Saturday, 9 November 2019

Honeybees: notes from a talk by a beekeeper

Crocus 'Gipsy Girl' with a honey bee, February 2019

The speaker at the recent South Pennines Hardy Plant Society was a beekeeper, Simon Croson, and I picked up some useful info on Honeybees that I thought I’d share.

The Queen and Worker bees are female, and the Drones are male. Queen bees can live up to 5 years, though most live 2-3 years.

In the UK, there are 275 native bees, with a large amount of these being solitary bees. Of these 275, only 1 (ONE!) is a native bee. There are over 1000 species of native bee the world over, yet only 10 (TEN) species of honey bee.

So you can see immediately why problems with honeybees can have such a big impact, with so few species in existence. Overall, other native bees will pollinate more food than honey bees, yet one in every 3 foods we eat comes from honey bees. So if there was a large collapse in honey bee colonies, this could still have a big impact on food availability for humans.

Things have stabilised with the problems with the varroa mite, that hit the news a number of years ago. Partly from use of chemicals against the mite. However, Simon doesn't use any chemicals and he says there is some evidence that bees are adapting to them, suggesting new generations are building resilience.

But we shouldn't be complacent. There is still a lots of problems with access to food, especially with the climate changing, but plants haven't caught up, and they aren't necessarily flowering when the bees need them. Overall, there is still a decline in the health and population of bees that is worrying.

Honey bees don’t hibernate. They go into a semi-dormant state in the cold months, but if the temperatures rise enough, they will leave the hive and seek out plants for nectar. In Feb 2019, in the UK, we had a week of nearly 25 degrees (usually we are lucky to get to 5 degrees), and honey bees left their hives looking for food.

 Honey bee on a Helenium, August 2019

With our changing climate, with warmer wetter winters, this makes planting for winter and early spring food for bees even more important. A post I wrote back in February, Plants for pollinators in late Winter, will give you some ideas on plants you might add to your garden to help honey and solitary bees at this time of year.

With honey colour from Simon’s bees: a medium light brown-orange colour is a generalist, made up of nectar from lots of different plants. A quite pale, almost clear, colour honey, is from the nectar from an Alfalfa (Lucerne) crop near some of his hives. A dark brown-orange is made up of nectar from Buckwheat. So different plants will impact differently on the colour the honey ends up.

A couple of small points that I found interesting: pollen is a source of protein for bees, and bees take water into the hive to help regulate it's temperature. A good plant for late Autumn is common Ivy. This is a plant that a lot of people try to remove from their gardens, but try and leave a patch and let it flower, and you'll see bees supping on it's nectar.

It was an interesting talk and it was useful to know that though there is still a lot to worry about, by planting for bees, we really can make a difference, for the bees, and for ourselves.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Autumn: in the Peak District

For a slightly different twist on my Autumn series, I thought I'd show a few photos from a trip into the Peak District yesterday. For those that don't know, whilst most people think the Peak District is in Derbyshire, quite a decent amount is also in South, and West Yorkshire, Cheshire, and Staffordshire.

This is a view towards the Jodrell Bank Observatory from near Merryton Low in Staffordshire. I love the gentle countryside, then how some peaks have just roughly push their way up above it. There is a lot of this in the Peak District, hence it's name.

In this picture, you should be able to see a moon-like white patch above the rocky outcrop (Hen Cloud). This in fact is the Lovell radio telescope of Jodrell Bank Observatory. Built in 1957, it remains one biggest and most powerful radio telescopes in the world. It's moon-like appearance from a distance, seems fitting.

From a viewpoint further down the road, you could see Hen Cloud, and The Roaches behind it, quite clearly.

Back into Derbyshire, the late afternoon winter sun was lighting the peak above Hathersage in glowing autumn colours. This, and the rest of the photos, were taken from inside the car, so they are a little blurry, but hopefully they will give you a feel for autumn light and colours you find in the Peak landscape.

Further on above Hathersage, this is Over Owler Tor.

An artistic(!) view of the Birch wood at Surprise View.

Burbage Rocks South

 Stony Ridge Road to Black Hill. Can you spot the cyclist?

And... Traffic jam, Peak District style.


Friday, 25 October 2019

Autumn: Salvia 'Amistad'

I thought it was time to show some flowering plants in my Autumn series. This is Salvia 'Amistad', which yes, does start flowering in late Spring, but continues on through Summer and into Autumn. I'm enjoying it so much in the front garden now, that I felt it was worth including. Also, it's purple, and I love purple.

It's clustered flower stems rise up above the foliage, adding height to your border. You need to come in close to enjoy the detail of individual flower.

Even in late October it still sending up plenty of new flower stems. With luck these will flower, offering some late blooms for bees. Yep, bees like to crawl up into the flower for the pollen.

In my garden it doesn't mind the light shade that comes from the beech hedge.

The young flower heads are a dark purple, but the flowers come out lighter colour. Two-toned purple - ba dum tish!

S. Amistad is a fuss-free hardy perennial that gives me flowers over a long period of time. And in case you didn't notice, it's purple. Purple!

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Other posts in the series:
  Autumn: Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'
  Autumn: Prunus mume 'Beni-chidori'

Monday, 21 October 2019

Autumn: Prunus mume 'Beni-chidori'

The second in my Autumn series, is Prunus mume 'Beni-chidori'. This is a small (up to 2.5m) upright tree which I've planted in a pot. Whilst it's only about 3 years old now, the idea is that, along with the other plants in pots next to it, it will filter out the messier storage part of the garden from view. Because every garden has a messy storage area.

The autumn leaves change from darker green to orange-red.

To fully red. Though maybe there is a pink tinge to that red.

It looks good hiding the messy corner, and looks magnificent against the blue Autumn sky.

Filtering through the sun brings up the intricate detail of the veins of the leaves.

And in Spring... Yes, that flower is simply stunning. It also has a beautiful fragrance. It's also a great plant for pollinators in late Winter.

I've admired this tree for a few years in other gardens and finally obtained my own earlier this year. I feel it's a most worthy and beautiful addition to the garden. Plus, who cares about a bit of mess with those colours?!

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Other posts in the series:
  Autumn: Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'
  Autumn: Salvia 'Amistad'

Friday, 18 October 2019

Autumn: Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'

As Autumn is now in full swing, I thought I'd do a short series on some of the plants that I think really shine at this time of the year. First up, Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku', and it most certainly shines!

It's young branches really show off the reason for it's common name, the coral-barked maple.

And I'm very pleased with how under-planting it with Heuchera 'Paris' has worked.

The leaves are now changing from a softer orange-yellow, to rich and buttery.

It glows in the autumn light.

It's a slow growing tree. This one is about 10 years old and has been moved twice. It's really taken off in this garden, so I think I've found it's happy place.

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Other posts in the series:
  Autumn: Prunus mume 'Beni-chidori'
  Autumn: Salvia 'Amistad'