31 maggio 2010

We've had a week of gorgeous weather

We've had a week of gorgeous weather and have finally been able to get on with planting up the veg patch. Thirty tomato plants, three rows of green beans and two of borlotti, 20 lettuces, six courgettes, four patty-pan squashes, eight cucumbers, some aubergines and peppers, and more to come: we still need to plant out the autumn squashes. The broad beans are ready to crop and are doing really well, though only a single pea plant germinated in the two rows we sowed. The garlic and onions we planted at the same time as the broad beans are also doing well. We also have raspberry canes (given as cuttings two years ago by a friend), gooseberry bushes and a whitecurrant bush, all flourishing. It's all looking especially neat this year because John's been asked to take some photographs for a book on growing your own food, so he's been weeding it ferociously.

There's bad news on the ducks: just a day or two after my last post, four of them disappeared in broad daylight, and we later found some feathers and a bit of blood — a fox must have got them, though it's odd that there weren't more signs of an evident massacre. Unfortunately it managed to take four females, leaving us with two males and a female, not a sustainable threesome at all. After a few days of dithering we decided to get rid of the older male, so John summarily despatched it and cremated it on the bonfire! We're now left with a a male/female pair, which is fine and might lead to some ducklings later this summer. In the meantime for our egg supply we'll need to buy some point-of-lay chickens (you can't buy point-of-lay ducks here, as no one keeps ducks for eggs), which is okay by me as I'd wanted some hens anyway, to make a change from duck eggs.

Cassie has now finished moulting and looks lovely and sleek and elegant (as elegant as a stocky little mountain horse can look — but beautiful). I've walked her up a few times to look at Mario's donkey, who brays like crazy and gets very excited, running up and down the fence and practically scrambling over it in his eagerness to say hello; the first time she saw him Cass looked astonished and somewhat alarmed, but now she neighs back to him and then just puts her head down to eat. I don't think she's that impressed with him really. Yesterday I rode her for the first time in ages and apart from some jumpy behaviour because of the wind and a moment of recalcitrance in not wanting to leave the yard, she was pretty good.

The caterpillars are into their third instar but I'll post on that tomorrow.

21 maggio 2010

The ducks are

The ducks are about the only ones having fun in this weather. Yet another cold and rainy day, in one of the coldest and rainiest springs we can remember in all the time we've been here. This photo shows one of the ducks the other day just after she'd laid an egg outside the pen, in the yard. We have five female ducks at the moment and usually we get four or five eggs every morning. This morning I found six. Ducks' capacity for mystery grows ever more profound.

20 maggio 2010

Wildlife report

Wildlife report. Fifteen or so wild boar rootling about in the valley early in the morning — several big adults and a load of piglets. A large deer in the top field, grazing. A hare nibbling shoots in a ploughed field when I was bringing Alessio home from a friend's house. Four or five Little Owls (Athene noctua) on the road home at dusk the other evening. Hoopoes, a nesting pair of redstarts in the garden, kestrels, a cuckoo (heard all through the day but never seen), swallows everywhere and the usual pair nesting in John's workroom. Lots of different interesting caterpillars!

18 maggio 2010

The caterpillars are starting

The caterpillars are starting to evolve into their next stage (or instar, as we caterpillar scientists call it). It's been one week since they hatched. Three or four of them have shed their old skin and now look like this little guy, about 1cm long (its head is at the left). The others have gone very still, as if frozen, and I think will moult overnight or tomorrow. Hard to overestimate the excitement this is causing around the kitchen table.

11 maggio 2010

The eggs have hatched

The eggs have hatched! I now have eight tiny baby puss moth caterpillars. They look like something Doctor Who would be proud to defeat, though they're only about 7mm long. They have these whip-like forked tails that they thrash around if they get annoyed. At the moment they're living in a tupperware box munching through a pile of willow leaves and when they get bigger I'll transfer them to their deluxe accommodation.

3 maggio 2010

Caterpillar season

Caterpillar season is upon us! The puss moth chrysalis that was fixed to the bottom of a pallet next to the haybales evidently overwintered successfully, as when I checked it the other day there was a hole in it where the moth had broken through and crawled out – sadly no sign of the moth itself, which was a shame because I spent all winter protecting that chrysalis and had hoped to see the moth. Never mind: because...

... Even more excitingly, I then scoured the willow for signs of caterpillars and found some small, shiny, almost spherical dark-red eggs. These are definitely puss moth eggs. I broke the twig off and brought it indoors, and John is knocking up a deluxe caterpillar-rearing home so that we can rear them. There are seven or eight eggs. The puss moth caterpillar is that enormous one I found last June and posted a photo of on the blog (http://fourseasonsatpalomba.blogspot.com/2009/06/and-this-is-another.html), so it will be a lot of fun seeing how it goes from tiny egg to monstrous caterpillar over the space of a couple of weeks. And with any luck we'll get to see the puss moths themselves this time too. 

The photo of the eggs was taken on 1 May, though I found them on 30 April. I'll post updates, as even the tiny caterpillars are pretty amazing looking.