Does Colony Collapse Disorder affect Beekeepers!

I’ve just returned from a visit to Milton Keynes’ City Discovery Centre where, according to their website, the North Bucks Beekeepers were supposed to be meeting the public. When I arrived at the site I saw one man just wandering out of the gate and another chap looking lost, who was also seeking beekeepers. Perhaps this is their cunning way of showing would-be beekeepers what it’s like to experience Colony Collapse Disorder!

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Today’s plant preferences

Flavour of the Day today was definitely the Buddleia davidii ‘White Mrs Keep’ that has been growing in a half barrel for several years now. It has an enormous profusion of flowers, and bees, hoverflies and butterflies seem to flock around it all day long. I did notice a male Gatekeeper butterfly spending an inordinate amount of time gorging on the Origanum, and the nepeta was popular again, as was the verbena, but the buddleia was way out in front.
I’m not sure if it’s terribly good arboricultural practice, but we did a bit of crown lifting on an enormous horse chestnut tree today. Underneath it there are some Michaelmas daisies and some sedum, so the extra light should help them to produce more flowers to feed the bees later on in the year.

Preparing the Ground

Woburn Abbey’s Garden Show at the weekend was a great event to visit and select a few additions to the garden flora, to attract more garden fauna. It’s always great to see the plants in flower, and to see the local bees and hover flies giving their own consumer verdicts.

Top of the list of course was Nepeta. I bought a couple of the species ‘Six Hills Giant’. These should be quite easy to grow – provided I can keep the cats away from them! I have three Catmint plants that I bought earlier this year and they’ve not been allowed to grow more than a few centimetres high.

I also bought

Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’

Verbena rigida

Geranium ‘Sirak’

Geranium Sylvaticum ‘Album’

I’ve always avoided geraniums in the past, having been brought up thinking of those horrible dusty smelling pelargoniums as geraniums, but seeing how much the bees adore the cranesbill that seems to flourish in my garden I thought perhaps it was time to go with the flow and use these for more colour in the shadier parts of the garden.

And a Sisyrinchium ‘Sapphire’

They all look as if they should be attractive to bees, and as, at the moment, they are sitting around on my patio I shall be keeping an eye out to see if the bees have any preferences. So far the Nepeta has definitely proved the most popular -in fact, when I bought them, I had to shoo off a bumble bee that wanted to hitch a ride home with the plants!

Of course, if you take the easiest route from Woburn Abbey to my house, you have to go past Frosts and Wyevale Garden Centres in Woburn Sands, and I couldn’t just drive past could I? So I added a few more to the trial selection. (I’ll list these later). But as today was a lovely sunny day, I decided to go for a pootle up to Castle Ashby’s Gardens and see what they’re growing in their butterfly garden. (Photos later) I was very restrained in the plant shop and just bought a Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Lavendelturm’ and an Origanum Vulgare ‘Compactum’. The bees were already demonstrating their liking for these two, especially the Origanum, and as my golden marjoram is not quite in flower yet I thought I’d try this one.

All I need to do now is prepare a new bed to put them all in!

But how will I name them all?

I’ve always been a bit of an animal lover, and the number of resident and visiting animals round Motley Manor (as my house should be called) has always been quite high, but now I want to introduce another 10 – 30 thousand. I want to keep some bees.

I encourage insect visitors to the garden, but I’ve never kept bees before so I imagine it will be quite a learning curve. I went to a Bee Day (don’t say that aloud!) event at a Co-Operative farm last weekend, and after years of procrastinating, I’ve definitely been stung by the bug.

I’m waiting on tenterhooks (whatever they are) for Guide to Bees and Honey by Ted Hooper (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Guide-Bees-Honey-Selling-Beekeeping/dp/1904846513/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1279271620&sr=8-1 ) to arrive. Meanwhile I’m reading books on the best plants for bees and butterflies so I can prepare for their arrival, which will probably be next spring. I also need to get myself registered on a course to learn more of the art of beekeeping. It seems to me that while science is involved, much of the skill is down to art, like most animal rearing. When I first bought some chickens I’d read a lot about how to keep them, but it’s not the same as actually having the animals there and getting a ‘feel’ for how to keep them happy. I’m sure it’s a similar story with bees, but I think I need to know more about how to assemble the hive, apart from anything else, before I start.  I’ve sussed the jargon about ‘supers’ and ‘frames’, but trying to negotiate my way around a bee equipment catalogue seems a bit like trying to buy spares for my Toyota from a catalogue written in Japanese!