Follow our progress running the nursery, watching wild bees, keeping honey bees and creating our own bee-haven in south Oxfordshire

Nectar rich seed trial; year 2 results


The objective of this trial is to assess effectiveness of a range of commercially available seed mixes that are marketed as being good for bees. 2012 was the first year of this trial when we cleared over an acre of ground in our site and sowed 5 different seed mixes: 1. an 80% grass, 20% wildflower commercial mix to the DEFRA specification advised for field margin Environment Scheme

2. a ‘bumblebee’ mix of 100% flowers including borage and phacelia

3. a more expensive 30% wildflower mix with a much wider range of perennial wildflowers

4. a mix that is widely used and recommended in France

5. a ‘nectar and pollen’ 100% legume mix with lots of clovers – this was planted on a different and poorer soil to the others

Over the winter of 2012 and into 2013, we left the trial plots alone as the marketing information for most of them indicates that they should provide flower for 3 years. The exception to this was number 4, the 'French mix' which is purely annual and comes with instruction to clear and reseed each year. As we did not have access to a replacement seed batch we instead, collected as much seed as possible from the flowers and added both cornflowers and phacelia to approximate the original mix.

Our observations for 2013 are as follows:

Growth and weed suppression

The DEFRA mix, which is mostly grass was plagued by dock in the first year but now the grass has established and the dock reduced, but still almost no flower.All of the other mixes had allowed a range of perennial weeds to get established to some extent and this clearly impacted any annual flowers that relied on self-seeding to flower in the second year. The worst for this was the 'Bumblebee mix' that was the top performer in 2012 but relied on phacelia and borage, neither of which managed to reseed amongst the emerging nettles, grass and dock; this mix failed completely in the second year.


Each mix, except the Legume mix, flowered less in 2013 than in the first year and the mix of flowers changed too. The most dramatic change was observed in the wildfower mix where last year there was a weak showing of poppies, corncockles, and campion but this year it was dominated by a sea of oxeye daisy with a few occasional scabious and other flowers.

The change of flowers in the French mix may be partly because we estimated the seed mix quantities on re-sowing but overall, the phacelia was limited by the nettles, the cornflowers failed to germinate and so the dominant flower was the calendula which self-seeded successfully but is not a great draw for bees and tends to attract more hoverflies. (still valuable but not the objective)

The Legume mix, is based on 3 types of perennial clover that flowered weakly in the first year but in 2013 it managed to thrive inspite of the invasion of grass and thistles.

Bee count

The chart shows that overall less bees were counted for each mix except the Legume mix, which was this years winner albeit from a poor range of choices. The phacelia component of the 'French mix' did flower well and briefly in June but was not supported by the other flowers that kept that mix going for longer last year.



Jack frost in the water butt


Last night temperatures shot down to -7 degrees; very cold for the end of March and much colder than expected. But sometimes these conditions produce some surprising sights. See this unusual ice crystal formation floating on the surface of the water inside one of our water buts.  You can even see a jagged edge where the crystals were beginning to  form at right angles to the main formation.

Needless to say, as soon as I showed my daughter she had to stick her hand in and break it, so I was glad I got a picture first.

Colour in the snow

Today was the day when the entire country turned white. On days like this you know that the bees will be fine, tucked up in a ball keeping warm inside their brood box. This is a day for kids throwing snowballs and taking a moment to wonder at the different and beautiful the world looks in snow (although the brown slushy roads and a nightmare if you need to travel). I was admiring the garden and watching the birds perched in branches, all puffed up, when I suddenly spotted this flash of yellow. The cheiranthus cheiri (native wallflower) is flowering, now, in the middle of this cold patch. It barely even looks wilted by the cold or bowed down by the snow. The colour is a real contrast to everything around it.

This will now keep flowering til April providing pollen and nectar all that time for the warmer days when the bees decide to pop out.


Roses are a good source of pollen and nectar - not a top 10 source - but its nice to be able to have some 'showy' plants in the bee-plot that are good for the human soul too. The critical thing is the type of rose; they must have an open flower (like this one in the picture) where the bees can easily get into the centre.  The ones with the highest amounts of nectar tend to be species roses like Rosa acicularis which is the indigenous European rose or the more commonly found hedgerow plant Rosa canina or dog rose. These are available from most places that sell hedging plants.

David Austen sells a good range  of nice species roses but avoid anything with a double flower.