The bright conditions in September, and lack of strong winds until mid month, means the early part of the month has seen lovely autumn leaf colours developing, beginning as always with an unknown birch, Zelkova, Cornus sibirica and Sorbus Olympic Flame.
Throughout this time the garden avoided frosts, which meant that many stalwart late flowering plants continued to perform without being cut down, and with 4 honey bee colonies close enough to the house to monitor several times throughout the day, and variably active, I developed a much better idea of how early in the day they started foraging, and which flowers they visited under different conditions.
A light bulb moment for me was discovering that within the garden, their favourite flowers for much of this time, have origins in the Himalayas, or other mountainous areas of SE Asia. Coincidentally the mountains of the Himalayas are home to the largest species of honey bee in the world, Apies laboriosa, which builds a huge single slab of comb hanging from an overhanging rock face.
My theory is that many of these Himalayan flowering plants, both early in the season, or late into the autumn are capable of producing either more, or higher quality, nectar under cooler damper conditions, than many other plants, like Asters, which the honeybees here rarely visit other than around midday, or in warmer sunshine.
So the Geranium procurrens on the bank behind the house… Persicaria amplexicaulis… and Persicaria vaccinifolia are all significantly the most favoured flowers…… even in damp conditions, though for much of the early part of the month most of the bees are flying down the valley to reach Himalayan Balsam flowers growing beside the stream in the village and beyond. This plant always gives itself away since the bees return with their dorsal thorax covered in pale pollen.
An awareness of how our tough honeybees will continue to forage even in cool windy or damp conditions and on fading plants which still have a few flowers, has meant a rethink with later cutting back of stands of flowers, in a juggling game which must still be completed before the first snowdrop bulb shoots begin to emerge in early to mid November.