THE WISE BLOG

 RSS Feed

  1. As I walk out of my front door a powder blue speck of fluff, sitting atop our potted succulent plant, catches my eye. I kneel down and see that it is a living thing, a myriad of tiny hairs rippling as it travels along. Touching the stem to investigate further, I catapult it from its perch. Whoops! 

    Fortunately, I see that there are more of this mysterious insect, some of the many ‘littles’ that live in the space around us. When on her travels my friend's Costa Rican wildlife guide told her that they wouldn’t be looking for the ‘Big Five’ but instead for the thousand littles, and I am reminded of how apt this sentiment is when looking at nature.

    Turns out we don’t need to go far to see something new and exciting either, as there is so much to discover on our doorstep! This blog post focuses on Insect Pollinators, a charismatic and diverse bunch that we have to thank for every third mouthful of food that we eat. 

    Bees Are Not The Only Pollinators
    If I were to ask you which insects are pollinators, I’m guessing you would say bees first and foremost, and you would be right. There are over 260 species of bee in the UK, and they all pollinate; that is to say they visit plants, collect pollen and carry it to the next plant to enable reproduction. But did you know that there are many other insects that pollinate too?

    The group ‘wild pollinators’ comprises moths, butterflies, hoverflies, wasps and beetles. The group has its celebrities; much-loved species like the bumblebee and the red admiral butterfly, and its villains; the house-fly and wasp. Midges, the tiny flies that you try not to swallow when on a picnic, are one of the only known pollinators of the white flowers of the cacao tree. No midges, no chocolate!

    We have all of our insect pollinators to thank for pollinating our plants, including the ‘baddies’. A whopping 85-95% of UK’s insect pollinated crops rely on wild pollinators.

    Mimics, Usurpers & Wanna-Bees
    You’re sitting in your garden or local park mesmerized by a plant that is covered in bees, except that what you are seeing might in fact be a Bee Fly (ball of fluff with a long proboscis), a Marmalade Hoverfly (small and stripy) or a Paper Wasp. They, and many other insects, have evolved to imitate bees to avoid unwanted attention from predators like birds.

    Cuckoo Bees behave like the cuckoo bird, laying their eggs in the nest of other bees who then do all of the hard work of feeding and raising their offspring for them. Cuckoo Bumble Bees go one step further, killing the Queen Bee in her colony, usurping her position and tricking the workers into raising her young. This behaviour is called ‘Kleptoparasitism’ and is a completely natural, albeit ruthless, behavior that poses no threat to overall bee populations. 

    Looks can be deceiving! Even when you feel sure you are looking at a honeybee or bumblebee, it may well be a different species of bee or a bee look alike.

    90326250_109793503819150_4210151679352855892_n

    Cuckoo Bumblebee

    50491179_328946294396773_7712916063125666032_n(1)

    Marmalade Hoverfly 

    102394844_703902073763502_3399468543078328702_n

    Bee Fly

    Solitary Versus Social
    Since reading Dave Goulson’s ‘A Buzz In The Meadow’ and ‘The Garden Jungle’, I’ve been determined to identify bees beyond bumble and honey. I was surprised to discover that 90% of bee species are in fact Wild Solitary Bees, that’s around 240 species in the UK. Only one species of bee is a honeybee and 25 are bumblebees.

    While bumblebees and honeybees live in colonies (the latter in bee hives), solitary bees work alone to find a nest in which to lay their eggs. They seal up the nest and move on before the larvae emerge, having provided everything they need for their young to feed and survive.

    You might spot a lone bee searching for a good nesting site, which could be in hollow stalks, soil, sand, clay, mortar or wood. Bee nesting boxes and bricks can also do the trick. Solitary bees often nest close to each other to form a community of sorts, a safety in numbers approach.

    Solitary bees are superstar pollinators, as pollen sticks to the hairs all over their bodies (no pollen sacs) and drops off onto other plants as they fly. They are far more efficient at pollinating than honeybees with a single red mason bee, for example, pollinating 120 times more flora than a single worker honeybee.*

    Solitary bees are harmless, as they don’t produce honey and therefore have nothing to protect. They will only sting if trodden on and even then it is likely that the sting won’t pierce the skin. Progressive designers and developers are being encouraged to provide habitat for solitary bees and other insects and even bats in new construction - https://www.greenandblue.co.uk/collections/build.

    102940485_278668680207904_593380756034328091_n(1)

    Photo by @Grassroofco Instagram

    64587266_405779456689103_985894343157988061_n

    Photo by Green & Blue Instagram

    Working The Night Shift
    Moths fly towards the light for reasons unknown to science. By my reckoning they deserve to be in the spotlight! There is relatively little known about moths versus bees and butterflies, as they work under cover of darkness, but research shows that they complement the daytime pollinators, flying further and pollinating at least as many plants as the day shift.

    Moths are impossibly beautiful and varied; like the Tiger Moth which has leopard skin wings and a polka dot body, and the Buff-Tip Moth that looks exactly like a twig. The average garden is home to hundreds of different species, most of which we are completely oblivious to!

    As you may have seen on Springwatch, you can buy a Moth Light Trap or make your own by suspending a bright light over a white sheet on a warm night between Spring and Autumn. This is something I plan to do, and would be a wonderful activity to do with children. You can download the ‘What’s flying tonight’ app to help you identify what you find.

    48542449792-arctia-caja-grote-beer

    Tiger Moth Photo by Koen Thonissen, Butterfly Conservation.org

    Create A Buzz Of Your Own
    In our homes, parks, schools and communities there are things that we can do (and stop doing) to help reverse the decline in pollinator species:

    • Carry out an insect safari and see what you can discover. Become a citizen scientist and report your findings to Open University, who are currently carrying out a survey on pollinator numbers: https://nquire.org.uk/mission/oupollinatorwatch/contribute. They have produced this fantastic guide which will help you to identify the different pollinator types: https://iet.open.ac.uk/file/OU-Pollinator-Watch-ID-Guide.pdf

    • Grow pollinator friendly plants, like those mentioned in my Gardening For Nature post. Broadly speaking cottage garden perennials are winners for bees. Allow areas of grass to grow long. Grass/wildflower meadows provide a rich habitat for pollinators both for feeding and nesting. Make piles of cuttings and dead wood for solitary bees, beetles and other insects (and maybe hedgehogs if you’re lucky!). Be less perfect, more messy - below is our front lawn, teeming with insects now that we've let the grass grow out.

      101010187_245958193379408_285378947848436678_n(1)
    • Introduce a solitary bee house or bee brick into your garden, now widely available to buy. Even better, create your own using drill holes in fence posts and the like. Drilling holes between 3-9mm diameter covers all UK aerial hole nesters. Place in a sunny spot and watch the drama unfold!

      101940189_675279046352296_6426143647032698809_n

    • Avoid using any chemical spray or powder, no matter the promise of a moss free green lawn or aphid-free plants. They contain pesticides like pyrethroids, which are 2250 times more toxic to insects than to larger animals and humans. You spray your rose with black spot spray and the result is that all small insects on the plant, soil beneath, and surrounding area are killed. Any bees caught in the crossfire will likely lose their ability to navigate back to their nest or colony.


    We are merely custodians of the wild spaces around us, including our gardens which only ‘belong’ to us for a brief moment in time. These spaces should be humming with life, rather than quiet and sterile. Let's work together to support the thousand littles that maintain ecological...and emotional...stability.

    ‘People must feel that the natural world is important and valuable and beautiful and wonderful.’ Sir David Attenborough

    Please do comment below with your own observations and just because I like to hear your thoughts :-). And I still haven’t found out what the mystery blue furry creature is, pictured below!

    Photo 03-06-2020, 18 14 04

     

    Resources & References

    *https://www.wildcare.co.uk/blog/solitary-bees-8-facts-to-know-plus-an-identification-resource/

    Sign up to The Wildlife Trusts #30days wild- https://action.wildlifetrusts.org/page/57739/petition/1

    https://www.beehome.design/ - design your own bee hotel

    The Bee Coalition - raising awareness of the plight of pollinators

    https://www.grassroofcompany.co.uk/ - follow @grassroofco on instagram for some fantastic examples of entomology and design.

    https://theconversation.com/moths-do-the-pollinator-night-shift-and-they-work-harder-than-daytime-insects-138472

    https://www.thoughtco.com/insect-pollinators-that-arent-bees-or-butterflies-1967996

    https://www.pollinator.org/list-of-pollinated-food

    https://www.greenandblue.co.uk/blogs/news/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-solitary-bees

  2. My lockdown journey began with a slightly manic clearing out kitchen cupboards phase, as the survival instincts kicked in and I started to wonder if we could eat the rice from our door stops and forage for food from the local park (and a small part of me wanted to try :-D)!

    As our front doors closed so it seemed our cupboard doors opened. In searching for things to do to break up the Groundhog Day monotony, a clearout began on an unprecedented (that word again) scale! 

    In this blog post I share with you tips and resources that will help you make the most of your archeological cupboard discoveries, many of which have been borrowed from other creative souls.

    1. Use Up Kitchen Cupboard Leftovers
    A delve into the kitchen cupboards will no doubt reveal an interesting array of foodstuffs, bought in a moment of culinary ambition, used once, and since forgotten! I discovered a variety of grains and a big slab of what was once marzipan (I think). The latter was donated to the wormery! 

    Now that we have more time at home to cook from scratch, and are making fewer visits to the shops, this is the time to embrace the leftovers.

    • For simple, low budget recipe inspiration watch Jack Monroe @bootstrapcook on her new show, Daily Kitchen BBC1 (available on iplayer). Having had her own website and cookbook for years, the beeb hooked her up to do this show while we are in lockdown ‘from her battered old shed, using stuff from skips’. I hope they keep her, as I love her cooking ethos which saves money, and gives ideas on how to use all sorts of leftovers from polenta to tinned peaches (she is responsible for a spike in sales in the latter). She is also very humorous! https://cookingonabootstrap.com/

    • Make your own breadcrumbs from leftover stale bread. Use a blender or for less faff simply put the leftover bread in a bag and rub between your fingers or bash with a rolling pin, like you would with biscuits to make crumbs. You can then use and freeze as needed. Breadcrumbs are useful for making a wide range of foods like meatballs and goujons (recreate Maccy D’s chicken nuggets?), and are delicious cooked in the oven or fried with oil for a crunchy topping! https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/breadcrumbs-recipes

    • Make soups and casseroles from leftovers. The ultimate one-pot, no need to think, meals whereby you simply open your fridge and cupboard and throw in what you have! To add more flavour, use seasoning, spices and any chilli sauce you may have lying around. Salty foods like anchovies and humous will do the seasoning for you. Add stock cubes or bouillion if you have it, or make your own which leads me to my next point…

    • Make your own stock. An amazing way to reduce food waste and you don’t necessarily need meat leftovers. Scraps like broccoli stems, onion ends, carrot peelings and tops, all the bits you would normally throw in your food bin, can be used to make stock. Put your scraps into boiling water and leave to simmer for a few hours. Then strain out the bits and use/ freeze the leftover broth. If you don’t have enough from one meal, freeze the scraps and add to them over time until you have enough to make the broth.

    • If you are still left with food waste after all of your resourcefulness, then consider creating a compost heap and/or wormery in the garden. There are plenty of online tutorials on how to make your own, or you can order online. I was lucky enough to be given a wormery, and am just starting to harvest the rich worm-poo compost for my garden. https://www.edenproject.com/learn/for-everyone/how-to-make-a-compost-heap-10-top-tips

    2. Harvest Free Paper From Old School Text Books
    At the end of each school year the children bring home their exercise books, which at secondary level equates to a lotta books! I can never bring myself to throw them away, not for reasons of nostalgia but for the fact that they are still full of unused pages. As such we have ended up with numerous stashes around the house.

    A shortage of paper whilst on lockdown gave me the nudge I needed to do something with those books, and I spent a couple of hours removing all of those empty pages. I recommend a sharp blade, and some good music, for the job - a great mindless activity! We now have excellent supplies of lined, squared and plain paper...for free!

    3. Give Pencil Sharpeners A New Lease Of Life
    How many pencil sharpeners do you have in the house? How many of them actually sharpen?! We have too many to count, yet when one of us (actually only ever me) tries to sharpen a pencil we never seem to be able to find one that works properly. This is because pencil sharpener blades do become blunt with time. You can give them a new lease of life by ordering new stainless steel blades online cheaply, and fitting them. They are cheap to buy, and all you need is a small screwdriver to remove the old and replace with the new. Easy!

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Spare-blades-metal-pencil-sharpeners/dp/B00AWAUHKQ

    4. Make and grow your own using shed discoveries!
    A shed clearout can uncover all sorts of wonders; from old planks of wood and containers, to seeds and paint. This paraphernalia might normally end up in a skip, but can in fact form the beginnings of many a project like those below; 

    39670ab2-e6db-4904-9345-b4a49acb2efe

    5. Make Your Own Flower Arrangements
    You can make the most beautiful flower arrangements for your home using almost anything from your garden and outdoors, including stems, branches, buds, dead-heads and of course flowers in bloom. Making your own is free, quick and easy to do. Just whip round the garden with your secateurs - in 5 minutes you'll have a posy like that pictured below.

    Try to set aside your traditional views of what a bunch of flowers should comprise; many of the typical floristry arrangements are grown intensively abroad and have a negative impact on the environment. They often don’t particular reflect the seasons, unlike your homemade posy which will put you in mind of the time of year - like beautiful dried berries and seed heads in Autumn.

    IMG_4238
    When you do treat yourself or someone else to a bunch of flowers, avoid buying from the supermarkets and look for small, independent florists that can tell you where the flowers were grown. We are lucky enough to have a local florist, There May Be Bugs, who grows everything in her own garden and creates stunning bouquets.

    6. Share With Neighbours On Your Street
    One of the most positive things to come out of lockdown is the creation of a whatsapp group for everyone on our street. Residents have been helping each other; sharing, loaning and giving all manner of things including; books, puzzles, car seats, troglodyte fossils (yes, really!), decking sealant, plant pots, plants and much more. My favourite example is when one resident managed to buy a large bag of flour; she then offered half to the rest of the street and that half was split once again in four portions. We could all eat cake!

    It’s something that as communities and neighbourhoods, we probably should have been doing all along. It’s such a great way to re-allocate resources, and saves everyone money on buying new every time they need something. 

    These are just a few tips from lockdown life; please do share your own in the comments section below. How have you been resourceful and reduced waste in your own home?

    Further Reading

    https://www.theguardian.com/food/2020/apr/19/make-the-most-of-your-store-cupboard-recipes-jack-monroe-tinned-peaches-tahini

    https://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/ has some great tips including some brilliant recipes.

    https://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/recipe/zero-waste-potato-and-veggie-hash