Friday, 3 June 2016

Fit on the Croft

Working on the Croft is the equivalent of paying an exorbitant fee to a fancy gym, except it is free. Last Saturday I shifted 60 bales of hay, using - at least this was how it felt - every muscle in my body.

Hay sweater
Shifting hay at the Croft means picking the bale up in the field, lifting it into the back of our trusty Nissan, piling in five more bales, driving over to the hay pile, and stacking them up. Not for lightweights...

Luckily, the Croft helps me recover. We have the beautiful Spiny Golden Star (Pallenis spinosa) in flower at the moment. 

Good for the spine

Our neighbour Dolors has shown me how to soak the flowers in alcohol and make a muscle-rub. It's an incredibly effective treatment for a back made sore by the hay-bales.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Runny Honey

My first honey harvest today!

Miquel had loaned me his centrifuge, and today started sunny and calm, so I set out the kitchen ready for the harvest:

Not ergonomic, but it works
I sealed the windows. Not to stop the bees coming in, but to stop them getting out. If they escape they head off to tell their mates, and in no time you have 10,000 bees trying to get in to rob your harvested honey.

Then up to the hives with all the necessary equipment...

..and back with one full upper and two sets of frames. It has been rainy, so the bees are not yet really ready with the honey.

In the kitchen I weighed the honey.
That honey is dense

Then removed the cappings from the frames, centrifuged them and filtered the  honey. 

Watch that knife, Crofter.

Result: 26.5kg of fresh honey!

Friday, 20 May 2016

Snail's Place

This, I think, is a Girdled snail, Hygromia cinctella, or possibly a Trochoidea elegans, elegantly climbing a dandelion leaf:

Sitting on breakfast

  My friends over at El Cargol del Montseny (appropriately, 'The Montseny Snail') suggest that it might be Helix aspersa or Helix pomatia, but this one had a flattened profile, not the fat round of the Roman snail.

Anyone out there an expert on snails?

Monday, 16 May 2016

Floral sex

There are lots of ways of reproducing in the animal kingdom, as the brilliant Olivia Judson has shown; her 'Dr Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation' is the funniest biology book I've ever read. Here are a couple of much more mundane examples from plants and fungi, gathered yesterday at the Croft. 

In the flowers camp I have picked two that illustrate another point - food and sex; the first is a Broomrape (Orobanche alba), a parasitic plant that has no chlorophyll and survives instead on the juices of, in this case, the thyme plant. The Thyme Broomrape has a sort of sweet smell of cloves and cinnamon. The second is an orchid, Orchis militaris. Both flower, and thus depend on pollinators to reproduce. The orchid may, like many orchids, have a specific pollinator species - which would mean that both it and the Broomrape depend on another species for survival.

Thyme for more juice
Military Orchid, in pacifist pink

 For spores, here is a splendid fungus; I am rubbish at identifying them, which is why I rarely collect them to eat them, but a friend of a friend suggests it might be the edible Leccinum Lepidum, or possibly but less likely a Suillus granulatus

Faeries be here

Monday, 9 May 2016

The Next Village Along

When a person dies people here in Catalonia say that she has 'gone to the other neigbourhood.' On Friday morning our lovely Hazel went to the other neighbourhood - I'd rather think of it as the next village - after a short illness.

A scent of a dog

She was a kind, empathetic dog - one of the crofters called her 'a sweet dog' - and had lived at the Croft for eight years after we brought her home from a rescue kennel nearby. She was highly adapted to live with humans, understanding our moods (flattening her ears while we had one of our debates), ready to walk anywhere, and loving of all of us. When one of the Crofters was away for a while he or she would be enthusiastically welcomed by Hazel on their return; this was especially true for our two children who grew up with Hazel around them. We are all missing her, our lovely Hazel.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Crofting Gallimaufry

It has been a week of action here at the Croft.

First, Patrick (now a year old) has started halter training. He doesn't much like it, but the apples I feed him make it bearable.

Yeah OK but what about that apple you promised?

Then, for Sant Jordi, the poppies came out.

Just poppin' out

And yesterday, Dink the bantam hatched five lovely wee chicks.

Dinx chix pix

Life goes on going on.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Wetter winters, drier summers

I am a typical Scot, totally obsessed by the weather. But just in case you share my interest, here is a trend:

April Showers
This graph compares 2006-2008 (three years, inclusive) with 2013-15. It shows how much wetter or drier it was in the later period by comparing the same six month periods in each three year group, ending in the month shown on the graph. I hope you are following at the back of the class because there will be a test later.

In simpler language: in the three six months periods from July to January 2006, 2007 and 2008 we had an average total 404mm of rain over those six month periods. But in the three six month periods from July to January 2013, 2014 and 2015 we had just 338 mm. In other words the late summer and autumn 2013-15 was a bit drier than the late summer and autumn 2006-8. The difference was that the later period was 16% drier, so the first point on the graph is below the zero line. But the six month periods ending in April (i.e. November-April) were much wetter in the later (2013-15) period. In fact the later period was 42% wetter than the earlier. Geddit? 

This data does not include the very dry winter we had this year.

There could be many explanations for this shift in the weather (which is consistent, by the way, whichever pair of three year periods you use). Whatever the cause, winters and springs have been much wetter at the Croft during 2013-15 than they were 2006-8, and summers and autumns are much drier. Overall rainfall in the two periods has not varied much; total rainfall 2013-15 is only 3% lower than 2006-8.

There you are. The weather is a wonderful topic for conversations, a subject for hours of debate...