A hive of activity

Bees have made a home in my lawn!

I have done some research and apparently solitary bees in Britain are highly diverse, therefore so are their nesting habits. The majority of British species nest in the ground, excavating their own nest. The female builds the nest by herself. She chooses a suitable piece of ground in which to nest and uses her body to dig out a nesting chamber in the ground. She adds pollen to the chamber, which is often moistened with nectar, and lays an egg. She then seals off that section of the nest before moving onto the next chamber. Although most solitary bees nest solitarily, in suitable nest sites you often find aggregations of nests.

There are definitely multiple bees entering this nest – I have watched them at length – they are fascinating – they emerge from the hole individually and fly off in search of pollen. Then they zoom back in with great speed and accuracy. I want to know how they avoid emerging at the same time or arriving back as another emerges. I would love to be able to see under the ground – how big is this chamber and how complex?

I do have to be careful as the entrance is right beside our garden bench and the border at the bottom of the garden. I have had close calls while gardening in that area, sandals are not a good idea near to a bee landing pad! So as a reminder to myself I have made them a house name – they certainly don’t need it to find their way home though!

Highs and Lows

What I’ve always wanted – well probably not always – I don’t remember wanting one as a child or a teenager! But what I’ve wanted for a long time is a proper greenhouse. Not a full sized greenhouse but one that has a permanent structure and the ability to provide heat to plants in the colder months. I do have what I refer to as my plastic greenhouse – it’s actually made of numerous metal tubes that slot into a plastic framework – you build it  in layers – then slip a plastic cover over it, which has a zip up front to it. This is OK but there’s no heating and it starts to resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa once you have any weight of pots inside it.

A low, or high, depending how you look at it, occurred a couple of weeks ago when it took off in the wind scattering soil, pots and all my seedlings everywhere. Odd Job Man and I spent 3 hours in the gale recovering the disaster. I was scrabbling around for seedlings and attempting to repot them while at the same time hanging on to the greenhouse, which was determined to take off again at any opportunity. He was balanced on a ladder attaching hooks to the outside wall of our house upon which to secure it. If this is not proof that I need a more sturdy alternative, what is? – it’s my birthday soon – I am hoping – but otherwise I think I will be treating myself!

But then I start to feel disloyal – my plastic greenhouse has served me pretty well. I have lovingly machined the zips and plastic together where they have parted company and patched small rips with duck tape. It has repaid me with small crops of courgettes, tomatoes and mangetout.

There are more lows I’m afraid – my sunflower growing has been unimpressive – you can see below the one lonely specimen which has so far reached the height of around 15cms. And my sweet peas are pretty pathetic so far.

Highs for me this week are seeing one of my hebes come into flower along with my beautiful rambling rose. A very elderly honeysuckle I was going to pull out last year because it seemed to be diseased, has flowered, as has a newer one for the first time. And look how the gravel pit has burst into life!

Sweet Peas

In my blog on 12 April – “Feeling Frugal” – I talked about my attempts to grow sweet peas, my neighbours’ new kitten “Sweet Pea” and my quest to revive some geraniums I had over-wintered in a high-end shopping bag. The geraniums have been one of my successes – look at them now – this clearly reflects the quality of their winter abode !

However the sweet peas have been a bit of a “disaster daahling”. Only a couple of the seeds I found in my Dad’s flat germinated and their growth was stunted, which is not surprising. The new seeds I planted grew a bit and then seemed to come to a grinding halt. Some have remained vertically challenged but one or two do seem to be taking off over the last week or so. I was crestfallen though, when I visited our local RHS gardens a fortnight ago and saw their impressive displays – not only have they grown to about 2 metres high, but are also bearing masses of blooms – where did I go wrong?

Talking of sweet peas, last week I was on yet another work related Zoom call when I saw a WhatsApp message pop up from my neighbour Victoria. “Cat awol”. There was nothing I could do at that moment but I could feel myself becoming agitated as I could hear her calling for Sweet Pea – her voice becoming more and more distressed. Just as my meeting ended Odd Job Man burst into our home office wearing only the top half of his running gear – “you need to get Albert round to the park to help Elizabeth with the cat – I’ve got to go, I’m late”. I raced out, grabbed a cat crate from Albert and hot footed it to the park behind our houses. There I found Victoria – she’d only had the pot taken off her broken wrist 3 days ago, the other arm still badly sprained. She was clinging on to Sweet Pea who was curled into a rigid ball shape while managing to simultaneously hiss and scratch. I’m not sure how, but Victoria managed to ram Sweet Pea into the crate with brute force and slam the door shut – I tried to fasten it but in a nano second Sweet Pea ejected at the speed of light and ran towards their back fence – too high for her to climb and no way in underneath. Victoria by this stage was in a state of shock – probably not helped by my expletive explosions as Sweet Pea escaped. We stalked poor frightened Sweet Pea and saw her go under the fence of another neighbour. Then began the shouting to Albert – who unfortunately has dementia and is a bit deaf – “go round to Geoff’s garden and take some treats Albert” – no answer – we could no longer see Sweet Pea but she hadn’t come back our way. Relief eventually came when Albert shouted – “she’s here – in the house”! I was exhausted and retreated to my garden with a glass of prosecco.

Pitting Our Wits

This Covid situation we find ourselves in can be unpleasant, scary and inconvenient – but I always try to think positive. We have been pretty much confined to our own homes but the weather has been good, so that extends to the garden if you are lucky enough to have one. My job is busier than ever at the moment but during my time off I feel I have achieved great things. It has been useful to have a resident Odd Job Man, who is unable to carry out his regular work at the moment and has so far not been selected for any volunteer work. There is an area of our garden known to us as “the gravel pit”. It’s at the bottom of the garden and is a real suntrap but it has fallen into a sorry state of repair over the last few years. Finally there has been time to tackle it, so after several long days we are pleased with the results.

Before
After

The one thing spoiling it was our old barbecue – it was in a shameful state – rusty and worse still hadn’t been cleaned out since the last barbecue of 2019 – grim. Odd Job Man announced he had ordered a new one – he reported that the web site feedback was generally excellent but there were one or two comments about it being a little challenging to assemble – they were probably from people not used to self-assembly he said. The box arrived in record time and after 3 days sitting in the garage while any viruses clinging to it had time to expire, he ripped it open. I was cleaning the bathroom – I could hear a lot of clanging and grunting going on outside. I imagined I would look out of the window and see a fully assembled barbecue but no – what I saw was an array of parts laid out like an operating theatre. I ventured out and asked what the problem was. 26 pages of instructions for a start. Close up I could also see numerous small storage pots from the kitchen cupboard, each containing different numbers and sizes of screws, nuts, bolts and washers. He looked completely exasperated and befuddled. I started to look at the instructions – it was a mistake – before I knew it I had been lured into the construction process. 4 hours later our new barbecue was born!

Before
After

The story doesn’t end there. He decided to put the old barbecue out on the pavement in case the scrap metal man came by. I said I didn’t think he would in the current situation. It sat there for days. I felt embarrassed – what would the neighbours think? Then on day 5 a young man called out to Odd Job Man who was in the garage and asked whether he could have it, saying in broken English he could make it work and only lives around the corner. It was filthy – I’m so ashamed. I envisage him getting it home and being ordered to put it straight out on the kerb again!

Feeling Frugal

Towards the end of February I wrote about the Sweet Pea seeds I found when clearing out my Dad’s flat. The packet had been opened, was displaying signs of water damage and the expiry date was 2016. I optimistically planted the seeds but nothing happened. Monty Don says they should germinate within a week! A fortnight ago I very nearly turned the seed tray over to something else, but a little voice said “just give them a bit longer“. I was so excited last weekend when I found a lone seedling had appeared! Since then another has started to emerge. The challenge now will be to stop any beasties eating my precious crop!

Talking of Sweet Peas, Victoria and Albert have a new addition to the family – a young rescue cat – she is called Sweet Pea. The other day Victoria and I were conversing through the natter-hatch – what a blessing it has been since lock-down! She was telling me about Sweet Pea’s less favourable habits such as shredding the lounge carpet and running about on their bed all night. I was a little disconcerted when later in the day I received a WhatsApp from her “I am just in garden stringing up sweet pea S 🙀”. I have seen Sweet Pea sitting in the window since then and she does move, so I think we can rest easy.

Some weeks ago Victoria told me that she grows carnations by taking cuttings from the cut flowers Albert buys her from the supermarket. Next thing I knew she presented me with a handful and told me to pop them in a glass of water. Within days I could see roots appearing and I now have a number of plants growing in my conservatory – I’m not supposed to use it as a greenhouse but I haven’t got one so hey ho!


At the end of last summer I was feeling particularly Scrooge-like and decided to carry out an experiment. I begrudge spending money on geraniums every year only to see them killed off by the frost. Did I mention I don’t have a heated greenhouse? Anyway I Googled and found a method of overwintering geraniums by hanging them upside down in a paper bag. I carefully prepared the 5 plants which had flowered gloriously in my outdoor pots over the summer. I made sure they had a quality home to hang out in and left them to it.

Last week I brought them out of the darkness, gave them a spruce up and potted all but one that hadn’t taken well to the experience.

Look at this only a week later!


And finally, my Mum and Dad’s Christmas trees are now side by side in smart matching pots – they look very happy together.

A week of irritation, idiocy and invaders

This week seems like it has been a catalogue of disasters. It started on Sunday with a much awaited outing to see an interview with Helen Fielding in Leeds. I did some pruning in the morning and checked the weather for Harrogate and Leeds – less than 5% chance of rain it said. Great – can take lighter jacket without hood – less bulk on bus and theatre.

I walked the short distance from home to the bus stop, far too early but I was happy to sit on the bench next to the stop and enjoy the sunshine. I fished my phone out of my pocket. To my horror as I looked down I realised my right foot was sitting in a pool of vomit. There followed lots of Effing and Jeffing as I tried to scrape it off on the grass verge. Not happy with the result I spied a puddle and proceeded to paddle and scrape. Just then there was a red flash as the 36 bus sped past – it must not have been clear I was waiting for it. At the same time the heavens opened and I hurried towards home resembling a member of the royal family as I tried to cover my newly straightened hair with my scarf. Luckily Victoria was able to come to the rescue and drive me to the bus station in time to catch the bus. However this didn’t help the no hood, no brollie situation as it rained heavily all afternoon, so the scarf was well and truly soaked by the end of the day.

Yesterday I tried to pay in my local Coop by presenting a £5 note to the card machine. By the smirk on his face it was clearly going to be a good story for the young man behind the till to tell about a batty old woman.

Today I arrived for my Personal Training session 2 hours early – I was a week ahead of myself. I spent 5 minutes insisting I was right only to have to eat humble pie when I got back to my car and checked our text exchanges. The error meant I had to reschedule a meet up with a friend. I texted her to say I would be with her at 1230 only to find, having hit send that I had sent the message to my PT, which of course caused even more confusion! Worse still I then received a message from Victoria to ask whether I knew badgers had dug up my lawn. I sent the following message to my husband but again inadvertently sent it to my PT:

“Got this from Victoria – she says it looks like they have dug up our lawn – I didn’t notice when I looked out this morning:

“Oh dear you look as if the badgers have been in your garden ☹️ Tony had 2 and also Trevor, 

🙈

🦡”

I replied to Victoria “Ooh what have they done?”

Victoria – “Oh from upstairs it looks as if they have dug your lawn, maybe, hopefully it’s an illusion “

🙃

I googled and spent the next half hour worrying about photos I found on the Saga web site:

A hole in the lawn dug by a badger

Victoria then texted me to say:

“Had a look through natter hatch I may be mistaken can’t tell!! Sorry for the worry I ‘m good like that!!xx”

It turned out the badgers had not dug up our lawn – it was disgracefully long and tufty though and hence the illusion. However Tony and Trevor have been treated to the above in multiple areas of their lawns. I have to say I am quite pleased there are badgers in the vicinity of my garden, but they can stay off my lawn please!

PS the Saga article is worth a read – it contains a few laughs!

https://www.saga.co.uk/magazine/home-garden/gardening/advice-tips/pests/how-to-stop-badgers-digging-holes-in-your-lawn

Keep it Clean

This week I have finally cleaned out my bird feeders. I know this should really be done regularly to minimise the spread of finch trichomonosis and Paridae pox. However the thought of the task and the time it takes has meant I have left it far too long between cleans. Most of my bird feeders are the squirrel proof variety and do come apart, but I am always worried about getting all the bits back together and in the right order. Because I had left it so long it made the cleaning process all the more difficult. Green algae needed removing from corners and crevices and some of the seeds were sprouting! To my shame, I am sure the last layer of peanuts in one of the feeders was starting to ferment and my fat tray was a disgrace – a layer of black mouldy seed husks, stuck fast to the bottom of the container. The cleaning process involved scraping and probing with a variety of instruments, lots of changes of hot soapy water and a pan scourer, now designated for the purpose. I felt very virtuous as I refilled the feeders and hung them out for my birds – I hope they appreciate my hard work!

Next I turned to my bird baths – I have a couple of smaller ones on spikes and one that hangs from a fence bracket. They all needed a good scrub but it soon became clear that my larger bird bath has seen better days. As I took hold of it, bits of concrete started to come away in my hand until it resembled a part eaten pie. I’ve cleaned what remains but I feel my birds deserve a new one!

It brought to mind the bathroom I had put up with for over 16 years. I could bear it no more and embarked on a refit last year. I am now at the bird bathroom design stage – what do I replace it with? The outgoing free standing one is made of concrete – clearly water has seeped into cracks and expanding ice has caused it to break. An online search reveals a variety of alternative materials to choose from, but they all have their own disadvantages. Plastic/resin is not very heavy so these may blow over unless pinned down with stakes – and to be honest some of them look really naff. There is an array of metal ones available – some are really cheap, so likely to be flimsy and have similar issues to plastic. Others are more robust, so you would think heavier, but they’re also expensive. Then there are the coloured glass ones on metal stands – I feel sure it wouldn’t be long before a careless swing of a spade or fork caused a breakage. The stone ones are pricey and I would need help with lifting. I can see this going the same way as my bathroom – weeks of indecision, starting off with a price in mind which had at least doubled by the time I’d finished!

Growing Through Grief

I have written previously about how gardening helped me work through the grief I experienced when I lost my beloved dog Pebbles 6 years ago. Now I need its help again following the death of my Dad. Even in these dark, cold and wet February days, the garden provides distraction and hope.

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Victoria has been making regular deliveries of snowdrops from her garden in a tiny vase which sets them off perfectly. What is it about looking at these flowers that makes me feel so uplifted? The freshness of the bright green stems against the dainty white flowers makes me think that Spring isn’t far around the corner. I have so enjoyed having them in my home that I have resolved to plant more in my garden. I haven’t had much success in the past – I spent hours on my knees planting hundreds of the tiny bulbs some years ago – none of them came up. They may have provided a feast for the squirrels, but I have since read that planting the dried bulbs is often met with disappointment and that planting “in the green” is generally more successful. This has been my experience, having planted a couple of pots two years ago. The problem is if I used them for cut flowers there would be none left to look at in the garden! So yesterday I bought four more pots and as soon as it stops raining and blowing a gale, they will be joining the others.

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Last summer Victoria also provided me with regular bunches of sweet peas. They too are a delight to have in the house – their fragrance is delicious and the pastel coloured petals so soft and calming. When Victoria was away I was able to prolong flowering by helping myself to any blooms appearing in her absence. This led to another gardening resolution – grow some sweet peas of my own. I found a packet of seeds in my Dad’s flat – use by 2016 …..

… but I’ve read of seeds found in ancient shipwrecks being grown successfully, and I don’t subscribe too seriously to use by dates of any description, so I’ve given it a go. I hope they grow and provide me with a happy reminder of my Dad later in the year. Before planting, I watched a Monty Don video on how to grow sweet peas, so I reckon I’m in with as good a chance as any! He says they should germinate within a week. Think I might buy some new seeds as well though, just in case.

Another project is to re pot and keep alive these mini Christmas Trees. Following two stays in hospital in December, my Dad returned home to his flat where he wanted to end his days. His bedroom was cleared to make room for a hospital bed. I put the smaller of these trees on the table that went over his bed and decorated it with little star lights and tiny baubles. His Christmas cards were on strings on the wall opposite the end of his bed, joined by birthday cards on 30 December – 87 years. The bigger tree was from my Mum’s nursing home room – all the residents were given one and rather than see it go out with the rubbish after Christmas, I brought it home. The idea is that next Christmas she will be able to have both in her room, but if not they will take pride of place on my front door step, complete with fairy lights.

Feeling Waspish

angry wasp

Wasps have generally been a nuisance this week haven’t they? It’s that time of year when their thoughts seem to turn to annoying as many people as they can by persistently dive bombing, buzzing around faces and hair and trying to participate in any al fresco meal you may attempt to enjoy.

A few weeks ago the man fitting some replacement windows for us alerted us to a wasps nest at the front of our house. The wasps were entering just under the guttering through a crack in the fascia boarding. Things worked well on that occasion – we contacted our insurance company and they organised a wasp exterminator who appeared the following morning, climbed his ladder and quickly dealt with the pests.

I’ll just go back a step at this point. When my husband (better known as Grumbling Rose) had told me about the problem, I said to him that I thought there could be another nest on the other side of the house. He dismissed my concern outright – “they’ll be making their way to the existing nest” – “anyway I’m surprised you can see them at all with your eye sight” he scoffed. I wasn’t convinced but had more immediate issues to worry about and so left it at that.

At the weekend I was tidying up a honeysuckle at the side of the house when I caught sight of hundreds of tiny beasties buzzing about just above the eaves. I went round to the front of the house – our drive slopes steeply upwards to the pavement and from there I could see, with the aid of my 10 year old  varifocal gardening sunglasses, that the wasps were entering via the gaps between the roof tiles. So once again I phoned our trusty insurance company. Once we had navigated data protection and GDPR, they asked the usual string of questions – is the house detached, semi-detached, bungalow, how many storeys and where are the wasps. I supplied the required information – it’s a detached 3 storey house – ground floor, first floor and loft room. The wasps are entering via gaps in the roof tiles. A young man from WaspCo appeared on Monday afternoon with a set of 6 ft ladders. He claimed I had advised that the wasps were under the gutter. It took me all the tact and diplomacy I could muster to correct this misinformation and to query whether it made any difference, as the ladders would not have reached the gutter either! I offered a loan of our bathroom fitters’ ladders but of course this was swiftly rejected for health and safety reasons. He said he would have to take a photo of where the wasps were going in so he could prove to WaspCo that he wasn’t shirking and to secure some longer ladders or scaffolding. I felt scaffolding was a little dramatic as the wasps were only about a foot further up than the previous lot. One man and a ladder had been all that was necessary on that occasion. He said someone would phone me the following day but of course they didn’t.

After phoning the insurance company on 3 consecutive days WaspCo finally phoned me to arrange a further visit. Things seemed to have escalated out of all proportion. I was advised that the ladders are to be delivered next Monday afternoon – they need to be stored in a safe place and must be signed for. Then on Tuesday 2 men will come – one to climb the ladder to kill the wasps and the other to hold it. The ladders must then be stored in a safe place again until someone else comes to collect them on Tuesday evening . Today I received a call from my insurance company advising that they could not cover the cost of the work because the wasp nest is on the roof and therefore outside the property. I spent an excruciating 5 minutes trying to get across that it is not on the roof, it is in the roof. I was almost reduced to tears it was so frustrating. The insurance man insisted this was what WaspCo had told them and didn’t seem to be able to comprehend that this may simply be a use of language issue. He said he would check with his supervisor and call back. I was hot on the phone to WaspCo – the lady got my point immediately and within a short time the same insurance man phoned to say panic over and they would pay for the work. I asked for an email to confirm – surprise, surprise, it still hasn’t arrived …

Grow Your Own

Last year I grew baby courgettes, cherry tomatoes, alpine strawberries and baby carrots from seed and transplanted them into containers. Victoria kindly babysat the seedlings while I was on holiday. The carrots turned out well but a lot of effort for only one meals worth!

The tomatoes were prolific and while delicious all came at once – I gave a lot away and ended up making soup to use them up. The baby courgettes were a great success and provided us with veg several times a week throughout the summer. The alpine strawberries looked beautiful and tasted great but being  so small and only a few at a time being ripe meant they were only good for decoration. Some have survived over the winter in one of my pots – or have they reseeded – I’m not sure?


This year I’ve grown the same variety of mini courgette but decided to try growing some flowers from seed as space fillers for the bed at the bottom of the garden, which I started to plant up last year. I ended up with a lot of cosmos, candytuft and cornflower seedlings. I grew them in my plastic greenhouse which took on the appearance of the Leaning Tower of Pisa but seemed to do the job. The process was not without disappointment. One morning I found a lone snail had made its way up to the 3rd floor of the greenhouse and munched its way through two of my cosmos seedlings overnight. He was duly dispatched over the fence.

Where seeds are big enough I give them their own little pot to avoid the painful task of thinning out. I had to do the deed on the candytuft seedlings though. I don’t like doing it  – with some of the seedlings it’s obvious they’re not very robust  but with many it feels like performing a death sentence on a healthy little being.

I dithered for weeks about whether my seedlings were substantial enough to plant in the garden but took the plunge in May. The cornflowers have not been a great success. They are very lanky and several were trampled to death by fat pigeons or eaten by snails. The candytuft have flowered well but I think I should have repeated the thinning out process before planting them out because the end result has been rather gangly plants. I think they were all fighting for light and space. I’ve written previously about my Cosmos traumas https://ramblingrose110646429.wordpress.com/2019/06/28/help-i-think-ive-got-thrips/ Sadly it didn’t get much better – the survivors are all a disappointment.

My only real success is the courgettes. They are proof that you don’t need much space to grow veg. They’re already providing us with enough veg to go with a meal once a week and are delicious. Who cares if they’re not perfectly shaped ?!