Learning ~ One Little Bug At A Time

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Leaning over the garden fence the other morning, I caught sight of a tiny moth flitting about in the guerrilla garden. It stayed while I went indoors to fetch the camera, and obliged me with a few shots.  Then I went back inside and googled ‘very small diurnal moth UK’ and ‘images’ and up it popped. A Mint Moth, says the font of some wisdom that is my PC –  Pyrausta aurata. The butterfly conservation link also told me that it flew actively in sunshine (which is was doing) and particularly liked spearmint (which is where I found it and where you see it here). I confess a frisson of success: ID done and dusted.

It’s a dainty little thing  – 70mm across/ three quarters of an inch. Here are a couple of closer views:

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Colour Scheming ~ It Caught My Eye

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In my last post I muttered about the shortcomings of close-up shots because you lose the wider setting which may have much more to tell you. But I took this one because it made me smile: the contrast of the green longhorn beetle on liatris spicata; the liatris against the green grass, and the congruent shade and form of beetle and the blades of grass. Not a scheme I would wish to replicate in my own home, I hasten to add.

Liatris, with its tall purple spires, is now an English herbaceous border staple, and another magnet for insect life. But its true home is on the North American prairies where it has the names of Prairie Gay Feather and Dense Blazing Star.

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The first photo was taken at the allotment where my neighbour is growing insect attracting plants, but I have also grown it in my garden for the first time this year – seen in the second photo along with all the rapeseed dust from the previous night’s harvesting. (There are disadvantages to country living, and the  combine harvester’s dust and chaff cloud that buried our house and garden was one of them).

Now I know where liatris comes from, I have a sudden yen to set it free to colonise the fields of Wenlock Edge. I see it growing up tall as tall nodding its plumed heads over hillsides of wild oats – and no more compacted earth, chemical sprays and harvesting dust. Still, I know too that this is exactly the sort of impulse that has led to major biological disasters across the world, not least the devastating spread of the very lovely water hyacinth, which also grows in alluring purple spires, choking the waterways of the African continent and beyond, making poor people even poorer; killing livelihoods.

It was most probably a colonial gardener in the former Belgian Congo who was responsible that piece of horticultural mayhem; the plant escaped from a beautifully contrived water garden and up the riverine systems of Central Africa and into Lake Victoria, far away from its native South American quarters where there are local natural forces (weevils) to keep it in check. It has infested North America too, where there is big business in selling big water hyacinth harvesting machines.

So I will contain my expansionist inclinations, and enjoy the liatris where it is. It is actually a medicinal plant, well known to North America’s first nations, the Cherokee in particular, and used to treat many conditions.

And now for some more striking flower-insect colour-scheming – a green shield bug on my dusty Russian rudbeckia, grown from seed last year – another floral (hopefully benign) displacement.

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No, This Is Not My Polytunnel

Polytunnel spotted on the path to Koroni, Messenia in the southern Peloponnese. And now for some more scenic Greek roofs to conclude Becky’s very entertaining June squares photo-jaunt. Didn’t we do well. And a big round of applause for Becky.

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THE END

Roof Squares 30

Six Word Saturday

The Changing Seasons ~ May Has Been Very Yellow

Spring has been all of a gallop this month, as if plant life is set on making up for lost time. Within the space of two weeks the rapeseed field behind the house went from muddy, over-wintered, pigeon-scoffed plants, scarcely a foot high – to a billowing yellow sea taller than me. (Oh, the unbridled power of agri-chemicals!)  It has anyway been great fun walking down the tractor trails within the crop, completely surrounded by sweet-smelling eye-high yellowness, and coming home covered in petals.

Now though, the flowers have almost gone, helped on their way by the last two days of storm and cloud burst. This morning it is foggy over the Edge. Fog in May? And I can’t see the wood at the top of the field.

In the garden there have been changes too. Behind the house, on our top level, the last scrap of lawn had been dug up, and the shed of He Who Builds Sheds And Binds Books now has a smart gravel forecourt, complete with red geranium in pot, which really isn’t what a chap wants outside his lathe and screw-collection domain, but I think looks jolly. Btw: the shed doesn’t actually have a chimney. Not too keen on the plastic water butt, but it’s there for now – water-gathering over aesthetics.

Our neighbour Roger also gave us some wooden sleeper pieces, left over from his own garden make-over, and these have now been used to contain the main herbaceous border beside said shed. The border has been blooming with aquilegias which are now giving way to alliums, foxgloves, euphorbia and oriental poppies. I have also  put in the plants bought at the Arley Plant Collector’s Fair last week (previous post), and am looking forward to china blue scabious and sweet scented phlox in a few weeks’ time. The bed is now officially FULL.

The narrow border on the left hand side of the gravel, and above our kitchen door, has also been given a containing wooden edge by re-purposing timber thrown on the bonfire heap at the allotment and duly carried home across the field. Yesterday I noticed that the small Coxes apple tree that is growing there is now busy making apples. So soon. It was all blossom only last week.

Now shed-building man is wondering what he can do to the old privies to stop them being head-banging, dysfunctional garden sheds, this while still retaining rustic quirkiness. At the moment a very fine, self-planted foxglove is growing beside them so operations are presently on hold.

Out at the front of the house, half of our boundary is open to the kerb-side. I have replanted the border with assorted verbascum, alliums, centaurea, hesperis, foxgloves, hellenium hoopesii (very yellow), Whistling Jack (a magenta, Byzantine gladiolus) and a few other things, including a small weeping crab apple called Red Jade. This border is my cultivated response to motorists who insist on breaking the 30mph speed limit (and the law) by speeding along Sheinton Street at 40mph and above.

And now here are more scenes from the Farrells’ May garden, beginning at the front. It’s all rather rampant:

And in the back garden:

 

 

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The Changing Seasons

Please visit Su to see scenes from her recent trip round NZ’s South Island

Going Quackers On The Way Home From The Allotment

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Now is the time of year when I often meet the Three Ducks on the path to the allotment. Despite all their owners’ fencing-in strategies,  they continue to escape through the hedge from their nice garden pen – out into the big wide world of Townsend Meadow. Clearly a duck finds far more exciting things to do in a field, though they always stay together,  keeping up a constant reassuring chatter.

I usually try to shoo them home, but the other evening they were so busy with something on the path, I took them by surprise. Then it was  a case of ducks all of a dither.

‘Now what shall we do?’

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Panic!

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Regroup for a more dignified retreat and take ourselves home.P1050542

 

Nothing More Cheering Than A Marigold

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This marigold had its photo taken on 22nd January. She was growing in my strawberry bed, one of several  plants that have spread themselves hither and thither on my allotment plots and been quietly flowering all winter. They make their own sunshine, don’t they. Though I think even they will have been defeated by the current Siberian onslaught. I have not ventured over the field to see.

For hundreds of years the marigold has been much loved by herbalists. Its properties comprise a complete pharmacy – from healing skin conditions to boosting the immune system and many disorders in between. I usually just add the petals to salads, or as a garnish to rice dishes. The colour alone is enough to lift the spirits.

I’m also hoping that Debbie and Becky won’t mind my killing two challenges with one marigold:

Six Word Saturday  Please visit Debbie to see a very shaggy sheep.

March Squares For this month Becky has set us the daily challenge of posting square photos featuring either squares or circles. You may post as inclination strikes.

Dandelion Dreams ~ A Bit Of Magic On Monday

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These dandelion ‘clocks’ are putting on their own firework display. If I had my gardener’s head  on, the sight of so much imminent seed shedding would cause me much frustration. Fury even.  I have spent hours, days and weeks of my life trying to keep my allotment plots and paths free of them. I have even tried seeing their good side: cropping them for their young salad leaves, making dandelion tea, roasting their roots to make coffee (very good for the liver). I also know their long tap roots release nutrients locked deep in the soil. And sometimes a field full of dandelions can look, well, beautiful.

Which brings me to the image above. I clearly had my photographer’s head on when I snapped it, and with the camera in dynamic monochrome setting. And then I edited it a little, and so emerged these magical structures. And there we have the top and bottom of it. Once we stop fighting the natural world, we can see how very wonderful it is. Or at least some of us can. This does not appear to apply to the corporate strains of our species.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Cee’s Black & White Challenge: patterns

The Changing Seasons ~ Snow and Marigolds In January

Well, it’s hardly been gardening weather – far too wet; not at all like our good old winters where on fine, cold days you could pile on the gardening togs, balaclava and all, get out your trusty spade and dig the allotment, naturally always standing on a plank as you went so as not to compact the soil.

I actually like digging, though I’m trying to wean myself off the practice (as many of you who come here will know) opting instead for the no-dig approach which relies on raised beds and the annual autumn application of compost. Around 2 inches worth says no-dig guru, Charles Dowding, and only on the surface (he has lots of useful videos on You Tube and grows parsnips and carrots the size of cruise missiles).

The only problem with this approach is you need loads and loads of compost, and despite my having a dozen assorted piles, bins and bays of decomposing garden waste, I never seem to have enough garden-ready stuff at the right time. I also completely forgot about the autumn application as I had left my brain in the olive groves of Kalamata back in October. Drat! However, it did return briefly in December to remember to gather leaves for making leaf mould, and it’s probably not too late to go out and gather more if only it weren’t raining, and Wenlock’s likely byways a sea of slithery Silurian mud.

We also had more snow in January, but not the glistening, Snow-Queeny landscapes of December, but the dank and dreary sort followed by more rain, which soon washed it away. Except that when I went up to the allotment on Monday I was surprised to find heaps of it lurking along the sides of the polytunnels. Oh no! I remembered the old wives’ tale which says that when snow remains we can expect further falls to carry it away. Hmph. A curse on old wives for being so doomy. We’ve done snow. Now we want spring!

But then the odd thing about that is, along with our snow and frost we have also had spring, or at least if the pot marigolds are anything to go by. These are self-seeded annuals that grow hither and thither around my plot, and not even being buried for a week under December’s snow drifts stopped them flowering. When the snow receded they emerged full-on, like floral headlights, though their stems were somewhat misshapen from the burying. As anyone would be.

Anyway, here are some views of the allotment taken on Monday. I’m  including some of my compost heaps – not a pretty sight, I know, but they bring joy to this gardener’s heart. Also of my parsnips, which as you will see were exceedingly hard to extract from the mud. They are also nowhere near the size of Charles Dowding’s cruise missiles, nor as perfectly formed. But then as the shed-building man who lives in my house says, who needs parsnips that big?  A vaguely existentialist enquiry to which I find there is no answer…

 

The Changing Seasons

For those who haven’t caught up yet, Su Leslie is now our very excellent host for The Changing Seasons monthly challenge, having taken over from our former very excellent host Max at Cardinal Guzman  (btw fantastic ski-ing video at Max’s blog). We have thus shifted across the globe from Norway to New Zealand. Please pop over to Su’s place to see her and other bloggers’ monthly round up from their corners of the world. And please join in. The ‘rules’ are simple.

A Little Bit Of Earth Magic While Out Foraging For Leeks And Parsnips

Well one thing was certain, when I waded through the snow to the allotment yesterday afternoon – no-one else would be daft enough to be there. A hundred or so yards from the house, I almost turned back. The snow was coming in over my wellies, and it truly was hard work tramping through the low drifts. My well trodden path along the field edge was no longer familiar. The world was iced blue-white with only a passing buzzard to break the stillness.

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You might wonder what had induced me to go up there at all – with all the garden plots buried under a foot of snow. But I needed parsnips, and I needed leeks, and parsley and Tuscan kale from the polytunnel. And once I was there, I thought I’d better shift some of the snow from the polytunnel roof, since we’d been promised all-day snow on Sunday, which has indeed come to pass.

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It took a while to find and extract the parsnips. The soil wasn’t frozen under the snow-blanket, but was very, very sticky – doing a good impression of stuff stuck in quicksand. But mission accomplished, veggie-wise, I noticed a change in the light and started taking photos instead.

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As I was heading home, I realised I could hear the whoops and cries of happy sledders. You can just make them out on the hillside north-east of the church tower. But for the power-lines (that intrude on most views of Wenlock) it might be a traditional Victorian winter scene.

Which reminds me. While I’m here, I’d like to thank all the local farmers who have been out on their tractors clearing roads and spreading grit. My entranced-by-snow moments are all very well, but some people need to drive places. Multiple gold stars to the farmers then.

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

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Five Minutes With Munchkins, A Batonga Basket, Then A Bit Of A Yarn ~ Regular Random

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Here we have two of my passions-distractions for the price of one: growing stuff and an enduring yen for baskets. I’ll tell you about the latter in a moment. Here it is though – a personal treasure – bought when we were living in Zambia – a basket made by the Batonga people.

 

The Batonga, these days, live either side Lake Kariba (it forms the border between Southern Zambia and Northern Zimbabwe, but once they lived in the upland valleys along the Zambezi River.  This was back in the days when their traditional homeland was not flooded by nearly two hundred miles of Lake Kariba. In the late 1950s the Zambezi was dammed in order to provide hydro-electricity for what were then the British colonies of Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

Prior to their expulsion from their homeland, they lived by fishing, hunting, stock rearing and agriculture, and in fact had a subtle farming system which embraced both risk and caution. In other words, they exploited different ecological niches from the valley tops to the river flood plains. In the marginal upland areas they grew cow peas, ground nuts and different strains of millet and sorghum, reliable drought-resistant crops that ensured a living. On the flood plains they took a risk with water-hungry maize. If the river did not flood too badly and wash their crop away, then they would be in for a  bumper harvest with surplus to sell. They also made use of the damp clefts of tributary streams in order to grow squashes. Doubtless their varieties produced much bigger specimens than my fist-sized munchkins.

So: they were a resourceful people, but deemed primitive by the colonial administrators because their possessions were few and made mostly  from handy natural materials. Yet this paucity of paraphernalia had survival advantages too. When disaster struck – tempest, drought, raiders or epidemic, they could up sticks and start out afresh in a safer spot. They could not, however, escape the will of the colonial administration, or the rising flood waters that came with the building of Kariba Dam. They were moved from their ancestral lands against their will, and somehow, by all accounts, the British administration with little money set aside for the task, overlooked the need to make more than token restitution for the huge physical and spiritual loss of a displaced people. In effect they had become refugees in their own land. Meanwhile, the game department took great pains to rescue the wildlife that had become trapped on islands as the flood water backed up.

Back then, in 1959, the Batonga said the lake (by then the size of Wales) would take its revenge.  At the time this seemed unlikely. The dam’s engineers had purposely built it on a bed of black basalt. But  some fifty years on, it was discovered that the force of water down the spillways had undermined the dam, creating a huge crater. Repairs were badly needed to avoid collapse and a tsunami in Mozambique.

The BBC reported on this catastrophe-waiting-to-happen in 2014. And at last the repair work appears to be underway, scheduled to start last month at an estimated cost of nearly $300 million – funds courtesy of the EU, World Bank, African Development Bank and the Swedish government, and one key objective being to avoid a humanitarian disaster.  In the meantime one can only wonder how the Batonga people have been getting along all these years, and whether their communities actually have access to the electricity supply for which they were uprooted. I’m guessing they may not. But if you want to lend them some support you can buy their baskets on-line HERE

Regular Random  Please visit Desley Jane for the challenge rules. and see her own five minute photo-shoot.