Monthly Archives: July 2017

Naming the bees – a nod to Iain M Banks

Having left them in peace for many weeks, we looked in on the bees last Sunday. The hives felt heavy and the bees are collecting a lot of stores, hopefully enough that they won’t need extra feeding over the winter. Steph came over and acted as an observer, while we lifted frames and looked at the brood, honey and uncapped nectar. These bees have been busy.

The bees have been paying attention to the Malva moschata flowers

While she was with us Steph commented that, as we now have three colonies, we ought to give them names. She names hers after the places she collected the swarm from, which is a good method. We decided to be whimsical instead and have tipped our hats to late author Iain M Banks and the names he gave to spacecraft in his Culture novels.

The ships, and some planets, in the world of The Culture are run by sentient, hyperintelligent machines called Minds. The Minds choose their own names for ships which are often based on the Mind’s character or role. Thus, a military ship of the Limited Offensive Unit class called itself ‘Gunboat Diplomat‘ while a General Contact Unit ship chose ‘Just Read The Instructions‘. Sometimes the reason for a ship’s choice of name isn’t clear, at others it is, as in the Cruise Ship ‘Just Passing Through‘.

With the above in mind, here are the names we’ve chosen –

The first hive we had in the garden came to be here via our initial meeting with Steph when she came to collect a swarm that settled in the Magnolia tree last summer. She said that the garden would be good bee habitat and suggested that we foster one of her colonies and see how we liked it. If all went well, the colony would be divided the following spring and she’d take half back. Those bees are now spending the summer here before going to her apiary a few miles away. We’ve designated this hive as a GSV (General Systems Vehicle) and called it ‘A Very Fortunate Meeting‘.

On the right is ‘A Very Fortunate Meeting’. The box on the left is the colony division – it now has another layer on it as the bees are bringing in more supplies

The second colony arrived as a swarm on May 22 this year. It started out in a ‘nuc’ box, a temporary hive smaller than permanent ones. Earlier this month we transferred the bees into a larger hive and Karl made special extended frames to give them more building space. Because of the large frames we put it into SL (Super Lifter) class and, for no particular reason other than we liked the sound, called it ‘The Pipes of Apis‘ (after the biological name Apis mellifera and the sound new queens make).

‘The Pipes of Apis’ being transferred from the nuc box to their new hive

The third colony also arrived as a swarm, some time over the weekend of June 3-4 when we were away. Karl had seen a description and plans for a swarm box, a box attached to a tree in order to attract a swarming colony – an easy way to acquire bees if you have a tree they like. The swarm box had been put in the tree, but we’d only put three frames in it as we hadn’t yet taken delivery of the materials to make more. When we went away, the box was empty and we got home a few days later to find a colony had already moved in and set up housekeeping.

We decided to let them keep the box and be wild bees. They seem content to do that, they’re increasing in numbers and busy filling the box with comb. We’ve assigned them to the GCU (General Contact Unit) class and, additionally, put them in the organisation known as Special Circumstances. Given that their box hangs 3m high in the tree, we’ve named them ‘Sisters of Swing‘.

‘Sisters of Swing’

This is what we saw when we used an endoscopic camera to look inside after they’d been in there for three weeks. This type of camera is new to us and the film is pretty jerky, but you can see what’s going on. The last section shows the inside of a nuc box.

There you have it – frivolous names chosen simply to amuse ourselves, but now the colonies can be identified more easily than just pointing at them. If you’re familiar with Iain M Banks, then I hope this amuses you!

 

A tale of two roses – pruning to restore vigour

A few years ago, a client asked me to remove the suckers from a climbing rose growing up the back of her house. At the time this rose wasn’t part of my work and the job fell to the man who cut the grass because the client hadn’t the heart to take the task from him. I was disappointed but accepted it and got on with the rest of the garden. Until I was asked to work on the rose I hadn’t looked at it properly and, to my horror, I realised that although there appeared to be plenty of growth trained against the wall, it was almost all suckers that had been tied in and only one stem of the main rose was left. Worse, it was completely bare for the first 2m (approximately seven feet). It looks like ‘Easlea’s Golden Rambler‘ which is vigorous, but with a reputation for legginess and this one was certainly leggy.

What was left after the suckers were removed

What do you do with a climbing rose which is bare for the first 2m? I could have cut it back hard and let it start again, but the client was by no means young and she’d been ill recently. I wished her to have her rose back as quickly as possible, so I looked for other options. It struck me that I could trick it into thinking it had been cut back by taking a notch out of the lower stem, cutting into the cambium just above a dormant bud, and seeing if this broke the bud dormancy.

Not pretty, but it works

That was at the end of September and the rose was left to think about it over winter. Spring broke and I checked the stem at every visit I made to the garden, searching for a sign of growth. It finally arrived, a little red nub poking out of the bark.

The red nub made short work of growing, fast becoming a thick, very thorny stem. In the following weeks more red nubs appeared and seven new stems erupted from the bare wood. New wires were put up to support them and the training began.

New growth

As is done elsewhere, I bent the stems horizontally and have been tying them in so that they curl at the ends. Encouraging horizontal growth changes the plant hormone mix in the stem and promotes the development of flowering buds.

The lower stems now flower well

Two years later and it’s flowering well and starting to cover the wall again.

There is more to be done, but this is a pleasing start

Rose number two. This was another wall trained rose and it was one of the saddest roses I’ve ever seen.

Where to begin?

Like the other rose, the stems were bare for several feet. It was a complicated tangle, with long-unpruned stems zigging back and forth across the wall. Others had been bundled up, had wire wrapped around them and then been stuffed behind a drain pipe.

Far too much of the rose looked like this

It was hard to see where on the plant growth started and it took a good long session of puzzling before I decided how to tackle the job. It was as well that I started then, too, because the client said two weeks later that he was thinking of taking it out because ‘It’s never done anything’. He’d lived there for nearly 20 years and it had performed so poorly that he couldn’t remember what colour the flowers were.

New growth in June

Work had started in mid-March; fast forward to the end of June. The rose reacted better than my highest expectations. New stems appeared along the bare wood, glossy foliage unfurled all over and large clusters of flower buds burst forth.

 

The first flower – it made my heart sing

One by one, the buds opened until there was a mass of richly scented creamy white flowers and I recognised it as a variety called ‘Wedding Day‘, a truly lovely rambler. There is still plenty of re-shaping to be done, but it came back and that’s what matters. I smiled for weeks about that rose, it made my summer.

Lush growth, masses of flowers, exquisite scent

The Golden Rule with this type of pruning is called ‘The Three ‘Ds’ – standing for dead, damaged and diseased. Everything coming under those descriptors is removed. After that congested growth is thinned out and you see what you’re left with; often it isn’t very much, but as long as it’s healthy growth it should be okay. Give the plant a good feed, mulch with compost, give plenty of water and you ought to get positive results.