Posted on 05.03.2019 |
Added in Tales From My Wildlife Allotment

It's crocus time on the allotment! About seven years ago I planted a handful of different crocus bulbs. Now they have multiplied beyond expectations, carpeting the ground in glorious purple and yellow. The earliest crocuses to come out are normally yellow Crocus crysanthus and pale purple C. tommasinianus, followed by later-flowering dark purple Crocus vernus. Crocuses are very useful food plants for early pollinators such as bumblebee queens, solitary bees and hoverflies, especially at this time of year with not much else flowering.

A carpet of yellow and purple crocuses

Purple crocuses waiting for pollinators

Crocuses add a splash of colour to the allotment

We still have some frosty nights despite the unseasonably warm weather at the moment. I always try to go to the allotment quite early on a frosty morning to catch the first rays of sunshine. It looks magical with everything covered in frost and sparkling, and the sun just rising behind the trees.

The allotment on a frosty morning

Frosted crocuses

Early mornings on the allotment are quite magical

After a slow start, all the perennial seedlings in the greenhouse are growing well now. I am growing some interesting species this year such as , , , Desmanthus illinoensis, Rudbeckia grandiflora, and Verbena stricta. I started these seeds on the office windowsill in January as it is always quite warm there. The greenhouse is too cold to germinate most seeds at this time of year. Once germination occurs I move the little seedlings to the colder greenhouse (which does not get colder than 10 C) so they can grow more strongly in the better light conditions. Once the seedlings get their first true leaves I prick a proportion of them out into plug trays. Seeds which need stratification will be moved to the fridge after about 4-5 weeks where they remain for up to four months.

When the young plants have developed a strong root system I pot them on into 7 cm pots. This is normally the final stage before planting out on the allotment. I never really harden any of my plants off and normally plant them straight outside. My plants have never shown any signs of stress and just continue growing. I think the grow lights (LED) in the greenhouse help hardening off the plants as they provide a similar spectrum to actual sunlight which prevents sunburn on the leaves.

Seeds are sown in small pots

After germination seedlings are planted into plug trays

Seedlings and young plants in the greenhouse

Last autumn I started an arable wildflower demonstration plot on my allotment, part of Plantlife`s Back from the Brink project ( Allotment sites can act as both a reservoir for wild flowers which are now rare in the wider countryside, and also be a place where people can come ‘face-to-face' with wild plants that they wouldn't otherwise see. Once the arable plot is in full flower I plan to erect a small information board so people can come and have a look and read more about the different plants.

The arable wildflower demonstration plot

I have sown seeds of corn buttercup (Ranunculus arvensis), interrupted brome (Bromus interruptus), shepherd's-needle (Scandix pecten-veneris), rough poppy (Papaver hybridum) and a few other rare arable wildflowers. I have also sown some cereal seeds so it looks like the “real thing”. Half of the arable plot will be cultivated and sown in autumn, the other half in early spring to allow for the different germination preferences of arable wildflowers.

Autumn-sown shepherd's-needle is growing well

Rough poppy (Papaver hybridum)

Corn buttercup seedling (Ranunculus arvensis)

I have cut down most of the seed heads and grasses now to make space for the spring bulbs and allow for new growth. I only left the warm-season grasses such as Panicum and Miscanthus and a few other seed heads such as which is still looking good. (little blue stem) is looking really pretty at the moment and the leaves of glow red in the early morning sunshine.

Anemanthele lessoniana
is glowing in the early morning sunshine

Schizachyrium scoparium (little blue stem)

A little fly sitting on an Inula magnifica seed head

The cherry plum near the pond has started flowering now with pretty white flowers. I had no fruit from this tree last year, maybe there were not enough pollinators around. This year should be different with the unseasonably warm weather with temperatures of up to 20 C.  has started flowering now as well. Hoverflies seem to like the flowers. Most perennials are still dormant but is coming out already. I thought I had lost it in last year`s heatwave as the whole plant turned brown and died down to the ground in summer. It probably just went into summer dormancy as the new shoots look strong and healthy.

Cherry plum flowers look beautiful if seen close-up

Anemone blanda is flowering now

Lamium orvala is starting to grow already

The warm sunshine has brought out numerous pollinators. I have seen queens of three different bumblebee species, buff-tailed (Bombus terrestris), white-tailed (B. lucorum) and red-tailed (B. lapidarius) bumblebee. All were very interested in my crocuses. I have also seen a few solitary bees and quite a lot of hoverflies such as drone fly (Eristalis sp.) and marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus).

A buff-tailed bumblebee queen
visiting a crocus flower

Two red-tailed bumblebee queens

A little marmalade hoverfly drinking nectar
from Anemone blanda

The frogs are back in the pond. There is no frogspawn yet, probably because the nights are still too cold. But it is only a matter of time until they start mating. At one point there was only one female frog in the pond, but five male frogs. I had to rescue the poor female from the bottom of the pond as five overzealous male frogs were all clinging desperately to the female, nearly drowning her. There seem to be more female frogs in the pond now so the male frogs have more of a choice.

The frogs are back

It will not be long now until proper spring arrives, with everything coming back to life. I will be back with more tales from my allotment in April.

Nadine Mitschunas