|Mr Jeremy Fisher is my latest NBF!||This frog isn't bothered a bit by me - he's watching me as I'm watching him!|
Every day I get the chance to watch some aspect of wildlife in my garden - and I often find it's watching me back! It's wonderful when wild creatures learn not to be afraid of you and to trust you. This young frog has been living in my polytunnels since early spring and although it could easily go outside if it wanted to - it's clearly enjoying tunnel life with plenty of woodlice, small slugs and insects for food. Although it's so hot in there at times, I also always leave saucers of water around the tunnels for any wildlife that may need it, as wildlife is vital to the properly balanced ecology that I try to create even in the tunnels - and I almost never see any pests because I do this. Mr (or Mrs!) Frog doesn't mind me in the least and seems quite interested in what I'm doing. It often hangs around when I'm moving pots or watering tomatoes and other things - it probably knows that there will be plentiful woodlice and other insects underneath! I've named him Mr. Jeremy Fisher - as any child who was raised on Beatrix Potter's wonderful books would - and when I see this valued member of Nature's pest control army up close - I become a child again and am as fascinated as ever!
Despite the cold and miserable wet weather of the last couple of days - yesterday was a great day for wildlife watching - even sitting here in my work space at the kitchen table! Trying to get some writing done - I was pleasantly distracted by a female gold crest busily hunting for insects among the shrubs and climbers in the courtyard just outside my back door. At this time of year the top half of the stable door out of the kitchen is never closed and I have a lovely view down through the cherry walk right down to the very end of the garden. It's a constant hive of activity - accompanied by a continuous soundtrack of noisy sparrow chatter, chirruping and arguing all day long, and swallows catching insects and cursing at the dogs. It echoes among the surrounding walls and always reminds me of the house where I grew up. It's so evocative, bringing to mind summers long past in my childhood, others now gone and the garden where I spent many happy summers playing with all my animals, dogs, pomies, chickens and a very special duck called Esemeralda - who used to 'groom' my cat - nibbling along his back while he arched it in ecstasy! That's where I learnt to love wildlife. Although I was a bit of an 'afterthought' and much younger than my brother and sister - I never felt alone or bored as many children seem to these days. There was always far too much to do and so many new creatures to discover and watch. I wish all children could have that grounding in the natural world - it would make such a difference to how they value it.
At this time of year the sparrow's chatter is interspersed by the sound of swallows, as they swoop in and out of the stables in the yard hectically feeding their broods. They often fly into the kitchen to do a recce in case there could be a handy nesting spot in here as well - but even I draw the line at that! I'm constantly having to rescue baby swallows and sparrows that venture in thinking they can fly straight through to the other side of the house and through the window in the adjoining sitting room behind me. As I sit here I'm still surrounded by wildlife - even though I'm inside the kitchen! I couldn't bear to live in a world without birds and all the other marvelous creatures that inhabit our shared world. Because it is a shared world. It isn't ours - it was theirs long before we happened along. We are just the latecomers to the party, and sadly now the party-poopers!
After shutting up the hens last night I stood for a long time in the yard watching the bats - Pipistrelles - I think. They were darting and swooping around me - zig-zagging crazily this way and that, after insects attracted by the light coming from the windows of the house. Wondrous creatures that can sense exactly how far away you are even though they can't really see. I had a 'no fly' zone - an invisible protective wall - all around me even though they came quite close at times. I regretted that I had no camera but mine probably isn't fast enough to catch them anyway! As I stood there I couldn't help wondering if the people who make insect and bee killing pesticides ever spent time any in the natural world as children - out there experiencing nature? And are they now permanently cocooned in their glitzy, air-conditioned boardrooms, hi-tech laboratories and offices - insulated from anything remotely natural and having no respect whatsoever for nature - perhaps only valuing it when they find they can manipulate and then patent a part of it to profit from??
Fewer and fewer people seem to spend time outdoors now, getting less exercise while stuffing industrially made processed foods full of sugar and chemicals, manufactured God knows where! A Tsunami of ill-health that is waiting to happen! People were often actually far healthier after the deprivations of the second world war than they are now - despite the so-called 'advantages' of a more modern society and the welfare state. Sugar was rationed for a start - and only a very occasional treat. Many more people grew and cooked their own food then - and if you do that you can't possibly be disconnected from nature. So many people now only see wildlife on TV from the comfort of their sofas, while eating plastic-wrapped ready meals loaded with sugar and other junk. Is it any wonder there's a total lack of understanding of the damage we're doing to the natural world in every possible way - and also by association - then doing to to ourselves as well? Even if people are gardeners - the publications and media aimed specifically at them don't inform them properly or help them to understand the damage that we're doing to the natural world. Either the publishers and editors are are selfish and ignorant of it themselves - or they rely so heavily on advertising revenue from companies either selling or using garden chemicals that they are afraid to tell the truth that needs to be told. Many TV 'celebrity' gardeners court popularity and won't tell the truth either - conveniently skirting around the facts even if they do actually know them. Purely in order not to upset some viewers!.
So is there really a bee problem? Yes!
There seem to be few wild honey bees about again this year - but thankfully there's hundreds of bumble bees of almost every possible size and colour which have been enjoying the abundant harvest of pollen provided by many plants in the hot weather over the last few weeks. It's a real joy to watch them working, collecting the precious cargo of pollen on their hind legs and then carrying it back to feed their larvae. As usual - they've done a fantastic job of pollinating the ultra vigorous Himalayan Giant blackberry at the top of the vegetable garden - there's going to be a huge crop again to freeze for delicious winter smoothies and crumbles etc. The first ones are ripe already. The sound of the bees busily working is like listening to a swarm, the buzz is so incredibly loud! It's good to know that that I'm helping them to survive by growing organically without chemicals and by providing not just plenty of habitat - but also food by cultivating so many nectar and pollen rich plants, both wild and cultivated. We provide them with healthy organic food - so that they provides us with it in return!
Wonderful Wayward Weeds
There's not so many butterflies around again this year, after erratic weather. Encouraging wild plants - particularly clumps of nettles in various places around the garden will help them. I just hope the huge bird population here don't eat all the emerging caterpillars when the eggs hatch! This morning in a corner of one of the tunnels in which I leave specifically for growing nettles for butterflies - I found that the sparrows have already started clearing up some caterpillars - I think I'm going to have to put the nettles in that particular corner into a nettle cage to keep the birds out - then the non-organic visitors really will think I've lost the plot!
Most non-organic gardeners and farmers seem to think that weeds are a nuisance and should be eradicated totally. They don't understand, or even perhaps care, that so-called weeds (wild plants) are an important part of our whole ecosystem, vital for the survival of wildlife and the preservation of natural biodiversity. There's been a huge decline in all wildlife since the second world war, particularly birds, butterflies and moths, bees and other invertebrates, and so many other animals higher up the food chain which depend on them in their turn for food. Many plants and animals are in serious danger of extinction - some have sadly already been lost forever. The intensification of agriculture, with its associated loss of habitat, artificial fertilisers, pesticides, weedkillers etc. is mostly to blame. Development and sadly now also climate change are contributing factors too. Someone once famously coined the phrase "A weed is a plant in the wrong place" - who decides what is actually a weed? I prefer Ralph Waldo Emerson's definition - "A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered".
Many wild plants do make very good eating not just for wildlife but for us too - that's how our vegetables and fruits gradually developed over millennia since man first foraged to survive. I have a much treasured and very well thumbed copy of Richard Mabey's wonderful book "Food for Free", which I bought in 1972 when it was first published. It's the one book I never lend to anyone - it's far too precious - and so many books never come back! It's a terrific book. It will hopefully always be available - unlike many of our native plants, which I've watched disappearing with increasing rapidity during my lifetime. Wild plants are a precious genetic resource which should be more valued - not just for preserving our wildlife - but for preserving ourselves too - as what we do to nature - we ultimately do to ourselves. We are part of nature too. I hear a lot about foraging here in Ireland these days - it's become very fashionable all of a sudden. (Apparently one famous 'rock star' has his own personal forager! He would do better to support organic farming!) Sadly I don't hear anyone mention anything about what I call 'responsible foraging' though - making sure that we never take all of anything and that we leaves plants to reproduce and multiply. It isn't our exclusive right to plunder the natural world as ,much as we like for whatever we want. Nature's resources are there not just for our benefit - but for that of wildlife and all the other creatures that we share this planet with.
One of the plants which sows itself with gay abandon all around the garden is Buddleia - which some people actually consider to be a weed! I love it's honey-scented beauty! I planted several different coloured cultivars 30 years ago, when we first moved here. I come across many different coloured seedlings now, in the most unlikely of places, and they're all lovely. Buddleia fallowiana alba and Buddleia 'Lochinch Blue' seem to be the most dominant colours. 'Lochinch' is a lovely blue-mauve, with silvery felted leaves, which seems to go with everything. I spent a couple of years wondering what was best to do with the west facing, very steep bank on the curve at the back of the 'B's border - which is a sort of long '?' shape. It's impossible to dig because the second you disturb any soil, either it falls down immediately or heavy rain washes it down to the bottom. The border was originally developed six years ago, from a heap of subsoil and rubbish left over from a building job, and the poor gravelly subsoil is ideal for wildflowers and perfect too, for nesting solitary bees. A couple of years ago I spotted a lovely white buddleia that had sown itself in just the right spot, and that immediately gave me the idea of planting along with it some of the many other seedlings I can never resist potting up for some possible use later. I hate wasting them! Their roots are now very efficiently retaining the soil on the steep bank, and since then I've been able to plant lots more wildflowers around underneath them.
Nature is so clever and never leaves ground empty for long unless it is so toxic that no life exists there. Driving into Dublin this time last last year, (something I avoid like the plague unless I absolutely have to) I noticed that all over the empty unfinished and disused building sites that are still evidence of the 'economic crash' - there are now prolific Buddleia gardens! These are wonderful for bees, moths and butterflies. Some of the sites were also smothered in rosebay willow herb - a favourite with hawk moths - huge and beautiful moths which almost resemble a hummingbird as it hovers to collect nectar from flowers in broad daylight. These 'wastelands' are a beautiful greening of such an appalling and obscene waste. It's an ill wind! The more weeds that grow on those sites the better, as far as I'm concerned - Dublin's strictly controlled and poisoned parks are not planted with our native wildlife in mind - and not even our children in most cases! The nectar, pollen and seeds of weeds and garden escapees are a rich resource for wildlife. LONG LIVE WEEDS I SAY!
Dahlia with hoverflies & a butterfly - even non-native plants are good for pollinating insects
(P.S. I really enjoy sharing my original ideas and 40 years experience of growing and cooking my own organic food with you. It's most satisfying and naturally also very complimentary if others find "inspiration" in my work......But if you do happen to copy any of my material, or repeat it in any way online - I would appreciate it very much if you would please mention that it originally came from me, as it's the result of many years of hard work and often hard won-experience. Thank you.)