2-spot ladybird (Adalia 2-punctata)

Ladybirds & Strimming

Electric fenceToday I made use of some spare time to strim under the electric fencing I installed over winter. With the sheep netting acting as the earth, it was a relatively simple task to string four strands of positive cable along the front of the fencing. The lower strand is solid steel, mitigating and strimming accidents.

After strimming, a quick walk through the orchard saw me noticing the ladybirds below on one tree – all within around 20cm of each other! It’s fantastic to see the ladybird army awake and ready for the greenfly, which will undoubtedly follow. There’s a mix of native and imposter harlequin below, an all too familiar sight today.

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Gooseberry Sawfly

2016 gooseberry sawfly larvaeCrikey – it’s that time of year when everything wants to devour everything else! This time it’s gooseberry sawfly larvae, and our prized gooseberry bushes – it looks like a caterpillar, it moves a bit like one, but it’s actually a fly maggot – nice! They’re between 1-2cm long, and eat fast!

Our Answer to the Gooseberry Sawfly

Luckily for us, and unluckily for the gooseberry sawfly, we’ve been here before and on the same bush. It’s the earliest bush, and the largest and greenest – if I were a sawfly larvae I’d head straight to it, knife and fork at the ready. But we know the routine now – I immediately ordered three sachets of Namasys Natural Fruit & Veg Protector.

It’s easy to apply – wait for an evening, when rain isn’t forcast. Mix one sachet with 5 litres of water, if you’re applying with a knapsack sprayer or other type of sprayer, and give the affected plants a really good dousing of the spray mist. The liquid has to touch the sawfly larvae for the nematodes to enter the body of the larvae, so it’s important to get right under the leaves too, to make sure you nobble them all. Make sure you cover the entire plant, not just the eaten leaves as you can see in the video above. If you get them in time, fruit drop will be minimal and you’ll still get a decent crop. A week later, mix the next sachet up and repeat the process, and then again a further week later of the final sachet. The shelf life is limited, and they must be kept in the fridge, but so far this has been the best way for us to keep the sawfly under control, unless you like bleeding to death from the millions of cuts by pulling them all off by hand.

We should also point out that also check your red and white currant bushes, as they are also a member of the genus Ribes in the gooseberry family, unlike the black currant. To be safe, as soon as you begin to see leaves on your gooseberry bushes, check them as you walk past, near the base, as that’s where the sawfly larvae starts it mission upwards!

Family Day in the Patch

2014 Allotment Quarter Layout Update

Updated 2014 patch plan with final planting distances. Grid size is 1 foot.

Every year the weekends surrounding the last frost date (about mid-May for us) are one of the busiest. And every year Suz’s parents pop on down to help out with weeding, digging, hoeing and sowing. This year is no exception, with the exception that the weather has been glorious and everything has got off to a good start. We had a minor hiccup a few days ago with a slight frost, which seems to have nobbled the peas and the newer leaves on the orchard trees, but the potatoes survived it and it’s going to be a good harvest at this rate.

The potatoes were mounded up, lovely and regimented. The french climbing beans (Sultana) and runner beans (Enorma) were sown at the bottom of the wigwam canes – 8 or 10 canes, two per cane, and we’ll thin the weaker plant out later in the year. A few additional Scorpio and De Monica broad beans were sown to fill the gaps, and more Onward peas were sown as they were hit pretty hard by what I can only assume was the frost. They never germinated, but we have them netted and slug-pelleted (organic pellets) so it’s the only conclusion I can draw.

2014 Root CropsThe onion patch was de-weeded – a painstaking process – but so worth it when you see the neat lines of onions and shallots. The carrots were thinned to 1-1.5″ spacing, and will be thinned again in a few weeks. The beetroot were thinned to 4″ and will stay at that, and the parsnip weren’t touched as they didn’t seem big enough yet. Then went in some corgette (Nero di Milano zucchino), two per station, straight in the ground after it had been 2014 Squash Patchrotovated nicely. Cloche protection over those – to be safe, and then under the mini poly tunnels we planted out the pumpkins which had been growing on nicely in the dining room for a month or so.

Talking of which – alongside the pumpkins, inside we also had:

  • Tomatoes (Roma VF plums, Marmande beef and Shirley)
  • Cucumbers (Telegraph Improved)
  • Sweetcorn (Incredible F1)
  • Sweet peppers (Antohi Romanian, Golden Bell and Friggitello)
  • Hot peppers (Jalapeno, Hungarian Hot Wax and Red Cherry)
  • Aubergine (Black Beauty)
  • Butternut squash (Butternut Rugosa)
  • Leek
  • Basil (Italiano Classico)

Onwards with the outdoor work – the sweetcorn mentioned above were planted out and watered in, and the flower bed was coming along nicely, having been sown a fortnight ago with sunflowers, marigolds and nasturtiums. Unfortunately, we hadn’t realised the tenacity of sunflower and nasturtium seeds in particular. The sunflowers that were planted this year were obvious to make out, as were the unintended sunflowers that were the result of dropped seeds from last year! It was quite painful to hoe them out, but they would drown out everything else, and we really did need to weed the flower bed. A couple of rows of nasturtiums were also equally easy to define, but the no-mans’ land that stretched between the sunflower and nasturtium bed was awash with everything that nature, and we, had allowed to grow there in the past; sunflowers, nasturtiums, chickweed, wild pansies, shepherds purse – all the favourites plus those I couldn’t identify. So with heavy heart I hoed the land there and will wait a few days before re-sowing the marigolds. Lesson learned – next year the marigolds will be sown in plug trays and potted out in their final positions.

On to the soft fruit – all were looking great with the exception of one black currant bush and one gooseberry bush, which had succumbed to greenfly on their newer growth. I have some organic spray which I used sparingly on both, but I have noticed the ladybird population looks quite healthy, so dropped a few on to the infected plants to munch their way through the green nasties. No sense spending money on a spray when nature will do the work for you.

The fruit trees are all looking decent – again, some greenfly here and there but nothing too onerous yet. I counted approximately 300-400 apples on one small cider tree! I know the June-drop will see many lost, but it’s a sign of how decent the weather has been so far.

2014 Small Orchard QuarterOh, and we lost the colony of bees Christian had brought around a few months ago. At the time he was unsure whether there was a queen at home, and it turns out there wasn’t. But on Friday he brought a new colony around. Again, not a large colony and maybe without a queen, but it’s a second attempt. Whilst I was planting the sweetcorn out, I heard  a buzz nearby, and looked around for the culprit. Nothing, and yet it was getting louder and louder. I had my wide-brimmed hat on, and couldn’t see past the horizon, which was my mistake. I looked up and around six feet above my head was a swarm of bees – stretching about twelve feet in diameter! Needless to say – a couple of expletives passed my lips, the hapless sweetcorn I was holding was cast aside and I legged it to the first gate. The last time I was pestered by a bee I made the mistake of thinking I had run far enough, only to be hit on the head by it at this very gate, and then the next, and only lost it after running 200 yards back to the house. This time I just opened the gate and ran, only stopping to check behind me half way to the next gate. I needn’t have run – the swarm wasn’t interested in me – it was still hovering over the sweetcorn, possibly mildly interested in the adjacent strawberry flowers, but then it just moved off at a fair whack, heading south over the vegetable patch, then the hay quarter (much to the consternation of the geese) and into the rape seed field. What an experience! I have never witnessed a swarm before, and I have to admit I was quite nervous of it, but you just can not help but be in awe at the scale of it! Worried that it may have been our new colony, I went back to check on the hive, but they were still happily plodding in and out of the entrance. Only the day before Christian has said he’d been inundated with swarms this year, due to the clement weather, and was physically shattered.

As the day waned, into the greenhouse to tend those plants already in position – the Roma VF, Marmande and Shirly tomatoes, plus duplicates of those inside the house (the cucumbers etc). I edged my bets and placed half of everything from the house into the greenhouse a couple of weeks ago, to see how they fare. So far not bad at all, though the indoor plants have really taken off in the last few days, and will need potting on very soon.

 

Bees!

Today another piece of the jigsaw slotted into place. Christian, a friend who keeps a few local bee colonies, has kindly offered to keep bees here for us. His experience means we won’t be fumbling in the dark, and we can hopefully learn from him without the pressure of another new task being totally on us. It’s going to be a busy year with the usual workload plus the various birds, so it’s the perfect start to bees here at Merrybower.

He has cautioned us though – this colony didn’t look very strong, and whilst there was a queen bee present going into the winter, he thinks it may be queenless at the moment, and if so it will fail as a colony. Still – it’s worth a try.

One surprising fact Christian mentioned was that bees tend not to feed within 100ft of their hive! Also, if there’s a field of something gorgeous close by, such as the oil seed rape we’re currently surrounded by, they’ll literally make a bee-line for that rather than the few paultry blossom on our trees. Ah well – more pollinators surely can’t be a bad thing anyway.

Two Interesting Moths

Dagger Moth Caterpillar

Vapourer Moth Caterpillar

I managed to carry out a quick walk of the orchard this afternoon, after cleaning out the geese and chickens. Along with the pear slug, which has the unfortunate quality of smelling like sweet butter if you crush it between your fingers (how bizarre), I found these two critters. They were on the pear and plum trees, and the one with the forked head looked to be eating the leaves, the trees I found them on had more damage to their leaves so I assume it was these blighters as they were doing the nibbling.

It turns out they’re not fruit tree specific, they are, in fact, the caterpillars of the Grey Dagger Moth and the Vapourer Moth.Vapourer Moth

Dagger Moth

A Strange Caterpillar

This little blighter was found crawling over one of the fruit trees – I can’t remember which type of fruit tree it was on, I suspect it was the plums as I’ve been keeping a particulary beedy eye on these as the leaves look as though they’ve been nibbled by something – some have numerous holes in the leaves as though nibbled by a beetle, but the damage is more prevalent in the trees being grown as bush trees, though they are on the same St Julien A rootstock the half standard trees are being grown on. I’ll add a picture of the damage soon.