As you probably know by now, I absolutely love bees and I am both trying to base my career on them and spend my free time studying them.
Since finishing university I have been spending my time researching both bees and how to create a good habitat for them in the form of wildlife gardening. I only have a small garden but I have created it especially to benefit pollinators as well as other wildlife in the area.
✳I’m writing this post to discuss planting for pollinators via what I have learnt myself and through attending a masterclass in Chester Zoo and summarising it with my top tips to create a pollinator friendly garden!✳
On Thursday the 16th May, this Thursday gone, I went to a pollination masterclass that was run by Chester Zoo as part of their campaign to help native pollinators and native wildlife.
I booked it the week before and it was only £15.
I had a feeling I would probably already know 90% of what they were going to cover but I had a really tough week in work (well a few weeks really) and various other issues and I was getting myself in a dark place again, so I decided to go and have a happy day in my happy place- the zoo always cheers me up.
It started at 10.30 so I had to be up super early to get the bus from North Wales to the zoo, it took me about an hour and 15 minutes to get me there on two different buses which isn’t too bad.
I thought I would struggle getting out of bed super early as I’d been struggling to get out of bed for the past few weeks because my chronic fatigue has been bad, but surprisingly I not only got out of bed early but I didn’t feel as tired; I think it was because I was excited and I knew subconsciously that I was going to Chester Zoo which is my happy place.
The first half of the masterclass consisted of a short PowerPoint presentation and discussion indoors, I didn’t expect this as it was sunny and a wonderful day, I expected it to be based outside or in a indoor area such as the greenhouses where they keep the butterflies.
The presentation was given by Chester Zoo volunteer staff who themselves didn’t know very much about pollinators but had gone through the effort to research the topic beforehand however, everything they covered in the PowerPoint presentation I already knew except for a few campaigns that exist for various charitable organisations. I actually took the staff quite a lot along with another attendee of this masterclass Michael who was the naturalist in his late fifties who had published scientific papers and research papers to do with bats hedgehogs and toads.
The second half of the masterclass consisted of meeting up with the botanists that work at Chester Zoo including one lady whose knew the most about bumblebees through her own research, not an expert though.
When I last went to the zoo in 2018 during my last year of uni I heard that Chester Zoo were creating Gardens for bumblebees and other bees, during this masterclass I was able to see them completed and speak to the people who had created them.
Chester Zoo has a lot of land and a lot of areas in between the enclosures, where these used to have ornamental plants they have now took these plants out and replaced them with pollinator friendly plants to help our local pollinators and our native wildlife.
One of these spaces is a bumblebee garden see pictures below:
The botanists have done a really good job of the Bumblebee garden however, I did disagree with one plant choice that they had in there- rhododendron!!
They were aware that bumblebees do like them, that as a plant it is controversial and that it is toxic to honey bees however, I don’t think they were aware that the same toxins can also have a negative impact on other species.
They also grow a lot quicker and bigger than our native plants therefore taking all the sun from all the other plants around it and dominate the area it is in and with the root system spreading so much, the seed dispersal being so effective and it being toxic it is very very difficult to get rid of.
I wish they would have picked another plant to put in the bumblebee garden.
After this we went to the area near the meerkats that they have dedicated to honeybees.
Here they have 2 top bar hives which is a form of natural beekeeping.
Natural beekeeping is a form of beekeeping where there is minimal intervention, the beekeepers let the bees build the structures they want, they don’t open and visit the time as often as other beekeepers- honey can be taken but less often than commercial beekeepers and ultimately the bees welfare comes first.
Here’s what they look like…
They also had these hives…
Bees naturally like to nest in trees or elevated off the ground.
I was learning to be a beekeeper using Langstroth hives which most commercial beekeepers use, they look like this:
It is suggested that these beehives stress the bees out too much as they feel vulnerable as they are low to the ground.
I’ve been carrying on my beekeeping research in my spare time, natural beekeeping is definitely added to this list.
We finished off the masterclass by planting wildflower seeds near the giraffes.
-The new baby giraffe was adorable I couldn’t help but take a picture. 🥰❣
So all in all, I enjoyed this masterclass very much as a day out and for beginners it’s fantastic, for me it was a bit repetitive as I knew a lot of the content they were covering, I did learn a few little tips though.
In review… after this masterclass and my own research here are my top tips on creating a pollinator friendly garden.
How to create a pollinator friendly garden:
1. Obvious but essential- no pesticides or chemicals in your garden, this means no weed killer, slug pellets etc.
You can actually buy chemical free slug pellets that are wildlife friendly (see picture below) and there are lots of natural alternative ways to avoid using chemics in your garden.
Here’s some natural/ less toxic alternatives to use in your garden:
- Fairy up liquid and a water solution is less toxic and great to get rid of aphids.
- Water your plants every morning- if you water your plants later on in the day the leaves will be damp during the cooler night time which is an ideal condition for promoting fungus and other diseases.
- Control your weeds by simply pulling them up.
- Use beneficial insects whenever possible- Insects like ladybugs can be invaluable in the fight against garden insect pests, they eat aphids, mites and the eggs and larvae of many destructive insects. Other beneficial garden bugs include praying mantises, lacewings and parasitic wasps, encourage these into your garden.
- White vinegar- can get rid of weeds, keeps flowers fresh, deters slugs and snails and food for acidic loving plants.
- Baking soda- is made entirely of sodium bicarbonate and is a highly alkaline substance that you can use in your garden as a natural cleaning agent, a soil amendment, to care for plants, to control weeds and pests, to treat fungal diseases, and so much more.
- Keep your plants composted.
- Clear up debris near the plants that are most prone to munching insects.
- Natural fertilizers such as clean manure and seaweed fertilizers sprays.
- Mix up your garden beds with a variety of flowers and plants- this makes it difficult for pests and insects to spread throughout your garden.
- Beer slug trap- using left over beer make a trap for the slugs, they look beer and will fall right into it and drown (at least they will have a good time beforehand).
- Natural fertilisers- some wildflowers make great fertilizers such as borage and you can also use banana peels.
There are lots of other tips online, pinterest has some great ideas.
Chemical free slug pellets you can buy online, wildlife friendly and pet friendly.
2. Bee friendly flowers- plants lots of bee friendly flowers of all different sizes, shapes and etc.
Plant flowers for both short tongued bees and long tongued bees. Long tongued bees like tubular flowers such as snap dragons and foxgloves- any flowers that the pollen is harder to get to.
Also use a range of colours, bees especially love white and yellow flowers as bees are flowers in UV light.
Google it, its amazing.
**Theres some links at the end of this article with some bee friendly flowers you can plant in your garden.
3. Leave parts of your garden messy, leave some places for the bugs to hide, for the bees to nest and for the birds to use the garden waste.
4. When mowing your grass leave some long patches of grass, some bees prefer to nest in long grass, some in short grass.
5. Create a bee bath- a shallow bowl, stones and some water, this will give the bees some water somewhere where they won’t drown.
6. Solitary bee box, bee boxes, ferns, tufted grasses and bug houses- somewhere for them to nest.
7. Avoid flowers that are genetically modified etc. A good rule is – ‘if you can’t see the pollen then neither can the bee’s.’
8. Probably the most important; use predominantly native wildflowers but mix this in with non-native plants high in pollen and nectar for the bees, plants from the Northern hemisphere are the best. Also try to ensure there are flowers for the bees from spring time to late autumn.
What bee-friendly flowers can I use?
Check out these awesome links below:
Thank you for reading.
Until next time.
#bees #pollinators #wildlifegarden #savethebees #mastercladd #mypassion #gardening #flowers #beefriendlyflowers