Buzzing Balconies

Contact: Dr. Ellen Rotheray & Dr. Claire Harkin

Email: buzzingbalconies@gmail.com

We will help people learn about wild bees and other pollinators by creating essential habitat for them, particularly in limited space using window boxes in balconies or courtyards.

We won! Thank you to everyone who voted for us at Brighton & Hove Tesco stores


Our Aim

We’re looking for 100 Brighton & Hove families who don't have a garden, but do have access to some outside space like a balcony or courtyard, to take part in a citizen science project to grow some flowers and strawberries and learn a bit about pollination. It should be a really fun and easy project to do with children (but you don’t have to have children to be involved) and we'll provide all the materials and instructions on how to take part.

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© A Buzzing Balcony © Buzzing Balconies

Method


See below for links to our methods sheet, recording sheets, and insect ID guide:

Buzzing Balconies Methods (PDF)

Recording Sheets (Word Document)

Recording Sheets (PDF)

Insect ID Guide (PDF)




The project will involve people planting a growbag (which you can put into some kind of planter if you prefer) with wildflower seeds and a couple of strawberry runners. We'll provide the growbag, the seeds and strawberry plants, as well as full instructions on what to do.

We'll then ask you to keep an eye on things and let us know what flowers you get and what insect visitors (bees, hoverflies, butterflies etc) come along - again, we can help with the ID. We'll also ask you to hand-pollinate one of the strawberry plants and leave the other to be pollinated by the insects and then at the end tell us how many strawberries you got from each of the plants, and what they weighed. We'll be posting twitter updates etc as we go along so hopefully people will feel a sense of community and involvement in the project as well as contributing to scientific records and helping create some habitat for our urban pollinators. It should be lots of fun!


A 2-minute film demonstrating how to plant strawberry plants and the mini-meadow



A short film demonstrating how to pollinate strawberry plants



Background

In the UK, 81% of our population lives in an urban area, a figure predicted to rise to 92% by 2030. 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. We propose to give people of all ages just such an opportunity even if they lack large gardens; a chance to learn how plants grow, watch their flowers be visited by bumblebees and other insects, and then to collect the fruits they produce.

Our project is focused on, but not limited to, engaging with families that do not have ready access to a garden. We will provide 'vertical habitat' for pollinators by asking recruited volunteers to create mini wildflower meadows on balconies or in window boxes. Using strawberries, we will also ask children to perform simple experiments to give them the opportunity to learn more about the pollinators that visit and their role in food production.

Strawberry plants produce better fruit if the flowers are pollinated by insects. The flowers contain both male pollen and female stigma, and can pollinate themselves. But the strawberries are larger if the flower has been cross-pollinated, or even if insect visits have moved pollen within the flower, and it is this difference that we are interested in.

The records our volunteers provide of insects visiting their flowers will also have scientific value, for they will contribute to national data sets on the distributions of our pollinating insects. The project will run for 12 months, however, we will provide detailed instructions for maintaining their wildflowers. Our hope is that we can inspire them to subsequently develop their interests and appreciation of nature further.

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.



Frequently Asked Questions


Can I use containers instead of the growbag?

Yes, we realise the lay-out of some outdoor spaces means that containers will be more practical. But if you choose to split the growbag compost into individual containers to fit your space, you will need at least six, 2 to 3 litre containers (to give enough compost volume to stop drying out), please see details below.

Using containers to grow the strawberries:

You will need one 2 to 3 litre container for each strawberry plant, to hold enough compost to prevent drying out too quickly. Fill the containers with the grow bag compost, and place containers onto a base/tray to prevent leaks, and water the containers until the soil is damp. Carefully tip the strawberries plants out of their pots and place each into a separate container, topping up with extra compost if needed. Label each plant ‘Insect-pollinated’, ‘Hand-pollinated’, and ‘Pollen-donor’ and check that all the leaves are above the compost surface.

To make your mini meadow, use containers that will hold enough compost to prevent drying out. There should be at least 3 (but more is preferable if you have space). Fill these pots with the growbag compost to 2 cm from the top; water, then sprinkle a little seed over the surface. Add a light scattering of more compost, and position meadow pots near to the strawberries. These may require watering more than once a week to prevent drying out.



What if I’m going 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 so someone else can look after them, then all of the strawberries and meadow flowers should be moved so they are all in the same conditions.



Can I feed my plants?

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



What can 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 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 can I do to deter birds?

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



What if my strawberry is 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.

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