31 May 2012

In the garden - May

After all that lovely rain in April, we were wondering how the garden would respond. Well we needn't have worried. We managed to get our lovely nephew involved in a bit of gardening, here he is helping Lucy pull up some dandelions and doing soe hoeing! As you may have seen with all the ladybird posts recently - we're having great fun checking the willow hedge each day to see which wonderful insects are enjoying the garden.

The chives and strawberrys are especially healthy and giving us a wonderful show in the process. with the abundance of strawberry flowers, it looks like we're in for a good crop this year.

Our half barrel is performing well also, with the ranunculus being generous with its flowers and its ability to root from its stems allowing easy vegetative propogation. I took a few rooted stems of mimulus from my parents pond too, which are coming on well and will hopefully flower later on in the summer.
The raised beds showed another surprised. What I thought was a type of stonecrop turned out to be a yellow ice flower. The flowers open up in the morning and gently close in the evening.

What we bought as a small, but expensive, salvia last year, has now quadrupled into a lovely structure that is happily performing in the sun. I'm hoping to split it when it finishes flowering, but will do some research as to when the ideal time is. (If you know, please write me a comment!). Also below, the snow-in-summer is doing a wonderful job.

In an attempt to get ourselves a bit more privacy, we erected some trellis as shown in a previous post, for some honeysuckle to keep company. We also replaced our wrought iron gate with a solid wooden gate, as people walking up the street could see straigh into and down our garden fro a few hundred metres away! We're hoping to use the old gate for some climbers. We also finally put up the clogs that my parents bought us in the Netherlands. Leon was also present for the drilling of the wall, to which he shouted 'Timmy's breaking Lucy's house'! Thanks, Leon, thanks. Anyway, I hope you all don't think I've broken the house, but that we've created a nice little feature that will look great once the Petunias really start to show.

Well that's the update for this month. In the next month we really need to get down to some weeding and try to keep the willow hedge in check - because as normal, it's doing wonderfully! We're having some problems with the budleja, so we'll have to see if that recovers, but what will definitely give us a good show is the lavatera.

As always, I'd love to sneek a peek at all of your gardens, so feel free to leave a link to your blog in the comments!

Cleaning the water butt

So we had a month of rain, which was fantastic as it enabled us to fill up our water butt and many other containers. But rather too quickly, after a week or so of no rain, we were out of water. Rain, though, is threatening to come back and with that in mind, we thought it was a good idea to give the water butt a bit of a clean.

Normally, apparently, we're supposed to clean out the water butt once a year. But in all honesty we installed the water butt at least two years ago and haven't lifted a finger in the way of giving it a tidy up. So now that the water butt was as empty as we could get it using its inbuilt tap, sorting it out was long over-stinky-due.

As you can see, looking down into the remaining water, it's pretty horrible! Apparently these dregs can be used to heat up the compost bin, but we've got an ailing buddleia, so we thought we'd use it on that in an attempt to bring it back to life. Which is what you can see to the left!

After this we gave it a rinse out with some water. We decided not to go the whole hog this time and strub the sides. As we're just coming in to 'summer' the water butt will be in constant use and hopefully there won't be much opportunity for algae and what-not to form. It's something that we'll probably do in the winter. During winter, when hopefully I'll have more energy, I'll also clean out the guttering that feeds the water butt. Unfortunately some of it is from the neighbours, so I won't be able to clean that - but every little helps.

Lucy also bought the treatment in the photo to the left that we pour into the water butt every so often. Now that the water butt is a bit cleaner, it'll actually have a fighting chance of helping us out by reducing algae and sludge. But again, this is probably something to use more when the water will be sitting there for a while and is less useful when the water level is constantly fluctuating. 

When we first installed the water butt we decided to put the down pipe straight through the top of the water butt - this was a bad idea we when saw how much water we could collect from the garage roof! After changing to a configuration whereby the excess can now be diverted back to the drain, we had a hole in the top of the water butt. This was used by wildlife last year - but Lucy, ingeniously, has placed part of an old hamster ball over the hole totally covering it! This will keep the water in the butt 'wholesome', which is good.

So now I'm just waiting for the rain

And waiting.

What are you experiences with water butts and keeping them clean?

30 May 2012

Potentilla fruticosa 'Primrose Beauty'

Date Photographed: 08/05/2012
Location: Doncaster Road, Scunthorpe
Resources: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/plantselector/plant?plantid=1514

Wood Melick - Melica uniflora

Date Photographed: 19/05/2012
Location: St. Giles Churchyard, Stanton St. Quinton
Resources: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/species/wood-melick

29 May 2012

Oh weeds

To celebrate reaching 5000 page views, I thought I'd let you all in for a 'treat' and post a poem that I've written! Please don't take it seriously, it's meant as a light hearted interlude to all of the other content that I post on here!

Oh weeds oh weeds
What can we do?
We beat, we bully
We hoe you through

We abhor your success
Your greed for land
Your rush to breed
Your ingenuity with which you disperse your seed

Oh weeds oh weeds
We’re just like you
We ignore the reflection in the looking glass
And claim it’s all askew

Oh weeds oh weeds
We’re not like you
We’re just bullies
But you’re beautiful

On closer inspection you bring life
Swaths of yellow and white, what a wonderful sight
On verges, in fields; you brighten our days
You’ve earned your place, you deserve to stay

In our gardens we want you to die
Not understanding that we’re the ‘dominant’ species
We take our hoes and spades, but try as we might
You ignore our obnoxious nature and continue to thrive

So weeds, so weeds,
What shall we do?
I’ll sit back, relax
and enjoy all that you do!

hehe, I hope you enjoyed that! It would be wonderful to read any comments - especially any links to your nature poetry or poetry that inspires you.

Take care,

Common/Stinging Nettle - Urtica dioica

Date Photographed: 20/05/2012
Location: Melksham
Resources: http://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/common-nettle

Ichneumon Fly - Pimpla sp.

Date Photographed: 21/05/2012
Location: Tower Road, Melksham
Resources: http://www.langstoneharbour.org.uk/langstone-ark-pic.php?id=236
Notes: Possibly a hypochondriaca. This is a male. The female has a long ovipositor that can be seen coming out much further than its wings, which is used for laying eggs and - if you're unlucky - for stinging.

Batsford Arboretum

28 May 2012

Cuckoo Spit

Symptoms: As in the photo to the left, white froth appears on the leaves, stem or flowers of many plants - here on lavender. This happens around early summer.

Cause: This is caused by the immature nymph stage of froghoppers. The froth protects and provides moisture of the immature nymphs. From mid-summer onwards they reach adult form and the froth will become less noticeable. More information on froghoppers here.

Control: Control is not normally necessary as the cuckoo spit is temporary and the plant can normally handle the amount of sap lost to the immature nymphs. If the nymphs are feeding at the tips of the plant, then remove by hand or accept that come distorted growth may occur.

One of the reasons that I like this blog is because of the readers. Lucy commented below about brushing aside the 'spit' to reveal the nymph. Naturally I had to rush out and do this. I was surprised at the size of it, nearly a centimetre long and brilliant green. Here's a photo. Thanks to Lucy - to visit her fab blog click here.

26 May 2012

Raising ladybirds - Eggs to Larvae

I was very lucky to have discovered some ladybird eggs on the 14 May this year. After getting a good photograph of the eggs, I managed to get them identified as ladybird eggs by Helen Roy (@UKLadybirds) at the UK Ladybird Survey. We had the same idea, for me to keep them in a tub, warm and dry, and to watch them develop.

At the moment, I'm not sure which type of ladybirds these will turn out to be, but the majority of ladybirds in our garden this year are 2-spot. So perhaps, that is what they will end up being.

I had found the ladybird eggs on some garden wire that we were using to support an Apple tree. I had gone to wind the wire a bit further to keep re-align the tree, so unfortunately a couple of eggs were destroyed before I had see the eggs.

I had read that the eggs would take around 5 days to hatch, so I expected that I would see some larvae around the 18-19 of May. Around this time I didn't see much difference in the eggs and had decided that I would keep them for a couple more days before, sadly, getting rid of them. I was sure that I'd done something wrong.

Then on the late evening of the 20 May, on a random check of the eggs, imagine my surprise when I peeked into the tub and saw some black blobs! Some had hatched and I took a photo of them through my hand lens. Some, however, were still in the process of hatching, so I popped them on a piece of paper to get a better look.
Already hatched
So tiny
I then realised that, inconveniently, I would now need to go outside - in the pitch dark - and source some aphids if my hatchlings were to survive even until morning. Luckily, I had already been scouting around and had found a particular bush in our hedge that the aphids were making a good job of. As the bush was, by now, in a bad state, I had no reservations about taking off a small branch heavily colonated with sap-suckers and feeding them to my larvae! Here's a photo of the larvae getting used to its surroundings and its new neighbours.

Ah, allow me to perform the introductions: Predator meet prey, prey meet predator. I'm sure you'll be attached at the hip in no time...
A couple of days on and the larvae are doing great, they're learning one of the great lessons in live. The lesson of sharing.

So now the larvae is about 5 days old and they seem to be doing really well. The branch that I initially put into the tub has produced many aphids for them. This is because aphids are asexual meaning that they don't have sex to reproduce - instead they just clone themselves. A fact of particular interest is that the aphids can already have their offspring developing inside them at the same time they are born! Therefore it is a very short time between generations. But all this cloning means that there have been no adaptations formed as a defence against the ladybirds - perhaps the pure quantity of aphids that can be born as high speed is enough for now!

The larvae will need a plentiful supply of aphids if they are to pupate within the three or four week average. I am really hoping that I can see these lovely larvae to the stage of adults. If I can, then there will be a part 2 to this series!

25 May 2012

24 May 2012

Young Birds and what to do if you find them

A couple of days ago I was popping some stuff in to my mother-in-laws compost bin and having a general nosey around her allotment when I heard some chirping. I expected to turn around to watch the back end of a bird as it flew away, but to my surprise it was a couple of fledglings.

I knew what to do for fledglings, leave them as they were! They had a good set of feathers and were very active running around and being noisy before running back under the strawberry plants which was their chosen hideaway. This time of life for fledglings can be difficult; when we are lucky enough to see them at this stage of their life, we can often feel that they need our help and protection and then move them away to a place we think is safer. But this is a normal stage in their life - one that fortunately doesn't normally need our help. I kept seeing the parents hopping on the fence and knew it was shortly time to leave so that the parents could continue doing their job of looking after their offspring.

I would have really enjoyed holding one of them, but knew it wouldn't be a good idea for the little bird and contented myself with taking some photographs and a film clip. I hope that you enjoy the photos and film clip below as much as I enjoyed the experience of seeing this Blue Tit family at such a crucial time of their lives.

To give you an idea of their size, here they are under a normal strawberry plant! So tiny! Then a bit of a close up on the right.

If you are worried about any young birds when you see them as nestlings or fledglings, then check out this great page on the RSPCA website.

23 May 2012

Soldier Beetle - Cantharis Rustica

Date Photographed: 17/05/2012
Location: Tower Road, Melksham
Resources: http://www.eakringbirds.com/eakringbirds6/insectinfocuscantharisrustica.htm
Notes: The key identification feature on this beetle is the black heart-shaped mark on the red thorax.

Carl Nilsson Linnæus - 23 May 1707 – 10 January 1778

Today, 23 May 2012, marks the 305 year of the birth of Carl Nilsson Linnæus. Why is this important enough to write about? If you don't already know, read on. You'll soon understand why...

Born in Southern Sweden in the countryside of Småland, Linnaeus would become one of the most acclaimed scientists of his time in Europe.

Originally studying to become a doctor, he studied in many places in Europe such as the University of Uppsala and the University of Harderwijk, in the Netherlands. During the time of his higher studies, he did take some time out for travelling. On one expidition, crossing the 4600 miles of the Scandinavian Peninsula on foot, it is said that he discoved around 100 species for botany.

People of the time were looking for ways of classifying things, plants included, and Linneaus thought he'd found a way to do this. Linneaus created a classification of plants based on their sexual parts and published a book called Systema Naturae, while he was in the Netherlands, to get his ideas noticed. There was a lack of acceptance of this method, and while some botanists did begin to use the system, it fell out of use because it was an artifical system and didn't relate to the relationship and development of each species.

However, the Systema Naturae continued full force naming 7700 plant species and 4400 animal species in a system called binomial nomenclature. He is quoted as saying "God created – Linnaeus arranged". And this is where the man really made his mark. Condensing plant names from, a mind boggling 20 names, to just two was a stroke of genius. His wasn't the first system of binomial nomenclature, the Bauhin brothers had developed a system several centuries earlier, but his was the most consistent in its used and was able to popularise its use.

The Linnaean system, within which this nomenclature was utilised, used a brilliant nested hierarchy began with Kingdoms before moving down to Orders, then to Genus and finally Species. These days there have been some alterations to the system. An example of the modern day system is as follows:

Kingdom : Plants
Division : Angiosperms
Class : Magnolids
Order: Magnoliales
Family : Magnoliaceae
Genus : Magnolia
Species :  Stellata

The success of this system has lead to every botany or zoological student hearing the name of Linnaeus. His success has meant that every name used before this system had no validity and has provided a foundation for the development of nomenclature. This has included the advent of many codes, for instance, the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. There are some rather strange rules, for instance while the zoological system allows animals to have the same genus and species name, pica pica for Starling for example, the ICN plant Code does not!

There are some very sensible rules though, for instance if there is a duplicate name in the system, then the oldest gets to keep the name - the new comer must find another unique name.

It is often said that Linnaeus would take out his students on wonderful botanic walks, shouting the names of the plants and creating an intoxicating atmosphere that allowed all students to learn with great success. Indeed some of his students went on to become some of the great plant hunters, including the wonderful Carl Thurnberg. Linnaeus also experimented with a system whereby you could tell the time by using flowers, called a floral clock. More information on this wonderful experiment can be seen on the PDF from the Linnean Society.

I wonder what Linnaeus would think of botany and taxonomy, this wonderful categorisation and organisation of things, in this day and age. We've come such a long way. I think he'd be quite happy that plants haven't yet yielded all of their secrets to us, but happy that they continue to be our saviours. I hope he's be happy that English, as of this year, can now be used when describing a new plant - speeding up the process of officially naming plants, some of which are on the brink of extinction. The extinction fact is something I imagine he would have been irrate about - how can you create and understand order if you're missing some of the pieces. With 50% of new botanical finds being found by 2% of plant hunters - should we be financing more plant hunters as Linnaeus himself did?

While I can only speculate on the thoughts and feelings of this great botanical and taxonomic figure, one thing I can be sure of is the long lasting beneficial effects of his system. As I recently read in David Attenborough's Life on Air:

"'Apa?' I said, meaning - what kind of bird?
His answer to that, however, defeated me. He repeated it several time but I was baffled.
Then he said 'Irena puella puella.' And that I understood immediately. It had been a fairy bluebird.
I was delighted by rhe thought that he, who had never left his native Borneo, and I, a stranger from England, should have been able to make ourselves mutually understood."

Without Linnaeus and his perseverance in consistently naming species with the binomial system, Attenborough and all of us would struggle to make ourselves mutually intelligible on such matters - not just across countries and continents, but sometimes across county borders. Thank you Linnaeus.