflowers to grow along roadsides, field margins, and in parks is also playing a big part as fewer of these resources are available. However, there is good news! By making our gardens pollinator friendly we can do our bit to help redress the balance and make sure that we protect pollinators.

Last year the Biodiversity Centre published an All Ireland Pollinator Plan, followed by a Junior Pollinator Plan and a few weeks ago they increased their resource bank by adding an Action Plan for gardens that you can download here.

What can we do to help bees and pollinators in our garden?

Credit: National Biodiversity Data Centre

Aimed at anyone who wants to make their garden more bee and pollinator friendly, the guidelines range from very simple to low-cost actions, from window boxes to large outdoor spaces and community gardens so we can pick actions that best suit us.

There are seven sections and twenty action points that contain recommended plants, tips and practices some of which include the following:

How we can help bees and pollinators in our garden

A. Identify and Protect Existing Areas

Encourage patches of wildflowers or ‘weeds’ which are food for bees and pollinators. Let hedges flower before they’re trimmed back and allow soil to stay bare on sloping areas for solitary bees.

Lawn edging, long grass and dry stone walls all offer shelter for bees and pollinators.

B. Reduce the Frequency of Mowing

How we can help bees and pollinators in our garden

Photo: © Réamái Mathers

In early springtime, one bumblebee queen needs to feed on 6,000 flowers a day to have enough energy to feed her young!

Lawns provide shelter and food for bees and pollinators so reducing cutting can be the most cost-effective way of helping them. That doesn’t mean that gardens have to become wild and unruly; the advice is to not begin cutting until after mid-April when the dandelions have flowered but not set seed. The vibrant yellow flowers are an important source of food as pollinators come out of hibernation.

If you’ve a large lawn, consider allowing some of it to grow into a meadow and cut it back in September. Avoid using lawn fertilisers as they promote the growth of grass and not wildflowers. Definitely don’t spray with herbicides. More detailed advice on managing wildflower ‘lawns’ can be found in the Action Plan.

C. Pollinator Friendly Planting

How to help bees and pollinators in the gardenI’ve written an article before that shares how bees make honey, but to survive pollinators need flowers that produce lots of nectar for energy and pollen for protein. If you’re trying to make your garden pollinator friendly add plants that will provide these food sources during the out of season ‘hungry gaps’ between October to March and choose single flowered varieties of flowers over doubles, perennial over annual plants.

If you’re not sure what varieties to choose, look closely at the flowers in gardens you visit or at garden centres and see which plants the pollinators are visiting.

If you’re limited by space, consider filling containers and window boxes with flowers and herbs that bees and pollinators can feed upon such as borage, thyme, rosemary, cosmos, night scented stock and cosmos. Traditional bedding plants such as Geraniums, Begonias, Busy Lizzy and Petunias have almost no pollen and nectar so are of no value to bees and pollinators.

How We Can Help Bees and Pollinators in our Garden

D. Provide Wild Pollinator Nesting

3 Reasons Why We Need To Build More Bug HotelsApart from food supplies, safe nesting habitats are equally as important for bees and pollinators and we can help by providing these in the garden.

Bumblebees nest in long grass or abandoned rodent holes. Fifteen out of the 77 species of solitary bees nest in existing cavities and the rest burrow into bare ground or south/east facing earth banks.

Simple or exotic bug hotels can be made for bees or just leave hollow stems in the garden such as unpruned raspberry canes for them.

It’s not just the birds who like to hang out in hedgerows, bumblebees often nest at the base of hazel, willow, blackthorn and hawthorn so avoid cutting all the hedgerow at the same time and instead cut parts of it on a three-year rotation. Importantly, don’t spray the bases of hedges and only cut them between September and March to avoid disturbing nests.

Wild bees are not aggressive so can live safely in the garden alongside humans and pets.

How to help bees and pollinators in the garden

E. Eliminate Pesticide Use

ALL pesticides, insecticides and fungicides can be harmful to pollinators, either by damaging their habitats or the plants themselves.

Avoid buying seeds that coated with neonicitinoids (read the fine print on seed packets) and use alternative pest controls such as choosing resistant seeds, barriers and physical barriers.

The Action Plan recommends that we DON’T use herbicides on the lawn or verges around our homes and gardens and if they absolutely can’t be avoided, use best practice (read the label).

F. Raise Awareness of Pollinators

Help to spread the word about how we can help bees and pollinators in our garden. Share pollinator friendly plants from cuttings, seed or division and download the pollinator plans from the Biodiversity Centre and talk about them with your friends, neighbours, schools or community gardens.

Learn to love bees and insects and see them as our friends and not be frightened by them.

G. Track Progress and Recognition

Pollinator Plan Infographics_Bees in Ireland

Credit: National Biodiversity Data Centre

We can make our gardens GOLDEN and log our efforts onto a system where it will track the build-up of food, shelter and safety for pollinators in the landscape in Ireland.

To receive GOLD status the garden must give the best shelter, food and safety for pollinators by meeting certain criteria. More information can be found in Section G of the Action Plan.

We can also learn to identify pollinators and record which ones visit the garden. We can become part of the All-Ireland Bumble-bee Monitoring Scheme or attend the various workshops and seminars that are springing up around the country.

Greenside Up will be holding a workshop in the Autumn in Gleann na Bearu Community Garden, Bagenalstown, Co Carlow where we’ll be sharing how to build a green roof structure and encourage pollinators into gardens thanks to Local 21 funding in association with Carlow County Council; keep an eye out for the newsletter and/or various social media channels for more information if you’d like to join us.

Green, Lifestyle

What can I plant in my garden to help honey bees?

March 18, 2015

Calendar of Bee Plants from

I wrote a post last year that looked at five ways we can help bees but since then I’ve taken beginners lessons in beekeeping. One of the lectures was about foraging and as a gardener I was curious what I could plant in my garden that bees would like to feast upon.

As it transpires, we don’t need to plant that much as long as we have hedgerows nearby, we don’t spray the “weeds” with herbicides and we leave the bugs that naturally share the earth with us to do their own thing. Whilst we can certainly make life easier for honey bees by planting some tasty delights, it seems that bees enjoy foraging among the prolific blooms in the hedgerows as much as they do the more formal, floral arrangements in our gardens.

Ever since a colony of honey bees set up home in a hive in our garden (you can read about it here) I’ve been intrigued by what the bees were doing in there, have noticed how much brighter and more prolific the fruit and flowers in the garden have been and how the garden somehow feels more alive and vibrant with them buzzing around.

BeehiveWe left the bees to do their own thing last year, allowing them to settle into their new home, with occasional visits from our neighbour to check on them. It wasn’t until I joined the South Kildare Beekeepers for their excellent Beginners Beekeeping course, that my obsession really began to kick in.

Honey bees are simply fascinating.

Natural Beekeeping

I’m learning the more traditional form of beekeeping in the beginners course, where bees are checked, manipulated and their honey harvested. However, I’m very attracted to the idea a more natural approach and have been advised to read the Barefoot Beekeeper as well as this PDF from Abbé Warré. For now I’m learning all I can from the experienced beekeepers in Athy, with the intention of switching over once I understand more about bees.

Calendar of Plants for Bees | Greenside Up

Honeybees love Echinops

Five facts about honey bees you might not know

  • A colony of bees is known as a super organism and there are three “castes” of bees in it. The queen really does rule the hive as apart from laying all the eggs, she sends out happy pheromones to help keep the colony chilled out and busy.
  • The worker bees that we’re used to seeing outside foraging for all the nectar and pollen, are all infertile females. They contain a barbed sting but if they use it, they will usually die (so it’s not in their interest to do so).
  • Planting calendar for honey bees

    Honey Bee on an Aster

    The drones are all male and it’s their job to mate with the queen. They don’t contain a sting. The maiden queen flies out once for mating, will do so with around 20 or so drones who will subsequently die after successfully mating with her. The queen will return to the hive with enough sperm to fertilise her eggs for the rest of her lifetime (could be up to 3 or 4 years).

  • There are around 2,000 worker bees in a beehive during the winter, up to 50,000 in summer (so steer clear if you’re allergic or phobic).
  •  Honey bees have 4 eyes, 5 eyes and 6 legs (a handy one to know for pub quiz questions).

Before scrolling down to see what plants bees like to forage on, take a look at this fascinating short video clip. You’ll be able to watch the honey bees close up in flight and pick up a few more facts about them that might be of interest.

“Apis Mellifera: Honey Bee” a high-speed short from Michael N Sutton / @MNS1974 on Vimeo.

Planting Flowers for Bees

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, one of the important lessons I’ve learnt is that bees don’t just depend upon the flowers in our gardens for their sources of pollen and nectar, they forage as much from the trees and hedgerows that surround us.

Calendar of Plants for Bees |

Hedge Cutting, Pesticides and Herbicides

Calendar of Plants for Bees | Greenside Up


The list of plants for bees isn’t exhaustive, there are many more flowers that honey bees are attracted to but it is indicative that honey bees and pollinators in general don’t give a hoot if they’re feeding on “weeds”, trees or ornamental flowers – they are attracted to them all (steer clear of ‘double’ blossoms though as they struggle to reach the pollen inside them).

When hedgerows are cut out of season (it’s illegal to cut them between 1st March to 31st August), bees are being deprived of food sources and birds of nesting opportunities.

Calendar of Plants for Bees | Greenside Up

Dandelions – much more than a week


Next time you reach for the weedkiller because a few dandelions are growing where you don’t want them to, think of the bright yellow flowers as a source of food instead, for the bee that’s stopped off to feed from it.

Bees and pollinators will be emerging from their hives and nests after a long winter with little food in store and depend upon fresh, unpolluted “weeds” to survive, not herbicide ridden ones.


What can I plant in my garden to help bees

Limnanthes – Beloved by pollinators, also attract hoverflies whose larvae eat aphids

Is it really worth risking the death of bees because you don’t like sharing your garden with bugs?

Research by Harvard University has shown that when honey bees have been exposed to two neonicotinoids, insecticides that are the most widely used in the world, they are more likely to suffer from Colony Collapse Disorder. Here’s a link to a Soil Association list that names some of the products you may have lurking on your shelves.

If you’re interested in learning more about bees, their lifestyles and habitats, check out your local beekeepers for updates on meetings. For more detailed information about planting for bees, take a look at the Irish Beekeepers website here.

Calendar of Plants for Bees

Honey bees will choose a field of Oilseed Rape over an Apple Orchard

If you’re interesting in finding out more about Ireland’s bees, the Biodiversity Centre recently published their slides following their pollinator conference and they’re well worth a look.

Lastly, if you’re buying plants for your garden this Spring, spare a thought for the honey bees who spend their short lives foraging in it. Apart from producing a few milligrams of honey during their brief lifetimes, without them we wouldn’t be able to sample so many tasty foods. A tremendous amount of fruit and vegetables would be missing from the supermarket shelves without the bees pollinating abilities including apples, squash, cucumber, raspberry, peppers, plums, Brassica, almonds and strawberries to name but a few.


An exciting find in the garden in June

June 5, 2014

It’s been a while since I shared an update of what we’ve been up to at home but I discovered something exciting in the garden this evening that’s prompted this post…

BeehiveWe have bees!!!

A neighbouring beekeeper (John) heard recently that we were interested in keeping bees so he dropped a beehive up “just in case”. Apparently bees like to swarm at this time of year and as it’s quite expensive to buy a ‘nuke’ of bees, a swarm that finds you is a lucky bonus.

As it was such a beautiful evening I headed outside with the camera just before tea to take a few snapshots and stopped in my tracks as I suddenly noticed a group of bees surrounding the hive. We don’t yet have any beekeeping kit so I didn’t venture too close but they are definitely honeybees. John has advised that we stay respectfully away from them for the moment and he’ll call by and check them over the weekend. Although we attended a beekeeping morning last year our knowledge is scant so John’s offered to teach us as much as he can about how to keep them. Fingers crossed they’re here to stay and not just visiting… I’ll keep you posted!

A swarm of bees in May Is worth a load of hay.
A swarm of bees in June Is worth a silver spoon.
A swarm of bees in July Is not worth a fly.

Greenside Up Garden JuneElsewhere in the garden there is a lot going on. The flowers are starting to bloom in the front garden and although quite wild (I haven’t weeded much) it’s looking quite pretty.

Greenside Up Garden June A very bold fox has visited during the day time and took our last remaining duck 🙁 and the little black hen which leaves us for now with the big rooster, a little brown hen and a very broody white hen in the main run.

broody henWe’ve separated the other hen who had three chicks that are growing quickly and are keeping them safely enclosed and safe from our cheeky young cats and hopefully the fox too.

piggiesA couple of weeks ago Alfie arrived from Oldfarm with a couple of young boars that we’re fattening up for the freezer.

Although we struggled a bit with sending Rashers and Sausages off to the slaughterhouse last year, the taste and flavour of home reared pigs is second to none and knowing they had a happy life and not one squashed into an intensively reared unit means it will be difficult  for us to ever buy commercially reared pork again.

fedge and mikeIn the veg patch growth is delayed but happening at last. I was late getting started but everything is coming on nicely now that we have some heat during the days, the odd downpour and a stretch in the evenings.

Outside the mangetout are managing to survive the slug attacks, unlike the kale seedlings that are struggling which means I’m constantly sowing more to replace them.

The broad beans are surrounded by poached egg flower (limnanthes) in an attempt to attract hoverflies that will eat the black bean aphid which is sure to appear as the plant’s soft tips develop. We may curse the wet weather when it arrives but the growth it encourages is worth it (in small doses.) The Sarpo Mira potatoes are coming along nicely, as are the onions and inside the polytunnel everything is flying up. We’re now enjoying picking the strawberries every morning for breakfast and the grapes are starting to form.

I still have a couple of beds empty that I’ll need to plant over the coming weeks if we’re to fill them. I’m hoping to get more kale out there as well as runner beans and in the polytunnel I’m scratching around looking for space to transplant the peppers and cherry tomatoes.

front garden

How’s your garden growing? Are you enjoying sitting outside and feeling the sunshine caress your skin?


Five Ways to Help Bees Now

March 30, 2014

5 ways to help bees now

We hear so much about the desperate plight of the bees but is the message getting through?


Scientists are still working to determine what exactly is causing their global demise, but as a result of the Varroa mite, *there are no wild honeybees left in Ireland.

As we begin to sow seeds, tidy our gardens and think about shrubs and summer blooms, it’s important to remember bees need our help if they are to survive.

I came across this alarming yet hopeful TED talk by Marla Spivak recently where she eloquently speaks about the plight of the disappearing bees which is worth listening to. At the end she highlights a couple of things that each and every one of us can do to help the bees and why it’s important that we do them now. I’ve added a few more…

Five things we can do right now to help the bees that will make a difference

1. Don’t contaminate the flowers that are growing. Stop spraying pesticides and herbicides on flowers that the bees feed on and ingest – that includes the “weeds” such as dandelion that are a veritable spring feast for bees as they emerge. Always err on the side of caution – if you’re still using chemicals and are not sure if they’re harmful to bees or not, DON’T USE THEMThe RHS carry a lot of information about bees on their website, including a list of withdrawn chemicals that can be referred to.

Cornflowers2. Plant more bee friendly flowers.

If you’ve a large area to plant, one of the wildflower mixes from Sandro Cafolla, Design by Nature might be for you. Not only will the birds, bees and butterflies love you for it, wildflowers are low maintenance (they generally only need one cut per year) and look stunning when in flower too.

A spring bee feeding on a Mahonia flowerOnce again, the RHS have a very detailed list of plants for pollinators on their website here, which will give you ideas for bee attracting climbers, trees, bulbs and corms, as well as annual, biennial or perennial flowers.

You could also plant herbs or vegetables that bees will enjoy feeding upon such as asparagus, broad beans, courgettes and other members of the squash family, hyssop, marjoram, mint, rosemary, runner beans, sage, thyme and allow some of them to flower too such as brassicas.

bee collecting pollen on a broad (fava) bean3. Take direct action.

Greenpeace are running a campaign asking people to support ecological farming, ban bee harming pesticides and adopt action plans that will help to monitor the situation. If you’d like to sign the petition and/or donate to the cause, click the link here.

4. Create Bee-Friendly Zones

Bees like nooks and crannies to nest, feed and hang out in. Learn how to garden without chemicals, plant bee friendly plants, make bee nest boxes or hotels and encourage your friends, neighbours, schools, creches, and clubs to do the same in Bee-Friendly Zones.

Encourage councils and tidy town groups to plant bee friendly flowers among hedgerows and verges and remind farmers to leave strips of wild flower areas on the edges of their fields and resist spraying them with herbicides and pesticides, which will provide the bees with unpolluted food help to ensure their survival.

If you’re looking for ideas on habitats, here’s a Pinterest board full of bird, bee and pollinator friendly homes and feeders.

honey bees5. Start a Campaign

Although there’s a breeding programme to protect the native Irish honeybee, as far as I can make out there’s no national campaign in Ireland to raise awareness about the plight of the bees and how important it is that we protect and help them, so consider starting one!

Encourage your communities to plant more bee friendly flowers, stop spraying unnecessarily and plant more wildflower verges and roundabouts instead of spraying and mowing.

Let’s get bees into the news and help to raise an awareness that will stop people spraying and more people planting. What do you think? Are you up for the challenge?


* source


There will be an All-Ireland Pollinator Symposium on the 17th February 2015 in Waterford led by the National BioDiversity Centre and the Pollination Ecology Research Group in TCD. Take a look at their webpage for more information and to book a place.

Vegetable Garden

Sunday Snap ~ Sleepy bees

August 4, 2013

It seems appropriate to share another bee photo given the challenges they’re facing.

This little one was taking a rest on the salads that have gone to seed in our polytunnel, helping to ease my conscience that I haven’t spent much time in there of late. The fact that she was so still and quiet made me worry though… is she poorly or just sleeping after a busy day?

Bees and PollenAlarmingly, a recent BBC2 Horizon report stated that in South West China wild bees have been eradicated by pesticide use and lack of natural habitat. Apple and pear orchards are now being hand pollinated as a result.

However, there is still hope. In the US and Europe it’s been found that simply planting strips of wildflowers alongside fields on farms and along roadside verges and leaving areas of natural vegetation in forests can help to boost pollinator populations enormously.

So on behalf of the bees, if you haven’t done so already I’m making a plea for you to grow more bee friendly flowers, allow more wildflowers to flourish and to stop using pesticides. There are alternatives to spraying the bugs and weeds you don’t want in your garden. It might take a little time and inconvenience until balance is restored but in the meantime you’ll get used to seeing holes in the leaves and the odd weed appearing in your pathway. You’ll begin to notice more butterflies, hoverflies, lacewings and pollinators visiting your flowers and come to accept it all as part of natures pattern.

What’s a little inconvenience compared to life without bees?



Sunday Snap ~ Poppies and Bees

July 7, 2013

Poppies and Bees Wild in KilkennySo far, all the Sunday snaps have been taken in our garden but this morning Mr G and I were in Graiguenamanagh, having spent a lovely night at The Waterside, belatedly celebrating our wedding anniversary.

This pink poppy was growing wild in some wasteland nearby and the bee was enjoying its frilly skirt full of girly fluffiness, filling its pollen sacs to the brim.


Vegetable Garden

Sunday Snap: The Pollinators Are Finally Returning

June 16, 2013

hoverfly on chive

As with many aspects of nature this year, the pollinators have been late arriving. I’m deliberately choosing to decorate our garden with flowers that will attract bees, butterflies and hoverflies and have included a Bees Banquet range of seeds in the Greenside Up Gift Cards.

If you love bees and would like to find out more about them, take a look at Bridget Strawbridge’s blog where she’s writing about the importance of biodiversity and especially bees (@BeeStrawbridge on twitter). Bridget is a passionate and knowledgeable advocate for our little friends and you’ll learn heaps from her.

It’s a joy to see our little friends back and buzzing around the garden again.