My lake

My lake

Monday, 1 September 2014

Flies, flying things, and things that are called flies but aren't

Well here I am on my new iMac which is pretty super-duper and very fast! My blog and the font look a bit different but I'll get used to it. Comparing my photos on my old PC monitor to this giant screen is a shock to the system - a very nice shock!

Anyhow here are some flying critters seen over the weekend. The first two are a couple of Volucella hoverflies that I hadn't seen before. I'd been over the lane in the orchard picking pears then had a wander up the road with my camera. Thanks to the recent rain the wildflowers growing on the verges and in the ditches are doing very well. I'm pretty sure it's Hogweed (Heraclum sphodylium) in the first set of photos - a large umbellifer that grows in all the ditches around here. 

Hoverfly (Volucella inanis).

Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens).

A fly of some sort feeding on a Dahlia.

I'm hoping for more butterflies this week as the temps are due to rise. There are a few Peacocks and Red Admirals around which I associate with this time of year, but few and far between. I'm used to seeing loads of them (and Commas too) feasting on rotting plums and feeding on my Sedums, but so far it's just not happening!

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria).

A tatty Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) on Feverfew.

The Peacocks (Inachis io) I've seen lately all seem rather small.

Zephirine Drouhin the rose has been looking tatty lately but has
managed a few more flowers - and who is that handsome dude on the leaf?

I don't know the ID but it's a wasp of some sort and a very handsome beast I reckon.

This Carder Bee matches the Dahlia perfectly.

I also saw this female Scorpionfly in my orchard. The banks of the stream are covered with nettles, thistles and brambles, perfect for wildlife. There are many orb weaving spiders too which is just what the Scorpionflies like, as they are scavengers feeding on dead insects and sometimes stealing from spiders' webs. They also eat live aphids so are welcome in my garden, and I have seen them in the veg patch a number of times. Scorpionflies are not flies despite the name and belong to the order Mecoptera.

Scorpionfly (Panorpa communis) stealing a spider's dinner.

Finally, something that can't fly yet as it's still only in the nymph stage but it was looking pretty on my Hydrangea so it got its picture taken.

Common Green Shield Bug (Palomena prasina) nymph on a Hydrangea petal.

I'm glad I didn't need to write reams for this post as I'm still getting used to a new keyboard, the only difficult thing about this computer change. 

Have a good week everyone!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Fruit frenzy but going quieter on the bug front

It's certainly harvest time and that means time to preserve some of this bounty, especially the fruit. I'm only spending time jamming and chutneying the fruit that needs to be cooked from fresh, so raspberries and blackberries are in the freezer and can be made into jam and jelly respectively later on. Freezer space is at a premium at this time of year so I also had to make some tomato sauce to make a bit of room in my chest freezer. I've still got three huge plastic bags full of frozen tomatoes and loads more ripening, despite the cooler weather.

I'm keeping busy..... the Mixed Fruit Chutney has damsons in it as well as tomatoes,
and the Sweet Aubergine Preserve is a middle eastern recipe and amazingly delicious.

The rain that came over two weeks ago was just in time for the plums; however many of them split open or completely burst because they'd been dry and were then subjected to rather a lot of moisture all at once. Of course that's letting in rot so the greengages are spoiling at a rate of knots, but I managed to make my jam and it's the first time in three years I've had enough fruit for jam from the tree. The purple plums have also started rotting but there's only so much one can eat or preserve anyway, and just when you need some handy neighbours to take some off your hands, they all go away on holiday!

Greengage, known as Reine Claude here in France, and an unknown purple dessert plum.

Autumn fruiting Raspberries 'Zeva' and thornless cultivated Blackberries (with a Dock Bug).

Everyone loves blackberries! Dock Bug (Coreus marginatus) nymph left and (I think)
the Cricket is a male Speckled Bush Cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima).

We usually see juvenile Green Woodpeckers in summer pecking away at the ants' nests in the lawn, and since taking these photos recently I've been seeing and hearing them regularly. They are loud!

A male juvenile Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis).

Male juvenile Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) again looking a bit fluffy.

It was time for my OH to do some varnishing but when he went to unhook the bedroom shutters he found about a dozen bats roosting behind one of them. Some flew off but he had to close the shutter carefully to protect the rest of them, so no varnishing for that shutter that day! Now I missed what came next but I'm kind of glad that I did. As he was varnishing the window frames and the other shutter, a bat came back and started circling around. My OH retreated slightly and started to close the windows so that it could go back behind the shutter, when all of a sudden out of nowhere came a Sparrowhawk who caught and flew off with the poor bat! Oops.

I assume they are Pipistrelles which are common bats but they look bigger in the photo, but I think there were several of them all grouped together here. I couldn't do any better than a silhouette and was trying not to think of the drop as I leant out of the window!

Bats roosting behind the bedroom shutter!

Here are a few tatty creatures seen recently. Summer feels like it's really coming to an end with the cooler, more cloudy weather and there are far fewer butterflies than I'd expect at this time of year. Hopefully it will pick up in September.

I'm not sure what the bee is, possibly a Bombus sylvarum.

Most of the butterflies I'm seeing are Browns or Whites - here's a Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)
 feeding on my Garlic Chives - another odd thing about this year because this plant is usually
covered in bees, flies and some butterflies, but it seems fairly unpopular this year.

And still the only 'Blue' I've seen here in my garden this year - this is a female Holly Blue
(Celastrina argiolus). They don't normally open their wings when resting or feeding,
so I was lucky. Apparently they only do this in weak sunshine.
Weak sunshine is what we are grateful for right now!

Female Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus).

I nearly didn't take a photo of this bug as I thought it was a Sloe/Hairy Shield Bug - luckily I checked because I'm wrong. I then spent half an hour IDing it only to find when I was keywording my photos that I've already seen and logged this species this year - it would have been quicker to do a search for shield bugs in my photo library! Judging by where I live in France, then using this guide I would hazard a guess at Carpocoris purpureipennis, but it's too difficult to say, so let's just say it's one of the Carpocoris species.

Carpocoris sp., an interesting bug with little info about it on the internet.
Obviously it likes running around on hairy arms. :-)

Carpocoris sp. doing the 'biz', seen back in June.

There appears to be an exchange of fluid going on here -
looking at my other photos that droplet disappeared, so I hope it went where intended! ;-)

The eight day weather forecast looks dismal for the next week, although I will appreciate whatever rain we may get today as the garden is already drying out.

I may go quiet for a while and that's because I have a new desktop arriving this week - and not just any old desktop. I'm jumping ship so it's bye-bye Microsoft, and hello to the world of Apple and iMacs, which could be interesting for a few days weeks? until I get used to it! :-) 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Veg patch update - August

A few bugs at the end of this post but it's mainly about the veggies for a change!

Blight came about 3 weeks ago despite having sprayed with Bordeaux Mix as a preventive measure. I removed most of the leaves from the tomatoes and we sprayed again, but it was too late to stop the spread on the potatoes so the haulms had to be removed. I haven't dug up my maincrop Desirees yet so don't know what size they will be, as some were still flowering when the blight hit. However removing most of the tomato leaves has meant they started ripening much quicker (maybe I should do that more often!) so I've been having an amazing harvest from them and have only lost one plant so far, which got blight in the stem. The downside to B. Mix of course is that the fruit gets splashed whilst spraying, so we have to wash them very carefully which is time consuming. But without the Mix it wouldn't be worth my while growing tomatoes at all. Cross fingers they will last a bit longer!

After the blight but just before the rains came.

Far more welcome was rain. Real, substantial, proper, pouring rain. The garden had been so dry and I'd been watering and hosing most of the time since early June. There was so much rain over three days that the stream even started flowing again which filled up the lake by about one and half feet. Hopefully now it won't get too low before the autumn rains come and fill it up completely.

The seasonal stream which fills the lake.

Nothing is stopping the courgettes (does it ever?!) or the cucumbers which are going great guns. I'm growing a variety of cucumber called 'Burpless' which I bought in England. Unfortunately these are long cucumbers so that means each one is twice the size of the ones I usually grow..... and I've got three plants! Next year only two..... and one of the two courgette plants decided to split and grow in two directions so I'm getting the equivalent of having three plants - way too much! Both my fridges and both upright and chest freezers are now full to the brim with produce including the vats of courgette, basil and parmesan soup which I make and there's no room for more - so it's compost time for the excess courgettes from now on. The hens get half a cucumber a day but turn up their noses at courgettes!

I have my first aubergine fruit in more than 10 years - although to be fair this is only the second time I've tried growing them here. The first time I had zero fruit! However since cutting the potato haulms down I keep finding Colorado Beetles on them which have to be killed, so I keep a couple of bashing stones nearby - instant death although I don't like doing it!

I'm harvesting this much every 2-3 days, bar the aubergines.
The green toms are from a plant that had blight in the stem, so it had
to be removed. These are ripening indoors now.

Nasturtiums are taking over and these around the compost bins are the ones that were being eaten by the Ornate Shield Bugs, which seem to have disappeared now, so the plants look bigger and healthier and at last have flowers. I haven't been able to close the gate to the veg patch for ages, but as that doesn't stop the cats getting in there's little point bothering.

Nasturtiums, and on the right a Physalis which is now a bit swamped by them, as well
as Dill growing through this jungle, but Physalis is a bit of a thug itself so it's doing fine!

Can you see what's wrong with this picture? :-)
One potimarron stem had to be rescued from the field next door and
laid down on the bit of grass between my fence and the electric fencing.

I cleared the patch where the leeks were to be transplanted which had had a lot of weeds and self seeded Phacelia growing there.... then the rains came and I should have known this would happen!

Phacelia seedlings galore!

A few views of the veg patch - cucumber frame on the left.

Even my spring onions get rust, and all the lettuce bolted at once.
But it looks pretty (ish) and the hens love to eat it.

In the foreground on the left is a Thai Aubergine called 'Kermit'. :-) I have had one whole fruit
from it. On the right are.... well if you don't know you are very lucky!!!

I love having the space to have tons of annual flowers in here too.
No colour schemes - here anything goes and the brighter the better!

Left and bottom right are from my Pollinator Meadow year 3. I have Mirabilis jalapa (top left)
and a different kind of Knapweed (bottom right) which need to be saved and transplanted
elsewhere for next year. Middle and top right is Orange Cosmos (and a Jersey Tiger Moth).

Funny shaped Sunflowers which I grew from seed!

Here's another one early one morning with a
Jersey Tiger Moth (Euplagia quadripunctaria) on it.
There are loads of Jersey Tigers this summer.

A Woolly Bear on the perimeter fence! This is the caterpillar of the
Garden Tiger Moth (Arctia caja). This was back in July and I saw it the
next day in the weeds I was clearing for the leek patch. They run really fast!

Now what was I saying about not seeing any of 'my' Swallowtails coming back to visit? Obviously some have, as I suddenly noticed there were a number of caterpillars on my Dill in the veg patch, of varying instars. This one though I found on the Bronze Fennel out the front of the house, which has no foliage left and the flowers are going over, hence the reason why it was looking so yellow. As it had nothing left to eat I transferred it to some Dill in the veg patch and it ought to green up in colour due to a change in diet. I am NOT bringing any of these cats indoors though! I've done my bit, now they fend for themselves which is as it should be. But I have my caterpillars to talk to again which makes me happy. :-)

Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) caterpillar.
The top photo is its rear end with the unhappy face.

And then there's the fruit, oh boy is there fruit, but that will have to be another post!