Monthly Archives: April 2018

The flowers, the bees, and the tractor: a true story

Yesterday I was up and out early with colleagues and students to carry out the first of this season’s spring bird surveys of the University of Northampton’s new Waterside Campus – see my previous post on this topic.   We had finished one stretch of the survey and were walking back along the path next to Midsummer Meadow when I spotted a huge expanse of Red Dead-Nettle (Lamium purpureum), mixed in with some While Dead-Nettle (Lamium album):

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Both species produce a lot of nectar; as kids we would often suck it from the flowers of White Dead-Nettle, and they are just as attractive to bees and other pollinators:

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Sure enough, a quick survey showed that there were at least two species of bee working the flowers, Common Carder Bees (Bombus pascuorum), and male and female Hairy-footed Flower Bees (Anthophora plumipes) – here’s a shot of the female:

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Suddenly there was an exclamation from one of my colleagues: whilst I was focused on the bees he’d seen a tractor pulling a grass cutter coming towards us:

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It got closer…:

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…and closer…:

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…and we were sure it was going to mow this beautiful patch of wild flowers, and the bees, into oblivion:

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But it didn’t!  The driver carefully mowed round the patch and headed back the way he’d come:

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A big relief!

Urban recreational grasslands like this clearly need to be managed by regular cutting, but this should be done strategically as these sorts of wild flower patches are important nectar and pollen sources for urban pollinators.  They are especially critical at this time of year when resources are needed to build up colony numbers in the social species like Common Carder Bee.  I don’t know who manages Midsummer Meadow – presumably contractors working on behalf of Northampton Borough Council?  But I hope that this is a conscious strategy by them to conduct “smart mowing” whereby they cut around flower patches like this even when they are not planted.  The bees (and I) thank you for it.

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Birds, University of Northampton, Urban biodiversity

What to do with plastic plant labels? Here’s one idea.

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This spring Karin and I are continuing to develop our garden which I have previously talked about in relation to the Big Garden Birdwatch and Renovating a Front Garden, for instance, as well as various posts about the pollinators I’m recording (search the blog for “garden pollinators” and you’ll see what I mean).

The main task over the past couple of weeks has been to demolish the old chicken run and plant it as a mixed border that will give interest all year round.  We’ve put in some plants that have been hanging around in pots for a few years waiting for a space to open up, plus bought clearance-area bulbs and perennials such as crocuses, narcissi, hyacinths and hellebores at knock-down prices (they look a bit scrappy at the moment but will be great next year).  Plus we’ve spent a bit of money on some nice flowering shrubs and small fruit trees.

The plants we’ve bought invariably come in a plastic pot which we re-use for propagating and giving plants away to friends.  However they usually also come with a plastic label that tells us at least the name of the species and variety, plus often cultivation details and a colour image.  The question is: what to do with these labels?  The obvious thing is to leave them on the plant or push them into the ground next to it to remind us what it is.  The problem with this is that (in my experience) the labels never last more than a year or two before the ink fades.  Over time the plastic starts to break down and you end up with fragments of the label in the soil.  There’s a lot of discussion online about how harmful different types of plastic can be, but there’s no doubt that some types can release toxins into the soil.  Regardless, it seems to us a bad idea to allow these plastic labels to disintegrate in the garden.  It also feels like a waste of resources: those labels took oil and energy to produce.

This year the BBC’s Gardeners’ World series is looking at ways to reduce the use of plastic in the garden, which is a good idea and another reason why I love the programme, as I’ve previously written about on the blog.  That got me thinking about the best way to deal with plastic plant labels, what else can you do with them other than leave them in the garden?

I suspect that if we put them out with the weekly plastic recycling they’ll just be landfilled, so that’s not an option.  However, like a lot of gardeners we keep a log book of what we’ve been planting, but we’re a bit lazy about keeping it up to date.  So we’ve taken to slipping those labels between the pages of the log book to remind us of what we have put into the garden.  The book is one of those with an elasticated retainer to keep it closed, so the labels don’t fall out when we move it on and off the shelf.  Hopefully the labels will last for years in there away from damp and light, and be a useful source of information for us in the future.

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If you’ve curious, here’s how that part of the garden looked before we started working on it; everything you see here has been re-used or recycled in one way or another:

20180330_105640.jpg And this is what it looks like now; we still have more plants to add and hopefully the border will fill out come the summer:

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