Over the past couple of weeks in the garden, our snowdrops have been busy flowering away in the woodland. To increase their numbers for next year, now that the flowering is over, we are going to lift and divide them. This is called ‘lifting in the green’.  Unlike many other bulbs, snowdrops move well when still in leaf. Providing they are transplanted quickly, they establish more easily ‘ in the green’ than if they are stored and planted as dry snowdrop bulbs later in the year. 

So this week, we will lift some of the snowdrop clumps from the woodland and replant them immediately in our front gate borders. If we repeat this process every year for a number of years we should build up beautiful drifts of snowdrops! 

Now that the weather has turned warmer again, we will start hardening off our small tomato plants and putting them on the staging in the upper greenhouse. We will also be sowing more flower and vegetable seeds in modules and getting them to germinate by putting them into our heated propagators. 

At the weekend we cut down the Arundo donax, which is a tall perennial cane also known as giant cane and elephant grass! Arundo generally grows to 6 metres in height and its hollow stems are 2 to 3 cms in diameter which make them ideal for replenishing our bug hotel habitats. Hollow plant stems are great places for solitary bees to lay their eggs. 

Did you know that out of 267 species of bee in the UK, only one is a honeybee, and only 25 species are bumblebees. These 26 species are social and live in colonies. The other 90% are solitary bees — that’s around 240 species! 

Working alone, female solitary bees collect building materials for their nests and food for their larvae. They build individual cells for each egg. The female lays each of her 20-30 eggs on top of a ball of pollen stuck together with nectar. She builds a partition wall, then repeats the process until her chosen nesting place is full. Then she closes it with mud, leaves or fine hairs before moving on to the next nesting place. (This is in stark contrast to most bumblebees and honeybees, where the queen lays the eggs and a team of other bees work together to look after them.)

The female solitary bee’s eggs hatch into larvae, eat the pollen and enter hibernation, staying in the cocoon for around 11 months throughout the summer and winter. The following spring, the larvae pupate, turn into adult bees and emerge from their nest.

Solitary bees are star pollinators and outperform other bee species.They don’t have pollen baskets on their legs (unlike social bees), so they lose much more pollen as they fly which of course makes them excellent pollinators! A single red mason bee, for example, has been found to pollinate 120 times more flowers than a single worker honeybee.

As well as nesting in hollow stalks, solitary bees also nest in tubular holes in soil, sand, clay, mortar or wood. One of the most prevalent species has the delightful name of the hairy-footed flower bee (Anthophora plumipes), which has a similar appearance to the bumblebee but a different, more erratic flight motion. 

Food sources for solitary bees include wildflowers and fruit trees so locating the bug hotel near the woodland’s fruit trees and wild flowers should work well for them. 

When siting a bug hotel, it is important to place it in a warm sunny location, and if you are hoping to attract in solitary bees it is best to avoid using glass or plastic tubes as condensation and fungus can build up in these, which can cause disease in the bees. Also steer clear of nests with no solid end wall, and make sure tubes, or in our case the Arundo stems, pack tightly against the back wall of the bug hotel. This offers the solitary bees’ nests protection from other predatory insects who could rob their nests and eat up their nectar and larva.

This week we will be adding a solid wooden end wall to our bug hotel, and finishing off the ‘accommodation’ of the lower two stories with more suitable plant nesting material.

In other BPCG news, we are recruiting freelance environmental educators to help deliver our nature-based children and family’s programme this Spring and Summer.  Whilst we are not currently running sessions for children because of Lockdown, we are hopeful that we will begin to start sessions again from March. We are therefore looking for nature-based play and craft specialists and child-centred environmental educators who can deliver all or some of the following:

a) nature-based craft, play and gardening workshops for toddlers to teenagers. 
b) curriculum-linked environmental education sessions for primary schools from March onwards

If you have at least 3 years previous experience (voluntary or paid) of delivering all or some of the above, please contact Kate on director@brockwellgreenhouses.org.uk for more details.  Our children and family sessions primarily run on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Please note: all successful applicants will be required to supply an up to date Enhanced DBS check from the Disclosure and Barring Service.

If you missed Sue Stuart Smith’s wonderful talk about her book ‘The Well Gardened Mind’, you can catch it here https://www.brockwellgreenhouses.org.uk/the-well-gardened-mind-an-evening-with-sue-stuart-smith/.  We will keep this up on the website for four more weeks. 

Our next BPCG at Home talk is being given by Jo Ferguson and it’s all about urban bats – their ecology and their conservation. Jo has more than two decades’ experience researching and protecting these fantastic flying mammals and she has worked for the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) for more than 5 years. She is a fascinating speaker and we can guarantee will open your eyes to the amazing world of bats  – and especially in South London where Jo has worked on bat conservation for many years.  Tickets are free or include a donation if you can. https://www.brockwellgreenhouses.org.uk/event/urban-bat-ecology-and-conservation-an-online-talk-by-jo-ferguson/

In other news, our partner Healthy Living Platform is a social enterprise offering activities which benefit the health and wellbeing of the community. Thanks to Josh, Gabor and Nicolas, BPCG are already doing regular big food deliveries for HLP using Brock our electric vehicle, but HLP also need more volunteers to help with delivering nutritious hot meals to families during Covid. If you live near Brixton, are available Tues/Weds/Thurs afternoons, generally 2-4pm, Healthy Living Platform would love to hear from you! Bicycle deliveries are their preferred means of transport, but HLP are also happy for deliveries to be made by foot or car. Sign up here http://healthylivingplatform.org/volunteer-with-us 

The Orchard Project have brought out extremely useful advice on winter pruning of fruit trees.  To access their excellent variety of materials, go here https://www.theorchardproject.org.uk/blog/chopdowninlockdown/

The RHS are advertising their new Apprenticeship programme. They say ‘You don’t need to have experience or previous qualifications to join the programme – just a passion for the great outdoors, nature and enthusiasm to learn. For more information and to apply go here https://www.rhs.org.uk/education-learning/qualifications-and-training/work-based-training/rhs-apprenticeships  Deadline is 1st March 2021.

Land In Our Names (LION) are looking for food growers in the Pan-London area who are Black/people of colour (BPOC). They specifically want to gather stories from growers with experience of: Growing for social enterprises and sustaining livelihoods, “commercial” food growing, Selling produce from a growing site (markets, to restaurants, CSAs), Working as a part of a larger social or community enterprise. If you think you fit the criteria for an interview and are interested in participating, please get in touch ASAP at LionLandLion@gmail.com to set up a phone or video chat interview lasting around 40-60 mins.  You can read more about the Rootz Into Food Growing project here  https://www.ubele.org/rootz-into-food-growing.