by Mags Riordan of Bumblebee Flower Farm
Amidst all this uncertainty and downright scary stuff, today was one of those days that gave me real hope, taught me that life goes on and, if we help and support nature, she will thrive. Birds are starting nests, bumblebee queens are emerging, over wintering butterflies are getting ready to lay summer butterfly babies. Today on the farm I was given a sign for hope in the sheer numbers of bumblebee queens – the like I’ve never seen before at this time of year. On one patch of heather alone, I counted 11 bumblebees, seven White-tailed Bombus Leucorun, three Buff-tailed Bombus Terrestris, and one Common Carder, Bombus Pascourum. It was like the M50 – they were everywhere. I even saw my first early bumblebee Bombus Pratorum, our smallest bumblebee and by far the cutest. I know I keep saying plant winter heather and yesterday proved its worth in spades – these, along with muscari, are lifesaving plants.
My rescue bumblebee from last January Petula is doing well and I see her every day now; I’m so pleased she has made it this far.
We all have more time now for our gardens and can put it to good use, which will be better for us too. As always, don’t be too quick to tidy everything up, the dead stalks act as a home to many insects like overwintering ladybirds and solitary bees. Leave it another few weeks if you can. Leaf litter is also home to many creatures and breaks down slowly to provide rich humus for our soil.
If you leave mowing the lawn until mid-April the dandelions and daisies will be a rich food source for emerging pollinators.
And if you can allow six weeks between mowing, the clovers will have a chance to flower in June and feed so many.
When you do tidy up, gather the twigs and spent stalks, bind them with a little string and place them somewhere in part sun so that creatures have a home.
Think about your summer garden now and maybe grow your summer plants from seed this year. There are plenty of Irish seed companies that do mail order like Seedaholic, Irish seed savers and the Organic Trust to name a few.
Hardy annuals can be sown now on a sunny windowsill, things like cornflower, calendula and oxeye daisy. All these are edible too provided you get safe seed that is either organic or untreated. These can be direct sown too, but it might be safer to wait until April.
Half hardies like cosmos, nasturtium, and zinnias are wonderful additions to the mid to late summer garden a magnet to pollinators and some of them are edible too. Cosmos sulphurus with their orange and yellow flowers are edible low growing so don’t require staking. These are best sown under cover or wait until May to direct seed outdoors.
The secret to a supportive garden for pollinators is having an uninterrupted supply of food all through the year. This has never been more important, as more and more pollinators are forgoing full hibernation and forage right through the winter.
Spring is also a critical time when you think a queen must visit roughly 6000 flowers every day to get sufficient nectar and pollen to sustain her first brood. It does get easier for her by the end of April when the first lot of workers emerge but up until then she has to do everything herself. So please leave your dandelions, daisies and buttercups to flower – they really can be the difference between life and death for them. No bumblebee queens means no bumblebees in the summer.
I can’t begin to explain the joy at seeing these incredible creatures buzzing in my garden and seeing how the little things I do amount to so much. Here’s to looking at things differently and embracing the mess and seeing the virtues of our indigenous weeds as the best food source for our future.
We are adding to our blog posts regularly at www.bumblebeeflowerfarm.ie to help you get the most from your garden by helping our pollinators. Bee Kind.