Tag Archives: mint

Butterflies, Moths, Buddleia and Mint

The Butterfly Count is upon us for 2017 and Julia is preparing  the materials for the group.

We had a preparatory look in the garden on Friday to get some idea of what was about, and had a good result, considering it was a cold day. The buddleia didn’t attract much (possibly because it’s planted in a shady spot) but the mint attracted a lot of pollinators and the Mint Moths. (Mint Moths are only about quarter of an inch across (6mm) in real life – don’t go looking for something the same size as the photo). I didn’t see butterflies on the mint, but they were mainly seen in the area around the mint.

Comma

Mint Moth

Painted Lady

Red Admiral

Speckled Wood

White, Large

There was also an unidentified white, an unidentified brown (probably Meadow Brown or Gatekeeper) and an unidentified brown Skipper.

We need to add a few more plants around the place – more buddleia would be good, and oregano used to attract a lot of butterflies when we were at the Ecocente. Although the Mencap garden isn’t anywhere near as good as the Centre garden for attracting butterflies, it’s still as exciting to try to spot new species and plan to attract more. We have a few buddleia seedlings to donate and I’ll have to persuade Julia to grow oregano.

The last week has been reasonably good in the house garden (which is a bit of a butterfly wasteland), with Small Tortoiseshell, Large White and Orange Underwing moth all seen this week. There are Mint Moths in a herb garden along the street and I live in hope of seeing another Hummingbird Hawk Moth on the Red Valerian like we did (twice) in 2015.

Time to start giving some serious thought to our own garden, after a year of hacking back in 2016.

I’m slightly ambivalent towards buddleia as it’s a non-native species and can be considered a pest. I think it’s best summed up here by Butterfly Conservation – it’s a valuable source of nectar and is OK in gardens. However, it doesn’t feed caterpillars and it can be invasive in the wrong place.

There are other plants to feed butterflies and caterpillars, as this list shows.

Piccalilli, preserves and plum jam

Phew, just managed the three P’s. Was just bemoaning the fact that we hadn’t done any pickles when I realised we did have preserves. I say “we” but I gave it a wide berth and spent most of my day pressing apples and tarting up a grant application (yes, the same one we’ve been doing for the last two months – it just came back with lots of nit-picking queries and suggestions). If you want the money, you do the work.

Anyway, it was preferable to working in a kitchen with two women in full preserving mode. Jam making does not bring out the best in my beloved, and as she was trying a new recipe I thought it was a good idea to stay out of the way.

The picture shows Julia and Angela with an array of jars – piccalilli, plum jam, apple and mint jelly, apple chutney and blackberry jam. There are also jelly bags of hedgerow fruits (blackberry, elderberry, crab apple and hawthorn) draining out of shot. They, I’m told, are my project. We could have used sloes and rose hips too but ran out of time to pick more.

We don’t use rowan, despite having them in good numbers, because they are rather sharp. Sometimes we make rowan jelly (a traditional tracklement to accompany game) but there isn’t a great demand for it so we don’t bother these days. Rowan berries host the largest number of insects I’ve ever seen in hedgerow fruit – mainly earwigs and long-legged spiders.

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Angela and Julia with a selection of produce

Just looked up tracklement, as it’s an unusual word and I wanted to be certain I was using it correctly, and find that it’s a word only from the 1950s, albeit based on older words. I first came across it in the 1970s in a translation of Flaubert’s “Saint Julian the Hospitalier”.

It’s strange how things can trigger memories. I’ve seen the word tracklement since then, but I don’t think I’ve ever used it. The first time I do, over 40 years since I learned it, I’m transported back to a story I haven’t thought of in all that time.

The magic of the internet is such that I was able to put Flaubert, mediaeval and hunting into Google and it brought the correct story up.

I’ve also been able to order a copy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday (Part 2)

I’ve now added another piece of foraged food to the list (and will be writing it up in the Wild Food section shortly. Day lily buds. We don’t have many lilies but after watching several school groups grab pieces for their nature bling activity I decided that I may as well have one.

It was quite good. Fresh-tasting, a touch of onion and a flavour of something else I can’t quite place. I would, I thought, be happy to eat them again, particularly sauteed in butter or tempura style as often recommended. However, when I sat down to look at some websites I noticed as phenomenon I’d seen before.

Before you eat something all the websites are glowing, positive and eager to tell you there’s no possibility of misidentification.

After you eat it they are all more cautious. It’s a story much like the dahlia story – there are so many cultivars people are no longer sure what is edible and what isn’t – though in the case of dahlias this revolves around taste rather than possible side effects.

The general feeling is that they want somebody to sit down and eat all the available cultivars, making notes as they go. Sounds like my dream job – eating stuff in an attempt to cause illness and not being paid for it. I wonder why nobody is doing it as we speak…

I’ll cover this more in the Wild Food section

We’re now bottle-feeding a kid. It won’t take a bottle so we’re using a tube at the moment. It seems to be perking up but I’ve learnt never to expect too much from these situations. That’s the best bit of being on the farm without being part of it so we can take the benefit of cute animals without the emotional investment of sitting up all night feeding them. I say “we” but I am absolutely brilliant at delegating. Or lazy, as my wife would have it. She still hasn’t forgiven me for the dik-dik incident.

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I spotted this unusual sprig of variegated mint while I was walking round with the camera. Can’t make up my mind whether to try and breed from it (in case anyone wants to grow anaemic mint in the garden) or leave it. So far I’ve left it. In due course I will probably read about a plantsman who is running an Aston Martin on the proceeds of breeding “Ghost Mint”. Then again, perhaps not.

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Pigs in chamomile

We’ve also viewed piglets, spotted butterflies, captured a mint moth and evicted it from the kitchen and, finally, given Tim (the Xmas Elf) his going-away card. He’s off to work in Europe, though at the moment he’s finishing cleaning up the bee equipment. This involves flame, scrapers and a cloud of wasps.

The cloud of wasps isn’t strictly necessary but it came along anyway.

Monday Miscellany, posted on Tuesday

We had a strange day at the farm yesterday. With nobody in we managed to force our firstborn into action and shifted quite a lot of work. This was despite frequent visits from a variety of people. I wasn’t allowed to talk to them because I’m considered a trifle direct when people stop me working, so I was able to brew mint tea, make the nettle soup for today, restructure the herb bed and plant the new beans after the problematic start to the “Bean Trial”. More of that later.

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Mint Tea

 

Sorry if the tenses seem a little strange in that paragraph, it was originally written yesterday but will be posted today, which was tomorrow when I wrote.

Julia spent half the day explaining what we were doing, what the statues were, what was happening on Open Farm Sunday and how to enter the Scarecrow Competition. She’s very good with people.

I’m good with tools of destruction, a talent which came to the fore when we got home. The laburnum tree, which had been leaning at an increasing angle over the last few months (coinciding with the time erection of next door’s new fence, though I am pointing no fingers here) had finally given up its struggle with gravity.

They don’t look like much but I can assure you there’s a lot of wood in a laburnum, particularly when you’re  using a pair of loppers and a pruning saw. The worst is over now ad I’ll be able to get on with pruning the plum, which is why I’d originally gone into the back garden.

I’ll miss it because laburnums have featured in my life since I was about 6 and we moved to a house with one in the garden, but it’s an ill wind that blows no good and I have plans now that we have a new patch of unshaded patio. Think “heated greenhouse”.

As for the “Bean Trial”,  it hasn’t worked out well. You may recall that we filled half a bed with compostable material and left the other half plain. I then added an “X” shaped frame and planted two Firestorm beans at the base of each cane. The half of the bed that was prepared with organic material definitely showed better germination and growth, but then nearly all the shoots disappeared. On digging holes to plant replacements I found many more beans which had germinated then been eaten.

We’ve also done a Health and Safety trial with the ends of the canes. The Mark I – Coke bottle and gaffer tape is big and clumsy and tends to fall off. The Mark II – plastic protector was too small for the cane so became a Mark III using a slit and gaffer tape. The unmodified protector still works for most canes and at 12 for £1 is a good investment. Better than a poke in the eye, as they say.

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Mark I

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Mark III

 

So, organic material is good, slugs are bad and beans that are two years past the date on the packet will still grow well. Hopefully the new plants will survive and we can start to measure the crop we get from the two sides.

However, nothing is certain in life so we will just have to see.