Showing posts with label Bees. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bees. Show all posts

14 Sept 2016

Wildlife Wednesday: searching for late summer nectar

Bee on Scabious

There aren't so many bees in the garden now - compared to the height of summer.  But a steady drone on a warm still evening is very heartening to hear.  The lavender bushes have only a few fresh flowers now but the bees are still finding what's left, as well scabious, comfrey and herb flowers.  The top favourite at the moment seems to be verbena - I have both V. bonariensis and V. hastata growing among the veg here.  The taller V. bonariensis is a bit of a nuisance as it's getting slightly floppy but well worth it for the pollinators it's attracting to the garden.

Yesterday evening here in London, the warm and still evening air could almost make me believe I was holidaying in the Mediterranean somewhere.  
I hope the weather is being kind to you wherever you may be gardening this week!

19 Jul 2015

Pollinator Awareness Week

Hoverfly on Linaria leaf

While I'm on the subject of bees (last post), I've picked up lots of tweeting in the past few days about it being Pollinator Awareness Week.  I would probably have missed this if not for the Twitterati so am overdue for a bit of an awareness boost.

While we all know that our summer crops would be dismal without help from pollinators and that it's essential in spring to tempt bees towards the fleeting blossom on our fruit trees, what can we do to attract bees into our gardens all year round and, more importantly, keep them there?

Veg and allotment gardeners provide rich summer feeding grounds with the flowers of annuals such as broad beans, peas, climbing beans, tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, redcurrants, all the berry bushes, asparagus, artichokes, fruit trees and herb flowers.  Comfrey is a spectacular bee magnet and worth growing to have a very useful plant fertiliser to hand.  And if, like me, you find your autumn sown carrots bolting into flower - leave them! Carrots belong in the Apiaceae plant family, so named for their affinity with bees (Latin name - apis).

I found a very good page on the RHS website with downloadable leaflets of what can be planted to make sure there's plenty of insect food in your garden from wintery-spring right through to late autumn.  Even if you only squeeze a few of these plants into your garden, it will be a case of, as they say, "every little helps".  I won't repeat what the RHS writes - the link is here.  

I like to think that I'm a pollinator friendly kind of gal so, for a bit of fun, I traipsed down to the garden to see how many boxes I could tick. Here's a few of them in flower today:

How many can you guess? Answers at post end.

The RHS lists have made me think about moving some of my plants around - replacing some of the poorly fruiting strawberries with Sweet Woodruff and planting more snowdrops, tulips, hellebores and forget-me-nots for springtime and Erigeron (fleabane) for summer.

It's fairly blowy day here so it was interesting trying to get photos - speed rather than aperture being of the essence.  It didn't take too long (I stopped to gather a few bits for lunch) but nearly every plant I stopped at was attracting bees.  My halo is shining.

A garden friend, if not exactly a pollinator. Couldn't resist.

Grid Quiz answers! 

From left to right, top to bottom:
Allium, Echinacea, Linaria, Perovskia, tomato
Phlox paniculata, Eryngium, Blackcurrant sage, Achillea, Mange tout
Bupthalmum salicifolium, Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve', Borage, Scabious, Fennel
Comfrey, Sedum Thundercloud, Honeysuckle, Sweet William, Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)
Cosmos, Lavender, Nasturtium, Thyme, Calendula

With that picture grid above, I'm also linking to Carol's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for July.

16 May 2015

The rainbow after the rain

Pulmonaria and Galium odoratum (Lungwort and Sweet Woodruff to give them their country names!)

Last Monday, my neighbour and I (the gardening team) were standing having a chat about the garden and agreeing about how much we loved interplanting veg with flowers.  Another gardening neighbour (he who is responsible for growing swathes of cabbages around the flats and uprooting shrubs to do so) stopped to tell us, "Why are you growing all these flowers? You can't eat them; you should rip them out and plant vegetables." I smiled at him and briefly explained the need for biodiversity, pollination and beneficial insects. To which he replied: "All you need for pollination is wind."  **sigh**  On which point, we had to amicably agree to disagree.

Those same flowers and pops of colour made going down to the garden yesterday morning a real pleasure. Warm sun on my back, raindrops on the leaves, bees buzzing and birds singing. (There's a little coal tit that has taken to visiting the garden as well as the starlings and blue tits).  Wasn't Thursday's rain just fabulous?!  Although I did feel sorry for all those garden teams over at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea frantically planting in the pouring rain to finish gardens for Sunday's Flower Show judging.

So the garden here has had a really good soaking; that should perk up the plants for quite a few days and give a boost to the veg and  help to settle in newly planted perennials and herbs. I've got strawberries and the lovage to move this evening, hopefully the damp soil will help them to settle in. There are some wonderfully vivid colours in the garden at the moment so today I'm just going to celebrate my rainbow of flowers.

Oh, and by the way ….  I rest my case m'lud. Bzzz, bzzzzz.

10 Apr 2015

A whole lot of fencing going on

We've definitely been spoiled this past week - a bank holiday and good weather. The British climate can sometimes spring us a nice surprise. (Pun intended!)  I've even wondered where I left the sun cream. A glance back over my fortnight would show some sorting of plants, a bit of seed sowing and copious amounts of time cobbling together fence barriers around the food garden.

Each raised bed was previously protected with 2ft high netting; even so, I spent a good hour cleaning the empty beds of animal poo (again). Whatever these creatures are, they've managed to get through the defences and leave evidence of their visits. Foxes are allegedly partial to eating worms so that's another reason to keep animals off the soil. It was time to devise a new system of defence.

Using a metal spike to make holes deep into the clay under my soil, I've bashed 6ft canes into the ground around the perimeter of the food garden and tied 3ft high netting or wire mesh to these. Including the height of the surrounding low wall, that will present a 4ft barrier to jump. Hopefully they won't bother, unless we have particularly athletic cats and foxes around our part of town. All that remains is to find a way of letting gardeners get easy access and I'll be ready for a trial run. Then I can start planting.

It will be with some trepidation that I remove the netting from around each bed but, on the plus side, the beds will be much more accessible for weeding and for small fingers to explore and plant. A few of the kids here are keen to help with the garden and even to have a patch of their own. Answering one of their questions during the week, I explained that the people who help in the garden get to share the produce. One of the children immediately volunteered to help with growing strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries. Funny that. Volunteers for carrots and potatoes were thinner on the ground.  Ho ho, little do they know!

I've used whatever materials I had (apart from buying another 10 tall canes and a piece of expanding willow for the 'gate') and was gifted a 10 metre roll of coated chicken wire from a gardening neighbour. The veg patch island is 26 metres all around (about 86 feet) - that's quite a budget breaker, so the remaining fencing was recycled from around the beds and the gaps filled with some pond netting that I had.  I noticed that bees can fly easily through the mesh but have to find a way over the netting. As you know, I'm very fond of my bees and hoverflies. The fence is currently about 50:50 mesh and netting so, if the fencing works, I'll invest in more coated mesh in the future. (And the netting can go over my brassicas.)

Meanwhile, let's have a look round the garden in early April. The daffs and cowslips are beginning to fade, the tulips planted Dec 2013 are open again (excellent spend of £5 for 50 supermarket bulbs!) and clumps of muscari, primulas, sweet scented violets and honeywort (Cerinthe) are providing a magnet for passing bees. As is the calabrese blossom left to go to seed. As the blossom is out on the plum trees, with other fruit not far behind, I'm hoping these bees will tarry awhile. Winter is definitely behind us and this is a good start to spring but let's not forget it could all still go pear shaped despite the warm sunshine of the past few days.

There's lots happening elsewhere in the garden but that will have to be for another post as the sun is shining, the fencing is finished and it's my day off so proper spade and fork gardening beckons!

Looking at fencing is a tad dull.  Have a bee on calabrese flowers instead.

7 Aug 2013

What's killing our bees?


Bees, it seems, are enjoying the city life. The environment suits bees rather well and recent projects to encourage and train more urban bee keepers was absolutely the right thing.

Leaving the telly on last week after Gardener's World, I serendipitously caught Horizon's report on BBC2 into the research that's been going on over the past decade as to the health and welfare of our bees and what's causing the recent decline in bee numbers in this country. Neonicotinoids were discussed at length - arguments for (scientific) and against (environmental ) were presented.  The way these pesticides interfered with the bees navigation systems made compelling viewing. Amazingly, it appears that the British government would still like to support the use of these chemicals, judging the research to be inconclusive! Un-bee-lievable!  The programme was fascinating, informative and well worth making the time to view on iplayer (link below), if you haven't already seen it.

Flower bee

My little veg patch here fairly well buzzes throughout the summer months as various flowers on the veg, fruit, herbs, shrubs and annuals come and go over the weeks. It may look like a jungle with orach, fennel and sunflowers towering above all else but the bees are happy! At the moment it's the sunflowers, raspberries, lavender, eryngiums and herb flowers that are drawing them in and it would be all too easy to believe, on numbers, that things were pretty hunky dory for our bee friends. Unfortunately not so for the countryside bees, as Horizon's documentary clearly demonstrated, but urban bees are actually doing quite well, helped by the wide range of food available to them from parks, gardens and allotments.  We're obviously doing something right, here in the city.

The bees have plenty of choice in the summer but nectar rich winter plants are even more important and many gardens have plants that, quite by chance, provide a winter food source for bees: Hellebores, aconites, crab apples, Chaenomeles (flowering Quince), Mahonia and Sarcococca to name just a few.  Planting beautiful snowdrops that will help to feed bees in the cold winter months is a win:win situation, in my book.  The extra warmth generated by city buildings would also help and we can carry on doing our bit by providing the right environment in our gardens and reap the rewards of a healthy, bio-diverse plot!

Eryngium bee

Catch the documentary if you can; it's available until 2nd September on iplayer:  What's Killing our Bees?

The British Bee Keepers Association has an excellent list of what to plant to ensure a year round supply of nectar and pollen rich food for bees; it can be found at this link: Gardening for Bees.

Sunflower bee

9 Jun 2013

Friend or foe?

Symphytum bee

Symphytum officinale, or comfrey as it's better known, is one of the those plants that was on my 'must have' list for the garden.  I bought a sturdy little plant from Jekka McVicar's Herb Farm last year and, forewarned, planted it into a large pot (rather than the ground where its huge tap root can make it difficult to get rid of).  This year it's grown huge and flowered prolifically, bringing a splash of early colour to the veg patch and, as I pottered around on Saturday, I noticed that it was enticing many bees into the garden too.

This morning, a friend asked me what the plant was - it's very beautiful at the  moment, with loads of purple flowers.  I answered that it was both the gardener's friend and foe.  Compost activator, beneficial mulch for fruit trees, soil enhancer for potatoes and beans when chopped up and buried in the soil under the plant, raw material for liquid fertiliser; balanced against that, it can be a bit invasive and has a hugely deep tap root making it virtually impossible to get rid of once established.

I've used the chopped up leaf method under my potatoes this year. Because the leaves were chopped up, they'll decompose quickly releasing nutrients into the soil that boost leaf production; more leaves, more potatoes.  Let's hope it works! It's also said that slugs love munching on comfrey leaves so it could be a good idea to lay a carpet of leaves on the soil, wait, then slip out at night (or early morning) and roll up leaves and slugs in one go for disposal.  Now that's got to be worth a try!

I think, being carefully planted, my comfrey is more of a friend.  I've also read that the plant is excellent for healing cuts and arthritis - has anyone tried it for this?  I'd be very interested to know what you found out! 

If interested to read more about this plant, there's an excellent info page over at Seedaholic.

10 May 2013

How to grow Honeywort - one of the best bee-friendly self-seeders for your garden

In my last post, the photo of Honeywort (botanical name Cerinthe major 'Purpurescens') flowering ridiculously early certainly generated a lot of comments. It turns out that this plant is a favourite with many folks and deservedly so.

A comment left on that last post asked for advice on growing Cerinthe from seed saved last year.  I have to say that it couldn't be easier.

At this time of year (late spring), you can sow them outside, direct into finely raked soil. Water the soil first and cover the seeds with a bare quarter inch of soil.   You can also do this in autumn (late September) to get them off to an early spring start.

On the other hand, if you only have a few precious seeds, start them in small pots or modules indoors: soak seeds overnight to break down outer casing, sow at same depth of seed (about 2 - 3 mm deep) into free draining soil, wait 7 - 14 days for germination, let the seedling grow a bit before potting on; at about 3 inches tall, with 3 to 4 leaves, harden off and plant outside, leaving about 40cm between plants.

They're a Mediterranean plant and their waxy blue-green leaves are a big clue as to where to site them - a nice warm spot with plenty of sunshine will suit them best and see them thrive.  The soil doesn't have to be anything special, but must be well drained.  Mine grow on top soil over London clay and usually reach about 50cm high.

The stems can get a bit straggly in time and, as the drooping flowers are the whole point, it's quite nice to just support the stems a bit by staking, if you can be bothered. If you plant them closer together, they'll  prop each other up but won't look as nice.

They flower over a long period.  If you're lucky, as they develop you'll get blue-green leaves with deep blue bracts surrounding a purple flower.  This isn't always the case though;  I've had Cerinthe with grey-green leaves and pink flowers in previous seasons.

Remember these plants are really good self-seeders; seedlings will pop up every year once you've had one plant in your garden.  Every purple flower has two fat seeds inside; not all will germinate but it's a good precaution to collect the seed before it drops.

Like Marigolds, etc, Cerinthe seeds can also be sown in the Autumn for earlier spring flowering. They are hardy plants and, once established, will pretty much cope with anything.  Slugs don't like them.  This is the first time that mine have come through the winter.  The warm extended autumn of 2011 meant that I pulled the ropey looking plants much later than usual, giving the seeds time to drop.  The cold and rain of 2012 meant that the conditions weren't right for germination until late summer so my plants were still relatively young by the time winter arrived and were left in situ.

A few gangly sorry looking specimens were put out of their misery earlier this year but the healthier ones were left - and I have early spring flowers as a result. It's lovely to see as other self seeded flowers (nasturtiums, sunflowers, marigolds, orach) are only just beginning to get going.

They're not edible but are a real magnet for bees as the purple flowers are a good source of nectar. They also make an interesting cut flower and will last better if you sear the ends of the stems in hot water for 30 seconds.  Grow them with Escholzia (Californian Poppies), Atriplex rubra (Orach), Verbena bonariensis, Bupleurum rotundiflorum and Linaria (toadflax) for a colourful display.

I hope this post has been useful and will inspire more people to grow these lovely plants.  Seeds are available all over the internet, although they're unlikely (but not impossible) to be found in garden centre or supermarket seed racks.  I started my Cerinthe stock with one small plant bought from Sarah Raven's nursery at Perch Hill and saved the seed each year thereafter.

13 Apr 2013

Hort Couture

Looks like it's going to be a good weekend for being outdoors, but I've already been making the most of the dry but cold weather of recent weeks to start the process of reclaiming another of the long walled borders.  For the ten years that I've lived here, this border has become increasingly overgrown without any annual maintenance with the result that it had begun to take over the adjacent path.

Border to clear

Two summers ago the Hebe at the far end was covered with pink blossom and hundreds of bees busily gathering nectar.  Everywhere I looked, busy, busy bees.  Last year there was no blossom and no bees.  The shrub seemed tired and neglected; lots of spindly twiggy branches under a very shallow but dense canopy of leaves - and sitting in a bed increasingly filled with plastic rubbish.  It was time for some drastic action, especially while the weather remained cold and before any spring growth appeared.
So over the Easter weekend (and spurred into action by my visit to Great Dixter), I wrapped up against the Siberian winds and popped down to the garden with my pruning saw, secateurs and lots of green waste bags.  I meant to just make a start but quickly realised how silly it would look to stop half way along.  One important point of gardening in a community area is to be aware of the visual impact of your work and not abandon projects half way through.  People may not want to get stuck in themselves, but they'll soon say something if a mess is left behind!

Seeing daylight

I hadn't planned on giving over half of my Easter weekend, but that's what was needed.  Once I'd starting pruning, I found two Hebe bushes (over 8 feet tall), a Cotoneaster, an Eleagnus, a Choisya ternata, several varieties of Cornus with stems 15 to 20 feet long with honeysuckle and ivy tightly binding the various shrubs together.  The bare branches underneath were rather beautiful so I just took away the side growth, and dead or crossing wood from the interior, leaving the top canopy to provide some summer shade, and shelter for birds. (Next winter will be soon enough for further work on these shrubs.)

My very good friend Leigh brought regular cups of tea and came as soon as she could to help me trim and bag up the green waste on day two - over 20 large bags went to be recycled! (Plus several carrier bags of plastic bottles, food wrappers, a shoe, a couple of socks, some toys and an old milk bottle - how long had that been there?!)

We were kept company throughout both days by this little chap ...

Robin on branch

... who took a great interest in the proceedings, and was duly rewarded with mealworms and other tasty bird treats once the rubbish was cleared.

Robin supervising

This was the view down to my little veg patch after final bags of woody branches and cornus stems had been disposed of - although I rather regret that last act of clearance as Lorna at The Green Lady has been writing of making hurdles and wreaths out of willow and cornus stems.  I feel I've missed an opportunity to create some lovely natural fences in the veg garden!  (If you fancy having a go, be aware that both willow and cornus stems will root very easily so should only be used for weaving the horizontals.)

Shady border
~ That's better! ~
The photo below is one I took in 2011 as I stood and watched the bees busily at work on the Hebe. If I've done the work properly I very much hope to see this scene again with plenty of food provided for visiting bees along with the other nectar rich flowers and herbs that will be growing in the veg garden by the beginning of summer.

Hebe bees

28 Feb 2013

Smiling despite the wind chill ...

February bee
My first bee of 2013!
Two weeks ago, as I retraced my steps around the walled garden at Capel Manor, I spotted this little bee getting busy on a potted Scorpion Vetch next to the greenhouse.  As it's early in the visiting season, I was alone in the garden and able to sit quietly watching. It's moments like this that let me know that spring is surely just around the corner. Each bright day now I want to be doing things in the garden.  For me, it's a physical pull to be outside and really hard to resist when there are things that need to be done elsewhere.

Back in the York Rise veg patch, I was very pleased to see that a French Tarragon plant had survived the winter thus far due to being igloo-ed under a clear plastic storage box back in December. It's unbelievably exciting to see the garden coming back to life and quite a relief to see new shoots appearing on plants that were largely abandoned to fend for themselves. My perennials - wild garlic, herbs, aquilegias, monarda, geums, poppies, polemonium and lilies - are all putting up new growth and buds are showing on the fruit trees. Old raspberry canes have been chopped out as the new canes push through at the base and raised beds have been topped up with fresh compost in readiness for the new season.

I'm catching up with college work today (sadly, indoors) but plan to spend as much time as possible in the garden over the weekend, testing out my new pruning saw on the next overgrown border and collecting organic material from the City Farm to mulch the raspberry canes. It doesn't sound like much but, my goodness, I'm looking forward to it!  Let's hope the weather stays dry for us all.

25 May 2012

The bee, the borage and the netting ...

Pigeons are greedy intelligent creatures.  I've spent a disproportionate amount of time this year devising a means to keep them away from my seedlings and from nesting on my herbs (they seem very particular to thyme, must be the woody stems).  Shouting at them and banging the door used to work quite well in previous years but as there are now at least 8 pigeons (or more) who regard the balcony next to mine as their home, stronger measures were called for. I devised a means of completely closing off my balcony with fine gauge garden netting and now they patrol the ledge on the other side of the net looking for any gaps that they might squeeze through.  There are none; I have pegged the net down on my side and closed the sides with taped loops.  Hahaha!  (Sorry, but it really has driven me to distraction over the years.)

The system was completed about 4 weeks ago and I've been a tad anxious as to whether bees would be able to get through the netting. Although I live on the second floor, they have found found their way up here in the past.  This evening, as I watered my seedlings (completely crusty after a day's photosynthesizing in the sun) I heard a very welcome droning sound... 

The Bee and the Borage
"The Bees are Back in Town ...  "

This little guy made it through the netting to get to the borage nectar and, having checked around for further goodies (interestingly, didn't stop at either the rosemary flowers, the broad beans, the violas or the strawberries), he then zoomed off back through the netting. Isn't nature amazing?

20 Jul 2011

When it rains, it pours


I've been very lucky with the weather over the past few days; having been out to sow more seeds, the skies have obliged with a generous watering.  When I've needed courgette flowers, the sun has warmed the plant, the bees have appeared and fruits formed.  During a trip to the farm yesterday, we strolled in warm sunshine and I was able to take some Lemon Balm cuttings from their wild growing clumps. Safely back indoors, it rained during the afternoon.  Going out to pick sweet peas in the evening (having been told that picking encourages more flowers), I noticed that the nasturtiums were studded with diamonds!  Raindrops glittered on the waxy leaves and this water, puddled in the centre of a leaf, twinkled brightly like a large glass drop.

Even better, just as I was turning to go home, a bee buzzed along straight into an open female courgette flower to pollinate it!  Not a great photo, but lovely to see the bee doing his work and a magical moment to end the visit on.

Pollinating courgette flower

Today:  if the rain holds off, a bit of weeding and pruning is on the cards for me! Fingers crossed and happy gardening!

1 Oct 2010

Sunshine and soft fruits…

 ~ Carrots, leeks, courgettes, tagetes, cabbage, runner beans, tomatoes ~
:: The Regent's Park Allotment::

Being of a very curious nature, I do love a good nosey around other gardens and allotments. I find inspiration everywhere: the planting, the colours, the layout, clever use of discarded items… So, it was with a carefree heart that I pedalled off last Saturday to a half-day training in the Regent's Park allotment run by Capital Growth and Capel Manor College. The sun was shining as I cycled through the park, a highly enjoyable but somewhat rebellious act due to it being Not Allowed. (Why is that, I wonder? Children who won't walk any distance will often cycle happily, thereby allowing families to embrace the Great Outdoors together.)

But I digress…   my hopes and expectations for the day were fully met:  an excellent and comprehensive training in Growing and Preserving Soft Fruits was provided by Tom from City Leaf (with handouts, which was lucky as I would never have remembered it all).  In three short hours we covered the four Ps (Planting, Pruning, Propagation and Preserving) in relation to a range of soft fruits: gooseberries, red/white currants vs blackcurrants, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries.  Whew - feeling hungry yet?  As if that wasn't enough, we also briefly looked at ways of training fruit, veering off into the realms of cordoned and espaliered apples.

~ Garden of Eden? ~
I must admit my motivation for going was to get access to an Idiot's Guide to Growing Raspberries as our canes didn't do well this year.  Poor little things. I now know that this is due to a combination of not planting soon enough (nor heeling in), not preparing the site well beforehand (it was nearly Christmas and we were desperate), not giving them enough space and also the poor plants being choked by weeds from a neighbouring patch. We'd literally plonked them into the soil in a spare corner of Leigh's allotment as the Veg Patch was not ready for them.  See?  Loads of info.  I'm going to replace the canes and, this time, lavish care and attention on them. 

We also looked at successfully growing grapes in an urban environment (apparently London is now warm enough for this, which is great  news).  Their grapes looked luscious:

And in anticipation of the wonderful harvest we'll all have next  year, and in case any of it actually reaches our kitchens (mine will all be eaten as it ripens by the children), our group was introduced to preserving your soft fruit harvest by a local guest speaker; a wonderful woman who brought along some of her produce and made it sound so easy.  She scotched several myths:  no, she doesn't use special preserving sugar (juice of a lemon will serve instead, if needed), blackberries do not set well on their own (throw in a Bramley) and the original jam jar lids are just as good as the cellophane/rubber band option, if properly cleaned. Mantra: Cleanliness is all when preserving!

I spotted this wonderful 1970s cookbook (Readers Digest, I think) on the table at the end.  It caught my eye, set against the jars of chutney and melons grown in the allotment.  Yes! Melons are possible in the UK - we had some of these fruits during the break. (Delish.) The allotment has an open aspect, sheltered by fencing on the North and East sides, with the melon vines planted at the southern end.

Elsewhere, other vegetables were all still flourishing and ripening (the carrots! the rhubarb! the beans! giant tomatoes!). You'll recognise the asparagus in the above photo - a huge bed of it, with ripening berries.  The volunteer gardeners try to nip them off when they turn red and before they burst and scatter the seeds.  Bare patches in the beds were explained by the recent harvesting of the butternut squash which was set to one side in baskets - there was an open day 'Harvest Cook Off' the following day (at least I hope so as the weather had turned wet by then).

The entire allotment was full of inspiration, if excessively tidy (but then they are on permanent view to the public).  Companion planting abounded:  Basil and cabbages, crimson nasturtiums under the runner beans and around the rhubarb,  and bright orange tagetes were planted (and interplanted) everywhere - around tomatoes, apples, beans, herbs - and doing a fantastic job of bringing in the bees.

But I especially l-o-v-e-d the use of recycling:  peppers, tomatoes and herbs grew in large empty white Italian tomato cans, an old Royal Parks watering can had been planted with herbs, and … the best bit for me …  the fibreglass poles from a defunct tent used to hold up netting.  I'm SO pinching that idea!

There, I think I've rambled on long enough.  It's worth a visit if you find yourself near Regents Park and also very handy the Cow and Coffee Bean CafĂ©. (Here's the Google map link). I took far too many photographs and am now making a Flickr page so, once the link is up, pop over there if you want to see more!

20 Jun 2010


Having had a day or two of proper sunshine this past week, a few of us Veg Patchers did a very English thing and had tea and scones in the garden which was utterly blissful.  A little table and some chairs were brought out from the greenhouse and we sat next to the herb patch where many bees were happily collecting nectar or pollen from the flowers. 

For future moments like this, I'd love to win this Sophie Allport bumblebee teapot and jug, with the tea towel and apron for the washing up afterwards.  This is the prize currently being offered in one of the BBC Gardener's World competitions - go here if the thought of owning this kitchenware appeals to you as well.  There's also a 15% discount for users buying online.

If you're more interested in real bees than ceramic ones, Gardener's World has a useful page highlighting the best plants for attracting bees to your garden.  It can be found: here.

11 Nov 2009

Yesterday was a very good day …

It's a strange old thing, this blogging lark, isn't it?  One minute I'm feeling that there's nothing to tell, then suddenly I find there's almost too much to fit into one post.  So here are three lovely things that happened yesterday:

1.  I (think I might just have) saved a bumblebee.  As I left home,  I noticed a large, very still, bumble bee on an expanse of cold concrete path outside the door.  It's not often you get to see one of these beauties close up and, as I bent down for a closer look, one of it's legs stretched. So, not dead but probably too tired and cold to move to safety.  Having recently been prompted to read up about bee hotels, I scooped it up (on my shopping list as it was probably not too tired to sting me!) and took it to some sheltered ground level Knotweed stems, where it perked up a bit, and I left some freshly picked flowers within easy reach so it could get to the nectar.  (That may have been calling to my inner Girl Guide a bit, but it satisfied my need to nurture.)  Any hoo, the bee was not to be seen when I returned, so I like to think it made it to underground Bee Safety.

2.  Passing through a local Garden Centre (oh, alright then… Homebase), among all the almost empty gardening shelves was a box containing winter hardy Onion Sets…  (slaps forehead) a veg which I'd completely forgotten about!  (And they're a staple of my shopping list.)   One purchase later, I consider this a very serendipitous encounter indeed.

3.  Returning home to post my October photo collage, I notice a comment from a lovely fellow gardener, Jo at The Good Life, who has nominated my little bloggy-woggy for an award.  Gosh.  I'm totally awed and honoured.  So, thank you - and yes, I'm very, very pleased to accept.  (It may take me a while to pass the award on, in the time honoured tradition, as I first have to check out my fellow nominees, but I'll do my best.)

So, now that I have proof that people out there are reading my scribblings,  to celebrate, I think it's time for a piece of this…

30 Oct 2009

Bees on Earth … Goodwill to all men

Recently, a friend of the York Rise Growers wanted to come over and show our children how to build bee hotels but, in the end, didn't have time.  The idea, though, remains a good one - I love bees; for me, they signal the arrival summer - and children, taught properly, have a healthy interest in bugs and the environment.

I took the photo above during a walk earlier this summer.  This little fella was too busy collecting nectar (and pollinating the flowers) to notice my camera lens nearby.  I've also had a number of buzzing visitors to my balcony this summer - by chance I grew lavender, marjoram, mint and marigolds (amongst others) which they love - and several have found their way indoors and had to be rescued with the old "tumbler and card" trick.

But there's a continuing international crisis in the bee world: a Bee-mergency, if you like.  Their numbers are rapidly diminishing due to an inability to resist larvae-borne disease and environmental factors such as loss of habitat (chalky grasslands, meadows and hedgerows).  In the UK alone, three species have become extinct - including the wonderfully named Bombus Pomorum (Apple Bumblebee).

Several campaigns are under way to try and reverse the trend but, amazingly, the plight of the bumblebee is not yet a conservation priority.  Not only are bees major pollinators of wildflowers but they're also commercially important due to their vital role in pollinating many arable and horticultural crops.  No bees: no crops to harvest; no wildflowers; no colourful UK countryside; loss of rare plants and a knock on effect on other wildlife.  Now times that by Europe, USA and Asia.  Okay, now you're getting the scale of the problem. 

There are ways that we can - and should - help.  After all, bees are the only insect to make food for mankind.  On a modest scale, if we make space in our gardens for more traditional flowers - the cottage-garden varieties or wildflowers - everyone should be able to attract at least 6 species of bees into their gardens.  Fruit and veg growers especially will benefit as we need bees to pollinate our plants.  (Beans in particular will thrive if companion planted with marigolds at their feet to draw in bees, as their scarlet flowers must be pollinated for an abundant crop.)

Until the end of December in the UK, look out for special jars of Rowse Blossom Honey which have a unique code for claiming a free packet of wildflower seeds.  (Rowse has already donated £100,000 to the University of Sussex's Apiculture Lab for research into developing disease-resistant UK bees.)

As they said at the Isle of Wight Festival this year:  (All.We.Are.Say-ing)… is Give Bees a Chance!

Here's how to help:

Build little Bee Hotels so that the queen bee has somewhere nice to make more baby bees. Find out more at BBC Gardener's World (Loving this one as I can use dead Japanese Knotweed stems – of which we have many – instead of bamboo!) 

Build a bee nesting box - lots of ideas here from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Plant flowers which will attract bees (and butterflies!).  Here's a list of flowers to get you started from (unsurprisingly) the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Teach your children about bees:  Rowse Honey have set up Bee School (a teacher's resource for children aged 5 - 7), including a free honey tasting kit and free seeds for the class!  (There's also honey recipes to be found on Rowse's own website here.)

More fun can be found on the Edible Playgrounds website - scroll down to Help the Honey Bees.
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