How the Ladybird Got its Spots

August 9, 2018

greenhouse

Arriving home this afternoon, I headed up to the greenhouse, thinking to update you all on its progress. But I got distracted by a strange yellow ladybird, apparently without any spots, something I had never seen before:

yellow ladybird

Naturally, I asked Twitter, and naturally Twitter knew:

And lo and behold, Twitter was right too – after a few hours the ladybird was now spotted and looking a little less yellow (the black thing beside it is in fact the old pupal case which it had emerged from)

ladybird with spots

And an hour or so after that, you would never have known it had ever looked like anything but a classic red ladybird.

normal looking ladybird

Apologies if everyone knew that ladybirds, like Dalmations, need to wait for their spots – I had absolutely no idea, and felt I just had to share. So, you’ll have to wait a bit longer for a more detailed account of the greenhouse itself (although – spoilers! – things are looking pretty spiffy at the moment, if a bit too courgette-heavy for my liking).

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Do Bee Do Bee Do

August 1, 2018

After the weather we’ve had, it’s been pretty depressing to set off on the bike in a jacket, gloves and tweed cap – I’ve grown rather fond of pottering round in a t-shirt and shorts. And I’m not the only one feeling the weather. Venturing out this afternoon to rescue the washing from yet another shower, I came across a dopey bumble bee that seemed to have given up the ghost.

A teaspoonful of honey* and water seemed to do the trick.

bee sipping honey

It’s rare you get to see a bee properly up close, so I made the most of it as it lapped up the water. Insect tongues seem to be all the rage this week …

bee close up

It soon perked up, had a poo (or whatever the bee equivalent** is – certainly something shot out its back end; I told you I was watching it closely), groomed itself and as I left it to it, was struggling to get airborne again. I hope in my eagerness to help I haven’t contributed to some sort of apine obesity crisis…

I hope everyone in London is enjoying their break from the heat, because I can tell you, I’d be very happy to see the heatwave return up here. And so would my new pal the bee …

*Post-hoc googling suggests I should have just used sugar and water rather than honey so hopefully I haven’t spread any nasty germs

** Googling bee poo suggests that they do … as always, you step into specialist fora at your own peril as an Internet rabbithole awaits.


Flutterby

July 23, 2018

butterflies on buddleia bushes

Whether it’s the warm weather or my relaxed approach to the many buddleia bushes in the garden, the place is alive with butterflies at the moment. In fact, we’ve had so many peacocks sunning themselves on the paths and elsewhere, I’ve had to be a bit careful where I tread …

peacock butterfly

This one was obliging enough to sit for a portrait and even uncoil its tongue – which I didn’t notice until I was going through the photos later. How cool is that? They’re definitely creatures that just get weirder the closer you look.

peacock tongue coiled

It also helps justify my chemical-free approach to gardening as I’d rather have weeds and butterflies (and hares) than a bowling-green lawn and a pristine gravel drive (although actually what we’ve got (as well as the weeds and the butterflies and hares) is a gravel drive that is closer to lawn than gravel in places). Fortunately, an hour or so mindlessly pulling up weeds in the drive is rather soothing when you’re in the right frame of mind, so one day we might get all the way back to gravel …

Even better, is weeding the raised beds. I have to confess that normally whenever I take a shot of any of my veg growing, I usually have to do a bit of hurried weeding first (I’ve even considered photoshopping the damn things out). But not this time. It may just be because they’re newly created and haven’t had time to get properly weed infested, but it took just half an hour to get those bits of the plot that the hares weren’t sitting on absolutely pristine.

weed free leeks

weed free fennel

I could get used to this …


Lurking

July 20, 2018

Heading to the garden yesterday afternoon to pick some beetroot, I encountered a problem:

hare hiding in the beetroot

Can’t see it? Let me help:

hidden hare with arrow

I did wonder whether I could sneak in and grab a couple of beetroot without disturbing it but it took fright (I say took fright: it didn’t so much run off as saunter so it’s possible they’re aware they would have us wrapped around their little fingers, if hares had little fingers). Fortunately the hares seem fonder of sitting on beetroot than eating it, so there was plenty for the beetroot salad* I had planned for my writers’ group pot luck dinner.

Other things lurking among the veg are, frankly, a bit less welcome:

courgette

I may have to learn to love courgettes. Recipes welcome, preferably ones that don’t end ‘and you can barely taste the courgette’ as that doesn’t really fill me with a sense that it’s worth growing.

Anyway, the salad seemed to go down well and after an evening of good food and great chat, I realised with a bit of shock that it was 10 o’clock and I had better get on my bike and ride home. I do love these long light and warm summer evenings. The heatwave may have left this corner of Scotland (it rained for most of today) but we’re still getting enough warm weather to make riding at night a positive pleasure – especially when there are no cars, and the only other thing moving as I made my way home were the bats dancing above my head.

night sky
*Beetroot, feta cheese and parsley – known as ‘Barbie salad’ because of the colour the feta cheese goes


Eating a Rainbow

July 4, 2018

Never mind all that gadding about in the sunshine in France, I hear you cry: what of the garden? How is your veg plot growing?

veg plot in july

Well, funny you should ask that – thanks to the fine weather and a helpful neighbour it’s all looking rather good, at least for now, although the hares have done their best to remove any danger we might have a glut of french beans by nibbling the seedlings as they emerge from the ground. They don’t seem to have quite the same taste for kale and rainbow chard though…

Unfortunately, as we were on our way back from France we had news of a family bereavement which means that rather than spending the next few weeks as we’d planned, going absolutely nowhere, the other half has already had to hot foot it back to the US and I will be following him for the weekend.

rainbow chard

This has left me home alone with no company but the hares, and the feeling that I ought to be at least trying to keep up with the garden’s production before it all starts to get out of hand. As someone who is not one of nature’s vegetable eaters, this is proving a bit of an effort. On the other hand, after a trip during which I struggled to eat even one serving of veg and one of fruit a day, let alone five of them, it will probably be good for me. Even if I’m still yet to find a completely convincing recipe for rainbow chard.

garden veg ready to cook

Perhaps I should invite the hares around for dinner?


Down in the Wildwood, Something Stirs

May 13, 2018

I love this time of the year, especially once POP is over and I can enjoy it, and above all I love the colour of the just-emerged spring leaves which is so fleeting and so gorgeous with the sunlight filtering through it that the Germans, of course, have a word for it:

Today, then, with the Weather Gods relenting and bringing us some proper May weather (I knew they read this blog), was the perfect day to finally visit Carrifran Wildwood, which I have blogged about before. We pass it every time we go back and forth to Duns, and we have watched with interest over the years as the tiny trees have grown up from a barely visible fuzz on the hillside, but we’ve never properly visited.

Carrifran Wildwood

Today we took the opportunity of a guided walk led by one of the people who’s been involved from the start (and joined by the contractor who planted several thousand of the trees we were there to see over the years). It was a gloriously sunny day, loud with birds, and a fascinating glimpse into a project I’ve long been admiring from afar.

carrifran new trees

It was great to hear about its history from the people involved and learn more about the wildlife that was coming back alongside the trees – but you don’t need a guide to see what an amazing difference a few determined people can make if they stick at it year after year (and don’t let anyone tell them what they’re doing is impossible).

trees emerging on the hillside

We even got to see the original rowan, the sole surviving tree in the valley when it all started, now surrounded by its own emerging offspring.

Original rowan

We’ve got used to Scottish hillsides being cropped bare by sheep and deer, and the rest of the valley where the wildwood lies does have its own bleak beauty, but Carrifran is something else.

Carrifran track

Such a contrast between the emerging native woods – and the bare hills and plantation forest beyond

Go if you can, in May if you can, when all the birds are singing their hearts out and the trees are just putting out their leaves. You won’t regret it.

Carrifran track

Though maybe bring some boots.


The Best Thing about this Snow …

January 19, 2018

still snowy

… is that we definitely know the hares are back. One picked its way down our path this morning at first light and settled in a little hollow it has made for itself above the pond. It’s not as chilled as past visiting hares have been – I suspect it knows it’s a bit more conspicuous than usual (it not being one of the mountain hares that goes white for the winter) so its ears keep swivelling around like a radar dish and it takes flight at the slightest movement from the house, leaving only a hare-shaped hole in the snow.

hollow in the snow

Place where hare was, sans hare. You’ll just have to use your imagination

Some clearing and ploughing from neighbours with way better toys than we have (our retired lawyer neighbour up the hill has not one but two diggers and relishes any opportunity to use them) means our road is somewhat passable; postal deliveries have been resumed and I was able to cycle almost all the way to and from our door, thanks to the magical ice tyres.

snow on the hills, green below

We walked in the woods today and our footprints from two days ago had been completely obliterated by the snow since then. Apart from a glorious bullfinch, looking even more gorgeous than usual against the snow, the only signs of life were the tracks of badger and deer, foxes and squirrels. There’s something a little strange about coming out of the woods, having waded through pristine foot-deep snow, to see the cars back up to speed on the road across the valley and the green of the fields reappearing down below us, while everything around us remains buried in snow.

single green field

(except this one field, mysteriously, which doesn’t seem to have any snow on it at all. What do you think the farmer has done to it? Extra potent slurry? Underturf heating to make it a luxury sheep spa destination)