Monthly Archives: June 2014

Greenhouse update

While the greenhouse is not one hundred present finished, it is now a functioning growing space. The tomatoes, while still small are looking much healthier and the cucumber plants are rampaging away, with the first cucumbers beginning to form. I’ve also planted some herbs; hyssop, sage, dill and oregano. The dill is planted around the cucumbers as it is supposed to encourage root development.

Cucumber plants

Cucumber plants

It’s a lovely space to work in, bright and yet airy. I can see many happy hours of planting and potting-up ahead of me.

 

Greenhouse

Greenhouse

Greenhouse - side view

Greenhouse – side view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My husband has fashioned a lovely, sliding catch for the door which he made from some bits of recycled white oak and the top of a brush handle.

Door catch

Door catch

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pine Marten – an elusive mammal

As an ecologist, one of the mammals that has always eluded me was the Pine marten. These are shy, elusive animals about the size of a small domestic cat. Yesterday evening, about 9pm, still bright as the sun was shining, I saw one. What is more, I saw it from my living room window! I was sitting watching a film and outside I noticed the birds (starlings and swallows, all presently feeding chicks) were alarming calling. I looked out and there it was standing on the log pile that rests against the side of the house. All I saw was it’s dark brown face and unmistakable creamy yellow throat patch and then it was gone.  We have often thought that they were around, having seen scats in the forest. The habitat is good for these beautiful mammals; a conifer plantation and newer broadleaf woodland provides plenty of cover and food. They are omnivores taking berries, fruits, small mammals, amphibians and birds. For a photograph and more information check out http://www.mammals-in-ireland.ie/species/pine-marten

I suppose the chances of seeing it again are pretty slim, though I have to admit I did think about it as I set out to do my butterfly monitoring transect late this afternoon. But no such luck. So instead I leave you with a photo of the Ringlet butterfly which along with a Speckled wood and a few Meadow browns were my only recordings!

 

Ringlet

Ringlet Butterfly

Starlings and protecting hedgerows

This little starling chick fell from a nest yesterday. The birds were nesting under our roof tiles and this is their second clutch. Unfortunately, we did not have ladder tall enough to get the chick back. The kids fed it a few worms, which it was more than happy to eat. We moved it under the sage bush for a bit of shade from the sun, but still just beneath the nest, in the hope that the parent birds would continue to fed it. This morning it had disappeared.

Starling chick

Starling chick

Starling chick

Starling chick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile there may have been other casualties this week, as the council in it’s wisdom, decided to cut the hedgerow that runs along our road. Under the Irish Wildlife Act of 1976 (and Wildlife Amendment Act 2000), hedgerows are not supposed to be cut from the 1st March to the 31st August. However, councils can cite health and safety as a reason for cutting. When I rung the council, this is what I was told. They are resurfacing the road and it was a heath and safety issue for the workers. To be honest, I find this hard to fathom as the hedge was cut back in last winter.

As Ireland has a relatively little woodland, hedgerows are a very important habitat for all sorts of animals. Just as an example, they provide nesting habitats for over 55 bird species that are regularly recorded in Birdwatch Ireland’s Countryside Bird Survey.  It is estimated that Ireland has around 300,000km of hedgerow. Irish hedgerows come in all shapes and sizes.

Double hedge

Double hedge with hawthorn trees

Wind-shaped hawthorn hedge on west coast

Wind-shaped hawthorn hedge on west coast

 

 

 

 

 

Holly and Fuschia Hedgerow

Holly and Fuschia Hedgerow

 

 

 

 

 

Managed Hedgerow

Managed Hedgerow

Hedgerows in the landscape

Hedgerows in the landscape

Strawberries

We are enjoying the first of our outside summer strawberries, though the birds are getting to some before us. I don’t think it will be a bumper crop this year. Some of our plants are probably getting a bit old, as they generally are less productive after 3 or 4 years. Instead of going to the expense of buying new plants each year we grow new plants from runners. This year I will have to make an effort to grow more.

Strawberries

Strawberries

The last two days have been busy in the vegetable garden. Various brassicas have been planted out and covered with netting. Plants are still suffering slug and flea beetle damage so I have had to replace some. In this country, you really need to plant twice as many plants as you need – one lot for you and one lot for the slugs! Today, more squash have been planted out and I am hardening of the rest of them to get out this week.

In the polytunnel, I cleared out and harvest the mangetout. They did pretty well but were passed their best and the outside ones are cropping well now. I planted some cucumbers and a pumpkin plant in the space created. Usually all the squashes and pumpkins would have to go outside but with the greenhouse I have some extra space in the polytunnel and thought I’d see how the pumpkin did inside.

 

 

Wildflower Meadow

At this time of the year our flower meadow is at its best. Each year it grows a little bit bigger and hopefully gets more diverse. We created the meadow by moving flowering plants from areas were we didn’t want them (e.g the lawn area and vegetable plot) to the area where we want the meadow. The ox-eyed daisy move well if you move them early in the season.

Ox-eyed daisy

Ox-eyed daisy

When we do mow, we are careful not to mow over plants we want, like the bush vetch and red clover, but allow them to flower and set seed. Yellow rattle was one species we introduced as seed. I collected seeds from an area near the coast and just spread them where I wanted them to go. The yellow rattle parasitizes grasses so it reduces their vigor letting the flowers become established. If you do want to use yellow rattle be careful though, as it has spread itself pretty far over the garden at this stage. I just pull it up from where I don’t want it. I have also introduced knapweed and scabious by collecting and spreading wild seed. These plants will flower later in the season and I hope they will get more plentiful too as time goes on.

Wildflower meadow

Wildflower meadow

The ox-eyed daisy attract hoverflies along with other insects, while the clovers (both red and white) and the bush vetch are great for bees.

Hoverfly - Helophilus species

Hoverfly – Helophilus species

 

 

 

 

Potato blight, rabbits, flea bettles, slugs and snails

Some of our potatoes are already showing signs of blight. Potato blight is cause by a fungus-like pathogen called Phytophthora infestans. Every year we get blight, but most years it is in late July or August when we can just cut away the affected stems and still have a good crop of potatoes below ground. This is the first time I remember seeing blight so early in the season. Blight thrives in warm, damp conditions and that is exactly the type of weather we are experiencing at the moment here in the west of Ireland. Also the new area where we have planted our potatoes is much more exposed than our vegetable plot. And as the blight spores are spread by the wind the plants are probably more prone to attack. So far the number of affected leaves is relatively small so we have removed all we can see and sprayed with a copper based fungicide (https://fruithillfarm.com/p-255-blight-spray.aspx). With the warm, damp weather forecast to remain for the week we will need to check the plants daily to make sure there is no further outbreaks.

As well as the blight, a rabbit has eaten it’s way through half of our purple sprouting broccoli plants (we have now fenced the area off with chicken wire fencing). The slugs and snails are not only enjoying the damp weather but also seem to love leaf celery!! And the flea beetles are making it hard for the newly planted-out brassicas to get established. So it’s a bit of an uphill struggle at the moment.

We did have a beautiful cinnabar moth in the garden a couple of days ago. It’s one of those moths you will see flying during the day, though it flies at night too. I knew they were around as I have seen the caterpillars the last couple of years. The caterpillars feed on ragworth and have an amazing yellow and back banding pattern. This is the first year I have seen the adults.

Cinnabar moth

Cinnabar moth

Cinnabar moth caterpillar on ragworth

Cinnabar moth caterpillar on ragworth

 

Heath Bumblebee

My new bumblebee sighting has been confirmed as a Heath Bumblebee or Bombus jonellus. This brings to a total of eight the number of bumblebee species we have recorded in the garden and also one cuckoo bumblebee. There are twenty bumblebee species in Ireland in total so we’ve less than half. Six of the twenty are cuckoo bumbles. The cuckoo bumblebee queens use the nests of their hosts – the true bumbles. They take over the nest, getting rid of the ‘real’ queen. The new queen then lays her eggs which the workers then unknowingly care for.

Heath bumblebee (male)

Heath bumblebee (male)

So far I have only seen male Heath bumblebees. The males will travel further than the females and will also utilize a greater variety of plants for foraging. Though so far I have only seen it using the comfrey.

Meanwhile, last night our weather forecasters were predicting a possible ‘grass frost’ as temperatures were to drop to only 4 degrees Celcius. So I spent some time covering my french and runner beans and my courgette plants with fleece. It is unusual for us to get such low temperatures in early June. Thankfully we seem to have got away with it!