shoe mystery solved

We’ve been cursing our neighbourhood lately.  Pandemic aside, our little leafy corner of north London is awash in rubbish.  Missed garbage collections on the circus makes for growing tides of swirling garbage.  Drives super-dude nuts – to the extent that he’s taken to collecting the rubbish himself in and around the woods.  It’s great to clear the place up, but it does make us peeved to have to do it.

One trend that particularly irked the big dude was the regular appearance of worn out shoes of all sorts in our flower gardens out back.  Dress shoes, men’s dancing shoes, sneakers, all sorts!  He was aggrieved and wondered who in their right mind would want to regularly and repeatedly toss old shoes into the yard.

But a recent news reportIMG_2615 from Berlin has shed light on who the culprits may be….  Foxes!  Our beloved crafty, sneaky foxes.

In an outer suburb of Berlin residents had their flip flops and shoes stolen from their gardens and yards.  But then one resident spotted a fox trotting down the path with two flip-flops in its maws.  Turns out the thieving culprit had a collection of over 100 sets of shoes and flip-flops of all descriptions!  That’s one flippy-fox for sure.

In our neck of the woods, the foxes must be collecting old shoes from the rubbish areas and the charity clothes and shoes dumpsters to drag to the back to play with.  Bless them!  Much as we don’t like the random dumping of shoes in the flower beds, it’s hard to hold a grudge against our favourite vulpines….

Speaking of the crafty so-and-sos… we watched them last night – three foxes frolicking and tussling in the flower beds.  So now we also know how the gladioli get knocked flat to the ground, and our newly planted areas get so dug up.  Grrrrr… Boo….. Hiss…..  Sigh.

Four-footed foxes we can forgive (bipeds less so).

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feeling plummy

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Victoria Plum Jam (5 August 2020)

It’s plum harvesting season on the plots.  We don’t have a tree on our plot, but many others do.

Earlier this summer we harvested greengage plums from the bottom plot we’ve been keeping an eye on for the nice couple that had to head out of town to visit elderly parents overseas.  It was lovely with a golden green honey colour and exceptional taste.  I saved a jar of jam for them so they can at least enjoy some of their plot’s crops when they return to town.

Last week we harvested Victoria plums from R’s plot beside us.  Sadly these were effected by plum worm, but happily I had decided to make a crumble, so halved all the fruit and was able to cut out damage and or discard fruit that was really badly effected.  (Plum worms grow within the fruit rather than burrowing in, so you can’t see the damage from the outside.  An extra disgusting fact is that the grow and poop inside the fruit, leaving black brown tracts all through the flesh of the fruit.)

Yesterday we were invited by another allotmenteer to harvest high-hanging fruit from her tree.  These seemed plum-worm free, so we decided to make Victoria plum jam.  The results were delish and the jam turns a pale rosey pink.  Wonderful beyond words!  Yum.

For details about how to do this in your own kitchen, see my notes on making plum jam on the newly created ‘Witch’s Kitchen’ pages.

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Nora’s Kitchen Witch.

Why ‘Witch’ you may wonder.  My beloved maternal grandmother was a very skilled artist and craftswoman, who painted oil and acrylic portraits and paintings, made dolls and clothes and much more for all of her many children and grandchildren. One year she made each of her children a ‘kitchen witch’ – with heads created individually by her out of paper mâché, and then sowed a cloth and batting body, and adorned with unique little doll dresses.

CIMG0006When she had to downsize her house as she was unable to live independently, I was lucky enough to be in Canada that summer and was able to peruse some of her personal effects before they were disposed of.  All of her own sentimental items were laid out in a huge Mississauga basement – it was a sad day for her and I felt it keenly. Incredibly to me, nobody else in the family wanted her very own kitchen witch, which had hung in her kitchen with her through the years. I scooped it up as a significant personal memento.  To my delight her kitchen witch still had it’s little poem tucked into the witch’s apron, written by her own hand.  This is truly a treasured personal item and hangs to this day in my tiny little galley kitchen in London.

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I’m a good luck Kitchen Witch, I ride on my broom to bring success to all who work in this room! Roasts won’t burn – Cakes won’t fall – No boiling over – No Boo-Boos at all. With my supervision no disasters to appall!  With my Birks baby knife. 

I’m often accused of being a hoarder, but truth be told most of my hoarding is highly sentimental and each item collected evokes powerful personal memories.  An example would be that I still to this day, five decades on, have in my possession the silver Birks baby knife that I was gifted at birth by my godparents and beloved aunt and uncle.

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high hopes for Echium

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Echium in flower at the plots (24 May 2020)

Earlier this summer.. or was it spring..?  Probably late May, the big dude did a wander through the plots to the end – looking for foxes and butterflies and what-not – and spied an end plot that had absolutely magnificent Echium in flower.  Think huge spears of flower stalk standing proud at about 16 feet tall – and we’re not kidding!

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Echium plant going strong (4 August 2020)

So later in the summer we returned to request a seedling from the man with the super-plants.

Seems echium self-seed abundantly, and we were gifted with some seeds as well as a little plant that had started on its own. We have high hopes for this little guy.

It was tiny but is now coming into its own and almost ready to be planted out into our new meadow area in the back patch.  It is sure to be a neighbourhood eye-catcher!

And we also started a tray of seeds with lots of grit for extra drainage. (I’m now officially addicted to horticultural grit!  Can’t get enough of the stuff.)

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Echium seedling. (4 August 2020)

The echium seed tray has also taken off, with one definite contender, and we think we have a few more little echium sproutlings starting up.

Magnificent success with these – but I was much less successful with starting poppies in a seed tray.  None have come up.

Isn’t it strange how wildflowers, which seem to do fine on their own, are often the hardest plants to start by seed and cultivate?  Go figure.

 

 

 

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July’s over…

IMG_2886July ended with a mini-heatwave.  We arrived at the start of this week and simply had to photograph the temperature – partly to prove to ourselves it really was over 36º – and this from the thermometer installed on the outside of the shed, which is mainly in the shade most of the day, being hung under the eave of the shed and in the shade of the hazel tree behind.  Yowza it was hot!

Too hot for transplanting or any hard work whatsoever to be fair.  We enjoyed being up at the plot and simply surveying what was going on.

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Allotment as of end of July 2020.

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Red Damask Rose back in bloom.  Sunflowers are just starting to flower.

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Sweet corn patch, with tomatoes planted in front.  No corn ears yet!

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Raspberry patch.  Red raspberries are finished fruiting, but the yellow raspberries continue to fruit abundantly.

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Garlic Chive in flower at the start of August 2020.

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Sunflowers!

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Another variety of sunflower.

The harvests continue and though I’m disappointed by the zucchinos, we have had a few of them to add to our dinners.  The same is true of the zucchini – poor fruiting this year, though we’ve had a few fruits to enjoy.  The big guy’s not keen on squashes – all those big leaves and all the space they take just doesn’t seem worth it to him.  And with the poor fruiting and meagre crops this year I’d sadly and somewhat reluctantly have to agree with him.

We enjoyed a second crop of lettuce, and I’ve tried to seed some more.

Finished the broad beans – and underwhelming crop but healthy cheerful plants.  I’ll try to plant some in November and hopefully they do better as a winter crop for early spring harvests in 2021.

The flat leafed parsley I started from seed is also somewhat pathetic – it’s been funny growing this year – spells of sustained rain and cool throughout June, variable weather in July with very hot days but cool nights.

Tomatoes have been a great success and we’ve been eating the tiny yellow cherry tomatoes most of July.  The beefsteak red tomatoes started to ripen in mid-July and we’ve had a slow steady supply of these delicious beauties for the past two weeks.  Blackberries are prolific again this year and we eat them in all ways – in smoothies with yoghurt and bananas, fresh with cream, yoghurt or ice cream, in crumbles combined with yellow raspberry or rhubarb or apple, in jam…

And it’s not just the sunflowers that are enjoying the high summer heat.  We saw grasshoppers on the blackberry.

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Butterflies abound.

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And we met Scarface’s sister.  The big guy saw her squat to pee, so we’re pretty sure she’s a she – and although very similar in size to Scarface (whose nether parts I saw so can verify his maleness), she sports no distinctive U-shaped scar, nor does she have the same undercarriage tackle.  What a cute little vixen!

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Scarface’s Sister.

 

 

 

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blooms out back

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The back patch. (26 July 2020)

The back patch gardens are left to take care of themselves with very little attention given, now that we’re constantly heading to the allotment.

But that’s not a problem really, as most of the back patch planting is of perennials and so do fine on their own, with only sporadic weeding required, and of course watering if it’s dry and hot.

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Japanese anemone in flower (26 July 2020)

But as the weather this summer has been variable, with lots of rain and cool temperatures throughout July, there’s been no pressure for us to run out back to water.   It’s a rain day again today.

The flowers are loving it this summer.  The patch of Japanese anemone usually flowers later in the summer, but with the cool conditions has come out in full flower.

Japanese anemone is a really great easy-care plant for the garden.  Once established they can be left to themselves, and if happy can spread by themselves.  To propagate you can do clump divisions in spring and autumn.  Root cuttings can also be done, but we’ve no need for any of that fussiness as they’re doing fine spreading all on their own.

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Sea holly in bloom in the back patch (26 July 2020)

Last summer we added two sea holly plants to the back patch – mainly because the sea holly planted at the allotment is growing very slowly and has not set flower since the first year it was planted (in 2018).  At the allotment the sea holly is again growing well with foliage, but no signs of flower stalks.  But the back patch sea holly plants are doing fabulously well and have exploded into bloom in late July.  The big guy loves these spiky little blue flowers, and so do the bees.

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Pink Asiatic lily, with lavender and Salvia Amistad.  Day lilies to the back. (26 July 2020)

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Our next back patch project is to dig out the creeping mint from below the white rose pergola to make room for the perennials I have growing in pots at the allotment.  Mint can be troublesome as it spreads quickly.  Yesterday I moved some bricks to the bed to define an edge to the mint patch, and will have to dig the bricks in lengthwise to make a boundary in the bed to discourage the creep of mint roots.  Once that’s done and I can turn over the ground and pull any weeds out, I have a great collection of new perennials to put in under the pergola to add extra spring colour for next year.

Earlier in the summer we ordered perennial plugs from Thomson & Morgan, including an assortment of columbine (an Aquelegia Mrs Scott Elliot), daisies (Leucanthemum Crazy Daisy), foxglove (Digitalis Dalmatian), verbena (Verbena Buenos Aires) and echinacea (echinacea Primadonna Rose).  All the plugs have been potted up and also many repotted again, and are ready to dig their roots into a fresh new bed.

IMG_2772copySpeaking of new beds, I moved one of wicker hampers I had in the flat to the allotment to create a new growing bed along the steps.  We cable-tied an old garden waste bad in as a liner and then filled with soil.

I’ve not seeded it yet, but am thinking I might try some carrots in this one – or maybe quick growing pak choi and turnip…. Or maybe more lettuce?  We’ve not done so well with other crops this year, but the lettuce have been a real treat, and each lettuce equals a complete dinner if you add other bits from the plot and a nice chunk of grilled halloumi cheese.  Yum!

This picture shows the new growing hamper, with our harvest from last Friday (including zucchino squashes, pak choi, lettuce, lemon verbena, yellow tomatoes, a red beefsteak tomato, purple beans and half a kilo of blackberries)

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Sunflowers on another plot at the allotments. (26 July 2020)

Postscript: the sunflowers I started from seed earlier this spring are growing but not yet in flower.  We learned that slugs LOVE to eat sunflowers, and we lost many of our started plants, but there are about four or five planted at the allotment and I can’t wait to see them when they finally come into bloom….  Soon we hope!

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second brood of sparrow fledglings

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House Sparrows at the bird feeder. (25 July 2020)

It’s been variable in London – spells of cool weather, then hot and humid, then more cool and rain.

Today started with sun but quickly turned overcast then wet.

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Eight Sparrows (25 July 2020).

We’d been tricked by the forecast for rain later in the early evening so went out midday to the plot and then were caught in the rain.   The umbrella kept us dry as we nibbled on cheese and crackers, hoping it would clear, but when it evidently would not stop, we headed back home.

Once home we were treated with signs of the second brood of house sparrow fledglings, busy feeding on our back door (third floor) bird feeders (filled with suet chunks and peanuts).

At some points this afternoon there were about ten birds, adults and youth, on the feeders and on the doorstep below.  They’re not great at sharing space and often would squabble and fight for position.  Unlike us, the rain didn’t seem to deter the birds from flocking to the bird feeders.

Good to see the birds are doing well, especially as house sparrows are red-listed by the RSPB as a conservation concern!  If in decline elsewhere, these little beauties seem to be doing great in our little neck of the woods.

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stargazing day & night

IMG_2739The stargazer asiatic lily has finally come into bloom in the back patch.  All through April and May I monitored for the dreaded red lily beetle – which did manage (again!!!) to completely strip a few of the garden lilies of all growth – leaves, everything but a sad green stalk is left behind.  But this one is my pride and joy and the beetle monitoring has paid off.  (Must do better with the other lilies – and may in fact dig them up in the fall and move them to a spot that has better air circulation so as to better keep an eye on things in future, as presently they grow quite close to the peony, artemisia and self-seeded red and white columbine).

IMG_2738The magnificent pink lily has been growing in the back patch for about four years and is left pretty much to its own in the perennial flower beds along the railway path – the only recent attention being the beetle watch (as of last summer when the beetles let themselves be known by the evidence of their destruction).

It grows just over four feet tall and is strong enough not to require staking.  This picture shows their relative size, as well as the island ‘meadow’ area we created with an outline of reclaimed bricks, which is now a lush green oasis in the lawn.

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Stargazer Lily (23 July 2020)

The new meadow oasis has wildflowers coming up, including hollyhock, calendula, feverfew and more! All were started the super-easy way: by simply placing deadheaded flower spears and seedheads directly onto the grass last summer and also throughout this year. In no time it will be an explosion of growth and colour.  A neighbour from the allotments gifted us an unusual red-blossomed shrub, which has elegant long branches and slender leaves similar in appearance to a delicate willow branch; we’ve planted that into the meadow and look forward to monitoring its growth and development – though we probably won’t see any flowers for a year or more.

IMG_2745copyAt night, we are equally treated with sights of delight.  The bats are back and provide an hour’s entertainment as they swoop and swoon across the expanse of the back gardens, feasting on all the bugs that thrive in the microcosm of the back patch.

Bats are much more elegant flyers than birds, and have manoeuvres that are truly awesome, being able to dart and duck and turn on a dime to change direction, all so smoothly and intelligently.  It’s amazing to behold.

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Little bat, big sky. (23 July 2020)

There’s a small mini-colony of three bats that patrol our night skies.  Sometimes we only see one, but one evening about a month ago we saw a real ‘cauldron’ of bats flying several hundred feet in the sky as a coordinated cluster.  Perhaps we could call that formation a ‘conference of bats’, as it did seem to our simple eyes as a kind of bat-world town hall meeting.  Or  maybe not bat parliament but more a case of a summer fête – a huge gathering of dancing, flirting, finding mates and lovers?  Sadly the sight of the ‘colony’ of bats was too high in the sky for us to really see them.

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Little bat in flight.

Our normal nocturnal show consists of a pair and sometimes three identifiable bats.

They’re small little guys;  we think it most likely that they are pipistrelles – the most common (and smallest) type of bat in the UK.

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Bat in flight, swooping, wings down. (23 July 2020)

It’s likely that as a result of this corona pandemic, people will be even more prejudiced than they may already have been against bats, but we think this misguided.

We love these furry little flying mammals, and the sight of them is a joy to behold.  So glad to see the bats are back!

 

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beautiful, beguiling butterflies

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Parakeets are notorious plot-raiders!

At the plot we’re waiting for things to grow…   It’s all looking lush and bountiful.  Alas there have been disappointments and failures too.  Due to the cool conditions this summer, things are taking a little time to get going.  The little cucumber plants stood in their patch in quasi-suspended animation and still show little sign of exploding into growth.

The pea patch was pilfered by the parakeets (bright green feathers in the pea patch helped solve the mystery of where all the tasty peas were disappearing to!).  As a result we’ve had very few peas so far, and then to make matters worse the pea plants developed powdery mildew, so I’ve removed them but do have a few more pea seeds in the ground so hopefully they grow as a late crop.

And the squash crops are also flagging for some strange reason.  There’s lots of flowers but very little fruit – and half of the little squashes that do develop rot off the vine.  I was hoping for bumper crops of the tiny white flying-saucer shaped zucchinos, but thus far there’s a mere two little fruit hanging in and trying their best to grow.   And on top of all that, the more seasoned allotmenteers at the plot have warned us of signs of blight on the tomatoes.  (We don’t grow potatoes but there are plenty of potato patches around that also may have blight.)  Zut alors!

CIMG8655Thank goddesses we have the spectacular bounty of nature to distract us from these vexations and worries.  So much work for so little reward! And yet, to be truthful, the reward is simply being there…

The blue skies and the rustle of leaves in the breeze; the birdsong, the bees, bumblebees, butterflies. The intoxicating scent of the damask rose warmed in the summer sun, and the sound of bees busy on the flowers – they particularly love lavender and also enjoy gorging themselves on the white blossom of the blackberries.

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Bees on the lavender on another allotment plot. (July 2020)

Oh my!  It’s a feast for the eyes and a balm for the spirit.  And our simple but satisfying picnic lunches aren’t half bad either.

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Common Blue Butterfly (20 July 2020)

So despite the somewhat ho-hum state of our growing plots, we’ve been having a good time.

July has been a great month to see butterflies. The big guy’s been enjoying taking wonder walks and stalking as many of these beguiling little beauties as he can find. We’ve also seen a very large copper dragonfly on patrol, but that one’s too zippy and high-flying for us to get a photo.

The Common Blue butterfly is quite small and is widely distributed throughout the UK.  They can be seen in heathlands and grassy meadows.  Their underwing is a mottled speckled brown with orange pots, but when open reveals dusky ultra-violet blue wings with a black edge and white border.  Very pretty indeed!

At the allotment these skittish little blue butterflies seem to favour plots with long grass, so are enjoying the relative relaxation of regular maintenance on the growing plots during this strange summer of lockdown and shielding from coronavirus.

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Female Common Blue Butterfly (20 July 2020)

The food plant of these little beauties in their earlier caterpillar stages of life includes clover and common bird’s-foot trefoil and other such meadow plants. In flight, as a butterfly, they simply sup on flower nectar to provide them sufficient energy to fly and pursue mating partners.

(The life of a butterfly is one long mating party!)

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Common Blue Butterfly (20 July 2020)

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Gatekeeper Butterfly (20 July 2020)

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Gatekeeper (underwing) (20 July 2020)

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Brimstone Butterfly – designed to be perfectly camouflaged with plant leaves. (20 July 2020)

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Brimstone Butterfly on a garden pinwheel. (20 July 2020)

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Essex Skipper Butterfly on a lettuce plant. (20 July 2020)

We can’t recommend it enough! And recording what you find can help butterfly conservation efforts – simply go online and register your sightings between now and Sunday 9 August to the Big Butterfly Count.

 

 

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plot developments elsewhere…

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M’s plot, showing happy squashes finally starting to grow! Some are harvest squash (think butternut) and others the white zucchino variety (early July 2020)

Our work at M’s plot has really paid off – she’s back at it, so as the big guy says, ‘Mission accomplished.’  She came up with us after working with the woods volunteers, and returned on her own to go to town on doing some weeding by her beloved roses at the front of the patch.  I really hope she likes what we’ve done: turned over the main annual growing beds, weeded, watered, created a new raised bed, shored-up the higher growing plot, and more…

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Newly created raised bed, ready for planting-in of M’s purple sweet potato plants. 

Malink had an epic day recently and managed to create an entire new bed up there, and also shored up the larger raised bed above.

Above that is the main path to her shed (whose door now opens relatively easily) and another bed with rather reedy currant and fruit bushes.  Behind that is a hedge of red currant behind netting.  And then another higher level path at the back of the currant bushes.  Running along the side path that leads up to the next plot there are an abundance of blackberries.  The other side of her plot is bounded by roses and loganberries.  It’s a lovely site and simply needed some intense attention.

It’s been huge progress, and having the plastic and other sheeting removed has made it much easier to remove the pernicious weeds – of which there was lots, including bindweed and worse.  Luckily all the materials (more or less) were at the site, ready to be used or re-used.  And of course, the plants she started on her balcony during the total lockdown at the beginning of this corona-pandemic have been planted by us into her own little plot.

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M’s roses and loganberries.  (Early June 2020)

We plan to add lots of light, dark rich compost as mulch, as we also moved one of the several large plastic composters for her – making room for an improved walking path up the side so that she can more easily tend the boundary line of mature roses and very productive loganberry canes.  To enjoy a crop you really have to be able to access it easily.  Or at least that’s our thinking.  And in any case, it’s always an improvement to create pathways that are steady, level and easy to manoeuvre.

Even though, like with every garden, there’s more to be done, we really hope she likes the developments so far.

 

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other July fliers..

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Flying ants emerging with new queen on allotment. (July 2020)

It’s not all just about butterflies.  Another interesting event we witnessed up at the plot was evidence of ‘Flying Ant Day.’  There were at least two nests we witnessed erupting into activity as a new queen ant took to the skies to establish a new colony.

And it wasn’t just happening at the allotment.  Apparently due to atmospheric and climate conditions, all flying ant colonies erupted to activity at the same time.  To the extent that the evidence of all those flying beasties tricked local weather radar to mistake the clouds of flying insects for rain!  See David Williams’ article ‘A swarm of flying ants stretched for miles over the UK and looked like rain on weather radar’ (CNN, 18 July 2020).

And the usual flying stars – all the various types of bees and ladybirds – continue to delight and fascinate.

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Bumblebee snoozing in a rose blossom.

 

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