Sunday, 27 July 2014

Blackflies versus the Ladybirds

Due to the warm, damp spring and hot and humid summer this year, the blackfly have been a real pest on the runner beans and courgettes, destroying the flowers before they have a chance to properly produce their fruits.

I prefer my veg to be grown organically which means avoiding the use of chemicals but trying to give nature a gentle helping hand if possible by encouraging beneficial conditions.

Ways of reducing blackfly are by spraying with water (trying to find a balance between blasting off the blackfly but not destroying the plant) or squishing the pests with your fingers.  I'm a bit squeamish about the squishing option although I'll sometimes try and rub them all off with the help of a cotton bud.

One of the reasons for not going down the chemical route is that it doesn't just affect the pest in question, but it can have a knock-on effect down the food chain in general - one creature's predator is another creature's food source...  So, my patience has paid off and several ladybirds have now taken up residence amongst the beans and courgettes and the blackfly population is noticably decreasing every day.

The blackfly are supported by ants because they like to feed on the honeydew produced by aphids.  In return, the ants will do their best to protect the aphids against predators.  I have seen one or two ants trying to nibble on the ladybirds' legs (or that seems to be what they're doing) but it doesn't seem to put the ladybirds off at all - I'm hoping in the end that the ants will decide they are fighting a losing battle and just give up.  Then my courgette and bean plants can recover and hopefully the ladybirds will move on to the rhubarb which is currently undergoing the same fate.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Party Time for the Seagulls

Last year I posted the story below about the flying ants and the seagulls. Well, on seeing the numerous seagulls gliding around in the clear blue sky (against the beautiful backdrop of the moon) this morning and seeing them wandering around on the pavements in our road this evening, I realised that yes, its that day of the year again - the day when the flying ants emerge and the gulls and other birds have a feast day.

I tried to capture a photo but couldn't really do it justice - but here's a pic from today and an action reply of last year's blog post on the very subject.  

This is the hottest day of the year so far and tomorrow will be even hotter, so it is no wonder that the ants chose today to emerge from their nests ...

* * * * * 

This afternoon and this evening, the sky above the house was full of seagulls, silently swirling in circles.  A strange sight to see so many in the same place at the same time, and even stranger that they were so quiet!  (Just the sound of a light aircraft passing by)


Seagulls swarming

I did a little research and was fascinated to find out that they are having a major feast day today on flying ants.  Apparently, all of the ants wait for a hot and humid day when the air is still and the winged ants then launch themselves up into the sky in order to mate.  After they mate, they fall to the ground where the males die and the females lose their wings and wander off to find somewhere to make a new nest.

However, the seagulls are wise to this situation and fly around on the thermals, feasting on the ants.  If the ants do manage to avoid being eaten, not all of them make it to the ground because due to the thermals, they can't control where they're going to fall and some of them end up in the sea.  It's a tough life being an ant!

Monday, 14 July 2014

The Power of the Radish

a heart-shaped radish from my garden

I grow radishes in the garden because they are relatively easy to grow in that they germinate quickly, grow fast and don't seem to get bothered by pests very much (maybe its because they are too hot and pepper for the likes of little pest mouths...).  Just for the record, I grow Cherry Belle (because they are fairly mild and, like their name, they are quite pretty) and Mooli (which is also fairly mild but in complete contrast is much bigger, longer and white).

They are really easy to use too - slicing them up into a salad or stir fry gives an instant bit of zing to the flavour of the dish.  

I grew this heart shaped radish recently - it may be the result of having 2 seeds very close together (they are quite tiny seeds) and not thinning them out at the appropriate time.

However, I heard a mention on the radio today about how healthy radishes could be for you - amazing to think that this little veg can pack such a punch.

  • A bit like peppermint, which can feel both hot and cold at the same time, radishes are naturally cooling.  Their pungent flavour is highly regarded in eastern medicine for the ability to decrease excess heat in the body that can build up during the warmer months.
  • Like other "hot" foods (such as chilli), their natural spice can help eliminate excess mucus in the body and be helpful when fighting a cold, to help clear the sinuses or to soothe a sore throat.  Whenever I have a sore throat, I always find that a curry or chilli dish helps but have never considered radishes before - a much better option for hot summer days.
  • Said to be a natural cleansing agent for the digestive system by helping to break down and eliminate stagnant food and toxins built up in the system over time.
  • They are high in vitamin C (especially if picked fresh) and so can help support the immune system (for instance, by fighting off viral infections).
  • Again, in Eastern medicine, radishes are said to have toxin-purging effects by helping to break down and eliminate toxins and cancer-causing free radicals in the body.
  • Hard to believe, but these little gems are actually part of the same family as cabbage and broccoli (cruciferous), which are some of the healthiest vegetables you can eat, containing phytonutrients, fibre, vitamins and minerals that all play a part in cancer protection.
  • Can help relieve bloating and indigestion by having a calming effect on the digestive system.  Although some radishes can produce burping effects so its a case of finding the more "user" friendly ones as they are loads of different types to choose from (if you grow your own, although choices are limited in supermarkets).
  • Low in calories but high in nutrients, fibre and flavour.
  • Healthy snack food in the summer as crunching on them satisfies the urge to nibble on less healthy foods plus they have a high water content as well as phosphorous and zinc, helping to keep the body and cells hydrated which is also an additional benefit for the skin.
Well, its salad on the menu for me this evening so I'm just off to pull up a radish or two.  Must remember to sow some more seeds this week so that I have a continuous supply!

Friday, 4 July 2014

Inside Out

We've had a little dilemma recently with getting the best possible use out of our L-shaped lounge.  With a huge, corner-shaped sofa which took up most of the space in the main area of the lounge it meant that the dining table was pushed into a dark corner and never got used.  

When we first bought the sofa over 10 years (and 5 cats) ago it was appropriate as this was our main sitting and tv viewing area but now our living patterns have changed and we watch tv in the "den" upstairs.  

It is really hard to sell on sofas in the second hand market these days as most people seem to prefer to buy new, and who would want to buy a sofa covered in cat scratches?  Although cosmetically past its best, it is still really comfortable to sit on and there's a great view from it down the garden.

So, after much measuring and trying things out we came up with a workable solution.  We removed the middle corner section and joined the 2 ends up into one long 4-seater sofa.  There is now room for the dining table in the front part of the room and close to the window.  

We dragged the heavy corner unit out onto the decking and Mr Cocopopia was going to chop it up to make it easier to take to the council tip but then we had a better idea - let the weather do the work for us and in the meantime we have a great outdoor sitting area.  

Sweetpea absolutely loves it too and spends hours there