Jenny Mollison: Bumblebees pollinate soft fruit as well as runner beans and tomatoes

THE launch of the Bees for Everyone project has just taken place at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden and I came home inspired to do more to help bumblebees who are struggling for survival.

First of all I tried out the new “Bee kind App” to see how bee-friendly my allotment is and get some tips to make it even more of a haven for bees.

Ben Darvill from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust was keen to pass on his enthusiasm for these hard-working and charismatic creatures. Unlike honeybees they never swarm and unless seriously threatened, are never aggressive towards people. The trust has published an identification chart to help differentiate between the 24 species found in the UK.

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I learned that bumblebee populations have dramatically declined because of the disappearance of flower-rich grasslands, with two species now extinct. Herbicides have wiped out wild flowers which used to be a familiar feature of farmland, and front gardens have been paved over. Even our back gardens are not as bee-friendly as they were. Bedding plants are bred for a gorgeous splash of colour, but their flamboyant flowers don’t attract pollinating insects.

Growing the right kind of flowering plants to attract bumblebees might not strike the keen allotmenteer as a top priority, but that underestimates how much we rely on them for our crops. They pollinate our soft fruit as well as favourites such as runner beans and tomatoes. Even putting fine netting over strawberries too early could affect their pollination if the bumblebees cannot get through to the flowers.

Local hives of honeybees help with pollination, but bumblebees are out and about earlier and later in the year than their domesticated relations. They love easily grown herbs. Rosemary is one of the first to flower, followed by chives, thyme and lavender. Later, sunflowers will continue into autumn. Years ago my daughter Hazel sprinkled Californian poppy seeds on my plot. They have been seeding themselves ever since and are favourites with bumblebees.

The Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society ( annual conference on June 16 is a great gathering of plotholders from all over Scotland. I’m looking forward to hearing from Michelle Appleby of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust who is coming along to help allotmenteers do more to save what the BCT have called “the sound of summer”.