At Wolff Olins we have had our bees on the roof for 4 years, but we have had our roof garden for much longer. We asked our gardener and beekeeper, Stuart Robertson, about how the bees have influenced how we manage the garden. This is what he told us:
Before the arrival of the bees we would regularly cut down any vegetable plants that were going to seed and flowering. Now we leave them to flower before we compost them. This not only provides honeybee food but also food for humble and bumble bees.
We have also planted one of the planters with clover (Wild Kentish White), this supplies the soil with Nitrogen and the flowers provide the bees with food. We also grow lavender and the wonderfully named Black Horehound herb both of which provide lots of nectar and pollen which the honeybees and bumblebees really love.
Essentially we have gone from just planting for food for the restaurant to planting bee food as well. Another great thing about planting bee food has been that it also provides habitat for a range of other insects that incidentally encourages bat life (Note: during one experiment a bat recorder logged 83 hits during one week compared to 1 on a neighboring empty roof).
Paul Richens (Blue Dome Synergies) our gardener says –
So why is it important that we also grow flowers for Bees in our vegetable roof garden?
London (and other urban centers) seem to be becoming the last safe refuge for much of our wildlife especially Bees. We’ve all read the reports of the massive lost of wildlife in the countryside due to the changes to agriculture practice in the last few years. Agricultures war on pest and diseases has devastated not only individual ‘problem’ species but also whole food chains.
We want honey and we want pollination of our crops so it really is a ‘no brainer’ to support the wildlife where we can. Which poses the next question ‘How much can we achieve on the roof?’ Actually quite a lot, today (27th March 2014) I counted 18 different plants in flower that I estimated had around 3,500 flowers offering food for the Bees – about 7 teaspoons of honey – not bad for a cold March day.