Thank Heaven for Little Pollinators

When you are allergic to bees, you grow up rather fearful of hearing that unmistakable buzz made by bees’ wings.  Or at least I did.  When I was younger, I thought of these insects as shark-like predators, waiting to devour me alive and usually ran away, arms flailing and screaming, whenever one happened to flyby too close for comfort.

Over the past few decades, I’ve since come to recognise the importance of both shark and bee.  I no longer run, flail and scream when sitting in a buzzing garden on a warm summer day.  I might scream and flail if I saw a shark whilst in the ocean on a warm summer day though, but I digress.

Bumblebee on Geranium

The global worries about bee populations have been covered and recovered in the mainstream news, with the most recent scientific studies pointing to neonicotinoid pesticides as a significant contributor to the decline of honey bees.  This year UK groups launched bee and butterfly counting campaigns to raise awareness of declining pollinators and to help track numbers, species, and locations of various UK pollinators.  This summer also saw President Obama launch a Pollinator Health Task Force that will develop a national strategy to improve numbers of bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

I’ll admit, I’m not an insect person by nature or education.  And while I have heard and read about this pollinator decline, I’ve not really felt that it’s something of particular interest or worry to me personally.  I just hoped that scientists, governments and farmers would figure out how to make the problem better and then I wouldn’t have to worry about the vast economic and food security issues that could come from further pollinator declines.

That is how I felt before this year.  The change this year, is that I’ve been lovingly growing a multitude of flowering fruits on my south-facing flat windows and garden.  Grown from seed sown in March, April and May, I have tended to plants, shared some with friends, planted some out in my garden, and kept some inside in pots.  I’ve learned several lessons this season in the value of potting on seedlings, in timings of planting said seedlings outside, and also in the value of pollinators.

Last week my first poblano chilli started growing, and my husband and I let out collective cheers.  We’re watching it daily for signs of growth and readiness to pick.  We have also watched the three other poblano chilli plants on the same windowsill drop countless flowers.  A quick google search told me that lack of pollination was the likely culprit. So I’ve since taken a small brush to hand-pollinate the flowers, and I’ve put one of these plants outside.  I suppose the proof will be in the pudding for the poblanos.  But my windowsill cucamelon plants also have had flower-drop, whilst the ones outside are already fruiting with flowers still attached.  That’s enough evidence for me to change behaviour and keep up hand-pollination.

This unintentional experiment has really opened my eyes to the importance of bees and other pollinators. It has made the issue of pollination one of personal importance – as it should have been before anyhow!  Now, I shall regard bees with even more esteem and will take more interest in the science and policies of honey bee populations and pesticide use.

I’m still not a fan of stinging wasps though, but perhaps in another decade or two I’ll learn to love and appreciate them too.

Mint tea anyone?

I deeply loved my Emma Bridgewater Great Britain teapot.  It was a little bit of retail therapy one day shortly after my daughter was born when my hormones were particularly prone to large swings.  Normally, I’m too cheap to buy a £50 teapot, but that day, I NEEDED it, and to hell with anyone who tried to stop me.

ImageIt was our beloved teapot for about 2 years until my husband dropped a glass on the pot.  The lid shattered, so for a few months we were using a small plate over the top to keep the steam in.  Then slowly we started noticing cracks in the teapot itself.  First little ones, then great big swooping cracks that got stained by the tea inside.  We tried to ignore the cracks, but eventually the cracks got too big and salts started leaching out of the outside.  Lord only knows what leached out into our tea, but let’s not think about that!  So, it sat empty on our counter for a while, as I just couldn’t bear the thought of throwing it in the bin.

ImageAfter a looking at a few videos on how to drill a hole into pottery, I decided to just give it a go.  I don’t have the fancy diamond bits talked about, but instead just used a regular masonry bit that I had already.  It worked like a charm!

ImageMy lovely cousin Jodie gave me some mint cuttings when I crashed at her place for the Observer’s Ethical Awards earlier this month.  No, I didn’t win, but the two of us had a really nice time at the ceremony and got to chat with some cool and amazing folks.  The highlight of my night was talking to Anne (don’t call her Annie) Power.  She is an amazing woman, and a total inspiration for never getting complaisant with one’s life.  But back to the mint.  After a week and half in water there were some nice roots sprouting.  Sprouting roots?  I’m not sure that’s the correct botanical term…

Anyhow, here’s the glorious transformation in its entirety, and now my kitchen windowsill basil has a little minty friend.  The whole process from drilling to watering-in took about 15 minutes, and I am kicking myself for letting that little upcycling job sit and linger for so long.

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Debugging Orchids

So in lieu of copious amounts of digging, weeding and pruning, I have taken this wet and cold opportunity to clean up my indoor orchids. For months now, they have been weeping gooey droplets, telling me that there are some little beasties infesting my lovely orchids. Mind you they keep on blooming and reblooming, so all is not completely lost.  It is shocking how these lovely house plants are often treated as disposable by folks who purchase orchids in bloom, and then toss them or kill them (usually by over-watering) just to buy another greenhouse grown plant.  Orchids are really quite easy to grow, and phalaenopsis in particular are good rebloomers with a wee bit of attention, moderate light and some orchid fertilizer.  But as with all plants, they can be impacted by pests, so some extra TLC from time to time can be in order.

In the US, I used put some rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and wipe off any bugs/eggs over the whole plant. But rubbing alcohol doesn’t exist in the UK…so I use surgical spirit. I “think” these are roughly comparable, although the smells are quite different.  Well, the orchid leaves look nice and shiny now, and I’ve not seen any new droplets, so fingers and toes are crossed that I did a decent job of cleaning off the pests, whatever they might have been.