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  • What's in your bonfire heap?

    Miranda Hodgson on 29 Oct 2010 at 02:33 PM

    Remember when farmers used to burn the stubble of the previous crop before the practice was regulated in 1993? This is an enduring memory of childhood, of something that is no more - going past in the car and seeing the fields all black and smouldering and the smoke drifting across the road. It was always exciting to see the line of fire as it crept across the field and when you saw the smoke on the horizon someone would always say ‘They’re burning the stubble’. Traditionally, a lot of burning goes on in autumn. Fallen leaves, plant debris, old wood, it all goes onto a big heap and is fired up.

    It was a popular event, where friends, family and neighbours gathered to watch the flames; potatoes and chestnuts would be placed amongst the glowing embers at the fire’s edge to slowly bake and be fumbled out with sticks, probably burnt on one side but still delicious; anyway, it was dark and you couldn’t really see the burnt bits in the orange glow of the flames, so they didn’t matter.

    Bonfires don’t occur in the number that they used to, and the smoke from stubble burning is a thing of the past, but every year a few heaps are made. Often they’re built in advance and when that happens, many of the local hedgehogs, frogs and toads must think ‘Cool, that looks like just the place for winter!’ and in they go and get comfortable.

  • Parasitic wasp larvae take contol of caterpillar

    Miranda Hodgson on 22 Oct 2010 at 11:32 AM

    If you’re squeamish, look away now because the subject for this blog may be somewhat unpleasant. I’ve touched before on parasitic wasps (mainly of the species Aphidius) and how they lay their eggs in aphids, which develop inside the aphid and then chew their way out, just like in the film ‘Aliens’. I discovered that little gem after looking at a parasitised aphid through a small microscope and you could see the jagged exit hole. I wish I’d taken a photograph, but I didn’t, so this one of a parasitised aphid where the larva is yet to emerge will have to serve.

    Some time after seeing the parasitised aphid, I came across another type of parasitic wasp (Apanteles glomeratus), one that lays its eggs in caterpillars. Not just any old caterpillar either, but the caterpillars of cabbage white butterflies. They are mainly seen in September and October, but you can still find a few about. Look out for what appears to be yellow, woolly fluff attached to an unmoving caterpillar and look closely. It isn’t fluff, it is the cocoons protecting the wasp larvae. What is even stranger is that the parasitised caterpillar actually helps out by staying close to the larvae and seeing off predators, until it finally dies of starvation.


  • Watching the decay of the wasps’ nest

    Miranda Hodgson on 18 Oct 2010 at 02:00 PM

    Looking around to see what activity has been going on is one of my favourite things to do when I first arrive at the vegetable garden. I go round all the beds and stare at the vegetables and soil, count the holes where tunnels have been dug or where hoof prints have been left, analyse droppings to identify what left them (hedgehogs - hurrah!), have a quick scout through the hedgerow to find hollows in the grass at the base, where foxes or deer have bedded. As the leaves drop, old nests will gradually reveal themselves and once again I’ll see where the blackbird laid her eggs back in April and the space at the base of the wall where the pheasant made her nest and where the young ones left the nest before we saw them.

    The blackbird on her nest in Apri


  • Is that a male or a female bee?

    Miranda Hodgson on 01 Oct 2010 at 01:20 PM

    There are still bees about, though their numbers grow fewer each week, as the temperature drops and now we have had a week of rain, which will surely further reduce the number seen. The asters are just still flowering and although they look pretty soggy right now, the bees are there as soon as the sun comes out.