Derek – Friday 17th April 2020

The Japanese cherry is still eye-catching in its froth of flowers, but already petals are falling and the leaves are growing. It’s as if the leaves are offended by all that showing off and so are doing their best to hide the display.

The cereals (two wheats, oats, barley and rye) are 6 to 8 inches high. They look much the same at this stage. Like grass, which is what they all are. I’ve taken off the cold frames as they are now too tall. There are four more cereals to plant, these are less hardy. We have two maize: a sweetcorn and a multi-coloured dwarf maize. Early May, I will plant them out directly. The other two are rice and teff, both more tender. I will start these at home this week in an electric propagator. It’s not a fancy machine, only 8 watts, giving maybe 10 degrees above ambient. About mid May, I’ll bring them to the garden and will grow them on in the cold frame for a few weeks, before letting them out to the late spring weather.

The tadpoles are everywhere in the pond. They will fatten up in the next few weeks. That’s all that appears to be going on, but there’s a transformation beginning on the inside, as they develop lungs, sex organs and a skeleton.

There’s plenty of daphnia (pond fleas). They are smaller than a pin head and you can only see them because of their rapid movement. Lots of daphnia is a sign of a healthy pond. They are crustaceans, a huge family which includes woodlice, crabs and barnacles. Under a magnifying glass you can see a huge eye, in proportion to the body that is, and often eggs within the transparent shell, ready for laying.

Darting through the pond are tiny water boatmen, which will take about 6 weeks to get to adult size, probably by feasting on daphnia. There’s pond skaters (Gerris lacustris) on the surface. Some years, we have none at all, but there’s quite a few now. Pond skaters glide on the surface of ponds, held up by the thin skin on the water known as surface tension. Surface tension won’t take much weight but you can ‘float’ a sewing needle on it with the aid of tissue paper which you ease away.

The front legs of the pond skater are short, mostly used for scouring the surface for trapped insects to eat. The long middle and back legs are used to propel it across the pond; they go at quite a rate in rapid jerks. Pond skaters hibernate over the winter months, brought out these days by the warm spring weather and the necessity to breed.

Flowers easily confused are anchusa and forget-me-nots. And we have quite a few of each. Both plants have small, flat, blue flowers with five petals and a yellow centre. The flowers are so alike that anchusa has the full name Anchusa myosotidiflora. The species name means “flowers like for-get-me-not” which is Myosotis. Forget-me-nots have clusters of flowers, more than anchusa, paler blue with oval leaves, while anchusa has spearlike leaves.

Near the container, in the succulent bed, there’s Sedum spathulifolium with bright yellow flowers which have been in bloom for weeks. The silver green foliage, with a hint of purple, are in tight rosettes, and almost like flowers themselves.

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