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I have read all of Professor Dave Goulson’s books on Bumblebees, following his quest for the rarest bumblebees on the UK and around the world, his purchase of a farm in France to try and recreate his own flower rich meadows and more recently the warning to us all in Silent Earth, about the drastic and potentially devastating effects we will witness if we don’t do something to try and stop the decline of insects that we are already seeing.
I can highly recommend all of Professor Goulson’s books; he has been extremely successful in bring important issues that would otherwise risk remaining in in academic papers to the wider public through his highly engaging and readable books.
His more practical guide of what we can do to help insects is “Gardening for Bumblebees - A Practical Guide to Creating a Paradise for Pollinators”. As allotment gardeners, we are in the perfect place to be part of the solution to increasing the insect populations back to where they should be. Pollinating insects are obviously beneficial to allotment gardeners, as they pollinate our fruit and vegetable crops, and they can also help keep populations down of other insects that we regard as pests. While most people know that honey bees and bumblebees are pollinators, many are unaware of the pollinating services offered by wasps, who also offer us gardeners the service of pest control. For while adult wasps are vegetarian, their grubs back in the nest are carnivorous, and wasps spend their time catching small bugs and insects to take back to the nest to feed their larvae.
There are a huge variety of flowering plants that you can grow to benefit pollinators. It is a good idea to grow as wide a variety as possible, as different flowers are favoured by different pollinators. In nature there is a corresponding insect for every type of flower, the rare Madagascan Orchid, Angraecum sesquipedale, has a moth with a 30cm tongue that it uses to get to the nectar), something Charles Darwin predicted in 1862 and which took 150 years to be proven correct. Even among bumblebees there are a wide variety of flowers favoured by differing species of bumblebee. Pollinating insects all have different tongue lengths to reach the nectar in a flower. Longer-tongued bumblee’s such as Bombus Hortorus, or the Garden Bumble bee, has the largest tongue-length of any British bumblebee species, and favours flowers with long trumpets, bell-shaped flowers. Open, daisy type flowers are more favoured shorter-tongued varieties, such as the Buff-Tailed and Red Tailed bumblebees, (these two most common varieties on our allotments).
Another reason to grow a wide variety of flowering plants is that you will get them flowering at different times of the year. Early spring flowers are essential for the queen bumblebees as they forage around and need energy as they set up their nests and start their brood cycle.
Gardening for Bumblebees lists 119 different flowering plants that you can grow, all broken down into their 33 corresponding plant families. Dave Goulson has also listed his favourites at the Goulson Lab on the Sussex University website.
While 119 is too many for me to mention here, I will outline some of my favourites, and also ones that are perfect for allomenteers. The good news is that a lot of the varieties you can already see on the allotments, but it would be great to see more. I've also provided Dave Goulson's star rating of which plants he thinks are best.
A selection of some the best garden plants for pollinators:
Borage **** Borago Officialanis
Also sometimes known as Bee Balm (a clue is in its folk name for being a plant loved by bees!), this annual herb is also useful for lovers of a summer Pimms, as you can festoon your Pimms cup with the pretty blue flowers. You can also put them in salads, where they have a cool cucumber-like taste.
These are very easy to self seed, so once you have a couple of plants you will have them on your plot forever more.
Favoured by honey bees and short-tongued bumblebees.
Comfrey ***** Symphytum Officinale
A hardy perennial, you will see this everywhere on the allotments, as it is already popular withallotment gardeners for its high value in making a liquid fertiliser (known as "Stinky Tea") and speeding up your the composting process on you heap. The incredibly deep tap root draws up nutrients from way down in the soil. It readily self-seeds, so the downside of the long tap root is that once it is established it is hard to get rid off. Not too much of an annoyance I find though, as you simply harvest the leaves and put on your compost. There is a sterile variety, Bocking #14, but clearly not used by many of the allotments!
This is favoured by short and long-tongued bumblebees, as even though it is a long flower, if you watch the short-tongued bumblebees you will witness the wonder of “nectar robbery”, this is shorter-tongued bumblebees who’s short proboscis cannot reach the nectar through flower use their mandibles to bite little holes at the base of the flower so they can push their tongues in hole and rob the flower of its nectar.
Lungwort **** Pulmonaria Officinalis
A great example of an important early flowering spring plant. I have lots of this in my garden at home, and it is heartening knowing that I am helping the first bumblebees I see each year are the queens, whose offspring I will be seeing in a short time.
Viper’s Bugloss ***** Echium Vulgare
This is one of the bumblebees' favourite plants, in Dave Goulson’s Bee Quest, when he is travelling around searching for bumblebees, whenever he sees Vipers Bugloss he will stop to look for bumblebees knowing he has a high chance of finding them there.
It favours chalky soil and can rot in heavy clay, although I have managed to grow smaller varieties on the allotments. In Cornwall it is everywhere, and I have spent many a holiday stood photographing the bees buzzing around this enormous plant (it can grow up to 1.5m tall).
Aquiligia, *** columbine, granny’s bonnet
A cottage garden favourite, that readily self-seeds. Once you have a few plants on your allotment you will see it spreading everywhere. It can happily be potted up and transplanted to borders, or a specific area, or you can give plants away. Another long tubular flower favoured by our long-tongued varieties of Bumblebee.
Geranium ****, meadow crane’s-bill, Geranium Pratense
A very popular flower, that gives good ground cover under rose bushes. Geranium “Rozanne” has shown in trials to be particularly popular with bees.
The Daisy Family (below) an enormous family of flowering plants, more than 30,000 varieties, and all great for pollinators:
Cardoon & Globe Artichoke ****, Cynara cardunculus
Cardoons (much championed by the late great Clarisa Dickson Wright, of Two Fat Ladies Fame, as an underrated culinary vegetable) and the globe artichoke are different varieties of the same species. Globe Artichokes were regarded by the Romans as one of the two greatest vegetables (the other being asparagus, showing that things haven't changed much in two millennia). Like many people in the UK though (where perhaps we lack the skill of the Italians and French to harvest and eat it properly!), I mainly grow my globe artichokes for bees, letting their globes turn into an enormous beautiful purple thistle, that will be crawling in bumblebees and covered in pollen.
An important late-season flower, as it is favoured by young queens who are fattening up before their winter hibernation.
Cosmos ** Cosmos bipinnatus
One of my all time favourite flowers, and possible that one that got me more interested in growing flowers. One free packet of brightly coloured Candy Stripe Cosmos that was cover-mounted on a gardening magazine several years ago and my allotment has not been without it since. It readily self-seeds, and happily transplants, which mean you can move them to a specific Cosmos-bed position. Every year I try and create a “Cosmos corridor” running down my central path on my plot. This looks great, and also means they are easy to pick for cut flowers. You will find you have more than enough flowers to leave for the bees and have cut flowers at home.
This year I’m looking forward to trying a new apricot coloured variety from the Dobies catalogue.
Definitely a great flower for beginners and children, as they are easy and quick to grow. Lots of varieties to choose from.
For pollinators, they are favoured by all short-tongued bees and also hoverflies.
Dahlia **** "Bishop of Llandaff"
Not often listed as a plant for pollinators, but the right variety will be a magnet for them. They need to be the "open daisy" variety, Bishop of Llandaff is a good example. Cactus varieties are useless, and Pom Poms need to be left on the plant to fully open for the bees to get to the nectar.
French marigold *** Tagete species
Not the double flowered variety, and certainly not the African marigolds which are of no use to pollinators, French marigolds are very attractive to short-tongued pollinators, especially hover flies, and also has the added benefit of attracting aphid-eating insects. They are well known to give off a strong scent that deters whitefly, and are useful grown around and near the door of greenhouses, polytunnels etc, or edging around your tomatoes outdoors.
A magnet to honey bees and a wide range of other pollinators
Michaelmas Daisy ***
A large clumping variety from the daisy family, especially attractive to honey bees.
Rudbeckia black-eyed Susan **
Herbaceous perennial, very attractive to honey bees and moderately so for bumble bees.
Sunflower *** Helianthus
Sunflowers are great for all sorts of insects, and look great on an allotment plot. They readily self-seed, although they don’t particularly like being transplanted. More often than not you will have enough self-seeding dotted around the plot and you can pull up any if you have too many. Children love growing them, especially if you got for a really tall variety, Dobies’ tallest is called Giraffe and can grow up to 15 feet!
The varieties that grow large dinner plate sized flowers I find completely crawling with bumblebees in the summer.
Foxglove **** Digitalis puperia
A classic and popular cottage garden plant and popular on allotments also. Very popular with long-tongued bumble bees such as Bombus Hortorum.
A perennial similar to foxgloves, another flower favoured by long-tongued bumble bees
Field Scabious and Scabious ****
A native meadow perennial or an annual. Is a great addition to the flower bed. Easy to grow and the pin cushion flowers are very popular with all sorts of bees, hover flies and butterflies
Another spring bulb that is an essential early source of nectar for queen bumblebees. Can be naturalised in lawns and looks great at the front of beds.
Giant Hysop *****, Agastache,
“One of the very best plants for bees”, according to Dave Goulson, and one of the few to get a five star rating. When I visited the Potato Ground in 2022 to help judge Loughton’s Best Allotments Awards I saw a plot that had a fantastic bed of Agastache, absolutely buzzing in bees.
A very popular plant in its own right, and a must for every gardener. These are also very popular with all sorts of pollinators; bees, butterflies and moths.
There are very plenty of varieties to try, and if you want to choose one that’s best for pollinators its worth researching. Apparently in trials at Sussex University Dutch lavender came out best, English lavender was not as attractive and Spanish lavender was even worse.
Another popular herb, especially in the kitchen, it is a great spring flower for early bumblebees.
A herb that is very popular with honeybees.
Popular with only the longest-tongued bumblebees, although shorter-tongued species have been observed biting holes to rob the nectar, this is also an interesting flower in the salad bowl, giving a peppery taste.
Although you can buy ornamental alliums with big showy pompom flowers that are popular with pollinators, you can also let some leeks and chives go to flower to provide food for pollinators.
In the garden white clover can be easily naturalised in lawns. Once upon a time it was regarded a part of a healthy lawn, until the weed and feed manufacturers came along and convinced everyone it was a weed, only because they couldn't formulate a product that didn't kill it) Clover looks lovely in a lawn, and bumblebees love it. It also means you only need to mow your paths when one it’s flowered.
In 2021 I had a lot of clover in my lawn paths but none flowered in 2022, showing it probably suffered in the drought.
California Poppy ***
Easy to grow and great for beginners. It self-seeds well, brightening a plot with its orange flowers. You can easily pull up plants if you get too many.
Primrose * Primula Vulgaris
A lovely early spring flower for early bumblebees.
Extremely popular with birds and insects alike, although not so much with gardeners. Anyone who has taken over a previously abandoned plot has had to contend with hacking back brambles and digging out their roots. If you have space on your plot, you can can always keep them in an area for nature, and also a crop of lovely fruit in the autumn.
Verbena Bonariensis **
A lovely tall plant that has tiny flowers, favoured by butterflies and hawk moths or any insect with a tongue long enough to get to the nectar which is secreted in long deep tubes. Freely self-seeds and is happy to be moved. Last year I saw an amazing display of half a bed of closely planted verbena at the Potato Ground.
A useful plant as it has a long flowering season, popular with long-tongued bumblebees.
This short list just outlines some of the flowers you can grow for pollinators on your allotments, in his book Gardening for Bumblebees, Dave Goulson also has comprehensive chapters on trees and shrubs you can grow for pollinators and also has broken down the information by time of years and length of tongue of bees so you can make sure you plot is buzzing all year round!
You can find a more comprehensive list at the Goulson Lab at Sussex University’s website, or you can read more in Gardening for Bumblebees by Dave Goulson.
If you would like to read our spring newsletter you can download a copy here.
Lots of warm weather and rain has meant 2021 has been a great year for all things Curcubita (pumpkins and squash).
A right of passage for any allotmenteer is a summer glut of courgettes. Heirloom varieties such as Parador are great to grow for flavour rather than the traditional green variety.
Winter varieties, under the catch-all term "Winter squash" are actually three varieties within the curcubita family: Maxima, Pepo and Moschata.
Curcubita Maxima contain the some of the most best-rated pumpkins and squashes, such as Crown Prince, Zucca da Marmellata and Queensland Blue.
Curcubita Pepo contain some of the most beautiful pumpkins, which are grown more for size and looks than flavour. This group include the Jack-o-lantern pumpkins.
Moschata Curcubita is an different variety to the previous two, containing the Butternut Squash varities. These are favoured by supermarkets as they store well, are easy to peel, but sadly flavour is sacrificed for convenience.
Pumpkins don't store as well as other winter squash, which when properly cured can keep for months. The longer winter squash is cured the more the starches are broken down and converted into sugars.
Pumpkins need room to grow, up to four feet, and bush varieties needing 2 1/2 feet so perfect for allotment growers who have to space to grow lots of varieties.
Most squash benefit from limiting the numbers of fruits per plant.
Pumpkin Soup with Cream, Croutons and Gruyère
From Rowley Leigh’s A Long and Message Business, see images above
As well as soups, you can pickle pumpkins, they roast and mash well as a dish for roast dinners and make great curries.
The allotments welcomes visits from children to the allotments.
To ensure the safety of children whilst on the allotments and to prevent a nuisance being caused to other plot holders , the committee requests the following guidelines are followed:
At the inaugural Loughton Horticultural Show on Saturday 1 September 2018 the 2018 Best Allotment awards were presented by by Deputy Town Mayor, Stella Murphy.
Roding Road Allotment plot holders won two awards, Best Allotment and Best Newcomer.
Congratulations to Lesley Ford from the Roding Road Allotments, the overall winner. The judges from the National Allotment Society commented on an extremely attractive plot, with a great variety of features and produce. The Best Newcomer Award went to Amy Tang, also from the Roding Road site. Her plot already showed excellent weed control and good use of the whole area.
Brian Smith from the Loughton Potato Ground and Theresa Witham from the Willingale Road Allotments received site winner awards. Keith Thornhill, from the Loughton Potato Ground, and Louis Le Grange, from Willingale Road Allotments also received Best site Newcomer awards.
Full report on the Horticultural Show can be found here.
Welcome to the Autumn Newsletter. We have had a good growing season this year, especially for soft fruit with the blackberries coming to fruit in early June and lasting through to October and there have been some spectacular sunflowers and pumpkins on plots. It’s well worth a walk round to see what otherplotholders are growing.
Best Allotment in Loughton 2017
This year our site had the Overall Winner. Many congratulations to Mr Yee Sek on Plot 42. A well deserved winner as he is on site 365 days of the year! The Judge said that although it was not a traditional plot, there was imaginative use of various recycled materials to build micro- environments that enable exotic fruits and vegetables to be grown, and that the resulting produce was of excellent quality. Plots 21, Bill Meeson, and 122, Lesley Ford, were both given Highly Commended certificates. Well done.
In the past it has been usual practice for individual plot holders to deal with rodents when they are seen. Aplot holder complained to the Town Council after seeing a rat around their plot and the Association had to employ a company to put bait down. This is very expensive and we, and the Town Council, recommend that anyone who sees rodents use one of the treatments available in DIY stores and supermarkets. They are cheap, easy to use and completely safe if the instructions are followed.
Contacting the Committee
Having tried various contact methods for the Committee it seems the best way is just to have one point of contact so that any queries get directed to the correct place as quickly as possible. Please contact the Secretary, Diane Tong, either by phone (telephone number on the notice board on the garage) or by email and she will ensure the query goes to the correct Committee member or to the full Committee at the next meeting.
I was sorry to hear in the summer of the passing of Stan Goodwin. Stan was one of our longest standing allotment tenants, and in the past had been a member of the committee. My condolences to Stan's family.
Now is the time to be planning what you will be growing next season. We are members of a group discount scheme with Dobies, where we get a 50% discount on seeds and 15% off other products, so don't forget to get your new Dobies catalogue from the Association Secretary at the AGM.
I am very pleased to see a 20% reduction in our water bill this year. Water is the allotment's biggest outgoing, so it is good to see that members are using this resource carefully. Please do continue to use water carefully. Over-watering your crops can lead to less flavoursome produce and your plants becoming over reliant so that they cannot cope during dry spells, particularly if you go away on holiday. And of course, please do remember to make sure that you collect all the water you can from shed roofs, greenhouses etc. See you at the A.G.M.
For the honeybee colony to be successful it needs to reproduce, it does this by swarming. Successful swarming is the establishment of two or more colonies where there was one before and the survival of all those colonies through the winter. The urge to reproduce is very strong and that is why it is so hard to prevent.
As beekeepers we do our best but bees are wild insects and don’t read the same books as us and so do their own thing. The swarm is controlled by pheromones in the hive, the age of the queen and the worker bees, the swarm usually issues on a warm sunny morning, bad weather can delay the swarm. The old queen goes with the swarm, after making provision for a new queen to replace her, she also takes half of the worker bees with her, they fill their stomachs with honey, then usually land on a nearby tree, bush or shed, probably on your plot, and from there send out scout bees to find a suitable new nest site.
The swarm looks quite dramatic and to some quite scary but it is quite safe for us, they have just filled them-selves with honey and are quite content. Next time you see a swarm on your allotment, stop and look it’s quite amazing, oh and give me a ring I will collect them and give them a nice new home.
The beekeeper's telephone number is on the gate of the apiary, or you can contact the Secretary.
David will have a limited amount of honey for sale at the AGM.
Dogs on Leads
Please ensure your dog is kept on a lead or in a penned area on your plot.
The AGM will be held on Monday 4th December can be found with this newsletter. The
evening will include a talk from one of our plotholders, John Thompson, who is the Vice Chairman of Buckhurst Hill Horticultural Society. Refreshments will again be provided by Waitrose under their Community Matters scheme.
Four winners from Roding Road Allotments in this years awards. Well done all, especially Mr Sec on Plot 42 who is the proud winner of the Best Allotment in Loughton 2017. The awards presentation will take place in September.
Best Allotment in Loughton 2017
Plot 42 – Roding Road
(plot held for under two years)
Plot 48 Loughton Potato Ground
Plots: 17, 20 and 47B – Loughton Potato Ground
Plots: 21 and 122 - Roding Road
Plots: 48 – Willingale Road
Plots: 10, 50 and 79 – The Potato Ground
Plots: 98a – Roding Road
Plots: 3 and 53 – Willingale Road
Roding Road – Plot 42
Not a traditional plot! Imaginative use of various recycled materials to build micro-environments that enable exotic fruits and vegetables to be grown, and excellent quality of the resulting produce.
Potato Ground – Plot 48
Stylish and productive, and very well maintained – a credit to a newcomer.
Potato Ground – Plot 17
Interesting layout, wildlife interest, well managed.
Potato Ground – Plot 20
A productive and well laid out plot.
Potato Ground – Plot 47B
Very neat, nice flowers and fruit as well as the vegetables.
Roding Road – Plot 122
Good use of the space and an attractive and individual plot.
Roding Road – Plot 21
Impressive progress for a newcomer to an overgrown plot. Loved the carrot wheels!
Willingale Road – Plot 48
Interesting management of natural resources,
and little bit different from the run of the mill.
Judged by Roger Emmens 25th July 2017
On the 10th and 11th April the allotments suffered two incidents of youths entering the site and causing significant criminal damage to a number of greenhouses and sheds. The police were called on both occasions, and the good news is that the culprits were all caught while still on the site.
The committee has contacted all plot holders who have been affected. If you have not been contacted by us and you discover your plot has been affected by the recent vandalism please do report this to the police, otherwise the culprits, who have been caught, will not be charged with anything and the Police will be unable to take any further action.
You can report this by telephoning 101 (non-emergency policy number), or you can report it online using this link: https://report.police.uk/. Make sure you say that the damage occurred at Roding Road Allotments, Loughton, and give your name and plot number. Please do confirm with the committee and share with us the crime number you are given. You can notify us that you have reported a crime, using the contact form on our website, or speak to a Committee member when you are on the site.
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