Were you lucky enough to see October’s Halloween blue moon? Many will know that the “once in a blue moon” event when we can see, weather permitting, two full moons in the same month does indeed happen pretty infrequently. The next time we’ll have the chance to see a Halloween blue moon will apparently be in 2039, though for astronomical reasons that elude me, in some ways this was even more of a scoop sighting in 2020 in West Wales. The last time a Halloween blue moon was (potentially) visible across all regions of the Northern Hemisphere was way back in 1944.
However, after trawling through the Met Office’s wonderful digitised records, created from painstakingly detailed hand written sheets from back then, the chances of having had a good view from West Wales on that night in 1944 look a little slim.
Having forgotten the timing of this rare event, I was therefore very fortunate that without setting an alarm clock, I happened to nip outside, just as the moon had risen, nearly due East from us, in a narrow gap in the dusk-time cloud cover. Having a curious mind, I wondered what news events were the significantly recorded ones from that previous date, way before I was around, 76 years ago? My interest was piqued by the Aarhus air raid. A precision bomb attack carried out during daylight by a group of 25 RAF mosquito fighter bombers, it was requested at short notice by members of the Danish resistance to destroy the headquarters of the Gestapo housed in part of the buildings of the University of Aarhus, following the Germans’ arrest of a key member of their group.
After the war, the RAF ranked it as the most successful mission of its kind during the war, and there is a fascinating record of it recorded here. Though the record ends with “The Gestapo reinforced their numbers in Denmark after the attack, to the point where the number of agents were almost doubled.” I reflected on the disparity of outcomes in the way that history records events, as November 5th 2020 marked the beginning of a second month long lockdown period in England due to Covid restrictions. How will history analyse and record both the wisdom and eventual benefits of this I wonder?
A point to leave hanging in the ether for years to come.
However perhaps of more interest to me as a trigger for reflection was the recorded interview with one of the key aircrew in the raid, Edward Sismore, (later Air Commodore) the navigator of the lead mosquito flown by pilot Reginald Reynolds. In precise, measured, dead pan tones, this sound recording held by the Imperial War Museum, is a record of considerable bravery, courage, and partnered raw survival skills. Which puts a lot of what the UK and world is going through at present into a different perspective. Well worth a listen here, if only to hear his description of flying back from a mission near the Kiel canal, and making it home eventually with a damaged engine and bent propellers after hitting the sea surface and bouncing up again in the poor visibility at the time. One also needs to point out that the De Havilland Mosquito was pretty unique in being a largely wooden plane, a prototype only having been constructed in November 1939, with a wooden shell chosen both to reduce weight and construction time. As a young lad I may well have bought, made and painted an Airfix model of one, but have no recollection of the wooden fuselage of the original “Mossie”.
There is a wonderfully comprehensive website, Mosquito Pathfinder Trust, MPT, devoted to this iconic plane, “The Wooden Wonder”, which contributed much to the eventual success of the British war effort, click here, and there’s also a short You Tube where you can listen to a clever chap in New Zealand talking about its unique features, and showing how he’s already managed to restore one to flying.
From the MPT site, I’m also including this piece for consideration:
In one example of the daylight precision raids carried out by the Mosquito, (Sismore and Reynolds were also leading this mission -sic) on 30 January 1943, the 10th anniversary of the Nazis’ seizure of power, a Mosquito attack knocked out the main Berlin broadcasting station while Commander in Chief Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring was speaking, putting his speech off the air. Göring himself had strong views about the Mosquito, lecturing a group of German aircraft manufacturers in 1943 that:
“In 1940 I could at least fly as far as Glasgow in most of my aircraft, but not now! It makes me furious when I see the Mosquito. I turn green and yellow with envy. The British, who can afford aluminium better than we can, knock together a beautiful wooden aircraft that every piano factory over there is building, and they give it a speed which they have now increased yet again. What do you make of that? There is nothing the British do not have. They have the geniuses and we have the nincompoops. After the war is over I’m going to buy a British radio set – then at least I’ll own something that has always worked.”
Inspired by not quite such distant recollections, at least in time, the garden is currently benefitting from some significant defuzzing. This is a wonderfully apt descriptive term I came across whilst trying to find some good background to cloud pruning Camellias. It was used by a New Zealand florist/gardener David Anyon, sadly now deceased, back in the noughties, and quoted by Abbie Jury in 2008 on her excellent blog post, “In praise of pruning” from the spectacularly beautiful garden at Tikorangi.
I think I’ve mentioned their 7 acre garden before, now cared for by the fourth generation of the Jury family, and the origin of some of the best cultivars, globally, of Camellias, Daphne, and Magnolia, to name just 3 of the genus that the family have hybridised over the years. On the basis of reading more about Abbie’s husband Mark’s work on this page, I’ve just ordered a Camellia “Fairy Blush” and Daphne “Perfume Princess”. Do read some of their pages and posts if you’re a keen gardener. I’m sure you too will be inspired.
So what’s defuzzing all about? It’s the concept, really well explained in her piece, that many newly planted garden areas with shrubs or trees look great in their early years. Each plant is distinct, and a focus of attention. (May 2014 below) Even if individually rather small and the gardener just can’t wait for them to get bigger and create more impact. But over time, and ever so gradually as this happens, plants start to merge and areas become more of a mish mashed jungle.(October 2020 below) Individual plants are also left with many lower twiggy shoots, and criss crossing branches. Abbie explains, and re iterates the perceptive point made by David Anyon, that a different mind set is needed as a maturing garden moves into this phase.
Plants and the overall garden aesthetic will (probably?) benefit from both raising the canopy by removing lower branches on trees, thinning out branches on evergreens like Camellias, and defuzzing – removing all those tiny twiggy and sometimes intersecting or crossing little bits which not only distract the eye from the main trunks, but also add to the near 100% shade of the ground. Not to mention the visual block created by maturing shrubs and trees. This 100% shade has big impacts on what plants may be able to survive beneath these larger plants, as well as the lack of light for creating lovely visual effects of dappled shade.
So having at last got all the bulbs planted in the gradually reducing annual bulb order, and with much of the annual perennial cut back completed, just in time for the first emerging snowdrops (today November 18th) and Crocus shoots, I thought I’d have a go at some of this defuzzing. Mainly on Acers and mature deciduous Azaleas, but also making a start on the cloud pruning of some of our Camellias.
We don’t plan on tackling them all, since it actually takes quite a while per plant – Abbie mentions taking 5 hours to do this on a single large Camellia! One of our abiding memories from trips to Paris for an annual week away was of the cloud pruned Camellias in the fabulous Albert Kahn Garden. Whether we visited in autumn… or at blossom time, the Japanese area of this amazing garden always had the biggest impact on us. Sadly they have a really inadequate website, which doesn’t do the gardens justice. With hindsight the aesthetic impact was made special, not just because of great design and planning, but also because this part of the garden must have been carefully defuzzed, and had canopies raised in exactly this way over many years.Though I guess both the French and Japanese would use a different term to describe the process.
I’ve also discovered that this is really satisfying gardening work for this, the dreariest of months in our garden here. Even in light rain and failing light, you can work on, and see the results of your efforts quite quickly – actually way faster than waiting for the plants to grow in the first place! So there’s a thought for everyone with a fast maturing garden. Don’t prevaricate and then have to do what a lot of New Zelanders end up resorting to apparently (or indeed we once saw at the wonderful Bodnant gardens) – waiting until things are so big and merged you decide you have to hack everything back to ground level and let it reshoot, or even worse, dig it out. Rather, and probably a little selectively to begin with, consider a bit of pre-emptive defuzzing.
Age indeed doesn’t come alone, but with maturing trees and shrubs, this usually means growing, and getting considerably bigger!
Rather than shrinking, as happens with the garden’s stewards.
Ears and facial hair excluded…
In early October, just before our last lockdown kicked in, we were delighted to welcome our area’s NGS County organiser Jackie for a socially distanced outside tea and walk round the garden. A real delight even at this late time of the year, and once again the weather proved benign. There was the small drama of a pallet delivery lorry ignoring our strict instructions to ring and arrange to be met at the bottom of the track, and hence a very tricky turning manoeuvre in the yard. Neptune was dropped off, cling filmed and well padded in cardboard, before we bade Jackie farewell.
But not before we’d passed on a few of our favourite plants. Let’s hope they survive – although Jackie’s garden is in Pembrokeshire, it’s apparently much drier and warmer than here, as was evident from the amazing amazing photos of 2 metre high Echiums which she showed us, and which seed around in her conditions. Just as she was leaving, and much to our surprise she produced along with a gorgeous Dendrobium, to light up the kitchen, a couple of presents for us from the car, which we speedily unwrapped, as below. Completely unexpected and a real delight – we knew we’d been opening the garden since 2010 for the NGS, but it’s still a thrill to have these tokens of recognition, which we will always treasure.
We’ve gained so much from welcoming all our visitors over this last decade, and do hope that we can continue to do so, even if in slightly different ways, next year and beyond.
I really don’t think I should ever use the engraved trowel – the chances are that like all the others, I’d end up losing it somewhere in the garden, never to be seen again.
After relocating Spirit…Neptune has now taken up station, hiding one of the drain pipes from the yard, and looks wonderful, though we still need to tweak the sealing around the pipe and tube to allow the water to exit from his mouth, and not just dribble down his chin, other than after a real deluge!
Finally, I’m going to finish with a little more about honeybees. Many beekeepers will by now have fed their bee colonies earlier in the autumn with some sort of supplementary feed to ensure that they have enough stores to get them through the winter. This after removing much of the honey which the bees would have foraged and stored away over the year!
Such feed supplement is usually either a simple sugar syrup, or sugar fondant, a bit like royal icing, placed inside the hive. Keen to encourage survival of the fittest, I’ve always been of the mind to let the bees survive, or not, on the back of their own foraging. Particularly since we’re blessed with an abundance of wild source as well as garden foraging options for much of the year, even if our climate is challenging. (Gorse, Ulex europaeus pollen recently discovered by just one of the hives so far, below).
One of the delights of the last month has been seeing just how active the bees continue to be, in spite of very wet, windy and sometimes very cool conditions. Though bumblebees have now completely disappeared from the scene since the beginning of November. It does seem to me that rather like sitting a child in a sweet shop, should honeybees be offered high concentration sugary feed as a supplement within the hive, they’re much less likely to be bothered to stretch their wings and legs to go looking for greater variety in the wider world. And my guess is that as with us, there are real physiological benefits for the honeybees in being physically active, not least giving them the ability to perform cleansing flights to void waste materials. This is a big issue for bees kept in much colder climates, where they literally are unable to leave the hive for months on end – the hive may even be buried deep in snow.
Therefore as well as searching for the first snowdrop, Cyclamen coum and even Daphne bholua flowers which are already fattening buds nicely, I now have frequent chances to assess honeybee activity here through this “No-thing” month of November. Things really aren’t as gloomy as in Thomas Hood’s London of 1844, when he wrote his poem No, penned in smog and fog afflicted conditions. One can really sense the depression.
Thank goodness for our open spaces and garden experiences!
No sun—no moon!
No morn—no noon—
No dawn—no dusk—no proper time of day—
No sky—no earthly view—
No distance looking blue—
No road—no street—no “t’other side the way”—
No end to any Row—
No indications where the Crescents go—
No top to any steeple—
No recognitions of familiar people—
No courtesies for showing ’em—
No knowing ’em!—
No travelling at all—no locomotion,
No inkling of the way—no notion—
“No go”—by land or ocean—
No mail—no post—
No news from any foreign coast—
No Park—no Ring—no afternoon gentility—
No company—no nobility—
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member—
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,—
(My emphasis and italics),
Here, 800 feet up in a much wetter climate, even by the middle of the month, there’ve only been 2 days with no comings and goings from the most active hive. About 6 weeks ago, on days when the bees seemed most active, I decided to have a go at trying to estimate just how numerous the bee foraging trips were. So 3 or more times a day, on a very imprecise and irregular basis I’d stand, timer in hand, and count the number of bees returning to each hive over a minute.
This confirmed in a very dramatic way just how variable the 4 colonies closest to the house were in terms of flights into and out of the hive, and when these flights took place. Fiona, with a bit of help from our younger son, had a go at designing a simple programme to display this data in an accessible way.
The most striking feature has been how one colony (labelled as compost, blue) very consistently sends foragers out and back, way before any of the other colonies. Although this colony was the last to swarm, the date only lagged the other 2 swarmed in hives (larch and oak, grey and orange) by a week or two, and all the viable swarms had moved in by very early July, so I don’t think it’s just that the other colonies may have completely full stores, whereas this one still has space to fill. The PV hive, yellow, was much earlier in the year, and a captured and transferred swarm, so has already grown to be a much larger colony. Since all the colonies have been insulated with 40 mm cork boards to almost the same extent, and all face South and hence get similar exposure to direct sunlight on the rare occasions when the sun has indeed shone, I’m inclined to think there has to be another reason.
Rather I reckon that this colony has a significant number of “tougher”, or hardier bees. Or even a gene line of bees who are early risers, and send out their foragers, who are perhaps more adept at shaking other resting and inactive bees on their return to get them up and out there.
At this point, I’m including a link to an excellent and diverse range of lectures on many aspects of honey bee behaviour, available free to view, from the library of the National Honey Show. This British based event is internationally diverse, and covers a lot more than awarding prizes to jars of honey from around the world! Inevitably cancelled this year in physical form, it’s clear from a number of folk I’ve consulted about this, that there’s very low awareness of this excellent resource. Click here for the lecture listing from the last 7 years. All of the lectures I’ve looked at are recorded in a very professional and high quality way, unlike some of the Zoom type events which have become common place this year. More importantly, many, though maybe not all, are delivered by superbly competent lecturers, often with decades of significant research into many aspects of honey bee behaviour and ecology.
For sure, some are focused on aspects of hive management of no interest to a non bee keeper, but perhaps listen to Simon Rees talking about “How Bees fly”, from the 2019 series. I had no idea of the complexities of anatomy, physiology and physics which are all involved.
Or from 2017, Tom Seeley from Cornell University “The Thirst of a Hive: How Does a Honey Bee Colony Control its Water Intake?”
However the most relevant to my observations of the differences in patterns of foraging activity is the talk by Heather Mattila, from Wellesley College, again from 2017. “Well-mated Queens Produce the Busiest Bees.”
She was one of the first researchers to experimentally confirm that honeybee colonies with a queen bee mated with multiple drones on her single nuptial flight as a virgin, (as is typical in nature), end up being both healthier and much more productive than a queen mated with just a single drone.
She managed to confirm this by creating her own colonies with queens artificially inseminated with either a single drone’s semen, or the mixed semen from 15 different drones. The implications of this research are fascinating, perhaps even for our own societies, regarding the benefits of multi-culturalism, if not promiscuity! This can be best illustrated by a memorable example she gave. Kick a honey bee hive (preferably with a very good protective bee suit on!) and then after the guard bees have whizzed out and stung you multiple times, retreat, remove the stings from the suit and get their DNA genome patterns analysed, and you’ll find that the majority come from the same patriline.
In other words, most of these aggressive bees will have all come from the semen of just one of the single drones which mated with the queen, and which tended to have a predisposition for more aggressive behaviour. The concept of different fathers, or patrilines, affecting different characteristics of bee activity is therefore a key way in which the fitness potential stemming from such diversity of fathers can be manifested in real life colony activity and survival potential – even though all of the productive members of the bee society are female.
In turn this makes sense of honeybees’ seemingly curious and risky strategy of having the drones and virgin queens undertaking their long flights away from the hive to meet up with multiple potential partners from different hives, rather than simply mating with their own colony’s drones in the safety of the hive. As well as aggression, one can equally imagine that all the other drones may impart subtly different sets of chromosome influenced skills, contributing to the overall colony survival chances.
So what price a vibrant ethnically diverse origin society? Or not?
To use examples from the starting thread of this post, a good job that William de Havilland, b1375 from Isles-Sur-Marne, Champagne-Ardenne, France, had a son who moved to Guernsey, and many generations later, made another family move to England, so that in due course Captain Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, OM, CBE, AFC, RDI, FRAeS, could set up his eponymous dH aircraft company in London in 1920, and not elsewhere. Or more mundanely, that Nicholas Kove, a 1930’s refugee arriving in Britain from Hungary, contributed to the material and cultural wealth of his adopted nation when he set up his rubber inflated toy firm Airfix in 1939, and post War had the drive to acquire the first plastic injection moulding machinery in the UK, leading to the kit part models which are still produced, via multiple changes of ownership, today.
But back to my consistently very early rising hive. My guess is that it has a significant patriline of worker bees with an ability to fly early, and at lower temperatures, or simply be better bee shakers, thus rousing the resting, than the norm. Perhaps as with “the early bird”, there’s an advantage in getting out and finding good sources of forage ahead of any other colonies, particularly at this time of the year when resources are scarce and foraging weather opportunities more limited? Wild or feral honeybees locally adapted over many years to a particular area and its climate are much more likely to have evolved such survival traits. Which makes the recent data showing that the percentage of imported mated queens into the UK has increased fivefold in the last decade very worrying. Click here for more.
However my real light bulb moment in recent weeks has been thinking a little more about which garden flowers these early risers (in particular) are visiting. In addition to the distant valley bottom stands of Himalayan Balsam which are clearly worth flying over 0.6 miles to reach, even in cool, damp and windy October weather, it turns out many of their favoured flowers in our garden also have origins in the Himalayas.
Thus, Persicaria amplexicaulis… Geranium procurrens. and Persicaria vaccinifolia all continue flowering into November if frosts permit. In particular P. amplexicaulis is regularly visited at dawn, even in the rain, so clearly doesn’t need warmth, or strong sunshie to elicit good nectar production, unlike many flowers.
I then discovered that the largest of the world’s 8 species of honeybee, Apies laboriosa, is native to the Himalayas. Moreover, and more remarkably, it doesn’t nest inside a protective cavity like our native honeybees, but rather builds a single huge slab of tough wax comb, hanging vertically from a suitable overhanging cliff ledge. There’s a wonderful short You Tube film below, which illustrates this and shows the remarkable lengths which some Nepalese villagers will go to in order to harvest this honey. It really is beautifully recorded.
Over many years we’ve had a very keen awareness of how critical weather conditions, and minor temperature changes can be for energy consumption, having a wood pellet stove/boiler that needs “feeding” on a daily basis. The two photos for consecutive days shows how strong winds and rain, combined with adjusting the thermostat by just 0.25 degrees C for one hour on the second day, can nearly double pellet consumption. External temperatures were very similar, and it would be quite tricky to monitor such nuances of energy use with oil or gas fired heating, I guess.
So think back to these larger Apies laboriosa, exposed in all weathers on a Himalayan rock face, and with a body mass twice that of our own smaller A. mellifera. They may have a lower metabolic rate than our European bees, (as discussed by B. Underwood in this paper “Thermoregulation and Energetic Decision-Making by the Honeybees Apis Cerana, Apis Dorsata and Apis Laboriosa”). They may lose heat less quickly, than our smaller bees, but with the extra weight will certainly need more energy to stay airborne. Perhaps though in the local Himalayan flora they may also have access to a range of flowering plants with high value nectar, or at least plants with the ability to produce it more copiously? Which is why our own bees preferentially seem to make a bee- line to these flowers. (Sorry..)
I’ve been unable to find any more information detailed analysis of the nectar produced by this range of plants. They rarely seem to appear in lists of the best pollinator flowers to grow, yet in our wet cool conditions, along with the high altitude origin Dahlia merckii, have huge merit for anyone wanting to help support honeybee, and indeed some bumblebee, species. I should add the caveat, after discussion with Amelia of A French Garden, that although all of these grow vigorously here, they may indeed be unsuited for hotter drier climes!
Honeybees have incredibly sophisticated methods for using scout bees to locate new food sources, and then separate inspector bees to monitor previously located food sources to see if the sources are still producing. All the while the colony being capable of performing cost/reward analysis of visiting the potentially many different, and constantly changing, nectar and pollen resources available within flying range of the hive. And thus capable of directing most workers to the most “profitable” options. (This is discussed brilliantly in Tom Seeley’s “The Bee Colony as a Honey Factory”.)
I’d like to hope that at some point someone will look at the energy value of some of these Himalayan origin flowering plants and confirm that either in through-the-day quantity or quality, they do indeed offer particularly high reward nectar offerings for visiting pollinators, and thus confirm a wonderfully virtuous symbiosis for pollinators living in extreme conditions.