A new allotment neighbour rather sensibly turned over a whole bed to a green manure, Phacelia, and six weeks ago the very pretty pale mauve flowers were smothered in honey bees. I‘ve always been lazy about using green manures believing the effort involved in digging them back in would be strenuous and that a spread of commercial fertiliser would be the simpler option. However a read of Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture by Ross Conrad Publisher Chelsea Green has made me think again. It’s an inspiring and comprehensive book that explains in careful detail how to keep healthy and productive honeybee hives without resorting to synthetic pesticides, antibiotics or artificial diets. Conrad stresses throughout that the key ingredients of organic bee-keeping is disease resistant stock, favourable sites and good colony management in fact his approach has much the same principles and philosophy as organic gardening.
One of his many interesting facts is that urban beekeepers are very successful at producing great honey. This he attributes to an abundance of forage material on allotment sites, in parks, in our tree-lined streets and gardens and even from balconies full of potted plants. And at the same time urban bees face much less exposure to agricultural pesticides than rural bees do. So I feel it’s my turn now to give something back and I’ve chosen to sow a green manure Sinopis alba -mustard- which takes 4-6 weeks to flower and I may even avoid digging it in since it can be left to be killed off by frosts.
Most green manures can be sown up until mid-September and then again in Spring and hopefully a small patch of ground can provide a quantity of organic pollen for these essential insects in both seasons.
At its core this beautifully written and illustrated book has a fabulous philosophy summed up by this quote from Conrad:
‘It is a pleasure to know that although they may not realise it my neighbours down the road are able to enjoy a bountiful harvest from their garden due in part to the pollination services rendered by the honey bees in my care’.