A Thought or Two for our Little Garden Helpers

At this time of year in our garden, seed sowing has become quite limited and I am tending mostly to the flowers and vegetables that are indeed well and truly past the seedling stage. If you are growing vegetables, you will notice that there are some that develop flowers, just like fruit trees and bushes. These are known as fruiting vegetables. It is from these flowers that the vegetable develops but only after a bit of help from our tiny garden co-workers. At this very moment, while I’m busy typing inside, I’m relying a lot on my insect helpers outside, known to gardeners as pollinators, to help with pollinating the flowers on some of my fruiting vegetables e.g. pumpkins, courgettes, cucumbers…. as well as our fruit trees and bushes. It’s safe to say that if there were no pollinators in my garden,  I would have no homegrown fruiting vegetables and fruit. So it’s important for me to find ways in which we can encourage, share and work in harmony with our little pollinator friends.

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For the bees this year, one way I encouraged them to visit more often was to let my globe artichoke heads go to flower. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when I decided to grow something different and bought my first ever globe artichoke seeds, that I discovered the beauty of these large, purple, thistle-like flower heads and how much the bees loved to visit them. I have also since discovered that they take up a lot of space, a bit more of the vegetable patch than I had intended if I’m honest (learn from my mistake and always thoroughly read up on something before jumping in and growing it!).

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The 2 artichoke plants that I left in our vegetable patch are just as high as the beans and even now take up a lot of the ground space.

It meant that at the start of this year, I had some hard work ahead of me digging up some of those artichoke plants and ultimately freeing up some more space on the vegetable plot. Yet having seen how much the bees loved the beautiful flowers, I really didn’t have the heart to send them to the compost bin. That’s when an idea struck! I could use the artichoke flowers to encourage bees and other insects to visit the vegetable plot. Very carefully, trying to take as much of the roots as possible, I moved the artichoke plants to the wild area of our garden which is situated right next to the vegetable plot. Not only was I happy in that moving the plants, I had freed up some space for growing other vegetables, but I had also unexpectedly completed another task known as dividing, which gardeners need to do every few years with plants that come back year after year (plants like this are called perennials). My little helper insects were also just as happy as me to see the rescued artichokes in their newly designated area and let’s not forget the pumpkins, butternut squashes and other fruiting vegetables who are now getting daily visits from the bees on their way to the artichokes. One might even say the artichokes were happy to have been spared from the compost bin too!

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Now that the bees are happy, I’ve decided to turn my attention to butterflies. When taking note of garden pollinators, butterflies can often be overlooked. This is perhaps because they are not as effective a pollinator as bees who are able to fly right into the centre of a flower where the pollen is waiting and cover their bodies from head to claw.

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Yet, in their defence, butterflies do do a certain amount of pollinating. Not only this, who doesn’t love to watch butterflies as they gracefully fly above your head, bringing both added colour and patterns to your garden! More often than not, after even just a few minutes of watching them, I find that I am relaxed and in a contented state of mind.

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In the UK, there has been a nationwide butterfly count which continues just until this weekend, encouraging everyone to get involved and to count the butterfly visitors to their gardens. It’s fantastic that many people do seem to be going outside and counting! There are many types of butterflies now becoming endangered so it’s important we all try to do our bit! This again got me thinking of ways in which I could help the butterflies in our garden. For a start we have planted flowers that butterflies like, in particular, our large buddleia flowers encourage a number of our large winged insects to visit as do our lavender plants.

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But I wanted to do more and so after a bit of research, I decided to create a butterfly bath.

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  • I chose to put my butterfly bath in our cherry tree for three reasons:
  1. It’s right next to the buddleia flowers.
  2. It’s high up off the ground away from our pets. If you decide you have been inspired and want to make a butterfly bath, there are ones you can make that sit on the ground. I just thought that as I have a cat who likes to chase butterflies it might be better to have the bath out of obvious sight, in amongst the leaves of the trees and shrubs.
  3. The cherry tree is on the opposite side of the garden to the vegetable patch where I also grow cabbage, cauliflowers and broccoli. Vegetables that small white butterflies like to lay their eggs on and their offspring, little hungry caterpillars like to munch on!
  • I painted a terracotta dish with outdoor (waterproof) paint, in blue and yellow, colours that butterflies like. They also like red, but unfortunately, I didn’t have that colour at the time!

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  • At the base of the terracotta dish, I added a thin layer of sand and some pebbles. The pebbles provide a landing stage for the butterflies to fly onto as well as a resting place.
  • The herb parsley, is also something that butterflies are attracted to, so that was included in the ‘butterfly drive-through’. These beautiful insects also like to indulge in over ripe and mushy fruit such as bananas or apples, as well as sliced oranges, to suck on.
  • When everything is in place, a bit of water is added to the top of the sand. Don’t put a lot of water in so that the butterflies drown, just enough water so that the butterflies can do what is called ‘puddling’. This is where they can obtain the salts and nutrients they need from the water. Ensure, especially on hot, summer days, that you top up the water as it is likely to have evaporated. Equally important is to check after a continuous downpour of rain as it’s more than likely your butterfly bath will be like a deep swimming pool, in which case you will need to remove some rain water.
  • The last thing to do is to stop for a moment and enjoy watching the beauty of the butterflies visiting your homemade B&B.

I would love to see anything you have created for your little garden friends!

 

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