Monday 27 June 2011


It was as hot as the backside of hell this afternoon, and the bees were in a right mood. I couldn't go within ten yards of the hives without being buzzed. That's most unusual, but they're known for an extreme aversion to thundery weather. You don't open a hive on a day like this!

I've mislaid a pea. I had two varieties from a Swedish seed bank; they're so rare that we don't know what they look like, and as far as I know only one other person had seed. Paula is doing fine, but I couldn't find Skansk Margart. Either its lost its label or I forgot to put one on in the first place. I know I planted it out as I found the label from the original pot. I did find a few plants of a strange pea, sharing a wigwam with Clarke's Beltony Blue. It has a pale pink, self-coloured flower unlike anything I've seen before in a pea. I bet that's it, but I'll have to check with the other grower. I hope it's not purple-podded, or it'll be hard to tell the two apart.

Pigeons have been trampling all over some of the peas I'm growing for a crop rather than seed, despite CD's hanging just overhead. They've attacked very few pods - they aren't ripe yet - but they've had a good go at the foliage, and the stems are all broken down. It's not going to make them any easier to harvest.

Saturday 25 June 2011

Wasps, Bramleys and Peas

This is a wasps' nest I killed for another plotholder. Opening the shed door tore the side off, and they really went wild. You can see the structure quite well, with the horizontal paper combs, and the white grubs hanging upside-down, each one hanging from a silk thread. The adults feed them on insects, and in return, the grubs feed them on sweet syrup.

I planred this Bramley's about six years ago, and it's beginning to crop well. It took a while to get moving because of the waterlogging; fruit trees don't like it at all. It's a partial tip bearer, and the heavy fruit weigh thin branches down, to the point where it grows sideways or even downwards. When it's grown without a trunk, people end up tieing the branches to stakes to keep them off the ground. I wish now I'd given it a taller trunk!

I finished planting out the peas today. 24 varieties, unless I've missed some. There's plenty more still to do!

Thursday 23 June 2011

Wasps, Bees and Weeds

This is rapidly getting bigger. The wasps still quite unaggressive though, and ignore me while I watch them. The patterns in the paper - made from chewed wood pulp from all sorts of places - are amazing. Both hives are getting stronger; Hive 4 is laying down honey - at least ten pounds in the bottom super during the last week, a smidgeon in the one above it, and a lot more in the broodbox. Hive 5 is expanding steadily, and now has five frames of brood, and a little stored honey.

Weeds are doing better than anything else at the moment. they always seem to at this time of year, but it's far worse than usual as I couldn't keep up last year. I'm really struggling, but as long as I can keep planting things out I'll manage. The slugs hammered the French beans and the Gloire de Portugal when it rained. All the other brassicas were left unmolested, as are the runner beans. I should have some peas soon. I've had a few lettuces, and while the spinach went straight to seed, it is at least beginning to flower, so I should have plenty of seeds.

The Sarracenia flava are eating large quantities of medium-sized insects, up to and including wasps. I've been surprised how many of the latter I see staring up at me when I look down the pitchers. They're not supposed to be looking for nectar this early in the season. S rubra only eats smaller victims, and doesn't seem to get as many, unless it's simply that they're sinking out of sight, while the flavas are getting clogged up with larger prey.

Wednesday 15 June 2011


These grow in acid bogs in the US. Such an environment is very short on nutrients, expecially nitrogen, and plants have developed all sorts of ways to supplement their diet with small invertebrates. Sarracenia leaves are rolled into a trumpet shape; the upper part produces nectar to attract insects. Just inside the lip, where the plant produces the most nectar, is a very smooth area with no hairs; the insect can't get a secure gip, and falls. Further down, all the hairs point downward, making it hard for the victim to go in any other direction. Eventually, it falls into the liquid at the bottom, which contains a wetting agent, and soon drowns. It rots, and the plant absorbs the resulting soup.

This is Sarracenia flava, the largest species. These pitchers are about fifteen inches high, and well over an inch across; other strains get significantly bigger. They look as though they could probably eat a blubottle or a wasp, but most of their diet seems to be small flies about the size of an aphid.

Sarracenia rubra rubra is the smallest member of the genus, barely reaching a foot high; the pitchers are about half an inch in diameter.

Meanwhile, the bees are flourishing, and beginning to store honey for me. I'm struggling to fins space for everything I need to plant out, as a lot of the plot is still a mass of weeds from last year. I can't go fast enough, that's my problem!

Monday 13 June 2011

Late frost

We had a slight frost on Saturday night - 11-12 June; my record late frost here was on the 16th a few years ago. The tips of the potatos were shrivelled, and one or two beans which escaped the fleece were blasted. The oca was OK, as was everything in the mini-greenhouses. Not too much damage, but it's unexpected this late.

I've been planting out peas and brassicas; the Daubenton's Kale is now almost a foot high, and out among the peas. When I pull them, the brassicas can grow on and profit from the extra nitrogen.

Friday 10 June 2011

Useful insects

This beauty's in one of my empty hives; I can lift the roof off and watch them without being threatened at all. They get through thousands of insects a day to feed the larvae, and are far too useful to kill. There's really very little chance of getting stung; I've shared my shed with wasps several times, and never had a sting yet.

The bees have just started to lay down honey in the supers, where I take the harvest from. The brambles are starting to flower, but from what I can see most of the bees are still on ground elder.

I fleeced the beans and the oca this afternoon, as they're forecasting a couple of cold nights, and I've already had a couple of bean varieties damaged by frost. Most of the peas are recovering well from the pigeon damage, and the rest should be OK once I've rearranged the netting a bit. Unfortunately that's going to mean readjusting all the ties, and I didn't have time today.

The Helleborus argutifolius has set seed, though it's not ripe yet. I'm not sure there's going to be anough for swapping, but I should at least get some seedlings to grow on, and hopefully have more next year. There's heavy rain forecast for Sunday, but I'm still struggling to get ahead of the weeds.