I was working on the wildlife plot earlier this week when a couple stopped to chat. They were new to the site and really wanted to make their plot wildlife friendly. They have half a plot but realised that once they put all their vegetables in, they didn't have the space to do the things that they wanted to do. I said I would write a blog post about some things they might like to try. So here it is. Six things I would do on a half plot to encourage the pollinators.

1. If you don't have any or many fruit trees, bushes and plants I would put some in. You need to wait until the autumn to do so but they all have blossom fairly early on in the year, particularly pears. They not only provide pollen or nectar but can provide food for caterpillars and shelter in bad weather.  Take up as little space as possible by placing trees round the edges and espaliering them and perhaps putting strawberries around their feet. Blackberries, loganberries, boysenberries and wineberries can also be grown this way along wires so that they don't take up too much space as can vines.

This is what I call a stepover blackberry. The blackberry runs to the left and is tied in on one low cane. I don't allow it to grow out or up so that it is easy to step over! It takes up a small amount of space but is covered in blossom at the moment.

2. Underplant the fruit with flowers that attract pollinators. If you are lucky some will self-seed and before you know it you have lots of flowers. Sometimes I plant in between as well, so my strawberry plants are interplanted with Verbena bonariensis and roses. In this picture there is a braeburn apple that needs to be retied which is underplanted with californian poppies.

With flowers like these, once you have sown them one year you will never be without them again. They self sow and come up year after year meaning that all you have to do is weed out the ones you don't want and leave those that you do. They are quite distinctive seedlings so you can't miss them.

3. Grow herbs. These will be delicious with the vegetables and fruit that you have grown but they will also flower and this will attract pollinators. Rosemary, which flowers early and so is important, chives and mint are some examples that are easy to use in cooking and attractive to pollinators. You will want some mint with your new potatoes.

These can be planted in corners and hard to reach places where it would be irritating to have things that you need to get to more frequently.

The other thing that you can do is to allow one of each vegetable to flower, usually the year after you have planted them. Anything from the onion family is good as is the brassica family - purple sprouting broccoli, kale and sprouts. The yellow flowers of the brassica family are a magnet for insects although they can be pulled up before they go to seed.

4.  Often wildlife books and organisations will tell you that water is the most important element for wildlife. You may not want to create a pond, although I do know someone with a small pond on a half-plot but you can use other things. I have an old metal bowl I found on the plot, weighted down with a brick and always keep a bit of water in it.

If you want something a little more interesting, the wildlife trust has instructions for creating a mini pond which wouldn't take up much space.

5. Grow one or two comfrey plants. They can be grown around a compost bin and in tucked away places as they are fairly indestructable once they have got their feet into the soil.

They are very useful plants. Their leaves can be cut and added to a compost heap to add potassium or they can be soaked in water for a few weeks and the resulting liquid used as a plant feed. But they also flower and the bees, particularly bumble bees, love them. It is worth asking around to see if anyone has any roots of comfrey you could have. You want Bocking 14 which is sterile and so doesn't self-seed. If you don't get this sort, you will end up with comfrey every where and it will take over eventually.

You have been warned!

6. And finally, If you have bare soil for a while then sow a green manure. They will help improve the soil usually through their root action. I sow phacelia in beds empty around September and October. Phacelia flowers at the end of April and into May and is covered in bees of all sorts and hoverflies. You can hear it buzzing as you walk past it. Once the flowers have finished, I cut the plants off near the soil and put them in the compost heap where they provide a good bulk of green material. I then leave the soil to dry on top for a few days just to clear out any slugs and snails that might have been lurking and put out my veg plants, usually something from the brassica family. You don't need to dig it in or clear out the roots. The roots will decay in the soil, feed the micro-organisms which will eventually die themselves, decay and feed the plants.

Normally the bumble bees on my plot are buff-tailed but this one was all black which means it is either a male field cuckoo bee or a Queen ruderal bumblebee. I don't think it is big enough to be a Queen and the field cuckoo bees are more likely to be found in our neck of the woods.

If I am completely wrong, do let me know. I am improving at recognising bumblebees but have a long way to go.


I hope these 7 points help and you encourage more pollinators onto your plot whatever the size.