Sunday, 28 October 2012

Incey wincey, Codlings and Cream...

Before you settle down to read this and because we haven’t done it for a while, I would like you to join me in the chorus of that lovely tune that is our eponym. Clear your throat and join me at full volume in a rousing chorus. I’ll count you in… 

1…. 2……3 …. 4 go

‘DaDa Daa Da Daa Da Da Daa Bom Bom
DaDa Daa Da Daa Da Da Daa Bom Bom
DaDa Daa Da Daa Da Da Daa
And sweet Marie who waits for me there. ‘

That’s it. Feel better now? Good. On with the show.

Can you pat your head and rub circles on your tummy at the same time? If you are shouting ‘Of course I can!’ the odds are you are a multi-tasking female who can split her thinking several ways at once. (Don’t look so smug). Now, keep patting and rubbing while standing on one leg the foot of which is balancing on a tightly inflated football. Still standing? If you are you are still only half way to being as good as the spider I have been watching. 

It’s that time of year when those large round bodied spiders which I have always called orb spiders seem to be more abundant and the mists and dew of autumn bejewel the webs to make them more obvious. The orb in the name comes from the shape of the web rather than the spider. There are several genera that do it. They make strong webs which you will easily feel tugging at your eyelashes and hair if you unwittingly walk through one. I was watching one of these beautifully speckled spiders building its web which it had strung between two, head high, rows of wood stacked some five feet apart. These two rows of split logs formed a corridor twenty feet or more long and glancing along this space I could see five or six of these webs strung at regular spaces like sinister lines of washing stretched high from balcony to balcony across a narrow street. Beware inattentive fly.

Earlier that day this spider had cast a thread to the wind which had carried across the space between the log piles and stuck to the other pile. Having secured both ends and attached another couple of lines to each side and put in place some radial threads the spider started to build its spiralling web, working from the outside to the centre. I only arrived in time to see it lay down the last few threads near the centre and it is here I observed what looked like an amazing display of dextrousness and balance. With one of its legs it drew the thread from the spinners in its rear and moved it across from one radial to the next and laid it on the radial, then with another leg it seemed to push the thread away from itself thus pushing it tightly against the radial as if to make doubly sure it was stuck on. This was not done in any sort of hesitant or careful way, the spider just quickly, rhythmically and unassumingly worked its way round and round laying down the threads while having all of its eight legs under perfect control with each being put down, without miss, on a thread when not involved in the task in hand. How does it know where the threads are to put its feet down so assuredly? I don’t know, but I do know it has had eons of evolution to perfect the knack and its six or eight eyes (One to watch each leg?) must surely help.

The web thread itself is a great resource and not to be wasted so when the web becomes ragged or worn out the spider will eat it before building another web. Have you ever wondered whether the spider bothers with those tiny gnats and aphids that start to build up on a web? Well some of the larger spiders won’t bother with them until they eat up the old web and these tiny catches get gobbled up at the same time. The spider severs the silk thread not by cutting but by applying digestive juices to it. 

Codlings and Cream

Do your apples look like this at the end of the season? There are two problems here, the most obvious of which is the damage to the core. This is cause by the codling moth Cydia pomonella

The adult female moth lays eggs on fruit and leaves in June /July. Caterpillars hatch two weeks later and burrow into the developing fruit often boring inconspicuously in at the end where the flower was - the opposite end to the stalk. They then feed for a month or so then eat their way out and pupate on the plant, under leaves and in cracks and crevices. Note this and note it well – the adults fly onto the apple tree and the larvae pupate on the tree. There is no crawling up and down the trunk to be caught by sticky grease bands. Codling moths are not controlled, as is often thought, by grease bands around the trunk of the tree. Grease bands are to stop the wingless female moths of the Winter Moth climbing up the trunk to lay eggs.

Treating codling moth is not easy. To use chemical sprays you have to time it so that you hit the caterpillar between hatching and entering the fruit which is tricky and anyway I don’t think there is a chemical recommended for the amateur for use on fruit trees but practically it is not realistic to spray a large tree. Pheromone traps which use a sex hormone to attract and trap the males were used to alert fruit growers to the presence of the moths so that they could apply an insecticide at the right time. It is doubtful if they are effective in reducing populations in a significant way because moths are all too ready to fly in from surrounding trees.

So there is your Codling – a codling is an unripe or cooking apple – along with its moth.

But what about your cream?

Well here it is in all its piled on glory. 

‘One giant scone for mankind’ said Neil Armstrong as he stepped towards this mountainous cream tea at Hobson’s Patisserie, Henley Street in Stratford on Avon. You can just see where he touched down, his moon boot pattern imprinted on the dusty surface of the scone. Eating this is akin to assaulting the north face of the Eiger, with both the tip of your nose and the end of your chin at risk of frost bite as you figure out the best way to approach it.

Now if there are any field botanists going ‘Wah! Wah! Wah! What about the real codlings and cream Williams?’ I am going to have to disappoint you because I could not find one in flower to photograph. Codlings or codlins and cream is the common name of the Hairy or Great Willowherb Epilobium hirsutum (hirsutum = hairy) which is the more leafy brother of the great Rosebay Willowherb Epilobium angustifolium (angustifolium = narrow leafed.) that brightens up our hedgerows and railway lines in late summer with its tall spikes of intensely coloured pink purple flowers. The Hairy Willowherb prefers much damper ground. I struggle to see the connection between the flowers, which I am guessing must be where the connection is made, and codlings and cream which which are not at all pink though the flower does have a cream coloured centre. If you know the connection then let me know.

Caterpillar Tracks

This cabbage white caterpillar on Cleome spinosa struck me as bit of an anomaly at first because I would have expected it to be feeding only on members of the family Brassicaceae, the cabbage family and no part of the Cleome plant says cabbage to me. A quick search told me that, after recent DNA analysis, Cleome had been placed in a new family because it was much more closely related to the Brassicas than had been thought; they could have saved a lot of money and research time if they had just asked the caterpillar.

A more obvious victim is Crambe cordifolia above. This is definitely a member of the brassica family and here has been stripped to the veins by the caterpillar. Anyone who has grown Crambe will know that its huge leaves are often damaged by another pest of brassicas, the flea beetle. This tiny beetle punctures the leaves with a myriad of tiny holes, spoiling the look of them completely. You can sometimes hear them pinging on the leaves as they jump about when you disturb them. Grow this Crambe them towards the back of the border where the huge sprays of white flowers can be enjoyed without the distraction of the mangy leaves. Treat roses and hollyhocks the same.

Scary Monsters 2

I was asked to judge the fruit and veg at the Stretton on Fosse Horticultural Show in September and a great show it was too especially as it was the first for as long as most people could remember. As good as the flowers and veg were, for me it was the children’s entries for the ‘Scariest Animal made from Veg.’ class that stole the show. 

Magical Mushrooms

Not the sharpest of pictures but what a colour. It was growing in sandy soil amongst wood chip mulch at the base of a yew hedge on the edge of Cheltenham. I used the wonderful service that is ispot to find out that it is a species of Stropharia.

Let’s just get this out of the way. - Why did the girl go out with the blue mushroom ? Because he was a fungi to be with. Gerrit?

Berry Good

Okay , what’s this then?

I spotted it in the architectural salvage paradise that is the Three Pigeons outpost of Lassco near Oxford. There was a case of old garden tools displayed by Garden and Wood and amongst them was this little gem. It is photographed through glass so it is a bit hazy but I am sure you can make out the rows of prongs and wires across its base. It’s a berry harvester , French of course, and if I never harvested a berry with it I would be content to enjoy its boxy yet elegant construction, its attractive angles and its ‘I was thoughtfully made for a specific purpose’ character. I imagine it would be used to harvest berries such as red, white and blackcurrants and maybe elderberries by scooping through the strigs and gently tugging and tipping back to land the loosened berries in the collecting box at the back with creepy crawlies and juice from burst berries falling through the wire screen base.

Or is it an S. and M. backscratcher. No, not Sparks and Menser.

What Was He Doing?

And on the eighth day, with nothing to do, God made the ugliest thing he could think of, the Cockchafer grub. With His schoolboy sense of humour He could not resist giving it a name perfectly suited to double entendres. He also gave it a scientific name designed for us to easily remember, Melolontha melolontha. This soil-dwelling creature spends its time chewing a way at roots underground perhaps for several years before emerging around May, (hence its other common name May Bug), as a large brown and black beetle-like creature over an inch long which seems to have little navigational sense if the number that have crashed into me when I have been fishing by the riverside is anything to go by. There are two in the picture , both freshly dug from about 18 inches down, but I am sure the dark one is dead. It did not move at all during the photoshoot, not even for me to get its best side. The other one wiggled and squirmed the whole time. The adults chew leaves and can on warm nights swarm into trees in great numbers - that sounds like my ultimate nightmare. There is a superb picture of one in flight and some gloriously detailed text in Peter Marren and Richard Mabey’s Bugs Brittanica published by Chatto and Windus. 

I'm A Bit Rusty

I have received a request for help from Lee Cleaves.

He has sent me the picture below from his allotment and wonders what he can do about whatever is affecting his leeks.

What you have here Lee is a rust disease on your leeks called, rather surprisingly, leek rust, Puccinia alli. I have the same problem on my leeks this year. I think mine has cross infected from my Chives which had it bad last year.

Rusts are mighty interesting fungi with several types of spores produced for different functions and we might have a look at them in greater depth in another issue.

But back to Lee’s leeks. The leek rust is typical of rust fungi in that it produces pustules of orangeish – rusty – coloured spores which get blown or splashed about thus spreading the disease. These narrow, slit like, pustules are produced on the leaves and don’t usually penetrate the centre of the leek though a bad infection can reduce the vigour of the plant. The disease’s spread usually slows down with the onset of autumn.The spread of the disease is encouraged by damp and wet weather.

The second picture with black dots shows what look like a different type of spore, a teliospore, which my book tells me you don’t get on leeks so where does that leave us?

Can you do anything to prevent the problem? Make sure you clean away any leek debris from the site to prevent it infecting next years crop. I generally discard the unwanted leaves and leave them lying on the garden which is not good practice. In my case it would probably pay me to get rid of or reduce my chives to avoid any spread from them. Practice as long a rotation as you can to reduce the number of spores in the ground. Four years or more if you can. Growing resistant varieties is always a useful way of coping with any disease. The varieties Oarsman F1, Upton and Swiss Giant all show resistance to rust. Plant you leeks with plenty of space around them and in an open and airy place.

Hell for Leather on the Helter Skelter

Two pictures here, one I took on a visit to the Olympic park before completion and another taken on a trip to Southend and its amusement park. Which is which (the large banner in one picture might give you a clue) and did one of them influence the design of the other? 

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