Tuesday, 2 July 2019

To the allotment - and beyond

I visited the allotment today but didn't spend long - just enough time to water and feed the crops and gather our first picking of broad beans. The beans are astonishingly tall and are now topping six feet. The allotment secretary strolled over to take a look and express his amazement.

In fact most things are doing nicely although I am a little concerned by the beetroot. Both on our plot and some neighbouring plots the leaves are disfigured by pale blotches, often quite large. They are the work of Pegomya hyoscyami, the beet leafminer, a small grey fly in the Anthomyiidae family. I suspect that overall it does little harm.

Beetroot leaves mined by Pegomya hyoscyami. Drayton Allotments,
Daventry. 2 July, 2019
Chris had dropped me off near the allotment but then went off to Northampton for a meeting with an old friend. I was pleased to be walking home. The weather was fine and there was much of potential interest to be seen.

In fact, as I walked I grew more and more worried. When, about twenty years ago, I first developed an interest in entomology, I would often look at the flat umbels of Hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium, in bewilderment. Where to start? Bees, beetles, hoverflies and a host of small fry thronged the flowers.

Umbels of hogweed were largely devoid of insects.
Yeomanry Way, Daventry. 2 July, 2019
Today those same umbels were there, but where were the insects? We seem to have reached, and passed, a tipping point in environmental conditions and insect numbers have crashed. I examined dozens, if not hundreds at these nectar- and pollen-rich smorgasbords as I walked and there were few diners to be seen.

On a dock leaf was a 'woolly bear' caterpillar of a Ruby Tiger moth, Phragmatobia fuliginosa. It seemed happy feeding on dock but will be found on a variety of other plants. (The specific name 'fuliginosa' means dirty brown or sooty - a bit harsh I think.)

The caterpillar of a Ruby Tiger moth was a welcome sight.
Yeomanry Way, Daventry. 2 July, 2019
The Ruby Tiger was pleasing to find even though it is common, but overall the picture was grim. Parenthetically I read in today's Guardian that an area of Brazilian rain forest the size of a football pitch is being lost every minute. I was reading much the same ten, even twenty years ago. Corrupt and self-serving government ministers; ruthless and morally bankrupt 'captains of industry', all are to blame - and so are we, for letting them get away with it. (Sir Philip Green anybody?)

There are glimmerings of hope. A garden I passed a few minutes later showed what a lawn should, imo, look like.
Benign neglect should be the way to deal with a lawn, although a
kaleidoscope of colour is not a guaranteed result. Yeomanry Way, Daventry.
2 July, 2019
Daisies, tiny geraniums, hawkweeds, clovers and self-heal: all were there, together with a number of bees. Why anyone should want to destroy such a colourful carpet is beyond me.

Self-heal, Prunella vulgaris, in a lawn. Who would want to eradicate such
a little jewel? Yeomanry Way, Daventry. 2 July, 2019
And a little further on tiny patch of untended ground was a blaze of poppies. It was a steep bit of awkward-to-mow bank. 'Spray it!', might have been the call a few years ago. Poppies bear no nectar but again bumble bees were busily collecting the purple-black pollen.

Field Poppies, Papaver rhoeas, on  a neglected bank. Yeomanry Way,
Daventry. 2 July, 2019
Is a tiny bit of sanity creeping in?

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