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My Wildlife Allotment March 2022

February started on a calm and mild note, a welcome change after all the frosty weather in January. Snowdrops started flowering, followed by crocuses, hellebores, primroses and Cornus mas. Honeybees and a few early bumblebee queens were out and about, collecting pollen and nectar from winter aconites, hellebores and the Cornus. It all looked very much like spring was just around the corner. But all was going to change later in February when wet and very stormy weather arrived. Most of the stormy weather had been in Scotland and the North of England so far, but storm ‘Eunice’ brought the worst of the windy weather down to the South. A yellow weather warning was quickly changed to amber which is not often seen here in Oxfordshire. Amber changed to a red warning the night before the storm hit on the Friday. Wallingford was just at the edge of the red warning area. When I visited the allotment in the early morning on Friday it was already windy but nothing out of the ordinary. The storm really hit with full force from 10 am onwards when I was at work. I had done my best to make everything storm-proof on the allotment but the gales were so strong that I feared for the worst. As soon as it looked reasonably safe outside in the later afternoon, I went to the allotment to assess the damage. My greenhouse, sheds and all my trees were still standing which was good, but the greenhouse door and the polycarbonate sheet next to the door were missing which was bad. After searching for 30 min I finally found the door 50m away, I never found the missing sheet. The gales must have built up so much pressure inside the greenhouse that the door and sheet must have literally exploded outwards. The greenhouse is now repaired with a new sheet and the door attached again. All in all I got away lightly as some other greenhouses and most polytunnels got damaged a lot more, some beyond repair.

The allotment after storm Eunice,
all trees still standing!

The damaged greenhouse after storm Eunice

Crocuses are flowering
everywhere on the allotment now

Crocuses are flowering everywhere on the allotment now. I love seeing all the mauve, purple and yellow patches of colour from the different crocus species such as C. tommasinianus, C. crysanthus and C. vernus. I also have a few plants of C. sieberi ‘Tricolor’ which look even prettier with their purple and white petals and a yellow centre. This year they have even spread a tiny bit but are generally much less vigorous than the more common crocus species. Crocuses look best when the sun is shining with their flowers wide open to attract early pollinators. They produce good amounts of nectar and pollen which are often a life-line for early-emerging pollinators such as bumblebee queens and solitary bees. I have also seen some drone flies (Eristalis tenax) which is a type of hoverfly. They can be confused with honeybees which they mimic, but if you look closely you can see the short antennae, larger eyes and only one pair of wings (honeybees have longer angled antennae, smaller eyes and two pairs of wings).

Crocus sieberi 'Tricolor'

A drone fly is visiting the crocuses

Honeybees are enjoying the crocuses as well

Cyclamen coum is still flowering together with the snowdrops which looks really pretty. I even have several dark-pink coloured Cyclamen coum which start flowering later, normally at the end of January, compared to the bright pink Cyclamen coum, which start flowering in December. The pretty flowers of primroses are appearing everywhere under shrubs, along the paths and in the borders. I had only planted a few primroses several years ago and now they seem to be everywhere. They are such beautiful little plants, completely undemanding, and loved by early pollinators such as solitary bees and bee flies.

Cyclamen coum and snowdrops
are looking nice together

Pretty dark-pink flowered Cyclamen coum

Primroses and crocuses are looking pretty

Helleborus niger is finally flowering. I always find it amazing to see, once the plant flowers, how large and pretty the white flowers actually are. They really stand out. And every year my plant seems to get bigger with more flowers. It must be happy where it grows. I have killed a few Helleborus niger in my life by planting them in the wrong place, so I am happy that I got it right this time. I planted Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Angel Glow’ last winter and it has come back bigger and better this year with numerous pretty flowers. The flowers are actually quite intriguing as they are not just whitish-pink in colour, but in the centre of each flower is a ring of large green nectaries (specialised nectar-producing structures), which looks pretty and gives the flowers quite an unusual appearance. All hellebore flowers actually have nectaries but they are not always this obvious.

Long-standing readers of my blog might remember that I tried to establish Tulipa sprengeri on my allotment for years now. I love wild tulips and Tulipa sprengeri, withhave  its late flowering time and pretty bright red flowers on tall stems, was still missing in my collection. Over the last years I tried sowing several batches of seed which never germinated. I also tried to buy bulbs which always seemed to be out of stock very quickly. In autumn last year I was finally successful and bought 10 bulbs, most of flowering size. I planted them in three different places: near the cherry plum, under the buddleia and in the wildflower meadow. When I checked this weekend I could see the tulips emerging in all three places, nine tulip plants in total. I was really happy that I will finally have Tulipa sprengeri growing, and hopefully flowering, on my allotment.

Helleborus niger
looking pretty with its large white flowers

Helleborus x ericsmithii 'Angel Glow'
with interesting pink and green flowers

Tulipa sprengeri is emerging

One drab and dreary day this winter I thought that I don’t really have anything nice flowering in winter apart from Cyclamen coum and a few winter aconites. So I set about to change this. First I planted a witch hazel which I am quite fond of. I planted one in my mom’s garden about 20 years ago and it looks so nice, flowering in the middle of winter, often covered in snow as my mom lives in the Thuringian mountains in Germany. It was difficult to decide which witch hazel I wanted to plant on my allotment but in the end I went for Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena' which I saw growing in Harcourt Arboretum near Oxford last autumn and which had beautiful autumn colour. I then added a few sweet box (Sarcococca confusa, S. hookeriana and S. orientalis), winter sweet (Chimonanthus praecox), Camellia vernalis ‘Yuletide’ and last but not least Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’ which has quite large pink flowers which have an incredibly strong and sweet scent. Another nice plant flowering in late winter is Cornus mas. My little tree is in full flower now and looks pretty with an underplanting of hellebores, Cyclamen coum and snowdrops. The flowers will develop into dark red cherry-like fruit in late summer which taste really fruity and refreshing when fully ripe, a bit like slightly tart cherries. The sweet almond tree ‘Robijn’, which I planted a few years ago, is starting to flower now with large pink flowers. When it is in full flower it will be quite a sight as there are lots of flower buds this year. If the weather is kind with not too many sharp frosts I might even get some almonds to add to my muesli in the morning. I also have great hopes for the apricot and peach trees this year from which I got not a single fruit last year as we had such a miserable cold and frosty spring.

Daphne 'Perfume Princess'

Cornus mas is flowering now

The first almond flowers are opening

I was surprised to see the first peony leaf emerge already from Paeonia ‘Flame’ which I planted two years ago. Last year it did not flower but hopefully it has grown enough now to develop some flowers as well which will be single and bright red. I am growing a few other peonies as well such as P. ‘Early Scout’ and a Paeonia lactiflora with large single white flowers.

Bumblebee queens are emerging now and will be hungry after a long hibernation. Crocuses provide valuable food in the form of pollen and nectar, and are eagerly visited by the queens. Other useful plants for early bumblebees are late-flowering mahonia such as Mahonia aquifolium, hellebores, pussy willows and winter heathers such as Erica carnea and E. x darleyensis. The first bumblebee queens to emerge are normally buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) which are huge and fly with a loud, deep buzzing sound. They have two yellow bands and a buff-coloured tail. Similar-looking is the white-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum agg.) which is a bit smaller and has a white tail. Tree bumblebees (Bombus hypnorum) emerge early as well and have a unique colour combination of ginger thorax, black abdomen and a white tail. No other bumblebee in the UK looks like this. They often nest in bird boxes or in cavities under roofs. Red-tailed bumblebees (Bombus lapidarius) emerge a bit later and are large bees with a black body and a red tail. Smaller bumble queens with two yellow bands and an orange tail are normally early bumblebees (Bombus pratorum). They start nesting very early, often as early as February, with nests finishing in May. If you see a large bumblebee queen with three yellow bands and a very long face, often flying from flower to flower with its tongue outstretched, then you have found the garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum). The latest of the common bumblebee queens found in gardens, emerging in March or beginning of April, is the ginger and brown-coloured common carder bumblebee (Bombus pascuorum) which looks a bit like a fluffy teddy bear. Common carder bumblebees often nest on the surface in grass tussocks so nests can easily be destroyed by overzealous grass cutting. How many different bumblebee queens can you spot in your garden?

The queens will soon be busy searching for nesting sites and once the nest is established and with the first workers hatched the queen will not come outside again and leaves all the mundane housekeeping and foraging tasks to her workers and will just concentrate on laying eggs.

Paeonia 'Flame' is the first to emerge

A tree bumblebee is warming up in the sunshine

A buff-tailed bumblebee
is drinking nectar from a crocus flower

Hopefully this spring will be a warm and sunny one with just enough rain to get the plants growing well. I will be back with more tales from my allotment next month.

Nadine Mitschunas

Nadine Mitschunas Posted by Nadine Mitschunas

Nadine developed an interest for wildlife from an early age, and discovered gardening as hobby when she was twenty years old. As a trained ecologist, she moved with her partner from Germany to England in 2008, and is now working at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Wallingford, Oxfordshire. Much of her spare time is spent on her two-and-a-half allotment plots. These contain a wide range of ornamental plants, attracting many insects and other wildlife. She also grows some produce. Her other hobbies include photography and reading.

Nadine's blog: https://mywildlifeallotment.blogspot.com/
Nadine on twitter: https://twitter.com/Nadinemi13
Nadine's You Tube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/MyWildlifeAllotment


3 Comments To "My Wildlife Allotment March 2022"

Nadine On 10.03.2022
I had a little look on the internet and found the following which sounds plausible: "A “bee-sound/noise issue” can occasionally occur if a colony is in loft space above a room. The “bee-chatter” can sometimes be heard into “human-anti-social hours” and so cause annoyance. We are still learning about such colonies, and if/how to help with noise issues. Sounds of fanning for nest ventilation (which can sound like a buzzing or gentle roar) are common, as well as intermittent ‘peep’ sounds can occur within the fanning." I can imagine that bumblebee nests can easily overheat in a roof space as it can get quite hot there in late spring/summer. The bumblebees counteract this with fanning to get more cooler air into the nest which I can imagine is quite noisy if lots of bees do it at the same time. You could hang more bird boxes in your garden as tree bumblebees like using them as well and might choose one of these boxes instead of your roof again next time. Reply to this comment
Brian Hackett On 11.03.2022
Thanks Nadine - yes we've come across some of those ideas - maybe it's a combination of them! There's always an empty nest box available, but sometimes only a roof will do, apparently. On the plus side they soon disappear, once the queen leaves. We have only been subjected to it on one occasion (so far) but we have seen them in neighbours' roofs too - nice that they are spreading it around....
Brian Hackett On 06.03.2022
A few years ago we had Tree Bees in our roof. They made so much noise through the night that we had to sleep in a different room for a few weeks! We still don't really understand what the noise was. Some say it's caused by fanning their eggs with their wings, others say that bees do make sounds in their nests, which sounds unlikely. We couldn't even agree what it sounded like, but we both found it annoying. If you can tell us, we'd be interested to know the answer! Reply to this comment
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