Weeds and Other Animals

 

Some early showers while we were up at the plot this morning. Missed a day yesterday – the new football season is here and my team, Walsall, like every other team and the fans are in with a chance of winning everything- the league, the F.A. Cup, getting into Europe, and I was at Oldham yesterday, watching the mighty Saddlers, deservedly win away from home.But this morning the massive task of weeding awaited. This has been a good year for weeds, the temperatures and rainfall breeding the monsters out of bare soil like fairy fountains. Good King Henry, groundsel, stinging nettles, bindweed, chickweed, dandelions and so many more. Some no doubt from seed surviving the low temperature digestive systems of horses (we have a lot of horse manure in the ground this year), some lying in the soil from past years, the rest blown in on the winds. I try to persuade myself it is the sign of a healthy , fertile soil – might be better convincing myself to start eating weeds!

But I am struck as I bend and pull by the masses of wildlife: peacock butterfly caterpillars on the columns of stinging nettles that make me by-pass these weeds to give them a chance: butterflies like the peacock are so glamorous – we have five flying around the site today, landing on water butts and potato foliage, but dashing away before I could get the camera sorted out.

A troop of five or six finger-nail sized toads struggle away from my feet along the grass path. Bumble bees cling to the white-knuckle rides as the wind turns massive sunflower  heads into theme park giants. Masses of earthworms wriggle in the soil I take up as I dig up the self-set potatoes. And – of course – the flapping white kites that are cabbage white butterflies fill the air around. There is a large toad in the compost heap; he has to move over as I tip another heaving barrow –full of weeds onto the heap… I need to empty the last bay out and start a new pile. It helps having the deliveries of chipped leylandii to mix in with the kitchen scraps, lawn mowings, horse muck and weeds.

 

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Once upon a time I would have considered our plots to be an incidental pit-stop for wildlife, but now I believe it is a permanent part of the lives of many creatures: the smaller mini-beasts certainly, that populate the soil, hedgerows, banks, ponds and compost heap.

On to picking what will be the last of the gooseberry crop. We need to make up the last three pounds for some wine making. Some from our plot and permission to take some from a neighbouring plot … that lovely generous allotment spirit at this time of year is marvellous. Thanks guys.

But picking the berries from between the vicious thorns I am surprised that wasps are on some of the fruit: indeed in some cases have completely hollowed out the berry, leaving the papery skin dry and almost complete.

In my own layman’s understanding of wasp behaviour this seems to mark the time when all the grubs in the nest are reared; there is no longer an imperative to hunt for caterpillars and live food so they turn to sugars – and become a little more unpredictable. I guess the queen was is getting too old to produce new eggs.

Also Matthew brings news that one of the plot holders has a family of hedgehogs in residence in a home made “den”.

The weather brightens up by mid-day and the first stage of gooseberry wine is in the bucket. The plot looking more significantly weed-free than it did at the start of the day – but, well, you know, not anywhere near weed-free. What kind of oasis would that be?

11/8/13

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