The Ashridge Nurseries Blog

  • May Bee Blog

    Bee Blog  May 2016

    The BC weather site is already issuing pollen warnings along with their forecasts and all those who suffer from hay fever will be diving for the nasal spray and various others of the manifold reliefs for the menace of pollen. It’s called hay fever because the main culprits are grasses. It may be a nuisance to over a million people in the UK each year, but pollen is what enables plants to reproduce, and without it we would be sunk.

    A lot of plants are pollinated by insects, but hay fever is caused mainly by pollen which is borne on the wind.  Wind pollination is a very chancy affair indeed. Within each male flower, or cone of the yew tree, there are approximately 50,000 grains of pollen, and on a large yew tree there are hundreds of thousands of these cones. The female flowers of the yew tree produce a small droplet of liquid which will trap the pollen grain provided the pollen finds its way to that female flower. The chances of it doing so are far less than one in a million, and then it has to land the right way up.

    Self pollination is a minority way of ensuring reproduction and, in this case, the flowers contain elements of both sexes; but the method of pollination that we all know most about is insect pollination, and everybody automatically thinks of honey bees. The truth is that honey bees are only one of many species of insects including flies, beetles, butterflies, wasps and moths thatpollen 2 play a part in the pollination, or fertilization, of plants. As insects visit many flowers in order to gain nectar, or pollen, or both, they pass pollen from one plant to another, because plants that rely on insects have made their pollen so that it will stick to the bodies of their visitors, and if you look at the picture you will see that some of the pollen grains have prongs to facilitate this. When bees, in particular, find a good source of food, they tend to pass the word around, and all their friends will be visiting that one species of plant, and the chances of a perfect pollination are increased dramatically.

    Pollen is so widespread that it is reckoned that every square centimeter of the UK has at least 5000 pollen grains on it. So when you dust the sideboard next, remember that you have probably moved about 36 million pollen grains. That’s a tremendous amount of pollen.

    Pollen has been with us for a long time and scientists who study it (palynologists) are frequently asked to identify traces of dust from the clothes of crime victims, or suspected perpetrators. As pollen grains vary so much in their shape and size, it is often possible to tell exactly where the pollen came from, but also at what time of year it was acquired. That way criminals can be associated with a particular place, at a particular time.

    Pollen deteriorates very slowly indeed and archaeologists studying the pattern of habitation in Shetland thought that the only fuel for fires was peat, but, as charred wood was found in old fire pits, they realised that some of the first settlers de-forested the islands and used the wood to keep warm. Only then did they turn to peat, but they also cleared the land of trees so that they could grow wheat. They know this from pollen found at certain depths in the soil and around human settlements. As the quality of soil was depleted, they grew a crop that needed less nourishment, and turned to barley, which was also realised as a result of finding the pollen. Unfortunately, barley isn’t a very good food product. It is much better known for brewing beer. So we have absolute proof that the inhabitants of Shetland took to drink a very long time ago.  Carbon dating allowed them to tell that one set of remains dated from 1149, but pollen samples found in the nasal area of the skeleton told them that the person died in July of that year.

    Pollen can also be used for identifying the origin of honey, but a lot of commercial honey producers filter out as much of the pollen as they can to stop the honey from setting. This masks the origin of the honey, but some unscrupulous companies, far, far away from the UK,  add pollen from a favourable source and then claim that the honey comes from another part of the world altogether.  Even more unscrupulous people simply add pollen to corn syrup, claiming it to be the one thing that it isn’t – honey. There is one easy test to foil them though. Light shone through honey will bend (refract) in one direction, and through corn syrup will deflect in entirely the other direction.

  • British native trees & climate change - The controversy!

    How much do you love the native woodlands of Britain? Nurseries like ours sell more native trees than anything else, so you'd probably think that I'd be one of their biggest fans. And I am. For now.

    We get asked about native plants for woodland & gardens a lot. I'm impressed by many people with the desire  have to use native trees. Some of the conservation projects that we work for will only accept trees that were grown here in the UK, from UK seeds, ideally from the same region as their project.

    Why would I have foreboding about conserving our trees?

    I'm no climate change expert and I don't know what will happen to the British climate over the coming decades. One thing is certain, however: if the climate does indeed become significantly drier and warmer, with little to no frost in winter and more droughts in summer, several common native trees will be unable to survive without human assistance & some would disappear altogether.

    What exactly is a native tree?

    Some countries & islands have had their trees more or less in place for millions of years, many of which are "endemic" - unique to that region. This is not the case in Britain.

    Britain only has one tree sub-group that is endemic: Types of Whitebeam called "apomictic". Put simply, apomictic means that they gave up on sex and now make near clones of themselves (which I don't think is very British, even for a tree).

    • The last ice age ended about 12,000 years ago.
    • The English Channel grew rapidly in size 8,500ish years ago, from a big river to something like its present width.
    • Trees that managed to colonise Britain during the 3,500 or so years after the end of the ice age are called "true natives".
    • Trees that where brought by human colonists arriving after birth of the English Channel 8,500ish years ago are called "naturalised".

    European trees that were well suited to the cold where able to "chase" the ice-sheets as they retreated from Ice Age Britain, capturing newly exposed, moist soil before the competition. This is why we have so many trees that love boggy, wet ground. We also have trees that need a winter freeze for making fruit or for their seeds to sprout in spring.

    In evolution terms, our trees are recent colonists, essentially still the same as their European relatives. They dashed in to grab a cold soggy land, before being cut off from the mainland and trapped here. They have not had a reason to change their cold & damp loving ways.

    This means two things to me:

    • If all the British native trees where wiped out tomorrow, Europe would only lose a single small group of prudish Whitebeam trees.
    • Britain's tree population is cut off from the mainland. Trees that are better at surviving in hot conditions can spread from Spain up to France, but they can't then hop on a boat to Dover by themselves (stuck to the bottom of your shoe would work, though).
  • Trees for Clay Soils

    Trees for Clay Soils

    This is a reasonably long list of the trees that like growing on heavy clay soil.
    We don't grow all of them, this is intended to be a reference for garden projects big & small - don't say we never treat you!

    Acer - Maple & Sycamore: Browse all our Maples here.

    Aesculus - Horse Chestnut: Horse Chestnut (Common), Briotti (Red Flower), Baumannii (White Flower)

    Alnus - Alder: Browse all our Alders here.

    Carpinus - Hornbeam: Browse all our Hornbeams here.

    Crataegus - Hawthorn: Browse all our Hawthorns here.


    Fraxinus - Ash: Fraxinus excelsior

    Ilex - Holly: Ilex aquifolium (Common), I. Argentea Marginata (Silver Variegated), I. Ripley Gold (Yellow)

    Laburnum - Laburnum anagyroides Golden Rain

    Malus - Apple:Crabapples, Eating Apples

    Platanus - Plane: Platanus acerifolia

    Populus -Poplar: P. nigra Italica (Lombardy), P. balsamifera (Balsam), P. nigra betulifolia (Atlantic / Black), Populus nigra (Black), P. tremula (Aspen), P. Robusta (Hybrid), P. Gaver (Hybrid), P. alba (White)

  • Planting trees beyond your lifetime...

    How to make money when you are Dead

    Mature trees can be worth money. Lots of money. A 50-60 year old walnut or oak tree is worth a good sum of pounds now and will be worth even more in the future. If you have the space to plant a dozen or more trees together, you could be talking loads of cash.

    But wait, you expect to be dead in 60 years time? Don't we all!

    Well, not all of us, I know some lucky people who will only be 62 by then.

    So why would you want to plant those trees in the first place? For future generations to inherit?

    That's obviously your choice if you choose it, but what are the chances that they will look after them?

    The trees don't need to be mature for you to sell them. You can sell land with 20 year old trees on it when you are 75.
    With just 40 more years to go, these trees would have one third of the value that they will have in the future (which could always go up sharply!).

    The person who bought the 20 year old trees and land could then sell them again in 20 years time, on this occasion for two thirds of the value that they would have had if they were ready now (you can see the trend).

    By the time the third person sells the trees to someone in 2086 for timber on her 78th birthday, their value will have increased massively.
    They will have sunk perhaps 10+ tonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere, into the substance of their wood and roots. All the leaves that have fallen and turned into soil over the 60 seasons will account for several more tonnes.

    If the second person is your son and daughter and the third people your grandchildren at grandparent age, you have just performed a reverse pyramid scheme to enrich yourself in your old age and your descendants, probably for years after your demise.

    And even if you don't have kids or want to sell them any trees, you still get the cash.

  • The Ashridge Nurseries customer promise


    Bees are essential pollinators

    Quality plants with expert advice

    Buying plants online can seem a little strange. You don't get to see the plants before they arrive, you can't get advice face-to-face, and what happens if your plants aren't up to scratch?

    Ashridge Nurseries has sold quality plants online since 2003. During that time, we hope that we have learnt a few things about how to reassure and delight our customers when they buy from us.

    This is because we always strive to provide you with excellent plants and excellent customer service – and at excellent prices.

    Here are a few questions that you might want to ask when you're shopping around for plants, not just online, but also at your local garden centre or nursery.

    We make a promise that if we ever fail to meet any of the expectations below, we will do our very best to put it right, and to stop it happening again. This is our promise to all customers.

    • Does the supplier take an interest in what you want to plant and where you want to plant it? Do they offer suggestions on how best to achieve what you want?
      • Is your money taken when you order, or when the plants are despatched to you?
      • How long are the plants guaranteed for?
      • How good is the advice on the site, such as product information, blogs, and instructional videos?
      • Does the supplier collect any plants you are unhappy with?
      • How are complaints dealt with?
      • Does the supplier give you advice whether you are a customer or not? Or are they sales only?
      • Can the supplier explain clearly how their plants are looked after to ensure high standards of quality?
      • Are plants (which are perishable) delivered by Next Day Courier or on a 2-3 day service
      • Does the supplier confirm with the Which? Better Plants by Post Guide for Retailers
      • Is the supplier eco aware? Peat free compost? Neonicotinoids? etc.
      • And finally, are you convinced that the supplier is listening to you, the customer?
  • January Bee Blog

    For a long time I told people that from where I live to France, is only 150 miles in a straight line, and to be honest, that was a guess. To be sure, I resorted to Google Earth, and surprise surprise! It’s actually less than 100 miles to the nearest point in France. Why is that so important?  Well! For the last three years we have deserted these shores just before Christmas, and spent a few relaxing days in Brittany. The French are much more laid back about Christmas than we are. There is no mad panic, but just an air of seasonal relaxation, or so it seems to us Brits. The French think differently. It’s just a little bit warmer too. Although it was warm here, we experienced 19ᵒC in Roscoff on December 19th. Now that is definitely unseasonably warm.

    Beekeeping is big business in France, as anybody who has visited a street market there will know. It seems that the world and his wife are selling honey on every street corner, with everything from chestnut or lime tree honey through flowers of the forest and spring flowers, to Heather and even better – white heather honey.  For some time I had realised that beekeeping equipment is available in Garden Centres, of which there are many, but the choice is limited and I wanted to see a shop dedicated to nothing else.  By looking online, I found a beekeeping equipment outlet in Daoulas, a small town just south of Brest, and the prices seemed good, to boot.

    We found the shop with relative ease, and when it was realised that we were English, we were treated like royalty. This shop is extremely well stocked, with everything from bee suits to hives and smokers to propolis remover. Prices were really good too, with a small copper smoker retailing at €26, which is about £19.50 at present. You will have a hard time to find a new smoker here for double that price. We were even given a tour of the workshops at the rear of the premises, where the ‘pride and joy’ is housed. This is a machine that churns out foundation wax sheets for placing in the frames, which are inserted into the hives. The sheets are indented with impressions of the base of a cell and give the bees a start on making those cells. Dependant on where these frames are placed within the hive, the bees will fill the cells with nectar and pollen, or they will direct the queen to lay eggs in them. A large tank stands at one end of the machine, and it releases molten beeswax into a trough. This in turn spills the wax onto a revolving drum, which dips into a vat of cooling water. From that point on the whole thing takes on the proportions of a huge pasta-maker, with a continuous sheet of indented wax being extruded from the business end, and once a suitable length was through the machine, a guillotine (what else in France) cut it into a sheet, and dropped it onto the waiting stack. It all seemed a bit ‘Heath-Robinson’, but it does an efficient job, if somewhat slowly. Back in the shop, I did some bargain shopping, picking up some very good deals.

    Blogpic1 Underside of straw skep hive with spacing

    Unfortunately there was absolutely no point in buying any hive parts, or closely associated bits and pieces. Although the basic principles of hives are the same in most parts of the world, there are differences of scale, and several variations. The inventor of the modern hive, which has movable frames, was arguably one Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, a preacher from Boston, in the USA. Rather cleverly, he proclaimed ‘his’ idea to the world in 1851, although others had been doing very similar things for a while. Other than the movable frame, Langstroth announced the bee space. This is the amount of room that a bee creates between solid items, to be able to move around the hive. That space is, as near as makes no difference, ¼ inch (6.35mm). Bees will always leave a gap of that size to allow a bee to pass through, or between frames they will leave double that size, to allow two bees to work back to back. If through bad carpentry skills, or some other basic error, we leave a larger space, the bees will reduce it to one or two bee spaces. If we leave a smaller space, the bees will block it up altogether. So, all beehives work on the principles of bee space. Some have larger frames, and more of them, and some don’t have so many. The French have primarily gone with a hive format suggested by a Monsieur Dadant. This is the largest hive type generally available. The most popular hive type around the world is the one invented by our North American preacher friend. The Langstroth hive is used by some beekeepers in this country, but in the USA, virtually everybody uses a Langstroth.

    In the UK we tend to use a hive called a WBC, which is probably what you think of when you imagine a beehive. With its tiered sides and gabled roof, It’s most commonly painted white, and is very attractive, but not very practical, as there are many parts to manipulate, and maintenance is a bit of a problem. It is now also considered not to have enough space internally. At the end of the Second World War, the British Government, in all their wisdom, decided that beekeeping was essential to aid the rebuilding of the economy, and at the same time, they decided that hives should be standardised, as although the movable frame beehive had been universally accepted, there were many interpretations of the ideal size. In 1946 The Modified National Hive was introduced to the waiting world, as being the ideal shape and size for British beekeeping, and this is the hive that the
    majority of British beekeepers use to this day. Strangely, it measures 18¼ inches square, but the boxes are sensibly sized at 9 inches and 6 inches tall. Commercial beekeepers considered that they needed a larger hive, and so with some fiddling, a slightly larger box was devised that cleverly increased the space available to the bees by 50% and this hive is known as the Commercial hive. Although there are many variations, they all work on the same principles, and from a distance, all modern hives look just the same, and far less interesting than they used to.

    WBC2-(1) WBC Hive
    national hive2 (2) National Hive
  • December Gardening Jobs


    • This is a good month to re-evaluate the structure of your garden. Leaves should have fallen by now and borders can be tidied up so you can get a better perspective on how your garden looks without all the froth of flowers, seed heads and foliage. Look at dividing the space in your garden using hedges to create rooms and areas of differing interests. Perhaps your existing hedges could become
      more bird friendly (and beautiful) by including bird attracting berried hedge plants like Viburnum opulus or the Myrolaban, Prunus cerasifera. You can interplant your hedge with some of these plants to create a patchwork effect. Either way, now is the time to plan and to order your hedging plants if you are thinking about a facelift in your garden. Bare root deciduous hedges can be planted all through the winter.
    • Keep an eye on the weather forecast for strong winds if you have planted evergreen hedges this year. Think about putting up a temporary windbreak for the winter to protect them as wind is the most detrimental element to new hedges as it dries them out.
    • December (when it is cold enough) is a time of deep dormancy for deciduous hedges so if you want to drastically reduce the size of a hedge, this month is a good moment before the hard frosts set in. While you are at it, remove any diseased or damaged branches which may be entry points for infection. Before you do any pruning, sharpen your pruning saws, secateurs and loppers so that you make good clean cuts.

         Fruit Trees

    • Louise-Bonne-Pears-SeptemberWith only a few exceptions, you should be able to finish pruning your fruit trees this month.
      With successive warm winters, fruit tree diseases are on the increase so it is probably best to burn the prunings or take them to the dump rather than shredding and composting them.
    • December is a good time to train fruit trees that are growing against a wall and to perfect your espaliers. Remember that cherries and plums should be trained as fans like while apple trees and pears can be trained so that their branches grow horizontally and therefore parallel with the ground. Click here for videos on how to do this . And of course, whenever the ground is soft you can continue to plant fruit trees all through the winter.
    • Use a winter wash based on plant oils, like Vitax Winter Wash to destroy overwintering eggs of many pests. These washes will damage any foliage so it is worth checking that all the leaves on your trees have fallen and protect any surrounding grasses or plants with polythene.

         Garden Trees

    • Order your Christmas tree!  A non drop tree, delivered to your door will guaranteebetula_pendula-0938
      you the least hassled Christmas tree buying experience with beautiful symmetrical trees whose needles actually stay put over the festive season.
    • Deciduous trees are most easily pruned when there is no foliage on them so that you can really see how the branches relate to each other and you can easily spot any damaged or diseased branches. Re-shape trees and remove crossing branches to maximise healthy growth for next year.
    • Snow can weigh down and damage young, small branches or large evergreen ones so brush off any heavy blankets of snow should they ever occur.
    • With Christmas coming you might want to protect some of the berries on your holly bushes from birds so that you can decorate your home with your very own holly sprigs. Use a net or some fleece to keep the hungry birds away, and salve your conscience by planting some bird friendly trees or just filling up the bird feeder more often!
    • While on Christmas decorating, Cornus sibirica stems are a wonderful Christmassy red and work well intertwined into Christmas wreaths or arranged with sprayed pine cones. You can take up to a third of the stems now for artistic use and it will save some of the hard pruning you will finish in March.


    • Up until the heavy frosts arrive, it is still not too late to plant bare root roses.
    • Check that any climbing roses are still tied in to their support structures.
    • Cut bush roses back by at least a third so that they cannot be blown around by the wind to cause wind rock. Not only does this make the roots unstable but you can end up with compacted soil around the main stem of the rose where water then collects and causes the stem to rot. You can prune them back more carefully in spring. Just reduce their height for now.

         Soft Fruit

    • December is probably the best time to prune any grape vines so if you have not done so already, you should prune hard now by cutting the laterals back to 2-3 buds. Vines will “bleed” sap, weakening the plant if you cut them during the growing season.
    • If you have not pruned your black, red and white currants you should do so now. Visit our advice pages for help.


    • Check that all the stray, wispy bits that climbers tend to produce remain tied in and have
      not been dislodged.
    • Should it snow, brush the snow off your climbers to prevent any damage.


    • Remember all of those hyacinths and paper whites and amaryllis bulbs that you prepared earlier in the autumn? Now is the time to bring them inside to the warm so that you can force them to flower ready for Christmas.

         Olive and Bay

    • Keep an eye on the thermometer and if it begins to plummet then move your potted bay trees to a frost free place or wrap them well with horticultural fleece or plastic bubble wrap.
    • If you have not already, chock their pots up a bit on blocks of wood, brick or similar (you can buy special terracotta feet to the job as well. This has the twin merits of ensuring the soil in the pot is well drained and baking it easier for predators to get at the slugs which inevitably hide underneath

         Other – to include soils, lawns, ponds, terraces

    • Ceramic pots are especially vulnerable to frost. If water gets into any small cracks and freezes it will expand and increase the size of the crack so that eventually your pot may break. Check your pots for cracks and even better, keep them indoors if you can.
    • Plants in a greenhouse or conservatory can be tidied, while faded flowers and shrivelled leaves should be cleared up so that you do not encourage moulds and fungal diseases by leaving decaying and dead matter lying around. Keeping glasshouse doors open for a few hours on mild days will also help.
    • Steer clear of walking over wet or frosted grass in your lawn. Put planks down to distribute the weight of you and/or your wheelbarrow if you have to go back and forth.
    • At this time of year ponds, birdbaths and water features may all freeze over at night so try to keep an eye out for this so that thirsty birds have a source of water. Moving water is less like to freeze so keep water features switched on at night if it looks like it might freeze. Frozen ponds can crack liners and will kill fish. Some swear by putting a ball in the pond so that in the morning you can remove it releasing the pressure on the ponds sides and keeping the pond oxygenated. We just chuck a log of wood (that floats) in instead.  If your pond freezes over completely and there are fish in it, do not break the ice with a hammer. The vibrations will kill the fish!
    • Take the time to enjoy winter scents in the garden; Viburnum Bodnantense Dawn, the Daphnes odora marginata or bholua, Skimmias and Sarcococca (Christmas Box) all smell wonderful. It is worth putting a few sprigs of any of their flowers in a glass of water to scent a room.
    • And if it turns cold, don't forget the birds. Seeds, vegetable fats, frozen mealy worms are all more than welcome when the words has suddenly turned hard. Especially important if, like us, you have sparrows raising chicks in December.....

    A very Merry Christmas to you all from everyone at Ashridge Nurseries!



  • November Bee Blog

    Bee Blog & tips November 2015

    November is the first of the inactive months in beekeeping. It’s the bees that are inactive, or at least, less active. You should be beavering away in the shed, getting ready for next season. You should have lots of frames which need cleaning, and then there is all that beeswax to render down and turn into candles, or furniture polish. You could even make lip balms, soaps or all sorts of other cosmetics, but beware, Every cosmetic product sold requires a safety assessment carried out by a suitably European qualified professional. The website for the Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association at has a link to the Regulations and can provide a list of safety assessors, but it doesn’t come cheap. Every assessment will cost you at least £100. Strangely, you can make soaps and cosmetics to give away, without a licence, but please be very sure of what you are doing, as the ingredient which turns fats into soaps is caustic soda, and one mistake could be disastrous. There are some excellent books on soap making, and I would advise reading one from cover to cover before even starting.

    In the middle of winter, it is common practice to treat bees with an oxalic acid solution. That’s the main constituent of rhubarb juice, but it needs to be a bit more scientific than that. A couple of years ago, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) banned all oxalic acid treatments for use with bees, but several companies went on selling it as a hive cleanser. Then the VMD backed down slightly, and allowed certain imported products to be used, under what is called the cascade system. If a product was not available in the UK, but one was on sale in another EU member country, then it could be imported and distributed with a prescription from a vet. On September 16th of this year, the VMD backed down even further and granted a UK licence to a product called Api-bioxal, which is manufactured in Italy, and in a bizarre twist, this was one of the two products available under the cascade system.

    This year has been wonderful for all sorts of fruit and flowers. I had boughs breaking under the sheer weight of crop on my fruit trees, but what is good for one, is not necessarily good for another, and bees were very confused by the wet and cold weather that prevailed here in the south west. One beekeeper acquaintance who has 20 hives and would normally expect between 800 and 1000 lbs of honey, got only 50lbs. Last year I had 350lbs, but this year, less than 100lbs. Swings and roundabouts eh? We can’t complain though because 2014 was a terrific year.


    Raw Honey Raw Honey

    On a totally different tack, I get asked on a regular basis, what the term ‘raw honey’ means, and I thought I would just set the record straight on a few things relating to honey. The vast majority of hobbyist beekeepers in this country, extract the honey from their hives and filter it to get the extraneous bits of wax etc. out of it, then they let it settle so that all the air bubbles come to the surface. That product is then put in a jar and sold. The Americans have coined the expression ‘raw honey’ for this product, but we have all been producing it for a very long time. Most commercially produced honey is filtered to within an inch of its life, then flash heated to prevent it from crystalising too soon. These processes tend to remove all the goodness, and those things which make it taste so delicious. You end up with a bland sugary product.

    If you want a pleasant evening on the computer you can look up the consequences of heating honey, but I‘ll set you on your way. All honey will crystalise eventually, but you can reverse the process by standing the jar in hot water for a short while. You should never place honey in a microwave oven, as it will heat from the centre out, and will cause all sorts of problems. Overheating honey will cause the formation of hydroxymethylfurfural, or HMF (now you can start googling) which will speed up the deterioration of the honey. You can also google diastase (amylase) which is an enzyme.

    Diastase plays an important part by changing starches to sugars in honey. Again, overheating honey can cause the levels of diastase to drop, and the honey to degrade. Confused yet?

    What about organic honey then? I love this one. Assuming that you live in the UK, your bees would either have to live in an extremely isolated area or be miracle workers to produce organic honey. Bees fly up to three miles, in all directions, to collect the nectar they use to make honey. So in order for your honey to be organic, you would have to ensure that all flowers, within a three mile radius, were not treated with chemicals, or pesticides of any description. That might prove tricky. It is possible, but I would treat any British honey claiming to be organic, with a great deal of circumspection.

    Manuka Honey - Is this the real thing? Manuka Honey - Is this the real thing?

    So to my final pet subject, manuka honey, that elixir and ‘cure all’ from the Antipodes. The claims made for this honey are legion. Are they all true?

    There seems to be increasing evidence that as lot of the claims are not all they seem to be. How much is a jar of manuka honey? Well, you can pay up to £82 for 500 grams of it. Now that is expensive honey, but will parting with more money be to your advantage? Here are a few actual facts about manuka honey that you may not know. According to research by UMFHA, the main trade association of New Zealand manuka honey producers, somewhere in the region of 1700 tonnes are produced every year. That’s a lot of honey, but somehow approximately 1800 tones of it are sold in the UK alone, every year. Mmmm! Isn’t that more than is produced? Let’s keep going, shall we. Globally, sales of manuka honey are in the region of 10,000 tonnes per year. Now, either it is getting heavily diluted along the way, or (heaven forefend) it’s not all genuine manuka honey.

    The property which is supposed to make manuka honey special is ‘non-peroxide anti-microbial activity’, yet in Government tests carried out between 2011 and 2013, the majority of honey sold as manuka in the UK, lacked that component exclusive to manuka. Furthermore, the 12+, or 15+ gradings on these honeys refer to several different qualities. In fact, they seem to refer to almost any old thing. Almost none refer to that unique quality which makes it manuka honey. You be the judge, but these figures have been published by several august bodies. A lot of people are making a lot of money from people’s gullibility.

    What you could do is buy a manuka bush (leptospermum scoparium) and start cashing in. It will, and does grow in this country. Or you could just put any old honey in a jar and call it manuka honey. It seems a lot of other people are doing just that anyway.

  • The aftermath of snow and frost

    Branches weighed down by snow Branches weighed down by snow

    Damage to trees and plants caused by snow and frost are part of nature's merry dance.

    It's pretty much always been that way, and although some years will thankfully be milder than others, the recent winter weather has been pretty harsh – especially for young trees, hedging and shrubs.

    Frost damage to young leaves, shoots, buds and roots

    Any part of a plant that hasn't had time to become hardy may have suffered from freeze and thaw. This will be most evident on last year's growth on evergreen plants.
    Continue reading

  • August Bee Blog

    Bee on borage Bees love Borage


    In one way at least, beekeeping has to be one of the most pessimistic crafts in Christendom. We are already looking at the end of the beekeeping season and most beekeepers are taking honey from the hives around now. Sometimes there is a spring harvest around the end of May when crops like oilseed rape have finished flowering, but for others the main, and only, crop is harvested at the end of July or the beginning of August, and although at first glance that may seem pessimistic, as I mentioned just now, it is rather a confirmation of a successful and ongoing summer.

    Firstly you have to ask ‘what gives us honey?’ and the answer is, of course, very simple - flowers. That being the case, flowers have to bloom and produce nectar and pollen: whether we consider them as just flowers, or blossom, is irrelevant, because their ultimate aim is to produce seeds. Those seeds can be bound up in what we term fruit, or just as seed pods. Those definitions are made more difficult by human usage, as we eat soft fruit, but we also eat seeds in pods. We primarily seem to use the term seeds for the ones that we don’t eat. Hence a broad bean, which is nothing more than a seed in a pod, is considered a fruit, or, wrongly, a vegetable, whereas the seeds of a lupin, which are of no use as food, are never considered to be more than plain seeds.

    Back to the point. All plants, shrubs and trees have to procreate, and whereas some do it through their root systems, like elm trees, most rely on seeds. For the most part seeds are produced at the end of the warmer part of the year, or harvest time, and consequently flowers have to bloom as early as possible in the growing season. This is why most wild flowers have finished flowering by the end of May. Pollinating insects are then attracted to the blooms so that they can unwittingly transport the precious cargo of pollen to another plant of the same species. This is, of course, when honeybees are at the zenith of their population increase. The Spring flowers get pollinated and can then spend the rest of the summer producing their fruit (seeds), before shutting down for the winter.

    As a result of this lull in flower production during June, the month is considered a bit of a desert for beekeepers, but in July things change and a new batch of wild blooms come into flower, but not in such large quantities as the spring rush. At this point in the year gardeners play a large part in helping pollinating insects and beekeepers alike. What is a summer garden without flowers? Certain garden plants, which have been bred, or introduced, to fill the gap in our gardens at that time, or simply to feed us, start to bloom, which is why bees kept close to human habitation stand a better chance of producing a consistent crop of honey. Food crops like broad beans, raspberries and runner beans all attract bees, and many other domestic plants produce flowers that are attractive to bees during the summer months when resources available in the wild have all but dried up. Echinops, golden rod, buddlejia, verbena bonariensis, marjoram, oregano, verbascum, rudbeckia, lavender (augustifolia) and sedums can all play their part, but top of the bees’ preferences are helenium autumnale, also known as sneeze weed and hyssop. In our household we are such anoraks that we plant a swathe of Borage just for the bees. Honeysuckle will attract bumble bees in their droves, but not honeybees. Bee species are primarily attracted to different flowers by accessibility. As some have longer proboscises than others, they are able to gain access to different flower types. Bumble bees can access honeysuckle, but honeybees are unable to do so because of the depth of the florets. None of these plants will replace the abundance of spring flowers that are produced in the wild each year. Just consider a field of dandelions, a hedgerow of blackthorn, or a huge lime tree in bloom. These are vast resources in the lives of pollinating insects.

    There is one other crop that is not domesticated and is the bane of gardeners which produces an abundance of nectar and pollen late in the season - brambles (Rubus fruticosus). If you look brambles up in your wildflower book you will discover that it is not simply a single species, but there are innumerable hybrids of this plant, so much so that the flowering period is extended further by diversity of type. Bees and pollinating insects of all types just love brambles as they provide a source of sugar-rich nectar over an extended period, and they also have pollen which will feed the next generation of bees.

    Once the insects have plundered the nectar and pollinated the blooms, ensuring that they themselves are fed and the next generation is catered for, the plants can get on with the same process, and so the beekeeping year comes to a natural end, but just as the wheel keeps turning for plants, so it does for bees. Another year starts immediately the one before ends.

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