Friday, 17 March 2017

Let's keep bees!


I've been admiring the blossom on the damson trees for a week or two. Today the wind is making the petals flutter and dance across the vegetable garden and it looks like it's snowing, it's not, it's just the volume of blossoms being blown around.

The folks on the neighbouring smallholding keep bees, well actually, they kept them for the first time last year, but they plan to continue doing so. A few weeks ago I asked whether they would be happy to care for some bees on our smallholding, if we have a couple of hives here. They kindly agreed and said that they'd be delighted to do that. Phew! Because as much as though we like honey and neither of us would do anything to knowingly harm a bee, we are both rather wary of them. The thought of voluntarily poking around in a bee hive does not fill me with any warm fuzzy feelings. But if they are happy to attend to the bees, we'd be more than happy to give them a home!

I mentioned this conversation to my sister and brother-in-law and they know someone who used to keep around 30 hives of bees but no longer keeps that many. So my sister is going to ask him whether he has any old hives that we could use. If he doesn't, we can either buy one or we can make one, whichever way we should end up with a couple of hives tucked away at the back of the piggeries where the bees won't be disturbed and neither will Mr J and I.

However, if we are going to keep bees I think it's important that we also provide plenty of nectar rich plants for them to visit. Last year the fields that surround us were planted with clover and the bees from next door and further afield could be seen flying backwards and forwards all day long. I don't anticipate the fields being left fallow again this year which means that we should ensure a good and continuous supply of flowers that they find attractive.

I have several annuals that have now self-sown across the vegetable garden and I plan to leave them in situ to attract pollinators of all kinds, but I think we'll need more than these to support the potential bee population.

I have two small-ish buddleja bushes, one that was a small rooted cutting at the end of last summer and I don't know what colour it is and the other was a small rooted cutting this time last year. As it grows so quickly, this second bush is now around four feet across and three feet high. It would have been much taller but I kept it pruned last year to encourage bushy, denser growth and it now looks a healthy shrub that is bursting to put on lots of growth this year. I would like more buddleja, in fact, I'd quite like a short length of hedging in buddleja. This would boost the available foraging material for bees very well and so to that end, this morning I have taken some soft wood cuttings. 

Now I know it's rather early in the year to take cuttings, but I felt it was probably worth a try. The worst that can happen is that they don't root and I will have to try again later in the spring or summer.

I selected then strong shoots that have put on about eight inches this year (already!) and to prevent them drying out, I took them inside straight away.

I removed the lower leaves and the largest of the top leaves.
I cut each steam just below a leaf node.

I couldn't find my organic rooting powder, it wasn't in any of the places that I would usually find it, so without any further ado, they went into a wide necked jam jar filled with water.

I've put the jar on the kitchen windowsill and I will check the progress of the cuttings on a regular basis.

Hopefully by late spring I will have half a dozen or more young buddleja bushes that I can plant out along the boundary of the front garden, they will help provide flowers for the bees to visit and later in the year they will help form a much needed windbreak.

With the help of my friend Jane, we have moved some off-shoots of elderberry trees (well, Jane did this and I stood by and thanked her profusely) to form new bushes across the smallholding. The prolific flowering habit of the elderberry will be another source of food for the bees as well as providing us with elderflower for cordial and wine and elderberries for syrups, jams and wine.

Late in the year foraging, will be supported by the vast ivy vines that scramble over old trees and fences in the back yard and behind the piggeries. Hopefully, we will have plenty of blossoms for the bees throughout the year.

Now we just have to wait to hear whether we will be able to have an old hive or whether we need to get busy with the tool kit and create one. Fingers crossed that it's the former!

As I type there are some scones cooking in the oven and they smell like they are nearly ready. To go with a scone, I think it's time that I made a cuppa.
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