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Flower Power

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Borage & bee

The BBC have a lovely slideshow today showing pictures taken in an experimental garden aiming to discover which flowering plants bees and other pollinators prefer. The project, at the University of Sussex, is in the second of three years and initial results suggest that the best flowers attract more than a hundred times the number of pollinators as the worst.

If it’s honeybees you’re after then plant borage – the study shows it attracts more of them than any other plant. Back in 2005 when I took part in a Garden Organic experiment looking at beneficial insects, I found that phacelia was good for attracting bees, but that borage was better for ladybirds and their larvae.

This new study also backs up the idea that complex flowers attract fewer insects than the simpler varieties, but it’s only concentrating on July and August (apparently the time of year when bees have to travel furthest to forage).

Which plants in your garden attract the most bees and other insects? Are you trying new ones this year?

Posted in Blog on Feb 19, 2012 ·

Tags: bees & science.

Swarm!

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Bee swarm

There was some excitement here yesterday afternoon, as Pete and I saw our first honeybee swarm. It had landed on a shrub in my neighbour’s garden – we spotted it on our way back from the post box. As my neighbours weren’t in, I called the local council environmental services to get the number for the local beekeepers who deal with the swarm. I rang them and was told someone would be dispatched as soon as possible.

I was concerned that the neighbours would come home and panic (as they have two small children, and there are plenty more kids on the block), so Pete wrote them a note and I popped it in their mailbox and took a couple of photos. At this point the bees were in full sun, and most were staying close to the swarm but a few scouts were flying around. They were all very placid.

My antics attracted the attention of another neighbour, who has a vegetable patch that is visible from the path, but who I’d never met before – her name is Margaret. We had a good conversation about bees and gardens; she’s going to come round and meet the chickens at some point.

I went back inside, but kept an eye on the swarm from my window. The had picked a good spot – passers-by didn’t see them, and so they were left undisturbed. It wasn’t until early evening that a beekeeper arrived, by which time the bees were very settled and had mostly stopped flying around – the sun had gone from their location, so no doubt they were cooling down.

The initial plan was to allow them to find and enter a box filled with beeswax (apparently they’re attracted by the smell), but they weren’t that keen. Donning his suit, the beekeeper embarked on plan b – he trimmed the shrub and placed the section of branch into the box, taking a lot of the bees with it. A little while later it appeared he had managed to get the queen bee inside the box, and the others were gradually filing in to join her. They didn’t hurry.

Once the beekeeper suited up, of course, everyone in the neighbourhood knew something was going on and stopped by to have a look and a chat. Fortunately the beekeeper was a very patient man, even with little girls who were fascinated and terrified in equal measures.

I’m told that there are no wild colonies of honeybees in the UK anymore, so this swarm would have come from a local hive, but I don’t know where that might have been.

By the time the sun set the bees were in the box and on their way to their new home – a new hive, ready and waiting for them, in Witney. I hope they like it.

Posted in Blog on May 19, 2011 ·

Last modified on Jun 17, 2011

Tag: bees

Solitary Bee Nester

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Bee box

Pete and I were kept pretty busy at the Hampshire Green Fair, and didn’t have too much time to look around. Pete bought some honey from the Petersfield Beekeepers, and we enjoyed the hog roast (both rather problematic as most of the visitors to the Compassion in World Farming stall next to us were vegans). When I had a chance to wander I came across a lovely guy called John (from Bee Happy) who was selling these beautiful bee nests for solitary bees.

The box on mine is 21cm (8.5 inches) tall – for some reason the photo makes it look really tiny! I just need to find a good spot for it, somewhere sunny and sheltered. I already have a bug box, so the new bee nester may go in the same place.

We all know that bees of all kinds are struggling at the moment, and not only do Bee Happy make bee boxes, but they give talks and workshops as well. They’re attending several more festivals and fairs this summer, so if you’d like to catch up with them have a look at their website.

Posted in Blog on May 13, 2010 ·

Last modified on Feb 20, 2012

Tags: wildlife & bees.

Plight of the Bumblebee

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Bee on white flower

This morning I have been listening to Plight of the Bumblebee, which was broadcast on Radio 4 yesterday and is available on iPlayer for a week. Although there has been a lot in the media about the decline in honeybee populations, there has been less focus on the fact that all bee populations are declining, including the bumblebee.

The show starts in Scotland, where a fruit farmer who grows strawberries, raspberries and blueberries in polytunnels uses hives of imported (from the Netherlands) bumblebees to pollinate his fruit crops. He says that the bigger, fluffier bumblebees do the pollinating work of 20 honeybees, and they are able to work in cooler conditions.

With the loss of two species in the last 70 years, there are 24 native bumblebee species in the UK, and about a quarter of those are at risk. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust was set up to address this issue, and they do a lot of research into bumblebees and also run conservation projects. They even have a sniffer dog, called Toby, who is being trained to sniff out bumblebee nests early in the year when they just contain a queen – with no workers coming in and out of the nests they are impossible for a human observer to spot.

The different bumblebee species have different lengths of tongue, which basically means that they are capable of pollinating different flowers. They also have a trick called Buzz Pollination – they can alter their vibration from their customary low drone to a high pitched buzz which causes some flowers to release a shower of pollen. Without buzz pollination, our tomato crop would be very limited.

The Great Yellow bumblebee has been affected by the loss of wildflower habitats and is now only present in Orkney and a few other places in Scotland. The Short-Haired bumblebee has been extinct in the UK since 1988, but colonies were exported to New Zealand 120 years ago to help with pollination there, and so the bee could be reintroduced to the UK in a special project running in Dungeness.

Although special projects like these are important, there are more gardens in the UK than nature reserves, and if we all grew a few bee-friendly plants then we would be creating a huge bee reserve. How do you choose bee-friendly plants? A good tip if you’re at the garden centre and can’t remember any plant names is to wander around and see which plants are being visited by bees. If it will grow in your garden then it should attract bees there too :) You should also be looking for old-fashioned flowers that would be at home in a cottage garden – the modern annual bedding plants have been over-bred for showy blooms and are very little use to bees. Especially the sterile F1 hybrids, which have no pollen.

What does the future hold if we lose the bees? Fewer flowers, less colour in the countryside, less fruit and more wind-pollinated grain crops. If we want colour and a diverse diet, we need to look after our bees! Follow the link to the show homepage for links to more of the projects mentioned in the show.

Posted in Blog on Oct 22, 2009 ·

Last modified on May 19, 2011

Tags: wildlife & bees.

Blogging for Bees - 3rd edition

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Bee on sempervivum

Welcome to the third edition of the Blogging for Bees Carnival – a collection of bee-friendly content from all over the web, brought together in support of our buzzy and beleagured friends. If you missed the earlier editions, you can find them here: 1st edition, 2nd edition.

Today is a Tweehive day, so if you’re on Twitter join in the fun (follow the link for details), pretend to be a bee and raise awareness of their plight.

We have three lovely links from Jackie’s Secret Garden – Bee Love is about The Great Sunflower Project in San Francisco, Love Thy Neighbor and Thy Bees looks at a bee-related news story and some plants are bad for bees looks at plants growing in America that are toxic to non-native bees.

VP has gone in the opposite direction in her post flowers for bees, and shows us a dozen plants that are good for bees that you can grow in your garden. And here’s a hint for Tweehive foragers – her post is also a good source of virtual nectar and pollen, as is my post here’s the buzz, which is on the same topic.

Thanks to all our bee bloggers this week. If you'd like to take part in next Friday's carnival then email me the link to your bee-friendly blog post or website.

Posted in Blog on Aug 7, 2009 ·

Last modified on May 19, 2011

Tags: wildlife & bees.

Blogging for Bees - 1st edition

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Borage & bee

Welcome to the first edition of the Blogging for Bees blog carnival, a place where we pull together all of the lovely bee information that’s floating around on the internet and help our pollinating friends.

I’ve had a very buzzy week, playing the part of a foraging honey bee on Tuesday for the first Tweehive Twitter swarm, which was fun. You haven’t missed out if you want to take part – the next Tweehive event is on 7th August.

VP has sent us a link to a lovely post she wrote last year about visiting a friend’s hive. In fact, the beekeeper has his own blog – diary of a novice beekeeper which is well worth checking out.

Drunken Lovers is a lovely post with beautiful bee photos from a relatively new blogger over at Wisteria and Cow Parsley.

Madeleine from Mad About Herbs has a lovely list of bee friendly herbs to add to your garden.

The Clockwork Dodo is highlighting the plight of the honey bee, with lots of photos, links to useful information and ideas of how you can help.

And last, but not least, is a little light relief from Frugilegus, with furry bottoms :)

You should also check out the Soil Association’s Save the honey bee campaign (turn the sound down to avoid some truly awful music) and sign their petition to have neonicotinoid pesticides banned because they are harmful to bees.

Thanks to all our bee bloggers this week. If you’d like to take part in next Friday’s carnival then email me the link to your bee-friendly blog post or website.

Posted in Blog on Jul 17, 2009 ·

Last modified on May 19, 2011

Tags: bees & wildlife.

Here's the buzz

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I’ve mentioned the plight of the bees before, and how we need to give them as much support as we possibly can. The folks at CAT have published a very nice article “Ten Things to do to Help Honeybees“. The suggestions include buying local honey, lobbying for more bee research and planting bee-friendly plants.

What are bee friendly plants? Anything that has open flowers that they can collect pollen and nectar from, especially if it blooms early or late in the season. These are the bee magnets in my garden:


Flight of the bumblebee
Comfrey with bee
Bee on Welsh onion
Borage & bee

Posted in Blog on Feb 10, 2009 ·

Last modified on May 19, 2011

Tags: wildlife & bees.

Bee nice

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Bumblebee on the tayberry

The weather is very wet at the moment and there aren’t many bees flying around, but some do make an appearance when the sun is shining.

I watched this one (I think it’s a bumblebee, but my bee identification is rudimentary) working on the tayberry flowers for a few minutes. There are also bees buzzing around the raspberry flowers, the comfrey and the Welsh onions.

A couple of days ago, a new book A World Without Bees was published. I haven’t bought a copy yet, so I can’t comment on it, but I have just read an article on honeybees by one of the authors which appeared in the Guardian on Saturday.

It makes for disturbing reading – it talks about CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder), the unknown reason why honeybee colonies all over the world are disappearing. But worse of that, it outlines commercial exploitation of honeybees in the US that is tantamount to abuse, and certainly would be outlawed if it was being done to larger livestock.

The long association between humans and honeybees may be coming to an end, with the bees literally being stressed out of existence. People are starting to worry about it because it would be a commercial disaster. I’m not a big fan of economically motivated environmental action, but if that’s all we’re going to get hen it will have to do.

There are thousands of species of bees, and other insect pollinators. Try to spend a few minutes in your garden ‘thinking bee’, and see whether a few more flowering plants or a DIY bee nest would make bees feel welcome. If you’re up to making something elaborate, have a look at this great article on making solitary bee houses.

Posted in Blog on Jun 3, 2008 ·

Last modified on Apr 29, 2014

Tags: environment & bees.

     

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