We have bee hives on the allotments again. The original ones were removed last spring as the beekeeper frequently made the bees angry and often tended them during the busiest times of the day. It all came to a head one fateful day in April 2017 when the unhappy bees stung a number of people, including Rob and L. Those bees (and that beekeeper) had to go (hopefully, to a more peaceful environment, with fewer humans).
But for us, bees are back, and we have a new, sensible beekeeper. M is a member of Vale & Downs Bee Keepers’ Association and both he and his bees seem pretty calm. We are the closest plot to the hives, even though they are located well out of the way in a woodland clearing – remember the position of the last hive? It was on a plot right beside the main trackway:
I took the above photo last year from the track. It shows how closely we had to pass by to get to our plot. The new hive really is hidden away at the far edge of the allotments, with screens to ensure the bees leave the hive and fly up and away, as opposed to horizontally, at head height, in our direction…
We’ve reassessed our approach to allotment gardening since talking with M. We planned to have a little wildflower section around our fruit trees to make our plot more wildlife-friendly, but I now think more is needed. With such a rainy, cold start to the season, M’s bees were unable to produce much honey – even in June, the bees had to eat their own supplies to stay alive. And it’s not just M’s bees. He reported that other hives have suffered too. Today, looking around the allotment plots I noticed how few flowers there are, and it got me thinking about what more we can do to help sustain not just honeybees, but also other pollinating insects throughout the year. So, starting in September, and before we sow the wildflowers, we’ll try underplanting the wildflower area with spring bulbs such as snake’s head fritillary, British native daffodil, Camassia leichtlinii, grape hyacinth, and snowdrops and let them naturalise the area. We’ll sow yellow rattle to weaken the grass and allow other wildflowers to grow that will sustain pollinators and nectar drinkers throughout the summer. After chatting with Seedball on Twitter we have opted to try growing their Bee Mix and Urban Meadow seeds as these reportedly do well on clay soils. We’ll sow different seeds over the years until we find what works best for this particular location. We also aim to grow more flowers along the margins of our plot in a bid to provide sustenance for as long a season as possible. I’ve started to plant out some of my foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrid Mixed’ seedlings, and I’ll be adding plants, bulbs and seeds to my Yule list as I continue to research the subject. M said lavender saw his bees through spring on their previous site, so that is also something to consider.
We’ll continue to grow squashes and pumpkins as I’ve noticed that the bees love the trumpet flowers.
And butterflies like the zinnia patch. The zinnias are only just beginning to come into flower but hopefully, the riot of colour will advertise that there’s a buffet on offer, as well as sacrificial rocket and nettles to sustain their young.
It’s not just insects we hope to cater for. The other day I watched goldfinches flit about in the goat willow and come down to the pond to drink. It was a moment of pure joy as I realised that our pond and bog garden is attracting wildlife. By planting some teasels around the margins of the pond I will be able to provide the perfect habitat for those goldfinches: the cover of the willow, teasel feeding stations, and water to drink and bathe. I hope one day to observe the wren, robin, chiffchaffs, and blue-tits enjoying the pond too. I’ve seen bees drink from the water’s edge, and the water is already home to water boatmen, pond skaters and water beetles. We have damselflies and toads, and flies, and life – so much life already in such a small, fledgeling pond. And life attracts life that attracts life until I hope, one day, our whole plot will be brimming with wildlife and we can garden sustainably because, at the current rate of habitat loss and climate change, many our beloved garden familiars might not survive without our help.
Some resources and articles of interest:
- Bradbury, K., ‘Nectar Scheme: The best spring bulbs for bees‘, The Guardian, 13/10/2011
- Bradbury, K. ‘10 plants to help bees through winter into spring‘, Gardeners’ World
- Keating, H. ‘Wildflowers for bees: how to attract bees to your garden‘, Woodland Trust, 09/03/2017
- Thompson, K. ‘What plants will attract butterflies to the garden?‘, The Telegraph, 23/07/2018
- Carrington, D. ‘Bird species vanish from UK due to climate change and habitat loss‘, The Guardian, 11/01/2017
- Carrington, D. ‘One in 10 UK wildlife species faces extinction, major report shows‘, The Guardian, 14/09/2016
- Dalton, J., ‘UK’s favourite wildlife species at risk of extinction ‘without revolution in disastrous modern food farming”, The Independent, 03/03/2018
- ‘The state of Nature in Oxfordshire 2017 report‘, Wild Oxfordshire, 2018
- Watts, J., ‘Arctic warming: scientists alarmed by ‘crazy’ temperature rises‘, The Guardian, 27/02/2018
- ‘Wildlife and allotments,’ The National Allotment Society,
- ‘Allotments and vegetable gardens‘, RSPB,
- ‘The best garden flowers for bees‘, Goulson Lab, University of Sussex, 2018
- ‘RHS plants for pollinators‘, RHS, 2018
- ‘Bee-friendly plants for every season‘, Friends of the Earth
- ‘Bee-friendly flowers‘, The Soil Association,
- Raven, S., ‘Best garden plants for pollinator insects: chart‘, The Telegraph, 01/01/2011