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Garden, Home and Garden

The Beneficial Weeds You Want In Your Garden

Put that spade and pair of secateurs down! Before you do any weeding at all, have a read about the beneficial weeds you want in your garden that help the environment, and help support wildlife. You can even eat some of them too.

It’s time we changed how we look at gardening. With the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) no longer classing slugs and snails as pests – instead urging people to consider these creatures as an important part of the garden ecosystem – it’s high time we did the same with weeds.

It was Ian Emberson who wrote the words “a weed is a flower in the wrong place, a flower is a weed in the right place”. Instead of waging war on the flowers in the wrong place, let’s change how we look at them. Many weeds after all are beneficial to the environment, our gardens, and to wildlife. And surprisingly, many weeds are edible too.

The Beneficial Weeds You Want In Your Garden

A garden planter with a blue text box that says the beneficial weeds you want in your garden.

In the UK, our collective private gardens cover an area of land that is bigger than all of the country’s nature reserves combined. That’s a huge area and means our gardens have great potential to provide vital space for wildlife.

We can start to make positive changes, just by changing how we view weeds.

Here are just some of the beneficial weeds you want in your garden, that all help to support our native wildlife. Many of these weeds are also beneficial when it comes to growing fruit and vegetables, and many are also edible. Of course, do consult a book on foraging or an app if you have any doubts about identifying edible types of weeds before you eat them.

Nettles

patch of nettles

Top of the list is nettles. Nettles are an amazing beneficial weed because these stinging plants support an array of wildlife. Butterflies, such as the Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell, and moths lay their eggs on nettles. Meanwhile caterpillars and aphids and other insects all eat nettles. In fact, nettles can support over 40 types of insects.

However, it’s not just insects that benefit from the presence of nettles. A host of other wildlife is attracted to nettles because they like to eat the insects that gorge on nettles. Ladybirds, parasitic wasps, hedgehogs, frogs, toads, shrews, and birds such as blue tits, all visit to feast on these insects and aphids. It’s a veritable feeding frenzy!

In the autumn, nettles provide a further feast. Small birds, including the sparrow, chaffinch, and bullfinch come to feast on the seeds which each nettle plant produces.

Companion Planting With Nettles

If you grow your own fruit and vegetables, then nettles make for great companion plants. This is because growing clumps of nettles between crops help to attract beneficial predators, such as ladybirds. These will help to control pests naturally, without the use of harmful pesticides.

Eating Nettles

You can also eat nettles. In spring you can make delicious wild nettle pesto with the tips of the spring shoots. A word of warning though – don’t pick nettle leaves after they have started flowering – usually around late May. Once nettles start flowering, a chemical in the leaves can upset your urinary tract.  Consider nettles a springtime treat, and for the rest of the year leave them for wildlife to enjoy.

Sorrel As A Beneficial Weed

Sorrel plant

You might class sorrel as an annoyance that pops up on your lawn, but it’s actually a pretty beneficial weed to have in your garden.

Sorrel is beloved by slugs, snails and aphids, and some species of butterfly and moth larvae also feed on the leaves too. This in turn attracts other wildlife, which then eat these creatures.

Companion Planting With Sorrel

Sorrel also makes a great companion plant when growing strawberries, cabbages or tomatoes. This simple but clever technique works by creating a diversion and drawing pests away from the main fruit and vegetable plants you are trying to protect.

Eating Sorrel

Most types of sorrel are also edible. Young sorrel leaves can be used as a herb, or as a salad leaf. Sorrel has a very fresh and zingy flavour, that is reminiscent of that of the zest of a lemon. This flavour really lifts a dish naturally. Because of this, sorrel has become one of my favourite things to grow in my garden. Eat the leaves when they are young though – I find that the larger they get, the leaves take on more of a woody texture which isn’t so tasty.

With so many beneficial properties, I promise, you’ll soon view sorrel as a plant, rather than a weed.

Dandelions

Dandelions - beneficial weeds you want in your garden.

Dandelions have long been a scourge of gardeners. Those long taproots that are difficult to remove from the ground mean that dandelions just keep popping up when you don’t want them. However, dandelions do make for an incredibly beneficial weed.

Dandelions provide food to many different pollinators. This includes bumblebees, solitary bees, hoverflies, butterflies and some species of moths and beetles. As one of the first plants to flower in spring, and the last to flower in autumn, dandelions are incredibly important to our pollinators. They are particularly important in early spring when some of these species emerge hungry from hibernation.

Other species in turn eat these insects, whilst later on in the year, birds such as goldfinches and house sparrows munch the dandelion seeds.

Companion Planting With Dandelions

Whilst you may think you don’t want dandelions growing in your vegetable garden, then I encourage you to think again. Far from being just weeds, dandelions make a fantastic beneficial companion plant to have in your garden.

As well as attracting pollinating insects to your vegetable patch, the dandelion’s long taproots help to break apart hard soils. These roots are also said to bring up nutrients from deep down in the soil to the surface. This helps to nourish other plants growing in close proximity.

Interestingly, dandelions also release ethylene gas. If grown near fruit or tomatoes, this gas that they give off can help speed up the ripening process.

Eating Dandelions

It’s a little know fact that dandelions are edible. The petals can be eaten raw in salads, or you can boil them in sugar to make dandelion syrup – also known as vegan honey. The leaves again can be eaten raw in salads or boiled to be eaten as a substitute for spinach. Some people even bake the roots and ground that down to use as a coffee substitute.

Wild Carrot As A Beneficial Weed

wild carrot plant

Whilst wild carrot has historically been classed as a weed, this beautiful plant is beneficial to a host of insects, such as bees, beetles and hoverflies. Its ferny foliage and white flowers mean it looks great growing in your garden borders too.

Companion Planting With Wild Carrot

Planting wild carrots helps to attract hoverflies to your garden. Hoverflies are a great garden guest to have, as they eat the aphids that like to feast on your prize vegetables. Hoverflies have short tongues so they need accessible flowers where they can drink nectar. Wild carrot is an accessible flower for hoverflies, so you can naturally reduce your aphid populations without resorting to pesticides.

Eating Wild Carrot

Whilst the young roots of wild carrots are edible, as well as the flowers, I prefer to give them a wide berth. This is because wild carrot is very similar in appearance to other members of the same family, such as the highly poisonous hemlock plant and the poisonous hemlock water-dropwort plant. Personally, I would reserve wild carrot as a beneficial weed for the wildlife to enjoy.

So let’s put down the weedkiller, put down that spade, and embrace the weeds to make your garden an insect and animal friendly oasis. Of course, you don’t have to turn your whole garden over to weeds – simply allowing one small patch or a couple of tubs to grow wild can make a huge difference to our native wildlife. If you are worried about being overrun by dandelions, simply cut the flower heads off before they go to seed.

Garden, Home and Garden

How To Revive Tired Bees With Sugar Water The Right Way

bee sugar solution

Today I’m going to show you how to revive tired bees.  You see, I’m a big fan of the bees here at Moral Fibres, but our poor bees are in decline. Threatened because of neonicotinoid pesticide usage, habitat loss, and pollution, our fuzzy friends need all the help they can get.

It’s all well and good when the bees are buzzing around, doing their thing.  But have you ever seen a tired, struggling, or apparently dying or dead bee in your home or garden?  When I’ve seen bees like this I’ve always assumed that they were dying or dead.  Ever the optimist! However, the other day my other half told me they were not dying, just tired.  And that you can actually revive these bees quickly and easily using only sugar and water.

Let me first show you how to work out if your grounded bee actually does need assistance. And, once you’ve established that your bee is in trouble, how to then revive these tired bees. I’ll also show you some dos and don’ts for helping bees because our goal is to help, not harm the bees. We can inadvertently harm bees in our quest to help, so it’s important to be informed.

Firstly, Does The Bee Need Reviving?

First off, you need to decide whether the bee is actually in trouble or if it is just resting. In 2019 researchers at the Queen Mary University of London found that bumblebee queens actually spend a large proportion of their time resting on the ground.

In fact, the researchers found that bees rest for around 30 minutes on average, and occasionally up to 45 minutes. It appears that rest is a big part of the bumblebee life-cycle, particularly in early Spring. This means that if you do find a bee on the ground for an extended period of time, then in most cases there is nothing wrong with the bee, it just needs a little rest. I don’t know about you, but I can definitely relate to the bees!

Bumblebee queens normally rest in long grass and leaf litter, where they can hide from predators. However, due to our love of shortly mowed lawns and tidy gardens, it does get harder for bees to find such sheltered hiding spots.

Therefore, If you find a bumblebee queen resting on the road or on the pavement or in another busy area, then the best thing you can do for the bee is not to revive it or feed it anything but to simply move it. When it is safe to do so, you can gently move it into some grass or leaves, or onto a nearby bee-friendly flower. Failing that, a more sheltered location out of harm’s way would be sufficient.

How To Revive A Tired Bee

how to revive a dead or dying bee

If after 45 minutes, the bee is still on the ground then it may be genuinely exhausted. The best thing to do at this point is, if you can, pop the bee on a bee-friendly flower to give it time to build strength safely.

If you can’t find a flower, it is only at this point that you should intervene by offering an energy boost to the tired bee.

Thankfully it is pretty easy to revive tired and exhausted bees. A simple solution of sugar and water can work wonders in giving them the energy they need to fly away.

To create this energy drink to revive tired bees, the RSPB suggests mixing two tablespoons of white granulated sugar with one tablespoon of water.  Then place the sugar/water mix on a plate or spoon.  Do not add any more water otherwise the bee could drown. 

Next place the bee on the plate or spoon, where it will have a little drink. Hopefully, this will help it to gather the energy it needs to fly back to its hive.

Once done drinking, the bee will either fly off or gather energy to fly away. If it doesn’t fly away immediately, pop the bee onto a bee-friendly flower, or in some grass, or leaves until it is ready to fly. If you can’t find any foliage, put it in a sheltered spot until it is ready.

The only other occasion when you should offer a bee this energy drink is if it has been caught in bad weather, and again, is struggling to fly.

Some Dos & Don’ts For Feeding Bees

tips for reviving tired bees

There are some dos and don’ts for reviving tired bees that you should always follow.

Never Offer Honey

Firstly, don’t be tempted to offer tired bees honey.  In most cases, honey isn’t suitable for bees. This is because a lot of honey is imported and may not always be right for native British bees. Honey from other hives can also spread fatal diseases, such as Foulbrood, amongst bee populations, so always stick to sugar.

Only Offer White Granulated Sugar To Tired Bees

Secondly, only ever offer white granulated sugar when you need to revive a bee. Never offer any other type of sugar. That includes brown sugar and demerara sugar as these are too hard for the bee to digest. Nor should you offer any artificial or diet sweeteners as these could also be harmful to bees. If you don’t have any white granulated sugar, then the best and safest option is to offer nothing at all.

Don’t Leave Sugar Water In Your Garden

And thirdly, and very importantly, do not leave any sugar-water solution sitting out in your garden for bees to drink from at their leisure.  Sugar water fills bees up, can prevent the bees from gathering precious pollen, and therefore could be detrimental to their health. It’s also bad for plants, as this would prevent bees from pollinating our plants.

Instead, use this sugar-water technique only in an emergency when a tired bee is clearly in need of reviving.  Think of it as bee CPR! You wouldn’t use CPR on someone who was just having a nap – so don’t offer sugar water if a bee has just been resting for a short period of time.

Thankfully I haven’t found any tired bees since learning this useful tip to try it out.  However, knowing some very basic “thirst aid” (!) for bees that are clearly in trouble can go a long way in helping out the bees to rebuild their depleted population sizes.

Why Are Bees Important?

Bees are crucial to help maintain the health of our environment, and our food supply. The Food And Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations says thatclose to 75% of the world’s crops producing fruits and seeds for human consumption depend, at least in part, on pollinators for sustained production, yield, and quality“. This means without bees, we would struggle to feed ourselves.

Being able to revive tired bees is one key aspect. Another bee-friendly step that you can take is to plant a bee-friendly garden. Or, if you don’t have a garden, here’s how you can help the bees in other ways.

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