April 17

The biggest bang for your buck with bees (and other pollinators)

I have been looking a lot at lists of plants for bees and butterflies because I made myself a promise that this year I would add plants to the wildlife plot so that  there would at least one more that flowers each month.

So many people have lists and they each have different plants on them which I think suggests that actually it is quite site specific and what bees in one part of the country go for is not always the same across the country. Lists that I use are:

  • RHS – very good list of loads of plants classified according to when they flower. I am using the plants for gardens list but they also have a wildflower list and a plants of the world list. The wildflower list has plants for ponds so that will be useful. They also have three research papers based around Plants for Bugs – bees and other pollinators, plant-dwelling invertebrates and ground-active invertebrates with some interesting findings which I will talk about in a separate post.
  • The Wildlife Trust doesn’t have the biggest list but almost everything that is on it is in the wildlife garden – not surprising because the whole plot was set up by the Devon branch.
  • The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has plants divided into groups according to whether they are shade or sun-loving.
  • The Butterfly Conservation trust has a list of plants for butterflies, many of which are on the RHS list but also has a caterpillar food plant list.
  • Goulson Lab created by Dave Goulson, an expert on bees and other insects in the garden, has a list with stars for their desirability by pollinators.

Bang for your buck!

So, what has proved most popular on the Exmouth Hamilton Lane wildlife garden? In March and April, the plants that have had the most pollinators are:

Red-tailed bumble bee on Vinca major

Buff or white-tailed bumble bee on Symphytum ‘Hidcote Pink’.

Something unidentified yet on the grape hyacinth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Vinca major – this has been full of a range of bumble bees and other pollinators (Western bee-fly) and yet is not a plant on any of the lists!
  • Skimmia japonica – this plant hums with pollinators every time you walk past it and smells delicious
  • Symphytum ‘Hidcote Pink’ – this is a member of the comfrey family and drips with pollinators in both the sun and semi-shade. Again, this particular type of comfrey does not appear on the lists.
  • Grape hyacinths for pollinators other than bumble bees

 

March 24

Perennial vegetables for the wildlife plot

I have two goals this year for the wildlife garden on the allotments. The first is to sort out the bed under the apple tree.  It has become overrun with vinca, which has run half way down the plot and will run down the other half if I don’t take action now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I was digging it up, I had the company of a red-tailed bumble bee proving that the flowers are very useful early in the season for insects. This helped me make the decision to leave a reasonable sized clump but to keep it strictly under control. Once some of the vinca was removed I found a gooseberry, 5 strawberry plants, potentilla, mock orange, acquilegia and a large clump of geranium.

The second action is to plant perennial vegetables on the plot. I haven’t got the time to sow and look after more annual crops but sow and plant perennials once and they are then there for good.  I have some cuttings from my perennial kale that I took in the autumn which have taken so one or two of those can go in but I need more than that.  Below is a list of veg that I will start to collect:

  • Asparagus – why wouldn’t you have this?!
  • 9 star perennial broccoli which is really a cauliflower, go figure
  • Globe artichokes – I have sown some of these and they are up but tiny
  • Jerusalem artichokes – an acquired taste but I do like them and I have lots of them already.
  • Sea beet – sometimes known as wild spinach and supposed to taste very good
  • Sea kale – there is a bit of a maritime theme going on here.
  • Narrow-leaved plantain, sometimes called a weed, with lots already on the plot!

On most of the sites that focus on perennial vegetables the flower day lilies appears with everyone saying how lovely the flowers taste.  I have day lilies in my garden so will divide them and bring some to the plot and try them this year.

Do you grow any perennial vegetables that you would recommend I grow?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 2

Six on Saturday – 02/01/21

This is my second Six on Saturday hosted by The Propagator, the first one for 2021 and there are certainly things I will not miss  from last year. However, what this time has meant is that I have had much more time in the garden and on the allotments and this has been to their and our benefit. So, here are my six for this week all based on new year resolutions linked to the garden and allotments.

My first resolution is to be more organised. I realised the other day that my blog is littered with phrases such as I don’t know which variety they are, I didn’t label them or I have forgotten what they are.’  I have used Access and so now I can type in a  month and up will pop all the seeds I need to sow that month.  I have then created, on paper for the moment!, a bed plan that is month by month so that I don’t have any spare beds hanging around empty at any point during the year. Last year I thought I didn’t have enough space but with 2 plots and a large garden that is ridiculous. These two things need integrating but that was beyond me at the end of December.

In order to support resolution number 1, I have bought some very fancy labels – metal hooks which you stick in the ground and slate labels that you hang from them.  This was a present to myself and they will be used specifically for veg or flowers that I want to collect seed from.  Even if the writing wears off, I will at least know which plants to collect seed from. All I need now is a marker to write on the slate – note to self! The whole system could come crashing down for want of such marker.

I will make hot compost this year, before July.  At present I am not building the heap big enough and do not have enough greenery and manure in it.  This will be remedied in January’s pile. (You can see November and December’s attempts but they are not pretty!) I have agreed to create a pile each month to see what happens. I am learning a LOT. What I am finding is that it is far more work in comparison with the way I normally make compost. The videos I have watched about it all have volunteers on training and they build and turn the pile. We hold a sort of allotment school on the plots to help new members and I am one of the people that helps to run it so that has given me an idea 😉

We so rarely have heavy frosts on the south coast but have done so for the last 2 days with more to come. These are my new strawberries – Malwina – a late type, but they have an absolutely delicious taste. I bought my first lot a year ago because the catalogue said that the taste was exceptional but they were too dark red for supermarkets and had a white line just underneath the leaves which doesn’t turn red. Why wouldn’t you try them? Anyway they are so good I have ordered more along with some hanging baskets. I will pot them up into the baskets and then at the end of January/start of February hang them in the polytunnel to force them and try and get some a little earlier.

 

 

The Bergenia are flowering on the wildlife plot and look fantastic. I am not sure what variety they are (I didn’t plant these before you say anything!) but they are a welcome sight especially for the queen bumble bees which fly around when the sun is out.  I took over the wildlife plot in September 20 and decided to list everything that flowers, fruits and seeds on the plot each month and then aim to increase the numbers of each in the years thereafter as we have lots of beekeepers on site.  We have three things flowering this month, the Bergenia, Jasminum nudiflorum and a Viburnum. We can surely do more than that next year; I am thinking of Winter Honeysuckle, Christmas Box and pansies which can also be eaten in salads.

 

 

And finally, with no resolution attached to it is the orchid in my bathroom which has a very long stem of flowers this winter. I have learnt: feed it all spring and summer and it will flower all winter for you. Beautiful.

Happy New Year everyone and do you have any garden resolutions?

 

 

 

 

 

October 29

Planning a plant guild

The use of guilds in permaculture is about many things. Firstly, it is a group of plants that work together to provide the conditions that they all need to survive. This is more than being companion planting because the sum of the group is greater than the individual parts. Secondly, they are an ideal bridge between a vegetable garden and a wildlife garden, perfect for my aim which is to demonstrate that wildlife and vegetable growing can go hand in hand.

Perhaps the most famous guild is the Native American of corn, squash and climbing beans. Besides providing food, corn provides a stalk for the beans to climb, the beans provide nitrogen for the corn and help to provide a complete dietary protein when eaten with the corn. The squash sprawls along the ground providing a living mulch and food rich in calories, beta carotene and zinc.  I have tried to grow these ‘Three Sisters’ together a couple of times and whilst the corn and squash seem to do OK, I could never manage the beans – I suspect it is a matter of timing of  the bean transplants.

Several articles and books I have read recently say that there is a fourth plant included in this guild – cleome – a rather lovely annual flower that acts as a squash beetle trap, amongst other things, in America. To my knowledge, we don’t have that beetle here in the UK. Other cultures have used Amaranth as the fourth plant in this guild.

The cherry tree guild I will plant in autumn and spring.

Click here cherry tree guild if the image is not clear.

Guilds usually start with something you want – a cherry tree – and gradually connections are added consisting of other plants to provide protection, nurse it through its young life, cover and build the soil, provide shelter and repel pests.  Once the tree has established itself, climbing plants can also be used to add to the vertical growth. Plants that flower throughout the year will be needed but particularly those that attract pollinators when the tree flowers. Pest predators can be encouraged through the use of log or stone piles – stones are something we have a lot of!  Our role once planted is to observe and take note of what works.

Toby Hemenway in his book Gaia’s Garden offers several questions which can help us decide what works and what doesn’t.

  1. What is the dominant species of the community? Is it useful for humans – food, beauty, animal feed or other benefit?  Is a related plant even more useful?
  2. Which plants are offering food to wildlife? What wildlife uses them? Are these animals desirable in the garden?
  3. Are any plants capable of providing food for humans? Do any of these plants have domesticated relatives that can provide fruits, tubers, seeds, nuts, herbs or greens?
  4. Which species are common to more than one community? These may be able to connect a guild to another part of the garden.
  5. Does any species show exceptional pest damage or have harmful numbers of insects living on it? This might not be a desirable variety?
  6. What species generates most of the leaf litter? Have you got enough? Does it make a good mulch plant?
  7. How well does the community withstand drought or a lot of rain?
  8. Do any of the plants have bare ground around them or stunted growth? This may be due to deep shade but might also be an allelopathic plant (inhibition of one plant by another).
  9. Are any plant families heavily represented?  If so, domesticated varieties could be substituted.
  10. Does the community contain any nitrogen fixers?  These are probably critical members. Are there enough?

If you would like to read more about guilds, here are some articles to try:

Permaculture Research Institute: Guilds for the small scale home garden by Jonathon Engels including a guild for growing tomatoes.

Permaculture Design: Vegetable and Herb Guilds by Paul Alfrey with another guild for tomatoes!

The cherry tree guild and natural pest control from Tenth Acre Farm just in case you think I am obsessed with tomatoes!

How to build a permaculture fruit tree guild from Tenth Acre Farm with an apple tree as an example.

What do you plant around your fruit trees?