Why does planting flowers help bees?
Here at Just Bee we are very passionate about planting flowers to help bees. So much so that we happily give away wild flower seeds for free to encourage this! But why exactly do we do this and how does planting flowers help the bees?...
Why do bees need flowers?
Many insects need flowering plants for food and that includes our bee population. Flowers provide all the food bees need to thrive and survive. There are a few exceptions but generally speaking almost all bee species are social insects. They live in large colonies of up to around 60,000 other bees! How much food is available to them will play a large part in how much the bee colony can grow and stay within healthy numbers, especially over the winter.
Bees feed on both the nectar and pollen of flowers. Nectar is the sweet substance that flowers produce - it attracts bees and other insects to the flowers. Pollen is a powder that contains the male genetics of the plant.
Bees that collect food for the colony are known as "worker bees" and it's these bees that will go from flower to flower collecting nectar to take back to the colony to turn into honey.
If you want to learn more about this then you can check out our previous blog 'How Do Bees Make Honey'. In the process of moving between flowers and collecting nectar, our little friends will become covered in pollen, often sticking to their little hairy legs! Some bee species even have sack-like structures on their legs for purposely collecting pollen, commonly known pollen baskets.
After collecting nectar and pollen from many different flowers, the bees will fly back to their colonies to start the process of creating honey. This honey is used to feed the colony and without it they would not survive. As well as making honey to feed on, bees will also make a mix of pollen and nectar to create a substance called beebread, which is extremely protein-rich. Beebread is primarily used to feed young developing bee larvae.
When bees live near a rich array of different wildflowers they can collect nectar and pollen from, their chances of survival year after year increases dramatically. Without any suitable flowers at all they would have very bad prospects to say the least. Our actions of replacing meadows, woodland and other natural spaces with farmland and housing is thinning out the amount of flowers available to bees and other insects. Replacing their lost natural feeding grounds by planting wild flowers in our gardens and outdoor spaces is a simple way we can all do something to make a positive impact.
The relationship between bees and plants
The relationship between bees and plants is one of the most interesting and beautiful on our planet.
This kind of relationship is what's known as a 'mutualistic relationship' because both the bees and the plants benefit from it. Flowering plants provide bees with nectar and pollen, which will feed their entire colony. Bees provide flowers with the means to reproduce by spreading pollen in the process called pollination. Without pollination, plants cannot create seeds. Without seeds, there wouldn't be any more plants.
Flowering plants carry the male part of their genetic material in their pollen, when the pollen from one flower is able to reach another flower of the same species, then that plant will be able to form seeds and reproduce.
Without bees, pollination and reproduction would be practically impossible for some plant species. This makes bees just as vital to the plants as the plant's flowers are to the bees. One will struggle to survive without the other.
Variety is the spice of a bees life!
There are many different species of bee in the UK and as our most important pollinators we can help by planting our bee friendly gardens and spaces with a mix of different flowers. Bees have good colour sight and are usually highly attracted to flowers that are white, yellow, blue and purple. However like many of us, bees will have different tastes and prefer different flowers. Some species have smaller tongues too, so they might only be able to gather pollen and nectar from smaller flowers.
As well as having different colours and sizes, flowers have different fragrances that might attract one particular bee over another. This is why having a good variety of flowers is best for keeping all bees happy!
It can also be good to consider when your flowers will bloom. To provide nectar and pollen year-round, it's possible to choose plants that flower at all different times of the year so there is always some available for passing bees. With a good mix of wild flowers, you can have flowers blooming throughout the spring, summer, and autumn. Our Just Bee packets of 'bee saving seeds' contain a wide variety of flowers that are perfect for small bee gardens!
The wildflower motorways
Our wildflowers growing along paths and the roadside are like motorways for bees. Imagine if there were huge gaps between services on the motorway, nowhere to get something to eat and nowhere to get a drink and take a break. Bees travel from plant to plant in search of pollen and nectar to feed on but in the UK there has been a significant decline in the number of wild flowers growing.
As reported in The Telegraph in March of this year, there has now been some agreements between landowners to create joined up 'wild flower corridors' to allow bees and other pollinators to move around our countryside more easily. There's no reason why we can't do the same thing on a smaller scale around our towns and cities. If you can get other people in your street to do the same then you could create your own little bee friendly corridor for the bees in your area!
Planting flowers helps bees enormously, it's almost impossible to overstate just how important they are to each other because of their special mutualistic relationship.
Get yourself a free packet of Bee-Saving Wildflower Seeds HERE!