Go Organic: Attract bees to help pollinationBy James Ashford
May 27, 2011
I happened upon a very welcome discovery on my plot last weekend.
Under one of my plastic compost bins two bumblebees were moving around on the soil as if they were searching for something.
Then I saw a few more fly in and out of a gap between the bottom of the bin and the ground.
I have my very own bumblebee nest.
I haven’t managed to work out exactly what sort they are yet but I discovered a useful identification guide at www.bumblebeeconservation.org/index.htm and when I’ve got a bit more time I’ll have a proper look at them.
Bumblebees are wonderful creatures to have in any vegetable garden.
They are strong enough to pollinate tomatoes; broad, French and runner beans; peas, pears and apples.
They can fly at much lower temperatures than honey bees so they are especially useful during the cooler months of the growing season.
Commercial tomato growers actually buy bumblebee nests to keep in their giant greenhouses. Some 2.5 million bees are put to work in this way every year. See them at work at www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Bumblebee#p0039rf7.
I suspect my bumblebees were attracted by the comfrey around the outside of the greenhouse. I make a potassium-rich liquid feed for tomatoes with the leaves.
Comfrey is a fast-growing perennial that can be cut right back two or three times a year and at the moment mine’s covered with flowers – and bees.
I hope some of them will find their way into the greenhouse to pollinate my tomato plants.
You can buy bumblebee colonies from the Organic Gardening Catalogue, although they are an eyewatering £64.95 – and there’s no guarantee they’ll stay in your garden when you release them.
But what you can do is grow a selection of bee-friendly plants each year to attract them to – and if you’re lucky, keep them in – your own garden.