I’ve been using rockdust as part of my soil balancing strategy, as well as an ingredient in my potting mixes. In addition I’ve been mixing rockdust into my poutry food, adding it to my wormeries, and compost heaps, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve been using the rockdust in a liquid suspension, to water my plants, and as a foliar spray.
I have used a number of Green Manure strategies this Winter as part of my soil fertility building program. In fact I think that I have shifted from growing food to growing soil as my primary activity. Using a Green Manure provides a number of benefits for me, which I’ll describe below. Please note that this is an explanation of some of the things that I have done this Winter, and not an attempt to teach people how a green manure should be used.
Like many people here in the UK I’ve been sowing seeds. I give myself extra work by growing almost all of my early plants in modules. This keeps my plants away from slugs, voles, birds, and the worst of the weather, and allows me to give the optimum tmperature for germination using electric propagators. In fact if I had been sowing seeds outside this Spring I’m not sure how many would have made it. As well as needing a bit more work, sowing seeds in modules, rather than sowing them directly in the ground, creates the need for a suitable growing medium. I had read a book which suggested that mixing dried cow manure and river sand makes a good seed sowing compost, but I don’t have either to hand. In the past I have relied on bought in ‘multi purpose’, sieved and mixed with sand, but with the volume of seedlings that I grow, and the trees and shrubs in pots, this is expensive, not particularly ‘green’, and may in fact be responsible for creating some of the disease problems that seedlings suffer from. This year I have made some changes to the way that I go about sowing seeds.
With almost all of my tree planting over, I’ve been getting the vegetable growing areas ready. Normally I would be doing this in Autumn, but I wanted to get the trees in first, and then the snow interrupted that, and so it is only now that I’m catching up on my work. In the interim, I’ve been catching up on my reading/research. So I’ll explain what I’m doing at the moment, and some of the different vegetable growing systems that I’ve been trying to incorporate into a coherent single ‘way’ for me to garden.
Last year was a bad year for bees in general, and my bees in particular, but today the signs are looking good.
Some of you may have noticed that this site is missing something. Pictures. This morning, the sun was shining, not too much wind, and not too many chores that MUST be done immediately. I picked up my old, but almost unused camera, and had a short walk about. The first thing that I photographed were bees on Crocus, including one picture with three bees in the same plant. The third bee is almost completely hidden by the Stamens.
I know that they are all sisters, as I have one hive with lighter coloured bees, and these were all light. Later I watched a darker bee approach a crocus that had a lighter bee in it, and they flew apart as if jolted with a cattle prod. Well a tiny cattle prod anyway.
At the hives, there was lots of activity at the entrances, with plenty of bees coming in and out. I noticed three different colours of pollen load. Dark orange, probably Snowdrops, a lighter orange, probably Crocus, and a yellow pollen load, of which more about later. It was difficult to take pictures of the loads, as by the time I spotted the bees that were loaded up, most of them had made it inside. If you can zoom in to this image there are bees to the right and left of the entrance, with orange pollen.
I had to feed the chickens so spent some time taking a few pictures of chooks, and of my home made hutches. These will feature in another article. Whilst out with the chooks I was admiring the willow catkins, and noticed that at last they were producing pollen, and that there were bees gathering it.
I have included a picture of a bee on a willow catkin.
I’ve been waiting for the pollen to arrive, in order to mark trees for cuttings. Willows are dioecious plants, which means that an individual plant is either male, or female, and yes, I had to check the spelling before I wrote it. Whilst the variety that is flowering now produces some nectar, the bees are primarily concerned with gathering pollen, to feed the young bees. By waiting for the catkins to appear, I can identify, and mark, good male specimens for taking cuttings, probably twice. I’ll take the first batch once the trees have stopped producing pollen, and grow these on in a nursery bed, where I can keep them well watered during the Summer. The pruning will encourage the trees to produce young vigorous shoots, which will root better in the Autumn.
I marked the trees by tying the green and yellow insulation sleeving that electricians use on earth wiring, around the trunks. It’s easily visible, doesn’t harm the tree, and I’ve got lots left over from previous electrical work. ( TOP TIP The garden centres sell a brown version as plant tie material, at a much higher cost, and it’s the same stuff. Save some money and buy it in bulk from an electrical supplier).
I also noticed bees taking nectar from a tiny blue flower, on a weed that I generally pull out relentlessly. I think that I’ll stop ripping it out, and just keep it under control, so that there is another early nectar source close to the hives.
I have been conducting a little experiment with additives to water for my bees. I’ve read articles suggesting that bees are attracted to mineral salts, lye (water that has had wood ash soaked in it), and to alkaline solutions. I set up two identical water stations, side by side. I put a lump of old mortar in each, to act as an alighting point and drinking platform. The mortar is absorbent, so the bees can suck moisture up without getting their feet wet, or drowning. Mortar is also alkaline. In one feeder I added some Rockdust powder (mineral), and some calcified seaweed (alkaline and minerals). I’ve been watching the dishes each time that I pass them, which is quite frequently during the course of the day. For the first few days there appeared to be no difference in the useage of the two stations, but after that, I only saw bees on the dish with the additives. Not conclusive proof, but enough to suggest that it’s something worth doing. This would be useful for people who keep bees in towns, and cities, as it could reduce the annoyance to neighbours of bee poop on washing lines, and visits to water sources that the beekeeper is hoping that they will avoid.
All pictures were taken on 11th March 2009, around mid-morning. Sadly my camera only has a limited zoom facility, and doesn’t take macro shots well. Time to start saving for another toy.