Sunday, 30 May 2010

Don't Fly off the (broom) Handle!...

I found it tucked away at the back of the garage. I'd forgotten all about my faithful old broom. Some people prefer an ash or beech handle with a brush made of heather, but I find that bamboo is much lighter, more agile and ultimately faster...
Although I was a bit out of practice, the old broom still flew just fine. I always wear a crash helmet when flying, you never know when you can have a sudden 'bristle blowout'!

It took me quite a while to find my old broom flying cape. It can get very cold at altitude, plus I think capes really add to the whole 'drama' of flying.

It had been a while since I'd been out on my broom, so I thought it prudent to have a practice at low level along the country lanes.
Wow!... I'd forgotten how quick this thing was. I had to slow down on the one bend so as not to cover an innocent pedestrian in the dust that this thing was kicking up.

Low level flying is easy, you just have to hold on and steer. Higher up the wind knocks you about. At the park I had a go at going a bit higher, I was all over the place. I hadn't realised at how rusty I'd become. I'd just started to get the hang of it when a crowd started forming below. People were pointing, shouting and dogs were barking, you'd think they'd never seen anyone with a broom before. In the end I had to land, put the broom on the roof of the car and go home. I certainly didn't want any of that nonsense I had with the locals back in the 1600's...

Back at the house all my old flying skills came flooding back. Vertical takeoffs were a breeze, as well as spins and a bit of hovering. There were terrific views over the houses, and just when I was beginning to enjoy myself the neighbour started waving and screaming. I don't know what all the fuss was about, it wasn't as if I was flying over his house was I? Lack of concentration meant that I landed with a bit of a bump (I'll have to practice those). He seemed rather upset with me and my broom, even though I'd seen him with a broom of his own on many occasions. Maybe he's jealous, because he hasn't got the hang of flying at all. I only ever see him half heartedly dragging it along the floor.
Nevermind, there's a bright moon tonight, I'll do a bit of nocturnal flying instead...

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Roses are Red, Greenfly are Pink?...

The recent warm weather has brought out clouds of Greenfly. It seems that most of them have taken to living on my roses.

It's always confused me that although you see loads of Greenfly swarming about, when you look on the plants, very often the don't appear to have wings.

It turns out that not all Aphids have wings. When food is short or conditions dictate, the females give birth to winged individuals that can go in search of new feeding areas. As well as laying eggs in autumn to overwinter, females can produce several offspring per day without mating. No wonder there's so many!

The local birds do their best picking them off but the Aphids have their own defence. The two little tubes sticking up from their back are called Cornicles, and they use them to expel an unpleasant waxy substance to put off their attackers.

Greenfly aren't always green. They range from green to pink as some have the ability to synthetically produce carotenoids (a plant pigment). They have acquired this adaption through a process of horizontal gene transfer (genetic splicing) from ingesting fungi which protect themselves from sunlight using artificially created carotenoids.

Aphids love to suck the sugary sap out of plants. Although they can get all the energy they need from the sap, they need to drink even more in order to obtain the 'building blocks' of life. The excess sap is pooed out as Honeydew. Ants take advantage of this ready food supply and even 'farm' the Aphids. The ants will actively defend the aphids, and even move them about to new feeding areas to maximise output. They milk the little chaps by rubbing their backs with their antennae to make them exude honeydew which they then carry off.

Very often simply viewed as a pest, Greenfly are quite fascinating little creatures. They mean no harm, and I think look rather cute. My roses however are suffering. I don't want to poison the chappys so I'm going to use a kinder method. Simply spray them with soapy water. It won't kill them, but it does get in their eyes. Naturally they will try and rub their eyes, and when they lift their legs to do so, they fall off the plant...

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Fiesta Siesta...

Little Fiesta wasn't a happy chappy at all. His wheel had been sore for ages, but after hitting a huge pothole things had gone from bad to worse.

The bearing was making a horrible noise, and the brakes grated awfully when cornering. It made him very grumpy.

Master said he could fix it but he would have to take the wheel completely off. Fiesta didn't like this at all, it didn't feel right only having three wheels...
The master said not to worry about it, sit back and have a Fiesta siesta.

There were a lot of bits laid out on the lawn which was concerning, although the large array of shiny tools allayed Fiestas fears.

However, the string holding everything together didn't inspire confidence that master knew what the hell he was doing!

The new bearing looked very nice thought Fiesta.
It had been left in the freezer to make it contract and so be smaller....

...the hub that it had to be fitted into was put on a camping cooker to heat it up and make it larger. Then the two were brought into union with a combination of swearing and a VERY large hammer!

Soon enough everything was put back together, and Fiesta was glad that none of it was held together with string.

Fiesta was happy again and ready for more adventures...

Thursday, 13 May 2010

I'm Quarry Quarry...

I went for a walk by the sand quarries up on the hill. The air was heavy with the heady aroma of the Gorse in full bloom. The flowers smell of almonds. Although they're edible, I find them a bit bitter, but they are good for making salads look pretty.

There's been hardly any rain lately, the ground was dry and cracked. Normally these shallow silt bottomed puddles are great for finding animal tracks. You can tell what the badgers have been up to, and if the invisible deer herd has come through recently. I say 'invisible' because I see tracks, hair, nibbled foliage, mangled saplings from bucks rubbing their antlers, their mud hollows, and flattened areas where they've slept, but never ever see the deer themselves... Invisible, the only explanation!

As I made my way along the edge of the quarry, I got the feeling I was being watched. There was no one there, hardly anyone ever comes here. The occasional rustle, crack of a twig, but as soon as I turned to look... silence. The buzzard was up on the hill, surveying his world from his lookout post. He'd got his eye on something, he was staring at a dense patch of gorse behind me. Suddenly, spooked, he flew off. I got the feeling that I was being stalked by something.

The day was pleasant enough, but there was a nagging cold north wind. I headed down into the old woods where it was more sheltered and strung my hammock up in my usual spot between an ancient Yew and a young Oak.
I settled down with a flask of coffee and a great book... Running with the Fox by David Macdonald.
Every so often I heard a noise in the undergrowth. There was definitely something out there.

Then my pursuer showed himself. It was my old acquaintance. This isn't one of the foxes from the family of foxes that I go to see each night and feed. This is a good number of miles away.

We met last year when he came to investigate the smell of the bacon sandwiches I was cooking. We met a second time when I was scrambling to the top of a steep grass incline, and he was coming up the other side. We came nose to nose, paused and went quickly our separate ways. Since then we see each other from a distance, sometimes he barks to me to let me know he's seen me.

He's become used to me being around, and realises that I mean him no harm. Curiosity gets the better of him and he'll come to have a gander sometimes.

This wood is deserted, as well as the quarry and so he seems comfortable to spend a lot of time out in the daytime.

Once he ascertained that there were no bits of bacon to be had, he was off to catch some more voles.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Stop weeding, and Settle for Nettle Tea...

Many might consider Stinging Nettles to be a weed and a nuisance, but I always keep a stand of them in the garden. They are great for beneficial insects, including bees, and the foodstuff for the caterpillars of Peacock and Little Tortoiseshell butterflies. Anyone who knows about the technique of 'companion planting' will know that if positioned next to herbs it will have the effect of increasing the amount of volatile oils in Mint, Rosemary, and Sage.

This time of year they are particularly lush, and really nice for making into tea. I like to pick the young tips and the first two mature leaves for extra tenderness. Wash thoroughly in cold water to remove the 'beneficial insects', which, although good for the garden don't add anything special to the flavour of tea. Chop finely (at which point they begin to lose their sting) and pop a good heaped tablespoonful per cup in a teapot or jug.

Pour on boiling water and let steep for 3-4 mins. Run the mixture through a tea strainer into your mug, and add a dollop of honey... sit back and enjoy.
Nettles are a great anti- inflammatory. They'll help with arthritis, eczema, hay fever symptoms, and post cold snuffles. They are full of vitamins, and the seeds are said to have an aphrodisiac effect.
If you don't like it as a tea, then you can cook it like spinach and serve with butter, or boil it to a mulch, season and spread it on toast.
If prepared as with tea, and allowed to cool, once strained it makes a great hair conditioner. Wash your hair as normal and then massage through with the mixture as a final rinse for glossy natural hair. It's also safe to use on pets for silky coats.
Why would a plant have to defend itself with such vigorous stings if it wasn't so damned good?!...