Building bee and bug abodes

Our group may have an unashamed love affair with honey bees, but we have come to realise they are part of so much more. They are, by dint of being generalists and by numbers, a really important pollinator insect, however they are not always the most effective for all plants. Bumble bees, solitary bees, hoverflies and moths are also important pollinators in decline. It is predicted that plant species diversity can be maintained until 70% of pollinator species are lost – provided the specialist pollinators are lost first. That’s a great deal to lose before there is a significant effect – and what happens if the generalist pollinators are then struck down by disease or similar? Catastrophe.

In short, to achieve the best possible survival for humans we need to maintain biodiversity.

This realisation has influenced our plants for bees project and saw us beginning the year by getting together to make bee and bug hotels.

We made some for ladybirds and lacewings by cutting the base off a large plastic bottle (lid on to keep the rain out) and stuffing rolled and crinkled cardboard into lengthways to form small tubes, nooks and crannies. They then get hung vertically in the garden.

For solitary bees we bundled together 15 or so canes of varying diameter cut to about 20cm’s long. Bees like them to be open at both ends.

A little about Solitary Bees

    • There are over 260 species of bees in the UK
    • Bumblebees and honey bees are the only social ones, living in nests together
    • Some solitary bees live in communities or ‘aggregates’, with each female making herself a nest
    • The Red Mason Bee is a great pollinator of Apple trees, it is estimated that one red mason bee can do the same amount of apple pollination as more than 100 honey bees
    • The Blue Mason Bee is a pollinator for flowers, herbs and vegetables
    • These mason bees nest in a hollow tube, each egg laid in a chamber with a pollen supply and sealed with a mud or chewed leaf cement. They remain there over winter and emerge the following spring. Amazingly they exit in the correct (reverse) order
    • Solitary bees may act synergistically with honey bees to increase crop yields
    • Solitary bees are either specialist or generalist pollinators

Intoxicated by bees

I think Honey Bees are my favourite drug. Better even than a Gin and Tonic.

On this first truly warm day of the year, in a heady mix of sunshine and warm breeze there is a frenetic buzz of flying bees jostling to get their treasures into the hive.

I find this satisfying enough, but the wonderful smell of warm propolis and honey transforms this into a pleasure I crave again and again. Add to that the faint adrenaline surge from realising I’ve put the wrong jacket on – the one that doesn’t do up very tightly and is too short, just inviting an exploratory bee to get stuck inside – and I’ve been grinning all afternoon.

Soooo, when can I go and visit them again?

Blissful day.

I think I may just top it off with a G&T.

Greengrow Treeplanting Day

Tree planting at Greengrow

Tree planting at Greengrow, Jan 2012

On a cold but sunny Saturday in January we set off for Greengrow for their annual treeplanting day.

Greengrow is a Grow your Own community vegetable and fruit growing project based at Illketshall St Andrew (between Beccles and Bungay). It’s for people who want to learn how to grow food sustainably or want to do so with others.

As soon as we arrived the children formed a pack and were off, which is so nice to see and gives us mums and dads a break! On the day, we were planting pear trees and you soon fell into a comfortable rhythm: dig the hole, put in some muck mix, put tree in, add earth, cover in newspaper, attach to stake, cover with Hessian sack, et voila! Such an earthy heart warming feeling planting trees and in such nice company.

There are a lot of exciting things happening at Greengrow this year. They have had two grants – one for a reservoir and rainwater/irrigation system and a second for a long greenhouse against the barn with a vegetable packing and storage area inside.

Children playing at Greengrow

Sliding down the bales at Greengrow

As we were happily chatting and digging away, the children were gradually becoming unrecognisable through the layers of mud they had become coated with. I looked up to find my little Dan standing next to me saying “mummy i’m freezing!”. A good bowl of hot soup soon put the warmth back into us all and the kids were playing badminton over the fence and sliding down the straw bales.

If you didn’t make it to the planting day and would like to find out more or get involved, Greengrow have regular volunteer days. As I’ve reported above, there are lots of exciting projects to get involved with this year.

Checkout Grow your Own on Facebook for up to date info.

If you’re ever feeling down plant a seed in the ground!!



Sewing Sundays Are Back!

Bungay's sewing circle discussing patternsBungay’s sewing circle is back after a winter break. The group will meet on the 2nd Sunday of each month at Bungay Library 3.30pm. The sessions are free and everyone is welcome.

Whether you sew by hand or on a machine, make quilts or kites, repair socks or don’t know where to start come and receive advice and inspiration. We can get creative all together!

Next session on Sunday 11th March 3.30pm

Spread the word!


For more information contact Eloise on 01986 788785

Plants for Life #2 – Growing Organic and Biodynamic

The room upstairs at Bungay Library was packed for our second Plants for Life event yesterday (Sunday). This was a relaxed conversation on Growing Organic Herbs between organic and biodynamic herb grower, David Wrenn of Orchard End Organics in Kirstead and Mark Watson, the events’ organiser. Mark writes:

David began by passing around several of his extremely healthy herbs so people could rub and smell the leaves. One of these was the graceful Balm of Gilead (Cedronella tryphylla), a native of the Canary Islands in the mint family. A tea from this highly aromatic plant helps to clear blocked sinuses and chests. And tastes really good.

Speaking about about the soil as a living organism, David explained that the word organic has only begun to be employed in recent decades because of the increase in artificial pesticide and fertiliser use. He grew up on a farm in Dorset in the 1970s where his father used only natural methods.

We learned how if you want to grow plants on a small scale, it’s best not to dig too much in established growing areas because of the web of life under the ground – from the networks of beneficial mycorrhizal fungi to earthworms. And also to try things out, see what works and doesn’t, get our hands into the soil, feel our way round with the plants and to use our instincts.

For an inspiring introduction to the no-dig system take a look at The One Straw Revolution by the late Japanese natural farmer, philosopher and no-digger, Masanobu Fukuoka.

The audience joined in after David’s introduction to ask his advice on everything from how to grow basil successfully (don’t put it outside in April, wait until Summer is really here, and better still keep it on your warmest, sunniest window and only water in the mornings, the roots don‘t respond well to watering at night) to the virtues of keeping an aloe vera plant in the kitchen (instant relief for minor burns and cuts).

Of the many invaluable hints and tips David shared with us yesterday, one particular image remains uppermost in my mind: that of the roots of plants following the casts made by earthworms as they work their way through the soil. If the whole world took this ‘organic’ image to heart, and worked with the land with nature in mind, I’m sure we’d be a healthier, happier species.

David Wrenn runs Orchard End Organics in Kirstead. Click here for his website and contact details.

Next month (Sunday 18 March at 3pm) we welcome medical herbalist Dan Wheals who’ll be showing us how to Adopt-a-Herb. So do come along. These monthly Plants for Life talks are open to everyone. There is no need to book and entrance is free, though donations are gladly accepted.

Mark Watson co-ordinates Sustainable Bungay’s Plants for Life Talks, Walks and Workshops 2012 and this year’s Plant Medicine Bed in Bungay Library Courtyard Garden

For all enquiries Tel: 01502 722419 or email

Photos: David talks about organic and biodynamic herb growing; listening to a question from the audience (CDC)

Fondant candy


After the recent cold spell it was a huge relief to see the bees flying today. There was an audible buzz as I approached the hive and I have to admit all thoughts of letting the children help me or use the stethoscope for practice quickly disappeared. The bees were bringing bright yet deep orange pollen in, which may be from snowdrops. Hefting the hive it felt quite light, so it was good timing to feed them some fondant candy.

After reading the ingredients list on pre-made bakers fondant I decided to have a go at making some myself. I followed the basic recipe and quantities given by the barefoot beekeeper:

1kg granulated sugar

250ml water

Heat until sugar dissolves then boil until thermometer reaches about 114 degrees C (soft ball), cool and then intermittently whisk with a handheld electric or hand whisk, it gradually turns opaque. Pour into containers just before it sets.

All went well and I proudly took my offering to the bees, only to have a moment of self doubt about how to present it to them. I had originally assumed I would turn it upside-down over the hole in the crown board. But as I stood there images of bees getting swamped by a slowly slumping avalanche of white stickiness invaded my mind. I ended up placing it the right way up in the eke. I watched one intrepid bee sampling it from the surface and to my relief it didn’t get stuck or sucked in. In fact it flew off as I replaced the lid. I wonder if it will round-dance the location to it’s sisters in the hive?

Growing Organic Herbs – Sunday 19th February, 3pm – with David Wrenn plus mounting Commemorative Plaque, 2.30pm

This is the second of our monthly (medicine) Plants for Life series of talks, walks and workshops in 2012 in conjunction with the Plant Medicine Bed at Bungay Library. This month we’ll be in conversation with David Wrenn of Orchard End Organics – everything you ever wanted to know about growing and tending Organic herbs that we can fit into an hour’s conversation!

And we’d also love your company at the placing of the commemorative plaque in the Library Community Garden beforehand – at 2.30pm.

Looking forward to seeing you there.
Mark Watson

3 Great Events and a Library Update

Save Bungay Library – what happens next..?


The good news is that Bungay Library is secure for the next year and there is a great team working to ensure it stays that way for many years to come.

The bad news is that the future reach and quality of the county-wide service remains uncertain. Suffolk County Council have incorporated an Industrial Provident Society (IPS) to run the library service independently; the hope appears to be that this new arms-length organisation will be able to run the libraries more cheaply, more efficiently and with less bureaucracy and more accountability than was possible when the service was run directly by the County Council. But Bungay is very lucky that Sylvia Knights, who campaigned so hard to save Bungay Library, has been co-opted onto the first Board of the new IPS – she’ll be joining a committed group from across Suffolk with a great breadth of experience running public and private sector organisations (including libraries). If it can be made to work they will make it work. Well done Sylvia, and thank you for putting in so much time and effort – it really is appreciated.

Here in Bungay a cross-community library working group formed early last year, they’ve spent months developing plans that should ensure we have a library in Bungay for many years to come. Initially Suffolk County Council (SCC) had suggested that Bungay residents would have to find most if not all of the library running costs but by the end of 2011 (and after lots of active campaigning as well as quiet negotiating) SCC reduced the amount local communities would have to find to 5% of total running costs. This amounts to a around £1500 in the case of Bungay library – still a big chunk of money in difficult times, but a better position than we were in last February when it looked like the library would close for good.

This year Bungay library turns 20 and the Library Working Group are planning a series of events – they will need our ongoing support and we’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile this Sunday we’ll be unveiling a hand carved plaque commemorating the effort that went into creating the Library Courtyard Garden – it’ll happen at 2:30, do please join us and feel free to stay for a garden event afterwards (see below for details). JOSIAH MELDRUM

Sunday 19th: Plants for Life

Growing Organic Herbs – Sunday 19th February, 3pm – with David Wrenn plus mounting Commemorative Plaque, 2.30pm

This is the second of our monthly (medicine) Plants for Life series of talks, walks and workshops in 2012, running in conjunction with the Plant Medicine Bed at Bungay Library. This month we’ll be in conversation with David Wrenn of Orchard End Organics – everything you ever wanted to know about growing and tending Organic herbs that we can fit into an hour’s conversation!

Monday 20th: Happy Monday with the Community Kitchen

Happy Mondays with the Community Kitchen is a celebration of the best local and seasonal ingredients. But it will also offer opportunities for volunteers to build their kitchen confidence, learn about local suppliers and discover new recipes and ideas. We cook for 40 or 50 people once a month, this time we’re serving pancakes filled with leeks and mushrooms in a creamy white wine sauce, three winter salads with rhubarb cobbler for pudding.

You can find out more about Happy Mondays (and book your place) here

Tuesday 21st: Green Drinks

Green Drinks will make a welcome return on Tuesday after a break over Christmas. It’ll will follow the usual relaxed format and we’re inviting expert conversationalists who can answer our questions about a specific subject, or steer our discussions along fruitful paths.

The first evening of the New Year will focus on sharing as a practical way of better using resources, building stronger communities and saving money. Sophie Garrett, founder of Yours to Share, will talk to us about the benefits of co-working, car sharing, land sharing and other forms of ‘fractional’ ownership.

Please do join us (7:30pm, Green Dragon), you can find out more about the evening here

connecting with our roots – review of the first plants for life talk

Here Charlotte Du Cann writes about giving the first Plants for Life talk at Bungay Library on 15 January. This post was first published on This Low Carbon Life, the Transition Norwich blog.

“Are you sitting comfortably?” I asked the circle of people who had gathered in the warmth of Bungay Library on a Sunday afternoon. “Good then I’ll begin. . . right we’re going to get up and go out into the garden and look at plants!”

Everyone laughed and went outside into the courtyard garden that in spite of the winter still had 12 vibrant medicine herbs amongst the fruit trees and bushes and ghosts of flowers past: sage, thyme, marigold, parsley, fennel . . .

Writing now it’s hard to recall exactly what I said in the 40 minutes that followed, because as you go about Standing Up to Speak you realise that set and setting are everything, the people in front of you are everything, and the words come tumbling out in a completely different order than you expect.

I imagine I am going to give a neatly ordered talk, but plants and speaking are spontaneous right-hemisphere things. You write ideas and concepts in left-hemisphere lines in your blue notebook, and then you look at the audience and those words start inventing loops and connections you hadn’t thought of. You find yourself swinging far and wide from those linear concepts, running with a topic in directions you had no idea were there. You find yourself getting up and dancing and making people laugh. And you have to go with that. Because it’s not just you speaking and this is the initiating talk in the Plants for Life series Mark has organised for 2012.

So in this post I am giving just a part of what I remember and letting it go where it wants to go.I wanted to start with a flower that was appearing in January and on our way to the Library we found a butterburr on the road to Brampton – a composite flower, known as winter heliotrope to gardeners, related to the native larger butterburr (known as petasites to herbalists). So that was the defining plant, a member of the sunflower family, frequently used as a natural pain killer and anti-allergen. I passed it around so everyone could smell its heavenly vanilla scent.

How do you approach a flower? I asked the circle. Colour, scent, shape, touch, taste we all agreed. With our memory and imagination, poetry and song. How do you approach your day? Ah, that’s harder. We think about our day. We drive down the country road and we don’t see the flower standing there on a cold January day, clocking the pathway of the sun. We are on the one-way fast track, staring dead-ahead. When you stop you realise you have to slow down and look all around. Notice this earth we are on for such a short while, what time we are in.

Right now we are in root time, coming up to emergence next month with the snowdrops and aconites. We’re still in winter, on the edge of hibernation, underneath the soil, in the dark, storing up our energies for the bursting out of spring.

What are the root dishes on our table? Swede, parsnip, carrot, turnip, beetroot, potato, Jerusalem artichoke. What are the root tincture and teas on our medicine shelves? Angelica, burdock, elecampane, horseradish, liquorice. All herbs for resilience, the sweet, the bitter and the pungent. I held up a stringy root many people recognise (nettle), and a root most people don’t.

Here we are I said, in root time in sugar beet country. In January the trucks of East Anglia thunder towards the sugar refineries of Cantley and Bury, ferrying these wurzels torn up from the muddy fields. They stand waiting in vast piles by the road. We don’t notice them as we speed by. We are barely aware the sugar that goes into our tea and marmalade comes from these pale giants, or anything about the industry that turns these roots into the white stuff that artificially sweetens our indoor lives.

But to connect with the plants is to connect with the rhythm of the year, to locate yourself in time and space. It is to connect with the neighbourhood you find yourself in and discover, that even though your world has apparently shrunk because of economics and peak oil, it has in fact grown hugely. It has by your attention to detail, brought memory, fragrance, belonging back into your life, as you notice the limes in the churchyard, the sage in the library garden, the butterburr along the highway. Each plant a small universe with its own story to tell, its own medicine to bequeath.

You can’t make these connections with your straight mind, you have to do it with your wiggly mind that runs along the lines of the rivers and clouds, along the shapes of shorelines and roots and branches. You have to use your imagination to see the invisible underground systems of plants and the connections all the mycorrhizal fungi make. Right now, in root time, you have to go into the depths of yourself and connect with the plans and maps and dreams for the future you hold in store, that will one day burst through into the light of day, come what may.

Once you are rooted in time and space, in synch with the living systems, you can look at the bigger picture, you can be aware of your every encounter with all its ramifications. Where you don’t want to be in a time of unravelling is whirling about in your mind only thinking in straight lines, listening to the radio in the car, in air-conditioned 24/7 time. You need to make different connections. Approach the world with all your senses. Stop and look around. Get up out of your comfortable chair on a cold day. See things for yourself.

It’s a wiggly world out there with its own beautiful sun-based logic. In this earth-bound time and space the terror that prevents us from seeing what is happening to the planet and ourselves can be evaluated and acted on. You have to use your heart to see like this and not hold on to a fixed world view, you have to get up and shimmy and let those stiff thoughts and habits break up and decrystallise, so you can think and feel about life in a different way, come up with new twists and solutions.

There is one root we have in England that gleefully occupies every space and can give us all a hand in this endeavour: it was the main plant of the talk and is a peerless medicine for this crossover moment, from root time to emergence. Another member of the sunflower family, the Dandelion. This resilient “weed”, loved by bees, hated by gardeners, contains in its roots, leaves and flowers all the bitter qualities of heart medicine. It gives us minerals for our bones and helps break up the stiffness we inherit from living in a rigid and heartless society, striking the strange attitudes of snooty politicians and fashion models. Detoxes our system, cools our inflamed and creaky joints. We ended the afternoon with dandelion and burdock tea. Two of the most powerful and most common medicine roots in the realm. Free for the taking.

This post can’t do the things that speaking can. Because it misses a vital ingredient. No matter how smart and entertaining the words, how lovely the images, the warmth and vibrancy of people and the physical world are what really matter. Without them we go nowhere. Without these meetings there is no material, no context for anything we write.

We are, like the roadside flower, here for a short time. We have to value our human form, this wiggly mind, that allows us to comprehend this earth and know it for the extraordinary experience it is. We have to know what part we are destined to play in the future as a people. The plants have been with us all our lives, they have been here from the beginning of time when the earth grew her first spring-green coat. They are our link to her and to all our ancestors. We need, right now, to connect with them, because only with strong roots in this earth, can we hold fast in the winds of change that lie before us. This emergence we call Transition.

Photos by Mark Watson and Elinor McDowall: poster for Mark’s Plants for Life talks, walks and workshops, 2012; CDC standing up to speak; tools of the trade; anyone know this root? (sugar beet); dandelion clocks in real time; Gemma and Kate checking out resilient herbs; Nick, organizer of the Bungay Library Community Garden.

Plant Medicine Bed 2012 at the Library plus Talks, Walks and Workshops beginning Sunday 15th January

Each year the central flowerbed at Bungay library community garden takes a different theme. In 2011 it was Wild Plants for Bees and Butterflies, this year it will be Plants as Medicine. The intent behind the Plant Medicine Bed is to rekindle our relationship with the plants we share the earth with and to learn about making simple kitchen and garden remedies. As well as using plants physically to help maintain our health and wellbeing, having a relationship with flowers and trees is a tonic in itself.

So in addition to the flowerbed as a display for all kinds of beneficial wild weeds and healing herbs, there will be a series of vibrant plants for life talks, walks, conversations and practical workshops with fellow ‘plant people’, taking place monthly throughout the year in the library and around the town. They will follow the seasons and are open to anyone who wants to deepen their connection with and knowledge of plants.

We start on 15 January with a creative look at Medicine Roots with SB’s Charlotte Du Cann (author of the forthcoming 52 Flowers That Shook My World). On 19 February, in conversation with David Wrenn of Orchard End Organics, we’ll focus on practical tips for planting and growing herbs. And on 18 March Medical herbalist, Dan Wheals (Transition Ipswich) will introduce Adopt a Herb (part of the Norfolk and Norwich festival), and show us how to find out about one chosen plant and explore the different stories that emerge. We look forward to seeing you there!

Where: Bungay Library

When: Sundays 15 January, 19 February, 18 March at 3PM

Look out in the Spring and Summer for the Spring Tonic plant walk, making teas and tinctures and the Midsummer walk and wild plant oils workshop.

For all enquiries contact Mark Watson: 01502 722419 or or check this website where I’ll be posting regular announcements and write-ups for both the plant medicine bed and the events.

Bungay Library Community Garden was inspired by permaculture and transition principles and designed and constructed by members of SB’s library courtyard working party. It blossomed and burgeoned throughout 2011 thanks to the attention of many people, in particular Richard Vinton, who keeps a daily eye on the plants and trees (and the watering can, trowel and compost close by). Do pay us a visit during regular library times. The plants will love the company and you’re sure to love theirs!

Photo: Talking plants and bees at the Library Community Garden, Bungay Beehive Day, July 2011