Derek – Friday 21st August 2020

There’s blackfly (Aphis fabae) on the willow hedge in the far corner of the garden, near the stage. If you look through the leaves, you can see black clusters round the stems. They are feeding on the sugary sap. Blackfly seem to come from nowhere, and suddenly there are thousands of them. In common with other aphids, blackfly reproduce so rapidly because they have a number of asexual stages in their life cycle. This means the female can lay eggs daily, as within her body egg cells keep splitting in two without the need to find a mate. It is why aphids are such a pest on beans and peas.

A female during the summer months can produce up to five eggs a day. That’s quite a multiplier, easily defeating the soapy water of the organic gardener. They also have winged offspring in their cycle, allowing them to fly off and find new sites. It is this stage which is sexual.

Blackfly are sometimes milked by ants for their honeydew, not a process which seems to do them any harm. In our garden, honey bees are attracted to the willow, but there are no flowers here. I wonder if they are drinking honeydew spilled by the blackfly.

Ladybirds are predators of aphids and there are quite a few on the bamboo under the large sycamore. A few weeks ago, there were ladybird larvae here, but they have gone. The pupal stage must be pretty rapid. I did spot one, about a week ago, a dark reddish blob. I suppose it has to be quick or the pupa will be eaten by a bird before the adult emerges.

There are a number of garden spiders (Araneus diadematus) around in their webs. They are also known as the crucifix spider as they have a white cross on their abdomen. Their mating season is usually September but the hot weather has pushed everything forward, so even though it’s late August and still warm, the garden has an autumn feel. There are few flowers remaining and the sycamore helicopters are losing any green colouration, which means they are almost ripe.

A white cat with tabby-black patches stalks the garden. There is another, a dark brown cat, we sometimes see, but rarely do we see them together. It is likely the white cat is dominant and the brown will only come when it is not around.

The cereals haven’t enjoyed the rain. The barley is especially battered, the ears bruised and sullen as if sulking at their punishment. This has been a bad year for cereals in the UK. Wheat harvests are down 30%, due to the dry weather in May. The past week of rain has also hit farmers hard, as they cannot run their combines while it is raining, and need a couple of dry days afterwards or the damp grain will rot in the silos. The alternative is drying it with heaters, which is prohibitively expensive for a wet crop.

I hope the rain hasn’t damaged the cobs in the sweetcorn and dwarf maize in our cereal project. The rice is healthy, though there’s slight damage from snails. Let’s hope they keep away. The rice is the only one of our cereals to show no hint of flowering. It is getting late in the year though, reminding me of all those green tomatoes that never ripen.

Come on, rice. You can do it!

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