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'What Has Gardening For Wildlife Ever Done for Me?', xylella, cinnabar moth and in praise of brambles

Date posted: Wednesday 3rd July 2019

'What Has Gardening For Wildlife Ever Done for Me?', xylella, cinnabar moth and in praise of brambles

Very much looking forward to a forum/talk this Sunday 7 July, 1.00pm: ‘What Has Gardening For Wildlife Ever Done For Me’ led by Steven James from the Environment Trust with Ruth Walker. Everyone welcome to what promises to be a very interesting and informative session around how we can manage our allotment plots in a way that benefits eco-systems and biodiversity as well as making our plots more productive and beneficial for us and for the wonderful wildlife that we share them with. Lots of key topics to be covered: maintaining a healthy soil using non toxic methods – mulching, feeding with organic matter, comfrey/seaweed feed, green manures to cover through the winter:

water conservation and harvesting and providing water sources to attract wildlife:

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companion planting – growing pollinator attracting plants to lure in bees and other pollinators and plants to deter pests. Alternatives to pest control, reducing use of toxic chemicals (preferably cutting out altogether!)

creating insect habitats – bee and bird boxes, dead hedges, piles of stones or leaves:

Leaving perennials overwinter for ladybirds etc; maintaining small patches of ‘untidy’ areas round the periphery for habitat and food for beneficial insects:

And, very importantly, growing fruiting and flowering trees and shrubs – bees are tree foraging species and one flowering tree provides masses more forage opportunities than any flower bed. Also, plant in drifts for maximum foraging:

Some of these ideas may seem counterproductive to tidy plotholders so it will be interesting to see if we’re just ‘preaching to the converted’ or whether there’s an audience of plotholders with open minds! Come along if you’re free on Sunday afternoon and join in the discussion!

I’ve located cuckoo spit on several plants and doing my bit for xylella research have logged the findings, as has Simon Ingram:
‘This folk name is today a compound association set adrift: so called because its appearance is said to coincide with the first calls of the cuckoo, though for many of us the latter is becoming rarer and more unpredictable; I haven’t heard one this year. Another name connected with this phenomenon is “spittlebug” – though this refers to the maker rather than the product. Philaenus spumarius is the common version of the ambiguously-named froghopper. Does it hop over frogs, or hop like one? Both, possibly.
These white blobs are made by the nymph froghoppers, which in their vulnerable youth push air through a sticky secretion coating their abdomen, rather like a child blowing bubbles. This foamy cocoon covers their bodies and protects them from desiccation while they feed on the sap of, in this case, lavender. Eggs are laid in November in the nooks and crooks of stems: each spring hatchling makes its own foam-ball.
I look closer at the “spit”, the smell of the plant pleasantly overpowering as I approach it. The intricacy and density is impressive, particularly when I see a nymph, and appreciate the ratio between it and its product. The spittle is the size of a thumbnail, the bug the size of a linseed. If I touch it, apparently, it will leap. I don’t. What I do is search the internet and all of a sudden here is negativity: “How to get rid of…”, “remedy”, “pest”. P spumarius is unwelcome to gardeners because it can sicken a plant. Apparently.
But here’s something else: people are being asked to report spittlebug – that’s the name they use – to map a potential infection zone of Xylella, a tree-killing bacterium rampant in Europe. Britain has escaped the disease so far, but if it arrive it would start where the spittlebugs are. Dutifully I file a report at www.xylemfeedinginsects.co.uk. Then I marvel at how an eye caught on a lavender bush grew to worry so quickly.’ (Simon Ingram, Country diary, The Guardian 21.06.19).

Butterflies now abounding over the flowering marjoram – skippers, meadow browns, and a sighting of a small tortoiseshell in the entrance front bed. And this gorgeous cinnabar moth last week.

Brambles – such an important source of forage, habitat and shelter for wildlife and the scourge of many plotholders! Along with ivy it’s one of those plants that divides gardeners/plotholders like Marmite! But a well managed allotments site is able to sustain some bramble patches for wildlife, as ours does, and provides the additional bonus of blackberrying later in the season!