Welcome!

Bees, beans, and others in between.

Welcome to the blog for Bees 'n Beans, a study from the University of Sussex using volunteer help to see how busy the bees are in gardens and allotments all over the country. The first phase of this project ran in summer 2014, and repeated in 2015.

The 2016 project is underway, with seeds planted at the start of April, and the plants now firmly on the grow.

With news and updates from the project itself, as well as information about bees and the urban environments they share with us, this blog will keep you up to speed on the progress of this study and how you can get involved. We also have a twitter at @LJBees.

Bees 'n Beans is sister project to the University of Sussex's new Buzz Club - a UK-wide 'Citizen Science' charity that aims to help people get interested in pollinator science. Providing fun experiments you can do from home, that also collect important data on our pollinating insects, to properly inform conservation efforts and research. Check out the website and see what we're up to, and how you can take part!

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How much £ does your garden grow?

New page live on this site (and the Buzz Club) - the Garden Shop calculator!

You might remember the 'Shopping in the Garden' project from 2015; well, this is the result of the great response and feedback we got from that. It is a free-to-download spreadsheet for you to record your crop yields, and the sheet will calculate:

  • the total value of that yield (if you had bought it in a shop).
  • the proportion and value that is directly as a result of bee (or other insect) pollination.

All we ask is that if you use it, and you can do so, you send us a filled-in copy at the end of the year so we can analyse the data.

There's a LOT more explaination on the page itself, so check it out if you're interested. And I will be around to answer any questions, as well.

Hand pollinating 2016

Some participants have reached the hand pollination stage of the project again this year, so I'm reposting the extra tips from last time, as they seemed to be useful.

Remember – we are NOT trying to cross-pollinate the flowers. Bean flowers are self-fertile and the pollen needs to be moved around inside the flower for this to work, so we use a hand pollination method known as 'tripping'. This involves carefully opening and closing the flowers to shift the pollen about inside. The instruction sheets have step-by-step photographs of this process (which can be downloaded again from the downloads page if yours have gone wandering!).

Given the flowers last about a week, and you will hand-pollinate twice per week, you will probably handle each individual flower ten times. So if you were doing your hand-pollinating on monday and thursday, for example, you would:

Monday - Open and close the flowers 5 times.

Thursday - Open and close the flowers another 5 times.

When each flower has gone grey / floppy, you don't need to hand-pollinate them anymore.

Flower examples
Example of different stages of bean flowers.

I do hope to get a new video this year, but my beans are a bit behind some people's, so for now I will link to the first one again. The video below should start playing at 1:48, and you only need to watch what I do until 2:10 (and I do it again 2:38 – 2:48). You don’t need to do the faffing around that happens afterwards with bits of other flowers, because we have shown over the course of the project that the tripping method is equally effective!

Bags in the ground

Once again, we're somewhere in week 6-8 (depending on when you started), so some of you might be seeing flower buds on your bean plants, particularly those in the South. If you're nowhere near flowering yet don't worry, the beans will take longer to grow in cooler areas, so just remember this for later. It looks from your twitter photos that the plants are coming up nicely, which is great to see!

Bagging in the soil

So, the 'twist' to the project this year is the additional repeat of plants grown in the soil directly, rather than just in pots. Most of the methods for doing the beans experiment are the same, regardless of where the plants are being grown, but putting bags on in-soil plants is a bit trickier than on the potted plants (mostly because you can't tuck the fleece underneath). So, this is one way to do it, for anyone having trouble:

1) Plant the selected bean in the soil, and fill back in the hole firmly.

2) Insert garden cane firmly into the soil alongside the bean, to support it.

3) Tie the bean loosely to the cane. The stem will need to expand as it grows, so leave plenty of space.

4) If you are using slug deterrants, place them around the base of the bean (pictured below are egg shells and wool pellets).

Beans in the soil
Left to right: Planting bean; adding support (and close up); readying fleece.
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5) Place the fleece on the ground around the bottom of the bean plant.

6) There will be a small gap between the base of the plant and the stick. Push the fleece in this space to block it up or you will leave a hole for crawling insects.

7) Tie the fleece in place at the plant base.

8) Wrap the fleece around the bean and tie string securely at the top of the stick.

9) Hold the open side together with several clothes pegs or plastic ‘clippits’ to keep the fleece in place around the plant. The below example is on quite tight because of the weather, but can be loosened as the plant grows, and the wind lessens!

Beans in the soil2
Left to right: Supported plant; wrapping fleece around the base; holding together with pegs.
Woolly thinking?

wool pellets for slug defence One of the challenges we've all faced in the last few years of Bees 'n Beans has been the hungry attentions of slugs and snails. And, if your gardens are anything like mine, this isn’t a problem confined to your beans.

There are lots of ways to fight back against these pests (the downloads page has a pdf of suggestions if you are wondering where to start), but another one has been brought to my attention, with a couple of folks saying they found it really useful last year: Sheep’s wool pellets.

Basically, you scatter the wool pellets around the base of the plant and water them; they then swell up into a ‘carpet’ that is unpleasant for slugs and snails to cross. Smells a little bit of wet sheep, but not in an overpowering way in the greenhouse / garden (although I suggest it’s not a windowsill-friendly product). I hadn’t heard of this before, so after recommendations from volunteers in 2015 I’m going to give them a go this year, with some of my more apparently-delicious plants.

I’ll let you know how it turns out. If you’ve got any experience of these, or other tips for your fellow Bee Scientists, do let me know and I will pass them on!

2016Start

And we are off for 2016!

Bees ‘n Beans starts up today, and I am excited about the third run of this project. We've made tweaks, we've tried different methods, and I hope that this last year of my PhD will be the best year for volunteers - with (hopefully) all the kinks ironed out, and only snails to worry us.

Well. We would be very lucky with the snails, but a scientist can hope...

I’ll get some progress shots up here in due course, and when my very-early beans start flowering I can get the new hand-pollination video sorted out, so everyone is totally clear on what to do. Any other questions or concerns, as ever, do let me know.

Thank you very much for taking part – and happy growing!

New project - companion planting!

We have a new project for this summer, looking for sign-ups now! Looking for gardens in Brighton & Hove, with owners who have time to look after 2 or 3 tomato plants for a month, in July (which we'll provide in pots). We are looking to see if growing ‘bee-friendly’ flowers (or any flowers, really) close to crop plants can improve their harvest.

More information on the Project Page. Happy to answer any questions!

-Linda

Kitted out

After a week of counting and packing - all the kits for Bees 'n Beans 2016 should be winging their way across the UK to this year's batch of Bee Scientists!

Thank you very much to everyone who has signed up. Once again we've got a great distribution of folks taking part, as shown in the map below. I'm looking forward to getting started with this third year, and will be here to answer any questions you might have about the project, or my work in general.

(And if anyone still fancies signing up, I do have some spare kits left over from the Great Packing, so I could scoot you one out sharpish!)

All around the UK!
BnB: Where are we all, 2016?
2016 BnB Sign up

Sign ups are now open for Bees 'n Beans 2016!

The 'twist' this year will be asking participants to grow plants both in pots, and in the (dug-over) soil in their gardens / allotments. The idea of using the pots only in previous years was to standardise the amount of soil and nutrients that the plants received, but the drawbacks in practise seem to be the risk of drying out, and potential limitation of the growing plants by root space. Feedback from last year suggested that spare plants that some participants planted in the soil were studier and didn't suffer from drying out anywhere near as much, so this time round we're going to see if possible improved survivability of the plants outweighs the extra variation from being in the ground.

We are also asking people to provide their own 3L pots this year, rather than including the foldable plastic ones. These performed very well, but may not be necessary, and this way we can afford to send out more seeds and still have enough kits for everyone to take part again.

You can still sign up even if you only have space for beans in pots, or beans in the soil, but if we get over the 500 participants we will have to give preference to those who can do both. Although we do have a lot of seeds, so that's probably not going to be an issue, so don't let it put you off!

If you're interested in taking part in this project, please sign up below. Or if the embedded form is not showing up, the direct link is here.

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New Year, new plans

Hello once more, Bee Scientists and other interested folks! Hope you all had an enjoyable festive season and new year. Remember to keep an eye out for winter-flying pollinators in this weirdly-warm weather, particularly in urban areas.

Bees 'n Beans is back for 2016, and we have some exciting plans in development for these projects. So, we are back on email / twitter, ready to answer your questions and get started on this year's projects.

Linda with watering can
Checking on field station allium bulbs over new year
2016

2016 is the final year of Linda's PhD, and the third year of the Bees 'n Beans family of projects, so expect to see the return of some familiar work as well as new things to get involved in, coming up! So far, we have plans for:

1) Bees 'n Beans: Round 3. Following last year, a few more tweaks have been made to the project plan. We're not going to continue with the radishes this year (they were not as user-friendly as we had hoped), and instead will be sending more beans out, asking volunteers to grow some in pots and some in their soil, to see if that can be used to further simplify the final protocol. Started!

2) School activities. The reception to having versions of this project (or similar) last year was very postitive, so we're hoping to produce downloadable packages for schools (and home schools, and the generally-interested) so this sort of pollination study can be tailored to their own requirements.

3) Urban Yields and the Need for Bees. Both these projects were well-recieved last year, and we hope to build on that again this year, with development of a yields / bee effort tracking webpage, and looking out for Sentinel Gardens (more later - watch this space!). In development.

4) All About Alliums. Run through the Buzz Club, this project will look at the effort of wider pollinators in garden spaces, using these beautiful flowers to measure pollination. Started!

5) Bee-friend your garden. A new project for this year, based in Brighton, which will look at what effect growing crop plants near to co-flowering ornamentals has on the yield of fruit. Open now! Interested?

And more! If you're interested in any of these projects, you can sign up for our announcement / recruitment emails below:

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.
2016

2016 is the final year of Linda's PhD, and the third year of the Bees 'n Beans family of projects, so expect to see the return of some familiar work as well as new things to get involved in, coming up! So far, we have plans for:

1) Bees 'n Beans: Round 3. Following last year, a few more tweaks have been made to the project plan. We're not going to continue with the radishes this year (they were not as user-friendly as we had hoped), and instead will be sending more beans out, asking volunteers to grow some in pots and some in their soil, to see if that can be used to further simplify the final protocol. Started!

2) School activities. The reception to having versions of this project (or similar) last year was very postitive, so we're hoping to produce downloadable packages for schools (and home schools, and the generally-interested) so this sort of pollination study can be tailored to their own requirements.

3) Urban Yields and the Need for Bees. Both these projects were well-recieved last year, and we hope to build on that again this year, with development of a yields / bee effort tracking webpage, and looking out for Sentinel Gardens (more later - watch this space!). In development.

4) All About Alliums. Run through the Buzz Club, this project will look at the effort of wider pollinators in garden spaces, using these beautiful flowers to measure pollination. Started!

5) Bee-friend your garden. A new project for this year, based in Brighton, which will look at what effect growing crop plants near to co-flowering ornamentals has on the yield of fruit. Open now! Interested?

And more! If you're interested in any of these projects, you can sign up for our announcement / recruitment emails below:

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

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