Newsletter: June 2014

As summer seems to be stuttering to life – barring the odd hail storm – things are getting less frantic for us. The last of our solar farm projects is being seeded and we can begin to enjoy those bits of the garden not being eaten by slugs, rabbits and hares. The joys of country life…

My greatest excitement at the moment is our lovely wildflower roof, which looks sensational and is abuzz with all manner of mini-beasts, including some solitary bees, who are discovering my bee boxes. The birds like it too. And the bigger beasts can’t get up there to mess it up!

The meadow areas in the field are coming along less quickly but are beginning to look good, if I can teach myself to ignore the Dock, which I am gradually rifting out. We’re up to something like 20 odd wildflower species plus grasses, so coming along nicely. I think we’ll cut it before our hols, at the end of July.

Swarms
Honeybees are very swarmy at the moment (although – touch wood – mine are behaving!). If you see a large number of bees swarming, do please let you local beekeepers’ association know and they will send someone out to collect them. If you see a smaller number of bees flying around something like a nest box don’t worry – these are Tree Bumblebees, Bombus hypnorum. They will be gone soon.

Charities

We’ve made a modest contribution to the Treeangle Foundation recently, which is an interesting project, and a rather more substantial one to the National Biodiversity Network (“NBN”). Do follow the link to find out more about this vital organization. We’ve also been delighted to contribute wildflower seed packets to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Butterfly Conservation for two different campaigns.

Bumblarium

The Mark II bumblarium had its first outing at the Bath and West Show, where we put it up in the bees and honey tent. The new version is more of a vivarium, so if it could help promote your cause do get in touch.

Facebook
Do follow us on FB, if you are a social media type. I update our page regularly with photos, links and all the rest, and it would be nice to see you there.

The Bath and West Show

I had a lovely time at the Bath and West show today. It’s 15 minutes down the road from us, so I’ve been a regular attendee as punter or exhibitor for the last 13 years. I’ve been down there this year putting up our new bumblarium in the Bee and Honey tent to help the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and had a lovely time this morning looking around the show with my mum. There’s a lot of tat at these big country shows now, but I love the heart of them; small local enterprises, livestock and old fashioned entertainment. I took my camera down there this year to catch a few friends and animals… Click on the pictures for bigger versions.

Silly duck
Silly duck
Superior Ruby Red Devons
Superior Ruby Red Devons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small horses!
Small horses!
Kunekunes - silly pigs but cute
Kunekunes – silly pigs but cute

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rather evocative
Rather evocative
Train man and apprentice
Train man and apprentice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernie and the bumblarium
Bernie and the bumblarium
Drinks with Jeremy at Mendip Fireplaces
Drinks at Mendip Fireplaces – thanks Jeremy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exmoor Horn rams judging
Judging the Exmoor Horn rams
Chris Hecks enjoys a joke
Chris Hecks enjoys a joke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aoife and the BBCT stand
Aoife and the BBCT stand

 

Andrew Moore concentrates
Andrew Moore concentrates
Christine busy on the Westcombe stand
Christine busy selling cheese

Hampton Court Flower Show

The great and good admire our bumblarium
I’m just back from a busy but fun three days at Hampton Court with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and our bumblarium. The bees behaved beautifully, and the only hitch was the wet, which gave us some problems with condensation. We had gazillions of folk through the bee tent, which we shared with the Beekeepers’ Association and the RHS, who were promoting their Plants for Pollinators campaign. It was handy to have a bumblebee colony and honeybee observation hive next to each other so people could appreciate the differences between them, and to have the balance of the native flowers in the bumblarium together with the list of traditional garden plants the RHS recommend. The punters’ increasing awareness of gardens as habitats was really encouraging, as was their evident pleasure in seeing the bees.
All good stuff, and much of the show was very on message this year. I was particularly pleased to see Mat Byway’s Applebee garden, which we’d supplied some flowers to and which had been put together at breakneck speed. The Floral marquee had the usual stunning display from one of our suppliers, Downderry Nursery, from whom I’m buying lavender for the landscaping project here. I think we might feature lavender in the bumblarium next year.
I also had a chance to wander around the roses by way of planning my rose bed at Hookgate, which will include some real beauties. I’ve got a lot of favourites to squeeze in, but I also wanted to include some less familiar, bee friendly single roses like Sweet Pretty and Dainty Bess, which I found at the Pococks Roses stand.
My only regret about the show was missing Mark “Otter Farm” Diacono’s offer of free bucolic cocktails, but if he doesn’t run out I’m sure he’ll be delighted to serve you at his stand in the GYO section. Cheers!

The Biggest Bumblarium in the World

Here is the biggest bumblarium in the world, shown at its inaugural outing at the Gardener’s World Show at the NEC. I borrowed the idea from those nice folk at Wildflower Turf, whose lovely product (sold by us!) the bumblarium features. They put me in touch with Robin Dean of Red Beehive who had made a version for them which was hugely successful at the Ecobuild Show. Robin knocked up this one for us, and it was brilliant in attracting people to the stand we shared with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
The bumblarium is like a vivarium for bumblebees, with a little colony of Bombus terrestris spp. audax (Buff-tailed bumblebees) and a wildflower meadow floor for them to play in. It excited a fair amount of interest and the cost and palaver of putting it up was further justified by getting a “Highly Commended” for it. The wildflower turf looked brilliant. The diversity of species in it – over 25 – meant we could have a competition asking people to name five of them. So what did we learn?

Oldies know their wildflowers much better than the young, but that’s not saying much! One lady asked me to identify the plant taking over her front garden as she hadn’t seen it before and she wondered if it was something so rare she should leave it. She’d even brought a cutting along to show me. Creeping Buttercup.

Many gardeners have a “wild section” in their garden which they leave untended. All well and dandy, but I did wonder how much more helpful a regime of relaxed management might be for bees. Dock and nettle aren’t renowned for their qualities as bee plants.

Another oddity which keeps coming up is the way people buy wildflower seeds and sow them. Even careful gardeners, who might spend hours at a horticultural show finding exactly the cultivar they wanted, cheerfully buy an unidentified packet of wildflower seed and just fling it on the lawn. They’re then disappointed when it doesn’t work – perhaps it’s just as well! I kept on suggesting people look at our how to make a wildflower meadow area video.

My longer term worry about wildflowers is the way they are becoming exclusively identified with a particular look – i.e. hay meadow – and that people aren’t using them in combination with cultivars in more formal schemes. If I had a small urban garden I’m not sure I’d have a meadow area myself, to be honest.

Most people are profoundly in the dark about different types of bees. We spent ages explaining the differences between bumblebees, solitary bees and honeybees.

The Tree Bee, a recent arrival from France, is turning into something of a nuisance. A lot of people had problems with them taking over nestboxes, and their behaviour and predilection for raised nest sites means they’re not just obvious but also more likely to be annoying.

I was saddened to meet people who had bought bumblebees off the internet to put in their gardens. There’s a lively trade in bumblebee colonies to pollinate fruit in greenhouses – it’s how we got our bumblarium bees – but to buy them at vast expense for your own garden seems very peculiar, quite apart from any bio-hazard they may bring. Plant the right plants and they will come.