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'

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Apple trees for the Forest Garden Border

Back in March I wrote about the design for my Forest Garden Border, and mentioned that I would purchase these in the Autumn. I've previously purchased fruit trees from R.V. Roger Nurseries in North Yorkshire and have always been very happy with their quality, so it was the obvious place to return to for my Apples. They held an apple day this weekend, so we decided to make the trip up there. Not the least because they had quite a number you could taste, and this was the final piece to the puzzle, after much research, to help me choose the right apple trees for my garden.

But before I tell you what I chose, let's take a quick look at the nursery's apple day displays. The below is a photo capturing just a fraction of the apple cultivars they grow and sell at the nursery.

There was a table for the Yorkshire varieties. Many include wonderful names such as Flower of the Town and Sharleston Pippon.

Elsewhere could be found the massive fruit of Peasgood Nonsuch, which would require two hands to hold one apple.

As well as the delightfully small Pitmaston Pineapple, that really does have the fragrance of pineapple.

The displays were wonderful, and the fragrance in the greenhouse was heavenly.

But what did I choose?! In each case, the choices were based on what Kevin and I both liked the most and how we would use them.

Egremont Russet

This a small dessert (eating) apple. The 'russet' part relates to the skin of the apple, which is rough, well, rough in apple terms; a majority of apples have smoother skins. The flavour was fabulous, sweet and juicy, and was our top choice. It had been on my shortlist because it was suitable for the North of England and a wetter climate. The flowers are tolerant of late frosts, and it has some disease resistance. You can pick it from October and it stores until the end of the year.

Lord Lambourne

This is another dessert apple, with larger apples than Egremont Russet. Again, it was sweet and juicy, and this time has the smoother skin, and is suited to the North of England. It stores until the end of the year. It was a very close second with Egremont Russet.

I had been tossing up between choosing just one dessert apple and growing it as an espalier, or choosing two and growing them as cordons. As you can see, I went for growing two as cordons. Like all edibles, apples and their cultivars can have some better years than others, and by growing more varieties, I increase the chances of at least one of them preforming well in any given year.

Newton Wonder

This is a dual purpose apple, meaning it has both dessert and culinary (cooking) qualities. It starts out as a cooking apple, then over time mellows to a lovely eating apple (we've tried it before). And because of it's long use period (you can store it between November and the following May), we can use it as a culinary apple first, then an eating apple in the new year. It's also another apple hardy for the North, with it's blossoms being tolerant of late frosts.

In this case, I've chosen to grow this as a double cordon. To the right you can see a photo of a 'Double U Cordon', with two sides each in a U shape. I'll be growing the Newton Wonder just as a double cordon, in effect, just one of the U's in the picture.

I'll be receiving my choices that have already been trained into cordon and double cordon shapes. They will be sent out  as bare root trees; trees that are dug up by the nursery in late Autumn when they are dormant. They'll be posted (well, couriered) to me as is, so they won't be in pots. I'll need to either plant them straight away, or if I cannot do this, I could just 'heel them in'. This is a process where you either just lightly plant them in a pot or bare soil, and then water them. You don't go to great efforts, you are just ensuring the roots don't dry out before you finally plant them. I'll aim to get them properly planted in December.

Thanks to the R.V. Roger staff member (I sadly didn't get their name) who answered all my questions. It was lovely chatting to them and it really helped me make my final decision.

So, I have my apple trees on order, and I'll finally be able to complete the planting for my Forest Garden Border.
The author at Apple day

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See also:
Tips to help you choose the right apple tree(s)
Creating a mini forest garden border

Monday, 30 September 2019

Tips to help you choose the right apple tree(s)

Malus domestica 'Charles Ross'

In the last couple of weeks I've been carefully researching what apple trees that I want to plant in my Forest Garden Border. One thing I found was that it was hard to find all the key information that informs your choice, in one place, whether online or in books. Since this is all in my head at the moment, I thought I'd jot down the key tips I felt would be useful for anyone wanting to grow apple trees.

Disclaimer: as I'm based in the UK, this is where my learning and knowledge is based, and this will be reflected below. I am an amateur, so this shouldn't be viewed as expert advice. This is just a collation of the information I found, which I thought others might find useful.

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This is of course number one. If you don't like the fruit, you won't eat it. So choosing for taste is paramount. In the UK at least, fruit tree nurseries and community groups often hold Apple Days in October, and usually have a range of cultivars available for you to taste.

After taste, this is the next most important item. The rootstock controls how small or large, and how vigorous, your tree will be. Think about how many apple trees there are that have got out of control and fruit is left rotting on the ground because people can no longer manage them. In many cases, this is because people didn't consider the rootstock seriously, for both their current and future selves. Choose a fruit tree rootstock that you will be able to realistically maintain now and in the future. Types of rootstock with ultimate height if trained as a bush:

M27: very dwarfing, 1.2-1.8m (4-6ft) x 1.5m (5ft)
M9: dwarfing, 1.8-2.4m (6-8ft) x 2.7m (9ft)
M26: semi-dwarfing, 2.4-3m (8-10ft) x 3.6m (12ft)
MM106: semi-vigorous, 3-4m (10-13ft) x 4m (13ft)
MM111: semi-vigorous, 4-4.5 (13-15ft) x 4.5 (15ft)
M25: vigorous +4.5 (15ft) x 6m (20ft)

The RHS website goes into more detail about the growing habits of each of these rootstocks.

Useful graphic to show the approximate ultimate sizes of each rootstock. Source: Blackmoor

Apples grow best in temperate climates like the UK and northern Europe. Certainly, they aren't desert or rain forest plants. But within a temperate climate, some trees will grow better in certain conditions. So if you live in a particularly wet climate (hello west Wales), choosing trees that don't mind the wet makes sense. Also, some trees need more sun than others, like a nice south-facing wall (or north-facing if you're in the southern hemisphere), and what grows well in the south of England, for instance, won't necessarily in the north. Learn about your regional and local micro-climate conditions.

There are something line 750 different apple tree cultivars in the UK. Some will be incredibly niche, but there are probably a good 200 that are readily available from online fruit tree nurseries. There really will be one out there for every taste.

Pollination/flowering group
This refers to when the blossom will be out for insects to pollinate. Many apple trees are diploid, which means they need a least one other tree nearby in order to be pollinated. Of these, many will be  "self-sterile". This means their pollen won’t fertilize their own flowers and they therefore need another compatible cultivar for cross-pollination in order to produce fruit. And even the so-called "self-fertile" cultivars will fruit better with a partner tree.

Some apple trees are triploids, and they are different again. I'll quote here directly from the RHS:
... a few apple and pear cultivars (known as triploids) such as ‘Bramley’s Seedling’, ‘Holstein’, ‘Ribston Pippin’, ‘Blenheim Orange’ and ‘Catillac’ produce mainly sterile pollen. These won’t be any use for cross-pollinating other trees, and for their own fruit to set, still need other trees. Therefore if you grow a triploid cultivar you will also need two other trees that will pollinate each other as well as the triploid, and these three cultivars must all flower at the same time. (Source, RHS)
As far as I've seen in the UK, the pollination groups are either A - D, or flowering groups 1 - 7. A (1) will blossom first, then B (2), C (3) etc. They are essentially the same thing, just different naming/category conventions. The nursery's catalogue will tell you what pollination or flowering category a tree will have.

The key thing to know is that you should get two (or three for triploids) trees in either the same pollination/flowering group, or the adjacent pollination group. So:
  • Two A's or 1's of different cultivars/varieties will pollinate each other.
  • An A/1 and B/2 will pollinate each other, but and A/1 and C/3 will not.
  • A tree that is in the C/3 pollination group can be pollinated by other C/3 cultivars, but also B/2 and D/4 cultivars, etc.
  • However, you cannot only have two of the same cultivar in any pollination/flowering group, as these won't pollinate each other (these are self-sterile).
Trees should be planted within 18m (55ft) of each other to effectively cross pollinate.

Spur or tip bearing
Tip bearing: produce fruit at the tip of each shoot.
Spur bearing: produce fruit along side shoots (spurs)
Partial tip bearing: produce some spurs as well as fruit buds at some shoot tips.

Source: RHS Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, 2002, p. 175.

A majority of apples tend to be spur bearing, a few are both, but do check if it isn't stated clearly, as this will change the type of pruning you need to do to the tree. For example, if you go and prune all the tips of a tip bearing tree in winter, you will have just pruned off next seasons harvest.

Period of use
This is for how long are the apples, once ready for harvesting, able to store. Online nurseries often include this information. Some apples need to be eaten within a short space of time, whereas others may store for several months.

Fruit type
Culinary - cooking
Dessert - eating
Dual - both cooking and eating

Tree form or type
You will find a large number of tree types out there, but the most familiar ones will be: standard (your basic shaped apple tree), espalier, cordon, step-over, fan, and ballerina.

The most most common tree rootstock available will be a Maiden, which is an untrained one year old tree, probably about 1m high. You then train this into any of those above, dependent on it's rootstock, of course. This is the cheapest way to buy a tree, c. £15, but it will take longer before you will get your first harvest. If you can afford it, and don't want to wait, you could by a tree type listed above, already trained. A 1 or 2-tier espalier will probably be around £45, and you'll get your first harvest within a couple of years.

Right: a wonderful example of an espalier, at Anglesea Abbey. This is a pear; apples and pears have the same pruning regime.

Other thoughts
  • Grow something different to what is available in the supermarket. After all, you can already easily get those cultivars. Plus, it helps the species if a diverse range of apple trees grown.
  • Catalogues (print and online) should give you enough information about each cultivar available, often including the origin and history of a cultivar.
  • Pruning is done in winter for most apples.
  • If you only have a very small garden or balcony but would like a couple of different cultivars, there are some trees available, called 'family trees', that have grafted onto them two or three different cultivars of apple. In this case, one tree would cover your pollination/flowering needs too.
  • Pot grown apple trees (those that you purchased planted in pots) can be planted year round, though I'd avoid late spring and summer unless you want lots of work watering them daily.
  • Bare root trees (those you purchase which have no soil around them) are only available in Autumn and Winter and must be planted by the beginning of Spring. Planting during winter helps them establish their roots before the warmer weather starts. You will find a much, much, larger number of cultivars available as bare root trees.

Useful books and websites
The information here has aimed to just cover the key details that will help you choose an apple tree. For further reading, I refer to the following two books that I use the most:

RHS Fruit and Vegetable Gardening: this covers information on each the most common fruit and vegetables available, including good chapters on apples and other fruiting trees and bushes.

RHS Pruning and Training: this is my bible for learning how to prune your tree correctly. It has incredibly useful diagrams for many common ornamental and edible plants. Just it's chapter on Apple trees alone, is worth the cost. Though it's probably in your local library for free.

I find the best websites with the most useful information, are fruit tree nurseries. I have personally used and recommend: R.V. Roger, Walcot, Keepers, Orange Pippin and Blackmoor.

Recommended by others: Adam's Apples (by VP)

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My hope is that this information will be useful to others. I've had to balance giving you enough key information, with not overwhelming you with too much information. If you think I've missed out a really key point, do leave a note in the comments.

Happy eating!

Sunday, 15 September 2019

I got sunshine, on a cloudy day: Rudbeckia fulgida var sullivantii 'Goldsturm'

Rudbeckia fulgida var sullivantii 'Goldsturm'

Truly, if there was ever a flower to give you sunshine on a cloudy day, Rudbeckia fulgida var sullivantii 'Goldsturm' must be it.

This flower glows even through the night; I can see it through the heavy frosting of our bathroom window!

I did try cutting some for the house, but found they didn't like being in a vase. Something this strong needs the outside, it seems.

I discovered that one flower has some petals coming through it's central cone. A type of fasciation I believe.
Fasciation literally means banded or bundled. Scientists aren’t sure what causes the deformity, but they believe it is probably caused by a hormonal imbalance. This imbalance may be the result of a random mutation, or it can be caused by insects, diseases or physical injury to the plant. Think of it as a random occurrence. It doesn’t spread to other plants or other parts of the same plant. Source: Garden Know How
It's happy in my heavy acid clay, and after only a year in the ground, is clumping up very nicely. I've notice bees and butterflies are attracted to it's charms too.

Flowering from late summer through autumn, this Rudbeckia gives me sunshine every day, even through autumn storms.