Bee In My Bean Blossom

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In April at The Earth Laughs In Flowers, Jude wants to see our garden macros. This is also the Day 5 of the 7-day nature photo challenge. So here we have a bumble bee heading for my field bean flowers. I don’t blame it. They smell divine on a still, spring day.

This photo was taken up on my allotment, probably last year. At the moment the current crop of field beans, sown in September-October and overwintered, is only a hand’s width tall, but they’re looking quite healthy. Once they get going, they will grow as tall as I am, and need some support. The photo also shows bean weevil damage on the leaves. This is one of the drawbacks of allotment gardening. Pests like this become endemic. On the whole, though, the beans seem to carry on regardless.

Field beans are related to the broad bean (aka fava or faba) and they look much the same, but are less than half the size. Mostly they are grown in the UK as a green manure, the plants dug in before flowering. I grow them to eat. They make great re-fried beans, soup and a bean version of guacamole, which is astonishingly good.

My crop was so productive last year, I was able to eat and freeze them, and save masses of seed to dry and sow for this year’s crop. It’s the first time I’ve done this, so it will be interesting to see how they turn out.  In consequence, I probably have grown too many. But once I see how the plants are faring, I shall sacrifice some of them. I mean to chop them down and leave them to rot on the soil surface, rather than digging them in. This will let the worms do the work, and keep the soil covered until I want to cultivate it.

I am beginning to see that digging is a very bad thing to do the earth. It wrecks the surface soil structure every time you do it, and so compromises fertility. Instead, the No Dig method relies on covering the soil surface with organic matter/compost every year, and then planting through it. The only problem is you need masses of compost. It also helps if you do your planting in raised beds. This way you do not walk on the soil, and can keep building up the fertility. Raised beds are easier to manage, and mulching the plants should massively cut down on the weeding, and the need to feed, or to water during dry spells.

Since last autumn I have been doing heavy labour on the new allotment plot that came with my polytunnel. (I hadn’t taken this into account when I got all excited about inheriting the tunnel from allotmenteers who were off to new territory.) The ground all round was heaving with dandelions and buttercups. And since this was before I discovered the no dig approach, I admit to using the quick and dirty method (though NOT weed killer) and slicing off the top layer of weeds, and dumping it in compost bins to rot down for a few years. The ground zero method of gardening.

I then commissioned He Who Does Not  Garden But Lives In My House to construct and install on my plot several raised beds made out of recycled builders’ yard pallets. A couple went into action straight away, and were planted up in October with over-wintering onion sets. The others I have been filling up over the past few weeks. So far the onions are looking healthy and a few weeks ago I sprinkled organic hen manure pellets over their beds, an alternative to sulphate of ammonia, which I didn’t have to hand.

By now you will be beginning to grasp the lengths that this writer will go to in order not to sit in front of her computer and cultivate the master work. So far I have shifted around 30 barrow-loads of an old garden rubbish heap that has apparently been in the corner of the allotment for the last forty years, and until recently was covered in brambles and nettles. Strangely too, it was my idea to recycle it.

Off course when I say heap, I really mean small mountain. It’s full of bonfires past, rodent nests, and decomposed leaves from the nearby ash tree, as well as nearly half a century of weeds and waste. There’s also broken glass, bits of plastic fertilizer bags, and all sorts of unidentifiable metal items that gardeners of yore thought could be disposed of in such a manner. As I sift through the heap, I think how good it is that I’m putting the field practice of my long ago archaeology degree course to some sort of use.

In fact I have been keeping an eye out for old coins, remembering that a few years ago I uncovered a 1725 halfpenny right outside my shed door. It helps to keep me amused during the boring process of extracting unwanted detritus and plant roots.

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I’ve also filled myself with a big enthusiasm infusion by deciding to dedicate one of the raised beds to growing flowering annuals to attract more bees. I shall also use it to grow on perennials (verbascum, heleniums, echinops) and biennial foxgloves that I’ve just germinated on the kitchen window sill. The thought of a raised bed bursting with summer flowers is so heartening. Doubtless you will see the results as time goes on.

But for now that’s enough talk about gardening. The sun is shining, and the weather forecast tells us we have a brief window of opportunity before the rain returns, so I’m off to the allotment with my pea and beetroot seedlings. I  may even sow some parsnips. Happy Sunday one and all.

 

#7-daynaturephotochallenge

31 thoughts on “Bee In My Bean Blossom

  1. Every time I read your posts, Tish, I resolve to find a spot or two to plant something delicious, maybe in pots, as that maybe all the space I have without ruining the landscaping (we’re in a rental house.) Love the photos, too.

    janet

  2. I’m so glad I read your post this morning Tish! I was planning to dig over one of my raised beds today, but am now thinking I’ll do as you suggested and leave the various bits and bobs there and cover them with compost. The poor garden has been a bit neglected, but as our run of warm sunny weather seems set to continue I have no excuse to continue the neglect. Lovely photos by the way. Happy gardening.

  3. That is a cracking shot of the bee. We don’t have this species over her that I am aware of.

    I’ve been meaning to ask you re this no dig policy. Our soil is very clayish and at times becomes very compacted. How does the no dig thing help with such soil?

    1. The premise is based on worm activity. If you can keep adding a layer of compost-heap mulch every year – several inches deep, and covering the entire bed, the worms should be attracted to furtle about in it. This should gradually improve drainage in your clay layer. You can even use sheets of brown cardboard as a means to kill off really weedy areas, and then cover that with mulch. (ripped up cardboard is also good in the compost heap, preferably scrunched up.) In time the cardboard will rot down, but worms are apparently attracted to that too. This might be handy in your garden during droughts. You can plant through the cardboard too. It’s all about building up fertility while not exposing the soil to moisture loss, or releasing carbon by digging. Our allotment soil is very heavy, and dries out like concrete after only short periods without rain. The good side is it’s usually more fertile. The traditional way to improve drainage in a clay soil is to dig in lots of compost, grow green manures and to add some sand, but this can take years and is hard work, and probably, it now seems, quite counter-productive.

      1. You can use grass to mulch. It can get a bit smelly and gunky, but then I guess it’s more likely to dry up first if you’re still not getting much rain. Hedge clippings can work too. Even stones and rocks can be used round plants. They collect condensation. I’ll do some no dig digging on the web and get back to you.

  4. All our gardens are in raised beds. Our soil is all rocks and roots. Virtually NO topsoil, so we built a stone wall and filled it with loam. We didn’t know it was a good thing to do. We didn’t really have a choice. The ground is so garden unfriendly.

  5. I love to hear about your allotment Tish, it brings back memories of going down to my Dad’s allotment in the 1940’s. I am envious of your centuries(?) old compost heap. How exciting. Did none of the other allotmenteers want it? I have fleeting thoughts of joining a community garden, but don’t know if, long term, I could commit to it. I also have fleeting thoughts of the red centre, the outback, Melbourne, Tasmania!!!!

    1. I noticed yesterday that the heap is gradually retreating, so a few of us are recycling it now. The barrowing is the hard part. It’s quite a haul to my plot.

  6. Superb photos as usual Tish, and a thoughtful manual for a gardener (which I’m absolutely not, although He who does garden but doesn’t usually live in my house is.) I liked the comparison with archaeology, and in fact your real archaeological find. Our market garden was the site of a pub in the gold rush days of the late 19thC, and we often found coins and old bottles. Also Aboriginal artefacts from much longer ago. Gives gardening an added dimension, eh?

  7. Such stunning captures of these little beauties in your garden Tish! I think they looked for heaven and found it right there at your spot. 😀

    Around here the garden services know they must put the grass cuttings in the smaller beds. The larger beds are not worked in at all. They must just blow all the leaves in there. The birds and spiders do enjoy that. Lots of food in the mulch.

    Thanks for an interesting post and wishing you a lovely week. ♥

  8. Such a wealth of knowledge lies within these pages, Tish! And that opening photo is perfection in my eyes. 🙂 He who does not garden is pretty nifty in other ways, isn’t he? 🙂

    1. Oh yes, He who doesn’t garden knows a lot about plant diseases. It worries me slightly that he finds dead and dying plants more interesting. But he’s a whizz on raised beds, and fixing stuff. And he much enjoys the cooked or salad contents of the allotment.

  9. Oh I love your bean and bee photo – that bee looks huge! And I always love reading about your allotment, it sounds fascinating and I love to hear what you grow and how you go about it. I have two small raised beds which I am hoping to grow herbs in one and maybe salad stuff and rhubarb in the other. At the moment they have lots of weeds and grass and maybe a strawberry plant or two. I may require advice!

    1. If the beds are really weedy you could try saving any brown cardboard from your removal, lay over the whole bed on the weeds. Dump some bags of compost on top so it’s a few inches thick. And let the worms work while you sort yourself out, and at least then the beds won’t be preying on your mind until you have time to deal with them. Eventually the cardboard will break down, but suppress weeds in the meantime, and you can of course plant through it. Wishing you every happiness in your new home, Jude.

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