Following on from our previous post about our bees swarming, this post is primarily about bee food. But there’s another story woven through about “pretty” vs functional too. When you visit our place, you may get this uncontrollable urge to dig or trim or pull out “stuff” somewhere. Maybe it’s because we don’t do “pretty.” You see, first and foremost we do multi-functional. Most of what we have living or growing have to fulfil multiple functions, and if “pretty” is one of the many functions, then that’s OK. So there may be what you think are “weeds” flowering all over the place. But there is normally a very good reason behind it all.
I have mentioned this before – I don’t think you can practice “Garden and Home award” type pretty on the more than one 1-acre scale unless you have tons of time or money (or both) or maybe if you use some unhealthy practices. Anyway we don’t fall into that bracket… Besides, with a forest garden and free-ranging chooks and ducks (and now a young puppy) there is always going to be some “unpretty” stuff somewhere. We call it ongoing regeneration. Evolution if you wish. A work always in progress.
At Dreamland, we never mow all the paths at once. Since we have red and while clover growing in the paths, we always allow some parts to grow longer and flower for the bees. And then secondly, whether it is me or Markus who mows, we only mow enough grass so that we can process the clippings. We don’t ever just dump the clippings op top of the compost heap. We make sure it gets integrated properly as part of the turning process. We need that green moisture inside the heap, and the heat generated inside the heap, not wasted lying drying out on top of it all. So we would rather leave a piece of lawn half-mowed for a few days than waste such a good natural resource.
Only mowing what we can process immediately
If you visit Dreamland right now, you will find the wormwood hedge half-trimmed. No, somebody wasn’t lazy. We only needed half of it to line out the three chicken coops, because wormwood is a good deterrent for mites. The rest of the hedge will be trimmed in a few weeks’ time when we want to put wormwood in the coops again. Until then, you just have to live with the half-trimmed hedge. It doesn’t bother me in the least – the whole place is a constant work in progress in any way. We would rather leave the hedge half-trimmed for a few weeks than waste such a good natural resource.
Oxalis as another good example. It is currently flowering all over the place. Oxalis is actually quite a beneficial plant. According to the San Francisco Forest Alliance, when blooming, it provides “copious nectar”, which is excellent for bees and butterflies. In fact, the article says it generously gives away its nectar, even though it doesn’t set seed, so the plant doesn’t benefit from the pollinators itself. But of course, everything around it benefits from the pollinators. And… you can never have too much bee food, right? Especially if you want to increase your hives. Other wildlife also eat it, down to the little bulbs in the ground, through which it then propagates. From a soil management point, it is very good at covering bare soil, which with our dry summer is a very good thing. It’s not very invasive either. In a study that compared Oxalis to a native grass, they concluded that: “Oxalis is a poor competitor. This is consistent with the preferential distribution of Oxalis in disturbed areas such as ruderal habitats, and might explain its low influence on the cover of native species in invaded sites.” When it has finished flowering, it is great compost fodder too – but only once the bees have had their fill. Lastly, kids love it and it’s edible. I have countless times seen Micaela pick the flowers and play with them – it is said that in a glass of water it lasts as long as cut flowers. The plant is edible, and its tart leaves make a nice addition to a salad. People enjoy snacking on its sour stems. Besides being called Bermuda buttercup, it’s also called ‘sourgrass’ and ‘soursob.’ It does contain oxalic acid (as does spinach, for instance), and so you probably wouldn’t want to make a full meal of it. Although in some countries it is made into a pure Oxalis soup. So don’t pull it out – well, not yet – it’s multi-functional and it’s bee food!
Oxalis – multi-functional bee food
Oxalis isn’t the only plant in this category. There are many more. “Weeds in the Garden: What we pull, what we leave, and why” is an interesting and nice short article by Milkwood on some uses of the plants that people call weeds. They mention that dandelion is nutritious. I would like to add that our chooks and Ricky, the neighbour’s poor neglected horse, all love dandelion. Dandelion root is also used in some cancer treatments. I bet the dandelion we feed to Ricky is the only medication that he ever gets.
Talking about bee food, even though we do not have full spring temperatures yet, there is so many plants in flower that the bees are having a field day. The following is just a collage of some of plants flowering at the moment.