Thursday, June 28, 2007

More Artful Beetles

Three paintings by Joris Hoefnagel (1542-1600) which feature the stag beetle. More of his nature studies can be seen on the National Gallery of the U.S.of A. and at Giornale Nuovo.
Below is the ingenious folding new year's card that we got from Michael's uncle Werner who actually has a beetle named after him. I think it's one Coleoptera westfalia 'Starkei' - but not the one pictured below which is a chafer.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Just polished off the last of the broad beans. In their final days the plants succumbed to chocolate spot and went downhill rather quickly - a disease of which I was hitherto unaware. The beans were still good but the foliage looked like it had been heavily dusted with cocoa powder, hence the name. It was a timely death. I need the space to plant out next spring's cabbages.
We have also been dining on some rather fine early potatoes and a few Charlotte salad potatoes AND the first courgette Costa Romanesque, a very deeply ribbed and crunchy specimen.
Alas, my first sowing of carrot seed has failed to germinate (sigh) so will have to try again. I suppose it was past it's sell by, but maybe I should be paying more heed to the lunar calendar. Peas and lettuce are happy but lots of plants (ie. cucumbers, beans and tomatoes) seem to be in a holding pattern while this bracing autumnal weather is occupying our June.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


I've been sitting watching the bees to-ing and fro-ing today which can be very instructive when you have this conveniently pocket sized "Pollen Colour Guide" close to hand (click on it to make it readable). Right now their baskets are bright yellow (possibly the privet), bright orange (hopefully the lime trees which are in full flower right now) and pale sage (which is certainly the bramble in bloom everywhere). For the last three weeks of May the bees were busy in the 10 foot tall bush which I have now happily identified as Leptospermum scoparium otherwise known as Manuka or Tea Tree. While all (unheated ) honey is antimicrobial, manuka honey has been shown to be especially effective at killing a wide range of bacteria including the 'superbug' MRSA. So convincing is the research that even the mainstream medical profession is using it (once again) for wound dressing. Anyway, I've taken a dozen cuttings and will attempt to propagate a little hedge of tea tree for our bees.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Still Life with a Stag Beetle

Time again for these prehistoric looking beasts to take to the wing in search of love after having spent several years as a grub underground. I see few enough of them that it still gives me a thrill. I saw the first one of '07 last week and encountered a female on the road while cycling home last night. Looking like a helicopter transporting a freight car, the males don't so much fly as wobble through the air, navigating olfactorily towards a female up to a mile away. Maria Fremlin has posted some great photographs here of stag night shenanigans. Do have a look.
And if you see one the people at 'The Great Stag Hunt' would like to know.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Hand Picked

In her cookbook, Alice B. Toklas recalls in the chapter 'The Gardens at Bilignin' that "The first gathering of the garden in May of salads, radishes and herbs made me feel like a mother about her baby - how could anything so beautiful be mine... there is nothing that is comparable to it, as satisfactory or as thrilling, as gathering the vegetables one has grown."
We've had the 'inlaws' staying with us this week and last night for dinner I nestled a Salad Nicoise on a bed of freshly picked leaves. Towards the end of the meal, a couple of slightly befuddled caterpillers made their way to the rim of Michael's father's bowl. I suppose I felt a bit like a mother about her baby - as it picks its nose.
I'm still experimenting with different varieties but I like to keep a steady supply of these two (aka. Radichetta and Winter Density) from Kokopelli. They are good and crunchy and can be harvested over a long period.