After another excellent pie night at the Dolaucothi – sadly our last with Dave and Esther as they move on to pastures new, we enjoyed our first talk of the year given by Clare Flynn from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust on the Plight of the Bumblebee. It proved to be one of the best talks we have had with much post talk discussion.
The Plight of the Bumblebee
Clare took us through how bees evolved from wasps, the different types of bee species (approx. 275 native species in total of which there are 245 solitary bees, 24 bumbles and 1 honey bee species). We learnt about the differences between the different types, their lifecycles (bumble bee colonies die at the end of the year with the exception of the queens who hibernate and emerge in spring to start a new colony), Cuckoo bumble bees, the commonest types and how to try and identify them – not always easy! Click here for more information. She then went on to talk about the decline of bumblebees both in numbers (2 species are extinct in the UK and 2 are on the brink) and range, the causes of this decline–
- Habitat loss
- Intensification of farming with increased use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, loss of hedgerows, heavy grazing, loss of 98% of the flower-rich grasslands since 1940
- Agrochemicals – harm non target species, chronic exposure, cumulative effects
- Pathogens – global movement with commercial colonies imported which escape/are released and spread disease through shared flowers.
Important as pollinators (honey bees can’t do it all!) for
- commercial crops,
- domestic food,
- every 3rd mouthful comes from insect pollinated food
- bumble bees are one of the most efficient pollinators
- bumble bees are the only insect able to ‘buzz pollinate’ essential for crops such as tomatoes.
- They are also important for their intrinsic value.
Clare then ended with ways we can help:
- Habitat – gardens are very important
- Plant bee friendly flowers
- Plant flowers to give continuity of forage from March through to October
- Create nesting sites
- Create hibernation sites
- Plant in swathes rather than singly
- Plant different plants for different bumble bees
and why this should worry us.
Examples of good plants for bumblebees:
Spring: crocus, willow, dandelions, flowering currant, comfrey, pulmonaria, spurge, fruit trees
Early summer: Cranesbill, herbs, clover, bugle, currants, soft fruits, borage, dead nettle, cornflower
Summer: lavatera, weigela, eryngium, sunflowers, stachys, tansy, echinacaea, verbena bonariensis, open, single roses, lavender
Late summer: Knapweed, wild carrot, borage, asters, late raspberries, bramble
More can be found on the Bumblebee Conservation Trusts website (click here). Julian has also observed over several years the plants in Gelli Uchaf’s garden that pollinators, including bumblebees, favour. (Click here)
The following is taken from the bumble bee conservation website and is something that gardeners should be aware of : Recent research into garden centre plants has found that some ornamental plants on sale can contain pesticides, including neonicotinoids and fungicides at levels known to cause sub-lethal harm to bees. Although we do not yet know whether the net effect of exposing pollinators to contaminated food plants is positive or negative, gardeners wishing to lower the risk of exposing bees to these chemicals can buy from organic nurseries, plant swap with others, and or grow their own plants from seed.
Much more information is available on the bumblebee conservation’s excellent website: https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/
Arrangements for our plant fair are coming along well, many thanks to John for all his hard work. We are now at the stage when we need members to come forward and offer help. A sheet for you to do this will be on the meet and greet table at all our meetings. We now have a separate page on the website giving more details about the fair so do keep checking for any updates (click here).
A reminder that the member’s medley/plant challenge for the August meeting will be to grow something in a pot which you can bring along on the night, and which is attractive to pollinating insects, and then maybe tell us a little about it, and what you’ve seen visiting the flowers. We’ll hopefully confirm a member’s home as a venue to host this event shortly, but as with last year, we’ll have a fall back of the hall, if the forecast looks poor, and/or numbers attending are too great.
Tip 1 (from Julian): A top tip for the whole of February, and indeed any rare dry sunny weather in January as well, involves using my most valuable garden tool. – A fine artist’s paintbrush.
Anyone who came to either our garden NGS open weekend on Saturday/Sunday or indeed the committee meeting knows why. As Mark jokily summarised it, it’s for my Sex with Cyclamen encounters. I’ve spent years looking at the early flowering spring bulbs in our garden, and what insects actually visit them to pollinate them. And for us, before about the third week in February – there are no bumblebees about. And with perfect timing I yesterday heard and then saw our first emerged bumblebee queen of the year visiting Crocus tommasinianus flowers, complete with hordes of mites, looking almost as desperate for some spring warmth and sunshine as we are! Also if you don’t have a honeybee hive actually in your garden or very close by then you’re unlikely to have any of them around either. Many of these spring flowers have a Mediterranean origin, but as you know we don’t have a similar climate, or insect population in this part of the world. But a lot of these bulbs or corms – if they’re not sterile hybrids – are quite capable of setting seed if they flower this early, just so long as they do get pollinated.
But if there aren’t any insects around then this clearly won’t happen, unless you help them out. So an hour or 2 spent now stooped over the flowers with a paintbrush tickling the flowers might worry your neighbours, but really can result in thousands of viable seeds later in the year. In addition you’re eventually likely to end up with a population of plants – (whether they’re Crocus, Cyclamen coum or even Snowdrops – you can use it on all 3 plants) – which will flower earlier and are likely to thrive in your garden’s conditions – compared with bought in plants.
And finally you’ll then value the work that pollinating insects do for us much more highly!!If you just rely on later insect population you will probably end up with a population of these flowers with a much narrower period of flowering, based on the nursery bred plants you started off with. Pretty much as soon as I spot a few bumblebees, I put the brush away, so you’re not depriving them of any valuable pollen.
Tip 2: It’s still a good time of the year to lift and divide any clumps of snowdrops. This is really the best, and only, reliable way to gradually end up with a better display each year. But I would pause if we’re heading into a prolonged dry spell with freezing Easterlies. So maybe for now hold fire and wait until wet weather returns….. I’m sure you won’t have to wait too long…. Plant them singly if you’ve got a big area to cover and are patient, or in 2’s or 3’s about 4 inches apart and 2 inches deep if you’re in more of a hurry to get a small area nicely covered.
Tip 3: Donna recommended Charles Dowding on No Dig veggie gardening videos on YouTube – click here for his website http://www.charlesdowding.co.uk
Finally a reminder that Lechryd Gardening Club are holding their own version of ‘Gardener’s Question Time’ on 14th March starting at 7.30pm at Boncath Community Hall. Everyone is welcome, £2 for visitors.