Derek – Friday 7th August 2020

The Community Garden is now open three days a week: Friday 1 – 3 pm, Saturday 1 – 3 pm, and Sunday 10 am – noon. Do come, it’ll be good to see you.

On Wednesday evening, the Garden had its first meeting since January. A real meeting, in the garden, not on Zoom or Skype, but nine of us, two metres apart. It was good to have a proper meeting, but I found it hard to hear at times. Social distancing outside is not conducive to catching every nuance, making me think of* Life of Brian*, with John Cleese et al at the back of the crowd making complete nonsense of the beatitudes (‘Blessed are the cheesemakers’).

I am looking at thistledown in the wildflower bed, clouds of puffed white, amorphous cotton wool, clustered at the top of spear thistles, each containing hundreds of seeds. In the bed, there must be many thousands in these foamy heads. While the down is quite beautiful, it is incredibly wasteful. Not one in a thousand of these seeds will make it to maturity.

The thistle’s reproductive strategy is that of big numbers; throw in such a magnitude that a few will make it. The same strategy is utilised by sycamores, all those thousands of helicopters twirling in the wind. Many will attempt to grow in the same space, choking each other out. A few, a very few, will go on to become trees and propagate the species. Poppies and frogs also go for the numbers game. A mating pair of frogs might breed thousands of tadpoles, most of whom will die before maturity. It is an incredibly callous process, allowing 999 deaths for a pair to get through the diehard lottery to breed. It’s like one of those Hollywood horrors with everyone on an island battling it out to be the last one standing.

This, though, is the essence of evolution. Any advantage, even quite small, that will add to an individual’s survival chances will, with these vast numbers, be more surely passed on to offspring. Over time, this leads to the winged seed of the sycamore, or the wasp-like appearance of the hoverfly. Though what might have been an advantage in particular circumstances, may not be when circumstances change. I wonder, is the frog any better off than a breeding tadpole would be? I suppose, if the pond dries out, a frog has the advantage, but tadpole/frog metamorphosis happened way, way before roads, strimmers and mowers added to a frog’s hazards. The first frog-like creatures, early amphibians, appear in the fossil record of the Permian era, around 290 million years ago.

There are quite a few ladybird larvae around the garden, especially in the bamboo. They look nothing like the adult, being a warty, small beetle with a touch of orange. This is just one of the stages through which the larva passes before pupating and emerging as an adult. It is such a complicated process, one wonders why it couldn’t stop at the larval stage, by somehow adding sex organs. But the larva cannot fly, so the ladybird, with its wings, does have the advantage of being able to find new sites for breeding.

The ladybird was first called Our Lady Bird, as the Virgin Mary was often depicted wearing red.

The cereals of the Cereal Project are maturing in their cardboard boxes. The wheat, oats, rye and barley are all but ready, these harvest days. The two maize plants have early cobs, maturity is likely by the end of the month. The teff has a few spikes of tiny seeds, but with all that green growth, I would expect so many more. The rice is healthy but going at its own slow pace. I will have to wait for my rice pudding.

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