Thursday, 11 May 2017

A new moth for me

Disturbed while I was gardening, a moth flew away and settled on some grasses. Of course, I had to go and look and I'm very glad I did, as it turned out to be a moth I've never seen before. It's quite common in south and central UK, but I've only ever seen it in the field guide: Mother Shipton Euclidia mi. It was formerly named Callistege mi, but there have been taxonomic changes. I keep tripping over changes to names for plants, spiders, now moths! My first edition field guides to the (macro)Moths of Great Britain and Ireland (2003) and Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland (2012) use the BF (Bradley and Fletcher) number, but there is now a "new" decimal-style checklist number, corresponding to "A checklist of the Lepidoptera of the British Isles" by Agassiz, D.J.L., Beavan, S.D. & Heckford R.J. 2013, also referred to as "the 2013 checklist" and ADH numbers.

Mother Shipton moth on grass
The mirror-image cream-edged brown markings are thought to resemble the profile of a hag, so it was named after Mother Shipton, the famous16th century Yorkshire witch, who was reputed to have been hideously ugly (although, considering that witches always got a bad press, could she have been recorded as anything but ugly?). The moth may just be cream and shades of brown, but I think Mother Shipton is rather beautiful.

The larvae feed on clovers and various grasses, overwintering as a pupa on grass stems. The adult flies by day from May to July, visiting flowers such as ox-eye daisies and buttercups, and is easily disturbed, so I'm amazed I never came across it when I lived on the farm. They may be common, but the meadows and wild, grassy places that they and many other species need are becoming less so, something which makes scruffy, untamed waste places important for biodiversity.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Spring Flowers without the April Showers

The April high pressure settled in and only gave way to rainy weather a few times, so it's been a dry, cool month. Ideal gardening weather, but I had to mostly sit it out for a couple of weeks to rest my back.

I gingerly planted the short rows of pea Early Onward and broad bean Bunyard's Exhibition, grown from small 'sample packs' of seeds, creating pea supports from some of the privet branches I'd stacked after hacking back the hedge in February. I found the back pain very limiting. The slightest bend, twist or stretch and my right quadratus lumborum (QL) would go into spasm. I did some seed sowing - more broad beans, peas, a trough of cut-and-come-again salad leaves, a cauldron of rainbow radishes, rainbow chard, more sweet peas, and resowed the beetroot, which hadn't germinated from the first sowing (probably too cold, and old seed). As I pottered, I reflected that if I was out of action for long because of my back, I wouldn't have the ground ready for any of this to go into.

Bed rest and gentle exercises seemed to help. I treated myself to a cheap 'growhouse' - a tubular metal frame with shelves, topped by a transparent plastic cover with a zipped 'door', it probably gets warmer in there for anything needing to be sown 'in heat' than if I put it in the house (even if I had the space on the window ledges, which I don't). Courgettes were the first of the tender seeds to be sown, along with some sunflowers and nasturtiums, more sweet peas, more broad beans and some peas.

A friend from Saundersfoot offered me a massage to help with the back. I hadn't seen her for a few years while life got a bit busy (although we keep in touch via Facebook - love it or hate it, it is good for that sort of thing!)  She was brilliant, finding and releasing lots of painful trigger points and making sure I was comfortable. What an angel! Although I still felt a bit sore for a couple of days, it really helped. Nearly a month after injuring myself, I still get the occasional twinge, but I thought I would be out of action for a lot longer.

25th April was quite a windy day when I went to Saundersfoot, and just as I was leaving, I heard a crash from the patio, and could see the growhouse had fallen over. Later, I found it had impaled itself on the buddleia. I put it upright, but it wouldn't stay up in the wind, and each time it flew a few feet and fell over, it landed on a different pot or shrub and the cover tore again. I left it for a few days (it rained hard on the 29th and was still a bit grey and drizzly on 1st May, despite a weather forecast for dry weather!) This past week has been quite nice and dry again, so I sorted out the growhouse, put it back together, mended the cover, re-potted the spilled and now sprouting seeds it contained. (Almost everything was okay, except for the peas, of which there was no trace at all!) Then I found some bubble-wrap to go around a paving slab, which I put in the centre of the bottom shelf. To hell with whatever the weight limit is supposed to be, try falling over with that weight in the base! It was tested by the extremely brisk easterlies a couple of days ago and stood firm. It now also contains sweetcorn, French and runner beans and Florence fennel.

During the couple of weeks I was 'resting', everything seemed to burst into bloom. The dandelions, which I had been persuaded to leave as an important nectar and pollen source for bees, flowered and burst into a sea of dandelion clocks with scarcely a bee visiting them. So much for that, the smart bees know there are much more interesting flowers to visit. The Clematis montana and the lilac look particularly gorgeous. The bugle I propagated last year has beautiful flower spikes. The aquilegias, which I had been digging up to pot on, suddenly put up flower spikes, and I realised how many had self-seeded across the back of the garden. They would completely collapse if I tried to move them now, and are in the way of the difficult terrain near the back fence, so it seemed like a good idea to go with the course of least resistance and clear some ground from the centre of the garden instead.

I started by digging up yet more blasted bramble, and just randomly dug around. As the dry spell continued, it has become easier and easier. The soil is still stony, so I'm still met with the 'thunk' of fork tines hitting stone, but there isn't so much of it. There are patches of hard pan, which needs a bit of work. There is also quite a lot of pea gravel, so it has been improved, probably by the original owners who were keen gardeners. Although the soil is obviously fertile, it is also obviously clay-based and could do with further improvement. I'm amazed by the amount of broken glass in the soil. I had expected to find greenhouse glass, as I'd been told panes were broken when they removed the old greenhouse with its warped frame. There is quite a lot of bottle glass too. I've also dug up more pendulous sedge, this time apparently planted with a bin bag around its roots, and there are all sorts of bits of plastic. But, on the bright side, no bones, bits of asbestos sheet, lengths of barbed wire or rusting chunks of farm machinery. Also, no stone axe heads, spindle whorls, coins, or buried treasure. But I have found a jingle-bell (which doesn't jingle, as it's full of mud), a blue seed-bead, a button and a bit of clay pipe-stem. Treasure enough!

While digging, I've been thinking about my technique. I used to be good at using both sides of my body evenly, standing square to my fork and not working to one side or twisted. Obviously I lost the knack in the few years when my knees were really badly painful and I stopped working the veg patch on the farm. So it has been good to do some mindful digging, reminding myself to correct my alignment, to use both hands. Between improved technique, less back pain, taking frequent rest breaks and lighter soil, I've found I am clearing the ground quite well. The area to be cleared still seems quite dauntingly large, although I know once I start planting, it won't seem big enough. Broad bean Express has lived up to its name and has now been planted out.

The problem with digging up all this turf and weeds (not to mention still trying to root out brambles) is that the freestanding compost heap is now a complete monster. I've been using turves to build walls to it, while loose weeds and kitchen waste go in the middle, adding accelerator every few inches.

The swifts arrived sometime around the 5th or 6th of May - I forgot to note the exact date, although I remembered thinking as I heard their excited squees as they scythed through the blue sky that they were a month later than the swallows. I'm making the most of the fine weather while it's here; I have a feeling this might be our summer!