Day 13-B is for ….

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Tree bumblebee

Bumble bee! C has learnt the alphabet off by heart, back to front and probably sideways too. She loves finding words for each letter, and Bee is obviously the go to insect for B!

Since planting the patio ‘Pollinator Cafe’ I have become more aware of the presence of Bumblebees in our garden .I will confess I have needed a bit of help from the BBCT to decipher which species is which. The beautiful amethyst and white flowers of the Centaurea are visited most days by busy little ‘Bombus hypnorum‘ , or Tree bumblebees. The other pollinator friendly plants seem to be less favoured at present.Perhaps it isn’t the right time for their nectar just yet?!

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Bombus hypnorum

The foxgloves on the hedgerow behind the ‘meadow’ have just bloomed. I love Digitalis, it reminds me of Beatrix Potter tales and my childhood running wild in Ireland. The Garden bumblebees  (Bombus hortorum) seem to love it even more. These specimens are rather large, so much so that the other day I thought their was a bird or rodent moving in amongst the foxgloves. I went in for a closer look and was surprised to discover the commotion was being caused by this chap.

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Bombus hortorum.

I spent a good half an hour staring at the foxgloves, marvelling at the different adaptations that they have evolved to ensure pollination occurs. To start with, the purple colour of the petals acts as a beacon to any passing bees.The wide opening of the flower itself is a perfect landing spot with the spotty pattern acting as  natural ‘runway markers’,directing the bee onto the nectar. The bell shaped flower is a tight fit for the bee, and the foxgloves reproductive organs are suspended above the entrance. This is a clever mechanism for ensuring pollen brushes off from the stamen onto the bee.Pollen carried from other plants is also rubbed off the bee as it passes the stigma.The little translucent fronds within the entrance of each flower are guard hairs. They act as a mechanism to keep out small insects, which could hit the nectar without touching any pollen- all reward without any work!

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Looking at foxgloves and thinking about the detail has been one of the unexpected treasures of my 30 days wild.

Day 1- Bee nice!

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“Bumblebees are key factors in our wildlife. If they disappear many of our plants will not bear fruit. ”David Attenborough

A week ago I came home to find a large bumblebee curled up, crisp, on our garden path. The day had been exceptionally hot, and it must have become dehydrated. A few days before this I had opened the kitchen door to take out the rubbish, only to be met by another bee bumbling its way across the doormat towards me. It was moving quite slowly, so I popped back into the house and whipped up a ‘bee reviver’- sugar water. This is really easy to make ; 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar in one tablespoon of water (as suggested by the RSPB). I poured some onto a teaspoon and placed it carefully in front of the bee. It crawled towards it, antenna quivering, and promptly stuck its proboscis into the liquid. I watched the bee imbibing my concoction, with a (stupid, no doubt) grin on my face. It worked a treat, and the bee flew off a short while later.

 

I have read quite a few articles lately about how bee numbers are declining. This is mostly due to changes in farming practice.Traditional agricultural techniques that allowed bee friendly plants to thrive have been bypassed for more intensive methods of farming.

I want to support our bee population, and don’t want to find any more ‘crispy’ bees around the garden . I decided to create a ‘bee nice’ patch, made up of bee friendly plants  and a watering spot. This marks the first project to kick off our 30 days wild.

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The ‘Meadow’

Most people can get bees to visit their patch by a bit of cunning gardening.The RHS has compiled several lists of plants that will provide nectar and pollen for bees. The Bumblebee conservation site  has a fun quiz that enables you to find out how bee friendly your plot is. We scored ok, but have plenty of room for improvement!

There are lots of bee friendly wildflowers in the meadow beside the farmhouse, including hawthorn, foxglove, honeysuckle and white clover. We decided to put the ‘bee café on the patio, adjacent to this patch. We already have a small herb garden on the here, where we grow rosemary, thyme and lavender (all attractive to bees).

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C and her sign!

We added a new plant- a Scabious.  The bees will have to wait a bit as it isn’t flowering yet. Hopefully (after pay day!) we can add some more plants. Catmint might be next!

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JoJo at work creating a water bar for the bees.

JoJo also helped with creating a ‘water bar’ for thirsty bees and other passing insects. If a 7 month old can do it, it must be easy! We placed some stones on an old plate (technically ‘vintage’, lucky bees!) so the bees had something to rest on, and topped up with a splash of water. This sits neatly next to the pots. It all looks quite smart at the moment, but we haven’t seen many bees. Hopefully things will pick up as we make the ‘menu’ at the cafe more appealing!

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Work in progress!

If you spot a bee in need of a ‘pick me up’, please remember not to offer honey. Lots of brands of honey are imported and may not be suitable for our native bee species. In addition, only use granulated sugar to make sugar water and don’t put too much out – a teaspoonful is plenty as you don’t want to drown your bee!