Monthly Archives: September 2015

Hedgerow foraging

Yesterday I was walking what will probably be my last bee and butterfly transect of the year. It has not been a good year for either group. There seems to be much fewer butterflies compared to last year. Still the last couple of days we’ve had lovely autumn sunshine. Much of the transect follows country lanes and the roadside hedgerows are now at their best.

Local hedgerows - note red haws!

Local hedgerows – note red haws!

In Ireland, hedgerows provide an important habitat, particularly as we don’t have much woodland. Hedgerows should be regularly maintained to keep them in good condition but many of our hedgerows are pretty neglected. Still it does not mean that they are not valuable for wildlife. In fact the opposite is true. Ivy is just coming into flower now. This late flowering plant is very important for feeding all sorts of insects late in the season, and many of the ivy plants were humming, mainly with hoverflies.

Flowering ivy

Flowering ivy

At this time of year hedgerows are great for foraging – not just for us but for birds and wild mammals too. The bad summer does seem to be reflected in cropping though. Elderberries aren’t even ripe yet, blackberries are not plentiful and the sloes are small. The rosehips on the other hand seem to have cropped well.

Ash keys appears to be another plant that has cropped well and both old and newer ash trees are dripping with keys.

Haws are turning their vibrant red. They are a really important food source for many of our birds, are seem a particular favourite of blackbirds.

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Polytunnel and Greenhouse – Summer 2015

In last week’s post I was bemoaning the lack of success in the vegetable garden and while things were not as productive as I’d like in the polytunnel and greenhouse, in general plants fared better and produced more there.

Polytunnel

Polytunnel

We’ve had a pretty constant supply of lettuce and greens from the polytunnel. The cool temperatures made it a perfect growing environment for them, and it is only in the last week that we are a bit short of lettuce though still doing well with mustard greens and rocket. There are more lettuce plants on trays waiting to be planted out – endives and winter destiny lettuce.

Lettuce seedlings

Lettuce seedlings

In the greenhouse the tomatoes have actually done pretty well, and though they weren’t enough cucumbers to pickle there have been plenty to eat fresh each day

Black bean

Black bean

 

With our beans doing so badly outside I planted some late in the greenhouse and polytunnel. Some are already producing – not many, but a nice bonus.

According to the packet these are supposed to be dwarf beans but they seem happier climbing up some bamboo canes!

Vegetable Garden – Summer 2015

As autumn takes a firmer grip, I am in a reflective mood. After 2014’s bumper year in the garden, 2015 has probably been one of our worst. A summer of low temperatures, limited sunshine and excessive rain has meant even some of our usual staples have cropped very poorly. Runner beans have been few and far between, while last year the freezer was full of them. Autumn raspberries too have cropped very poorly, so that again we have frozen none in. While we harvest over 50 squashes last year we have none (and I mean none) this year. It is very disappointing.

And then when things do grow, like two lovely big cauliflower heads, the slugs have a field day – I removed about 20 slugs from one head! And I’m not talking small slugs either – I am talking of those about an inch long! The damp weather has been perfect for multiplying slugs! No photos of the cauliflowers but here is what they are doing to the cabbages.

In general, the brassicas have done quite well where they have manage to grow big enough to avoid being decimated by the slugs. The purple potatoes I grew – or at least tried to grow have been another failure. The plants did not thrive at all. And then when I harvested some last week I was very disappointed with the flavour – well actually there was no flavour at all! Another disadvantage is that when you dig them up they are hard to see – looking more like stones than potatoes. So I certainly won’t be growing them again.

On the positive side we have just finished the last of the Victoria plums (though admittedly the birds, either crows or magpies, had more than their fair share)! Some of the apple trees have reasonable crops too but again we are wary of birds making off with them!

The new flower garden, while now passed it’s best, also brought some cheer and fed the bees, and they certainly needed feeding this so-called summer.

Digger Wasps

These lovely little solitary wasps have been digging holes in one of the flower beds in the garden. They are known as digger wasps because they dig nests in the ground. The females have specially adapted front legs with a type of brush that is ideal for digging and sweeping away the excavated soil. The burrows look like miniature volcanoes. The females paralyses their prey (e.g froghoppers nymphs) and use these to stock their nests. The burrows can be 30cm long and the end may be divided into two or three branches. The females lays an egg in each. Once the eggs hatch they feed on the stored prey.

Apologies that the quality of the photos aren’t better but they are quite small and a bit camera shy!