Celebration & Sadness

‘Our’ bits of the public zigzag get better and better. The man downstairs has built a second hugelkultur and some steps that make it safer to garden. (I’ve had a few near misses, slipping and tumbling.)

Our neighbour has employed a new gardener who will not spray. He’s planted the native grasses you can see in the background, beneath her (spring-flowering) kowhai tree.

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from front: steps, second hugelultur, sorrel patch, cape gooseberries and sundry herbs and then the neighbour’s place
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love that red rake!

Here are the grasses in closeup, in their cosy pea-straw mulch.

closeup of new grass & mulch

Below the first hugelkultur, parsley, thyme, bergamot, galangal and nasturtiums flourish.

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O yay to all of this. I’m very happy that our garden, the neighbour’s garden and other bits of the zigzag are all safer than they were, more welcoming for bees. And for other insects, some of them also pollinators.

But I’m also sad.

I know now that research shows that even organic honey contains glyphosate and that bees are attracted to flowers that contain neonics (obvious really, humans too are attracted to substances that affect their neurons). And when I see no bees around, I think ‘Did Wellington City Council’s glyphosate spray affect them?’.

One still and sunny bee-filled morning, not long ago, the council used the spray on patches of old man’s beard, within 100 metres of where these photos were taken. How many bees were harmed, as they flew past on the way to our flowers?

This is what the dying old man’s beard looks like.

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It could have been removed by hand. It’s tough going but I’ve done it.

And yesterday, on the far side of some dying old man’s beard, I saw lots of bees on winter kowhai.

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And I wondered, was that kowhai bought from a plant shop that sells neonic-treated  trees? Do the bees prefer these blooms to ours because they provide a neonic buzz?

That’s when I began to feel sad. Providing a sanctuary for bees is complicated.

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#Bee-Loved Flowers (& Tomatoes!) in Almost-Winter

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After a cold night, it’s warm here now. I still harvest tomatoes, mostly Gardeners Delights from King’s Seeds, like someone down the road who shared the plants (thank you for this handful image, on Twitter in exactly the right week).

This morning in the garden I can’t see a single pollinator, but it’s a thrill to see the rapid spread of alyssum. It seems to be more highly scented at the moment, too.

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alyssum! & look at those healthy calendula leaves & flowers!

A single anise hyssop is flourishing now it’s no longer competing with tomato neighbours. It looks as though it may flower soon. Nearby, one of the Italian parsley plant patches, there for passersby.

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centre top, anise hyssop, plus nasturtium at left, some alyssum and (in front) that Italian parsley patch

The late-planted thyme’s flowering well in places.

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The dandelions are going from strength to strength now I’ve embraced them.

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In the back garden there’s a herb forest alongside the fruit trees. Some bergamot is still flowering (and seeding) among more parsley, borage, alyssum, lavender, vietnamese mint, the very last of the basil fino verde and anise basil. And those tomatoes.

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see the little mauve bergamot flowers?

On the front doorstep, some baby hollyhocks to flower next summer.

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And across the water, in Nelson, some travelling plants, in my mate’s garden near her flowering rosemary, New Zealand fern and late hydrangea.

Pip's garden

The borage shouldering out – as always. The calendula and alyssum going for it across the side. The parsley doing its best. The basil and coriander are probably over.

Bee-Loved Plant Products To Attract Swarms

Cameroon (photo Eric)
Cameroon (photo Eric Tourneret)

‘Adamawa, a paradise of bees’, renowned bee photographer Eric Tourneret calls this place in Cameroon. And then he introduced me to the idea that beekeepers can use bee-loved plants and flowers to attract swarms.

In Adamawa, a  beekeeper fastens into a tree a traditional cylindrical hive, made of the veins from raffia leaves, after having coated the sides with beeswax prepared in an infusion of citronella to attract a wild swarm of bees.  Here’s a citronella plant. With that ‘citron’ in the name I imagine it smells lemony. I don’t know if it’s ever grown in New Zealand but will check.

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And then, through Facebook, I met Melissa Blodgett Vanek, who also uses bee-loved plant products to attract swarms (and has a lovely blog). Melissa studies at the College of the Melissae, the Center for Sacred Beekeeping, in Ashland Oregon, one of six United States bee cities. What a great idea bee cities are.

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I saw a video of Melissa’s goats, with two hives in the background, and asked her about the hives. She responded–

These two are baited boxes waiting for spring to finally take hold and swarm season to start! …I am working here on the bee-centric gardening as well and have my eyes open to find possible log hives in my woods. Lemongrass oil has worked for me in terms of baiting. Thyme and lemon balm are favorites of my bees.

lemon balm from Melissa's blog
lemon balm from Melissa’s post on ‘The medicine of melissa [officinalis]’, the  plant named after honey bees

And then Melissa added a bonus, not knowing yet that I don’t have bees, partly because I live in an area where the city council uses Roundup regularly–

To keep mites at bay, have you tried putting stinging nettles in the hive?

Have any of you tried this?

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dear bees – choose this hive, wrote Jonathan Powell

And then Jonathan Powell, of beeswing.net,  set up this log hive ‘with new roof made from biodynamic rye, hand cut by my good friend Brock’. This is what he wrote

This is set-up as a ‘bait hive’,  which I hope a passing swarm will find irresistible. The key to a good bait hive is a couple of drops of lemon grass oil just inside the entrance (topped up every few weeks).

And he added–

…and most importantly, old starter comb 8cm x 8cm squares pinned the ceiling with oak pegs. There is nothing better in beekeeping than to have the experts, the bees, choose your hive and settle in. You know that when they do that over 80% of the scout bees have voted that your hive is the best.

So, citronella in Cameroon, lemongrass oil in the United States and in England. I know I can grow lemongrass. On the hunt for citronella now. And any more suggestions are, as always, very welcome.

PS Jonathan’s lemongrass oil worked!

Thank You, Bee-Lovers on Social Media!

I saw a pale honey bee on the lavender. Then another. Thin. Then a bumble. And then something new, on the calendula. So I tweeted. And loved this conversation that followed, with someone who was new to me–

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And more or less at the same time, this conversation on Instagram– which I’ve just joined – with someone else I’d never heard of before.

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And as I enjoyed these interchanges I thought of the NZ Beekeepers Forum, which I joined a while back. And asked there. And trusted a contributor’s precise response.

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I feel very grateful to the apps and forums available online and to the people who use them. This was so useful.

I have another eristalis tenax in the garden today. And because it’s a beneficial pollinator I welcome it.

A Woman Beekeeper From the 1930s

Wild swarm in New Zealand photo: Te Ara
Wild swarm in New Zealand tree (photo: Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand)

It’s cold. It’s wet. So I’m reading instead of gardening. At the moment, the complete works of Robin Hyde (1906-1939), an extraordinary and prolific New Zealand writer. Her work enchants me, all of it.

In Journalese (1934), a light-hearted survey of her experiences as a journalist – I think she’d have delighted in social media – she documents a bee experience that wouldn’t happen now. Couldn’t. The ancient Ford? Maybe. But Italian Blacks? German Browns? Wild bees? I don’t think so.

It was in Christchurch, and by accident, that I found out I was bee-immune (i.e., proof against all stings.) The path of duty led to a woman bee farmer, her abode at Rangiora. Would she give me a story about the beauty of bee-farming? She would do more: she whisked me into an ancient Ford, and drove at an astonishing speed in the direction of the farm itself. It was in a haunted orchard. Under the desolate old trees which dropped their blossom unheeded on the grass, Italian Blacks and German Browns, an ever-dancing, ever-moving Gulf Stream of bees, guarded the hive more efficiently than any ghost could do.

Afraid of bees? She treated them with a motherly mixture of severity and contempt. And to my own amazement, I found myself draped in an inadequate sort of bee-veil, but with no gloves or other weapons of defence, brushing bees from great golden combs with a macrocarpa bough. The bees took no notice. Then, unsealing the combs, straining the honey, seeing it come up clear and dark gold….it was all rather delightful, and I still think that to retire and become a bee farmer is a quite dignified outlet for any woman’s energies. I carried home a vasty golden comb. This was awkward. It occupied practically all the shelf space in my tiny flat, and eat as I would, bestow it on my neighbours as I might, I couldn’t keep up with its melting moments. Finally the horrid remains, done up with as much care as an inconvenient corpse, found their way into the dustman’s tender care.

Manuka honey…dark, sweet, gathered by the droning wild bees whose nests are high up in rimu or manuka…is the best of all. You can smell Australia in scented boronia, the little brown-cupped sort that grows wild. You can taste the New Zealand bush in manuka honey. They collect it and use it at Chateau Tongariro, which is an unusually discerning sort of thing for any Government enterprise (pp109-110).

I’m looking out for more on the history of women beekeepers in New Zealand.

Robin Hyde
Robin Hyde