Friday 21 June 2013

Photos from the longest day

the longest day
The more things change the more they stay the same. This long lived blog about desultory gardening and self sufficiency has been ambling on for over seven years now in much the same form. Here it is, the longest day again.

Not terribly lovely weather, at least it's not raining or blowing a gale, but it's a bit disappointing on one of the days that is accepted as the start of summer.

There was a handful of strawberries for breakfast.

blue damsel fly
I think this is a male Common Blue damselfly. It seemed chilled or possibly dead when I took the photo. The weather really isn't very nice today.

red rose
The rather glorious climbing red rose is in full bloom. It's not very well scented which is a pity because I've found a method for distilling rose water that I'd like to try.

as yet unidentified beetle
This fine beetle is probably not new to science but I didn't immediately recognise it. I wanted to take more photos to help with the identification but unfortunately dislodged it from the grass stalk and didn't want to disturb it further.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

A proper summer's day

large red damselfly on blackberry leaf

It was really lovely yesterday for a lot of the day, decently warm, sunny, gentle breezes and perfect weather for the start of the damsel and dragonfly season. The large red damselfly above is only large in comparison to the other smaller red damselfly species but beautiful in its jewelled perfection anyway. I saw other green and blue damsels on the wing, locked in loving embrace (or just mating if you prefer not to be so anthropomorphic) and some beautiful demoiselles.

There was also a female Broad bodied Chaser, a true dragonfly which I've photographed specimens of before but she wouldn't stop for anyone.

rose chafer beetle on mock 

The green shininess of the Rose Chafer catches my attention every time I see one, a big almost scary beetle that feeds on pollen and has such lovely colours.

Later in the day a huge cloud front rolled up from the south. We had been on warning for severe thunderstorms in the area and this was our share. An unusually eerie experience, the thunder didn't come in discrete peals but was a continuous rumbling murmur like huge rocks rolling down a mountain side and the lightning which could just about be seen although the sun had not set was flickering from cloud to cloud apparently never reaching as far as the ground. This went on for about an hour until finally there was a very heavy rain fall and storm passed over.

Now we seem set for ten days of intermittent rain and very little sunshine. There are blight warnings out too so I'll have to pick a day for spraying the potatoes. I hope this isn't going to turn into another year like the last one.

Monday 17 June 2013

Bees Knees

and other parts of them. I had a go at capturing some shots of the various form of bumble bees currently enjoying the flowers of comfrey and raspberry plants in the garden.

It's not easy. They hang down under the flowers and take only moments to strip the nectar and pollen before moving on to the next mark. Busy as a bee is no misnomer.

And the sizes, there are big ones and small ones apparently identical in form and pattern of hairs. How can you know if they are different species, or genders or just part of the normal range of growth?

When you can get a picture of a bee in the wild it's likely to be blurred or from a strange angle, nothing like the straight on view of the wings and back shown in most identification guides. I've not made many identifications I feel confident with - the Carpenter bees being a notable exception.

I don't think we have anything very rare or weird here but I would like to know what have. If you know your bees do make a comment and identify any you recognise. It might take a day or two for your comment to show as spammers have forced moderation but I'm very grateful for help.

unnamed bumblebee
Bumblebee #1 Has a white bottom, might be a clue!

unnamed bumblebee #2
Bumblebee #2 Rather delicate looking, very active

unnamed bumblebee #3
Bumblebee #3 Medium sized, very stripy abdomen

unnamed bumblebee #4
Bumblebee #4 Mostly black and quite small.

Sunday 16 June 2013

O Christophine


Remember this? Well, during the next three weeks it started to do what I'd been promised it would do and made a lovely strong shoot from that suggestive crevice. Without documenting it I took it to France and abandoned it cruelly for a couple of weeks in the unheated greenhouse, somehow imagining that that great big old fruiting body would survive starvation, thirst and lack of attention.

Unsurprisingly, it was nipped by the cold, not really frost but too chilly a shock, and the sprout appeared to wither and die. Still I couldn't bear to part with the apparent corpse and I now present you with...

Zombie ChouChou as they call it in les Outre-Mer maybe without adding the bit about zombies. Never say die.


Saturday 15 June 2013

Saturday morning snaps

japanese maple
This maple was a present from Paul after he went to Hampton Court flower show and I didn't. It's coming along well but getting swamped by the elderflower and invading brambles around it.

This is the elderflower next to it, must get around to making elderflower fizz and syrup soon.

the first strawberry
The first strawberry; it was delicious but I need to look at ways to protect the rest from birds and slugs as they ruined most of the fruit last year.

raven in the grass
This little madam scares the birds but she's not much cop at killing slugs.

dog rose
This is a dog rose rootstock that's overwhelmed the rose that was grafted to it but it makes lovely hips in the autumn and the bees adore it.

bumble bees on raspberry flowers
We have lots of bumble bees here and I'm very keen to make a photographic survey but they're not easy to catch on camera and I find them quite difficult to identify too.

Friday 14 June 2013

It's all new

swift new potatoes

These aren't the first new potatoes of the year, we dug those over a week ago, then got drunk and failed to eat them. They're not even picked today, these are the ones I took on the 12th and ate then but I cleared the rest of the row yesterday to make a space now newly populated with courgette plants.

Ordinarily the first new potatoes take a headline position on the blog. It's always exciting to pull the first substantial crop of the year and these potatoes with all the troubles that beset them in the way of late planting and nasty cold spring should be worth a little more ceremony and fanfare but to be perfectly honest they're not that great.

The variety is Swift and it surely is, we've been able to dig potatoes in as little as seven weeks from planting in a good year so we usually have few just to make sure we can boast of our good fortune as often as possible but I'm beginning to think that speed isn't everything. Next year, if we live that long, I think I'll go for one of the more flavourful first earlies, Epicure or Duke of York. Trouble is, we've tried both of those here and they don't seem to like the soil, so perhaps some experimentation will be needed.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Pretty in Pink


There is a piece on the  BBC today about solitary confinement which leaves me wondering if I'm responsible for my own mental decay. For days on end I see nobody here and it makes me more than a little crazy.  Visitors are few and far between, we've either been unlucky or poor hosts when inviting strangers to stay as volunteer workers and the isolation here, which I adore, is complete apart from the odd intruder looking for lost dogs or what they can find to carry off.

It's not something internet socialising is much help for.

a fallen oak is harvested for firewood

When I do have company we try hard to keep the activity levels high. Last winter another large oak tree fell on the boundary of the forest and our far field. It's not always easy to see why these large healthy trees can't take the wind when their equally large neighbours not three metres away survive the gusts but in this case it was probably made top heavy by a massive overgrowth of ivy in the crown which caught the wind and rocked it on roots undermined by a deep ditch and very wet weather. It's a shame but the wood is valuable and we have to clear the trunk from the field before it's swamped with brambles and overgrowth and becomes too difficult to dispose of.

This trailer load was really just the tip of the ice berg; a fallen tree is more dangerous during dismantling than a properly prepared tree taken by managed felling because odd limbs and random balance make it unstable. It's easy to cut the wrong support and have the whole thing collapse on you. So we've been nibbling away at it, cutting back to see where the weight is distributed and aiming to leave a clear bole where the fall can be predicted before making the larger cuts.

After chainsawing the branches down to manageable chunks we spent a few hours splitting the logs with axes and stacking it in the wood shed. Ideally it should have two years to dry and mature before burning but the last couple of cold winters have left us very short of fuel so we've been splitting this quite small to dry as quickly as possible.

There's still a lot of tree left to come. The main trunk will likely be too large for splitting by axe so we'll have to make use of the log splitter on the tractor. The old adage about firewood warming you in three ways is absolutely true. It's hard hot work gathering, splitting and stacking the stuff, and that's long before you burn it.

Monday 3 June 2013

Buttercup and Daisy


The promised sunshine is here and it's very nice but it's still awfully cold for the time of year with a constant northerly to north easterly breeze that sucks the heat out of every thing. I shouldn't complain, it's not a bad temperature for working in and I've been able to dig a patch and plant out the oca, ulluco and yacon which are all looking fairly comfortable if a bit tiny in their new quarters.

In the same patch I have a couple of wigwams for French beans (also South American), a small patch of tuberous rooted pea (Lathyrus tuberosus) and some very unhappy Chinese artichokes which have been languishing in weedy pots for 18 months after I gave up on gardening last year. I'm hoping these strong growing members of the family Lamiaceae, related to mints and other thuggish plants will pull through now they're in good ground again.


I've also been planting up some ornamentals, pots for around the front door and a small flower bed near the picnic table area. Even there I've included some veg. Irish Prean peas and some achocha share a wigwam near to tansy, sunflowers and some annuals which I hope will come up in time.


We did have a little bit of excitement on Saturday. One of the young horses from next door managed to get through the fence and into my field. She didn't go far and really wanted to get back to the others but couldn't work out how. I hadn't noticed; I often hear the horses calling to each other in the mornings, but as I ate breakfast a posse turned up to collect her.

So I had my introduction to the stud owner and some of his staff. The yearling was caught quite quickly and seemed unhurt and unworried by the adventure and the nice people said I should go down to the stud and see the other horses some time. I'd like to do that very much but I'm probably too shy.