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Posts Tagged ‘insect-friendly gardening’

A Bee See

06/07/2016

(Apologies to my email subscribers for the half-finished version of this post that arrived in their in-boxes yesterday, you can blame it on heat exhaustion related finger-slippage)

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Last man standing

I recently skimmed (when you are stay-at-home parent to a toddler, skimming is as good as it gets most days) an article talking about an innate human preference for the countryside. Although meeting plenty of people who feel far more at home prowling the urban jungle leaves me unconvinced by the generalisation; I can certainly vouch for the longing for birds, bees and the whisper of breeze through trees that seems to be hardwired into my own DNA.

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Probably because I’m lucky enough to come from this

Despite having lived in twelve different communities (over five different countries) during my thirty-nine years, I have always managed to avoid spending much time in very built-up areas. But although my little Italian village is far from being a metropolis, the hankering to be surrounded by even less “civilisation” and be closer still to nature remains strong.

So over the last five years, in an attempt to offset the constant noisy presence of my neighbours, their dogs, their children, the regular putt-putting of the passing rural traffic and bellowing from passing Italian pedestrians, and the fact that I have to look over a car park and a disused olive oil factory before I can at last feast my eyes on a reasonable expanse of greenery; I have been making various attempts to bring nature to me.

The first step was kitting out the balcony with some insect-friendly flora, a process of trial and error given the fact that most information sources on such matters seem to assume you are in possession of an acreage, as opposed to a motley collection of flower pots. So some things have worked and some haven’t. I have developed an obsession with lavender and managed to mostly break my obsession with fuchsia (they have proven too sensitive for a periodically neglectful gardener and a terrace that often reaches a scorching 40°c on summer mornings) and I am currently turning my decidedly un-green fingers to re-potting the Buddleia seedlings that have finally emerged from seed kindly donated by the Mothership.

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Lavender blue

And whilst the balcony isn’t as a-buzz with insect life as I had fondly imagined it might become, it does attract enough passing nectar-guzzlers, aphids (bugger), aphid-eaters (yay), ants, spiders and the like, to keep Maya’s interest in creepy crawlies alive.

Once I had regular insect traffic, the natural addition was a “bee hotel”; a winter hidey-hole and/or egg-laying spot for solitary bees, which finally came into its own this year.

Next on my list of creatures to lure were birds. Aside from the occasional black redstart or pied wagtail wandering the rooftops, the profusion of crag martins, house martins and swifts whistling past the windows, a buzzard, kestrel, raven or two circling far above our heads, and not forgetting the waddling urban crap-machines that are pigeons, the avian community here (particularly the songbirds) seems to prefer being heard rather than seen. I was not overly confident that the arrival of a bird table would change that, but I inveigled hubby into making me a couple anyway.

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Pigeon-proofed

Naturally the first to discover them were the aforementioned urban crap-machines, as opportunistic as ever. So we encased the tables in plastic mesh. But the pigeons still managed to grip onto the edges and, flapping furiously to keep balanced, get their heads far enough in to reach the food (pulling the screws from the wall as they did, whilst their queuing friends tramped impatiently over all my flower pots, snapping branches and digging up bulbs). So I ended up wrapping industrial strength tape around the bottom half of the mesh. It looks awful and blocks our view of more welcome feathered visitors, but it works.

And we were soon enjoying regular visits from pied wagtails (comically nervous about negotiating the mesh with their overly long tails), black redstarts, blue tits, great tits, robins, the occasional finch and sparrow, and one very exciting recce by a blue rock thrush.

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Hubby of a madwoman

My neighbours think I am quite mad. For a long time they were convinced the mesh covered bird tables were bird cages. Once they had been informed as to their true purpose, I was first laughed at and then admonished for encouraging the blue tits to shit on their washing – apparently the now constant birdsong where before there was none is not fair recompense. But hey, winning them all wasn’t ever my goal.

With the birds now enslaved by peanuts, sunflower seed hearts, suet pellets and dried mealworms (all shipped in from the UK where, thankfully, vast swathes of the population are utterly bonkers), the finally act of wildlife solidarity was the addition of a bat box. I have already had some bat experience here – who remembers Petronella? Her story can be found here and here and you can read about Lolita’s adventures here.

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Bat box under the eaves above the “birdcage”

Despite not having seen any pip casualties for the last year or two (possibly due to the demise of 3 of the 6 locals cats – no, it wasn’t me) I had long be thinking about offering a completely cat-free roosting opportunity on the balcony side of our building. And astonishingly, towards the end of last year, our local supermarket suddenly presented us with a selection of pre-fab roosts to choose from – I chose one with a picture of a bat on, to give the neighbours a fighting chance at figuring out what it is for…

And given the very small space I am working with here, I don’t think there is really any further I can go with wildlife encouragement. Hubby now blanches and scuttles off every time he sees me scanning around for potential improvements, as well he might, given that he is the one who ends up teetering on roofs and railings in order to screw all my mad ideas into place, so the time has come just to enjoy those aspects of nature that have inched a little closer and thank my lucky stars for such a capable, kind, patient – if occasionally bemused – husband to cater to my mad English whims.

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And most importantly, let’s hope our happy little scruff bag continues to be as entranced and intrigued by her wildlife encounters as she is now.

 

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Itchy Feet or Green Fingers

21/05/2013

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

Yesterday morning, an Antipodean friend set off on the next leg of her Overseas Experience: for Tesni it was a case of Arrivederci Italia, and Здравствуйте Россия! (or Hello Russia, if on-line dictionaries can be relied on…).

Usually such a move undertaken by a third-party would have me salivating with jealousy – all those new experiences! A brand new language! The sheer foreignness of it all! I wanna go toooooooo!

This time, however, I find myself strangely unmoved.

Curious to hear about her adventures, yes. But not remotely desirous of experiencing them for myself.

Very odd indeed.

It appears that whilst my mind has been occupied with other things – a small souvenir shop, publishing books on Kindle (by the way, have you bought and/or reviewed An English Fandango yet??), attempting to rid myself of a Gallic real estate behemoth, translating a Kenyan travel website and settling into life with a toyboy – my itchy feet have been busy transforming themselves into something rather more akin to roots.

In brief, and much to my surprise, life in My Little Italian village is still doing a pretty good job at holding my usually mosquito-length attention span; even after three long years.

One clear indication that I might at long last be growing up, is my ever-increasing passion for balcony plant life. With the expert guidance of Mothership, I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time cooing over false shamrock and strawberries, chatting encouragingly to mint, chives, parsley and marjoram, and whispering sweet nothings to geraniums, thyme, oregano and rosemary.

Strawberries and friends

Strawberries and friends

I was ridiculously proud when the strawflowers overwintered, and racked with guilt when one of the fuchsias didn’t. Happiness was restored when I found twenty cockshafer larvae in the bottom of one pot, and abruptly torn away again when I read about the damage those little critters are capable of inflicting.

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Fuchsia mark 2.

And so each new leaf, bud and flower is greeted with the surprised delight of one who is still not at all convinced of her plant-nurturing qualifications, nor her right-sort-of-wildlife identification skills.

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A flowerful wall

Not being into purely ornamental flowers, my primary goal was to get the air a-buzzing with honey bees, bumble bees, hoverflies, butterflies and any other airborne creature of pollinatory inclinations.

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Bee Corner

Other than the obvious advantages of providing me with an extremely fragrant outside space – lavender, thyme, chives and other flowering herbs being, apparently, what buzzy beasts like best – I am offered the added satisfaction of feeling that I am doing my best for the agriculturally beleaguered honey bee.

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Wood sorrel attempting to distance itself from the disappointingly droopy basil plant next door…

With the assistance of a Friends of the Earth Bee Saver Kit, I have been able to choose the best plants for the job, and the helpfully provided pack of “bee-friendly” wild-flower seeds has been duly emptied into a hanging pot and molly coddled into sprouting fresh green shoots – indicative of exciting things to come.

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The babiest of the three lavenders

Even Tigger has been called to action, and will soon begin his chosen task of building a nest box for solitary bees – much to the horror of our dear friend and next door neighbour, the lady mayoress, who is utterly convinced that we will all be stung into an early grave as soon as the last bit of bamboo is wedged into place.

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Future wildflowers

All in all growing up is not half as bad as I had feared; and although pottering around plant pots in ones jim-jams at seven o’clock in the morning is not quite as glamorous as jetting off to Moscow, it seems to be suiting me just fine.

For now.

This is Status Viatoris, hoping to encourage all gardeners and plant pot owners to take the humbly honey bee into consideration when choosing their blooms, in Italy.


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