Monday, 27 October 2008


A startling discovery prompts me to start a new series of short posts catered exquisitely for the delectation of doom merchants.  

If  worries about climate change rob you of your sleep, this series will be specially for you.  If your bottle is half empty, this will be the miserable company in which you will find comfort.   If  you think the stock markets are nowhere near bottom yet, find joy in this new Jeremiah of a series.   

Anyway, enough of all that.  Kindly take a swift look at the photo which I shot in my garden a few days ago.  Notice anything wrong?  

Well, have another look, then.  

Got it now?  That's right.  There is  not a seed in sight - just aborted embryos.  And the whole point of honesty, Lunaria annua, is that you're supposed to be able to see the dark, flat seeds through the beautiful transparent pods.  But the purses are empty because back in spring, we had crap weather and were desperately short of this plant's main pollinators, the bees.

The discovery reminded me of news coverage, during May, that the honey bee is now almost extinct in the wild, in Britain, largely because of the introduced varroa mite.  When I was a boy, they nested in our roof and in my last house, built with limesone, they nested in cracks in the mortar.  They also nested in the nearest piece of ancient woodland, in a hollow oak.  

But, if you see honey bees on your flowers, they will almost certainly be from hives, rather than the wild.  All is not well, even with domestic bees, where varroa is increasingly difficult to control, and where there is also a mystery affliction which causes colony collapse - the mad cow equivalent of a bee hive.
And as if that weren't worrying enough, most species of bumble bees are also either in decline or have suffered almost terminal population collapse.

This is a sorry state of affairs for all of us.  Apart from the missing hypnotic pleasure of dozing in a garden while bees buzz and hum along the flowers, there are more threatening implications.  Just stop to ponder on how many of our essential food crops are bee-pollinated. What if there were no more bees at all?  Ever!  Scary, isn't it?


  1. Thanks Nigel. Just what the doctor ordered, a much needed dose of depressed reality. Maybe next time you can remind us how many fatal accidents happen in the garden ! I would call you a miserable old sod but I am much too polite.

  2. Can I ask whether this series will be a regular or random occurence? If it's a regular one, we can gear ourselves up, tune in and then enthusiastically go round saying 'we're doomed, doomed' in a Fraserish fashion. Once that's been exhausted we can then head on over to James' to cheer ourselves up afterwards.

    BTW your post reads marvellously in a Robert Peston delivery stylee ;)

  3. We had masses of bees in our garden with some appearing from early spring but I dont know if they are honey bees - I suppose I should find out how to identify them. Whilst we have heard about colony collapse I dont seem to remember hearing if there is anything we can do. I also dont think people really realise how important bees are.

  4. We had very few bees this year, and while we've had a nest of bumblebees for the past few years, this year they seemed to have disappeared. I also noticed, on several occasions, seeing what looked like groups of dying or injured bumblebees on pavements and paths in our neighbourhood.
    There is reported to be a link between imacloprid, which is contained in Bayer insecticides such as Bio Provado Ultimate Bug Killer, Vine Weevil Killer and Lawn Grub Killer, and colony collapse.
    These pesticides are not only widely available but often highly recommended by gardening experts against some of the creatures that make a gardener's life a misery (vine weevil, leatherjackets, rosemary beetle etc).
    Please, please have a look at some of the allegations made by organisations such as the Soil Association before you even think of using them.

  5. Maybe the reason I had so many bees this summer is because whilst I live on a small housing estate we are surrounding by open countryside (woods and common) so the bees are less likely to be affected by Bayer insecticides

  6. Look on the bright side - perhaps you could start a collection of Dranunculus instead? Never any shortage of bluebottles after all - and you could have fun spooking the neighbours!

  7. I don't have honesty in my garden but I do have two vines, an olive and an apple tree.

    While I had the best crop of apples ever, this year, there were no grapes and no olives.

    Olives, here, are a frippery, nice to have but no expectation of a serious 'harvest' but there have always - until now - been grapes.

    Early on, there were lots of insects. Then they vanished.

    I really don't know if we had fewer bees this year but I've tended to think the pollinating insects came early because it was warm then gave up when everything went wet and that affected what did or didn't fruit.