Bugs and Bees

ladybird

My allotment plot and garden welcome many species of beneficial wildlife, such as hoverflies, lacewings, bees, ladybirds, butterflies (yes, butterflies are very welcome on my plot!) and lovely little mason bees. I grow plenty of flowers throughout the year to attract them, and my organic approach to gardening ensures there will always be food in the form of juicy aphids.

ladybird in a bug box

Providing bee and bug boxes in your garden helps to attract the good guys too, these safe hidey places are essential for surviving cold winters and reproduction with certain species.

bee on salvia flower

Lacewing

Mason bees visit my plot to use the bee boxes as nests to reproduce, I find it fascinating to watch females carrying mud to seal the entrance to a nesting tube. In turn, they pollinate my fruit bushes and most probably my plot neighbours too.

Comma butterfly

Some of my boxes were purchased or gifted, and some were made using scraps of wood nailed together to form a box and filled with hollowed out bamboo canes. Online gardening shops and garden centres sell bee or bug boxes, I recently picked up a couple of nice examples from Waitrose and Poundstretcher stores.

bee and bug box

I re-painted the Waitrose bee box (pictured above right) using a tester pot by Cuprinol Garden Shades (country cream).

bee and bug boxes collage

I’m planning to make a bug ‘hotel’ using stacked pallets and other materials inserted into the gaps between each pallet. Now is a great time to provide some shelter for our helpful beasties, they’ll repay your favour by munching on the bugs you really don’t want on your veg. And, if you’re really lucky, you might just see mason bees nesting in your boxes from late April onwards.

Nature Can Be Cruel, Yet So Beautiful

bird nest

A couple of weeks ago, following a storm, I found a little bird nest.

bird nest

Thankfully empty (with no sign of eggs anywhere near) it lay there, upside down on the lawn, perfect and beautiful. A victim of the destructive gale force winds.

nest bird

It’s a miniature work of art, and I wanted to share its beauty through my photographs. Each piece of the nest carefully and expertly constructed, using natural materials of twigs, moss and leaves, with soft man-made fibres lining the centre.

bird nest

I got a little emotional when I spotted long black and tan dog hair entwined with the fibres, I recognised them instantly. Our boy, a German Shepherd who we lost suddenly last summer, lives on in this nest. And for this very reason, I’ll treasure it.

Big Spawn Count 2014

common frogs mating

I’m so excited! I spotted this lovely couple in the wildlife pond early this morning, a pair of common frogs in a copulatory embrace called Amplexus. I rushed to the house to grab my camera before they disappeared. During our first spring living here we saw plenty of frog couples, but until now they had little choice but to use the large Koi pond, ending in disastrous results for the spawn.

The Koi pond

The Koi pond.

Just a few of our Koi

Just a few of our smaller Koi, the larger fish are approximately 2 feet in length.

wildlife pond

The wildlife pond in a sheltered position within the rockery, directly behind the Koi pond. A safe haven for the frog and newt community in our garden smallholding.

If this pair (or any others) spawn in the wildlife pond it will have a greater chance of becoming tadpoles, I’m especially happy because our wildlife pond is less than a year old. We decided to add an additional small pond to our garden not long after moving here, our  intention being to offer the already present frog and newt community a safe place to reproduce successfully.

Have you spotted any spawn where you are? Take part in this years Big Spawn Count and record your findings, the more people counting, the better the information to help provide more of an insight into the amorous lives of toads and frogs.

Anyone can take part in the Big Spawn Count by going to their garden or school pond, and counting the number of spawn present. You can print the form to help you complete the survey, please enter the results on-line afterwards.

http://www.freshwaterhabitats.org.uk/projects/big-spawn-count/

I’ll be watching, will you?

National Nest Box Week 2014

bird box

National Nest Box Week (NNBW) runs from 14th February to 21st February. The aim of NNBW is to encourage everyone to put up nest boxes in their garden, allotment or local area in order to promote and enhance biodiversity and conservation of our breeding birds and wildlife. Being a big fan of helping wildlife I provide nest boxes in my garden and at my allotment, but I confess to not knowing about National Nest Box Week until now. Gasp!

bird box

Here are a few facts about National Nest Box Week:

  • NNBW is organised each year by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Britain’s leading bird research charity, whose work primarily involves studying the populations of our common and garden birds.
  • NNBW takes place each year from 14-21 February, and after 10 years it is now an established part of the ornithological calendar.
  • The founding sponsor and co-organiser of NNBW is Jacobi Jayne & Co., Britain’s nest box specialists, who created the idea of National Nest Box Week together with the late Chris Mead of the BTO.

wicker bird nesting box

To get involved and contribute to the conservation effort in the UK, simply put a bird box in your garden or any other place that you can, monitor your box and take part in the Nest Box Challenge during early spring by recording your findings online (something else I’d never heard about before, double gasp!). http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/nbc

Make your own bird/nest box using these plans: http://www.bto.org/nnbw/make.htm

To find out more about National Nest Box Week visit: http://www.bto.org/nnbw/index.htm

Mason Bees

allotment shed

Mason bees were attracted to our bee box at the allotment last May, it was fascinating watching them building nests within the hollow tubes. Mason bees are non-aggressive solitary bees, they are very small and do not sting unless really threatened (a sting is not usually painful and only females are capable). They do not swarm, bother people or produce honey, but they are prolific pollinators. Named because of their habit of making compartments of mud in their nests, which are made in hollow reeds or holes in wood. Mason bees will also use handmade or purpose-built bee boxes to nest, hollowed out bamboo canes or tubes will attract them, drilled holes in wood blocks will attract them too.

mason bee

Nest building begins in spring, it’s a good idea to have a bee box in place beforehand if you’re thinking of providing a nesting site to attract them to your garden or allotment. Site bee boxes in a position that receives early morning sun, on a tree, post, wall or shed for example. Have a go at making your own Mason bee box or purchase a ready-made box suited to Mason bees. I particularly like these examples http://myfriendlygarden.co.uk/product-category/for-bees/

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2014

This will be my 4th year taking part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. Identify and count the number of wild birds visiting your garden for just 1 hour during 25th – 26th January (pick a day that suits you), it’s so easy to do and gives you an hour of relaxation. What if I don’t have a garden? Don’t worry, you can still take part by doing the count in your local park or green space.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch poster

Register to take part before the event and apply for your free bird identification chart to help you with your count. Visit https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/home

A Welcome Visitor on Remembrance Sunday

Comma butterfly

Today was beautiful, a welcome break from wet and windy weather that seems to be hanging around. We visited the allotment to harvest the remainder of the beets and to do a spot of weeding. There’s still a fair bit of work to be done before the real winter weather arrives, mainly harvesting, tidying and hand weeding. Oh, and garlic planting. Lots of garlic.

comma butterfly on field scabious

We sat for a while in the warm sunshine listening to the sounds of the allotment, observing the 2 minute silence at 11am. Then I noticed a Comma butterfly visiting the Field Scabious growing on our plot, a very welcome visitor. Going by the wing shape and condition I’m pretty certain our Comma visitor was male and from the summer brood, he will hibernate soon and be on the wing next spring with a bit of luck.

Big Butterfly Count 2013

Last year nearly 27,000 people took part in the Big Butterfly Count. It’s simple to do, follow the simple instructions in the video clip above and away you go! This years Big Butterfly Count runs from 20th July to 11th August 2013, but you can start recording your sightings now if you wish. Visit http://www.bigbutterflycount.org to download your free ID chart.

I’m taking part, are you?

Mason Bee Nest Update

I checked the bug box on the allotment shed yesterday and found a ‘mud plug’ sealing the entrance to a tube, indicating a completed nest. I didn’t have my camera to hand so I used my Apple iPad.

mason bee nest

The weather has been utterly gorgeous, I planted sweetcorn, giant pumpkins and three varieties of courgette, then gave the whole plot a good soaking. I noticed the foxglove raised from seed is flowering now, I had no idea what colour the flowers would be but I’m pleased, they look gorgeous against the blue shed.

More iPad photos:

foxglove

Lupins are slow to get going this year (just one in flower so far), but they will!

allotment shed

I planted courgettes in the bean bed (beans will be planted out soon), I use courgettes in this way as ground cover which cuts down on weeding, the courgette plants eventually shade bean roots as they grow, cutting down on watering.

planting courgettes

Back to the plot today to plant sunflowers!

Mason Bees Nesting in the Bug Box

bug box on allotment shed

We have some exciting news to share! Mason bees (Osmia rufa) are making nests inside the bamboo cane bug box, sited on the allotment shed. Mason bees are solitary and do not form colonies or produce honey. The Mason bee gets it name due to using mud in building nest compartments, rather like a stone mason constructing a house. After mating, males die and females begin collecting pollen and nectar to build nests. After laying her eggs (males at the front and females at the back), the female seals the entrance to the tubular nest using mud. Mason bees may nest inside reeds or holes in wood made by wood-boring insects, some British species make their nests in empty snail shells. Luckily for us, 3-4 females have chosen to use our bug box.

If you look closely, you may just be able to see the mud-sealed entrance to one of the nests

If you look closely, you may be able to see a nest being built with mud. The tubes being used are yet to be sealed with a ‘mud plug’ which indicates a completed nest.

mason bee

The bug box is in full sun, sited approximately 5′ 8″ high, this is the first time the box has been used by bees. The bees were very calm considering we were about, using the shed and nearby area as we usually would. Mason bees are usually non-aggressive and will only sting if they are really threatened, ie being held between fingers. They would much rather get on with the job of building a nest rather than defending it.

allotment

We’re thrilled to be able to watch the bees, they’re brilliant little pollinators and very welcome on our plot. Plot 4 is certainly living up to its name – The Little Haven.

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