Signs of Spring and Byng Brook Orchard ID - Part 2

Signs of Spring keep appearing in and around the orchard. The Blackthorn is beginning to flower along the roads and hedgerows. Underneath on banks and flats appear primroses in clusters, nettles starting to shoot up, grass thickening, cow parsley jumping into life.  It's easy to take nature's unhurried clock for granted but since becoming a beekeeper and an orchardist I continue to realise the importance of just slowing down and observing its signs.

I have been regularly hefting the bees to check on their weight and I also occasionally pop the lid just to see how much Autumn fondant still remains.  A beekeeping Spring question is when to remove the fondant and carry out the first inspection.  This will be variable from year to year and place to place but using the signs of nature can help us with these important decisions.  The first one to look for is the Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum). Its bloom will appear in early Spring and historically has been the marker of a beekeeper's first look into their hives.  I like the idea that the plant kingdom can sometimes be better at judging weather conditions than the might of modern science.

I have been looking for buds on my newly planted apple trees.  It appears that the earliest varieties I have in the orchard are Howgate Wonder and Blenheim Orange, both showing first signs of swelling buds. All the others at the moment are still looking dormant.  I was recently gifted four saplings from my local bee keeping association (Thank you!).  Two crab apples and two wild cherries.  Its interesting to note that the crab apples seem to be quite a lot further ahead than my main varieties. I wonder why that is?


Blenheim Orange
Howgate Wonder


Onto the Byng Brook Orchard ID project (from now on BBO ID).  This time I have selected two common Spring flowers that have popped up around the orchard.


Sweet Violet (Viola odorata)


The Sweet Violet which pops up along banks and hedgerows and wood edges is famed for its bright purple flowers and its unusual heady scent.  The violet scent has been used for hundreds of years as a scent for perfumes.

The leaves and flowers are edible and would make a great addition to any wild salad.  

The plant features in the Greek myth of Iamus the son of Apollo.  He was abandoned in a bed of violets where he was kept alive by honeybees who fed him honey until he was discovered by a group of passing shepherds. Except for the child abandonment it sounds quite pleasant really.

Plant Height (cm)                     10

Flower size (cm)                         2

Rarity                                          2

                                                                Flowering length (months)        3

                                                                Bee factor                                    4

                                                                FUN FACT - Violets were Napoleon Bonaparte's signature flower.         

Red Dead-Nettle (Lamium purpureum)


The Red Dead-Nettle is often mistaken for the stinging nettle - it has similar leaves but it doesn't have a sting of any kind. It is actually in the mint family.  They are fairly easy to ID - they look like nettles with purple flowers. Another way to help with ID is to look to the stem. It actually has a square stem (like other mints).

The whole of the plant top is edible (leaves and flowers) and can be used in wild salads, smoothies, teas etc and has been used to treat a range of illnesses over the years - as it's considered to be anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal.

Honeybees love the dead-nettle you can observe the bees in spring foraging on the purple flowers returning to the hives with brick red pollen in their honey baskets with tummies full of the plentiful nectar.

Plant Height (cm)                     20

Flower size (cm)                         1

                                                                Rarity                                          1

                                                                Flowering length (months)        8

                                                                Bee factor                                    5

                                                       FUN FACT - Said to be highly effective in reducing allergy symptoms!



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