Showing posts with label beneficial bugs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beneficial bugs. Show all posts

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.

7 Jul 2013

Nature watch


I've been a bit worried by the lack of any ladybird sightings in the garden, possibly another indicator of this year's late arrival of spring.  Normally I'd be seeing them  and the blue/orange larvae on almost every plant well before now.  Certainly, in past years, my fennel  has hosted lots of ladybird activity followed by clusters of bright orange eggs. I've been checking carefully (and certainly before I tidy any trimmings back into the compost) but have seen only one or two ladybirds and no larvae in the entire garden. Until this week ...

The night before last I watched this ladybird making its way from the tips of a broad bean plant down towards a small cluster of black aphids. (I'd squished the rest on the previous evening.)  A solitary ant scuttled around it, biting and attacking, protecting its source of honeydew (the sap from the plant goes through the aphid and out the other end);  the ladybird was forced to retreat rapidly to the top of the plant where I captured this photo.

Having got my image, I then despatched the ant, leaving the ladybird restaurant open for business.

I've since seen several ladybird larvae on the herbs - it's worth growing fennel as this is one of their favourite homes due to the hollow stems in autumn/winter.  In fact, I've just had the good idea of transplanting a couple of the self-sown seedling to the back of the fruit tree border - there's been plenty of aphids on the tips of the fruit trees, both this year and last!

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.

24 Sept 2011

Saturday Snap: Just a Perfect Day

Actually, yesterday was the perfect day especially since it was also my day off! I was at liberty to go and drift through the veg patch making lists of what needed to be done.  I'd walked past earlier on my way to the recycling corner and been completely bowled over by how beautiful the garden looked in the morning sunshine.  So pencil, notepad and camera in hand I strolled, paused, sat, pondered, touched, ate, plucked (the odd weed) and planned.  Being Friday, with all the kids at school, it was so quiet in the garden that as I approached the Cerinthe planted next to the purple beans, I could clearly hear several bees busy collecting nectar.  The usual determination to gather every last drop of nectar was evident as they buzzed between the flowers.  And there I sat, on the ground, crouching low, camera in hand in the warm sunshine.  I have no idea how long I sat there because it was just ... perfect.

And this is what I came home with:

Aaaand on to the next one!

Finally! A clear and detailed photo of a bee in action!(Click on the photo and you'll be taken through to Flickr where you can see the photo in BIG full screen size.) Can't begin to tell you how pleased I am with this photo but it was a hard choice as I also snapped a ladybird dozing on a drying sunflower head, which is sort of cute and summed up the moment nicely.

Summer's end

Hope the weather stays good for us all, happy weekend everyone! (Our street party takes place today so I'm hoping to fit that in as well as gardening.)

20 Aug 2011

Saturday Snap: Tangled Web Woven

Spider web copy
Arachnophobia?  Luckily, not something that affects me - and you have my heartfelt sympathies at this time of year if you really don't like spiders.  This past week, the weather has felt more than a little autumnal and the effects of this on the arachnid population have been seen both indoors and out in my home: I've been releasing spiders back into the wild (aka my balcony) and spotting delicate webs appearing overnight. Spiders are seen most often in September or October in Europe; this little lady (the females are bigger than the males) had spun a large beautiful web on my balcony herbs one morning, so perhaps she could feel the summer's end already. (Although, please, let's be wrong about that!)

It was quite hard to see the fine, sticky threads of the web but I wanted to clearly show the spider and her web to a fascinated but very young visitor - without small pointing fingers wreaking havoc.  Here's how I did it:  I fetched my tea-strainer and a tiny spoonful of flour, then gently sprinkled a dust cloud of flour over the web.  This won't harm the spider - in fact, she didn't even move - but the web and its tiny insect-catching threads can then be clearly seen. (If you have a fine spray bottle, a light misting of water would also work.)

This spider, I think, is an Orb-Weaver and very common in the UK garden. The web is spun in the morning; any insects caught in it are either eaten straightaway or devoured when the web is eaten at suppertime. The next day the process starts again - sort of Groundhog Day, spider style.

3 Jul 2010

Blooms, beans, bees, bugs… and fox cubs!

The annual event which truly heralds the arrival of summer for me is the glorious sight of a mass of unfurled mesembryanthemums.  I  have two of the Schiaparelli Shocking Pink variety in my balcony 'earth box', planted 7 years ago as tiny succulents and which now tumble in a riot of colour over the edge despite being cut back each year.   Sadly this magnificent display lasts for just a few short weeks before the flowers die back and the 'leaves' take on the appearance of samphire.   As the roots have taken over the balcony space to the detriment of any other plants which I try to grow alongside them, this year I vowed to remove them once flowering was over.  (Although I may just take lots of cuttings and then try to transplant them.)

I'm having a modicum of success in keeping the pigeons at bay - 45p wisely spent on bamboo skewers at the supermarket, fashioned into mini wigwams (pointy end up) seem to have done the trick. (Although I recently discovered that my balcony neighbour is encouraging them by letting them breed on his side of the balcony, 3 pigeon-ettes so far.  Eeuch.)

But with one pest semi-sorted, another has appeared: (and don't get me started on the human variety - the ones who didn't help us, but nevertheless help themselves. You know who you are. ) Anyway, back to foxes:

Just a cub (one of three), but part mole given the way he's been digging up the veg overnight!  Just a couple of days ago,  I sowed more salad leaves, spinach and coriander  as the last lot had bolted; I tied a string fence around the seeds, thinking this might form some kind of protective barrier but, no, all dug up again in the morning.  At this rate, the VP will quickly resemble a giant earthworks.

And the broad beans which survived last time?  In the ground with bees a-plenty buzzing around, pollinating those flowers.  They're dwarf beans (a fact only recently discovered when I read the packet) and should only reach a height of 18" but, even so, they're still more than slightly vertically challenged at the time of writing.  I'm doing regular checks for blackfly and wiping it off as soon as I can although this is a vile task which I'd cheerfully pay someone else to do for me - even the children won't do it which shows how high it is on the yuckyness scale.

We're finding lots of new ladybirds in the VP. I deliberately left the over-wintered-now-bolted spinach and kale as a Bug Stop for them until late May. Lots of tiny wiggly caterpillars on the kale meant they weren't munching elsewhere and regular sightings of blue/yellow larvae bugs shows the plan worked for the ladybirds as well.  Very satisfying as I seem to be swamped with black- and white-fly this year. So munch on my little heroes!

Elsewhere, one of us is a year older (heh, heh, not me this time around, thankfully) so a cake was baked, strawberries were picked and chocolate butterflies and flowers made:

Ah yes, looking back that was a very tasty (and simple) cake: vanilla sponge, whipped vanilla buttercream and organic strawberry jam filling, glacĂ© icing on top to hold the fresh strawberries in place, piped buttercream to hold the chocolate decoration.  Yep, yum, yummy, yum.  (BTW, chocolate decorations like these are very easy to make.  If you don't know how, let me know and I'll post a quick tutorial. )

Now back to digging - and fox-proofing - and re-sowing/planting ….

13 Nov 2009

It's a Bug's Life…

(Harlequin Ladybird:  Harmonia axyridis succinea)

There's been a lot of fuss over the summer about ladybirds - both our native UK ladybirds (Coccinellids) and the Harlequin ladybirds (Harmonia axyridis) aka Multicoloured Asian Ladybirds.  The Harleys are causing concern over here because they're born survivors and will eat the eggs of UK ladybirds and butterflies when hungry - but their first choice from the menu is aphids. 

(A few more Harlequin ladybirds caught on camera.)

I've been seeing quite a few Harleys in the last few weeks (one had managed to get through my third floor windows!) - and I wondered, "Where do ladybirds go in winter?" (if not to my kitchen).

A tiny bit of googling reveals that they hibernate.  (I know, I should have guessed.)  Their food supply dries up with the colder November temperatures and they start to look for somewhere to bed down, preferably together, sometimes hundreds together!  If you find any indoors, it's kindest to put them back outside as the warmth indoors will wake them up too early (normally they sleep until March) and they'll starve for lack of food (they search out early aphids prior to mating).  They like to shelter under a bit of tree bark or a few leaves, as long as it's frost free and where they're less likely to be attacked by predators (usually sparrows).

Or, using only two recycled items, you can make a lovely little Spotty Lodgers Hotel.  One which presumably sparrows can't get in to.  Find instructions here on the UK Safari website.   You only need an empty 2 litre drinks bottle and a piece of corrugated cardboard to roll up loosely inside it.  Easy Peasy.  (Here's a sneak preview, click link above for full instructions.)

But, if you do this, please don't put our natural ladybirds in with the Harleys.  It could get nasty.   And don't forget, as you're (hopefully) depriving the food chain of a few ladybirds, it's helpful to put out some sunflower seeds or millet in a feeder for the sparrows.  (Using another cleaned, empty water bottle, the RSPB has an instructable for making a Recycled Bird Feeder here.)

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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