Abuzz about bees

September is Bee Aware Month, an initiative from the National Beekeepers’ Association that aims to educate us on the importance of bees to our livelihood, environment and economy.

Cover of Bees in the cityTwo thirds of the food that we eat is pollinated by bees so without them we will be in trouble. As September is the beginning of Spring it’s a great time to plan what you’ll be doing in with your garden over the warmer months. This year’s theme is “feed the bees” so now would be a great time for gardeners to consider adding “bee-friendly” plants to their property, if not an actual hive.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that if you live centrally there’s not much point in having plants that bees like. There are “urban bees” in Christchurch (and most cities). For instance, did you know there’s a hive on the roof of C1 espresso? Honey bees can travel several kilometres to find nectar producing flowers so even if there are no hives on your block, your potted lavender may still be visited by a bee (or several).

Cover of Backyard beesIf you’re keen, to either make your garden a bee-haven or maybe get a hive yourself, or even just rent one, you might want to have a look at –

Bee Aware Month

My neighbours are doing it. Michelle Obama is doing it. They’re keeping bees! The National Beekeepers’ Association of New Zealand is highlighting the importance of bees, and this month is Bee Aware Month.

Bees around the world are in trouble. A world without bees would be a very bleak place indeed. Much of our food depends on pollination by bees as do our gardens and a lot of other products we rely on. Over $5 billion of New Zealand’s agricultural exports also depend on bees. Bee numbers worldwide are in decline and we must do all that we can to save them before it’s too late.

Cover of Practical Beekeeping in New ZealandSo how can you help? Easy ways you can give these hardworkers a happy life include planting bee friendly plants, and being careful when using pesticides in your garden, or better still stopping using them altogether.

You could also start your own hive. The Beekeepers’ Association has helpful information, and in Christchurch you can now rent a hive and have someone else come and do all the work for you. The library of course has a large number of beekeeping titles that will help make your garden and your hive a bee mecca.

Don’t forget also to check CINCH for contact details of beekeeping clubs.

Growing your own… caterpillars??!

When we bought a cheap tunnel house this year it wasn’t to grow green super worms with patterns but the best laid plans of this naive gardener…  I digress, first I went a bit mad and grew capsicums, aubergines, basil, cucumbers and flowers to attract bees, all from seed. By the time the raised beds were assembled and filled it was getting on a bit and the tomatoes had to be bought as plants.

Cover of Green Urban LivingThe basil and the toms took off. The basil plants were the size of small shrubs. I bought the pine nuts, stocked up the olive oil and parmesan and then never quite got round to pesto conversion. Got busy and ignored the tunnel house for about a week.

Imagine my horror when I next poked my head in: the basil was black and all but extinct, the tomatoes had been shredded and the peppers and aubergines looked like they too were on the menu.

But of what? Huge green caterpillars… with patterns. “Skin crawling” tomato eating hook  caterpillars, I think. I won’t give you the gory details of their dispatch, but I should have consulted some more gardening books on tunnel house growing first obviously. Lesson learned the hard way. Next year the aubergine plants go outside once sizable and putting out flowers and can get pollinated out there. No leaving the door open for all pregnant passersby.

If I had just consulted Green Urban Living by Janet Luke first I would have cut some phony white butterflies out of ice cream tub plastic and stuck them all over the garden and tunnel house. The expectant mums are territorial apparently, and would have naffed off somewhere else. Just one of the many clever tips for the urban gardener from this resourceful book. Growing food, keeping chickens, worm farming (not caterpillar) and beekeeping is  just some of knowledge passed on by one who has been there and is still wearing the t-shirt.

The mini orchard is coming along with the addition soon of a peach or nectarine, but not without consultation to the chapter on top fruit to grow in an urban garden and I hope next summer’s weather warrants the step by step instructions on the installation of a water barrel. This book is invaluable and I have borrowed it many times.

cover of Winter Harvest HandbookCurrently it’s  The Winter Harvest Handbook that I have out on loan. This promises “Year round vegetable production using Deep Organic techniques and unheated greenhouses”. I have high hopes of growing something other than future generations of the unmentionables, in an unheated tunnel house through our coldest months.

Do you grow your own? Want to but think you haven’t enough space? Another option is  Straw Bale Gardening. I’m considering having one on the go. Meantime more ‘do’ is needed and less talk, so it’s on with my wellies…

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