Honey Bees (Apis Mellifera) have been in the news for some time now, unfortunately for reasons that are purely negative: their populations across the world were – are – in savage decline.
In 2008, for example, around 20% of the UK population died.
Two years earlier, a new term had been coined to describe the failure of so many hives to survive winter: colony collapse disorder (CCD). So far, no single cause has been established and the most likely – and worrying – explanation is that CCD is the result of several problems occurring simultaneously including the Varroa mite; the chronic bee paralysis virus (a new infection); the fungus Nosema Ceranae; adverse weather; the increasing prevalence of monocultures; an insufficient food supply and the use of pesticides and insecticides, especially neonicotinoids. The EU has just approved (April 2013) a two-year restriction on the use of three neonicotinoids (imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam) on crops that attract bees.
Our government (along with seven others) voted against the proposal, arguing that the scientific case had not been fully proven.
But why does this matter? Well, a significant majority of flowering plants are pollinated by insects (entomophily) with bees of all species leading the charge. If bees disappear so do garden displays and much of our agricultural crop.
So what can we do? As politicians squabble and apiologists scramble to find answers and solutions, we can, at least, help feed those bees that are surviving. Which is where lavender comes in…
Lavender is universally recognised as a bee friendly plant with many varieties offering a particular benefit…When the worker bees set out on their first spring forage (they start looking for food whenever the temperature rises above 50oF), there is generally an abundance of flowers to sustain the colony. But, as summer progresses, so available food sources diminish. By late summer and early autumn, the flowering season has passed its peak and their search for food becomes increasingly arduous. Enter the later flowering lavenders like Alba, Grosso and Richard Gray. Planting any lavender will help, but if you can find space for one or more of these varieties, you will be rewarded not only with a display of fragrant late colour, but also with that warm, fuzzy feeling of a job well done.
Flowering by Variety
Lavender Dwarf Blue
Lavender Imperial Gem
Lavender Richard Gray
Lavender Twickle Purple
NB: The Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI) at the University of Sussex has just started The Lavender Project to assess scientifically the ‘value of garden plants to honey bees and other pollinators’.
The experiment will feature 14 of the most popular lavender varieties alongside other flowering garden plants.
We will keep you posted.