Nancy’s bee hotel occupied

 

Nancybeehotel

 

Nancy fixed the bee hotel she made at St Peter’s Church in February to her garden’s very warm south facing wall. We saw it today, when she opened her lovely garden as part of the Open Garden Scheme. And we were thrilled to see that about five of the bamboo tubes were sealed with mud, which means Red Mason bees have checked-in and laid their eggs here.

Next year there could be as many as 30 bees emerging from the nest in the early spring, like this one.

mason_bee_emerging

 

 

Solitary bees check-in to garden hotel

rowofbeehotels   solitarybee1 packinginpollen

Great to see Red Mason bees (Osmia bicornis) using the solitary bee hotels we’ve put up in the garden.

solitarybee21    gettingstuckin  3completednests

The female bees emerged a few weeks ago, have mated, and are now busily laying their eggs in the hollow tubes. They  forage for pollen from the flowers and pack it around each egg so when it hatches later in the summer it has plenty of food. She makes a partition wall of mud between each egg.  After she’s laid eight to ten eggs in each tube, she seals the tube with mud she’s brought back to the hotel.  Then she does the same in a second tube. This bee seems to have completed two tubes. She’ll keep going until she’s laid all of her eggs, which could be another three tubes.

solitarybeehouse  Stephensbeehotel

Unfortunately we’ve still not heard of any reports of bees checking into the bee hotels we made at our workshop earlier in they year. They’ve been put around the neighbourhood in sunny spots but the bees have yet to find them. There may be too much dappled light in front of this second hotel.

masonbeeonmysotis

As well as suitable habit, the Red mason bees need food. Pollen and nectar from Alaknet and Myosotis, both of which grows abundantly in our garden and our neighbours, seems to be feeding them.

First rain garden in central London

nigeldunnett

Great to meet Nigel Dunnett at the opening of the John Lewis rain garden in Victoria, yesterday. Professor Dunnett is responsible for making wildflower meadows popular again following the success of his beautiful creations at the London Olympics .

The rain garden couldn’t be more different from the vibrancy and wildness of the planting in the Queen Elizabeth park.  It’s smart, tidy and clean, but still includes more than 30 plants selected for their attractiveness to pollinators, and ability to cope in shade and have their roots in water. They include lots of pink Bergenia ‘Overture’, forget-me-not like blue flowers and sliver follage of Brunnera macrophylla  ‘Jack Frost’,  and the white brush-like flowers of Tiarella ‘Spring Symphony’. All these are in flower now. They’ll be followed later in the summer by Rudbeckia, Kniphofias (Red hot pokers) , Asters and the architectural Acanthus hungarlcus.

bergenias1

This is the first rain garden in central London; “a pioneering project that be the shape of the future as we adapt our urban environment to climate change”, said Dunnett. He thanked the John Lewis partnership for being “courageous” in taking the risk.

The cobbled area in front of the JLP HQ had seen problem flooding in recent years. The rain garden will help use rainwater runoff from the surrounding buildings, as well as create a biodiverse, attractive green space for people and wildlife to enjoy. It will look more attractive as it matures.

How it works – instead of rainwater runoff going into the drains which can lead to flooding after a torrential downpour, guttering has been diverted so rain water is collected and stored in a large raised planter (rather like a water butt, but with plants in it) with any overspill then slowly running into the garden itself where it will be soaked up by the plants, soil and two newly planted majestic Italian alder trees.

This seemingly simple idea took two and a half years to come to fruition and about £50k to create. It’s been designed by Nigel Dunnett, who is professor of planting design and urban horticulture at Sheffield University, and The Landscape Agency , and delivered by Landform consultants  for the Victoria BID.

The project received funding and support from the Mayor of London’s Greening the BIDs project and Natural England via the Cross River Partnership regeneration agency.

Signage will be going up soon to explain to the thousands of people who pass by the area each day what the rain garden aims to achieve. Let’s hope it will set an example that many more companies will follow.

Dunnett suggested to the JLP that they may want to consider installing the next rain garden in a Waitrose car park!

 

Haggerston hotels

haggerston1 Two bee hotels from the bee hotel workshop at St Peter’s have now found a home in Haggerston Park. LBH gardeners, Andy and Brian, helped Brian from Urban Bees, put them in a nice sunny spot.

haggerston3 They are high up,  away from dog walkers and other park users.

haggerston4 The hollow bamboo stems should attract the lovely Osmia bicornis (Red Mason Bees) who will shortly be emerging from their winter slumber. Hopefully they will be checking into the wooden-framed hotel filled with bamboo stems later this month.

This is what an Osmia bicornis looks like.   redmansonbee She’s browner and slightly rounder than a honey bee, but a lot smaller and less cuddly than a bumble bee.  She does have a sting, but hardly ever uses it.

 

Home… sweet home

The first solitary bee hotels – made at last week’s community workshop –  are put in place in De Beauvoir Square.

securingbeehotels1

securingbeehotels3

Brian at Urban Bees and Craig, the Hackney gardener who maintains De Beauvoir, are putting up a couple of the bee hotels on the south facing wall of the building in the square. It’s a nice sheltered sunny spot.

Craig is proudly showing off the new hotels he made with bamboo from local gardens and the wooden organ pipes kindly donated from De Beauvoir church.

showingoffbeehotel5showingofftwobeehotels6

Now we just have to wait for some warmer weather to see if the solitary bees, mainly Red Mason bees, will come and nest there in the spring.

Creating homes for solitary bees

Twenty five new solitary bee homes will be going up in gardens, parks and on balconies around De Beauvoir in the next few weeks following a  ‘how to make a bee hotel’ free workshop yesterday run by Urban Bees for the Hackney community.

workshoppublicity   4.busyworkshop6.paintingtable

Held at St Peter’s Church, the frames for the bee hotels were made from old, wooden organ pipes kindly donated by the church. Old floor boards were srewed in for the backing.

1.dcaterscrewinginnails

Local residents donated the bamboo stems,  from their gardens,  in which the solitary bees will hopefully make their nests come the spring.

Those confident with a hack saw cut the hollow stems into 15cm length pieces.

3.readinginstructions 2.fionasawing

For others, Brian had cut hundreds of pieces earlier in true Blue Peter style ready to fit inthe frames.

4.cramminginthebamboo5.vicarmakingabeehotel

Young participants painted their bee hotels fantastic bright colours. A budding Pollock and Rothko perhaps!

7.jackpainting8.Pollockbeehotel     9.Rothkobeehotel    10.lovebees

It’s no good just taking your hotel home, fixing it firmly to a shed or wall or fence in a warm location, at least 1 metere above ground.  The red mason bees  need forage from March to July. It’s as  important as proving habitat where they can nest and lay eggs.

So everyone left with a bee-friendly plant, mainly Forget-me-nots (myostis) from my garden which supply the solitary bees with nectar and pollen. And some pulmonaria from Diana Jackson’s garden.

11.beehabitatandforage 12.carolinebeehotelandmyotosis

Everyone had a fantastic afternoon. I gave a short talk about solitary bees – the unsung heros of the bee world.

“I never knew bees were so fascinating,” said Julia Porter, St Peter’s vicar and now a proud owner of  a bee hotel made with her own hands that will go into the vicarage garden.

Hackney council gardener, Craig Davies,  will be putting three up in De Beavoir Square.

Special thanks to Gillian Borrie  for helping with the refreshments and Ruth Napolitano for taking donations to cover the costs of the event. And for Diana Weir for coming up with the idea in the first place.

Everyone went home very happy to be doing something positive for bees locally. The red mason bees and leafcutter bees will be emerging next month and looking for new homes. Workshop participants hope to share photos of bees checking-in to their hotels.

13.russelbeehotel completedbeehotel

This is the first of a series of events that Urban Bees will be involved in, designed to make the De Beauvoir neighbourhood of Hackney more bee and pollinator -friendly. (Hopefully Steven King has some better photos that will be printed in forthcoming newsletters.)

The event was run under the banner, Giving nature a home in De Beauvoir, with the De Beauvoir Association, St Peter’s Commmunity Partnership and Dalston Eastern Curve.

 

 

 

 

 

Valetine’s beekeeping

Around Valetine’s Day is the beginning of the beekeeping calendar.

With the days getting longer, and the catkins on the alder and hazel out, the honeybees are starting to fly on milder days like today when the temperature hit 12 degrees at our apiary in Camley Street. Here’s a bee having a rest on the roof of a hive after a short flight.

IMG_20150215_130622749IMG_20150215_135703685

So myself and Brian took a romantic walk around the apiary to check how the bees have been doing over the winter.

He opened up the roof of all the hives and placed a feed of fondant over the hole in the crownboard for bees who may need it as a food supplement until more flowers are out.  And if we have a cold spell, they may not be able to forage for a few weeks.

IMG_20150215_124819743_HDRIMG_20150215_125135791IMG_20150215_124855191_HDR

A couple of hives didn’t make it through, but the majority are looking good at the moment. The queen will be laying now and swarming season could well be only six weeks away…

 

 

2014 – our highlights

The year kicked off with Alison giving a successful Tedx talk at Warwick University on the Urban Buzz; why we need to create bee-friendly cities to benefit both humans and pollinators.

Our work with corporate clients Grosvenor Estates and KPMG allowed us to put some of this thinking into action. We were not only teaching beekeeping in Mayfair and Belgravia but raising awareness with head gardeners from Eaton Square to Canary Wharf about the importance of year-round forage for bees in cities and the need for bee habitats. And by partnering with roofing company Wild about Roofs we were instrumental in getting lavender roofs installed as a retro-fit on Grosvenor properties in Mayfair.

We have also helped a law firm and its gardner to change their planting scheme to begin transforming its large roof terrace into a haven for bees. Will see the initial results in late spring.

A month by month Urban Bees’ Plants for Bees guide online as well as a pull-out leaflet now accompanies our updated popular Urban Bees’ Trees for Bees guide.

We worked more closely with River of Flowers, creating bee pastures, wild flower meadows and fragrant walks on the Clapham Manor housing estate in south London with the help of Lambeth council and some fabulous local residents; young and old.

We also created an attractively packaged Urban Bees and River of Flowers pollinator seed mix which will be on sale this coming spring.

Urban Bees continued to support the Honey Club in King’s Cross with meet-the-bees sessions at the Skip Garden for Global Generation’s young people and business members of the Honey Club. Brian also inspired many construction workers on the King’s Cross development with his stories about the amazing workings of the bee hive. Some of which was captured on film.

Taster days at Camley Street Nature Park continued to prove popular. We also ran a few at Regent’s Park this year as well, including one all day out-door course as it was such a warm September day.

The highlight of the year for the bees was without doubt the delightful weather. After a few bad years, the spring and summer of 2014 couldn’t have been better; an early warm spring, followed by a a long, very warm summer that carried into October giving bees the chance to collect an abundance of ivy pollen and nectar before the onset of winter. They also produced copious amounts of delicious honey after the disappointing yields of previous years. As a result, 2014 King’s Cross honey should be available well into next year.

The other good news was the launch of the government’s pollinator strategy. While it fails to call for more independent research into bee-toxic pesticides, and has little clout when it comes to turning the countryside and cities bee-friendly it does make some good suggestions and government produced this great ‘call to action’ video.

We will have to wait and see what impact the first year of the temporary EU ban on some bee-toxic pesticides has had in 2014.

Community bulb planting for bees

Urban Bees and River of Flowers’ spring bulb planting weekend on Clapham Manor Estate went a treat last month. The bulbs had been carefully chosen for their attractiveness to bees and other pollinators, to provide food in the spring and throughout the year.

Jim, 10, helped to plant round headed leaks (Allium sphaerocephalon) and Ruby Giant crocuses in raised planters, and masses of native English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) with mum Nina in the more shady beds. He said it was better than doing his homework…. and he’d learned a lot about botany and planting from Kathryn at River of Flowers.

makingholes   plantingbulbs

jimandninabluebells   kathrynplantingbulbs

On Sunday more residents, including Rosemary and Tammy Sharma and her two lovely children, Alex 8, and Shanti, 4 , were out in force clearing a large L-shaped bed that was overgrown with Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum). Greg Thompson from Lambeth Living, which manages thousands of council homes in the borough, was very popular when he came down with a large bag of cultivated bulbs that the kids enthusiastically planted in the now bare soil.

The L-shaped bed was also the perfect place for some larger shrubs that the bees will like; Dogwood (Cornus), which produces small, creamy-white flowers in May and June, and St John’s Wort (Hypericum) which will have masses of yellow butter cup like flowers which the bees adore from July to October.

 Fragrant Walk

We kept the Fragrant Walk free of bulbs. The bay trees, Lavender and Rosemary bushes looked good once we’d done a huge amount of weeding so you can actually see them!

weedalert   fragrantwalkafterweeding

 Bee Pasture

The Bee Pasture (which was certainly attracting bees with its wild flowers) was also attracting the ire of some residents who clearly  felt intimidated by the far too tall sunflowers and thistles that needed pulling out.

thistles

To keep residents on side, beds need regular weeding and  any green rubbish this creates needs to be disposed of quickly. But for this project to work long-term residents themselves will have to nurture the flowers beds and maintain them….

 Plant Locks

cyclelockwithwildflowers

Six Plant Locks, two on Brayburne Avenue and four on Victoria Rise were cleared  of rubbish and ‘weeds’ and planted with white Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), ruby Crocuses and purple/bue harebells (Campanulas). There was a giant nettle in one of the Victoria Rise Plant Locks – great for butterflies but not so good for passersby!

Plant Locks need regular maintenance so hopefully the school on Victoria Rise will take could care of the ones outside its gates.

Unfortunately, the Plant Lock at the junction of St Rule Street and Wandsworth Road was also full of weeds and rubbish. Luckily there is group that has planted bee-friendly flowers in the triangular area at the junction, so they could take care of the Plant Lock which is only about 1 metre away from their bed.

With winter fast approaching the bulb-planted beds and planters are looking a bit bare now, apart from a few purple Penstemon’s, but come next spring they will be bursting with colour for us to enjoy and for the bees to feast on with their nectar and pollen-rich flowers.

barebeds1  IMG-20141025-01261

IMG-20141025-01260

Urban Bees and River of Flowers have been working with Lambeth Council and residents around the Clapham Manour Estate in 2014 to create  a colourful, bee-friendly corridor (Bee-line)  through the estate for residents to enjoy, and where bees will be able to find more year-round forage  in a dense, urban environment.

Varroa alert

Our bees in the urban landscape of London have it pretty good. They have good forage due to the variety of flora in the gardens of the human residents, plenty of wild areas along the railway tracks and canals and no blanket spraying of pesticides as effects our rural counterparts. But our urban bees, along side all the western honey bees, is still plagued by the varroa mite, a slow and silent killer. A parasite that has taken a stranglehold of our colonies in Europe.

This year, 2014, saw a great spring and a pretty decent summer. It was a very swarmy year, possibly the species making up for the losses seen in the past couple of years when the season’s weather was more inclement, and it was a good year for honey.

Unfortunately lots of strong colonies producing lots of brood (eggs and larvae) is a haven for the varroa mite. So it is no surprise to find that after I treated my bees with thymol, (a varroa killer) there was a huge number of dead mites on my varroa tray. The thymol did its job and killed varroa in the hundreds, if not thousands. I must admit I was surprised the colonies had that many varroa  since they didn’t show many signs of being infested. Glad I did the treatment otherwise I would certainly have lost the colonies over the winter or spring next year.

New beekeepers often wait until the summer has ended before turning their attention to varroa, but  I try and treat against  the mite as early in August as possible – as soon as the honey is extracted at the beginning of the month. For the thymol to be effective the temperature needs to be above 15 degrees during the 4 weeks of the treatment.  This year I got the thymol on in the 2nd week of August, so it has nearly finished the course.

If you have started yet, don’t delay. We have been promised an Indian summer, in which case the thymol should be effective if you get the first batch on the hives this week.

So get your treatment on and count the dead varroa.

It will save your bees.

For more information about varroa go the National Bee Unit’s varroa calculator

 

 

 

 

 

Feeding the bees together

Kathryn's loving our wildflower meadow

Kathryn’s loving our wildflower meadow

Two months after laying wildflower turf and sowing wildflower seeds on Clapham Manor estate in south London, this is the glorious result. Not only is Kathryn Lwin from River of Flower ecstatic but the bees love it too.

BEEinmeadow

We’ve just had our second planting day on the estate, where Lambeth council has invited River of Flowers and Urban Bees to work with residents to improve forage for bees and other pollinators.

2ndplantingdayposter

Here are some of the children planting a new raised bee pasture.

boysplanting

Watering

shantiwatering

and with the Mums

tammywatering

There’s a lovely combination of native, wild flowers including black knapweed, hedgerow cranesbill and purple betony, with bee-friendly ornamentals such an early flowering clematis armandii to trail along the wall, a winter flowering honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) and a Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata) which should flower in the spring and again in the autumn to provide the bees and other pollinators with year round foarge.

After just a few hours of digging, planting, watering and mulching, adults and children had transformed the empty raised beds into a haven for pollinators.

beforeplanting1plantsmulched

And here is one we did early…

foodandflowersJune1foodandflowersJUne2

The food and flowers square that we planted at the end of April was teeming with Horseradish,  wild carrrot, wild red clovers and more. These photos don’t really do it justice. It looked so much more beautiful than the sterile bedding displays that local parks and civic offices still go in for.

cyclelockwithwildflowers

We also filled a Plant Lock with wildflowers. This is probably a first.  More will follow across the estate.  Each will be adopted by a resident.

Thanks to everyone who made the day such a success, particularly to Tammy Sharma and her family. Sonny’s DIY skills were invaluable for putting up the trellis for the clematis, Shanti’s skill with the watering cans ensured no plant went thirsty – and she’s only 41/2, and Alex, 8, was  keen to learn about the plants.. until the snacks arrived. And to Crispin at Father Nature and his family crew who supplied plenty of hands, bunting and music.  And not forgetting Rosemary and Alison for getting their hands dirty, not least weeding the existing beds (which is really important) and for adopting the first Plant Lock. And as always to Nina for publicising the event and having the extra long hose at hand.  Oops, nearly forgot Josh at Lambeth council, without whom non of this would have been possible.

River of Flowers and Urban Bees will be back in the autumn to plant bulbs that will give bees early spring food next year, but I’m sure we’ll pop along next month just to see how it’s all looking…. A lot depends on the watering.

 

 

Curtains for neonics?

The international taskforce on systemic pesticides – a group of global, independent scientists including Professor Dave Goulson at Sussex University – has spent four years analysing all the peer reviewed studies on neonics and fipronil and has today concluded that there is clear evidence of serious harm to honeybees and other pollinators worldwide as well as earthworms and birds. There’s a good video of their findings here.

Neonics are the most widely used group of insecticides globally, with a 40% market share and sales worth more than US $2.63bn in 2011. They include imidacloprid which is also used in domestic treatments to prevent fleas in cats.

Alarm bells were first raised about this new class of pesticide 20 years ago when French beekeepers accused Bayer’s seed dressing for sunflowers, sold as Gaucho, of killing their bees. Ever since the industry has been denying the harmful effects of its products on bees, claiming that every independent piece of research is flawed in some way or another; lab tests feed too high a concentration of the pesticide to the bees;  field tests have too many other variables so you can’t pin higher bee mortality on their products.

When we were researching A World without Bees to try to get to the bottom of what was causing the huge collapse of honeybee colonies in the US in 2007 and 2008, we found time and again that the relevant tests hadn’t been done by the regulatory authorities to determine the real risks the neonics posed to honeybees. So it was impossible to say that they were safe. Yet they were being licensed all over the world and sold in their millions.  Until the tests were done we argued that we needed a worldwide ban, using the precautionary principle. Last year, the EU introduced a two year ban and just last week President Obama set up a task force charged with saving bees from mysterious decline which could well lead to a temporary suspension while better tests are undertaken.

The US have been looking into bee die offs since they were first reported on a massive scale seven years ago. Beekeepers pointed the finger at the neonics straight away but the US department of agricultural didn’t want to know.  It blamed poor beekeeping, parasites, such as the varroa mite, and poor nutrition. All of these play a major part in bee health, but the role of pesticides should not be underestimated.

Response from the pesticide manufacturers to the latest report, called the Worldwide Integrated Assessment report on the use of neonics and fipronil,  is entirely predictable. It fails to acknowledge the report on its website. But Nick von Westenholz, chief executive of the industry lobby, the Crop Protection Agency, told the Guardian: “It is a selective review of existing studies which highlighted worst-case scenarios, largely produced under laboratory conditions. As such, the publication does not represent a robust assessment of the safety of systemic pesticides under realistic conditions of use.”

He added: “Importantly, they have failed or neglected to look at the broad benefits provided by this technology and the fact that by maximising yields from land already under cultivation, more wild spaces are preserved for biodiversity. The crop protection industry takes its responsibility towards pollinators seriously. We recognise the vital role pollinators play in global food production.”

 

 

Honeybee survival rate greatly improves

Honeybee colony survival rates over this winter are the best they have been since the British Beekeepers’ Association started  its annual survey six years ago. Hurrah…

This winter an average of just one in 10 hives perished according to the BBKA survey of close on 1000  members across England, compared to more than a third dying out the previous winter (2012/13)and an average of around 16% not pulling through across each of the previous four years?

So does this mean that bees are out of the woods and no longer need our help? It’s not quite as simple that. The threats to honeybees – the varroa mite, lack of forage and pesticide use – have not diminished. The big difference during last winter was the weather. We had an extremely mild winter and spring came early which allowed bees to get out and collect available forage early preventing starvation and allowing them to build up their strength to deal better with their foes.

In addition, many weak colonies were wiped out during the long winter and late spring the previous year, so the ones that made it through to summer 2013 were strong going into last winter.

The good weather conditions this spring and summer have encouraged much swarming and brood development. Since varroa feed and breed on honeybee brood we could see a build up of the mite in our hives which could weaken our colonies going into this winter. So beekeepers need to stay vigilant, or come this time next year we will  be lamenting significant hive losses again!

Bees’ choice at Chelsea

beeatchelsea2  BeeatChelsea

The bees’ choice at the Chelsea Flower Show 2014 was this lovely crimson thistle-like flower that was all over the show gardens.  Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum‘ or plum thistle. It attracted all the bees, including this honeybee, when I visited on Tuesday.

It usually flowers in July and August so not to late to order some for a sunny spot in the garden.

Glad to say the foxgloves were out in force so plenty for the bumblebees to feed on. And there was a wild feel to many of the smaller gardens so fairly bee-friendly with favourites including Nepeta and Anchusa Azurea ‘Loddon Royalist’, both of which are flowering in our garden.

 

Planting edible bee pastures and fragrant walks

chloeselfheal

Chloe watering the Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) plugs she has planted on the Clapham Manor estate as part of the bee-friendly planting day organised by River of Flowers and Urban Bees on Saturday.

The day was a great success. The weather was perfect and some 50 local residents and children came out to help plant three raised beds on the estate to create one end of a ‘river of flowers’ . The three beds each had a different theme:

Chloe’s at the Food and Flowers bed, where edible wild flowers including tufted vetch, red clovers and wild carrots are planted in clumps to create swathes of tasty forage for bees and other pollinators.

kendifoodflowers Kendi, 6, was another budding gardener. He came with his grandmother and said he really enjoyed getting his hands dirty and learning about bees and plants.

sid&rosebeepasture

Sid and his 3 year old daughter, Rose, are helping to plant up the Bee Pasture bed with a mixture of wild flowers such as white campion, yarrow and lesser knapweed, with one of my favourite bee and butterfly ornamental plants  Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’.

beepastureposter

girlswatering

Two enthusiastic young helpers on the Fragrant Walk, a long planter filled with ornamental plants that smell divine and are hugely attractive to bees and other pollinators.  The two best bee-friendly varieties of lavenders: Angustifolia ‘Munstead’ and ‘intermedia Grosso’ are accompanied by rosemary, mint, and marjorams, with bay trees down the middle.

fragrantwalkposter1

As well as transforming what was a dark area on the estate to a much brighter, open space , this bed will provide much-needed forage from June to September. And residents can use the plants for culinary purposes. This bed also needs less watering as the plants are used to a dry Mediterranean climate.

Each of the wildflowers and garden plants  were carefully selected for pollinators and people so we hope they will be enjoyed by both immensely.

josh,kathyrn, alison, kerry

Some of the happy organisers at the end of the day’s planting:  L-R Josh Kerry (Lambeth council), Kathryn Lwin (River of Flowers), myself Alison Benjamin (Urban Bees) and Kerrie Mckinnon (River of Flowers). Thanks to Josh for inviting River of Flowers & Urban Bees to participate in the Clapham Greenways project and for getting the water butts on site, and to Kerrie for her invaluable planting plans for each of the beds.

Other thanks go to Crispin at Father Nature, whose volunteers and workers cleared each of the beds of tired old bushes and shrubs and prepared them with top soil.  And all the residents who came along, including the aptly named Rosemary, and especially to Nina who galvanised a lot of support.

Residents involvement is key.  Now the beds are planted,  two of them will need constant watering during this dry, hot spell.

It’s the  first community planting days that Urban Bees has been involved in. With forage such an important issue for all bees, we hope to do many more.

A second planting day on this estate will be held in June.  Dates tbc …  I can’t wait.

Tedx and River of Flowers video

Watch this delightful animation video from River of Flowers which explains why we need more wild flowers in our towns and cities.

This was the theme of a Tedx talk, the Urban Buzz,  that Urban Bees gave recently at Warwick University.

Thanks to everyone who supplied photos for the talk who I wasn’t able to credit. They include River of Flowers, (urban meadow in Hackney, east London, and the tree pit planted with flowers);  Melissa Cooper’s Out Walking the Dog blog which tracks nature in NYC and captured that greedy squirrel; Matthew Cohen of mattedesignphotos.com who took the fantastic photo of Vivian Wang with the Empire State in the background; and Silvia at Global Generation for her great photos of young beekeepers in the Skip Garden on the King’s Cross development site.

The pioneer of conservation in the US John Muir sums up what my talk is all about.
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
Thanks to illustrator Danielle Callagham for including the quote in her beautiful book The plight of the honey bee and for Jana Levitt, at LGA Architects in Toronto,  for sending it to me as a gift last Christmas.

 

Wildflower meadow

 

Alison, Urban Bees, sowing wild flower meadow

Laying a wildflower meadow turf on a council estate in south London and sowing a strip of wildflowers around it is the beginning of a project Urban Bees and River of Flowers are doing to transform pockets of ugly, unloved green spaces into vibrant, colourful bee pastures.

This is our first collaboration to improve bee and other pollinator habitats for food and shelter.

We were asked by Lambeth council to come up with ideas for improving the environment and making it more bee-friendly after calls from residents to brighten up the place.

We will be pioneering the planting of wildflower bee pastures for wild bees, honeybees and other pollinators. We’re also creating a ‘fragrant walk’ with flowering herbs that bees love and dotting some ornamental bee favourites around the estate including hebes, choisyas and wallflowers.

We’re hoping to get local school children to help us finish this bee and bug hotel.

beehotel

Resident’s will be out planting in May to create the first bee pastures in raised beds. They’ll also be planting fruit and veg around the estate as part of a local residents’ food growing programme.

Thanks to Crispin and the fathers at  Father Nature for doing all the hard lifting, raking and laying for the wildflower meadow. (Now we have to hope for lots of rain and that people and dogs don’t trample over it.)

crispinlaying fathernature

And to our youngest helper.

younghelper

 

The lessons we learn here will inform future Urban Bees/River of Flowers projects to make our cities more pollinator-friendly. So thanks Josh Kerry at Lambeth council for giving us the opportunity to do this for the bees.

Most expensive bug house in London?

Is this the most expensive bug house in London? This wood pile with holes drilled into the logs to provide nests for solitary bees has been created by Nick Butler, lead gardener for Grosvenor estates. And it is hidden away in a corner of Eaton Square no less.

eaton square bug hotel

It represents a shift in how Grosvenor is going to be managing its private squares and gardens in future with pollinators and biodiversity more in mind.  Nick says he has wanted to introduce more flowering, pollinator-friendly plants into the gardens since he  became the Grosvenor beekeeper. The company received hives as part of the Victoria Business Improvement District (BID) beekeeping initiative  and Urban Bees trained Nick and others in the company.

“Horticultural college doesn’t really teach you about bees, but being there physically with the honeybees I thought I should help them and the wild bees out by providing better food for them and habitat for the solitary bees and the bumblebees.  I’ve got the whole gardening team involved and the local residents’ garden committees. First and foremost, the gardens have to look good but there is a lot of interest.”

The bees will be very happy with all the Ceanothus , digitalis, mahonias and aliums that are currently being planted. And let’s hope the solitary bees soon take up residence at their exclusive new home.

According to Nick this is just the beginning of an exciting journey Grosvenor is taking to enrich the biodiversity of London.

Gardening for butterflies and bees

Really enjoying Jan Miller-Klein’s book, Gardening for Butterflies, Bees and other beneficial insects.  It’s got loads of fantastic colour photos of plants and the pollinators they attract and the large format makes it so easy to use.  It shows you what flowers to plant for spring, summer and autumn pollen and nectar and includes a combination of British wild flowers, garden plants and shrubs.  Now I know which hebes to plant - “midsumer beauty” and “great orme” were found to be the most attractive to butterflies.  So as you can see, it’s not just honeybees I am planting food for in my garden.

Honeybees have opened up a whole new world of wildlife. In addition to the bumblebees ( I must plant Vipers bugloss for them) and solitary bees (knapweeds and stachys for some of them) , this spring and summer I’m going to try to make the garden more butterfly-friendly as well.  They loved the verbena bonariensis and the Erysium Bowles Mauve wall flower I planted last year.

I didn’t know that the larvae of many butterflies only feed on one specific plant so for example the larvae of the Common blue butterfly needs Birds-foot Trefoil, the wild, yellow pea flower that’s in bloom in June/July. It also provides food for adults and what’s more it has a higher pollen content than many other flowers so it’s also important for bumblebees. And the same goes for Red clover – it’s pollen has a high protein content.

Jan gave a talk a few weeks ago at a local gardening club I’ve joined. I bought some wild flower seeds from her – Red campion, Ragged robin, Feverfew, Wild garlic mustard, Evening primrose (good for moths) and Eupatorium (from her national collection featured on Gardeners World last year).

I plan to start sowing them all in trays this weekend while the sun shines.

 

Buzzing bees – out already

Have spotted bees out enjoying the mild winter in  London.

At the weekend, two large and very loud bumblebees were on a mahonia bush in my neighbour’s garden in Hackney collecting pollen from the yellow flowers. I’ve yet to master the art of bumblebee identification, but from their white bottoms, I’d guess they were either white-tailed queens, buff-tailed or garden queen bumblebees. As my BBC Wildlife pocket guide chart helpfully informs me that the white-tailed bumblebees (Bombus lucorum) are one of the earliest species, flying in February, I will plump for them. The other early species I could see in the garden at this time of year, according to my guide,  is the aptly named Early bumblebee (Bombus pratorum), but as that clearly has an orange backside, it wasn’t her.

I’m afraid I’ve also yet to master how to take good photos of bees on my mobile phone! But you get the idea…

 

bumblebeemahonia2

 

Today, I had the pleasure of spying honeybees out on a white-flowered shrub in south London. If anyone knows the name of this early flowering shrub please let me know. Again, it’s not easy to see the bee in my photo, but there were a number of them buzzing around, collecting pollen.

whiteflower

 

whiteflowerhoneybee3

 I have had an answer from the Guardian’s gardening editor @janeperrone. She has tweeted me @alisonurbanbees to say it looks like Lonicera purpusii, winter honeysuckle. “The bees love it! Nice scent too.”

I think she’s spot on. Here’s what the RHS has to say about it.