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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!

 

April Garden Activity

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In this long-delayed Curiously Creatively update, I will be telling you about this year’s spring preparations in the garden. Over the autumn and winter months, I have been trying to continue doing odd jobs and not to let the garden become a bleak no-man’s land. It is all too easy on cold days to ignore the garden, except for fetching in another bale of peat or tipping the vegetable peelings in the compost bin. During the last couple of years, I have tried hard to be less of a fair weather gardener; I cannot say that I have completely succeeded, but I think there have been improvements. As we never entirely stopped gardening after the summer activity, it has been easier to pick up the work again in the spring.

So where does all this industry leave us then? Well, I am forced to say that we are never as far forward with various jobs as I would like to be at this time of the year. However, many seeds are a–sprouting and we have plenty of spring colours on the ground. Much of the colour comes from the very productive self-seeding forget me nots which have scattered themselves liberally around the garden. We have blue ones, but I do want to add some different colours to the mix this year. These little flowers are so useful for brightening up odd corners and filling in gaps. We have plenty of nasturtiums self-seeding again and this year I am determined to try to use them in the kitchen as we usually have a plentiful supply. Cheerful yellow Welsh poppies are also poking their heads up all over the place.

I am delighted to report that it looks as though we will have some lily of the valley this year, on the third attempt at raising them. I paid a visit to Homebase recently and succumbed to the temptation of having one more go at these lovely flowers. The shoots looked healthy, so I was optimistic of success, though the roots were imperilled when some nocturnal creature decided to dig in my newly planted patch. Fortunately, the roots survived being dug up (by said strange creature) and then being roughly stuffed back in the soil (by me). I have long wanted to have some lily of the valley plants because I remember them fondly from my grandparents’ garden, growing under the hedge. Fingers crossed that I will have flowers in a few weeks time.

While in Homebase, I had a rummage in the marked down section and bought seed potatoes in two varieties. As you might imagine, they were already considerably chitted. I have five each of Kestrel and Nicola, which have sat around in the shed awaiting my attentions (and becoming even more chitted into the bargain). Finally, I am pleased to say that my seed potatoes now nestle snugly in my new Dealz potato bags (€1.50 each). We have been able to use our own compost for some of our planting so far; with careful attention, I am hoping that our compost bin will yield a good supply this season. I do however have the perennial problem of an over abundance of eggshells in the mixture. Still, I suppose there are worse horticultural problems to have.

Look out for a further garden update soon, and do let us know how your garden grows…

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