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Sunday, 30 September 2012

September flowers

Summer seems to have gone out with similar colours to the arrival of spring, with many yellow blooms. There's also quite a touch of orange due to various annuals which complement the autumnal colours already emerging. In the latter part of the month we've had a really good amount of rain which has meant I have more time for gardening as I haven't needed to water anything except those plants in pots. We still need far more rain to reach the deep roots of trees and large shrubs but most plants, I'm sure, are breathing a sigh of relief (as am I!).

Earlier in the month it was the time for pretty pinks from some of my later flowering sedums, which have continued to flower throughout the month (although this first pale pink sedum has been slightly munched by the Sedum Ermine Moth caterpillar which attacked my purple leafed sedums last month, totally decimating them).

Honey bees and a Silver Y moth enjoying the nectar on Sedum spectabile 'Brilliant'

A Peacock butterfly and a honey bee

Sedum telephium 'Autumn Joy' covered in honey bees.
This variety has thankfully not been attacked by caterpillars!

More pink flowers from the Golden Oregano in the foreground,
and the tall spires of a plant which I think is Polygonum something-or-other.
Taken at this angle so you can't see the total mess
that my poor hostas became!

All month my Verbena bonariensis has continued to flower - new self seeded plants with fresh new flowers to attract butterflies appear here and there and everywhere (including all over the veg patch!).

Small Copper butterfly on Verbena bonariensis

Pelargoniums have been flowering like crazy -
this is my favourite, 'Mrs Pollock'

Small flowers appear in late summer on this little Abelia,
but one needs to get down to its level to fully appreciate them!

I treated myself to some new shrubs, Potentilla 'Goldfinger' and
Caryopteris 'Heavenly Blue', both of which really attract pollinators,
and flower for months through to October

There I was thinking my Yucca wasn't going to flower this year....

Along by the cellar walls the Hydrangeas continue to give pleasure
with their slowly fading colours

Heliopsis? seen through the leaves of Spirea japonica 'Goldflame'.
The question mark is due to this yellow flowered plant coming from a
plant swap, so I never knew what it was called.

Sedum telephium 'Autumn Joy' at the end of the month, the fading blooms of the Coneflowers
along with Stipa grass.... and of course, a self seeded Verbena bonariensis,
with obligatory butterfly on it (a Small Copper again!)  

My huge sunflowers are past their best after wind and rain
have battered them about, but still the bees are enjoying what
is left of the blooms (and the finches are loving the seeds!)

Bidens in the foreground which is slightly invasive, but a good
tall plant for the back of a border. It is late flowering but an
early heavy frost will finish it off, so in a good autumn it can flower for ages,
other years not for very long! Heliopsis? behind.

Bidens and Heliopsis? seen through my Dogwood,
Cornus sanguinea 'Winter Flame'

In the centre is one of this spring's self seeded Bronze Fennels,
which I transplanted here and is now flowering amongst
the Verbena b. and Calendula

The following is a general view just after I'd planted the Caryopteris in the place where I'd dug out half a ton of day lily roots. I also dug out another ton of dogwood roots elsewhere and moved a Weigela which had scorched in full sun into that shadier place.... the new Potentilla will replace the Weigela in the sun.... and so the work continues, hopefully to work out next year.

And if it doesn't, I'll just carry on as usual, lifting, dividing, moving.... forever, as that is just how it is, in the ornamental garden. Nothing stands still, and even when you do get it 'just right', it won't stay just right for too many years!

Back garden, work in progress.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Raising Swallowtails - Part 4

So finally the time came for my last remaining caterpillar, Teeny Guy, to go into the big box for his pre-pupation phase of running around like a loony until he settled on a stick. I'm not going into all the details again as I've shown all this before in the previous posts. Suffice to say I put Teeny Guy in a box of his own, with his own stick, and rather than settling right at the bottom of the stick like the others did, he went right to the top! There's obviously something they don't like about the middle.

Determined not to miss out on the pupation this time, I carefully checked all the timings of the other three from the time they settled into their 'hammocks' until they became chrysalises. That worked out at somewhere between 28 and 46 hours which wasn't really great news, but I was going to try to stay awake and watch the final moult!

Thankfully the little darling, after spending a few hours with me on my desk, decided to do it at a sensible time. I'd just taken him back downstairs and put him on the windowsill when he started to wriggle. I wasn't sure if that was because he'd been moved or not, but then he wriggled again. Grabbing my camera, by the time I'd taken a couple of 'just in case' shots, then realising I needed to turn the flash on, I could already see something green appearing out of his head - yes it was really happening and he was starting to moult and that green thing was the chrysalis emerging!

After that it happened at what seemed like lightning speed; if anyone wonders why I didn't do a video or grab the Canon or sort out better lighting (or even get him out of his box for a better view), all I can say is, this happens too fast for any of that, and to be honest, the point and shoot was probably the best option camera wise!

So here are the pics - obviously I took loads. The first two are not good as I didn't have the flash on but this was when he first started to wriggle, and I can see that his skin is quite stretched at the top but already wrinkled looking down the bottom end. I've added the time on the captions so you can see how quickly it happened.



19.53:03 - Got the box on the kitchen table now!

19.53:12 This was the bit that interested me, how they slip their skin past that silk


19.53:44 With total ease, it seems!



19.55:01 Now begins much wriggling to get that moulted bit off



19.56:52 Then finally he flung it off, quite far compared with the other ones!

19.58:54 All over now and very newly formed chrysalis,
which continues to change a bit more (but which I didn't sit and watch!)

My poor OH missed it as he was putting the chickens and ducks to bed at this point but he can see the photos here, as I think he's become quite fond of my new family over the course of the month now!

Today, the chrysalis looking like the other ones do

As it is so late in September, Teeny Guy has been put in a box with a mesh top to protect him from birds into the duck shed for the winter (up on a log pile where the ducks can't get him). Hopefully he should do what a normal Swallowtail should do, pass the winter as a chrysalis then eclose in the spring. I'll be checking on him twice a day and then come March or early April, whenever the weather warms up I'll bring him back indoors and watch his eclosion then. As for the others, I feel it is far too late in their develoment to put them outdoors now as chrysalises, as the first ones should be eclosing any day now. I went into this a bit blindly not thinking about the time of year and that just because there are tons of other butterflies still around, it is a bit late in the season for Swallowtails to be turning into butterflies. Next year I will be more sensible about it.

Here's one of the last photos I took of him as a caterpillar, which I'll remember him by. I'm going to miss my caterpillars!

Unhappy face on his botty, or Ringo Starr,
as someone has already likened him to!

Hopefully there will be a Part 5 before next spring......I'll let you know!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Sweet vegetable cakes

After pickling a fair bit of this year's beetroot harvest I had a sudden realisation that I could in fact be preserving my beetroot in another manner which can then be frozen for later consumption during winter. Cake form!

Beetroot Muffins

I came across this recipe last year and it sounded too good to be true. In fact, it is every bit as delicious, sticky and gorgeous as it sounds. Whilst I've given you the link (unfortunately only in metric and I don't see any way to change to even imperial measurements on the site), I do want to add some of my own notes to it.

Where it says 'Prep Time: 15 mins'. Ignore this. It's only 15 mins IF you have a minion who does all the prep for you. Just getting sticky golden syrup and treacle out of their respective tins, with a spoon, then needing another spoon to scrape the sticky stuff off, which then gets stuck on the 2nd spoon, and by this time all over your fingers, all the while you are actually trying to weigh out a particular weight of this sticky stuff, is 15 mins alone!

Do not bother with the liquidising the beetroot and ginger after you have gone to all the trouble of grating beetroot and chopping up the ginger! What on earth for? If you really want to have extra washing up of your food processor you may as well have liquidised the beetroot before grating. And the lumps of chopped ginger (I use crystalised) add an extra bit of zing.

The recipe says 'Makes: 12'. Now as far as I know, this is a UK site, not an American site. I know American sizings are huge, and I know the UK is rapidly catching on (after drinking a French cup of coffee (two sips) and then visiting the UK where you get about a gallon in a cup these days, I can see where the UK is heading...), but I used standard UK paper muffin cases and I made 22 of them out of this mixture!

There is absolutely no need to ice these muffins. That would be total overkill.

If you are reading this and have no idea what Golden Syrup is, I believe in the US the nearest equivalent is corn syrup, but according to an American foodie who I used to know in Brittany, it's not the same thing. Black treacle made by the same company is similar to molasses and that link takes you to Amazon who I didn't know were selling British food goodies to the US market. Oh well apparently you can buy it in the States after all though I feel that molasses would do equally well and is probably a lot cheaper! 

Beetroot Muffins

Chocolate Beetroot Brownies

Now this recipe comes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage TV fame (in the UK), and whilst I like these brownies, I don't think they are as good as the real thing. The real thing being without beetroot. However, it's fun to make once in a while but I did find these brownies were a bit on the crumbly cakey side and not as crispy outside, squidgy chewy inside as a proper brownie should be. Or it could just be me!

My annotations in italics.

"You can either grate or purée the cooked beetroot before adding to the mix - the latter gives a slightly more velvety texture. They work just as well with or without walnuts. Some people think that a brownie isn’t a brownie without walnuts, while others can’t stand them; it really depends on your personal preference. Makes 15 squares.

250g unsalted butter, cut into cubes, plus a little more for greasing
250g plain chocolate (about 70% cocoa solids), broken into squares
250g caster sugar
3 eggs
150g self-raising flour (we use wholemeal self-raising) (I don't)
100g broken walnuts (optional)
250g cooked and peeled beetroot, grated or puréed (I grate)

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/ gas mark 3. Lightly grease a baking tin that’s roughly 20cm x 30cm in size and at least 2cm deep. Line the bottom with greaseproof paper and butter the paper, too.

Put the cubed butter and chocolate into a heatproof bowl. Place this on an oven tray lined with a baking sheet, and put in oven to warm up. After a few minutes, remove, stir, then return to the oven to melt completely. (Alternatively, melt the chocolate and butter in the conventional manner, in a bowl held over a pan of barely simmering water.) (Or even do it in a bain marie!)

In another bowl, whisk the sugar with the eggs until smooth and creamy. Stir in the chocolate mixture until well combined. Sift in the flour, stir, fold in the walnuts (if using) and beetroot. Pour into the prepared tin.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a knife or skewer comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it - be careful not to overcook the brownies. Remove from the oven, then stand the tray on a wire rack until cool enough to cut into squares."

Chocolate Beetroot Brownies

I now have half the brownies and muffins in the freezer after scoffing the rest. Obviously it isn't the ideal way to preserve your veggie harvest, as they won't really last that long in the freezer!

Courgette Cake

I love this cake because it is has interesting green flecks in it. I made it for some French friends who still talk about my green cake. The recipe was posted on a forum many years ago but I think whoever posted it got their quantities wrong, as half the amount they suggested makes one huge cake, therefore I had to halve the amount.

90g sultanas (golden raisins)
375g courgettes
3 large eggs
187 ml vegetable oil
225g caster sugar
337g self-raising flour or plain flour plus 6 teaspoons of baking powder
0.38 tsp bicarbonate of soda (I’m not sure why this is necessary and the strange amount comes from halving 3/4 tsp)

Wipe courgettes and grate without peeling. Sieve to remove excess water.

Cream oil and sugar and add eggs one at a time.

Add flour, bicarbonate, baking powder (if using plain flour) and mix well.

Stir in the courgette & sultanas.

Pour the mixture into a round cake tin and bake Gas mark 4, C180°, F350° for about one hour. 

I feel this cake is better iced, but I make a simple icing with just icing sugar and lime or lemon juice. This one didn't go in the freezer so we are working our way through it. It's not hard! (By the way, I had run out of sunflower oil so had to use olive oil, and it hasn't made any noticeable difference - I thought it may have been too heavy but it seems fine!).

'Green Cake' - Courgette Cake with lime icing

Finally, and I can't believe I'm doing this, but someone remarked how tidy my kitchen was in my last post about cooking and I would like to dispel this myth. I'm an 'every pan in the house' type of cook (just ask my OH) and have to use every work surface including the table. So here are some shots of what it normally looks like when I am baking:-)

Perhaps this view doesn't look too bad

That's cos half the mess is here!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Pre-autumn garden update

Ugh. It's cold, it's drizzly, it's 12C outside. This is officially the last day of summer, not the first day of autumn but you could have fooled me! Yesterday was a lovely sunny T-shirt weather day and tomorrow it's supposed to be 21C again. It's so cold in the house we have put the central heating on, but as downstairs has underfloor heating, that means it won't warm up until tomorrow, when we'll probably be too hot! For the moment I have escaped upstairs to my office where I have proper radiators that radiate heat the moment you turn the boiler on. Like real central heating should (can you tell I don't like underfloor central heating?)

Normally on the odd cool day or evening at this time of year we'd just light the woodburner, but that's out of action right now due to a swarm of honey bees deciding that our stainless steel conduit would be a great place to make a nest back in May - leading unfortunately to the pest controller having to come out and poison them (no other option). We've been waiting until around this time to get the chimney sweeps back again because we were advised that the wax would have to dry out over the summer. However, to add to our woes we now have hornets coming down the chimney and out into the living room! So the pest controller man will be coming back next week to check out what's going on as we can hardly risk a chimney sweep getting a faceful of hornets high up on our roof and falling off and breaking his neck!

I do seem to be attracting insects this year, both the wanted and the unwanted!

So, that out of the way I wanted to update a bit about the garden and what's been going on whilst I've been away in the land of caterpillar raising. That's all quiet for the moment, indoors at least. Plenty of them rampaging outside, which I'll come to in due course.

The garden is looking very autumnal - much too much so for September. This is mostly due to the (usual) drought situation and many trees dropping their leaves due to stress. We've been crunching through crispy leaves for the last month. There's barely been any rain in 2 months now and only 2 rainfalls worth noting, and even they have only given about 3 days of respite before the watering cans, hosepipes and seep hoses have had to come out again. It gets very, very tiring and I start to get very disenchanted with the whole business of trying to garden.

Right, time to get on with some photos and enough of the waffling, Mandy!

Looking up through the Silver Birch leaves a few weeks ago

Poor Dogwood in the woodland that I'd forgotten to check on.
It has since been watered a number of times and is looking happier!

I had had a bright idea back in the spring to make a small bit of my woodland edge into a more cultivated kind of woodland garden, but really it's just not worth it for the extra watering involved, and the hose doesn't reach this far. I'll plant some bluebells here as bulbs will be fine.

My Cercis Canadensis 'Forest Pansy' looking lovely.
This is kept as well watered as possible as I only planted it a year ago.

Looking a bit crispy round the edges! Some trees are already bare such as my Rowan
(out of the picture)

My beautiful Liquidambar going the same way as last year -
no likelihood of any glorious autumn colours as the leaves just
crisp up and drop off

Pond level is down about 2.5 feet (75cms) and is looking a bit green and murky.
This is no big deal as usually it's a lot lower level than this by now, so I'm happy with this!

I mentioned rampaging caterpillars earlier on - look at this. My poor gooseberries have been totally decimated by gooseberry sawfly larvae! These are tiny little green caterpillary looking things. Two days beforehand the bushes were fine. The two little bushes were only planted out this spring from cuttings I took last year, so I hope that this late in the season it won't have any adverse effect on them. Honestly, how vigilant can you be in the garden? You can't check everything, every day.

Bit hard to show these bare stems against the scruffy
wild background and chicken run fence behind.

Here's another example of caterpillar attack that just suddenly happened within a few days - this time the insect responsible is one of the Ermine moths which attacks Sedums called Yponomeuta sedella. I've never experienced this one before - we normally see Spindle Ermine Moth damage on our spindleberry out in the woodland but that's big enough to withstand an attack and it's a wild tree sized shrub which copes fine. I've also seen the webby 'nests' of caterpillars on our apples from time to time but never in huge amounts.

If you look closely (click on the photo to enlarge) you'll see the caterpillars in amongst
the webs they make throughout the plant. They seem to love the purple foliaged
Sedum telephium best and this damage is spreading like wildfire all around my garden.

Before you think I've gone all doom and gloom on you, don't worry. I have been quite chilled about all this as I've been enjoying the sunshine and butterflies! But now I'm trying to get my act together to do my usual autumn jobs of moving plants around - because no matter how many years you garden, there's always something that didn't work where you planted it, not to mention the plants that need dividing because they have outgrown their space. In this instance here I am trying to rid myself of a ghastly day lily which came with the house - I've never liked it and after flowering it just looks a mess. I have a new shrub to go here and a much lovelier scented yellow flowered day lily in a bed that's become too shady, so I plan to move some of that here too.

Veggie patch in the background with sunny Sunflowers and Calendula!

However I don't do things by half. Digging out day lily roots which have gone down over 1 foot into the subsoil and bedrock is like some archaelogical excavation. It took me 2.5 afternoons of work as I just know that any fleshy bits of root will come back as a plant, eventually. 

Removing soil, subsoil, rocks, roots....
and adding tons and tons of half rotted compost in the bottom
before filling back with soil again.

To be honest I will never get these garden jobs finished as everything takes so long! You can see how dry the soil is yet I thought this was a bed I'd kept well watered!!! Can you imagine how dry the rest of the garden is?

I have treated myself to two new shrubs as well, a blue Caryopteris which I've always fancied to go in the space I've just excavated, and I wanted something yellow for another bed so chose this Potentilla. Both plants were covered in bees, hoverflies and butterflies at the garden centre, so even if they are not absolutely drought tolerant shrubs I couldn't help myself.......

The Potentilla at home with a Small Blue butterfly on it!

This is what the last few weeks have been like in the garden.
Some days I can barely move for butterflies!
(There's a Hummingbird Hawkmoth at the top middle as well)

My sunflower heads have been attracting Goldfinches, both adults and juveniles so I have been enjoying hearing their twittering coming from the veg patch as I work. I also spotted them eating the seedheads in my weedy, scruffy lawn this morning - one of the reasons for leaving the Lesser Hawkbit to go to seed, which has seeds like a dandelion head. This has almost made up for the fact that our Swallows have gone. We are still seeing migrating Swallows passing by and stopping to have a swoop about over the garden but it's not the same as them being here all the time. When they first go the skies seem so empty and quiet, but the good thing is that we know they will be back!

Naff photo taken with my Cybershot - there's an adult and two juveniles in this shot.
I can't be out gardening with a big camera and telephoto lens in my pocket!

In other news one of our older hens had to be put down yesterday as she'd gone all wobbly on her legs and could barely walk; this is now the third hen this has happened to so I'm guessing it's all too common in old age. She was not one of my favourites, being totally neurotic and was never a good layer whose eggs were always brittle (and often crushed by my big Light Sussex hen!). Her laying days were over and it sounds a bit callous but it's a good thing as that's one less mouth to feed which is not repaying us with eggs.

To end on an upbeat note, the solitary moorhen who made a reappearance some weeks back has now been joined by another - so hopefully we'll have a pair again who will delight us with their presence and cross fingers will breed here next year rather than disappearing off to pastures new like they did this summer!

Next posting will be recipes and sweet veggie cakes as I've been baking cakes (and eating them......) :-)