Ashy Mining Bees

The ashy mining bee, Andrena cineraria, is described as being one of the easiest of the solitary bee species to identify. This is how I know one when I see one. black and white bee on white flower

They are black with two ashy grey bands, the males and females are similarly marked, but the females are larger and the males have tufty grey hairs around their face. You can submit a sighting here.black and white bee on white flower

They fly between early April and June. They nest in the ground, sometimes in groups, in lawns and flower beds. They prefer sandy soil and a sunny position.black and white bee on white flower

They feed on a wide variety of blossoms and flowers. In this instance there were four of them feeding on cow parsley. There were also many other bees and hoverflies at the same time, but cow parsley is also a useful food source for butterflies and moths.black and white bee on white flower

Cow parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris, is often found in woodland and verges. It is a member of the carrot family with distinctive white umbels. It has the fancier name of Queen Anne’s Lace, the common name suggest that it is an inferior parsley. The leaves can indeed be used in salads. However, cow parsley is easily confused with hemlock which is deadly. It is also known as Mother-Die as superstition had it that if it was brought into the house it would kill your mother. The hollow stems can be used as pea shooters.

Yet another name used is kecks, and it is using this term that Shakespeare mentions them in “Henry V”. The Duke of Burgundy refers to them in rather disparaging terms:

Wanting the scythe, all uncorrected, rank,
Conceives by idleness and nothing teems
But hateful docks, rough thistles, kecksies, burs,
Losing both beauty and utility.

Being idle myself I have failed to scythe these kecksies, but the various bees and hoverflies have benefited and personally I find this inferior parsley to be a very attractive plant; a froth of white dancing among the greenery.white flowers

 

 

Ahoy There Red Admiral!

The ivy is starting to flower and combined with some sunshine it lures in the pollinators. This pristine red admiral butterfly (Vanessa Atalanta) sunned itself on the nearby laurel leaves.Photo of red admiral

It tried a variety of poses so that I could get its best side.Photo of red admiralMost of these butterflies migrate to the UK from central Europe in May and June. As the climate has become generally milder some hibernate in the south of England.Photo of red admiral

The butterflies that are emerging now are the brood that have hatched here.Photo of red admiral

The adults feed from a variety of nectar sources, they are also partial to rotting fruit.Photo of red admiralThey lay their eggs on the larval food plant, nettles.Photo of red admiralHaving posed sufficiently, the butterfly then had a tasty snack of ivy nectar.Photo of red admiralThe ivy also attracted a rather tatty comma butterfly, along with some bees and hoverflies.

 

 

 

 

Sunny Buzzers and Minty Loungers

August was a bit of wash out, but we did have a couple of sunny days which brought out the insects. This golden shimmering hoverfly, Xylota segnis for one.

The yellow rose was the sun lounger of choice for this hoverfly, one of the Eristalis family I believe.

The goldenrod is a regular favourite for the honeybees.

This bumblebee was having to get at the cyclamen upside down.

The bees decided to freshen up on the mint flowers.

The mint moths were inevitably to be found there too.

Also lurking in the mint was this green shield bug nymph.Photo of speckled bush cricket nymph

The speckled wood butterfly decided the ivy was the best place to catch some much needed rays.Photo of speckled wood butterfly

Hawkweed Hoverers

In keeping with our tradition of having more plants blooming on the paths than in the borders, the paving cracks are bursting forth with these cheery yellow hawkweed flowers.photo of cat's ear

Hawkweeds are related to dandelions and are members of the Asteraceae family, genus  hierakion. The name is derived from the Greek word for hawk, hierax, folklore has it that hawks drank the juice of this plant to sharpen their eyesight.  There are many different species of hawkweed and a great deal of variation within them. The only one that I can confidently identify is the orange hawkweed, Pilosella aurantiaca, commonly known as “fox and cubs”. It is a beautiful wildflower that is in the RHS top 400 perfect plants for pollinators.Photo of fox-and-cubs

The delightfully named mouse ear hawkweed was a folk medicine for coughs. The apothecary to James I, John Parkinson, also suggested it as a sedative for horses, ‘Mouseare’ be given to any horse it ‘will cause that he shall not be hurt by the smith that shooeth him.’

On one of the few sunny days that we had this summer I found that the hawkweed was being enjoyed by this little solitary bee. A kind person suggested that it was likely to be of the genus Lasioglossum.Photo of bee on hawkweed

Another hawkweed hoverer was this drone hoverfly, a bee mimic. Photo of hoverfly on hawkweed

As you can see it is doing a fantastic job of collecting and redistributing pollen. Photo of hoverfly on hawkweed

I am not clever enough to tell whether it is Eristalis pertinax or Eristalis tenax. Photo of hoverfly on hawkweed

Tenax has black ankles and pertinax has yellow ankles, so it is all down to the hoverfly’s ankles rather than the bee’s knees.Photo of hoverfly on hawkweedThe goldenrod was another bright yellow flower attracting pollinating insects.

 

Evening Primrose

As the name suggests the evening primrose, family Onagraceae, flowers during the evening and throughout the night. The flowers are supposed to last until noon. These particular flowers in my garden look just like evening primrose, but they flower all day and all night. Unless someone can tell me otherwise I shall assume that they are indeed evening primrose, but perhaps a variety that flowers all blooming day!

They are American natives that were introduced to the UK in the 1600s. They are also known as “Sundrop” or “Evening Star”. I believe that all of the plant is edible, but the roots were particularly favoured as a meal. Native Americans also used the leaves to make tea. The seeds are a source of Gamma-Linolenic Acid and the oil from the seeds is used in many herbal preparations.Photo of evening primrose

They are an important food source for moths which feed on the nectar, pollinating the plant in return. During the day the same relationship is courted with bumblebees and other bees.Photo of bee in evening primrose

The pollen is large and connected by stringy viscin threads, made from sap. These web-like pollen clumps can be seen hanging off the legs of bees as they fly off from the flower. You can see what the pollen looks like under an electron microscope here.

Not only is this big blousy plant attractive to look at, beautifully scented and good for attracting pollinators such as bees and moths, but you can also eat it. There are a couple of recipe ideas here.Photo of evening primrose

Blossoming Apples

There is a great deal of blossom on the apple tree this year. However, we are expecting some very cold nights with the possiblity of frost which could damage the nascent fruits. It is also bad news for the bees and other insects; along with the creatures that feed on them.

Delicate blossom
Sits prettily on the tree.
The bee makes it fruit.Photo of bumbebee on apple blossom

Flower Power

I recently received my free pack of wild flower seeds from the Grow Wild campain in conjunction with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.Photo of seed packet

The basic idea is to encourage people to grow native wild flowers, which will benefit pollinators such as bees, bumblebees and hoverflies. My England seed kit contains; common knapweed, cornflower, corn chamomile, corn cockle, corn marigold, corn poppy, hedge bedstraw, meadow buttercup, oxeye daisy, red campion, ribwort plantain, viper’s-bugloss and yarrow. I sowed some on a flower bed and the rest were divided up into two containers which I also planted with some bulbs. I have placed the containers under my bee house so hopefully by next spring they will be a riot of colour and swarming with bees.Photo of bee house and plant containers

Field Margins

I posted about the oil seed field a little while ago. The crop has now ceased flowering and looks rather dull. However, the farmer has left the margins of the field as “set aside land”.Photo of field with poppies

This was encouraged by the EU back in the 1990s and farmers can claim for the loss of crop growing land through various schemes. The idea is to leave the margins of the field uncultivated and to grow wildflowers. The red poppies are easy to identify, but there are others, such as the fluffy seed heads, that I can’t identify.Photo of field with poppies

These schemes have been shown to encourage insects, including the all important pollinators, and the birds that feast upon them. Studies have shown that an increase in pollinating insects increases crop yields for insect pollinated crops. They also provide habitats for ground nesting birds and mammals.Photo of field with poppies

Apart from anything else, it looks so beautiful. I did also note a lot of birds dipping in and out of the wildflowers, but they moved too fast for me to identify them.Photo of field with poppies

#HedgehogAwarenessWeek

It is currently Hedgehog Awareness Week, 1st – 7th May 2016. As someone who wanders around the garden at night with bare feet, it is in my best interests to be aware of them.Photo of hedgehog

Photo of hedgehogI am very fortunate that there seems to be a healthy population in this area. They have free access to most of the gardens around here. They can travel between 1 and 2 miles each night and need to visit several gardens. They drink a lot of water so it is very helpful if you can leave a shallow bowl of water out for them.

Tonight there were 4 hogs in the garden in 2 sets of pairs. Photo of two hedgehogs

I’m hoping that love is in the air, they were certainly making a lot of very loud snuffling noises.Photo of two hedgehogs

They are the UK’s favourite mammal, yet their population is crashing. This is mainly due to habitat loss. Here are some links with a lot of advice on how to help them; these include tips on gardening, making hog houses and supplementing their food. The concentration this year is on educating gardeners and contractors to check for hedgehogs before using strimmers, mowers or other machinery. If you are on Twitter, do check out #HedgehogAwarenessWeek

British Hedgehog Preservation Society

Wildlife Trusts – Gardening for Hedgehogs

Royal Horticultural Society – Planting for Pollinators

Little Silver Hedgehog – a fellow blogger with a wealth of information and ideas

Ivy Safari

Photo of ivy flowersOld lags of this blog will recall me extolling the virtues of ivy in a previous post, The Ivy is A-buzz. It is around this time of the year that the ivy becomes rather interesting and we can don our pith helmets and go on an ivy safari.

While most plants are hunkering down ready for winter, ivy produces flowers in the autumn. These are very rich in nectar, 49% sugar by some estimates, thereby attracting a range of insects. In order to produce flowers the ivy has to be allowed to climb up a structure such as a tree or other garden structure.

If you are lucky and the weather has been kind, you might find late season butterflies feasting on your ivy flowers; these could include commas, red admirals, speckled woods and holly blues. The latter also lay their eggs in ivy, which is the food source for its caterpillars.

Another insect that I was looking out for, but didn’t find, was the ivy bee, Colletes hederae. This bee was first recorded in the UK in 2001 and is most prevalent in the south of the country. There is more information about the bee and how to record any sightings on the BWARS website here.

So, what did I find? Honey bees and wasps were the most obvious stripy visitors.

I also found some drone hoverflies, Eristalis tenax. Named after their resemblance to drone bees, they are important pollinators in their own right. They do not sting, but the assumption that they do no doubt offers them protection from potential predators. I recommend visiting Ryan Clark’s ecology blog for information and lovely photographs of pollinators, but particularly check out his post on hoverflies here.

As well as providing nectar for insects and winter berries for birds, ivy also provides a good source of cover, or a sunbed, for other critters. For instance, I spotted this spotless harlequin ladybird.

Also wandering through the leaves was this shield bug. Kindly identified, via Twitter, as a gorse shield bug by Sinéad @chonchoille81 something I hadn’t considered as we have no gorse around here. This is its late summer colouring. They will also feed on members of the broom plant family. I have blogged about green shield bugs previously.

So there ends our safari. I hope that you will allow some ivy to grow in a patch of garden or up a wall then you can go on your own safari and let us know what you find. Remember, as with all explorations, “Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints.”

Photo of Chief Si'ahl

Chief Si’ahl – Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons

This quote has been attributed to Chief Si’ahl (Seattle) of the Duwamish tribe in 1854. Although there is some controversy over the translation, it is still a good piece of advice.

Blooming Narcissists

Well I guess spring will arrive in its own sweet time. Meanwhile I got bored of waiting and bought some narcissi to brighten the place up a bit. Having taken some rather poor photographs of them, I tried to spruce them up a bit on the computer.Photo of narcissi

More usually we call them daffodils and they are a member of the Amaryllidaceae family. They are natives of Europe and Africa, being introduced later to the Far East. They have become an important crop, providing cut flowers to connoisseurs such as myself. However, they were and still are an important plant for health purposes. They produce alkaloids as a poison to protect themselves, but these can have medicinal properties. Daffodils are grown commercially near Brecon, in Wales, to produce Galantamine, a drug used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. It is also the national flower of Wales.Photo of narcissi

It is thought that the plant was named after Narcissus who spent far too long admiring his own reflection in a pool and eventually drowned in it. However, Pliny (who should know because he named the plant) claimed it was named after its fragrance, from the Greek for “I grow numb”.

The variety of cultivar shapes reflect the variety of pollinators they attract; including bees, butterflies, moths and flies. Wild daffodils are now rare due to habitat destruction. If you want to know why they are yellow, you might like to read my blog posts here and here.Photo of narcissi

Like many other flowers, some superstitious people will not have them in the house. They are considered unlucky because they hang their heads. They are also associated with death, possibly due to accidental and non-accidental poisonings, but also because Hades kidnapped Persephone into the Underworld while she was picking narcissi. As you might imagine, Sylvia Plath has written a cheery poem about them, which you can read here, but I shall whet your appetite with a snippet:

The narcissi, too, are bowing to some big thing :
It rattles their stars on the green hill where Percy
Nurses the hardship of his stitches, and walks and walks.

Where the Cider Apples Grow

One of the pleasures of living in Hereford is the sweet aroma of apples that often fills the air. When Herefordians aren’t growing cattle, they are growing apples. We put these apples to very good use – we make cider out of them.Photo of apple

Cider is an alcoholic drink made from apples (in the USA it is known as hard cider). Under UK law, cider must consist of at least 35% apple juice. Cider apples typically contain more fruit sugars than other apples which aids in the fermentation process. There are different apple cultivars with variations in acidity and tannin, these are blended to provide different levels of sharpness, bitterness or sweetness.

Photo of Woodpecker sculpture

Bulmer’s Woodpecker Sculpture designed by Walenty Pytel 1969

Traditionally farmers would make cider from their own orchards to provide refreshments for the farm labourers who would help at busy times of the year, such as harvests. Any excess would be sold to local pubs.

In the 17th century, Viscount Scudamore brought back a Redstreak apple pip from France to Hereford and raised his very own cider apple tree. Soon everyone was doing it and Herefordshire was turned into one big orchard. There are still 9,500 acres of cider apple orchards in Herefordshire. Cider overtook ale as the national drink. In 1763 the Prime Minister, Lord Bute, introduced a tax on cider resulting in his effigy being burned in market squares across Britain.

In 1887, H. P. Bulmer, the son of a rector, used apples from his father’s orchard to make cider using a neighbour’s press. It proved popular and his elder brother, Fred, turned down a post tutoring the King of Siam’s children to help him with the family cider business. The film, “The King and I” could have been very different! The business flourished and Bulmer now make 65% of all UK cider. Of the apples used in Bulmer’s cider, 90% come from orchards in Herefordshire.Photo of apple blossom

The process starts in the spring when apple blossom is pollinated by insects, usually bees. It is estimated that 75% of all our crops require pollination by insects, birds or bats. Disturbingly, in South West China, bees have been eradicated by intensive farming and pesticide use, this has resulted in farmers having to hand pollinate their blossoms. Studies in Europe and North America have shown that planting strips of wildflowers in orchards boosts the number of pollinators. Photo of cider press

Apples are gathered from the trees during autumn. The juice is extracted by milling, or scratting, the apples into small pieces. Traditionally this would be done using a pressing stone in a circular trough, powered by horse or water. The resulting mash, or pomace, is wrapped in horse hair cloth and pressed in ash racks to squeeze the juice out. The juice is then left to ferment, before being blended and bottled. The waste was often incorporated into animal feedstuffs, but it has been suggested that it could provide a source of renewable green energy.

On Twelfth Night, January 6th, Wassailing festivals are held in honour of the goddess Pomona requesting a bountiful crop. Pomona was a wood nymph in Roman mythology, associated with orchard fruits. There is a statue of her on the Pulitzer Fountain in New York, of all places. She is also name checked in C. S. Lewis’ “Prince Caspian”. The word comes from the Anglo-Saxon “Waes Hael“, meaning good health, the correct response is “Drinc hael“. An example of a wassail is as follows:

“Here’s to thee, old apple tree,
That blooms well, bears well.
Hats full, caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
An’ all under one tree.
Hurrah! Hurrah!”

Needless to say, copious amounts of cider would be partaken during the ceremony, along with “Wicker Man” style Photo of applefrolicking. In some wassailing ceremonies, a virgin puts some cider soaked toast into the tree branches, then a lot of noise is made by banging pots or firing shotguns. This is supposed to drive any evil into the toast, which will eventually be devoured by robins, thereby saving the tree. I just checked my calendar and yes we are in the 21st century!

For those of you who don’t like to drink cider on an empty stomach – it does have a worrying affect upon the use of one’s legs – there is a recipe for Somerset Cider Apple Cake here, of course you could substitute Hereford cider in the recipe.

Needless to say some of our great poets have been inspired by imbibing cider; Mr Robert Frost describes the bubbles very eloquently in this quote from “In a Glass of Cider”:Photo of cider in glass

“It seemed I was a mite of sediment
That waited for the bottom to ferment
So I could catch a bubble in ascent.
I rode up on one till the bubble burst,
And when that left me to sink back reversed
I was no worse off than I was at first.
I’d catch another bubble if I waited.
The thing was to get now and then elated.”

Fans of Mr Frost’s rustic oratory may also enjoy “After Apple Picking”, the full poem can be found here, but I shall give you a taste:

“For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.”
Just one final point, cider is an alcoholic beverage and can have a detrimental effect upon human health and behaviour. Please do not drink and drive. Make an informed choice when drinking alcohol, there are lots of facts and figures at this website here.

The Dandiest of Lions

The humble dandelion or as the Germans say it löwenzahn is generally considered to be a weed, an ugly nuisance that has no place in our finely coiffed gardens.  Well, think again.Photo of dandelion flower

The name of course comes from a misunderstanding of French, dent de lion meaning tooth of the lion. The French really should speak more slowly to English people. The ubiquitous yellow flower also goes by some pseudonyms; the French pissenlit and the English piss-a-bed. This is a little hint as to one use for the plant. It was popularly used as a diuretic. The leaves can be eaten in a salad, the roots and the leaves were used to make herbal remedies to flush out the kidneys and to treat gout.

Photo of dandelion flower emergingThe milky juice of the dandelion is said to cure warts, this seems a preferable method to putting a toad in a bag which is then hung around the neck of the warty fellow until the toad dies. It was also claimed that dandelion was helpful for easing the effects of rheumatism.

During World War II, when the British were rationed they used dandelion roots to make “coffee”. The soft drink Dandelion and Burdock originated in Britain during the Middle Ages as a flavoured mead. It has a similar flavour to sarsaparilla, apparently.Photo of dandelion flower emerging

The flowers are a source of nectar for bees, butterflies and moths. As well as attracting pollinating insects, dandelions release ethylene gas which helps to ripen fruit and they also have a deep taproot which draws up nutrients for other plants.

Photo of dandelion seed headThe yellow flower turns into the fluffy seed head for dispersal in the wind. This gives rise to the German name Pusteblume, meaning blow flower. Before technological gadgets, children would keep themselves amused by blowing the seeds off the plants.

These seeds are not only eaten by birds, but are also used as nesting material. This site here gives more information about the benefits of dandelions to wildlife, with some fantastic photos too.Photo of Dandelion Seeds Dispersing

This humble blog has also touched on the subject of dandelions previously here and here and a picture here.