blog

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

Plants for bees; Doronicum - a march-flowering yellow daisy for b

300_1639.jpg
300_1637-1-300x223.jpg
300_1643-2.jpg

At this time of year the bees are just beginning to emerge more regularly and very soon they will find much of their food from trees and shrubs. Most perennials and particularly most of the daisy family tend to flower later. Doronicum is a significant exception flowering as soon as the temperatures begin to head above 10 degrees. My plants are just showing buds now. Honeybees love all types of daisy-shaped flowers as they are very open and accessible. They also tend to flower for weeks opening up new nectaries on a daily basis until the centre of the flower has a fuzzy appearance.

Dornonicums are  meant to like damp conditions but I have found they also cope well in quite light soils.

They clump up relaibly but are not invasive; all in all a very well behaved but tough garden plant.

Winter heather - long flowering nectar source

Winter flowering heather (erica carnea) provides an unexpected splash of pink in March when everything around it is still rather brown and drab. It can grow, when well established, to about 4 feet across. Mine started flowering at the end of January and the bees have been visiting every sunny day since. Im not really a big heather fan and find the pink a harsh colour in the garden but as a bee-plant its top value!

Unlike summer heathers these ones dont need an acid soil to thrive and will tolerate a wide range of conditions. So if you have a scrubby patch were you want some low growing, low maintenance flowering plant that will also support the bees this might be a good option.

Snowdrops - some of the first flowers for bees

Snow drops, and other early flowering bulbs such as winter aconites and then crocuses are some of the first flowers of the year. February is a very tricky time of year for bees; the cold and wet will have kept them in the hive all winter  and now their stores of honey (or sugar and fondand provided by the beekeepers). Now, they will start to emerge whenever the temperature rises above about 7 degrees to search for new food sources. The queen may already be laying and they will need food to support both the brood and their own more active brood-rearing roles.

To start healthy growth of brood numbers they will need the protein that comes from pollen.  These small flowers may take a time to bulk up and provide a plentiful feast for the bees but at this time of year small quantities of pollen are just enough to give them a bit of a boost until the rest of the spring flowers bloom.

Fruit blossom - beautiful and great for bees

The trees are definitely flowering a little early and in very quick succession;Last week (end March) some of the plums flowered, this week the pears are in full bloom as are some of the 'crab apples' and our bramleys blossom is plumping up and looks ready to flower next week.

This bee was caught by our neighbour on their Malus which is one big white ball right now.

This means a continuous supply of very large volumes of both nectar and pollen. Because they flower over an area of both height and width, a fully grown fruit tree will provide as much of both foods as up to 10 times the acreage of ground-grown flowering plants. So this makes them a very space efficient way of providing bee-food.

The pollen comes in quite a wide variety of colours and the brood cells inside our bee hives are beginning to resemble a colourful patchwork quilt. You can just about see the purple pollen in this pear.

The only down-side is that they will be over all too soon. Still, beautiful while they last.

Tulips a blaze of colour with dark brown pollen

This year several plants seem to be flowering slightly ahead of schedule. In my garden (South Oxfordshire) we have had dry and hot weather for the last two weeks.

Suddenly all the tulips have come into flower at one time where normally a few open each day over a few weeks.

Right now the bees have a lot of choice as the hedgerows are still flowering, the fruit trees have started and the rape fields are just beginning to turn yellow. But still, quite a few of our bees had found this colourful display.

The pollen is mostly dark brown - almost black - and the bees were carrying such heavy loads that it was making their back legs dangle down with the weight.I was surprised they could even fly but they managed although I saw some who looked a bit wobbly. In this picture you can just see the black bulges on her legs hung low under her body.

Hedges; bee heaven in Springtime

A traditional English 'country hedge' is made up of mainly hawthorn or blackthorn but also with a selection of elder, dog-rose, maple and hazel. This mix has been forming our hedgerows for centuries and is still the hedging that Natural England recommends as part of their stewardship schemes today. Not only does this country hedge form a tough, spiky barrier which keeps animals in and trespassers out, but it is easy to maintain with an annual trim. In addition, for those of us who want to support bees, it provides a great source of flower from the end of March through to May.

The blackthorn flowers first (pictured), flowed by the hawthorn and then any of the other elements mainly come along in May. In our area, (South Oxfordshire) some of the hedges have such a high proportion of blackthorn that sections of them turn a surprising white for a time as the flowers come before the leaves.

Our bees have easy access to a lot of hedging as it lines all the lanes near their field. Right now they are coming back loaded up with the dark rusty red pollen from the blackthorn.

But these hedging shrubs should not be considered only suitable for leafy roadsides out in 'the sticks'; they can be used anywhere that a hedge or flowering shrub would normally be considered, providing flower when not much else does.