Welcoming Early Pollinators

While many of the  useful early  Spring forage plants; such as crocuses Winter heathers and hellebores are perennials that will already be in place, there are a few things you can usefully do at the beginning of the season to improve foraging for early-emerging queens.

  1. Dandelions  –  leave the first flush of dandelion flowers for pollinators… They are an important nectar source for honeybees as well as wild ones..
  2. Check out you local willow supply. Willow is a major early pollen source, and one of the best places to observe newly-emerged bumble queens. Setting willow slips couldn’t be simpler… take 50cm straight sections of stem, any time after leaf-fall, insert a third of the length into damp ground where you want then to grow. But… Willow trees are either male or female, and only the males produce the fluffy pollen-laden “pussy-willow” catkins. In the wild the trees will be a mix and now is the time to start checking for good males to propagate from. Grey willow (Salix caprea) is a widespread native in the West, but quite variable in flowering time and catkin quality. By selecting your propagating  material carefully, you can have pollen-laden grey willow from March into May, hedgerow space permitting. A good early cultivated willow strain is Salix pupurea, which makes a loosely spreading tree with mahogany coloured stems and pink

-flushed catkins. This year catkins appeared as early as January, though with the wet weather  it took several weeks for the pollen to develop.

Catkins of salix purpurea

3.  In the vegetable plot, Brassica flowers are a favourite spring resource for all types of beer, as for the early hoverflies. Leave your winter brassicas in place into late April. Kales, brussels sprouts and sprouting broccoli produce a display of honey-scented yellow flowers… Leave cabbage stems in place after cutting the heads, and they will also reward you with sprays of yellow flowers.

ragged jack kale in May

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