Friday, 14 July 2017

how does your countryside grow?

I was at a barbecue with assorted beekeepers this evening.  In the course of one conversation I picked up a new theory as to what the cereal crop on the lettuce farm might have been about. Apparently the farms north of Colchester, around Wormingford and Aldham, have been growing maize and rye for biomass.  It has been harvested stalks and all, before it is even ripe, and carted off to feed the boilers.  That would account for why there was no straw left when the fields around us were harvested, and why they were cut before any of the other cereal fields I've driven past in recent days.  If the grains weren't even wanted for animal feed, never mind flour, it wouldn't matter if they weren't yet fully ripe.

The Wormingford beekeeper was lamenting that this year there was nothing in the countryside for his bees.  Maize and rye are no good for them (grasses being wind pollinated) and potato flowers not much better, and they have been having to scrape by on what they can find in local gardens. When we bought our house I did not know that I was going to take up beekeeping, but we have been lucky with the woods and hedgerows, and the number of field margins and headlands left as rough grass, so that there are wild flowers and brambles, sweet chestnut and wild gean, and some fragments of the old orchards.  The English countryside can offer very thin pickings to honey bees, and it's no wonder that numbers of bumble bees and other wild insects are in long term decline.

The garden helps, but of course it would take a huge number of border plants to match the floral output of one mature chestnut.  Recently the bees have been all over the lavender, the thyme in the railway garden, and the oregano which is gradually spreading from its original toeholds in the herb bed and one end of the long be in the front garden to colonize the other end of the long bed and the edge of the drive, and a few years ago managed to set up one outpost in the back garden. Single roses are acceptable, though not completely full doubles.  Cistus are good.  In late summer the intense humming coming from the Boston ivy tells us that the bees are assiduously working its flowers, which are almost too small to see.  The parsley which has gone to seed is of little interest to bees, but there is some kind of small red fly whose name I do not know that adores it.  In general umbellifers seem particularly attractive to hoverflies.

Maybe once UK agriculture no longer falls within the CAP we will adopt (and pay for) countryside policies that help conserve wild bees and butterflies.  But maybe we won't.

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