The Canny Gardener

how to be a smart gardener


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Bees and us

Lately I’ve been walking around the streets trying to photograph bees.  I’m not a professional and all I have is a smartphone, and these little creatures are very fast.  So the photographs aren’t very good.  However, I have noticed a much smaller number than last year, especially in my garden.  I grow wildflowers and plants in my terrace, hoping to attract bees.  But in one day, I may see about 5-8 bees (I don’t know if they are the same ones or different ones).  Last year, I could see 10-15 bees each day in my terrace.  The numbers of hoverflies remain the same as before.

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Bees seem to like purple or pink flowers- I’ve noticed. Lavender, appear to attract the most bees, including bumble bees, while honeybees also like the blue/white borage flowers, and marjoram, which has small pinkish white flowers.

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What I’ve also noticed are dead bees- particularly the large bumblebees.  This photo below was taken on a nearby pavement.

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Declining bee populations have been blamed on a combination of factors: climate change, pesticides – notably neonicotinoids – and varroa mites spreading in beehives.  While the EU has imposed an almost total ban on neonicotinoids, climate change is decimating bee populations with late frosts and later summers.  Honey is one of the products that bees create and we eat, but on a general level, bees are responsible for pollinating plants.  This ‘unpaid’ act by these busy workers, help plants to grow and give food, flowers, cosmetics and thousands of other plant based products.

In a study by Sussex university on a project called ‘Honey bee health and well being’, it was found that bees do prefer all varieties of lavender and borage (which was the best all rounder).  These are also very cheap plants to grow- while Lavender is a perennial, Borage will self seed.  The lead scientist of the study, Professor of Apiculture, Dr. Francis Ratnieks, said, ‘The most important message from this study is that choosing flowers carefully makes a big difference to pollinators at zero cost. It costs no more to buy bee friendly flowers and they are not more difficult to grow and are just as pretty. The flowers don’t have to be native, wild flowers.’

Let us grow more organic blue, purple and pink flowers and help these hardworking saviours of humankind.

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new types of food to combat world hunger

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Given the state of world hunger where more than 13% of our fellow human beings are hungry, i.e., nearly a billion people!  The irony is that our world produces enough food to feed all 7 billion people who live in it.  Some people do not have the access or money to buy food, access to land to grow on it, some are hungry due to droughts or famines and some due to man made causes of war and violence. The difference between hunger and malnutrition is that malnutrition means the body does not have the necessary nutrients necessary to grow or fight off disease while in the state of hunger, people have little or no food, never mind the nutrition aspect of it.

Food is also being grown or sourced unethically (the recent highlight of fishing) or by polluting the environment, whether through pesticides or through genetic modification.  Bees which work tirelessly, pollinating our plants and thereby helping to feed us, are being killed off through use of pesticides or through destruction of their habitats.  By growing similar food year after year, not only are we reducing bio-diversity but also our own ability to digest different types of foods and our immune systems.

I recently had the chance to taste another type of food- food that could be produced plentifully without harming the environment, is nutritious and has protein.  This is insect food.  The photo above shows the insect pate I ate made from crickets.  Now that may sound rather strange but the truth is that insect are the most abundant terrestrial life form excluding bacteria. Today, 80% of the world still eats over 1,600 species of insects, from Jing Leed in Thailand to Escamoles in Mexico to Casu Marzu in Italy.  Even the prawns, lobsters etc that we eat are really a type of insects.  Cricket protein is supposed to be 20 times more efficient as source of protein than cattle based protein and typically need 5 times less feed than animal protein and produce 80 times less methane than cattle.  Insects are high in protein and low in saturated fats and sugars. They are a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids, and have higher iron, calcium and B-vitamins content than beef. They are easy to raise and reproduce quickly, using minimal resources.

Cricket flour is being used for produce energy bars.  Having tasted the pate, I do not think it is any different than eating a prawn.  The most difficult aspect of ending world poverty by eating differently is not about economics, imagination or distribution but a change in our mindsets.


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wildflowers

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( a posy of wildflowers- wild geranium, euphorbia, buttercup, field genetian, forget me not, Green alkanet, sweet cicely, Mountain crane’s bill and the heavenly scented Butterfly bush)

We are so lucky in late spring to be blessed with wildflowers- many of whom are cousins of cultivars.  These are free, abundant and hardy.  While we have to be careful in picking these- for example, the Euphorbia shown here is a laxative!- we can still enjoy them whether in the garden or in a vase in our room.  I find these more delightful than cultivars- they seem to be naughtier, tinier cousins-daring you to pick them up. It was my son, in fact, who noticed the Butterfly bush with its deep scent- much nicer than any perfume or room freshener you could buy!

Such bits of wild spaces in the city attract bees, butterflies and birds- I heard the most delightful singing of birds when I was picking these flowers up.  As birdsong has decreased by 60% in the UK, wildflowers and spaces are the right thing to have in your garden.  Even one small container or pot with wildflowers will attract bees and butterflies as I know.