Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Leafcutter Bee

In this post I talked about the Leafcutter Bee that came to visit our back yard the other day. 

In one of the pots we haven't used this year have been some weeds that I have left to grow to see whether they were any good for pollinators. 

Discovered that the Leafcutter bee(s) have been busy! In the photograph there's the semicircular holes where the bee(s) have cut out sections of leaf to take back to their nest. 

Saturday, 3 July 2021

A New Normal

Increasingly, the narrative in the media and spoken from the mouths of political and business representatives is of, "Going back to normal". In the UK, the date has been set for this 'normality' as being July 19th. Negotiations with the virus appear to have failed or maybe never got going in the first place. 

Of course, who wouldn't want to be able to go out to the shops or a restaurant or event without having to prebook, take a mask or take a covid test? It is so tempting, that vision of 'normality', going back to life as it was in BC - Before Covid. 

But that normality was wrecking the planet. 

That normality created a society of haves and have nots

Wealthy and untroubled normality for one person was anxiety or hardship for another. 

Taking off the brakes off societal interactions may cause the thing that keeps virologists up at night - vaccine escape.

There have been many people filling up the pages of newspapers or platforming themselves on social media, gathering with other conspiracy theorists and pseudo-science advocates on marches, even some speaking in Parliament, who feel that the restrictions on our lives that were necessary to reduce the awful death rate from Covid-19 were unwarranted, even to the point of denying the virus itself and its effects. 

The TV presenter Andrew Marr recently suffered from Covid-19, catching it at the super-spreader event also known as the G7 Summit in Cornwall (although some dispute this) Whilst he didn't end up in hospital, he wasn't working for several days and felt pretty ill. There's many other accounts on social media of similarly double-vaccinated people catching Covid-19 and being ill at home. In schools, where children are not vaccinated, and indeed in university towns, the virus is widespread, mainly the Delta Variant originally discovered in India and here because of the lax border controls of the UK Government. The case rate is currently skyrocketing again. More cases means more illness, means more hospitalisation, means an increased chance of a mutation that will escape the vaccines and we'll all be back to square one.

Yes, the vaccines have reduced the effects in many people of Covid-19, keeping many out of hospital, no doubt saving many lives in the process. But they don't stop someone from catching the disease, they don't stop someone from passing it onto someone else that is maybe a person who hasn't yet been vaccinated fully, if at all, maybe someone that for health reasons cannot yet have the vaccine, for instance those who are immuno-compromised. 

Some say that because people aren't dying in the numbers they were at the height of the pandemic, that because hospital admissions aren't at the levels they were, that there's no need for any restrictions on our lives. They've forgotten one thing, one major issue, Long Covid. 

Long Covid is the term used to describe symptoms of Covid-19 lasting more than a few weeks or beyond the main symptoms of the virus. Some people can even suffer from Long Covid despite not having the original symptoms. This can encompass chronic fatigue, lung damage, persistant cough and breathlessness, digestive issues and 'brain fog' - concentration issues amongst other things. No one knows how long they can last, although for many people they do, thankfully, appear to lessen over time and there's been some reports of the vaccines giving an immune system boost which has helped people. But no-one yet knows whether these symptoms will disappear completely or whether there's permanent long term effects on health. 

Up to one in twenty people, including children, have or have had Long Covid. The estimate for April was 1.1 million people in the UK in that month with some kind of long term symptoms from Covid-19, with around 376000 at that time estimated to have had Long Covid symptoms for at least a year. The UK population is about 67 million people. That's a lot of people and a lot of demand on the health system and indeed on Government finances. Many people who were asympomatic with Covid-19 have experienced Long Covid issues. Many will also be those people who have had long term hospitalisation from Covid-19 and the damage wrought by the disease, including someone I know about (friend of a friend) who spent several months in hospital, some of which on a ventilator, and now can only function at home with oxygen supply on hand and has been back to hospital since. 

Sure, go back to your parties, go back to the pub, take your mask off and stop giving people space. Stop caring if you so wish. But there's consequences. Can you live with those? Can the State support millions of new long term incapacity benefit claimants? Can the economy support a possibly permanently reduced workforce? Can families manage their finances if the main breadwinner(s) are out of action for months, with the impact of potential poverty on children's life chances, already damaged by the disruption to education? 

Is 'normal' worth that cost to society and to people's lives? Yes, there are costs to society and livelihoods from the lockdown, and there are indeed balances to be struck between restrictions and the economy, but adopting a carefree attitude at a time when the virus is still spreading, particularly amongst unvaccinated people, is asking for trouble. 

Do we want to do 'normal'? Should we do 'normal'?

I would suggest that the present capitalist, consumer, always on, instant gratification and delivery society is not 'normal'. For most of the history of the human race, our comfy lifestyle hasn't been the norm. Even comparing more developed human civilisations, we are in an exceptional, unprecedented age, where our extraction of resources far exceeds the carrying capacity of the planet. In an age where we have the potential to end life as we know it on Earth.

'Normal' has meant overconsumption. Buying stuff we don't need. Cluttering the planet up with plastic. Decimating biodiversity. Polluting the atmosphere. Warming the planet to climate tipping points with the consequences increasingly on our TV screens. Normal means deaths and preventable disease from the pollution in our cities. Normal means over a million people accessing food banks here in the UK. Normal means a chronic shortage of affordable housing and rent-seeking landlords. Normal means the politics of hate and division. 

Why would anyone go back to that? 

Monday, 28 June 2021

Allotment update - 28th June 2021

Well, it has just been Midsummer and the weather has decided that it is late September. Whilst the rain is welcome, in that we don't have to do much watering, it does mean that the local slugs and snails have some exciting meals out....

The allotment is divided into five main sections, four rotational beds and one permanent bed, although at the sides of each rotational patch are some permanent planting or pots. The view above is of the top section this year nearest the gate. In the far corner have been some radishes, which are sown every so often so as to keep a succession throughout the season. The turnips that were planted next to them went to seed as this Spring has been rather topsy turvy in terms of weather, first very cold then very dry then very wet into the start of Summer. In the back right there's a bed of mini sweetcorn, started indoors in cardboard tubes and peat pots, at least fifty plants. Each plant will usually produce about three cobs and we freeze them in portions or have them fresh in stir fry. 
The net is covering a mixture of brassicas, some cabbages, calabrese and broccoli, all of which seem to be doing well. The net is to stop sparrows and pigeons from nibbling them and the cabbage white butterflies from laying eggs on them. 

The view above is of the second section of the allotment. This year there's onions, some of which have been picked now, and two stacks with carrots in, both of which have young carrots in now. There's some parsnips out of shot to the right, as well as some leeks and spring onions. In the foreground are the tops of the blueberries which are in pots of ericaceous compost, these are now fully enclosing in the cage now to protect the fruit from birds as it ripens. Though that didn't stop a blackbird trying to poke its beak through last year! In the middle are some cosmos and wallflowers. I have left a few forget-me-nots, ragwort and poppies to grow in gaps, the poppies do seem to attrack blackfly away from other plants and many other insects seem to benefit from their presence. 

One of the carrot tyre stacks, with comfrey to one side and pear trees and the grape vine in the background. The comfrey is a favourite of several bee species that come into the allotment. At the moment the bees seem to be feeding on the blackberry flowers, some nettles and dead nettles I have allowed to grow in a patch of the allotment near the hedge, the comfrey and the cotoneaster. 

After the permanent bed which consists of blackcurrants, raspberries, a damson tree and an apple tree, there's what is. this year, the pea and bean bed. We grow borlotti beans (and occasionally yin yang and kidney beans) nowadays though we used to grow runner and french beans for family until they had access to an allotment themselves through an In Bloom group. There's a few courgettes in this bed too, alongside the overwintered broad beans, which are producing well at the moment. It always has puzzled me why broad beans need so much pod for perhaps five or six beans, though it has been suggested to me that they need plenty of insulation given the cold Spring we have had!

Down the bottom of the allotment this year is the potato patch. Red Duke of York and Kestrel this year. We used to grow a lot of Desiree but in recent years the yields haven't been too great. I did get some Sarpo Mira one year which were really productive but are difficult to get around here without ordering them, and that is an expensive way to get potato seed when there is a nearby nursery we can get loose ones in any quantity from. 

The potatoes had plenty of earthing up against the very late frosts (last one was early May and there were some cold nights even after that) and there's a few flowers on them now. Once we have finished the sack of potatoes bought from the local butchers (with the potatoes coming from the Yorkshire Wolds) then we'll start on ours. At the back of the picture above is the hazelnut tree which grows very enthusiastically, hopefully we'll have some hazelnuts again this year. We didn't plant the tree, it was there when we got the allotment and survived half of it being chopped down in the neighbouring allotment when it was cleared for use by the landowner. There's blackberry bushes at the back too, which the bees are loving for the blossom at the moment. 

So, lots of work to do. Today, having checked for birds, I finished off giving the hedge a trim, having started this last week and combined this work with removing nettles from the blackcurrant and raspberry bushes and some other weeding. We also got some swift boxes put up on the house today but that is for another blog...

Friday, 25 June 2021

Local Bees

We spend quite a bit of time making our garden, yard and allotment a pollinator-friendly oasis. Quite apart from the benefits to the local insects, another motivation is that over the past few years many gardens in our street have been paved or tarmac-ed over and some of the other nearby allotment owners still cling to the weedkillers and other chemicals or insist on mowing and strimming everything in sight. So we want to do everything we can to provide an oasis in this increasingly barren local landscape.

In this blog I talk about the Tawny Mining Bees that appear in Spring in our garden and make their little holes in the blank spaces in the flower beds. They came again this year and it was fascinating to watch them popping in and out and excavating with their legs. 

More recently, a friend in a neighbouring allotment has had Tree Bumblebees set up home in a bird box they have put up on the side of their shed. These are regularly in our allotment foraging.

The Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) is a recent arrival to England, having only first been reported in 2001 in Wiltshire but has quickly spread north as far as Scotland. More about the Tree Bumblebee - even known to evict Blue Tits from nestboxes (!) - is on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website

I was doing some weeding in the allotment not long ago and wondered what an unusual bee was that has stopped to visit some half grown poppies amongst the potatoes. Online enquiries found that it was an Orange-Vented Mason Bee (Osmia leaiana), not commonly recorded in our part of the world.

I contribute records onto iRecord, the NBN (National Biodiversity Network) recording scheme for flora and fauna. They also have species maps  which give a reasonable idea of the distribution, although this is from comparatively recent sightings. 

This last Wednesday I was in the yard with my daughter when a bee that looked like it was stuck to a section of leaf landed on a flowerpot! It spent a few minutes resting on the edge of the flowerpot before taking off, still with the leaf. 

Upon research, I discovered that this was a Leafcutter Bee, although I am not yet sure of which species, there are potentially three different ones that it could be that are found in North Yorkshire. 

Leafcutter bees cut out and take small section of plant leaves to line their nests and do no lasting damage to plants.  

A close up (a bit blurred as I only had the small Canon camera to hand) 

In the photo, you can see that the bee is using all its legs to hold onto the segment of leaf it has obtained, I would imagine that it needs rest every so often if it is carrying these all day! 

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Allotment Update - 6th June 2020

Finally, over the past week or two, the weather has improved and there's been some warm sunshine! The garden and allotment have responded and it now looks like we actually grow things!

Today, these were the first of the broad beans to have with Sunday lunch, the plants being overwintered with protection on the coldest nights in winter and early Spring.

They have grown a bit sideways rather than up but I think that is the wind, rain and a bit of snow over the winter months. 

Also shown on this photograph is what may be the last of this season's asparagus, as we've been picking it now for several weeks it may be time now to let the plants rest and recover for next year. There's three asparagus plants and an action for over the winter will be to build this bed up better to give more protection from late frosts.

Sunday lunch was a piece of lamb shoulder from our local butchers, the lamb having been raised on a farm three miles away. Quite lean actually for a shoulder cut and delicious with mint sauce, gravy and vegetables. 

"Peas release me, let me go.....". Maybe not quite the song of Engelbert Humperdinck but it is now time to uncover the pea plants now they are flowering and hope that the local pigeons and sparrows don't have some kind of party! 

For some reason this year we have had trouble getting peas to germinate so this row is all that we have, which is a shame. 

This is the potato patch down the bottom of the allotment this year. Struggled to find space to get all of them in to be honest and had to do a lot of earthing up against frost until May, Now, they seem quite healthy and are growing well. Just need watering now until picking the first ones come the end of July. 

This photo is taking looking over the blueberries, whch will need netting over soon, and the carrot tyre stacks towards the blackcurrants and pear trees. Plenty of pears on the Comice (nearest the camera) but fewer on the Conference (behind) due to the late frosts. Not many damsons for the same reason but we still have some in the freezer from last year! Although you can't see them very well on this photo there are some Cosmos between the tyre stacks. 

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

List of UK Independent Wool Spinners, Dyers and Suppliers


Name                                                                                                            Find/Events/ Shop                                                 Webpage
Ardalanish - Mill Shop Map
Ardalanish - Online Shop Online Shop
Baa Ram Ewe Online Shop
Birlinn Yarn Company Online Shop
Blacker Yarns Map (visits by appointment)
Black Isle Yarns Online Shop
The Border Mill - Online Online Shop
The Border Mill - Shop Map
Buachaille - Kate Davies Online Shop
Caithness Yarns Online Shop
Cambrian Wool Online Shop
Cartref Yarn Online Shop
Countess Ablaze - Online Shop Online Shop
Countess Ablaze - Studio Shop Map
Daughter of a Shepherd Events and News
Doulton Border Leicester Yarn Online Shop
Eden Cottage Yarns Online Shop
Erika Knight Suppliers
Garthenor Online Shop
Gathered Sheep Yarns Online Shop
Giddy Aunt Yarns Online Shop
Grey Sheep Co Online Shop
The Hollyhock Flock Buying Options
Hooligan Yarns Online Shop
J.C. Rennie & Co Online Shop
Jamieson and Smith Online Shop
John Arbon Textiles Visits not possible at the moment
Kettle Yarn Online Shop
Knockando Woolmill Online Shop
The Lace Knittery Online Shop
Lammermuir Wool Online Shop
Laxtons Online Shop
Lily Warne Wool Online Shop
Nellie and Eve Online Shop
Northern Yarn - Online Shop Online Shop
Northern Yarn - Shop Map
Peak District Yarns Online Shop
R.E.Dickie Shop Currently Closed
RiverKnits - Online Shop Online Shop
RiverKnits - Studio Shop Map
Toft Alpaca Online Shop
Town End Yarns Online Shop
Triskelion Online Shop
Uist Wool - Online Shop Online Shop
Uist Wool - Shop Map
Wensleydale Longwool Online Shop
West Yorkshire Spinners Map
Whistlebare - Online Shop Online Shop
Whistlebare - Farm Studio Shop Map
Woolistheanswer Online Shop

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Allotment Update

It is a very slow start to Spring at the moment. Unduly cold, lots of overnight frosts and, it is said, the frostiest April in sixty years here in England. On many evenings we have had to go and cover seedlings and the fruit trees to protect them. 

The little lean-to greenhouse in the front garden has been getting full!

I think the damson tree hasn't appreciated the cold nights and there's nowhere near as much blossom that has "set" than this time last year. Perhaps just as well - there's still some damsons in the freezer! The Conference pear tree might not have as many on either this year, 

However, the apple trees are in full blossom as well as the Comice pear tree. 

This is the Falstaff, which is along the back fence, and gets the sun for most of the day. Last year I picked well over a hundred apples from this minarette tree and it looks to be a good year this year too as long as we don't get any more cold weather. 

This is the Gala apple tree, a reasonable crop last year but with it being very late ripening it has to be netted against hungry blackbirds, some apples aren't ripe until early December! 

This is the Chivers Delight apple tree which is getting overshadowed a little bit by the hazelnut tree at the back of the allotment. However, last year it had the biggest apples it has ever had, a yellow apple much more sweet than a Golden Delicious. 

The rhubarb in the foreground was a division from the main plant a couple of years ago and looks like it is now well established. I have frozen some already from the main plant and will, once I have sufficient, make a rhubarb compote for use with porridge or on bread. 

The potatoes have also needed considerable earthing up this April with the regular late frosts. However, with protection of the broad beans, peas, turnips, strawberries, blueberries and radishes, it looks like we have been able to ensure everything survived. 

The asparagus has been coming up and we have had, I think, three pickings from it now. 

There's been plenty of purple sprouting broccoli, we have around a dozen plants and although I don't like the taste of it one bit (!) the others in the family eat it regularly. There again, there's only two of us that eat leeks, including me, and there's only myself that eats gherkins, but there's always something for everyone in the thirty-five or so varieties of fruit and vegetables that we grow in the allotment, yard and house!