Sunday Sevens #33

Today’s Sunday Sevens (devised by Natalie at Theads and Bobbins), will be a mishmash of pictures and info. I hope you don’t mind?

cartoonWork: This week has been heavy on the workload. With only working 18 hours a week, a full days work is squashed into just 3-4 hours daily. Feeling slightly under the weather and tired has made for a hard week to get through. However spirits were high at the centre I work at, as they celebrated 40 years since their opening. As part of their celebrations a local artist George Brooks was commissioned to draw caricatures of staff and people who access the day centre. Here’s my mug shot!

#walk1000miles: While in previous weeks I have been breaking my own record mileage. This week I have found less time, nor the inclination to do much than the bare minimum. My mileage for this week has been 26 miles bringing my annual total to 683 miles. Not bad but I hope to do better this following week.

New Life: For the past three weeks our blue-faced parrot finches have been laying and sitting on eggs. At first there were eight eggs laid. Then as the weeks progressed they threw a few eggs out of the nest. On Thursday David was replenishing their food and water when he stooped to have a look into the nest. ‘There’s a baby!’ he whispered.

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Baby Blue-faced Parrot Finch

‘What?’ I asked disbelieving. David nodded for me to have a look and I gazed at a tiny, naked creature writhing about the eggs. Even though the baby was blind its bulbous black eyes seemed to protrude from its head. I still can’t quite believe that our finches have had a baby. I wonder what the future will hold for the little nestling and whether there will be any siblings?

An update: Sadly our little nestling only survived two days before we found it dead. RIP little one. 😥

Metamorphosis: What with hatching eggs, fledged goldfinches, pigeons and starlings visiting the feeders, it has all been about the young ones this week! Summer is amazing for seeing new life! I recently noticed a chrysalis attached to a jasmine leaf. We could see the colour of the butterfly through the transparent casing. About two weeks ago on the very same plant I had taken a picture of a green caterpillar. The chrysalis would be the next stage of the metamorphosis!

On Friday during our daily perusal of the yarden David noticed that the chrysalis was empty and the poor, newly emerged butterfly, a large white was sitting on the floor. We picked it up and placed it on a buddleia.

We noticed it had a crumpled wing and I later read that if a newly emerged butterfly ended up on the floor, it could reduce its chance of having pristine wings. It takes a day for the wings to harden and take shape. I hope that our new friend hasn’t damaged its chances of survival. I also noticed that it had just one antenna. I read that it could have been due to a deformity in the chrysalis. The antenna helps determine smell and balance. We left the new butterfly clinging to the biddleia. Hopefully it will be able to warm its wings, the crumple unfold and be able to feed and go on its merry way. Only time will tell.

Another update: This one a little happier, (though only a little). The large white butterfly is still with us. It moved from the buddleia to the floor again, though I did see a white butterfly flutter about the rockery plants earlier in the day. Whether that was our little friend I don’t know. David took the butterfly indoors and fed it sugar/water solution. David noticed that one antennae is under developed and that the butterfly does not have control of one of its front legs. The prognosis for survival is poor, but we shall keep an eye on the butterfly and keep feeding sugar/water. That is all we can do sadly.

I was reading up on metamorphosis and what happens inside a chrysalis. Enzymes are released dissolving tissue but keeping essential organs before remodeling begins. National Geographic have an interesting report on 3D scanning of the process. You can read it here.

Book I am reading: I’ve finally picked up Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winner, The Goldfinch. I’m only a few pages into the narrative but so far I am enjoying Tartt’s writing style. Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

The Yarden:  To cheer myself up I decided to visit a local garden centre and purchase some perennials for the yarden. There wasn’t much of a selection but I came away with an achillea (yarrow) and chrysanthemum, both had the RHS Perfect for Pollinators sign.

Looking forward: I have a few days away booked to Keswick this coming week. I am so ready for a little break away. Need to recharge my batteries or I feel I will crumble. Look out for blog posts on how the planned swim/walks pan out!

That was my (rather upsetting) week, how was yours?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

 

30 Days Wild 2017 – Week 3

o0OhgWNNWell week three has been a much more enjoyable week. I think the sunshine and 25°+ temperatures have helped raise the mood.

With a bit of forward thinking I was also able to plan my posts and managed to gather enough photographs and subjects to hopefully make the post more informative. Let me know your thoughts.

Day Fifteen: Thursday.

Last year I didn’t have much luck with growing my own vegetables. I tried growing peppers, green beans, spring onions and tomatoes. All perished. The only success of the summer was the maris bard potatoes, and I got two harvests from them!

So this spring I decided to get the same variety in the hope of getting a bumper harvest of gorgeous new-potato-type earlies. However, ‘the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry’. I planted the chits in March/April and waited for the plants to grow and the flowers to appear. This year nothing happened, save the plants in the grow bag yellowed and some died. I watered them during the dry spell and decided on Thursday to rummage in the soil to see if there were any potatoes grown. There were, but they all looked like this!

potatoes

I was so upset! What had happened to my lovely potatoes? After doing some reading online I found there could be a number of reasons my potatoes looked like they had acne.

  1. The spots could be a nematode, or microscopic worm.
  2. There was a lack of moisture in the soil during hot weather.
  3. The spots could be early blight, a fungus spread by rain and hot temperatures.
  4. Probable potato scab which is a bacterium.

I suppose you only learn as a gardener if you make an attempt at growing. Perhaps last years harvest was a fluke? I have centurion onions growing in a bag too. I wonder what they will look like come harvesting?

Have you had a diseased riddled harvest? Let me know your stories.

Day sixteen: Friday.

All week, our female blue-faced parrot finch (Forrest) has been laying tiny white eggs. This got me thinking, how is an egg actually made? So I did a little research.

The egg as we know it is assembled inside out! The yolk comes first and is released via the oviaries. Fertilisation (if applicable) occurs once the yolk is released. The yolk then passes along the oviduct where the albumen and membranes are created. Calcification occurs at the shell gland and this produces the egg shell. Shell production can take up to 20 hours and the whole process lasts around 24 hours!

If you are interested to know more, then follow this link here, and here, and here.

Day Seventeen: Saturday. 

Two of random acts of wildness are: 1. grow borage for bees and 2. take a picture of something blue.

borage

Since 2015, when I began participating in 30 Days Wild, I have grown borage for bees. This year has been no different. I harvested the seeds from last years plants and sowed them this spring. Right on cue for June the new plants have begun flowering. The bees love them and they are also my something blue for 2017!

Day Eighteen: Sunday.

Having never picked our own fruit before I was very excited to try! I found a local farm, Claremont, on the Wirral, who have a pick your own season. So David and I visited this weekend. On arrival we opted for two small punnets and headed towards the field where hundreds of strawberry plants were growing. The farm was very busy with families. We chose our row and began foraging among the strawberry plants. We found big juicy fruit, the smell was delicious!

Having filled our punnets to the brim we took them to the farmer who weighed the harvest and the cost was £6 for the two punnets. I thought it was reasonable, with the guarantee that the fruit is fresh having picked them straight from the plant. We will definitely visit again.

Have you picked your own? What fruit do you prefer?

Day Nineteen: Monday.

Nicky at Too Lazy to Weed wrote a wonderful blog about plant pots for pollinators an initiative by Butterfly Conservation. They offer a planting guide for beginners and ask for participants to log their pots on a map and state what plants you have for pollinators. I have numerous pots and plants for pollinators so it wasn’t difficult to participate in.

Here are a few pictures of some of the plants I have in the yarden for pollinators.

Some pollinator friendly plants are:

  • Hellebore
  • Chives
  • Lavender
  • Honeysuckle
  • Sunflower
  • Michaelmas Daisies

Perhaps you can plant a pot for pollinators and help out our hungry insects?

Day Twenty: Tuesday.

I’ve decided to showcase two bees who have been seen visiting the yarden. 1. the leaf-cutter bee and 2. the honey bee.

Leaf-cutter bee:

  • One of the solitary bees.
  • Nests in cavities.
  • So named due to cutting out leaves to make their ‘cells’ for larvae.
  • On the wing April to August.
  • Feeds on nectar and pollen which they carry on their abdomen.

Honey bee:

  • Are hive bees and live in colonies.
  • A colony can be between 35,000 to 60,000 bees.
  • The hive is structured with a queen, worker bees (females) and drones (males).
  • Prefer simple, open flowers.
  • Carry their pollen in baskets on their hind legs.

Day Twenty-one: Wednesday.

The Summer Solstice. Last year I got up at 4 am and listened to the dawn chorus. This year since having a long day at work, (and I mean a loooong day at work). I decided to look for alternative ways of celebrating the solstice.

Solstice is the Latin for ‘sun seems to stand still.’ Some see the solstice as the beginning of summer, whereas others see it as midsummer. The sun is at its most northerly position (and at winter it’s the most southerly). The solstice occurs due to the tilt of the Earth at 23.5°. In summer the Earth is tilting towards the sun and for the UK the summer solstice means approx. 16 hours of sunlight, the longest day. During the winter solstice the opposite occurs (approx. 8 hours of sunlight), meaning the shortest day.

Thought.co have some good ideas on how to celebrate the summer solstice.

WikiHow suggests doing some sky observations.

I can’t remember where I saw it now, but I read that making a herbal brew was also a way of celebrating the solstice, so I decided on attempting a rosemary tea.

rosemary tea

Rosemary Tea

Rosemary is full of antioxidants (supports the immune system), has vitamins A and C and is helpful in boosting memory. Shakespeare in Hamlet, (act four, scene five,) has Ophelia saying (in her maddened state), ‘there’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.’ It can also aid relaxation, ease anxiety and help digestion. So I thought I would give it a try.

Ingredients (makes one small mug):

  • I used two tablespoons of finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves (cut fresh from the yarden).
  • One cup of boiled water or 250ml.
  • Leave to steep for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Strain and drink.

My thoughts:

I decided to drink the infusion whilst listening to Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, based of the William Shakespeare play. I listened as a muggy day turned to a cooler evening.

The infusion created a green tea. Rosemary is a very aromatic herb and the tea was very florally. I think I preferred the music to the drink.

What is your favorite herbal drink?

Summary:

What a diverse week, week three has been! From failed potato harvests to gorgeous strawberries! I have tried to share new experiences and facts I’ve learned.

What random acts of wildness have you enjoyed doing this week?

A Look Back:

2015: Bees and growing borage.

2016: Wild swimming and birds.

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #32

I haven’t written a Sunday Sevens in a while, and I so love doing them. So thanks to Natalie at Theads and Bobbins, who devised the wonderful series, and here’s my seven (plus a few more), for Sunday!

back bedroom

New work space

DIY: Last weekend, David was busy sprucing up the guest bedroom/study. We spent most of Saturday driving back and forth from Warrington’s IKEA to purchase box cupboards which would conceal all our detritus. I think he’s done a fantastic job! We have so much more storage space and a bigger work surface.

#walk1000miles: I think it’s always nice to update you all on how my walk 1000 miles challenge is going. This week I have managed to rake up a reasonable 34 miles, (my best tally so far!), which brings my total for the year so far to 601 miles! My miles are mainly made up of hours on the treadmill, walking between bus stops, lots of scanning in work (the scanner is at the opposite end of the corridor from the office) and walking the dog. I think Riley appreciates the increase in walks. He is eight now and carrying a few extra pounds due to being neutered when he was three. I thought I was doing the right thing by neutering him, but no one told me he would put on weight after it! Anyway, Riley (and myself) has loved his park runs and visits to Crosby Beach, even if the wind was fierce the last time we visited!

Collecting: It’s been a while since I found a Beatrix Potter 50p. This week while counting the petty cash in work, my boss and I found a third collectible, Squirrel Nutkin! How cute is he?

Pets: This week our Blue-faced Parrot Finch, Forrest has been laying eggs. Her mate Leaf has been busy lining the nest with feathers and straw. I wonder if any of the eggs will hatch? We shall see in a fortnights time! I’ll update you all!

Book I am reading: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I’m only 50 pages into the book but it’s accompanying me while on my daily commute to work. I am enjoying the characters so far. Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

Culture: This Saturday (17th) was the day Hans Zimmer and his Live on Tour came to Liverpool. This was my second time of seeing him live on stage. You can read my review on the Birmingham 2016 concert here. Though it was the same programme as his European tour, there were subtle differences. The orchestra and choir had been paired down. I personally preferred the energy of the Birmingham concert, but there was the same chat by Zimmer with anecdotes on the films he had scored. The lighting was just as fierce but I think there was less camaraderie between the principal performers. The Liverpool audience were a little too vocal for my taste but the show of phone torches after Aurora was touching, though I wish he wouldn’t talk over all of it. It is a beautiful composition, reminiscent of the vocal version of Barber’s Adagio for Strings. My two favourite pieces did not disappoint, in fact One Day from Pirates of the Caribbean Three brought tears to my eyes. The Dark Knight medley was just as energetic and inspiring! I felt bless to see my music hero live onstage!

Have you been to see any live music recently? What’s your experience of arena tours?

Days out: The weather this weekend has been beautiful. Perfect summer days filled with lots of warm sunshine and mild clear evenings. I must say it has been a very full weekend! I was going to end the post with Hans Zimmer’s concert but I just wanted to share with you my wonderful Sunday.

After visiting Claremont Farm in the Wirral and picked our own juicy strawberries. David and I headed for the coast and Thurstaston Beach, to have our lunch overlooking the sandy estuary. I’ll write more in my 30 Days Wild – Week 3, but for now here are some pictures of our wonderful day.

That was my week, how was yours?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

Dodd Wood

With the British weather still not warming up for skins swimming (well for me at least). I forsook a swim and headed instead for a walk with David to Dodd Wood.

panorama

View from Dodd

Dodd Wood, managed by the Forestry Commission, is a fell that overlooks Bassenthwaite Lake. It is part of the Skiddaw range and has an elevation of 502m. It is 50m higher than Catbells and without the scramble to the top!

After an early start, we arrived at the pay and display car park at 10am and promptly paid the £6.30 for all day parking. There is a cafe and toilets on site, and the forest was already busy with walkers and families.

To start our walk, we headed for the lower Osprey viewpoint. Since 2001, Ospreys have been breeding in the area, after travelling from Africa.

Osprey Viewpoint

Lower Osprey Viewpoint

There are two viewpoints at Dodd Wood both equipped with long range telescopes and friendly volunteers. There is also an online webcam where you can view life in an Osprey nest. At the time of visiting the female was incubating three eggs. We didn’t see either Osprey. At the lower viewpoint there are feeding stations for woodland birds such as Jays and Coal Tits. There are even visiting Red Squirrels but when we were there they never showed.

birds

Woodland Bird Feast

From the second viewpoint David and I walked through an overgrown path that joined up with the way-marked (in green) Dodd Summit route. We took our lunch overlooking Derwentwater before heading up to the summit.

selfie

Viewpoint selfie

The summit had fantastic views overlooking Derwentwater, Bassenthwaite Lake, Skiddaw and towards The Solway Firth, though it was a bit cold and windy on this cloudy April day!

On our way back down towards the car park, we walked along a woodland path with grassy embankments. From one such embankment came the chirrup of birds. At first glance we couldn’t see anything, but then David lifted his camera and pointed to a small round hole in among the moss. There were three open mouths awaiting their parent.

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Nestlings by David Evans

We walked a total of 4 miles, but it sure felt longer! After a coffee, we headed back on the road towards home. We’d had a tiring yet enjoyable day!

Have you visited Dodd Wood? What are your favourite woodlands in the UK?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

2016 – A Year in Food.

With New Year drawing closer, it got me thinking what posts I should do as a round up of the year! One idea was ‘a year in food,’ to post 12 pictures that give a flavour of 2016! I have followed many recipes this year and prepared hundreds of dishes, (some successful, others not!), so I thought I would do a little summary.

I hope you enjoy!

January:

 At the start of the New Year I was determined to make meals that were filling, yet healthy and with produce that help reduce cholesterol. So one of the meals I made was a Red Lentil, Chickpea and Chilli soup.

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Red Lentil, Chickpea and Chilli Soup

Lentils are a good source of fiber, help with stabilising blood sugars and promote heart health.

You can find the original recipe here.

February:

The 28th of February was Global Scouse Day! Scouse is the signature dish of the city of Liverpool, usually made with meat. I prefer this vegetarian version with butter-beans called Blind Scouse.

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Blind Scouse

You can find the original recipe here:

March:

One recipe I have returned to time and time again this year has been this One Pan Mexican Quinoa. It is healthy, filling and can be used with either quinoa or brown rice. It’s a very versatile dish. I see me making this for many years to come.

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One Pan Mexican Quinoa

You can find the original recipe here: 

April:

This Pearl Barley Risotto with a crumbling of goats cheese would have been nice if it wasn’t for the very off putting buttery taste. I may attempt the recipe again, but leave out the butter!

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Pearl Barley Risotto

You can find the original recipe here:

May:

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Vegetable and Quorn Sausage Frittata

I am not a big lover of eggs, but this 4-6 egg Vegetable and Quorn Sausage Frittata was surprisingly filling and enjoyable.

June:

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Sea Turtle loaves

As I participated in The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild. I decided to get creative in the kitchen and made some mini loaves in the shape of Sea Turtles.

You can find the original recipe here:

July:

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Bramley Apple Pie

One of David’s friends kindly gifted us a load of Bramley apples. For weeks after I was baking and eating apple pies! They were yummy though!

The recipe I used was one by the Hairy Bikers.

August:

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Vegetable Tagine

I got the recipe for this Vegetable Tagine from a free Asda booklet. It makes a tasty dish with lots of different textures. For David, I complete it by topping it with a chicken breast, while for myself, I chop up a Quorn chicken style fillet for added protein.

September: 

A meal we don’t make too often and we should as it’s yummy, are these Spicy Mexican Bean Burgers. The recipe can be changed for any type of beans found in your store-cupboard. I serve with mounds of fresh salad.

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Spicy Mexican Bean Burger

October: 

I am not a big fan of pastry, however I decided to try this Indian Samosa Casserole. I like Indian spices so that was a plus. It served 3 to 4 people generously. I will definitely be trying the recipe again.

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Indian Samosa Caserole

You can find the original recipe here:

November:

Another dish I have made quite a few times this year is this Quinoa and Bean Soup. The original recipe called for white beans but I just used whatever beans I found in the store-cupboard! I have cooked a lot with quinoa this year due to its many health benefits.

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Quinoa and Bean Soup

December:

For the final meal, I thought I would choose the wonderful Curried Red Lentils. I have been cooking this easy peasy dish since the summer. I even make a big batch of them and take them to work. They are scrumptious, keep me fueled all afternoon and are healthy! I even throw in a teaspoon of turmeric just for its cancer busting properties!

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Curried Red Lentils

You can find the original recipe here:

So there you have it, a flavour of my 2016!

Let me know if you have tried any of the recipes featured? Or my post has inspired you to try some of them!

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

My Love for the Red Panda.

‘Panda’ from the Nepalese, nigalya ponya meaning bamboo footed.

23666_10150140661800271_1831177_nThe red panda was the first ‘panda’ to be know to the West as early as the 1800’s! In 1825 Frenchman Frederic Cuvier published an account describing the red panda and named the species, Ailurus fulgens fulgens, or shining cat.

By the 1840’s English naturalist Brain Houghton Hodgson had written a detailed study on the red panda or ‘Wah’. Focusing on habitat and diet.

It was not until 1869 that the giant panda was identified. However to distinguish the species, the first panda was renamed the lesser panda.

39755_425944215911_56676235911_4773054_7286609_nIt’s been eight years since I saw my first red panda, having been oblivious to their existence until then. For me it was love-at-first-sight! They seem to be a number of animals all rolled into one, which has caused countless debates as to what family or classification of animal the red panda truly is.

Are they bear-cats? They are cat sized (always a plus in my book) and rather bear-like, though they are not part of the ursidae family.

They bark like a dog: There is little published evidence but the red panda is highly susceptible to diseases like canine distemper.

Their vocalisations sound similar to birds:

A living fossil: Recent DNA studies have concluded that the red panda is in its own family of the Ailuridae, being part of the super-family the Musteloidea, (weasels, skunks and raccoons).

The only similarity with giant pandas is their diet (bamboo) and the false thumb, an elongated wrist bone that acts like a sixth digit. It helps with holding food and climbing, especially head first!

Red pandas are found largely in temperate, deciduous forests, from Nepal to China and Myanmar. There are two subspecies, Ailurus fulgens fulgens and Ailurus fulgens styani. Their red fur, one of the densest of all mammals (for insulation), is perfect camouflage during autumn.

Due to living in Himalayan regions, red pandas prefer cooler days. Winter is the best time to find them active.

Although they have a penchant for bamboo, eating up to 45% of their body weight a day, red pandas are classed as carnivores. They eat fruit, insects, eggs and small birds.

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Feeding Red Pandas at Paradise Wildlife Park

Red pandas have a slow metabolism due to being unable to digest bamboo properly, hence being rather sedentary. I’ve noticed many zoo guests just walk past red panda enclosures because they have been asleep up a tree. In most cases you need to visit several times in the hope of catching one awake. Being a crepuscular animal doesn’t help either as they are more active at dawn and dusk.

They are solitary animals, only coming together for mating. The female is only receptive one day a year. The breeding season is usually January to April with birth around June/July. The litter usually consists of one to four cubs, but usually two.

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Photo by David Evans

In 2010 I was honoured to witness Chester Zoo’s female red panda, Lushui move her cub, Lily from nest to nest. They do this to avoid predators. Cubs come out of the nest from around three months, and stay with their mothers for about a year before finding their own territory. Their lifespan in captivity can reach 15 years.

However beautiful red pandas are, they are classified as endangered by the IUCN. The main threats to them are deforestation, hunting, poaching and illegal trade. In China there is a traditional custom dating back to around the 13th century where red panda pelts are given to newlyweds as a sign of ‘good luck’. Red pandas are also predated upon by snow leopards and martens.

Conservation: Exact numbers of red pandas in Asia are relatively unknown, estimates say up to 10,000 adults. There is a worldwide effort to protect the red panda and its habitat. In many of the countries where the red panda is found, their habitat has been designated areas of protection, though these areas are hard to police. The Red Panda Network liaise with ‘forest guardians’ to educate and highlight the need to conserve red panda habitat. They are also working directly with the creators of the Panchthar-Ilam-Singhalila (PIS corridor), which will be the first Red Panda Protected Forest.

In captivity there are two long term initiatives for breeding, the Red Panda Species Survival Programme (SSP) and the European Endangered Species Programme (EES) which offers a ‘stud book’ of potential mates.

Popular culture: There have been a number of depictions of red pandas on many platforms over the years. Another name for the red panda is the Fire Fox. Mozilla use this name for their web browser, though their logo is ambiguous.

Cinema: In 2008 DreamWorks released Kung Fu Panda with Shifu, being a lose representation of a red panda! A year earlier an animated Barbie film, the Island Princess had a red panda as a friendly aide.

In 2013 Pocket Gems released a game called Animal Adventure with a red panda as one of the main characters.

14115498_10153971399038869_7066728288936528819_oThe future…is still uncertain.

At the time of writing, the WWF have announced that the giant panda’s status has improved from endangered to vulnerable. Hopefully the red panda being under the ‘umbrella’ of conservational efforts for the giant panda, will start to feel the effects of these protection methods soon?

 

And finally: Sadly, earlier this year, the Red Panda Network announced that poaching of the red panda had increased in 2016! Their annual International Red Panda Day (17th September 2016) will focus on anti-poaching initiatives.

The road ahead may still be long but there is hope for the future of the red panda. Conservation efforts are starting to produce results for not only the giant panda but tigers also, why not for the red panda? They have so much going for them. To me they are sweet, endearing animals, they are all superstars, none other than Ming Ming!

Thanks for reading.

Christine x


Further reading:

Angela Glatston: Red Panda: Biology and Conservation of the First Panda.

Whence the Red Panda? Flynn JJ, Nedbal MA, Dragoo JW, Honeycutt RL.

http://redpandanetwork.org/red_panda/about-the-red-panda/

http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/red-panda

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_panda

If you have been inspired by what you have read, then why not continue the message? You can join in with this years International Red Panda Day at your local animal park/zoo.

Update on the Garden 2- Pests!

I noticed in the garden this week a Scarlet Lily Beetle, apparently it is a pest that feeds on lilies and fritillaries. The picture below was taken on a fuchsia but they only lay their eggs on lilies and fritillaries. I have lily bulbs growing (well hoping they grow) so will keep a check on any larvae activity!

Scarlet Lily Beetle

Scarlet Lily Beetle

On Saturday, as the weather was nice I got out into the garden with my sheers and chopped the dying flowers from the Cat Mint and also decided to give the Wallflower a much needed trim! The bees won’t be thankful to me but they at least have the Siberian Bell-flowers to feed on!

I also chopped the leaves of the lilies that were infested. I managed to work around the larvae that cover themselves in their own excrement (nice!).

Some of my plants have not looked so good this summer (as last year). The Coriander I bought in spring is looking really limp and withered. This year I have put the annual herb in a pot but think I shall have to put next years plant in the ground! It grew so much better last year and the hover flies loved the tiny flowers it had!

Hover Fly on Coriander Flowers

Hover Fly on Coriander Flowers

However this years best grower and filling the void that the Coriander has left is the Fennel. Another herb, but this time a perennial. Last year it was overshadowed by the Coriander but this year it has grown almost three foot! Its brown feathery leaves have flower buds developing. These attract not only Hover Flies, but Lacewings and other insects too, though I have not seen any as yet!

Fennel flowers

Fennel flowers

Another flower that isn’t looking so fine is my Michaelmas Daisy. It has shot up in height but now has powdery mildew on it’s leaves. I have sprayed the leaves with vinegar in the hope that it will work better than the milk solution I used on my, sadly now demised Phlox. However it does not look so fantastic a day after spraying!! The poor Daisy is not looking too good and now has an infestation of Gastropods!

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During the week I have been saddened to have missed most of my wild poppies flower. They only seem to last less than a day! However, Thursday morning, I spied the red blot of not only one but two poppy’s so I, (still half asleep) clutched at my phone and snapped the below photo! 😀

Wild Poppy

Wild Poppy

I was also happy to see that my Passion Flower has started to bud, so much so that there are literally hundreds of buds on it (and more growing every day!) I wish it would all bloom at the same time, what a sight that would be! We shall have to be content with just four this time! 😀

Four Passion Flowers!

Four Passion Flowers!

 

I’ve got the cooking bug again!!

Much to the consternation of my poor purse, as cooking can be both cheap and equally expensive!

This weekend I have been busy in the kitchen. With spring slowly ‘springing’ my desire to cook, (though not dampened by winter) has indeed ‘sprouted’ this past weekend, with that old eager feeling of excited anticipation gnawing at me.

On Saturday, and again on Sunday I was busy making ‘Roasted Carrot and Garlic Soup.’ I had many of the ingredients left over hence why I made it again on the Sunday. The recipe says for 4 but I only seemed to make for 3, (depends on how many ladles you dole out!)
The ingredients were:

• 450g of carrots, peeled and chopped
• 2 small potatoes, or a large one (that I used), peeled and chopped
• 1 head/bulb of garlic
• 2 red onions, or a mix of one red and one white (it didn’t change the taste)
• 2-3 celery ribs
• ¼ tsp of cayenne pepper
• 0.7 to 1 litre of vegetable stock.
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Chives chopped to garnish

Method:

When I went to make this recipe I had not read the entire method properly. I thought it was just carrot and garlic soup, not roasted. So it took me longer, about 1 hour from start to finish.

• I peeled and cut the carrots, onions and potato
• Sliced the celery
• In a roasting dish, I put in the carrots, onions and celery with some oil, salt, pepper and the cayenne.
• I then chopped the top off the bulb/head of the garlic to expose the cloves, salt and peppered it and added a touch of oil. I wrapped the head/bulb in tin foil
• I put the roasting dish and wrapped up garlic in the oven 220°/gas mark 7 for 20-30 minutes
• While the vegetables were roasting, in a pan, I put two stock cubes in with 0.7lires of boiling water. I also added the chopped potato to the pan and seasoned it. Use 1 litre of stock to make enough for 4!
• Once the vegetables were roasted I added them, (the carrot, celery, onion) to the pan with the stock and potatoes.
• I then squeezed out the garlic and added that too the pan with the vegetables and stock. I then boiled the pan for 15 minutes or until the vegetables were soft.
• Then pop the mixture into a blender and blend until smooth.
• Warm-up again and serve with a sprinkling of chives or freshly made bread. It made a slightly hot soup, reduce the amount of cayenne if you don’t like heat!

Roasted Carrot and Garlic Soup - First Attempt

Roasted Carrot and Garlic Soup – First Attempt

On Saturday I had bought some bread, but with more time on my hands on the Sunday, I decided to make a loaf of bread.

I always use the BBC Good Foods, recipe.

Easy White Bread

Ingredients:

• 500g of strong white bread flour, plus more for kneading and dusting.
• 2 tsp of salt
• 7g of yeast (fast action)
• 3 tbsp of oil (olive/sunflower/vegetable or your preference). I used sunflower
• 300ml of water. I have mine tepid.

Method:

• In a mixing bowl I measure out the dry ingredients. (I had trouble this Sunday as I only had 400g of strong bread flour, so had to add 100g of plain white flour!)
• I then add the oil and finally the water
• I add the water incrementally and get my hands in to mix the ingredients together
• Once the ingredients come together in some sort of dough, (today was moist; I’ve had others where more water was needed.) Then tip the dough onto a surface with some flour and begin kneading
• I have read recipes were they say knead to 15 to 20 minutes. I think I kneaded for more like 5-10.
• Once the bread has come nicely together and is silky smooth, put in a bowl and leave in a warm place. I left it besides a radiator and left to prove for one hour.
• After the hour, you will discover that the bread has doubled in size (due to carbon dioxide released by the yeast!)
• ‘Knock back’ (I just knead the dough) for 5- 10 minutes, this knocks the air out of the dough, and then return to somewhere warm. I place the dough into a bread tin at this stage and leave for another one hour! You can leave for longer.

Dough.. ready for the oven

Dough.. ready for the oven

• Once ready to put the dough in the oven, use a 200°/gas mark 6 for 25-30 minutes. The aroma of cooked bread is glorious.
• Once cooked, tip the bread onto a rack to cool and then slice accordingly.

perfect bread

perfect bread

Warm bread served with hot cooked soup is delicious and comforting!

Roasted Carrot and Garlic Soup with freshly made bread

Roasted Carrot and Garlic Soup with freshly made bread

On Friday, the beginning of the weekend, after a long week at work, I made some Slimming World Chocolate Brownies, which only had four ingredients.

• 6 eggs (separated.)
• 60g of cocoa powder
• 30g of sweetener. The recipe said 70g of sweetener and another I read said 150g! That is two whole jars! I reduced the sweetener, but with trial and error the right amount can be discerned.
• 1tbs of vanilla essence.

I decided to make these for David’s mother and mine as it was Mothering Sunday in the UK, 15th March 2015.

Method:

• Once all eggs were separated, I whisked the whites to soft fluffy peaks and then left to one side.
• I then added to the yolks, sweetener, vanilla essence and cocoa powder together, adding a touch of water if it went too dry.
• Afterwards, I folded in the fluffy egg whites into the chocolate mixture slowly, so as not to let the air out.
• Once mixed pour into a baking tray lined with baking paper and cook for 25-30 minutes on 180°/gas mark 4.
• I used a cocktail skewer to see if the brownies were cooked. Once clear I tipped onto a tray to cool.
• Once cool I cut into squares. I think it made around 25 brownies and the recipe says only ½ a syn each.

Here’s a link to a YouTube video showing how to make them!

I found the brownies were rather leathery but would be nice with some ice cream or cream, and maybe some fresh fruit. I am not the biggest chocolate fan and only made them for family. I hope they liked them?

So as you can see I have been productive in the kitchen. I look forward to making many more delicious dishes and sharing them with you!

Christine x

It’s all About the Pheromones!

Recently, I have noticed that the insects have been enjoying the plants in the little ‘garden of Eden’ we have created for them.

Garden of Eden.... on a small scale

Garden of Eden…. on a small scale

When the sun burns down brightly, the visiting bees have a riot! Today I counted at least five bees in amongst the flowers, feeding at one time.

bee on honeysuckle

bee on honeysuckle

We visited Lady Green Garden Centre this May Bank Holiday Monday and I came away with a Phlox and Polemonium! Amongst the display of flowers for purchase there was a bee keeper attending to his hives! 🙂

Back at home, sunbathing in the sunshine before the clouds came. I spotted many bees on the Cat Mint. Amongst the visiting bees there was one I thought had become trapped in the mints foliage and then she popped out with a male on her back!! I was shocked! I did not know bees ‘mated’. I always thought they laid eggs and then the males fertilized them afterwards! What do I know!! You learn something new everyday! 😀 Anyway, the male clung to her for over half an hour. I was fascinated! I took some photos, (as you do!) and then left them to it. She was still foraging amongst the Cat Mint flowers while he was ‘doing his thing!’ lol 😀

Mating Bees!

Mating Bees!

I had my eyes closed enjoying the sunshine, while David was painting the yard floor! Then I opened my eyes and saw coming towards me, the female and her mate! She was buzzing at me and tried to land on my arm! I freaked out! I don’t mind buying plants to feed them, don’t mind them buzzing around the garden and merrily mating, but I do mind when they try to include me in their antics! lol. I am rather ashamed now, but I stood up, screaming as they tried to land on my back! Why come to me? I am no flower!! David came to the rescue and herded them away! I was left shaken and embarrassed for screaming like a girl! I did not want to become The Bee Dancer!

I later found out that the bees may have been Bumblebees. The female a Queen, (or a new Queen). I was sad to read from The British Bee-keepers Association, that the male, a drone, usually died after mating! Poor little chappy! He was far smaller than her!

Poor male and Queen Bumblebee

Poor male and Queen Bumblebee

The whole incident made me think of a poem by Sylvia Plath, about bee keeping. She and her husband Ted Hughes when they lived in Devon had attempted to keep bees. It doesn’t sound like she was that ‘fussed’ with the whole idea!

The Arrival of the Bee Box, by Sylvia Plath. 4th October 1962.

I ordered this, clean wood box

Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift.

I would say it was the coffin of a midget

Or a square baby

Were there not such a din in it.

 

The box is locked, it is dangerous.

I have to live with it overnight

And I can’t keep away from it.

There are no windows, so I can’t see what is in there.

There is only a little grid, no exit.

 

I put my eye to the grid.

It is dark, dark,

With the swarmy feeling of African hands

Minute and shrunk for export,

Black on black, angrily clambering.

 

How can I let them out?

It is the noise that appalls me most of all,

The unintelligible syllables.

It is like a Roman mob,

Small, taken one by one, but my god, together!

 

I lay my ear to furious Latin.

I am not a Caesar.

I have simply ordered a box of maniacs.

They can be sent back.

They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner.

 

I wonder how hungry they are.

I wonder if they would forget me

If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree.

There is the laburnum, its blond colonnades,

And the petticoats of the cherry.

 

They might ignore me immediately

In my moon suit and funeral veil.

I am no source of honey

So why should they turn on me?

Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free.

 

The box is only temporary.

 

More Couples!

Well, today was a short day at work. So being back home by 11am, I had plenty of time to watch the various winged visitors to my back yard.

The Dunnock couple visited so many times today that I can’t even remember! Every time I looked out of the window, there was at least one Dunnock, sometimes two! When I was getting ready for work this morning, I saw the couple hopping about the soil and later on they were hopping about the yard and got so close to the door. They do seem very relaxed with their surroundings!

Another couple that has started visiting more regularly now is the Great Tit couple. I saw them at least twice today. One time they were on the sunflower feeders in both trees, they are looking so plump, almost as plump as the Blue Tit couple that visits.

Talking of the Blue Tits, this morning I heard the one that sounds like a children’s toy gun calling out, though later on in the evening I didn’t see nor hear them visiting. I do hope they are both okay and that the horrible wet weather we are having has not upset their activities.

One couple that did visit today, made me so overjoyed at seeing them again! It was the Goldfinch couple and they were both sharing the sunflower hearts from a feeder in the big tree, getting at least some shelter from the horrible driving rain. I do have some Nyjer seed for them, but they don’t seem to have found them as yet! I still think they are a little nervous at visiting! I did go to get my camcorder but they both flew off as I lifted the lens towards them. 😦 They both seemed so hungry, again, I hope that if they continue to visit, they will grow as plump and glossy as the Dunnock, Great and Blue Tits. 🙂

I am slightly worried for the Blue Tits, I hope they have visited when I was just not looking! I don’t think my back yard will be the same without their presence!

Our Society Finches are still sitting on their eggs. It seems like forever since Chocolate (I’m saying it’s her as she is so much bigger than Caramel!) started laying her eggs. David sent me a link saying it could be up to another two weeks before they hatch or we clean the eggs from the nest. That’s not a job I am looking forward to, lets all keep our fingers crossed that we have a male and female Finch and they have given us fertile eggs. 😀