School of Life Sciences, JMS Building, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton

©2018 by Buzz Club. Logo created by Ross Napier

Buzzing Balconies

​In the UK, 82% of our population lives in an urban area, a figure predicted to rise to 92% by 2030.  As a result, many children do not get opportunities to experience nature first hand, and so do not gain an understanding of the importance of looking after our environment - or appreciating how beautiful and fascinating wildlife can be. 

 

However, there is already evidence that urban areas can support strong populations of pollinators.  Even in the centre of cities, window box flowers are visited by bumblebees, hoverflies and other pollinators. As the area covered by urbanization increases every year, there is a real opportunity to turn our urban areas into havens for wild insects.

 

Buzzing Balconies aims to be part of this, by engaging with families that do not have ready access to a garden; helping people to experience visits from wild bees and other pollinators, and show how you can attract wildlife to even small places.

The project asks participants to create 'vertical habitat' for pollinators by creating mini wildflower meadows on balconies, window boxes, or in other small, 'non-typical' garden space.  We provide wildflower seed mixes, strawberry runners, grow bags and instructions; volunteers then grow the plants, performing simple experiments to learn more about the pollinators that visit, and their role in food production.

This project focuses on families in Brighton and Hove (mostly due to the logistics of sending out plants and soil!), but if you would like to make your own Buzzing Balcony, you can follow the project instructions below.  Let us know if you do!

Name:          Buzzing Balconies

Year(s):         2018 - 2019

Focus:          Garden bees

Status?         Closed (currently)

Results?       Ongoing analysis

Project lead contacts:

Dr. Ellen Rotheray & Dr. Claire Harkin

buzzingbalconies@gmail.com

Project summary

Taking part in Buzzing Balconies

The goals of Buzzing Balconies:

To plant and grow a beautiful 'mini meadow' using native wildflower seeds.

To grow three strawberry plants:

  1. One left alone, totally pollinated by visiting insects

  2. One hand pollinated by you

  3. One 'donor' plant, to provide pollen for 2).

To record:

  1.  Any insect visitors to your meadow

  2. The weight and number of strawberries grown.

Creating a mini meadow

  • You will need either a grow bag or several 2 - 3 litre containers (this size should prevent the compost from drying out.

  • Fill with compost, leaving ~2cm at the top / cut open the bag to make a long 'window' in the top.  Break up the soil with your fingers to get the clumps out.

  • Lightly sprinkle the wildflower seeds on the compost surface, and brush a light layer of compost over the top.  Water everything - the soil should be nice and damp, but not wet.

  • Keep them watered, and watch the meadow emerge!

Growing strawberries

  • Again, you will need either a grow bag or three 2 - 3 litre containers (this size should prevent the compost from drying out.

  • Fill with compost, leaving ~2cm at the top / cut open the bag to make a long 'window' in the top.  Break up the soil with your fingers to get the clumps out.

  • Carefully spread out the roots of the strawberry plants and bury them. Make sure you keep the crowns (the top part where the stem will grow) above the soil, but bury all the roots.

  • Water everything - the soil should be nice and damp, but not wet.

  • Label the three plants: ‘Insect-pollinated’, ‘Hand-pollinated’, and ‘Pollen-donor’.

  • When flowers appear, hand pollinate the labelled plant.

Video showing how to plant the mini meadow and strawberries.

Hand pollinating strawberries

 

<- Use a paintbrush to move yellow pollen from the stamen (male parts) of donor flowers.

<- Transfer this to the centre of the hand-pollinated flowers.

Do this 2-3 times a week while the flowers are open.

Video showing how to hand-pollinate a strawberry flower.

Recording strawberries - and insects!

Once a week, record:

  • How many flowers there are on the local and hand-pollinated plants.

  • How many strawberries there are on the local and hand-pollinated plants.

  • If you have seen any insects visiting your strawberries or meadow.  Identify them, as best you can do.

When you have picked a strawberry from either plant, record the weight of it.  Then enjoy it! 🍓

Downloads

intructions.png

Instructions

Printable, detailed method for setting up a Buzzing Balcony

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Recording sheets

Printable sheets for recording your flower counts, strawberry weights, and insect spottings.

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Identification guide

Starter guide with lots of pictures to help you identify the insects that visit
your meadow.

FAQ

What if I go on holiday?

If you are going to be away for a week, give the plants a good watering before you leave and try to protect them from the sun to limit drying out. If you are going to be away for longer and someone else is looking after your plants, please write this on the result sheet.

 

Do not worry about recording anything else during your time away. If you need to move plants in containers then move all of them at the same time, so they are all in the same conditions.

What should I do to deter slugs?

Slugs like strawberries so if you think these may be a problem please keep checking and remove them if found.

 

Slugs do not like rough surfaces, so scattering broken (clean! or the slugs will eat the residue) egg shells, garden grit or ‘sheep’s wool pellets’ can help reduce attack. For those using containers, a circle of copper tape on the outside may be effective (but it can be expensive). Please treat all strawberry plants the same.

 

In this project we ask you not to use any slug pellets on or around the plants, as some are detrimental to wildlife.

What if my strawberries are too light to weigh?

Electronic scales are best for weighing as they will give the most accurate reading. If you only have a single strawberry and scales that only weigh 5 or 10 g then use something that you know the weight of on the scales, then add the strawberry to get an estimation.

Do I need to feed the plants?

No, the grow bags have slow-release fertilizer in them, no extra is required.

What should I do to deter birds?

Short garden canes, or chop sticks, and for persistent birds linking these with string will deter birds.

Anti-bird sticks