Blog May 10: Beyonce’s bottom and Milli Vanilli – what’s the connection?

Horse-fly Scaptia beyonceae - a shapely behind. Pic credit: Australia's state science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) - hopefully they won't mind us borrowing the image for our pollination awareness campaign (thank you if you ever read this)

The connection between Beyoncé and Milli Vanilli? Clue: it’s not music…

The surprise answer, given our theme for the year? You guessed it – pollination!

Entomologists have all the fun. Unlike the comparatively straight-laced botanists, they enjoy themselves when it comes to naming new species. Faced with an unknown horse-fly, Australian researcher Bryan Lessard took inspiration from the creature’s golden backside and named it Scaptia (Plinthina) beyonceae.

Horse-flies may not be that appealing to us after an unpleasant bite, but they are useful pollinators nonetheless: in Australia, these little critters pollinate grevilleas, eucalypts and tea trees.

Villa manillae are bee flies. Villa flies are prolific pollinators and several African species do the human race another favour by parasitising the larvae of tsetse flies.

Other favourite insect names: the tortricid moth Eubetia bigaulae, the carabid beetle Agra vation, the sphecid wasp Pison eu and the bee fly Phthiria relativitae.

Pollination Festival update

The calendar for the festival (July 26-Aug 3rd) is slowly but surely filling up. We have an extremely exciting line-up from some top experts in the field: ♦ Hoverfly lecture by Roger Morris, author of An Introduction to the Hoverflies of Britain; ♦ Fly workshop followed by a moth night with Wiltshire County Moth Recorder Marc Taylor; ♦ Solitary bees lecture and house-building workshop by London Beekeepers’ Association (LBKA) Forage Officer Mark Patterson; ♦ Bumblebees, solitary bees and honey bees workshop by David Perkins of Roots and Shoots (soon releasing a new book on solitary bees) ♦ Demonstration bee hive with LBKA. And over at ♦ South London Botanical Institute: their President Irene Palmer presents a lecture on Darwin and orchid pollination. More events to be announced in the coming weeks…

Beautiful and unbroken: the apricot tree back upright. In true make-do-and-mend style, the new supports are wire threaded through bits of old hose to prevent the wire digging into the bark. Wire penetrating plant bark is a classic way of creating an entry point for disease as well as cutting off water and nutrient movement channels

In the Garden

Meanwhile, away from the computer and the telephone, in the garden the past two weeks have been jam packed. Volunteers and our regular students from the Michael Tippett School have been planting potatoes ‘Charlotte’ and ‘Amandine’ in unused dustbins (note to self for next year: chit them somewhere we can see them so they don’t get forgotten!..).

The apricot tree in the Herb Garden has been retied after heavy rain and strong winds tore it away from the wall. There has been yet more pricking out and potting on. Half of the Herb Garden has had a thorough weed. Another of the biggest veg beds has been sown.

The gloomy weather forced us to do some housekeeping: Upper Greenhouse windows have had a good clean on one side so far – the other side needs to be done ASAP.

Building work will be over fairly soon on the new raised beds below the Lower Greenhouse, rain permitting.

Volunteers also enjoyed a workshop on harvesting cut-and-come-again vegetables and thinning crops for salads and stir fries.

Heaps of produce being sorted from a fairly small bed - 1.2m x 6 if memory serves - and still left with a bed full of produce

Thinning and cut-and-come-again

Regular readers will remember we sowed our brassica bed 8 weeks or so ago to harvest quick catchcrops of fast-growing leaves while our early turnips developed and before planting longer-season brassicas like summer cabbages. The catchcrops were intercropped among the turnips. The summer cabbages were sown and grown on in the greenhouse and will be planted out later this month.

Ready for a drastic haircut and some thinning

Sowing rows close together has had two useful outcomes: there has been less bare soil for water to evaporate from on hot days so the soil has remained more moist generally; the dense crop covering has reduced weed growth – we had some but not nearly as much as usual.

Our harvest yielded a good few kilos of turnip tops, green pak choi ‘Joy Choy’, purple pak choi, tat soi, garden rocket, mizuna and radishes. We harvested by two methods: cutting (as in cut-and-come-again) and thinning.

And after... (from the other side of the bed)


The choice was based on how big the crops were relative to neighbouring rows of plants. If they were in danger of shading out their neighbours, we cut them 6-8cm above the ground to increase light levels to smaller crops on either side.

If they weren’t shading out their neighbours, we thinned them (pulled out seedlings leaving plants at regular intervals) to allow leftover plants to grow on to full sized crops. Just remember to water the crop before harvesting so the leftover plants don’t accidentally come out of the ground as you pull out the thinnings.

If you’d like to join us as a volunteer, please do get in touch. We always have heaps to do and never enough pairs of hands.

To arrange an induction tour, you can contact Kate via or Alison on 07503919973. Our Chelsea Fringe pop-up pollinator plantings outside Herne Hill Gate will be another chance to get involved – less than 2 weeks to go!






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