From Little Acorns

I often take photographs of what I refer to as ‘My Oak Tree’.  Of course the old oak tree isn’t mine, it is part of nature.  The tree isn’t even in my garden; it is in the garden beyond the bridle path that runs behind my house.  I am very fond of the tree and it provides beauty and interest throughout each of the seasons of the year.  It is now so large that its branches completely span the bridle path and reach into the back corner of my garden.

A recent comment on my blog mentioned that it was a shame about the ivy growing on the trunk because it would kill the tree.  I used to think that too but, since I first thought that several years ago, the tree has grown around 10 feet (3.048 meters) and I noticed many trees in Shropshire sharing their space with ivy so I have dismissed the idea.

After the recent blog comment I decided to check the facts. I found that ivy is not a parasite and it does not kill the tree. The aerial roots are not penetrative and the ivy’s roots are firmly in the ground beneath the tree.  The relationship between tree and ivy is symbiotic.  The ivy attracts wildlife so the oak tree is always full of life. Visitors to my tree include blue tits, great tits, coal tits, wrens, sparrows, blackbirds, pigeons, insects and, on one memorable occasion, a poplar hawk-moth descended and settled on me just above my waist.  This was quite alarming because poplar hawk-moths are quite large (wingspan 65-90 mm).  Luckily it didn’t flap around like moths normally do; it just glided in and came to rest gently.  It was coaxed off me and went to settle inside the kitchen for a short time before going back to its natural habitat outside.

I have both memories and photos of beautiful sunsets through the branches of the tree and of sitting in the garden watching the sun go down.  Of hearing the leaves rustle in the wind watching the seasons go by.  Of the rebirth of the leaves and buds in spring, the green of summer, the autumnal hues followed by the winter view.  The weather in autumn determines how quickly the dead leaves fall from the tree; in some years the winter view is bare branches or, in others, there is a golden glow throughout winter due to the leaves not falling from the branches.

I have always had a fondness for trees because of many childhood walks where my dad encouraged me to identify different trees by their bark and leaves. I have got a bit rusty on tree identification since then but I still enjoy woodland walks and immersing myself in the beauty of magnificent trees and the wildlife they attract.

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A Fascination with Bees

I have always been fascinated by bees and it is always a joy when they crop up in books and articles that I am reading. In each article I always learn something new.

In ‘What on Earth Happened?… In Brief (the planet, life and people from the big bang to the present day)’ by Christopher Lloyd, I learned that bees descended from wasps and emerged at the same time as the first flowers. Bees switched from dining on other insects to a diet of pollen and nectar. I had no idea that there are 20,000 different species of bee alive today. Some of these, especially honey-bees, bumble-bees and stingless bees form highly social groups that offer a deep insight into how nature’s civilizations work.

Bees are eusocial creatures and divide up jobs between themselves. They pass knowledge and learning on from one generation to another, care for their youngsters and even, in certain circumstances, sacrifice lives for the benefit of the group. Such characteristics were for a long time thought to be unique to mankind when it first organized itself into tribes and eventually cities and states.

But, as any beekeeper will tell you this is not so…

In her book ‘The Morville Hours’, Katherine Swift, who is a beekeeper, shares many interesting snippets about bees. One thing she mentions is that bees are now threatened by Varroa which is a parasitic mite endemic in most countries. It arrived in the UK in the mid 1990s. The mites attach themselves to the bees and weaken their bodies’ immune system. This is easy to treat in domesticated bees, but not in wild bees and if left untreated, it can lead to the extinction of whole colonies.

In a recent article in the National Trust magazine, Emma Hill, the head gardener for Dunham Massey, explains how the bee keepers at Dunham Massy deal with the virus by using icing sugar to treat it. The sugar is sprinkled onto the bees through a fine mesh. This encourages the bees to groom which removes the mite.

Emma also tells us that the keeping of bees in hives dates back at least as far as the ancient Egyptians and that a bee society is predominantly female.

Emma has been studying bee behaviour and has observed that when their stomachs are full of honey they are happy and emit a low hum, whereas a high pitched hum means that they are angry. Bees have two stomachs; the extra one is for storing honey.

Worker bees can fly up to two miles to collect, nectar, pollen, propolis and water. They perform their figure of eight waggle dance to indicate to other bees where to forage.

On my recent holiday to Northumberland I visited a honey farm where I was able to see the bees in action and see how the honey was prepared for distribution to the public. I was also able to sample the products and was tempted to purchase a jar of Heather Honey which has a delightful taste.

I say long live the bee.