Friday, 23 October 2020

Nature notes - Autumn 2020

 We've had some lovely nature encounters this year and this past month or so has been no exception. Last month we had a Common Darter Dragonfly in the allotment sunning itself on the fence for instance, and at the weekend we had a kind of Mayfly inspecting the bug house on the same fence. 

In the back yard one morning last week this White Lipped Banded Snail (Cepaea hortensis) was very slowly working its way up the metal gate, still dripping from being in the foliage below. 

Also in the yard we have a lot of Garden Spiders (Araneus diadematus), one of which has made its home in an old water butt that we are turning into a planter for a minature apple tree!

However, the most interesting sightings in this past few weeks have been away from the house and the allotment. In Collingham, a village about fifty minutes cycle ride away (at my speed anyway!) a Hoopoe (Upupa epops) became a local celebrity for two weeks as it pottered around the cricket pitch there, even being in local and national media. 

Last week, whilst out cycling near Catterton near Tadcaster there were eight Whooper Swans (Cygnus Cygnus) in a stubble field and they were also there last weekend too. These birds are winter visitors, mainly from Iceland and usually I have only ever seen them flying over on migration here, in fact a flock flew north early in March straight over the house. 

These birds have much more yellow on their beaks than such as the Mute Swan which is a resident bird and are bigger than the much rarer Bewick's Swan that also comes to the UK in winter. They are also noisy in flight. 

You can read about when we saw Whooper Swans in Iceland here 

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Autumn in the Allotment - Part 2

 One thing which has been a nice problem to have in the past few weeks is what to do with all the pears that we have harvested, especially as they seem to all want to ripen at once! (there's only so many pears I can eat!)

So, with the help of one of my go-to preserving books (The Preserving Book  - DK/Soil Association) I have been bottling pears for use in the new year after the remaining stored ones have been eaten. 

The pears were washed and peeled and chopped up and put into sterilised jars. A thick sugar solution was boiled up to pour into the jars and then the jars were heat treated in the oven. 

We've also been making Kimchi using this recipe which appears to be relatively foolproof - though I was rather surprised to get a decent result on the first time I made it! Whilst it is fine to keep the finished kimchi in the fridge for two or three weeks, making sure that the ingredients are fully submerged, we've found that boiling the mixture up and putting in sterilised jars means a much longer shelf life although the intensive flavour does reduce quite a bit by doing so. 

It will be soon time to make another batch as there's three more cabbages ready in the allotment now!
In the same patch in the allotment the very last sprigs of summer broccoli are available but then there will be a gap in this until the purple sprouting broccoli is available in the new year. A handful of beetroot and the last of the spinach beet are also available to pick. Next year I am going to try a different variety of beetroot as the variety Boltardy haven't done that well for a couple of years to be honest so I am going to maybe try Cylindra which the plotholder of a neighbouring allotment has been growing successfully this year. The "Italian" varieties don't work very well in our allotment at all. 

It will soon be time to make pumpkin/squash chutney. The method I use is documented here  but this year I won't be able to go to my parents' house to use my mum's big jam pan - this pan did belong to her mother and was saved from being turned into raw material for the war effort! I do two different chutneys, one ginger and one spicy, with to be honest a general guesstimate of the spices required but it all turns out fine every year. The spicy one is great with a mature cheddar. I also sometimes make a courgette and onion chutney, in fact I am currently eating a jar from 2017 which again has a bit of a kick to it and has gone well with Davidstow Cheddar. I made rhubarb compote earlier in the year. 

Finally, I bought a new English Lavender bush for the allotment this year as the old one looked as if it had reached the end of its useful life (it has since regenerated itself aftera thorough pruning back!) and whilst the new one is still small, I've seen bees on it all summer and into autumn, the other day there was some kind of carder bee for instance. I also have a couple of lavender plants for the yard which are in pots right now, one of which was looking very sorry for itself outside a small Sainsbury's supermarket during some hot weather but has revived happily in the back yard!

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Autumn in the Allotment - Part 1

One aim we have had in the allotment is that we can always find something to pick from the allotment at whatever time of year, or failing that, there is something in our stores that came from the allotment. All of the onions have been in store for a month or two now, and just recently we have been picking the borlotti and ying yang beans that have been drying on the plants. This year, we did get a little mixed up with these and found that we had planted some climbing ones on open ground and some non-climbing ones under the swing frame! We constructed some more frameworks from hazel sticks from our pruning of the hazelnut tree early in the year.

I have though now made sure that I know which beans are which in the bedroom where I have them laid out on newspaper for drying before we pod them and put into jars. The beans are aesthetically pleasing! There's still a few more yet to pick and I am just waiting for a few more dry days to finish the job. We ate some with tortillas at the weekend, also using home grown onions, a handful of home grown tomatoes supplanted by a can and a home grown clilli pepper, among other bought in ingredients. 

The little pot Meyer lemon tree that has found freedom from scale insect - now it is in the allotment - is flourishing. There are at least three lemons on it and there's some more flowers but it probably is too late for those to be pollinated. As you can see in the photo, we have started to protect it against the cold and shortly I think it will be wrapped up for the winter. I have also put some straw into the pot, again for protection against the cold but also as a mulch to stop weeds. The lemon is against the back fence which has a hedge that the holder of the neighbouring plot has planted and also is south facing, so it should be fine for the winter as it was last year. 

The strawberry patch around the lemon has now been fully weeded, but again there's a few strawberries with flowers! We are pretty sure they are standard strawberries rather then remontant ones! 

The minipop sweetcorn harvest has come to an end now, but we have at several bags now in the freezer. We use these in stir fry dishes and at around £1 for about a dozen in the supermarket, shipped or flown in from south east Asia, this is a very economical and indeed emission reducing crop to grow in the allotment. We start them off inside in toilet roll tubes folded over at the base, filled with compost and then warmed and sterilised with boiling water, allowed to cool a bit and then the individual corns are put in. Once big enough in May they go into the allotment with a mesh over to protect them, and then by late August/September they are giving three or sometimes four cobs per plant. 

This is the top end section of the allotment which this year has been used for onions and garlic (now harvested), leeks (in the rear central area, parsnips (left hand side) and carrots in the tyre stacks nearest the camera. We've had quite a lot of carrots already and so the remaining ones have been given a break for a few weeks to grow bigger and also protected from any frost in the next few weeks with straw. The tyre stacks also keep the soil warmer and we have in the past harvested carrots right through winter. 

The nasturtiums and calendula are still providing food for the bees and other pollinators that are still active, and - although the plants can get very enthusiastic in their bid for world domination - provide good ground cover. Even when they have been hit by the first severe frosts and die off the plants rot down as a mulch during the winter

Sunday, 27 September 2020

Autumn Harvest

Well, the weather certainly knew it was Autumn with the changes from warm and settled to cool, windy and rainy taking place on the actual Equinox! Luckily the strong winds over the past few days have died down and there seems little damage. 

Just before the rain we installed a new water butt and guttering by the side of the lean-to greenhouse which seems to be working well, this will save having to carry water around from the back yard. The water butts in the allotment are filling up nicely too. 

One thing we grow which is reliable each year is Minipop Sweetcorn, the little ones that are used in stir fries. We have at least four bags of them in the freezer now and at about £1 per tray from the supermarket they are worth growing. (and saving air miles versus imports from the Far East!)

We've been eating carrots from the tyre stacks for several weeks now, although we are going to "rest" them now until the remaining ones have grown thicker and longer. Growing them in tyre stacks means that they are well above the ground, thus protecting them from carrot fly and have a very deep layer of compost/sand to grow down into. As you can see they are of decent size and indeed are very tasty both raw and cooked!

Just a few of the many potatoes and apples that we have been harvesting recently. We started harvesting potatoes for immediate use at the end of July and have been eating our own potatoes since. Before the weather changed, I dug up the remaining ones, mostly Cara I think, cleaned them up and put the best ones into store in boxes and the remainder into a sack for use over the next month or so. 

The Falstaff and the Chivers' Delight minarette apple trees are very much in season and there is, I think, at least a couple of hundred apples between the two of them either now picked and stored or still ripening. There's perhaps another fifty Gala apples on a very late ripening minarette that has now got a net over it to stop the local blackbird from pecking at them! This particular blackbird had managed to get under the net for the grape vine and when it was pottering around my feet when I was digging over this morning, looked like it had been binge eating and needs to go on a diet!

The borlotti and kidney beans (plus a few ying yang beans saved from the last year) are almost dry, in fact I picked some this morning to be laid out upstairs on newspaper to be thoroughly dry before podding and storing. 

We have an old swing frame that beans grow up as well as a wigwam and trellis made from hazel poles that we have trimmed last winter from the very vigorous hazelnut tree at the edge of the allotment

Monday, 7 September 2020

Common Darter Dragonfly in the Allotment

 Sunday lunch was a little delayed yesterday! My wife came back from the allotment while I was making it to tell me about the dragonfly that was sunning itself on the back fence. So, I switched off the cooker and dashed up there with the camera! 

This is a Common Darter Dragonfly (Sympetrum striolatum) and whilst, as it name suggests, a very common dragonfly (!) it is the first one we have had in the allotment, in fact I am not sure when we last had a dragonfly in the allotment to be honest. 

My wife watched it having a bit of an altercation with a spider on the fence although by the time I got there it had taken up sunbathing and seemed quite content!

Here's another view from behind. I am always amazed at the intricacy of the wings of these creatures and love trying to get a close up photograph of them, easier said than done as usually they are quite skittish, however, this one was pretty chilled out about things! 

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Back Yard Damselfly

A quick blog this evening but I wanted to share the news of our first Damselfly in the back yard! (for those of you reading this in the US, this is a concrete yard with walls and a large gate, not a garden - we have a garden at the front!)

Just before lunch this Blue-Tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) spent time in the sun on various plants, including the fig tree before going to investigate the lavender and a plant pot! I think it is a female of the species.

I do wonder whether it has come from the school pond down the end of the street. At the moment we're fixing more long flower pots to the wall to increase the number of flowers we grow which will attract more insects into the yard and so then any more damselflies or dragonflies that come in will have more potential prey. 

Monday, 13 July 2020

Cycle Ride - Small Skipper Butterflies

On Saturday we cycled over to Askham Bog in the hope of seeing more dragonflies and damselflies. At the moment in the verges there are a lot of wildflowers, it shows what can happen if these are left to nature, and there are lots of Ringlet and Meadow Brown butterflies taking advantage of these.

The pool at Askham Bog, which two weeks ago had dozens of Azure Damselflies  was deserted apart from a few flies, but there was a Reed Warbler hopping around and singing like it wanted to imitate a children's wind up toy!

Across the road from the car part is a patch of wildflowers which extends across the other side of the A64 and up the road towards Copmanthorpe. Normally at this time of year we have seen Six Spot Burnet Moths here but maybe they haven't emerged yet. However, these past couple of weeks there have been plenty of Small Skipper butterflies (Thymelicus sylvestris) flitting around the flowers and grass stems.

Friday, 10 July 2020

Cycle ride - Comma Butterfly

I needed to go into York today for some ingredients for the Kimchi we are going to make from cabbages that are pretty much ready to eat in the allotment right now. There's an excellent Oriental supermarket on Rougier Street called Red Chilli (next to the restaurant of the same name) which is fascinating to browse round for the wide selection of interesting foodstuffs you have never heard of! I have never seen a Mooli before today, they look like radishes from hell, size of a rounders bat!
I picked up some Korean red chilli flakes, fish sauce, ginger and rice vinegar for the kimchi and tins of water chestnuts and bamboo shoots and some gluten free soy sauce for the store cupboard.

Anyway, along a lovely quiet road near Bilborough I watched a Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) singing on a telegraph wire, they give a brief burst of slightly scratchy song before moving a short distance to another perch and repeating the song (Lesser Whitethroats, which I haven't seen yet, live more in bushes). There were plenty of Meadow Brown and some Ringlet butterflies and lots of wildflowers in the verges.

On a patch of thistles I discovered this Comma Butterfly (Polygonia c-album) feeding on the flower heads. After severe declines in the 20th century, this butterfly is now quite widespread, we've had them along the path through the allotments from time to time too.
When the thistles go to seed, I'll be picking a few for the wildflower patch I am trying to start in the garden, there's a lot of them flowering on roadsides at the moment and plenty of insect life on them too.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Holly Blue Butterfly in the Allotment

Today started off very wet and has now got very windy. Quite unseasonal for the time of year to be honest, feels like late September with a gale like mid October! 

So, I popped up to the allotment this afternoon for an hour to pick more raspberries and the first of the blueberries, the latter of which have swollen up pretty well with all this rain, they love the damp conditions. 

Anyway, just before I came home I noticed a small blue butterfly flitting around the nasturtiums and with the new phone I have that has a much better camera on it, managed to get the following picture of it and have been able to identify it as a Holly Blue butterfly (Celatrina argiolus) 

Holly Blue butterflies are the type of blue butterfly most likely to be seen in urban gardens, although I have seen Small Blue butterflies at the allotment before now. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Lockdown Day 100 - The end of the beginning

This is the final blog of my lockdown series, little did I know that when I started these on the 24th of March that I would be still on lockdown and furlough at the start of July. The dreadful COVID-19 virus has claimed many hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide and the UK has had around 65000 of these. This high death toll could have been avoided here in the UK if lockdown had happened earlier and been stricter and if many elderly and vulnerable patients had not been discharged without being tested from hospitals to care homes. No doubt there will one day be Inquiries, Reports and maybe one day those in charge will be held to account, but as happened with the Hillsborough disaster, it may be that the true story is covered up for years.

I hope that my readers are still safe and well, and continue to be so, and I extend my sympathy and condolences to anyone reading this who has lost a loved one or friend to this awful virus.

We have been lucky, no one I know personally, no one in my family to my knowledge has been affected by the virus (although I have heard about others on the grapevine) but that does not mean we will stop being vigilant and taking what precautions we can for months to come. There is also the looming No Deal Brexit here in the UK which has the potential for serious disruption to supply chains just as maybe the UK economy is recovering and I will be continuing with actions and preparations as outlined in my small steps and prepping blogs, as well as of course the allotment and preserving the food we grow.

Whilst I spend a lot of time out in the countryside, this lockdown has given me a chance to identify more plants and wildlife, to spend "slow time" out in nature, to enjoy the peace and quiet with no traffic noise and just birdsong for company. We are lucky here compared to many people with countryside all around a few minutes walk or cycle from home, but even in the cities and former industrial sites there are many places where nature finds a home and my Edgelands blogs are an insight into that world in the margins of the urban sprawl.

It has also been a chance for me to delve into my photo library from many trips and holidays and my "Remembering" blogs have been a chance to relive many special wildlife experiences we have had in countries around Europe.

Whilst in many parts of the world, and indeed in the UK, there are many places where nature is protected, there are serious threats to this biodiversity all over the planet, whether through human destruction, pesticides and other chemicals and pollution, climate change, microplastics, road building and many other threats. It is so important that the recovery from COVID-19 is a "green" recovery, an attempt to "build back better" and a chance to change the whole economic model from one of excessive consumption and a throw away society to one where our needs are met through environmentally sustainable methods of production. There are unfortunately, many people, often excessively rich or with vested interests (such as fossil fuel) who seek to undermine this transformation for their own gain, who seek to influence governments and indeed the fabric of democracy and accountability itself. My "Road to Recovery" blogs were based on a letter I wrote in response to a request for feedback from a civil servant in the Cabinet Office in the UK Government. These are an attempt to show what needs to be done to achieve that more sustainable, democratically accountable and fairer society that we need if we have any hope of keeping our small blue and green world a habitable place for all the people and wildlife on it. (There is of course a particular focus on the UK in the blogs)

The allotment has had a lot of love these past few months and the fruits of this are being realised, quite literally, with now at least ten punnets of blackcurrants picked, several punnets of raspberries and strawberries, with blackberries and blueberries to come, along with apples, pears and damsons for later in the year. We've tried to create a home for nature too, leaving some nettles and wild poppies to grow, keeping the marigolds and nasturtiums and comfrey going and planting more lavender. At home we are trying to expand the number of flowers good for pollinators even though we have quite a small space to do this in, and given that today yet another front garden down the street was concreted over, more important than ever that we create that haven in our locality.

2020 will be regarded as one of those defining years in history where everyone can remember what they were doing when lockdown started and everyone will, unfortunately, end up knowing someone who has suffered or died from COVID-19, and everyone will have a lockdown tale to tell to a future generation when they are much older. I hope that the beneficial shifts we have seen in behaviour, whether such as more cycling and walking, using more local businesses and food, more home working, online meetings and collaboration to name but a few, will continue post lockdown. The desire for equality and freedom for discrimination for BAME people, and the toppling of statues has also been a defining moment in history and this fight will need to keep being fought given that there are many in our society both here and in other countries that are racist and intolerant, and this extends into positions of power too.

We need to move quickly in de-carbonising our energy supply and supply chains. We need to urgently reduce the amount of plastic being used and move to a more circular economy without excessive consumption. Deforestation and other environmental harms need to come to an end and habitats restored, there are already climate and environmental tipping points being approached or reached in the Amazon, Arctic and Siberia and serious harm being done in our oceans.

Our own contribution to improving the environment and making more sustainable choices may seem miniscule in comparison with the challenges we face. But consumer pressure works - the plastic bag tax has substantially changed behaviour, campaigns on fair trade, palm oil and many other things have changed the operations of big companies. Many governments have responded to the challenges of de-carbonisation and campaigns such as the opposition to fracking here in the UK have effectively brought a halt to this destructive form of drilling.

Everyone has local representatives, whether in local or national government. I've written to my MP on several occasions and had letters back from two different ministers via the MP. There's so many different charities and campaign groups out there for different human and environmental issues. For the next few months at least it will be even more important to support the vulnerable in our society and those that care for the environment in which we live as many charities have a very steep loss of income at present and the needs are still out there and increasing. Over the next few months pressure needs to be brought to bear so that the recovery from coronavirus, particularly any infrastructure spending, is sustainable and is in keeping with meeting our climate change mitigation commitments.

Auditing our own spending is worthwhile, whilst it is good to have a treat or two for time to time, do we really need the latest phone or computer, or spend a hundred pounds or more on an item of designer clothing made in a cramped factory with poor working conditions in the Far East? A lot of my clothes have come from charity shops in perfectly good condition, some even still new, we've bought crockery, books, furniture and many other things from charity and secondhand shops, supporting good causes and local businesses in the process as well as re-using goods that may have otherwise gone to landfill. Over time we've donated many things we no longer have use for to feed back into the circular economy and allow more money to be raised for charities.
There's many local craftspeople and local businesses that can supply new sustainable goods, again keeping money in local economies and the "fair trade" movement extends this out to many parts of the world to support particularly third world producers in a decent living.
There's many "green" energy tariffs out there and if you can afford it, the switch to electric vehicles or bikes, and perhaps your own household renewable energy generation is a possibility.

I hope you have enjoyed my blogs as much as I have enjoyed putting them together. I've learnt quite a bit about nature these past few months and had some lovely wildlife moments, as well as reliving some special occasions from the past. Everyone can do something for our environment, everyone can grow something for themselves, everyone can buy the things they need more sustainably, everyone has a voice in the debate and collectively we can change our world for the better.

Best wishes, stay safe and well and good luck!
1st July 2020

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Lockdown Day 99 - Blackcurrants

I spent the morning again picking blackcurrants. Now that we have enough in the freezer for our jam requirements I have taken to bottling them in syrup for use on my porridge on a morning and perhaps on ice cream. There's still loads on the bushes to pick but it was lunchtime by the time I had picked two punnets, as well as a punnet of raspberries.

For the blackcurrants, I wash and take out any stalks and leaves from the crop. Then I boil up my sugar (350g sugar to 600ml water) whilst sterilising the Kilner Jars. The blackcurrants then go into the jars and the syrup poured over them. They are then heat treated in an oven at 150 deg. C for 35-45 minutes.

Tomorrow will be the one hundredth lockdown blog and, as it is likely that my furlough will be ending in the next week or two, it will be the last in this series and I will put together some thoughts and reflections on this rather strange and worrying period and some thoughts about the future and how we can produce a better, more sustainable world in the recovery.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Lockdown Day 98 - Rhubarb and Pumpkin Compote

Another rainy and grey day today, so I have been inside catching up on a few jobs. As we pick the berries we need all the freezer space we can get so I did a little digging and found a bag of rhubarb and some pumpkin from last year! It seems to have kept fine, albeit a little longer than expected so I have boiled it up with some sugar and some ground ginger to make a compote which I can use on porridge over the next couple of months.

I've planted some more pumpkins and expect to be able to do quite a bit of chutney later in the year, either ginger or spiced up with cumin and chilli powder. Ideal for putting on cheese or cooked meat sandwiches or as an accompaniment to spicy Indian dishes.

I also do courgette and onion chutney if the courgettes get too overwhelming!

I have two "go-to" books when it comes to preserving:

The Complete Book of Preserves and Pickles by Catherine Atkinson and Maggie Mayhew published by Anness Publishing Limited


 The Preserving Book by Lynda Brown published by Dorling Kindersley in conjunction with the Soil Association

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Lockdown Day 97 - Yet more soft fruit!

Just a quick blog today. This morning was spent picking yet more raspberries, strawberries and blackcurrants. That's at least eight grape punnets of blackcurrants picked so far! There was nearly another punnet full of raspberries, maybe that's at least three punnets full, maybe getting on for four in total. The strawberries are, I think, nearing the end of the season in the allotment although in the yard in the pots on the wall they are still going well.

I've preserved the blackcurrants in syrup made with 350g of sugar to 600ml of water, boiled and then poured onto washed blackcurrants put into two sterilised Kilner jars and then heat treated in the oven for forty minutes or so.

The weather has been very showery this afternoon and incredibly windy for the time of year. The rain is of course welcome and has swelled the blackcurrants and the blueberries are nearly ready to pick too.

Jobs for this next week include taming the grape vine, I will have to look up whether it is time to give it any pruning and indeed the minarette fruit trees may need pruning soon too. There's the potato patch to weed and very soon our first cabbage will need picking, not sure at this stage whether we will use it as is or pickle it or turn it into a kind of kimchi. There will be peas and beans to pick midweek and there's still several punnets of blackcurrants and more raspberries to harvest!

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Lockdown Day 96 - Rainy Day

At time of writing I am trying to chill with some really nice Rioja but being bothered by small flies that seem to have got in the house and are really interested in my face for some reason!

Today has been a really rainy day, with frequent heavy showers and some thunder at times. I've finished pickling some cabbage but otherwise have been doing jobs inside the house.

However, this morning I popped out to take some photos of some of the plants in the yard, heavy with raindrops.

Poppy growing at the end of the yard

Pansies in one of the pots in the yard

Close up of a fig leaf on the 
minarette Fig tree 

Friday, 26 June 2020

Lockdown Day 95 - Garden and yard update

Living in a terraced house, we don't have a big garden and have a concrete back yard with walls either side. This was one of the many reasons for getting an allotment!

The garden has a beautiful hawthorn tree with pink blossom at the far end and we brought some ivy with us from the old house which covers the fence. There's a holly bush which the blackbirds love eating berries from in winter! We also planted a buddleia and a fuschia as well as some bulbs soon after we moved in. After we got the allotment we got a small plastic greenhouse for the yard which one day got caught in a gust of wind and collapsed. We use the remaining shelves (without the covering) for storage of plant pots and for hardening off seedlings. We then got a wooden lean-to greenhouse for the front garden against the house wall. However, over time we have gradually grown more in both the front and back, including a miniature fig tree - which at time of writing isn't producing any figs although did produce two last year!

At the far end of the yard we grow sweet peas in tubs by one of the big gates and some wild poppies have decided to take up residence next to the tubs too in soil that has accumulated in the gap in the concrete between the end of the yard and the road. The potato wasn't a deliberate planting either, we think it is one we have accidentally put into a compost bag at some point so we have decided to leave it as it is growing healthily and see what we get!

 On the left hand side of the yard we have more pots - there's strawberries in planters on top of the wall, along with a tub with lettuce in, covered in a mesh frame so that the local sparrows don't turn up and have a party again like they once did - they do try their best to peck through the holes when the lettuce gets big! We have a minarette cherry tree which did start producing cherries but I think the late frost didn't do it any good so we'll have to wait until next year.

The peas were an accidental planting too - we had bought some pod peas from a greengrocer before ours were ready and found that inside one pod they had started sprouting, so we planted them! They are looking really healthy right now and have flowers! Behind them are some nasturtiums transplanted from the allotment (as they get everywhere up there!) and there's a lavender plant too along with some more sweet peas. The peppers were evicted outside after they got aphids in the house and seem to have recovered as there are insects outside that will eat the aphids. It gets very warm in the yard until about two in the afternoon before the sun is round the other side of the house and then there is a bit more sun in the late afternoon/evening time onto the top of the wall at least. The wall retains the heat and the wall temperature gets up to at least 40 degrees Centigrade in summer. We've got a few pansies in pots and some antirrhinums too. 

This is in the garden looking towards the lean to greenhouse with the fuchsia in the top left of the shot. In the greenhouse are peppers, gherkins, yellow courgettes and a tomato plant, with all the seedlings now in the allotment for the summer. Some wild poppies have also arrived in the planter that used to have a grape vine in it (which died suddenly one late summer, we don't know why) and we've popped a gherkin plant in there as well to climb up the trellis. 

We're going to be growing a pumpkin up the old swing frame - we hope! There's a few more antirrhinums in the same pot too, the pumpkin is being trained away from those. 

Our recycle bins were replaced by the council for bigger ones recently and so we have used one of the old ones to grow gherkins in! 

For the future I want to expand the range of pots and wall mounted planters as well as try and get some wild flowers to germinate in the grass - I hesitate to call it a lawn now! I have planted some seeds for two years now but nothing is coming up, and the yellow rattle last year hasn't germinated. I have got some seeds from a roadside ox-eye daisy and will scatter these the next time it rains to see what happens. I am also going to get some foxgloves next year to create some height in the border, along with the existing peony.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Lockdown Day 94 - Cycle ride to Askham Bog

Another very hot and sunny day today, so while it was still bearable I cycled to Askham Bog for a walk round before it got busy.

Walking down through the reserve there was a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff calling. It was quite shady under the trees. A few minutes walk along the boardwalk is a small pond which is a superb place to watch dragonflies and damselflies, but they never stay still for long and so are really difficult for me to photograph!

There were at least fifteen, maybe twenty of these Azure Damselflies (Coenagrion puella) flying around the pond, only rarely alighting on the leaves of nearby plants. I think I may have caught a glimpse of an Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) which the sign board said are present but it was too fleeting to be sure. 

Also near the pond, singing from a tree all the time I was there was a Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus). It was a very repetitive and quite loud song but the bird was obviously keen to stake out his territory!

It started to get quite busy so I headed out of the reserve and across the road to the wild flower area to see if there were any Six-Spot Burnet Moths but I think it is still too early for them. However, there were plenty of Meadow Brown and Small Skipper Butterflies flitting around the grasses, Ragwort and the Knapweed ((Centaurea nigra) shown below

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Lockdown Day 93 - Allotment update

Although today is a shopping day, yesterday I spent around four hours during the day in the allotment. It would have been far too hot for any work today to be honest, I really don't cope very well with heat and the thermometer in the shade was 29 Celsius in early afternoon today. Yesterday was cloudy at times so a fair bit cooler and I was able to get plenty done.

First job was weeding the peas and beans, there's around thirty pea plants now producing quite a few peas and around seventy borlotti bean plants, some of the early ones of which are now near the top of their poles! There's a few broad bean plants too. In the same patch I have also planted some pumpkins which will trail around underneath the beans.
The second job, a regular task at the moment, was to pick some soft fruit. We are eating the strawberries and raspberries as dessert with ice cream at the moment and the blackcurrants are going in the freezer to ultimately make jam from.

Also ready at the moment is the calabrese (headed broccoli) and this is the second really good head we've had with more to come soon.

The final cauliflower seedlings have gone in, it was a struggle to find room for them as our brassica patch has been so successful this year! I also weeded that area, especially around the mini sweetcorn.

The whole allotment then got a good watering with the hosepipe as I knew I wouldn't be up there today to do this.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Lockdown Day 92-Trip to the seaside-Part 2

In yesterday's blog I recounted the trip we made on Monday to Flamborough for a socially distanced trip to the seaside.

Having heard today about the relaxation of lockdown rules and social distancing we are very glad we were able to go this week as it will be the case that there will be so many more people there over the next month or two and probably not much social distancing going on, especially once people have had a few drinks in seafront bars and restaurants. Yes, we have to get back to normal living eventually, but this seems too much relaxation of the rules, and too soon given the number of cases and continuing number of deaths from Covid-19.

Anyway, as promised here are a few more pictures I took of seabirds on the cliffs at North Landing, Flamborough.

Guillemot striking a pose! 

Kittiwake chick still quite young and very fluffy!

Razorbill and a growing up chick, starting to get flight feathers. 

The Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) nest on such precarious ledges and there were a few broken eggs at the foot of the cliffs which suggest not all nest sites are that secure! The Razorbills (Alca torda) were often gathered in large groups and one Razorbill was determined that the Puffins (Fratercula arctica) would not steal its patch of cliff! There were plenty of Guillemots (Uria aalge) out at sea but most of them seemed to be nesting further round from where we could see from the cove. Further up the coast is Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserve which has one of the largest colonies of Gannets (Sula bassana)  in the UK. There are at least 22000 Gannets on the cliffs around Bempton, and I remember going there in the late 1970s/early 1980s as a child when the number was just in the hundreds, this has been an enormous success story for the RSPB management of the reserve. 

Monday, 22 June 2020

Lockdown Day 91-Trip to the seaside-Part 1

We have been very reluctant to take trips further than our local area, and especially to the seaside given the pictures we have seen of crowds on beaches during the first easing of the lockdown.

However, we love going to the coast and now that the general risk of coronavirus is lower, we decided to work out how we could safety go and enjoy a day at the seaside.

One of our favourite places is Flamborough and there's several possible coves on the headland to choose from so any visitors would be spread between them. We set off early so as to be there when the beach was relatively quiet, which turned out to be correct, and we had plans to move on when the beach got busy, which again was the case from about half past two in the afternoon. Given that cafes and pubs are also closed (apart from some takeaway options) this again was a factor as once people are able to go and have sit down meals and drinks at the seaside it will increase the number of visitors, so we figured that now - rather than in two or three weeks' time, would be the time to go.

At this time of year, lots of seabirds are nesting on the cliffs and at North Landing you can see them above your head at either side of the cove, and the noise was constant from them, Kittiwakes especially. There's also the strange growling noise of the Razorbills, in fact there were a lot more Razorbills there than I had ever seen before at this location. In total we also saw nine Puffins.

I'll pop some more photographs up tomorrow but for now, here's a Puffin!

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Lockdown Day 90 - Quick Allotment update

After some early morning rain had cleared, we went up to the allotment to plant borlotti beans and pick blackcurrants.

There were lots of blackcurrants, in fact more than the two punnets I brought with me! These were the fifth and sixth punnets that I have picked this past week or so and there are still plenty to come.

For the past couple of days we have also been picking raspberries, enough to have with a few strawberries at teatime with ice cream (there are four of us at home at present)

The borlotti beans already planted are doing well and with the addition of the ones taken today that will be around seventy plants in all. We are putting plenty in as we have found that dried beans have been really difficult to get hold of during lockdown, and although we've managed to get a couple of packets now, we want to have plenty of our own in store over the winter and into next year.