Purple for a buzzing wildlife garden

I’ve just read that bees can see the colour purple more clearly than any other colour. This makes me happy because I’ve definitely noticed a theme in the garden borders lately…

allium purple sensation

french lavender

purple aquilegia

I’m happy to report that the garden has been buzzing with the sound of bumbles, honey bees and solitary bees this month. Long may it continue.

Bumble bee enjoying a geranium

Mediterranean Eating Area and Funding Finances

Tortoise the cat sitting near the house in the evening sun

Tortoise the cat sitting near the house in the evening sun

Prologue: I wrote this about 5 weeks ago and never published it. Whoops. I’ve been so busy. SO busy – very sorry for the lack of blog updates. But I will be blogging again soon. Promise.

I’ve just been on a pre-lunch potter, and discovered that in just one square metre of our pretty substantial nettle patch, there are no less than 63 ladybird larvae. I’m quite impressed by that.

It’s been blustery here in Smallest Smallholding land for a good month. In the space of around six weeks. my garlic have been subjected to drought-like conditions (despite my best efforts to water them regularly), 30mph+ winds, as well as a mixture of driving rain AND wind, and I think there may have even been a ground frost thrown in for good measure. The result is that they’ve decided to just lay down and get on with it. I’m quite sure that they’re a soft-neck garlic variety, so I’m not at all surprised. I was hoping that the bulbs underground would continue to swell and in a few weeks, offer me some fat, pungent garlic to cook with for the next few months. I love my garlic SO MUCH. Shop-bought garlic just doesn’t do it for me any more.

But no, the first garlic harvest was absolute crap. So it’s finger’s crossed that the next look (which, admittedly, look so much healthier and robust) make the grade.

In my last blog post I wrote about the chicken rescue I was lucky enough to tag along at. The good news is that the next instalment is in the pipeline, and I’m so ready for another go. Now I know what I’m doing I’m chomping at the bit to get in there and help get those girls out. Finances still won’t allow for me to get my own girls – not that keeping them is expensive, but around here, the vet bills are. The Smallest Smallholding resident white queen cat Lilla had some eye problems last month, and one vet visit, two injections and a tube of eye ointment cot us £60. Then she had an allergic reaction to an insect bite and that was another £50. We’d do anything for our cats, but it does come at a price. And at 9 years old, I don’t think we can get Lilla or her sister or my two ex-stray fat cats Tom and Tortoise insurance, so we have to lump the costs.

Money. Money, money, money. It’s been on my mind a LOT lately, as usual. Basically, I don’t have enough of it to pay off debts, save up for tax, have a life (even a modest social life), save up for a holiday for my 30th, and just pay the bills to get by. Deposit for a mortgage? Upgrade our falling apart car? One day get married and have kids? Dream on.

So it comes down to the fact that I have to make more money via my freelance, save harder and spend smartly.

Going through our bank statements, we’ve realised that we’ve been spending a heck of a lot of money on food. My Smallest Smallholding veg growing exploits aren’t yet anywhere near a level that can sustain us outside of the mid-late summer months. We shop at Waitrose, which isn’t the most competitively priced supermarket, but it’s not bad, and its ethics are generally better than the scourge of British consumerism that are Tesco, Asda and Morrisons (yes, I’m a supermarket snob, and I enjoy the superb customer service for a change!). With our Waitrose being very very local, our problem is that we shop there several times a week, often popping in to get something inane like carrots or tin foil and coming out with £40 worth of goods. There’s not much planning, and its costing us much more than it ought to.

So, as Rich and I are both on a healthy eating thing at the mo (he has lost 6kgs, I have lost 2, boo), we’ve decided to introduce a healthy wallet plan too, where we withdraw a currently undisclosed (because we haven’t worked it out) amount of money for our monthly shopping budget and stick to it. There’s something about paying in cash that makes you realise just how much you’re handing over. All to often I can pay for something by card, not think about the amount that’s been deducted from my account and then a few days later have a small heart attack at just how much I’ve spent. Ridiculous, stupid and irresponsible, in short.

So hopefully we’ll be that little bit better financed throughout the month if we get ourselves sorted out. Time and bank statements will tell.

In other news, I’ve been writing a lot (children’s/YA book, been thinking on it for about 3 years) and continuing to dig a lot. The Mediterranean eating area is coming quite close to being dug over completely. Only one small, but challenging area remains. I say challenging because it’s probably the area most densely rooted with ivy, couch grass and bindweed roots. But with two of us on the case, dare I say it but I think in a week or two, in between work and other commitments, we might have it done. The next job will be to cut back the glorious thicket of honeysuckle and clematis montana so we can extract the fallen down trellis. Then we’re going to create a mood board so we can work out exactly what we’re going to do.

I received a couple of big parcels from Victoriana Nursery Gardens, having given owner Stephen a budget, a vague description consisting of “I need some Mediterranean style plants that the bees will like” and asking him to include some rosemary and lavender in the mix. These plants give us a base to work from, and should do well in the poor, sandy soil without much need for feeding and fertilising (ie, sustainable!):

  • Lavandula augustifolia ‘Munstead’ (a dwarf lavender)
  • French lavender
  • Ceratostigma plumbaginoides
  • Phomis fruitcosa (Jerusalem sage)
  • Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’
  • Cistus ‘Anne Palmer’
  • Abelia x grandiflora
  • Lavandula augustifolia/spica – Old English Lavender
  • Santolina virens ‘Primrose Gem’
  • Phlomis Italica

I think we’ll probably bulk out the rest of the planting with lavenders and flowering/edible herbs. HOW we arrange our planting is yet to be decided.

I’m All Covered in Bees!

Rich and I have been thinking about getting ourselves some bees. Well, why not? Our Smallest Smallholding is now void of hens, and we were thinking it would be good to get into something that would take us a little step further towards the good life. Bees seemed a good answer.

Although they do need regular check-ups, they do, for all intents and purposes, look after themselves. And the reward – oh, the reward! Honey! I love honey. And to imagine being able to procure our own fresh, local honey…

And then there’s the other perspective – the fact that our humble British bees are under threat. If you want to know more, take a look at this rather swanky, yet informative website: www.helpsavebees.com

Having at least a couple of beehives would go a small but significant way to help keeping these guys going. Imagine if beekeeping became as commonplace as keeping cats and dogs…

Our family friend has a field where she’s growing vegetables and has a rather impressively large wildlife pond too. We ran into her a couple of days ago and put to her the idea of keeping some hives on her field, and she was more than happy for us to do it. We were thinking of putting a couple of hives on there at first and planting up a big ‘nectar bar’ nearby. Of course, the bees would go much further afield too, and our friend’s field is surrounded by open countryside, so more than suitable. She also knows a guy that has around 40 of his own colonies, so we have an expert in our midst too.

So what we need to do now is have a good, long, hard think about whether we think we can commit to the responsibility of looking after these hives. Rich has done a little beekeeping in the past, but we’d have to brush up our knowledge before even thinking about the financial aspects too. So that would mean either doing an awful lot of reading, or going on a course next spring.

What about you? Have you ever done any beekeeping? Know any beekeepers? Got any interesting stories to tell or advice to give? I’d love to know!