SUMMER IS UPON US

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I saw a heart in the sky the other day, and I would like to wish all my friends and followers love and kindness in their lives.

Lots is happening in the garden of course at this time of the year, wonderful things;  strawberries ripen, some are eaten by the birds who then give us their beautiful singing in return.  Basil mint is about the nicest scented mint I ever smelled, I am glad to have been given a pot of it.  The empty beehive on the little roof in our next door neighbour’s garden has of today received a swarm of bees.  We have to find out yet what type they are, they came buzzing around my head quite aggressively while we were drinking tea outside, so I wonder.  The comfrey flowers got destroyed by a week of wind and rain and it is now all manure on some of the raised beds.  There are but few flowers left in the garden at present but more are on the way to blooming.

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I think that there is something so nice about seeing clean linnen blowing in the wind outside, the will be so fresh when I take them in.

But more importantly here is an small update of my experiment in plot 1 and plot 2.

In Plot 1 the beans are finally growing better, they are well established and are climbing up the poles.  The spinach on the other hand are bolting, though they are growing leaves too.  There is a lot of wild plants growing in between the beans beside the spinach, the beans, and the radish (for the experiment).  I have found double poppies and also borage plants which I want to keep so I am not touching them at the moment.  In Plot 2, and there is a huge difference, there is nothing growing from under the leaf mould.  I am still giving this plot seaweed fertilizer every week.  I have sown radish there also.  The bean plants are doing ok but they are only 42cm high whereas the ones in plot 1 are already 82cm high.  So there is a marked difference between the two plots already.  In plot 2 also I have found a few flowers on the beans.  When not raining I give both plots water.  I have also noticed that now that the leaves on the trees in the canopy above my two plots are throwing a huge amount of shadow – I think that this is interfering with the growth of my plants.

And here  in the following photos are some of the other vegetables growing such as asparagus, onion, marrow, rhubarb, chard, kale, leeks, orka, several different types of herbs, and finally runner beans and broad beans.  If they all do well we will not be stuck for vegetables next winter.

This beautiful Cinnabar moth was on the leaves of the lemon balm.

CINNABAR MOTH - TYRIA JACOBAEAE

I was given this lovely window hanger by my daughter, I like it very much.  White and blue (in this case the sky) are some of my favourite colours.

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And so ends my present story of my garden.  I’m in the garden everyday, planting out young vegetables and tending to seedlings.  I love it very much.  The birds are singing, blackbirds have nests quite close by and are feeding their young.  I find that the closeness to the earth and the soil is what gives me solace and is what keeps me very happy indeed.  I can only say one thing about it….

IT IS PURE MAGIC!

A DELIGHTFUL DISCOVERY

A bumblebee that was sitting on the bathroom window, not moving. I grabbed my camera to take some shots and then got out the honeypot and as soon as I touched the surrounding area of this beautiful insect it put out its proboscis and started to suck the honey with gusto, lovely to see this. It gave me another chance to take photos. I see this little bumblebee type in the garden a everyday, feeding or at least looking for nectar on the flowers of the large comfrey bush. They are very small in comparison to other bumblebees and move fast, never been able to take a photos until now. Just found out something else interesting, from observation, they do not go into the comfrey flowers, rather they bore a little hole in the tip of the flower petals and suck that way (I guess). I’d love to have a proper identification. I’ve looked at all sort of websites without any luck. Now I came across a blog post of a fellow blogger that looks very interesting, it is at https://standingoutinmyfield.wordpress.com/2017/06/29/cheat-guide-to-the-irish-bumblebees/
Could it be a young male B.Lapidarius I wonder?  And no it is not!  I have since learnt from a very reliable source, one of my fellow bloggers who is an ecologist, see her blog at https://murtaghsmeadow.wordpress.com/ that our little bumblebee is a bombus pratorum, or early bumblebee worker.  It is not a male because males do not collect pollen and in the photo we can see lots of pollen on its legs.  Only the queens and the workers collect pollen, the males do visit the flowers for nectar though (Murtagh’s Meadow).
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Just adding two more photos of other bumblebees from the garden.

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This one is also small but it has two bands of yellow and a white bum, so different from the previous bumblebee.

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And this is a large one orange top, a lovely one.  Must get better photos though.

I would also like to pass on recommended reading:  Dave Goulson’s book – A sting in the tale –

AN UPDATE ON MY GROWING EXPERIMENT

I already notice quite some difference even though the plants have barely been able to establish themselves and have been fighting lots of slugs despite my efforts at keeping them checked.   Plot one (compost from organic waste) is way ahead of plot two (leaf mould & organic seaweed fertilizer).  The young plants in plot one already look much healthier than those in plot two, but of course there are variables, like plot two is getting the evening sun while plot one is getting sun most of the day.  Both are overshadowed by now with tree canopy’s.  Weather has been very warm with no rain in the last fortnight.  Terrible trouble with slugs despite going out every night and picking them off, even now resorted to using organic slug pellets.  Cats have also done damage by uprooting young plants and messing soil, hence the covering of my two control plots.  I’ve lost some bean plants but have sowed more of them.

Top left is a bean plant of plot two, underneath a bean plant of plot one – big difference so far.  On right are the spinach seedlings and beneath on left the radish seedlings all of which are part of the experiment and are ready to plant out.

And besides the ongoing experiment I have quite a few other young plants ready to be planted out, such as leaf beet, kale, marrow, marigolds, borage to name but a few.

The broad beans which I planted out a month ago are now in flower, I did have trouble with some black mould or fly on them, someone called it Chocolate Spot. I sprayed it with a combination of tea tree oil and a natural soap, I also nipped out the affected parts and it seems to have solved the problem.  Today I can see young beans appearing on the plants already.

Some of my variety of herbs growing good, two different types of thyme, two different types of oregano, lemon balm, rosemary, lavender, and more to be added.

Garden is absolutely full of insects especially bumblebees and bees.  The cat is the culprit that does damage, but she is rather beautiful!  The two comfrey plants are flowering and have grown enormously, the variety of bumblebees visiting these plants is fantastic!

And finally some good reading.  I started ‘The Butterfly Isles’ a while ago, it is a slow read but delightful and so informative – learning such a lot about butterflies habitats in Britain.  The other one I’m reading is great too, ‘Earth Matters’ is all about the soil and the importance of it and how soil underlies civilization, it contains so much good information and is told  in an interesting way – enjoying this, it’s written by Richard Bardgett and published by Oxford University Press.

Some weeks ago after I finished my course about the soil (with FutureLearn).  Then just recently  I started another online course this time with Coursera.  Its run by the University of Tel Aviv and it is all about plant physiology, quite deep and intense but also very interesting.  I’m sure happy to be able to avail of these on-line courses, they are a great discipline and education.  I am extremely busy and hardly find the time to write a blog post, but I hope all my friends and followers have enjoyed my update.

An interesting facebook site of GROWOBSERVATORY

https://www.facebook.com/GROWObservatory/?fref=mentions

GREEN-VEINED WHITE – Pieris napi

Today while gardening a lovely butterfly came to check out some dark pink Oxalis flowers, it was a warm and sunny day here in West Cork, and because the two previous days we experienced soft Irish rain the garden was fresh and beautiful. The colours and the green shades were easy on the eye. And since we have quite a few wild flowers in bloom, we are visited by a good variety of visitors from the insect world. But today it was the butterflies that took away first price.  Yes, since I started reading the book “The Butterfly Isles: A Summer in Search of Our Emperors and Admirals” by Patrick Barkham, my interest in butterflies has intensified. Patrick Barkham first went butterfly spotting as a child with his father in Norfolk. His book documents his search for different butterflies found in the British islands. It is a slow read but quite interesting, I am hooked.
I think that the butterfly in my photos is a Green-veined White (Pieris Napi).

Biodiversity Ireland is holding a Butterfly Bash this week and we are sending records of all the butterflies we see into https://records.biodiversityireland.ie/start-recording

Lovely to have seen this striking butterfly today and I will be on the look out for more. I hope you enjoy them too.

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“WE ARE ALL BUTTERFLIES. EARTH IS OUR CHRYSALIS.” LeeAnn Taylor

FEED THE SOIL NOT THE PLANTS

For the past three weeks we have both been working in the garden.  I am told that it was an extraordinary wet spring and we have had a fair bit of rain since we came home too.  We lost one of our trees, a pine tree that stood at the back of the garden where water is inclined to collect.  Ian has found that the roots were totally rotten so no wonder that the storm caught and tumbled the tree.

And the garden was totally overgrown as would be expected, Ian soon had the little bit of grass in the middle of the raised beds strimmed. and the grass that was invading the path cut away.  While I started with the beds, some of which were full of Ranunculaceae with very tough roots systems.  The whole garden was also covered in Three Cornered Leeks with their lovely white flowers as usual.   One of the days I had some help from two of my small grand children and we sure had a day of fun, and yet we achieved a lot.

To our delight we found all sorts of vegetables that had survived the long winter rains and storms.  And then out of the blue I received an email from FutureLearn (https://www.futurelearn.com/)  to remind me that a course I had registered for had started, and this has been occupying my time totally these past few weeks.                             The course is called – Citizen Science: Living Soils, Growing Food – and is run by the University of Dundee, Scotland.  It is immensely interesting and I have been enjoying every single minute of it, and learnt such a lot.  I had decided even last year that it is my soil that I should be putting time and effort into, and educate myself about what it needs, and running tests to see what it may be lacking, and what to do about it.  Anyway, all this the course taught me and more.  I also learnt about the C3 and C4 food types and how the increase in CO2 is affecting the nutrients of our vegetables and fruits, and the relationship between nutrient depletion in our soils, and less nutritious foods.  Something I knew very little about, and found interesting.

Anyway, together with Grow Observatory (https://growobservatory.org/) students were invited to take part in a communal worldwide experiment. (This was for certain areas but not my area in Ireland) so I did not take part in it.  However, the Citizen Science was also running an experiment as well as inviting us to ask our own question and in that case run our own experiment, and so I asked myself the question: What will give a better crop? If I use compost from the garden compost bin to improve both the fertility and the texture of my clay soil? Or if I use a combination of leaf mould and organic seaweed liquid?  The course took us right through all the factors that are important to carry out our tests with hypothesis, controls, variables, data taking, analysis, and so on.  My experiment is set up, my bean plants have been sown and test kits arrived by post, I’m all set up for this experiment.

The two beds are totally ready for the experiment.  One is treated with compost from the bin and the other is treated with leaf mould, and later in the experiment I wil be adding the organic seaweed fertilizer to the latter.  Hedges have been cut real low to allow maximum light reaching the beds.  A rain gauge is in place in both the beds to measure precipitation.  And I am testing the actual consistency of the soil, though I know that it is mostly clay, has quite a bit of stones in it, and as I’ve already found out not enough organic matter.  Half the beds will be planted and the other halves will be controls.  Spinach is the other crop and radish also.  It is going to take up time but will be lovely to eat all the produce and enjoy taking all the measurements and learn a lot about my soil.

Not sure where all this is going to take me but I am sure enjoying it all.

I came across this lovely quote from one of the books by Jan Shellenberger. that’s also where I took my post title from:  I quote:

“Our most important job as vegetable gardeners is to feed and sustain soil life, often called the soil food web, beginning with the microbes. If we do this, our plants will thrive, we’ll grow nutritious, healthy food, and our soil conditions will get better each year. This is what is meant by the adage ”Feed the soil not the plants.”

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And the view from our back garden, the minute the hedge gets clipped – I know I need to work on it a bit more – behind that rocky hill lies the sea.

FLINT STONE AND CLAY BRICKS

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I guess it is because I had become so used to the lovely honey coloured limestone on Gozo that I am taking so much notice of the red brick that is used so much in England and especially in Norfolk, it has its own beauty and is as natural as limestone seeing that the bricks are baked clay (earth).

And in Norfolk much use is made of flint stone in combination with red brick, the flint is found naturally in chalk, with layers in various shapes and sizes, flint is almost pure silica.  There is black flint and grey flint, the colours are due to impurities.  There is also rounded beach flint.  The flint has been used as a building material in Norfolk since ancient times and many archaeological material has been found in the surrounding areas made out of flint, it was a very useful material because of its hardness and sharpness.  Norfolk is also rich in clay and from the 13th century onward clay became an important building material in combination with the flint, giving the beautiful finish you see all over the area now.

And still in Norfolk, just a few days ago an abundance of wild flowers were already in bloom, like I showed in my last blog entry – GREETING SPRING – these are wild flowers and found while walking along the road-side. I was happy to see the first wild chestnut tree in bud and already showing the beginnings of a flower.

And so it goes on, ever discovering new things and rediscovering old ones, life is so interesting and fulfilling.

Meanwhile I am back home and working on my latest house improvement project (a little one), lining a walk-in wardrobe with wall paper to stop dust falling down.  And discovering that mice had eaten away some of the wiring covers….my little project has just become a very big one.

This is a very old house indeed.

 

GREETING SPRING

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“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden.”
Ruth Stout

A recent visit to the walled garden at Holkham Hall in Norfolk, UK gave us a fine variety of flowers already in full bloom.  How lovely a day it was, many birds were singing, and the scent of some of the flowery shrubs wafted towards us while we were watching the bees and other insects fly from one flower to another.

No better introduction to an English garden than in the early spring.

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A large variety of beautifully coloured and fresh spring flowers

The Witch-hazel catkins, Quince blossom,  Hellebores, and Rhododendron

Edgeworthia chrysantha flower and shrub, beautifully scented and new to me.

Ceanothus arboreus is a lovely shrub which blue flowers are loved by the insects.

 

Holkham Hall dates back to the 18th century, its extensive grounds consist of some 25,000 acres.  The walled garden was originally developed by Samuel Wyatt during the late 1700s and is now still under restoration.  It comprises 6 acres and is surrounded by a high red brick wall.  This was our second visit to Holkham hall estate and I have enjoyed both visits very much, last time we saw the deer grazing among the most beautiful ancient trees that are on the land.

A beautiful  Italian iron-work gate brought from Venice in 1908 makes for a great entrance into the walled gardens.

The few days we spent in Norfolk with Ian’s family, and this visit to Holkham gardens allowed us a nice transition from Gozo back to West Cork, it was a nice introduction to spring in the more northern islands of Europe.

 

 

FAREWELL GOZO

It is that time again, the time to say goodbye and to move on. West Cork is calling, my grandchildren cannot wait to see me again, and the garden is definitely in need of lots of tender care. I’m also dying to meet up with my family, friends and to reconnect with the art and social scene in Skibbereen. I’m restless and cannot concentrate on writing my blog, I’ve had little time for it also because for the past week I have been sorting and packing our stuff together, 20kg each. Winter clothing is heavy and large, books are heavy too. As I’m minimizing everything I own, I do not want to take extra stuff home, and even if I wanted to – there is no space in the suitcase. It is the weight that matters most in our case, and I bought one of the digital gadgets to weigh a suitcase but I cannot use it, simply because I cannot lift the case to hang it on to the scales! Hopefully we are going to be all right. Everything is sorted, organized and packed. Four days left, time for relaxing and for a last chance to soak up sunshine, because we are going to the land of rain and gray skies. Goodbyes have been said at my lace-class, book-club, library and friends here. Our last few walks have been beautiful.  I know that I shall miss all this glorious sunshine, and I am grateful that we had the opportunity to spend some months here enjoying this lovely island.

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MEMORIES IN PICTURES

Yesterday my sister left Gozo to return home to Lier in Belgium. We enjoyed two weeks of chat and sightseeing, though I must admit a lot of our time was spent enjoying coffee and cake in a variety of places around the island. Nevertheless we did manage to fit in walks and visits to various sights, but mainly we soaked up the spring feeling, the massive amount of wild flowers and the charm of Victoria’s historical narrow streets. As there is only one year between us we grew up quite close and shared a bedroom most of our childhood years, at night my sister would tell me stories which at the time fascinated me, they were of adventures we would find ourselves in. She still always brings me books, and much of our chats would evolve around book discussions, the love of reading we both share. We also both spent our working lives with books and people, she as an editor working for a magazine catering for libraries, and I as a branch librarian in a small town in Ireland.  Both have been very rewarding and enjoyable jobs.
20180304_143113-EFFECTS.jpgAmazing to see the banana trees on Gozo, Josefine could not believe her eyes.

Two sisters, Josefine and myself among the Mimosa flowers which are now opening.

St.Georges square where we spent time drinking coffee and listening to the bell ringing.

Tower of St.Josephs in Qala, and an example of a roundel found on a house in Ghajnsielem.

The fig tree already showing fruit and opening its leaves, poppies are flowering now too making the meadows very colourful, and a hoverfly on a lovely sunny day.

This Gozitan lady working her lace in the doorway of her house, a lovely sight.

More wildlife, this on a narrow pathway at Mgarr.

The narrow alleyways in Ir-Rabat never fail to charm anyone.  Josefine too loved them and we spent quite some time walking them, every time you do you discover more things of interests.

It’s quiet now around here, Ian and I going about our various tasks and peacefully enjoying the life.  The excitement of Josefine’s visit is over, a space is now empty, but memories will stay and lots of thoughts remain of our various chats and discussions.  A rewarding time it was, that is for sure.