THE GARDEN ~ LUSH AFTER THE RAINS

During the afternoon I found the cool air in the garden conducive to looking over my notes. I’m doing the second part of ‘Fundamentals of Plant biology’ course and am finding it absolutely fascinating, if a little challenging too! Keep the old brain working 🙂

So the solstice came and went and we are enjoying midsummer weather, it is all good, and life is feeling a little more like normal again. At least I hope it is for everyone else too.

THE GARDEN IS A BLESSING

Yes it is great to be able to get out into the garden and see all the young growth, as well as the insects that are about already. So far I’ve seen two butterflies, small tortoiseshells, a bumblebee, a bee and some small fly types. The photo above is of an hoverfly if I am right. It is great to see the return of the insects. It gives us hope during these surreal days.

I actually spent time in the garden to plant out my 14 broad bean plants, and as today we had a lull in the stormy and very wet weather of recent times, it was ideal to do my work. Two broad bean plants the only ones left of what I sowed in the autumn are in flower.

We have been self isolating for a week as a precaution against the corona virus because of our age. For us it is not a problem as we are both retired and we can shop online for food. Of course as this whole situation is developing sometimes it feels to me like a surreal film that I am watching. Stay safe all my friends and followers. Much love to everyone.

SEASONAL ACTIVITIES IN NATURE

Look at this most beautiful Blackcap which has been visiting our bird feeder for the last few weeks and finally I got a good shot of it. This is the male Blackcap, we also had the female feeding for a while, see: https://gaiainaction.blog/2020/01/19/blackcap-female-bird/ but one day it fell off the feeder, I picked it up and brought it inside and after less than a minute it started to move again and I let it fly off, we never saw it again! The male visits every day. I so hope that the female is still around, maybe the male is feeding the female if she is sitting on eggs? No, I just read that their nesting season is April to mid-June, so it would be too early for that.
I saw my first hoverfly yesterday on a dandelion, a few days ago I also saw my first bee of the season on the grape hyacinths.
These are some foraged vegetables from the garden, and some that I grew. They will be incorporated into some of our dinners. There is plenty of three cornered leeks, fine young nettles, some delicate sorrel leaves, some sprouting broccoli, and tender young spinach, it is all for the taking and so fresh, a delight to the palate.
And last but not least, I have started to seriously work on one of our sheds. It was so full of stuff that I could not even walk into it. Well yesterday I just started and after a few hours I was very pleased with the outcome. There’s nothing like a good day’s work in the open air and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I think spring is in the air, the birds know it, the flowers show it, and we certainly feel it! I am excited and really happy at the start of another season.

I hope that everyone stays clear of the Covid-19. Take care dear friends and followers.

THE WINTER GARDEN

Gathered in the garden ready for cooking chicken broth is wild three cornered leek, cut and come back celery (a plant that is two years old and doing great) and oca which I have been growing for some years and which is a Peruvian root vegetable.

Due to all the rough weather we have been experiencing lately, and also due to the indoor work which we were completing I had not been much in our garden to check on things and certainly did not do any work in it. But between the two latest storms I did go out and took stock of what needs doing and what is growing right now and it seems that we have quite a bit going for us, there is more food to be found there than at first one would think. And so I have become encouraged and excited to get going. I plan to grow as much as I can fit, because my plan is to preserve some surplus harvest and to that end I bought some Kilner jars today. When I was growing up every housewife used to preserve a variety of foods in those jars. My mother did this until she was well in her eighties.

I am chitting our potatoes, last summer my grandchildren and I dug up the potatoes that I had grown, the excitement this caused was so much fun that I decided to grow some more this season!

BLACKCAP FEMALE BIRD

New to our bird feeder is the blackcap bird, a female. She has been visiting the garden now for several days running. The first thing that took my notice was the hump on her back, I thought oh what an unusual bird, maybe it is deformed, but then I also noticed the sharp beak and the chestnut brown cap on its head, and I immediately knew that we had a bird not seen on our feeders before. I have not yet heard it and am curious how its song will sound as people tell me that the Blackcap has a nice song, and the guidebook describes it as a series of melodious warbling notes.

Yes she does like the seedcake and I see her more on that than on the peanut feeder. I read that she will have one or two broods per year, laying four to six eggs at a time. What I found interesting is that this little bird would be a summer visitor from Africa and that over the last 25 years Blackcaps have been overwintering in Ireland in increasing numbers, but apparently they come here not to overwinter from Africa but from other colder European countries, meaning that they are a different breeding population. These Blackcaps from the population that breeds in Central Europe migrate here to Ireland to spend the winter.

Even here in this country they will breed in mature hedging which is exactly what surrounds our garden, so I hope that they will indeed breed. Blackcaps are found where there are a lot of Ivy berries and indeed in our Boreen close by there is a wealth of Ivy and the berries are plentiful this winter.

Actually I just came across this YouTube video and was delighted to hear their song. Reference: Blackcap ~ Eurasian Blackcap ~ Bird Call ~ Bird Song ESL and Popular Culture

Birdwatch Ireland also tells me that the majority of the Irish Blackcap population migrate south to winter in Iberia and North Africa. But that there is a small wintering population, mainly in the east and south of Ireland, and it appears that this is what our female Blackcap is a part of.

January is a good month around here for birdwatching and as we are feeding them we see a lot of them in the garden. We have residential Collared Doves, many Finch, many Blue Tits, Dunnocks, Sparrows, Robins, usually at least one wren, Blackbirds, Jackdaws and Starlings. Overhead are flying Seagulls, rooks and hooded Crows. It is amazing the diversity found in an urban garden. One type of bird that I would love to see more of are Thrushes, but they sadly disappeared from our gardens years ago.

BEAUTY OF FUNGI

These brown and white false turkey tail fungi are presently growing on the cut off but very much alive trunk of our chestnut tree. They surprised me this Sunday morning while taking a stroll around the garden, and I thought they looked beautiful. The garden at present is very wet, but to my delight tender new growth is appearing everywhere.

CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL

It was the beginning of spring of this past year that I decided to let our garden become an Ark, and to let everything that wanted to grow be there without interference from me. And it worked, the garden became one large ecological wonder, Thistles, Foxgloves, Nettles, Comfrey, Dandelions, and so many more wild plants seemed to be in competition with each other to produce the most foliage and flowers. Needless to say the garden became a haven for insects and the butterflies were found in abundance too. Everyday I was out there filming and taking photos of all these delightful creatures, too many of which I don’t quite know the proper name of. First time seeing the Orange tip butterfly and also the Meadow Brown. At some point the Leek flowers were visited by several Peacocks, Red Admirals, and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies. Besides the ordinary Whites I also had a visit of a Green Veined White, and of course not to forget the Painted Ladies of which there were several this past summer. I had a Meadow Brown which was also a first here in the garden, and of course the yearly Speckled Wood. Such a delight!

At some stage there were numerous Tortoiseshell, Red Admirals and Peacock butterflies on the same plants in a rather smallish area, they seem to love the flowers of the leeks which I had let grow out.
And then there are the Hoverflies and the Bumblebees, and the honey bees, I am afraid that I still have issues with identification, maybe I might have some time during the winter to look over my photos and do some identification, I would love to know more about them all right, and there are good websites to help me.
Several times during the summer I have had to step in to help rescue bees. A little honey later and they fly off again.
This photo shows what was like a little invasion of creatures but my photo is too unclear to identify, it was an amazing happening I thought.

And even though we had such an abundance of creatures in the garden in this past year, I am having to re-think my gardening plan for this coming season 2020, the reason for this is that by now the garden is totally overgrown. I have let it get out of hand and now will find it hard to find space for vegetables, the growth has been so enormous and so I will be planning differently but still with insect life in mind.

Let me know please what you do in this regard, do you just let every wild plant grow where it wants, or do you keep some order in your garden or plot. I would be very interested in learning from your experience my friends. Thank you.

MIDWINTER FROST

A few nights ago we had frost. I awoke to a white world, where every blade of grass, every flower, and every leaf was beautifully decorated with glittering ice, it looked as if during the night a fairy had strewn sugary crystals all over the garden. It was wonderful. And it was cold. A clear blue sky stretched out over the houses to the west and in the east the sun was already shining making everything glitter.
Every year I leave some of the hydrangea flower heads on the shrubs and they never fail to be of interest all winter long in many different ways.
Some of my favourite winter foliage would be conifers, pines, firs. Some have a lovely scent, especially around midwinter, and at Christmas time the warmth of the lights bring out this scent from our live tree right inside our living room, wonderful!
These are the trunks of privet bushes, they rise up high and grow by about 50cm every year which means a lot of cutting down, by now and after 30 years their trunks have grown so close together that they are now more of a fence than a hedge.
My newest garden plants are brightly coloured Gaultheria procumbens (Wintergreen). I am delighted with them. By the time I took this photo the ice was melting a little because of the sun, but most of the garden stayed white all day long. Quite unusual for the area, but much appreciated by me.

In a day or two it will be the winter Solstice and it is also the time that Ian celebrates his 80th birthday, yes we will be celebrating!

SEASONS MIXED UP OR IS IT ME

So right, we live in S.W. Ireland, and that means that we experience a micro climate due to the gulfstream passing by these shores, and normally we do have a mild winter, it seldom snows or freezes here, though we do get some light frost during or after January.

Even though it is quite cold just now, and the mountains in the distance have their tops covered in snow, in the garden the plant growth reminds me more of early spring. The temperature of the soil seems normal enough, it was 6 degrees Celsius the other day, and at night the outside temperature is between 6 and 8 degrees Celsius. And even today the cold wind made it feel very chilly. But yet something seems out of kilter, and I cannot actually put my finger on it clearly. Questions like; Is the planet really warming up? Is the climate changing? beg for answers everyday and all around us now. Here are some of my own observations.

And taking stock of the garden the other day here is what I found.

And even while you would not think so, it is late autumn now, another few weeks and it is Christmas. Am I perhaps imagining that the season is out of kilter? All the same I am delighted with so much growth in the garden. As it stands I have not been able to work in the garden since September because we have been working inside the house and I have had no time. Needless to say I cannot wait to get going again, meanwhile I am using my herbs in my cooking. Oh and I bought a Camelia shrub yesterday, can’t wait to give it a lovely spot where we can see it bloom from the window later in winter.
Have you been busy in your garden my friends? I’d love to hear your stories.

PS actually Oca is only harvested after the first night frost, they are a reddish sweetish little potato-like vegetable. I have found them relatively easy to grow but hard to peel or clean before eating. They are a nice plant though. Check this website if you are interested in them. https://www.thejournal.ie/readme/how-do-you-grow-oca-3113951-Dec2016/