Wildflowers and Bees

Amanda PriestlandMay 18, 2020

Wildflowers.

In the 1960's I recall going out with my mother aged 5 and picking mushrooms by the bucket load- fields were smaller and hedgerows existed. Since then hedgerows have been ripped out and farming focussed on mono-culture- vast fields of one crop, no wild life other than the single crop. Fed with artificial nitrogen and wheat sprayed with weedkiller just before harvesting to dry it.

Over the last few years in our garden I have fully understood the importance of wildlife our our gardens to make sure are fruit and veg are pollinated as well supporting the insects and associated wildlife. A few years ago we moved to planting wild life friendly plants- so things like Teasel which feed the birds- and self pollinates like crazy. Bronze fennel which when in flower is just a mass of bees, pollinators and insects. Lavender is a great plant for these pollinators. There are many more- bees love phacelia. Sold often as a green manure just leave it to flower, and it will spread. We went to the Botanical gardens in Dublin a few years ago and they had it randomly in their wonderful vegetable garden. They had just let it spread.

In California where they intensively grow almonds they are taking so much water out that the area in California is sinking fairly fast and they have to hire bees to pollinate the crops. So companies drive around dropping off hives ? Is this not madness.

We have now created several wild flower beds- they are now self seeding . At the moment we have ragged robin in flower, foxgloves are coming and the valerian is close to flower. A wild flower bed is easier enough to make. If , as we did, you want to convert part of a lawn, remove the turf ( I have an old Turf iron I was given many years ago which is great for this) and also the top 2 inches of topsoil. Wild flowers like poor soil, in a rich soil they will have too much competition. If in a bed just remove some of the top soil. Sowing seed is the cheapest way to do this- you should only have to do this in year 1 as they will then self seed. We planted Nettle leaved Bell flower, Wild carrot, White campion and Self heal plug plants as well- partly as I did not net the bed and the pigeons had a wonderful time eating the seed! When they flower watch the increase in insect activity. I am amazed what a transformation we have seen in the insect, bees and bird activity in our garden. Another benefit is our slug and snail population has dropped significantly.

Bee friendly plants are normally marked as such and I would urge you to grow them. Even if you do not grow fruit or veg you will be helping the planet- without these pollinators we are in a serious mess.

You can find suppliers online- I used Meadow Mania as they supply British native seeds and plugs.

Making a pond will also help- I dug one last year- and already we have had a dragonfly with only a few plants in it. Should get some more next week- I buy British native again from Water Garden plants. You could use any container, an old bath or a small tub. I dug a circular hole, removed any stones , lined it with fabric before putting down a pond liner. It took a day to make- I went 2 foot down in the middle and had a ledge around the edge a few inches under the water for plants. Try and make sure that there is a gentle slope to the water rather than a cliff- otherwise small animals could get stuck.

Bees

I have become a bit obsessed with Bees. No expert, but they fascinate me. I discovered the bumblebee world on holiday when I read a book by David Goulson. "A sting in the tail" . I then joined the Bumblebee conservation Trust. He has written a few other interesting books on Bumblebees- well written and entertaining rather than academic.

There are so many types of Bee. I used to think of just Bumblebees and honey bees. But there are loads of different bumblebees- solitary bees, Cuckoo bumblebee's that lay their eggs in other bumblebee nests, mining bees, Red mason bees- the list is huge. I bought a Red mason kit from CJ wildlife. It came in a housing (plastic sadly, though it will last for many years) and had a load of tubes with bee cocoons in them. Red mason are the best bee pollinator and do not sting- quite a small bee. They come back and nest in the same housing each year. You can buy wooden bee hotels and so on.

I then decided to try and have Honey bees. I was fortunate to be given a hive. But I will not pay for a Queen- they are costly- so trying to attract a swarm.

So far no success- but last week had a few looking at the hive. Honey bees send out scouts when part of an existing hive is about to swarm- they then do a dance to persuade the rest to follow them.

Sadly they did not take residence- but saw I needed to make the hive a bit more bee friendly- this has been a learning curve and I have made mistakes.

Hives can be anywhere - there are loads on rooftops in London.

I have an old fashioned WBC hive (the typical white ones- though I have painted it various colours like they do in Greece). If I lived in a city and had a roof top I would look at these- Omlet beehaus. Look pretty easy to maintain.

The latest I have come across is the self flow Beehive- just turn a tap on !

Sounds a great idea- and if I was that concerned about honey rather than bees to pollinate out garden would probably buy one. They are called FLOW.

The cheapest hives are called top bar. They are basically a rectangular box with wooden bars across the top under a lid. We made one- bought a kit from Thorne. Used a lot in Africa, some beekeepers in the UK are very dismissive of them, others think they are OK. Bee keepers seem to have quite strong opinions!

That is all for this newsletter, do contact me if you have any questions-I am a keen amateur not an expert but will try and help!

Keep safe

 

Charles