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Wildlife Garden blog

2 Posts tagged with the pollen tag
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The garden has an autumnal feel to it as meadow plants fade and set seed, and rose-hips are blackberries are ready for harvest. But it is now that heathland plants come into their own with the heather (or ling as it is sometimes called) and dwarf gorse in flower attracting a variety of bees including our own honey bees.

 

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Heathland in flower with heather (Calluna vulgaris) and dwarf gorse (Ulex minor)

© Jonathan Jackson

 

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Honey bee (Apis mellifera) on heather (Calluna vulgaris) this week

© Jonathan Jackson

 

Luke Dixon, our beekeeper, tells us what honey bees and beekeepers are up to at the moment:

 

"The bee season is coming to an end and the bees in the Wildlife Garden are preparing for winter. Honey bees are the only bee to survive through the winter as a colony. All other bees and wasps are dying off now and just the newly mated queens will live through the cold months. But the honey bees have been storing up honey so they have something to eat when the cold weather comes.

 

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There is still plenty of activity at the entrance to the bee tree.

© Qais Zakaria

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Inside our bee tree in the Wildlife Garden

© Qais Zakaria

 

The bees in our other hives have also made honey and we have harvested a little of it while leaving most for the bees for the winter.

 

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Harvesting honey in the Wildlife Garden

© Derek Adams

 

It has the wonderfully complex taste of all urban honey. Town bees have much more to feed on than their country cousins and the honey they make contains all the flavours of the many different flowers that they can forage on, from the chestnuts and limes in the nearby royal parks, to the marjoram, dandelions, heather, holly and ivy nearer to home. Tasting the honey at the end of the season is one of the great rewards of beekeeping.

 

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Honey-filled comb

© Qais Zakaria

 

 

We've had to close up the front of the hives to make the entrances as small as possible. Predatory wasps are a real problem this time of year and they been raiding the hives in search of bees and honey to eat. By reducing the hive entrances, the bees have a better chance of defending themselves. We've seen plenty of battles between wasp and bee around the hives.

 

As the weather gets colder the bees will form a cluster in the depths of the hive, keeping warm and protecting the queen. We'll leave them in peace until the warm weather returns and there is once again pollen and nectar to bring into the hives'.

 

Thank you Luke.

 

  • The bee tree is laden with bees and with honey. You can check on them yourself with the webcam inside the hive.
  • You can meet our beekeepers at our Hedgerow Harvest event on Sunday 5 October which falls close on the heels of Science Uncovered when you can visit us all to find out more about the Museum's work, and our work in the Wildlife Garden.

 

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Taking advantage of late-flowering hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) in flower in the Wildlife Garden fen

© Jonathan Jackson

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Spring is marching on and keeping us all very busy. As the season progresses colour becomes more varied and the changes are noticed daily - its an exciting time!.

 

The dates of first flowers are early compared to last year's late Spring: trees in blossom this month - several of which first flowered in March - included Wild cherry (Prunus avium), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), bird cherry (Prunus padus), apple (Malus domestica), rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) and last week - also earlier than in previous years - elder (Sambucus nigra).


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Apple blossom, Malus domestica, from the 'Brownlees Russett' variety in the Wildlife Garden

© Jonathan Jackson

 

On the ground the variety of texture, scent and colour is changing even more dramatically, especially in woodland areas, which are now bright with whites: sweet woodruff (Galium odorata), wild garlic (Allium ursinum), greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea); blues: bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), bugle (Ajuga reptans), wood speedwell (Veronica montana); and yellows: a few primroses and celendines remain with the more recent flowering of yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon); and, of course, the deep pink of red campion (Silene dioica) as well as grasses wood millet (Milium effusum), false brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum) and more.

 

While in water, the delicate flowers of bogbean float daintily in the upper pond...

 

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Bogbean, Menyanthes trifoliata
© Jonathan Jackson

 

But the star of April is undoubtedly cowslip. In grassland areas cowslips have provided a long season - a few were spotted in flower on 25 February; ten days earlier than the first cowslip flower last year -  and there has been a succession ever since.

 

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Cowslip, Primula veris
© Derek Adams

 

Cowslips were once a common sight throughout April and May on chalk downland, and in meadows and pastures as well as hedge banks and railway embankments throughout downland areas of Britain.

 

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Cowslip on Wye National Nature Reserve
© Natural England

 

But although now sadly a rare sight generally, cowslips are still plentiful on nature reserves such as Wye NNR managed by Natural England and there are many conservation projects encouraging the return of cowslips to their former habitats…

 

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Cowslips in a restored meadow on the north downs in Kent this week.
© Peta Rudduck

 

And, some say they are returning to road sides and motorway embankments. In gardens once established they will reward you by continuing to spread both vegetatively and by seed. Our own chalk downland and pond-side meadow habitats have been crowded with cowslips all month.

 

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Chalk downland, with cowslips, in the Garden.

© Jonathan Jackson

 

And there are still a few in bud in our meadow where the flowering has been delayed due to recent grazing (at the end of March our sheep were here for a short visit, to graze the too-lush grasses in the meadow).

 

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March grazing in the meadow
© Sue Snell

 

In rural areas cowslips were traditionally harvested to make wine which was also taken medicinally. They are rich in nectar and, in former times when cowslips were a common sight, children would pick flowers and sip the nectar. Here in our Wildlife Garden, the nectar is strictly for the bees and early butterflies including the brimstone. Cowslip is also the food plant of the rare Duke of Burgundy fritillary. Other insects benefit, including pollen beetles...

 

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A pollen beetle, Meligethes aeneus, pays a visit to a cowslip flower.
© Jonathan Jackson

 

Once cowslips are in bloom I feel that spring is really, truly here and although I want these beautiful flowers to last a little longer, there are now many seed heads amongst the blooms. Not so radiantly yellow, but it's good news for next year.

 

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Cowslip seed heads

© Jonathan Jackson

 

You can find out more about cowslips in folklore from Roy Vickery. If you are out and about this weekend and spot the violets of bluebells rather than the yellows of cowslips, do join in with the Museum's survey.

 

And at the end of May visit us here in the Garden and discover more about Britain's most common flower, the stinging nettle. Nettle Weekend is 31 May to 1 June. More on that soon...

 

Caroline