Flowers after the fire - sowing for the bees

Many of the plants and trees the bees and other insects thrive on have burnt in the October fires and will not be flowering this year and some not next year either if they recover at all. Here are my suggestions on how to help the pollinators through these lean times. There is a list of recommended plants to sow at the end of this article.
When I have talked in the past about what the land wants to grow here in the Serra do Açor in terms of sustaining human culture I have often said these wild, steep, hard-to-cultivate hills and valleys want to produce trees, bees and grazers. Trees grow naturally on these often inaccessible slopes with little human intervention. Bees are supported by the great swathes of heathland, pioneer and nitrogen-fixing shrubs such as the Heathers (Calluna vulgaris, Erica arborea, Erica australis), Carqueja (Genista tridentata), the Brooms (Cytisus striatus, C. scoparius, C . multiflorus, Spartium junceum), Bramble (Rubus fruticosus) and small trees such as the Strawberry tree or Medronheiro (Arbutus unedo) and of course the richest nectar of all the Sweet Chestnut tree (Castanea sativa).
In a wonderful expression of abundance these and other plants flower in turn all through the year with the exception of a short dearth in high summer. Even the slopes and altitude contribute to this succession as the same species of plant on the higher slopes blooms later than those on the lower slopes in a generous wave of nectar flow.
This year, however all of those shrubs and many of the trees have burned to the ground. Some like the bramble are already re-sprouting from their roots and all of those I have mentioned may do the same. But they won’t flower this year, some not next year either. The bees, butterflies and other pollinators are going to have a lean year or two.
Direct sowing of nectar and pollen plants over as much land as possible is the best option for ensuring forage for the bees and other insects. Sowing a herbaceous layer also has the advantage of holding the precious topsoil in place to prevent it washing off in the rain or blowing away in the wind. There are places, moslty terraces and meadows, where there is already a welcome covering of new shoots but there are many, many more areas all over these hills that are completely bare except for burnt trees and these areas are ripe for sowing.
So after consulting with my good friend, master beekeeper and botanist extraordinaire, Harald Hafner, I have compiled a list of the best and most easily grown and sourced plants for bees. They are mostly annual or biennial though some are good at reseeding. Some of the clovers are perennial. There are garden flowers and vegetables on the list. Let everything go to flower!
There are also trees that provide nectar or resins essential for the bees. Willow is a favourite for the bees and very easy to start from cuttings, mere sticks. Simply stick it in the ground in a reasonably humid spot and it will take. Oaks provide resins and honeydew and sweet chetsnuts the most amazing nectar. Both can be started very easily from seed.
I recommend getting as large a quantity and variety of seeds as you can get your hands on. Cost will be a limiting factor. The brassicas and other agricultural cover crops tend to be cheaper and more widely available in the agri-coops. The wild flowers are more expensive. There are mixes available for bees which can be good but check carefully what you are getting for your money and you may be better making your own. Or if you have a large area to cover it may be better to buy cheaper and sow more. I am doing both.
Ideally, buy organic seed or at least not covered in pesticide which is often a pink coating. At least make sure the seed is not Genetically Modified (GMO) and to the Rapeseed/Canola/Colza this means it MUST be organic as this plant is often sol genetically modified. GMO can be very harmful for bees.
I am sowing on slopes where the dead pine needles have fallen and created a mat holding soil and seed so they do not wash away in the rains. I am also experimenting sowing on some bare slopes now to see what happens and I will sow other bare slopes later in the year.  If you are in flatter areas you can sow anywhere. I have listed plants in order of sowing times. The first can be sown now and then there are those to be sown after the last frost. 
This is by no means an exhaustive list. I am very happy to hear your suggestions for other plants to sow or good sources of seeds. Please reply in the comments below.
If you are not in the fire zone and are able to donate seeds or money to buy seeds I would be very, very grateful. You can contact me:

To sow now - winter

Brassicas - cheapest and most widely available e.g.
Turnip greens/Nabiça
Rapeseed/canola/colza - MUST BE ORGANIC TO AVOID GMO
Chinese cabbages - mizuna/mibuna etc
Radicchio altalio 
Broad beans/Favas
Poppies - all types, love disturbed soil

To sow from March or after last frost

Lucerne/alfalfa  Medicago sativa
Serradela Ornithopus spp. good for acid soils re seeds nicely
Borage Borago officinalis Likes disturbed soil
Vetch/Ervilhaca Vicia sativa - cheap seed. Can mix with oats or rye
Buckwheat/Trigo sarraceno - needs humidity 
Clovers - all especially:
White Trifolium repens
Red Trifolium pratense
Mellilotus officianalis
Subterraneo Trifolium subterraneum
Phacelia spp.
Beautiful blue flower, very very high in nectar
Wild flowers
Echium spp.  Echium lusitanicum or Echium vulgare vipers bugloss
Marigold - Calendula
Chamomile - all species
Onobrychis spp. the sainfoins
Garden herbs
Sow or plant bee-friendly herbs and shrubs as many as you can fit in your garden. For example: 
A much-loved pollinator and permaculture plant. Propagate by taking root cuttings. It is so vigorous you can take a really small - cubic inch - piece of root, plant it and it will grow. Use the Russian Bocking variety that doesn't set seed otherwise it can be invasive.
All species are excellent for bees. Put stick cuttings straight in the earth in the wetter places.
Oak and Chestnuts
These are often very quick to germinate from seed and although it will be a while till they flower the bees and forest will thank us for sowing now!
Lastly, take time with the sowing it is a sacred activity. Take a moment to greet the land and ask permission before you spread the seed. The land will always reply though you may have to listen with more than your ears. Try not to rush the job. You can wish the seed well as you sow. I sing to the seeds as I sow. Enjoy your time in the garden or on the hills. Breathe and give thanks for being there.


Practical Ecosystem Restoration
Helping Nature to get back on her feet after years of monoculture and wildfires.
Practical Ecosystem Restoration
Would you like to come and help plant some native forest, learn about ecosystem regeneration and reconnect with Nature and yourself? Then join us on an Awakened Forest Project work weekend.
Quinta da Floresta, Benfeita - Sunday December 1st 10.30 - 4pm

Another opportunity to begin to learn the art and science of foraging in our beautiful valley in the Serra do Açor.

Quinta da Floresta, Benfeita - June 2020

People have retreated to wild places for millennia to find inner peace and a greater perspective on life. Nature, in it’s simplicity and beauty, supports a profound relaxation in body, mind and soul.


It has been a long time since I have written a blog post because so much has been ongoingly changing in the last year. I wanted to wait until the dust and ash had settled and I knew where I would be before I wrote.

Many of the plants and trees the bees and other insects thrive on have burnt in the October fires and will not be flowering this year and some not next year either if they recover at all. Here are my suggestions on how to help the pollinators through these lean times.

God these are heartbreaking times. Rain that was so longed for in the summer is now pouring off these hills taking soil and stone and track with it onto the terraces and into rivers.


Many people have asked us how they can help in the wake of the fires and all we have lost. We are very touched and grateful for these offers of support. Here are some ways you can help:

We have started building the second floor of the workshop!! This will be our last major build here and will provide a dormitory and meditation/workshop room which will increase our capacities for events and hosting people, especially outside of the summer months.