Tag Archives: bees

Rosslyn Chapel’s Ancient Bee Sanctuary

Rosslyn Chapel

Rosslyn Chapel, founded in 1446, is a mediaeval treasure in stone located at Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland.

eclipse above Rosslyn Chapel pinnacles
Rosslyn Chapel’s pinnacles during an eclipse

Back in 2010,  when the chapel was being restored, workers found surprises among its pinnacles. When they took the  pinnacles apart for repair, two of them enclosed hollow spaces the size of a gas tank. One of them also had an entrance through a carved stone flower on its exterior. And inside that pinnacle was a deserted bee hive. (The other hollow pinnacle had no stone-flower entrance.)

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I imagine that carved flower facing the camera is the entrance

No-one knows why this sanctuary was purposefully built in a place where the bees and their honey are inaccessible.

One stonemason, Allan Gilmour, said that he had seen bees create hives within soft sandstone. They buried into the sandstone and created honeycombs. This weakened the stone. In the 15th century, hives were usually woven skeps. Did the monks hope that if they provided a haven in the pinnacle the bees would not colonise and weaken other stone in the building?

And did the original builders coat the stone in the pinnacle with a substance to protect it from the bees? Local beekeepers were to investigate.

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The pinnacles had been covered for a while and that may be why the bees left.

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In early 2105, on the Rosslyn Chapel Facebook page, it was reported that the pinnacle is now restored “and since the construction work at the chapel stopped we’ve seen the bees return”.

This image of two medieval bee skeps accompanied the report.

from a medieval manuscript

I’ve never visited the Rosslyn Chapel, but am intrigued by images of its ceiling. It looks almost woven. It’s curved. It reminds me of the medieval bee skeps in the image.

Rosslyn Chapel's ceiling

And because of this, and because of the hive with no entrance, I wonder if the pinnacle hives had other meanings for those ancient monks. Rosslyn Chapel featured in the bestseller The Da Vinci Code (2003) and its film adaptation (2006). It seems a mysterious place and the bee spaces remain part of that mystery.

in the mist

But as I think about bee-centred beekeeping and about bee sanctuaries, I treasure this kind of mystery. Rosslyn Chapel’s hive inspires me.

With warm thanks to Rosslyn Chapel for images and other assistance. 

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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.

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.

citronella

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!

The Year’s Last Bees?

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Quinces. Waiting.

It’s autumn here. Native and exotic birds busy among the apple trees.The quinces are good this year and I planned to make quince paste over this long weekend, from my favorite Elizabeth David recipe. Many thanks to the bees for all their pollination help, six months ago.

There are still lots of bee-loved plants in the garden, even on the otherwise empty table where I kept the plants to sell. Just a couple of pots left, with straggly alyssum and basil fino verde plants that I wouldn’t even give away.

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the almost denuded plant table

And occasionally a bee in the lavender.

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Bumble bees a little more often. Also in the lavender. But soon they’ll all be gone, until spring.

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I wanted to make the quince paste. I wanted to prepare the garden for winter. But I’m trying to complete a project. And I’m struggling. Sometimes with interruptions, like the City Council spraying old man’s beard nearby. With Roundup.

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old man’s beard

 

This meant I had to leave, to work in the town library. The plants and the bees didn’t have that choice. Did the wind carry Roundup all over this hillside? I don’t know. Triumph spray; and Conquest for pasting on places where the weed was cut back. Battle-winner names.  I hate them.

I dream of bee colonies in our trees, love everything I read about apicentred tree hives, but I think this is the wrong place for them. Will think more fully about it when I’m up-to-date with everything else. Will that happen soon?

Some Bee-Loved Plants Leave Home

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Gazebos going up on Ghuznee Street. We were down Leeds Street, just past the most distant gazebo pictured.

So Out in the Park became Out in the (Car) Park, as part of a much bigger event, Cuba Dupa.

And our Bee-Loved stall was there, under one of these gazebos, thanks to my qi gong teacher, Fan, who contributed some – very popular – plants of her own. And to Tasha Haines, whose lovely eye and generous heart are always valuable to have around.

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Fan womanning the Bee-Loved stand (Maeve Lonie poster being blown about behind her, Anna Keir bunting in foreground)

We also advertised qi gong and sold some women’s film-related things.

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And Anna Keir’s quirky crafts.

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Anna Keir birds

It was fun. And good to talk with visitors, share the plants and the accompanying handouts.

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Until a Wellington gust lifted the row of gazebos. Twice. The gazebos were dismantled and we went home early.

I was proud of my plants, from heritage seeds, in their biodegradable Fertil pots from France, in their organic compost and growing sturdily: alyssum, two kinds of basil, bergamot, borage, calendula, coriander, parsley. Many flowering or about to flower. All attractive to bees. All going to provide seeds that their owners can use next year.

Now it’s time to prepare the garden for winter.  There are still bumble bees in the lavender. And the anise hyssop is flowering. But daylight saving ends soon.

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anise hyssop with ratty leaves – not sure what caused those.

 

Squashing Bugs. Longing For A Spray.

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haven’t been able to capture a clear image of the adult bug, gets lost in the greens

A couple of times a day, most days, I’m out there in my kitchen garden with a rubber glove on one hand, to collect the stink bugs with my ungloved hand and squash them with my rubber gloved hand, or sometimes within a nearby leaf.  I’m pretty certain the bugs are nezara viridula. I hate the squashing process. That little POP the bigger bugs make when I kill them. I long for a spray. Soapy water, someone suggested. In the past I’ve tried neem oil.

On the public zigzag, the tomato plants are bug-free. They’ve grown without water and I’ve wondered if this is because they’re surrounded by harakeke/flax. Are they also bug-free because of the flax?

going well on zigzag
volunteer plants from the neighbour’s compost heap ripen on the zigzag,  for passersby to eat

Some tomato plants in my kitchen garden are also bug-free. I can tell because the fruit doesn’t have the bug-sucked characteristics, the soggy-sh, woddy-ish outer layers. Perhaps because bergamot grows nearby, or they’re in better quality soil. But in a central patch the stink bugs in their various forms of development suck the juice from the outer layers of the tomatoes.

The bugs reproduce vigorously – the shiny black babies congregate around the tomato stems – and stay in ones or two until they become the mature plain green bug, viewed (by me) as a pair only when mating.

All the bugs seem to like the calendula seed heads where they’re easy-ish to pick off. But they also sense my intent, I think. Often, even when I carefully position myself to throw no shadow, they leap off before my hand arrives. Except when they’re babies, they’re especially sneaky on the tomatoes, skitter away from nearest point, often over the top of the tomato and around the back. or round the side to the back. Sometimes, if they’re on a leaf, they swing underneath it. And by the time I’ve repositioned myself they’re GONE.

A friend suggests these bugs reproduce according to the moon’s cycle. But I’m not waiting around to observe that closely. The tomatoes ripen within that one cycle and my focus is on them right now. And on my longing to spray, to machine gun those nezara viridula OUT OF THE GARDEN.

I’m going to build up the soil where the afflicted plants grow and see if there are fewer stink bugs in a year’s time, because the plants are stronger. (Or because I’ve killed so many bugs.) I don’t have to sell my tomatoes – or my beans, which the stink bugs destroyed last year – but I now have much more sympathy for those who grow plants for a living and use sprays, including neonics. I know more about the tensions between loving bees and ensuring the best productivity of plants that don’t need bees to fruit. As well as my own ability to kill, to protect  my food sources.

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Gardeners Delight, Black From Tula and one Cherokee Purple (top right), all perhaps with squashed bug residue.

Bee-Loved Plants in Flower

The garden’s fading. Dry. Few bees. But on the shady side of the public zigzag, a little group of sunflowers.

sunflowers

The bergamot and the thyme are growing well out there too, in a shady spot by the path. But not flowering yet.

bergamot on zigzag
a volunteer parsley plant there on the right

Some hyssop is flowering at last. But it’s not healthy, in the kitchen garden or out on the zigzag.  A small insect eats at its leaves I think and it may have needed more water. Can’t see myself gathering enough to make a drink for wintry coughs.

hyssop
ratty hyssop

The plants in my pots are healthy though, waiting for their next date at the postponed fair, at the end of the month. One of them’s flown to Nelson.

plants for fair

I love it when the plants go somewhere else. They often do much better in their new homes. On the other side of town, a bergamot from an earlier seeding is looking gorgeous.

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photo: Rachel Watt

Out In The Park

Tomorrow, with assistance from lovely mates, I was having a stall at Out in the Park, Wellington’s Queer Fair, down the road at the harbour’s edge. For the first time, I was going to sell bee-loved plants. I even have this big (A0) vinyl poster, logo designed by Maeve Marama Lonie, the daughter of one of my oldest friends.

Maeve's poster
awful pic quality of posters, not great with using the flash–

There’s a coldish southerly tonight, so I brought the plants inside for the last time, sad that they’re going. Each biodegradable pot holds alyssum, two kinds of basil, bergamot, borage, calendula, coriander, parsley, all grown completely organically and without neonics. The idea is that people get to know these plants as they grow and flower, attract bees and then seed. And because the plants all come from heritage seeds, buyers can collect their own seed for next year.

plants tucked in for night

The plants loved it when my qi gong teacher spent forty minutes giving them qi, on Tuesday. ‘They’re happier’, she said afterwards. BUT last night some little organism got to the large basil – the fino verde is fine – so that happiness didn’t protect them.

And now the fair’s been postponed till Sunday because of that nasty southerly, whoosh! in from Antarctica. Irritating, because my driver isn’t available that day and the day’s timeframe for the fair may change, too.

But the extra day gives me time to replace the munted basil and to better organise the other, film, side of the stall. There, I’ll be selling items that aren’t at risk from the environment in the same way plants are.

Pure cotton tea towels from my Development project. All the same size, unlike the bergamot, for instance.

Developent t-towel

And Complex Female Protagonist military caps. Three colours – black, white, khaki. All standard, unlike the greens of the plants. Here’s the poster–

CFP poster

I’ve been too timid to open the carton they arrived in– what if I hate the caps I ordered, military-style, as befits a ‘campaign’?

And now there’s lots of time to do that tomorrow. And to enjoy the sunflowers. Even if it’s raining.

sunflower

I might even walk along the zigzag to our local park, formerly a monastery garden. Traces of the garden are still there – brick walls, a huge pear tree, some herbs. But most of all, I love the mature pohutukawa trees. The bees love pohutukawa too, when it flowers in December.

Park

Heat.

We need rain. Sunflowers have died in my garden, first time ever. About half, even though I’ve watered. And they’re wilting on one side of ‘my’ bit of the public zigzag garden, where I never water. Not so bad on the other side. Fingers crossed there will be some golden flowers quite soon.

sunflowers on northern side
zigzag sunflowers doing well in partial shade

I sowed beans to climb these sunflowers. I think birds ate most of the seeds. And/or beans may not co-habit well with sunflowers. But I now have three beans on a single plant (further up, the neighbouring zigzag garden has handfuls).

beans on sunflowers
two of the three bean pods

I’ll save these beans for next year’s seed.

A little patch of sorrel has survived, too. Some rain will help it expand.

sorrel with bird shit
sorrel with bird shit

And in the tomato thicket, bergamots are in flower. Some in my own garden too. But the bees haven’t found them yet.

tomato thicket

Not bad, without any watering at all? And the cocktail tomatoes are beginning to ripen.

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first tomatoes, from Megan’s compost heap volunteers

There’s lots of parsley, too. But the silver beet and the cape gooseberries (with its ripening fruit) are looking stressed.

And in my own garden, I have problems with my long-established fruit trees. I wonder whether climate change is part of this. For instance, the feijoa trees flowered very early (I removed the flowers) and have now flowered again.

Birds – for the second year in a row – are eating the immature apples. Are there shortages of their other food because of this hot weather?  Or more birds than usual? I love the tiny native birds: fantail/pīwakawaka and waxeye/ tauhou and sometimes grey warbler/ riroriro. They  dance along branches of the trees,  glean tiny bugs that I can’t see. I enjoy the exotics – blackbirds and thrushes – that go for the snails. But are they welcome to most of the apples, especially from the only tree that produces big crops? No. Nets next year.

The birds aren’t eating the pears. But – another worry – the  pears are much smaller than usual at the end of January.

pears

And so are the quinces. Same size for weeks.

quince

A big thank you to the bees that pollinated the trees. But now I have to consider how to protect the crop in other ways, next year.

Water & #Bee-Loved Plants on the Zigzag (1)

my watering cans
my watering cans

We’re in high summer. Here, south of the equator, that means day after day of gusts of warm and drying wind from the north. And, this year, lots of sunshine.

On the public zigzag, I don’t use a hose.  And won’t. Because I’m experimenting. Some of the experiments are about sun. I watch the arc of the sun and how that’s changed before and after solstice. Will the sunny spot where I have tomatoes provide six hours of sun a day right through the ripening period?

Some of it’s about plant choice. Natives. And as many bee-loved herbs as I can manage, to grow and self-seed in perpetuity, as a bee haven. Parsley and borage have already self-seeded here and there and  a  volunteer poppy is about to flower. To feed passersby, I’ve planted silver beet (very hardy), cape gooseberries (ditto) and tomatoes (because I like eating them too).

Some of the experiments are about water. Which plants will become more stressed than others, because they always need lots of water? (Or for other reasons.)

I want the zigzag gardens I care for to be self-sufficient, so they need only a big cleanup now and then.  So most of my planting’s been done with minimal ongoing plant support–into organic compost, and then an initial watering. Then mulch, or weed matting with mulch on top in some places. The single phacelia and some tiny parsley the only exceptions. On the less sunny side of the zigzag, where there’s lots of humus, I just popped the baby plants straight in.

I absolutely don’t want anyone to have to water out there. That’s why we started the two hugelkulturs. I liked the idea that it was possible – within a larger garden area – to establish individual gardens that don’t require irrigation or fertiliser.

So how are the plants doing during  these hot and windy days? To my surprise, among all that humus, and shaded by  trees, the plants on the less sunny side of the zigzag aren’t flourishing and appear to be  heat-stressed. Just as well the completed hugelkulturs will be there (eventually, everything takes a while).

on the dry side
on the dry side, with hugelkultur under development at top left

On the sunnier side, where harakeke (flax) surrounds them, plants are healthy, green and growing fast. I’m especially surprised that the tomatoes are flourishing without any added water.  Some now have fruit.

on the other side of the track

We put the hugelkulturs on the shady side of the zigzag  because that’s where there was wood to bury – the essential component of hugelkultur. It looks like we chose the right place.  (I’m still wondering how people establish hugelkulturs in a desert, where there’s no starter wood.)

Now I’m considering how to support the plants on that dry side. I refuse to drag the hose out there, on principle. Fingers crossed it will rain soon. Otherwise I’ll go to and fro with the big watering can. Anyway, will add more mulch.