Tag Archives: bees

Sun umbrellas – (& Spring Walk part two) 

As our garden thermometer showed it to be 45 degrees in the recent heatwave I felt a bit sorry for our bees and dug our sun umbrella out of the shed and gave them a bit of shade.

Sunny hive

The temperature in a hive is maintained at around 35 degrees – even in winter. But anything above that the bees start fanning with their wings and collect water. You can see them fanning at the entrance and often they gather in clumps outside.
It was a glorious but cooler day back in May when the Spring walk around Roath Park took place and to go back to that now seems a bit crazy but all the blame lies with Terry and Malcolm. They just didn’t stop throwing out the facts and figures and made it far too interesting so I am determined to do as promised and follow on with ‘part two’ if I can make sense of the notes I jotted down.
And it’s a graceful start – with the pinus patula – a Mexican beauty with its hanging green locks and salmon pink bark which apparently smells of aniseed when cut. 

Pinus patula

It has five needle clusters and when its cones ( which are its flowers) are rubbed they issue a fine dust. 
As we walk out of the ‘secret garden’ opposite the Acer’s we stop to admire beautiful examples of the Mahonia shrub. Originating in Asia the flowers are individually small and bell-like in shape, flowering either on long racemes, or on short, congested ones. The bees love the nectar and pollen they provide and the flowers are often followed by tiny plum-coloured fruits, which are loved by birds.
Mahonia

So having walked for some time through the park you really do begin to feel the wonders of those who have gone before you and planted such gems. We should cherish their work for future generations despite the cut backs due to money that the council are enforcing. Cardiff council need to look at the bigger picture and invest in what makes Cardiff special. Thanks to Terry and Malcolm their enthusiasm is being passed on and everyone on the walk is becoming equally enthused. – the trees here are full of stories such as the one we now pass which ‘Malcolm explains is known as the tree for sailors… It is called Drimys Winteri or Winter’s bark and it was discovered by a sea Captain – John Winter – as far back as 1557 who used its aromatic bark to treat scurvy. Scurvy was the bane of sailors’ lives – causing millions to die – and the root cause was the lack of vitamin C.

It is also said that Sir Francis Drake himself drank tea made from the same bark to help with stomach problems. If you crush its leaves they have a peppery smell. It flowers in early Summer – 

One of the main botanists planting here in the botanic gardens was Pettigrew and Terry explains that he grew the Davidia involucrata from seed. 

It also known by the names of the handkerchief tree and the ghost tree and it is easy to see why.

There is a Wales’ champion of this tree in Bute Park – Bute Park handkerchief champion

And to end this tour with a more natural sun umbrella than the one I began with – and the final tree of the tour – is the queenly Cut Leaf Beech. She stands proudly on the corner of the rose garden greeting those who make their way to the rows of memorial benches. 
Malcolm points out that a few of the branches have normal beech leaves as the new growth reverts back to its original species….

The new branches point us in the direction of the tea rooms so off we go to refresh our bodies. Our brains having been more than refreshed by Terry and Malcolm’s tree wisdom.

Spring, Springs & Miracles

It’s coming to the end of May and our bees are at their busiest bringing in nectar and pollen from the surrounding urban gardens and up to three miles away from Roath botanic gardens and the nearby allotments at Colchester Avenue.

I think back to early Spring and the glorious tones of lilac heather I walked past at the entrance to the National Trust’s Dyffryn gardens back in early March.

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Winter heather in flower at Dyffryn Gardens

The flowering winter heather (erica varieties) together with the primrose, snowdrops and chinodoxa dotted amongst the rockeries at Dyffryn signal the beginning of Spring and coax the hibernating honey bees out of their winter hives to start foraging for nectar and pollen. It is amazing to think that honey bees will visit a million flowers just to make a pound of honey.
The taste of honey varies according to the types of flowers the bees visit and it this is reflected in the colour of the honey too. If the bees have been collecting from horse chestnut trees, the honey can be dark. So too is the Ling summer heather honey very dark – and an acquired taste. Our honey tends to have a lot of clover and fruit tree pollen in it so is quite light in colour.

White, yellow and violet blue are bees’ favourite colours – and it is interesting to know that bees see the primary colours of red, blue and green as ultraviolet light, blue and green. They don’t see the colour red at all – just tones of red – oranges and yellows.. I have just started a course in watercolour painting and so I am beginning to appreciate more the varying tones, shades and theory of colour!

I spent most of early Spring – March and April – in County Westmeath in Ireland – and so watched the budding and flowering of some of my favourite fruits – damson, sloe and gooseberry.

 

 

I made sure I made a note of where the sloes were in flower in the area as when I return in Autumn it will be easy pickings for potent sloe wine and I can put to good use my grand collection of jam jars, kindly donated by friends. Damson jam is one of my favourites and although you need a lot of patience to pick out the stones as they float up amidst the bubbling purple in the pan as it reaches setting point, it is well worth the effort.

Although we don’t have bees on the Irish land ( we intend to) yet we have some lovely trees by the side of Lough Lene including a favourite outstretched beech which provides a warm welcome to all who visit at the gate. When we arrived the last of its prickly nut shells (which did contain mast) were still clinging onto its branches but day by day the new buds began to appear. It was fascinating watching the Magpies to-ing and fro-ing to their nest built at the very top of the tree which was easy to see without the leaves masking it. At dusk bats would swoop in circles above its branches and above the still waters of the lake.

 

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Beech tree at the gate

Although getting on in age – maybe a hundred years or so – our beech can’t compete with the specimen marked as ‘ the oldest in our valley’ on the nearby circular walk around Fore abbey which is just over the hill.

 


And not far from Fore is one of the largest planted beech woods in Ireland – the thousand acre Mullaghmeen. Beech forests are often referred to as ‘natures cathedrals’ which does aptly describes the magnificent canopy of this forest which provides welcome shelter for the all too frequent Irish wet weather.

It is said that a row of beech trees were planted at the local Tullynally castle specifically to block the view of the distant hill where hanging took place in Fore. You pass ‘hangman’s hill’ on the circular walk around Fore (where the old beech tree is) and at the end of the walk you reach the ruined gaol from where the guilty men spent their last hours. It is next door to my favourite pub of all time – the Seven Wonders Bar.

 

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The Seven Wonders Bar, Fore, Co. Westmeath

The pub’s name reflects the seven wonders – or miracles – that Saint Feichin, the local saint who founded Fore abbey in the 7th century – and whose name is given to the local primary school and parish church – is said to have performed.

The first miracle is the Spring that came gushing up from the earth when St Feichin struck the parched ground with his crozier and this spring was then able to feed the mill – ‘the mill without a race’.
He (2) built the monastery upon this marshy ground – or bog and (3) the underground flow of water here appeared to flow uphill to the Mill and past (4) the Ash tree – shaped like the Trinity with its’ three branches – that wouldn’t burn ( surviving terrible fires that occurred at the abbey).
The final three miracles listed are – (5) The water that doesn’t boil – (the water within St. Fechin’s well), (6) the anchorite in a cell – the hermits who occupied the anchorite’s cell and finally (7) the huge lintel-stone above the doorway of the ruined church opposite the abbey – raised by St. Fechin’s prayers alone.

It is worth a pint of guinness ( the best in Ireland) to toast such a hard working Saint.
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Portugal, Parks, Pollen (& Lions)

Estrella Park (Jardim da Estrela) in Portugal is magical. In central Lisbon it could easily be bypassed as it isn’t heavily advertised and is on the Western route taken by tram 28 rather than the more touristy Eastern ascending route to the cobbled hills of Alfama.
Stepping off the tram at the end of the line outside basilica Estrella the wrought iron entrances to the park opposite are camouflaged a little by the yellow miniature tram-shaped coffee hut. 

Estrella Park gates
 

I cross the road leaving the basilica area – crowded with funeral mourners and Funeral directors carrying large halos of fresh flowers from the four by four polished black hearse.

It is midday and on this beautiful sunny lunchtime I join the locals as they stroll through the green oasis of park with its’ palms, olive trees and magnificent banyans. 

Banyan tree
 

The banyan tree – the national tree of India – gives welcome shade. Apparently the Portugese adopted the word ‘banya’ from Gugerati when referring to the Hindu merchants who would gather to do business beneath it and so the tree gained its’ name. 

To Hindus the banyan is ‘the wish-fulfilling tree’. They are long-living and in mythology are seen as representing eternal life. 

It is strange to see their aerial roots hanging down from the branches. They will form trunks in the ground and can spread to 200 metres in diameter and 30 metres in height. 

The banyan features at the top right corner on the coat of arms of Indonesia,, symbolising the unity of Indonesia – one country with many far-flung roots.

Banyan tree on coat of armsof Indonesia
 

Strolling on I pass young and old – sitting, reading, dozing, chatting, sleeping. 

Lunchtime in Estrella Park
 

Sculptures blend happily into their surroundings.

Lisbon beauty
Taborda (actor)
 

And flying high above the pines are bright green Parakeets squawking and chasing each other above the human visitors below.

These tropical birds must have great views of the meandering paths, the glistening pond, intricate bandstand and outdoor cafes. 

At each view I stop, look and photograph – memory postcards to take back home.

My flight back is to London so I take advantage of a day there before returning to Cardiff. Icy wind and flakes of snow greet me in North London as I walk through Waterlow Park in Highgate. Estrella park was opened in 1873 and apparently featured a real live lion kept in a cage for over 70 years for the benefit of visitors. . Waterlow park – opened in 1889 leads to Highgate cemetery where sleeping above George Wombwell’s grave is Nero the lion who was in George’s travelling menagerie. The Wombwell family are still involved in the circus business.

Nero

Lions weren’t a feature In Victoria park in Cardiff (opened in 1897) but it did have a zoo and animals such as monkeys, a polar bear, antelope and exotic birds. Andy and Anne Bell’s website list all the animals known to have been kept in Victoria Zoo – Cardiff parks

Most people have heard of Billy the seal who lived in the park in from 1915-39 – Billy the seal

The nearest I got to wildlife in cold Waterlow park was two little moorhens who timidly tiptoed up to me in the hope of food. Even they looked a bit shivery.

On the tree trail around the park are some bee favourites such as indian bean, walnut, strawberry and Alder : Trees of Waterlow Park

In our sheltered garden our bees have been active over the winter months collecting some early pollen. 

I am one of the 20 per cent of people allergic to tree pollen and the Alder tree is amongst the early pollen producing trees that can cause an allergic reaction. Alder trees are monoecious – both male and female flowers appear on the same tree.
There are yellow male catkins and brown female cones on the Wales champion (2013) Italian alder in Roathmill park and on others along the bank at Roath recreation ground.

Alder cones & catkins
Alder in February
Alder, Roath recreation ground

More catkins on this beautiful silk tassel shrub in Roath Pleasure Gardens – 
Silk tassel shrub

To the bees, Pollen is considered to be ‘ bread’ – high in starch and a great carb/high energy food source for baby bees..
 My hay-fever-like symptoms (itchy eyes) usually occur anytime between now to May depending on how early Spring is and the amount of pollen released so I am on standby but have been taking a teaspoon of our spring honey every day trying to build up my immunity as local honey contains grains of pollen from the various plants – invaluable and why we have a waiting list..
Forager bees decide in advance if they are leaving the hive to collect nectar to make into honey or pollen to store up for development when they leave the hive. They return with the pollen on their legs like shopping bags. They give it to the housekeeper bees when they return home who put away in their cell-like cupboards. This is a frame of store honey and pollen in a frame from our hive. The yellows, greens and oranges are the pollen. The dark shiny cells are full of nectar/honey. The varied pollen colours reflect the different trees, shrubs and flowers they comes from.

Soon, the baby bees will emerge and the colony will develop. There are around 5000 bees in the hive at the moment. In Summer that will increase to 50,000 bees. Roll on Summer….

Pollen frame

Shortest day over..

Creating space

Head space is something to be treasured and retirement offers you the chance to find it. It gives you permission to find pleasure in simple everyday life and absorb the natural living landscapes on your doorstep. .

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Bee orchid, Howardian nature reserve

My real appreciation of the relevance of Nature as an everyday art form was in my visit to Tokyo a few years ago. Nature is considered vital to the wellbeing of the population crammed into every square inch of this high rise clean cut sophisticated city. The revered Tea ceremony, the neat gravel swept zen gardens and the beautiful cherished blossoms surrounding the many temples are honoured by the fast paced work-driven city dwellers.

‘Hanami’ – literally translated as ‘looking at flowers’ is the art of picnicing beneath the cherry blossoms or ‘sakura’in Spring.

The outstretched flower-laden cherry trees in Roath Mill and Waterloo gardens invite passers-by towards the grassy patch beneath them.

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Waterloo Gardens
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Roath Mill Gardens
The most common cherry in Japan is the ‘yoshino’ variety, known as the Japanese flowering cherry or Tokyo cherry. When at least five flowers have opened on this tree the official cherry blossom season is declared open n Japan.

Cardiff has an abundance of beautiful cherry trees – I was blown away by the stunning show in Cathays park in the civic centre this year – the cleverly planted red tulips vibrant against the pale pink background.
It is a place to sit and contemplate the words of the Japanese haiku poet named Basho

 

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The group to which cherry trees belong is called the ‘prunus’ group and this belongs to the rose family. Almond, plum, peach and nectarines also belong to this group and are a favourite for bees – especially the pollen and nectar of the large cherry plum ( prunus cerasifera) – one of the first cherry trees to flower.
Prunus padus in Bute park -is also good for pollen and nectar. The Cardiff parks website lists all the champion cherry trees in the various parks – 
http://www.cardiffparks.org.uk
Were it not for our Victorian ancestors and their belief in the importance of providing green open spaces for leisure we would probably have covered every inch with concrete. In these times of climate change and the realisation that our planet is changing we are perhaps prepared to now appreciate the importance of nature, the animals and insects – and the need to protect our wildlife such as bees. 

As well as bees and trees, another addition to my newly found freedom since leaving work is airbnb – 

There is a lot in common with renting out space whether in frames (for bees ) or rooms (for people.) Organisation and communication is key. I suppose the difference is that people can be guided and manipulated far more easily than bees can..

Being given enough ‘space’ is an absolute must in all cases. When left to their own devices bees will build horizontal combs in their nest site and the space between the combs is just enough for two bees to pass each other back to back in order to go about their day to day tasks – ‘the bee space’.Beekeepers provide manmade hives with ready made combs in the form of wax frames that slot into the hive in a way that honours the dimensions of the ‘bee space’ 

So in our terraced human hive in Cardiff my son wasn’t too perturbed when I rang him at university to let him know my planned use for his room space. ” Hi James, how are you?” I asked. “Fine” he said with his usual enthusiasm. I felt I had to launch in immediately – ” dad and I are going to decorate your room” I said with gusto followed by a suitable pause.. . “cool” he replied. “And” , I said, hurriedly, ” then we’re going to let it… You know, with Airbnb ” I felt a bit guilty. There was a pause and I held my breath before he replied “Go for it mum!” “It’s a good idea – and easy” . and I almost felt disappointed as his response underlined the fact that home to him is no longer permanent.
With the bees, permanency is not something they are used to either. They like to swarm…but for now they are tucked down in their hives in my garden. However with the mild winter they are already flying. This is not good as they are using their energy to fly – for nothing – as there is no pollen or nectar – they should be reserving for their emergence in Spring…