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Gardening for Bees

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The Bee Book with bees and honey combs on coverDespite the snowy weather (or perhaps because of it) my thoughts have been turning to spring and what to plant in the way of bee friendly flowers. I have written about our plans for planting for bees on previous occasions but I have not yet mentioned a lovely book on bees that I received as a gift. The Bee Book (Fergus Chadwick et al, Dorling Kindersley Ltd, 2016). Verity gave me this as a birthday present in that year and we have turned to it for advice since then. Having said that, the main focus of the book is on keeping bees, the dizzy heights of which hobby we have not yet tackled. Maybe that will be one of our future projects. We might start off gently with making some homes for wild bees as demonstrated in The Bee Book. You can make houses with bamboo or wooden frames containing clay punctured with holes, the book giving excellent illustrated instructions. An example is shown of a really large bee palace but I think a simpler construction is better to begin with. Watch this space!Young foxglove plants by shed

In the meantime, we have been contenting ourselves with consolidating and improving our bee-related planting. I have posted previously about some foxglove seedlings that I was nursing along and these I then planted in a nice spot by the shed, under the lilac tree. They flowered for the first-time last season and we were delighted to watch bees crawling inside the flowers. I cut the plants down in the autumn so I am hoping that they will put up new growth and flower this year. As we were so pleased with the results of that batch of flowers, I set another tray of seeds from which I had a better crop of thirteen new plants. All thirteen were successfully planted out last September. I have grouped the foxgloves in two locations, in slightly shaded positions; some in a cluster around one of the lilacs and some in our bulb and wildflower patch. At the end of last season, I gathered up nasturtium seeds from the bed where they have established themselves in the last couple of years. I am planning to spread them more widely around the garden as they are another popular bee flower.

Page describing biennials

The book I mentioned above has a section on what plants are good to grow for bees, considering biennials, annuals, perennials, bulbs and so on. Each flower has a handy key so that you can tell what each one has to offer and to which variety of bee. For example, our foxgloves will appeal to both bumblebees (in particular) and solitary bees and is a source of nectar. I was pleased to note that one of our most prolific garden occupants, chive plants have a wide apian appeal, being a good flower for bumblebees, solitary and honey bees. The flowers have the double benefit of supplying both pollen and nectar. It is useful to have something in the garden early in the season when little food is available. Into this category comes snowdrop and crocus; snowdrops used by honey bees and crocuses by all varieties but again a favourite of honey bees.

Page describing bulbs for bees Ideally you would aim to cover as much of the season as possible with flowers to appeal to all of your bee visitors. The book also explains about the life cycle of bees, how they forage and the differences between the common garden varieties. Bees are fascinating creatures and I think I have much to learn! I hope to return to bees and The Bee Book further into this season and I will tell what new bee benefits are to be found in our garden.

In the meantime, it’s back to keeping cosy in the snow!

 

Garden Diary Update: Hollyhocks and Chives

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I have just looked at our garden diary to refresh my memory for this garden blog post, only to be faced with a dreadful fact. Not to beat about the bush (no pun intended) I see that we haven’t written a single garden entry since December 2015. Haphazard we may often be at diary keeping, but eight months of no entries is hitting a new low even for us. As it happens, this hasn’t been our most industrious gardening season, but even so, you would be forgiven for thinking that we’ve done nowt this year to judge by the accusingly blank pages. Dear reader and garden lover, I promise you that we were not entirely idle this year; merely not as active in the compost as we usually like to be.

After a spring in which we didn’t manage to get any flower or vegetable seeds sown, we decided that this season we would effectively mark time. It was to be a year of maintaining, improving, dividing and re-planting before making fresh plans for next spring. There was even a foolish plan to clean and re-varnish the garden furniture. I have to confess directly that I have never even picked up a piece of sand paper. I have however, lifted and divided a patch of chives and attempted to do the same to some badly placed hollyhocks. The chives were very accommodating and fell in with my wishes, whereas the hollyhocks fought back resiliently. It may have been a mistake to attempt to move and divide them, but I initially planted them in the front of a border, where they are also struggling for headroom because of spreading tree branches. In short, to get the best out of the plants, a move was required.

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I raised hollyhock (Antwerp Mixed) seedlings in 2010 and bedded out the young plants the following year. The Mr Fothergill’s seed packet promised a variety of shades in pink and yellow flowers but I think I only ever had one pink shade, which was not robust and subsequently died. The single yellow shade is pretty and the flowers seem to be attractive to bees so I am anxious to keep hold of my home raised progeny. I decided to cut the stems down as far as possible, so that it would be easier to dig out the roots. At this stage of growth, I am not even sure whether I am trying to lift one large plant or multiple smaller ones. I encountered problems when starting to dig a trench around the hollyhock, when I found it hard to distinguish which roots belonged and which were spreading hedge roots. Either way, after much digging I could not find a way to release the plant(s) without damage. The result of my attempted hollyhock moving is that the original plants remain exactly where they were last year, having stubbornly refused to let go. They have even flowered, though admittedly not profusely.

Thus, I still have my original hollyhock in situ for another season, with the prospect of much more digging and disentangling of roots if I am ever going to move it. On the plus side, I now have several small plants from the off cuts, two of which I have settled into a spare patch in the border (suitably near the rear). All I can say is that hollyhocks are certainly tough customers and born survivors. This must be good news for our local bee population, along with the fact that my chives are proliferating madly and likely to take over the remainder of the garden. Bees seem to love the chive flowers so I never bother to remove them, as I believe you are supposed to do, so you have better flavour in the leaves. I have re-planted most of the divided chives in odd spaces that need filling. While doing that, I cut down many of the plants and have chopped and frozen chives leaves to use during the winter. We love doing scrambled eggs with chives; they are also nice in egg mayonnaise.

That’s all for now on the garden front; I still need to plant out a couple more hollyhock off-cuts and the remainder of the chive roots. I have made a gallery of what is growing now and will offer another garden update soon (I hope!).

How does your garden grow?

 

Spring Seed Sowing Plans

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Seed packets

Seeds Galore…

As I type this seasonal piece, the sun is busy shining brightly, bringing me optimistic thoughts of the coming spring (it’s still warmer inside than outside though). Once we get past Christmas, I begin to anticipate lighter evenings, buds coming on the trees and bulbs poking green shoots through the chilly earth. Accompanying these spring dreams, I have thoughts of seeds and seasonal sowing plans. We will be raising a mixture of bought and saved seeds; some of the bought seeds are new and some left over from last year that it seems a pity to waste.

To look at the saved seeds first: our biggest seed haul by far is from our chive plants (bottom right) closely followed by the Welsh poppies (tin on the bottom left). Mostly we scatter the poppy seeds around areas that need a bit of brightening up, rather than save them to cultivate in trays. Similarly, with the chives, we have strewn the seeds in patches where the purple flowers would be a welcome addition rather than sow them indoors. However, as you can see from the photograph, we still have plenty left. The other seeds are wallflower seeds (top right) which I have never tried to grow before, and the seeds of a tall purple flowered plant that we like, but can’t identify (top left hand dish).

Saved Seeds

An abundant seed supply!

After an audit of the unused seeds from last year, we have discovered that as usual some seed packets have gone past their ‘best before’ date. As I can’t bear to give up on them completely, I usually tip them out in a corner somewhere in case they do actually germinate. This year, I have found two packets drastically out of date, having a ‘best before’ of 2014. Several sachets are dated 2015, but I think I will chance those and the remaining seeds packets carry an expiry date of 2016. As you can see, we have plenty to sow if the weather ever warms up enough to start planting. I know spring really will come again, but it just doesn’t feel like it when my toes are cold, (as Piglet might have said if he was a gardener).

Perennial Sweet Pea packet

Everlasting Mixed

In the new seeds category comes a packet of perpetual sweet peas, a Thompson and Morgan variety bought from the great range at Mr Middleton’s in Dublin city centre. We have long admired some perennial sweet peas in a garden near our house, which climb through the hedges every year in a very attractive way. Apparently, this variety has no scent so there will be a downside to growing a perennial. I think we will probably buy a scented annual variety (we had a spencer mixed last year) to plant in between. When I look at the range of flower seeds available in the shops, my fingers begin to itch with the growing possibilities. As I mentioned in a previous post, we are trying to make the garden as bee friendly as we can. A good excuse for buying more flower seeds methinks!

What seeds are you planning on growing this year? Do let us know.

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