Gardening for bees! by Nikki Hollier

Living in a rural area it's easy to take for granted our butterflies and bees and other flying insects. However, I was surprised to learn that urban areas are better for bees because of the greater number of nectar-filled flowers available to them from amenity planting, window boxes, hanging baskets, and tubs. Surrounded by fields is a lovely place for us to live but we could improve it by planting more flowers and trees for our bees. I met with my local bee keeper, Chris Reynard, to talk about his beehives and how he got started.

Chris has several hives and has been keeping bees for many years and it all started from eating honey! He loved honey and started to research keeping bees himself so after a factfinding meeting with the local British Bee Keepers Association he very quickly had his own hives and it went from there.

What's in a hive? A hive has three types of honey bee: a queen, approximately 50,000 female worker bees and, in the summer, hundreds of male drones. The drone bee's primary role is to mate with the queen bee, who can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day. The eggs are laid within the honeycomb. Fertilized eggs will hatch into female worker bees, while unfertilized eggs will become drones or honey bee males. In order for one colony to survive, the queen must lay fertilized eggs to create worker bees, which forage for food and take care of the colony.

We need people to plant more flowers as this creates more food (forage) for the honey bees. Greater food sources enable honey bees to be much stronger and healthier to ward off disease. It also ensures our plants get pollinated otherwise our plants will start to die out and, ultimately, we will have no food to eat either! Busy Bees I always thought the phrase 'busy bees' was just a saying, but bees are amazing and can collect around 20kg of pollen every year - that's 1 million pollen loads at 20mg per trip! Honey bees don't venture outside if it's below eight degrees, or if it's raining. What flowers should we plant to help them? Bees don't hibernate so it's important to provide year-round food for them. During winter months they love snowdrops, crocus, ivy and hellebores (honey made from ivy doesn't taste good apparently!). During Spring and Summer months bees love open flowers such as sedum, echinacea, and cosmos. If you would like to know more about bee keeping contact the British Bee keepers Association you can even sponsor a beehive too.

Nikki Hollier @borderinabox Royal Horticultural Society Silver Medal Winner & Peoples Choice Award Winner

Nikki Hollier - Growing Herbs

With the spring equinox it means there’s more daylight hours than darkness so our gardens will start to come to life quickly now.

Perfect timing for everyone whilst we self-isolate.

This month, I thought it would share my top three herbs to help with health and wellbeing and how to dry them to make teas and balms.

Calendula officinalis These are gorgeous orange daisy type flowers and will grow in sun or part sunny gardens and are loved by bees. They’ll flower from June to October and are happy in any poor or fertile free draining soil (but not clay soil) and grow to around 50cm tall. You can grow them easily from seed too – just follow the instructions on the packet. The flower petals are edible and have a peppery flavour, which can be added to food. Or you could dry them and use in salves.

To dry them – harvest them after mid-day when it’s dry and cut the flower head off. Bring them indoors (do not wash them) and place them on an old sheet or paper towel (depending on how many you have. Leave to dry in a dark, well-ventilated space for approximately 4 weeks. Then store them in an airtight jar. These can be used to infuse oil to make balms and lotions. The oil of Calendula officinalis is used as an anti-inflammatory and a remedy for healing wounds and skin complaints, plus many other uses. It’s best to seek advice from a trained herbalist to help with any specific conditions.

Chamaemelum nobile An aromatic plant with finely dissected leaves and daisy-like flowerheads with white petals and yellow centres. Traditionally used to help with stress and calm the nerves – chamomile tea before bedtime is very soothing. These are mat forming plants, that loves the sun or part shade, happy in all soils except clay and will grow to around 50cm tall. Flowers from June to August.

To dry the – pick the flowers when in full bloom, ie when the white petals are still in place. Remove any bugs. Make sure it’s a warm dry day. Leave in a dry dark space for approximately 4 weeks then place in an airtight glass jar. Can be mixed with Lemon Balm to make your own tea infusions.

Melissa officinalis – commonly known as Lemon Balm Amazing lemon-scented, light green leaves which grows to around 1.5m tall. Loves full sun or part shade and will grow in any well drained soil. They flower in June with spikes of tiny, pale-yellow flowers, which fade to white or lilac. Loved by bees and the leaves can be used in salads and soups. Pure lemon balm essential oil is valued for its properties in aromatherapy where its considered to be uplifting and calming. Ideal in herbal teas too.

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