Author Archives: Helen Rogers

How to Easily Change a Lawn into Flower Garden

In front of our house we had a small, north facing lawn. We never used it and it was a chore to keep it mown. I had always thought that because it is north facing, it would get a relatively small amount of direct sun, which would limit what can be grown there. However, being at home more than usual over the past year gave me time to watch how much direct sun it actually gets. I was surprised that from March until October it has around 6 hours each day, which is plenty for many flowering plants that bees like to forage on.

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I didn’t like the idea of digging up all the grass, or using a herbicide to kill it off, so we decided to use the “No Dig” method advocated by Charles Dowding. We’ve used this method successfully in the past to create a vegetable patch in our back garden. It’s super simple – you lay down a layer of carboard over the entire area, then cover it with compost. You can then sow or plant directly into the compost. Over time the card will rot and the grass will die. I waited until our recycling collection day and collected all the card in the neighbourhood! There was more than enough to make a good layer.

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I then added a layer of compost. Some I bought and some we’ve made. We compost nearly all our kitchen scraps and garden trimmings, so we had quite a good stash. Here it is layered up.

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The plan is to sow a lot of flower seeds in March, which I’m hoping will then bloom right through until around November. To add some earlier flowers, I poked holes through the card board and planted lots of spring bulbs. They are now poking their noses through the compost layer, so it shouldn’t be too long before there is some colour in the muddy patch!

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In the autumn I also sowed some biennials, such as Foxgloves and Sweet Williams, which are overwintering in our tiny greenhouse – I’ll plant them out once the risk of frosts have past.

The hope is that we will have a feast for bees and other pollinators from spring until late autumn – much better than a boring lawn!

80 Flowers for Bees

Way back at the beginning of the first lockdown, my mother and I started a little project.

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This year we decided to pay extra attention to which plants in both our gardens seemed to be particularly attractive to bees. As we couldn’t meet, we frequently discussed what we saw when we spoke on the phone. I would often send her photos of flowers, which she quickly identified. I kept lots of notes – she would tell me which position the plants would thrive in, how tall they would grow and all the essential information needed to successfully grow them.

My parents live in rural Oxfordshire and over the years have created a large, beautiful and productive garden. My mother is an extremely knowledgeable horticulturalist – growing up, our home phone was always ringing with people wanting gardening advice from her. We would joke that it was like a continuous episode of Gardeners Question Time.

I started drawing the flowers and I realised that we were putting together a useful tool that would help people make good decisions about choosing plants for their gardens. The idea for 80 Flowers for Bees was born.

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Bees (not including honey bees) around the world are declining in numbers and it is understood that this is partly caused by lack of food – which means, lack of flowers. Everyone, wherever they live, can do something simple to help this situation – all we need to do is to plant more flowers. 80 Flowers for Bees helps you pick plants that will help nourish bees. I aim to have something in flower in our garden at all times of the year that is useful forage for bees. In the book we give information on flowering times, where to plant flowers, how big they will get, when to plant them and which varieties of the plants are particularly popular with bees.

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I’ve been assured by the printers that we will have the first batch of books with us for our launch date, 17th December. We will post all the pre-orders out on the 18th, which means they will be with you in time for Christmas. So, if you know someone who is interested in wildlife, bees or plants, or who just enjoys eating honey, this little book will make a perfect present or stocking filler. It is available to pre-order in our online shop here. Happy planting!

Free PDF for Autumn Planting

We are always striving to plant more flowers that benefit bees – the trouble is that it can be bewildering choosing appropriate plants, so we have produced a one page guide to just 4 plants that you can plant right now.

If you’d like a copy then pop your email in the form below and we’ll send you a link to download the file.

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Autumn

It’s now the end of the beekeeping season for this year. We won’t be opening our hives for inspections until the spring now. At this time of the year wasps can be a real pain for honey bees – they will attack weak colonies and raid them for their stores. Thankfully this year our colonies are strong so have been able to stop any raiders from entering the hives. This morning I helped a friend who is looking after a small colony that was getting hammered by wasps. We came up with a rather Heath Robinson contraption to try a fool the wasps. The idea is that direct flight into the hive is now impossible, which confuses the wasps. The bees are smarter and quickly worked out that they could get in by going round the edge of the plastic plate. Let’s hope that this colony makes it through the winter.

Autumn beekeeping

A few weeks ago we entered the The North London Beekeepers’ annual show. Many honey shows have been cancelled this year for obvious reasons. I was so pleased with how our entries got on this year – we have very talented bees! We joined a Zoom call to hear all the results announced and then I ran another popular honey tasting session.

Autumn beekeeping

We have now extracted all our honey for the year – it is available to buy through our website shop. My favourite lot for the year is #80 – it is a very dark honey, with a tangy and spicy flavour. We don’t have very many jars of it, so I recommend that you grab a jar while we still have some available (or before I eat it all…).

Autumn beekeeping

August

We are in the middle of a heat wave in London. I can’t even contemplate putting on a beesuit and inspecting our hives – This sort of weather makes me really respect beekeepers from warmer parts of the world – it is no fun being in your own private sauna while trying to properly check through hives.

We’ve been steadily taking off batches of honey for the last month or so. The yield this year is down on last year, but we are thankful to have some. It has been such a delight comparing the different batches – the colours and flavours are so variable depending on which flowers the bees have been foraging on.

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We have also taken our first cut comb honey of the year – to me nothing beats eating honey directly from the comb. It really is the most natural and simple way to enjoy it.

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Last month I had great fun giving a talk to the Stroud Green WI. I had originally been scheduled to do it in March, but it was postponed due to the lock down. We eventually got everyone together via Zoom. I talked about beekeeping in London, then we did a honey tasting. I sent them each small samples of various types of honey and we tasted them together. I think that they were amazed by the huge variations between the different types of honey and I was delighted that they appeared to enjoy our honey the most! London honey is particularly flavorsome because of the huge variety of plants that the bees are able to forage on.

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This year we decided to change the material of our label – for sometime we have been trying to decrease our use of single use plastic and we felt that our clear plastic labels could no longer be justified.

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June

May was ridiculously dry in London – while we enjoyed the endless days of sunshine our poor bees were starting to struggle by the end of the month. The blossoms that they like to forage on were all blooming, but the plants were not producing much nectar because of the lack of rain.

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A full hive of bees

Thankfully June has brought some rain, in fact it is pouring outside right now, so things are looking much better now.

The Blackberries and clover around us are in full bloom and we noticed the other day that the Lime trees have just started to flower. These plants usually give a significant nectar flow which allows us to take first crop of honey. It is always interesting watching the foraging bees as they leave the hives – when there is a good source of nectar they zip out without hesitation and zoom off with great purpose. Returning foragers arrive heavily laden, sometimes crash landing into the hive entrance.

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Lime flowers

Lockdown

What an extraordinary spring we are having this year. Lockdown has kept us at home, with only brief journeys out to check on the bees. The beautiful weather has meant that many flowers are early this year – our colonies have built up quickly and are busy piling in the pollen and nectar. The smell of spring nectar when we open the hives is intoxicating.

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School from home has now settled down into some kind of routine for us – it turns out that my son is very enthusiastic about helping with the bees. He surprised me with his knowledge – it’s good to know that he does pay attention to some of the bee things that we discuss!

We are fortunate to live very close to Hampstead Heath – most days we venture out there for a walk. We’ve loved exploring areas that we’d somehow overlooked in the past. It has also been wonderful to see the trees coming into bloom week by week. This magnificent Horse Chestnut is currently plastered in flowers, all buzzing nicely with bees.

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January in our garden

We try to have something in flower in our garden at all times of the year that will provide some pollen and nectar to any passing insects. January and February are often perceived as the gloomiest months of the year, but our garden still has a few offerings.

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This lovely viburnum has been flowering for a couple of months now – It seems to like being in our shady North facing front garden – the scent is divine, I sometimes get wafts of it as we come and go from the house.

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Also in our front garden, is this rosemary – which again has been flowering on and off for a month or so. It’s so handy to be able to pick a sprig when I need a bit for cooking.

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I’m a big fan of hellebore and we have quite a few different colours of them – this is the first to flower this year.

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These little charmers are just about to open too – so pretty, I just love them.

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And just in time for Burns Night, we have some heather flowering!

Book Review

The Book of Bees Book Cover
The Book of Bees Thames & Hudson 72 pages

This is such a great book. Our copy was given to us as a present and since then I’ve bought multiple copies of it for other people. It’s a big book (about 40cm x 28cm) so you can’t slip it into your back pocket, but it’s perfect for browsing through at home. It is fully illustrated with large, clear pictures – I usually take it with me to schools if I’m talking to a small group of children about bees. It covers everything bee in a surprising amount of detail – ranging from the different jobs that bees do in the hive, to pollinating plants to beekeeping in ancient Egypt. It’s genuinely a book that appeals to all ages – every school library should have a copy!

buy it here: Book of Bees

Book Review

The Beekeeper of Aleppo Book Cover
The Beekeeper of Aleppo 337

This is an incredibly moving book, although it is a work of fiction it is apparently based on many of the stories that the author collected while she was working at a refugee centre in Athens. It describes how Nuri, a beekeeper, and his blind, artist wife flee from war torn Syria. It follows their perilous journey across Europe – flipping between Nuri’s beekeeping and safe family memories and the horrors of their current situation. The book is very easy, fast, but rather emotional to read – it has left a lasting impression on me.

buy it here: The Beekeeper of Aleppo