READING THE LANDSCAPE

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The landscape that I am thinking about if not some wild stretch along the coast or hill side here in West Cork.  It is, rather, my immediate surroundings – our garden, where I have access any time of day or night and can make observations in any season of the year.  Let it be during my early morning stroll past the vegetable plots to the back where everything is disorderly and where wild things grow, or let it be during the height of day when the sun is streaming through the tree canopies, or at times when Irish mist engulfs us and brings the clouds real close to the earth.  Night time too is good to find and learn to understand the many creatures that are about.

Our garden is small, it slopes down slightly and it has four mature trees giving shade, a chestnut, silver birch, hawthorn, and a Mediterranean oak.  These all provide shelter for the many birds that frequent on a daily basis, from the little wren to the hooded crows – all are very welcome.

I find it a source of immense pleasure and joy to observe not only all the plants that grow, but to see and know all the wildlife – every little creature, to find out their species, their lifecycle, their name.  To take photos of them helps me sometimes to study one or other aspect of them in more detail.  There is always more to learn and discover, and I find a lot of information on Google as well as in books.

Why my garden, and not the larger landscape around me.  Well it is down to logistics really, my garden I can go into at any moment, it is a daily ritual, a meditation that I have got so used to that it would be hard to live without it.  The wider landscape does get observed too, but not that frequently.

In the garden next door the people keep a pony, this attracts a certain amount of flies to the neighbourhood and that is good.  The other neighbour keeps a small hive of bees, and it is nice to have those come into the garden at times.  Behind our dilapidated sheds at the very back, where some rotting wood also gives shelter to a variety of insects, the ground, covered in wild plants and grasses, slopes down towards the town, well below us.

And so this small bit of nature, filled with wild plants and herbs has an eco-system all of its own, rich in variety and brimming with creatures, a goldmine for anyone with an interest.  Great joy can be found in reading this landscape and finding new discoveries every day.  The changing seasons, even the high temperatures and drought recently brought about unique or forgotten surprises, like the very large wasps that we had not seen for many years.

I watch, and listen, and observe, and I find that the natural world is a great source of joy!

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Red Admiral - Vanessa atalanta,

Aglais urticae - small tortoiseshell

HERON GALLERY AND GARDENS

Despite the rainy weather, my daughter Tjorven and my five grandchildren got into our wellingtons and raincoats and decided to head to the Sheep’s Head Peninsula where we visited a place very beautiful!  Gardens and a gallery showing the beautiful art of Annabel Langrish.  What an amazing place we found this to be, both nature wise and because of the cosy café were we found ourselves surrounded by very tasteful design and beautiful art.  Great coffee and scones too!  But first we took a walk in the gardens.  In between the rain showers, which are quite usual for this area in West Cork, it feels more like a mist, no wonder people often call it Irish mist rather than rain.  It does make the landscape more mysterious and compelling I think.

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The gardens were laden with summer flowers, and as the paths wound their way up the hill wild plants like heathers, blackberries, and bracken took over.

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We saw interesting sculptures which the children also loved, all blended into the landscape and garden with ‘nature’ as motive.  In fact I found that everything from the paintings to the crafts blended in with the nature surrounding the place, very nice.  We all loved the barefoot path, it generously added to the  meditative quality of the walk and soon all our feet were touching the cool stones.  My three year old granddaughter remarked on the soothing feeling on her little feet.

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Flowers were explored as were spider webs, and some of the statutes had to be touched and sat on.  Blackberries were eaten along the way.

These three photos were taken by my eight year old grandson, we are very proud of him.  I think that he has an eye for composition and colour.

The wealth of lush growth is found everywhere now that the rains have started.

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“Looking at beauty in the world, is the first step of purifying the mind.”
― Amit Ray, Meditation: Insights and Inspirations

UPDATE ON MY SOIL EXPERIMENT

Today is another day with, for West Cork, fairly high temperatures (29.7C in shade), and we are so enjoying this lovely warm weather. For the plants this is a different matter. We have water restrictions in place which means of course that we cannot freely water our vegetables and herbs. So far I have only lost one ornamental fir growing in a tub, I guess that the reason is that I am giving most of my gray water to the vegetables and only very little to the ornamental plants.

And so today it became time to give a good update of my soil experiment. Though it is too early yet to make final conclusions, I can see how overall the plants are not growing as lush as I expected, probably due to the drought (since the 8th of May we are without substantial rain, only once did we have a shower, but not enough to really wet the soil thoroughly – only 2.5mm during May, and 8mm during June).  The soil looks to be very coarse and dry, pale in colour and hard to put a shovel in.  In places the soil has come away from the raised bed frame, a sure sign of dryness.
While both plots had a moisture content figure of over 3 during May – today’s readings were as follows:

PLOT ONE  –  FIGURES FOR TODAY THE 21ST OF JULY AT TWELVE NOON

MOISTURE CONTENT: DRY the needle stood at 1
LIGHT MEASUREMENT: 2000
PH: 8
TEMPERATURE OF THE SOIL: 21C
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PLOT TWO FIGURES

MOISTURE CONTENT: VERY DRY the needle did not reach 1
LIGHT MEASUREMENT: 2000
PH: 8
TEMPERATURE: 19C
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When I compare the light on both plots with the May figures there are quite a few changes due of course to the normal changing season but also due to the very warm & dry summer. Light in both plots seem to have increased from 1000 to 2000 measured in full sun. PH of soil has gone up a few degrees in both plots and is now 8 which is too alkaline. Moisture of course has gone down from 3 to 1 and even less than 1 in plot two. Soil temperature has increased from 13C in plot two to 19C today, and in plot 1 it has increased from 15C to 21C.

Overall the bean plants did not do so well, they look fairly poorly and did not grow lush, there are, however, some beans ready to be harvested in both plots, and there are more flowers showing.

One of the observations I have made is that the bean plants which I sowed inside early in spring – and then planted out, did not do as well as the beans I sowed straight in the garden at a later date – these plants became very robust and grew fast – they will have a later harvest as they are only at the flowering stage. I will take that into consideration for next years sowing.

In both plots all the spinach plants, which looked very healthy to start with, bolted immediately and I have had no produce from them at all.  But in plot 1 where I sowed the radish early I had about 150gr of edible produce.  The radish in plot 2 have not matured yet due to a later date of sowing.

As regards weeds, plot 1 has had many, partly probably because of the compost I used from the garden bin where perhaps seeds were not destroyed during the composting stage, for example, I have seen tomato plants starting to grow in between the beans plants. I also made the mistake of accidentally spilling some of my spare heir-loom double poppy seeds among the bean plants, and once I realised and saw the plants I could not bear to pull them up, so right now the bean plants growing side by side with the flowering poppies. Good for attracting insects to pollinate the bean flowers anyway.

Plot 2 has had no weeds growing to speak of, the leaf mould here has done a good job keeping the weeds down. I find that the bean plants here have not taken as well as the ones in plot 1.

Both plots have had some slug damage in the past week, but due again to the drought there has been very little slug activity in the garden.

Some photos of what is going on in the experimental plots, and also in the extra plot where I sowed the bean plants straight into the garden soil,  (the ball is there to chase the cats away).   I notice from the flower that one of those bean plants is actually a different bean (a runner bean).

I must say also that the moist/light/ph measuring tool I use is a simple one that I bought in a garden centre.  I doubt if it is very scientific, and having checked the Internet on moisture of soil measuring tools I fear that I am only playing at this.  But on the other hand it does tell me a little of what is going on in my soil and that for the moment is good enough.  I do know that my soil is lacking in potassium and in nitrogen and I mean to address that organically – but I have not found out how I should go about it, apart from using banana peels and growing leguminous plants on my soil both of which I am doing.

I think any attempt however small at understand more about our soil is worthwhile, and I love what I am doing right now.  I intend to see my soil increase in fertility, and also I intend to get a much better understanding on how it all works together.

BALMY SUMMER DAYS

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You have got to love these balmy summer days, when the wild roses are flowering along the hedgerows, and the dark yellow of the ragwort is blending in with the straw-coloured grasses now dried out from sun and water need.  And the bright red of the fuchsia bells against the dark green foliage of the hedges all along the country roads.  And the evenings when the scents fill the air, scents of night flowers, of grasses and trees, of the soil, delicious are the fragrances of the land as the earth cools down as the sun slowly disappears.  How lovely these long and light summer evenings, stretches of brightness seen along the horizon as late as midnight – to reappear as early as four in the morning when the sky lights up again.  I used to set my alarm to witness this magical moment to see the new morning appear, glad for another chance at life and anticipating a wonderful day.  These are the restoring days of the year, the sun brimming with health giving vitamin D3 (well at least our bodies can avail of the sun to make it).  It has been since 1976 that Ireland had a summer like this, with higher temperatures than we get here normally.  And as the heat continues there is said to be a water shortage and resulting ban on using the water hose in the garden, so I’m keeping all my grey water and what is left in the rain water barrel for my vegetables.  The dry earth soaks up the water eagerly.

At this moment I am very much out of routine, seems to be like this for a while now, my regular blog reading and writing has diminished.  I miss it, but too much is happening and I’m getting little done.  It is just that type of a summer I think – a summer of laziness, but also a summer of beauty and of enjoyment, of scents and sights.

I do hope that it is full of goodness for everyone of you too.

 

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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