Posts Tagged ‘olives’

I have had a number of careers now, none of them illegal anywhere in the world as far as I’m aware – though management consulting is not a universally admired occupation.  For a while after leaving The Firm I ran a local charity shop; I had a bit of money behind me and an appetite for doing something positive and that would directly help the local community.

For eighteen months I had a generally wonderful time, but the back biting from a very small minority of others eventually became too much for me to bear and I moved on. The one Christmas I worked there I gave every member of the volunteer group a small gift. I had gone to the florist intending to buy a bouquet for each or perhaps a small potted flowering plant but my eye was caught by something a little different: attractively packaged and presented aloe vera plants. The shop had enough to go around and one extra so I purchased them as a job lot and presented them to The Ladies.

For those of you who have never had much contact with a Charity / Thrift / Opportunity shop it might be worth me explaining that in my experience they are largely the preserve of ladies of a certain age or certain social standing. But since we hereabouts lack numbers of the latter the work force at this particular shop was largely made up of the former. I was the odd one out being almost two generations younger than most of them and essentially able bodied.

I gave out those aloe vera plants and most of the ladies were, I suspect, rather bemused by my choice of gift. One was left over and I took it home intending to keep it for myself. Initially it thrived but within a few months it left me, then I put the experience of the shop behind me by moving on to other things. I forgot about the aloe vera plants in general and my failure with my own plant in particular.

Then about six weeks ago I was gifted a couple of aloe vera plants. They came to me potted up in flimsy disposable drink cups each in a little plastic bag of the sort you might get for yourself at the self-serve bakery counter in a supermarket. With no greater knowledge now than then of how to care for aloe vera I put them on my magic window sill and, since the weather isn’t reliable around here I left them in those plastic bags loosely knotted at the top to keep them reasonable warm. And every now and then I would remember to water them.

About two weeks ago I noticed that one of them had developed a little baby aloe vera out of its base.

The baby aloe vera

The baby aloe vera

So now I have a problem. Clearly my management of these little plants is doing no harm at this stage but at some point I am going to have to take action. I am going through this with my seed-raised asparagus plants which now desperately need re-homing but still look intimidatingly fragile, too. The difference with the aloe vera is that I have help at hand. These two little aloe vera plants are the offspring of one of the plants I bought and gave as gifts four and a half years ago. One of the ladies, hearing belatedly the fate of the plant I kept has given me these, raised from the plant I had given her.

Nature has an at times astonishing ability to vanquish improbability and so I hold out slender hope for my highly unlikely pumpkins. Last October I did the pumpkin carving thing for my little neighbour. She is into Halloween and likes the lit pumpkin which I sit on the stone fence where she can see it. Pumkin carving is a messy business.

I thought at the time I’d cleared up properly but earlier this year I found a clump of seed that had somehow missed the green wheelie bin and fallen behind a planter. I swept those seeds up with the rest of the rubbish one weekend intending to dispose of it at a later date. Time passed and the small pile of rubbish compacted; eventually I bit the bullet and swept it down the path to be added to some other organic matter to break down. Well I have pumpkin plants growing out of that small patch of decomposing sweepings. Four of them.

Infant pumpkin plants are rather sturdy little beings. I think they’ve left their race for posterity a little late but I’m going to let tham have their chance.

Pumpkin seedlings

Pumpkin seedlings

In better tended parts of the property the windfall Victoria Plums are piling up. The trees are producing in heroic but rather wasteful proportions. I cannot keep up. I am keeping back some of the rotten ones as they will attract butterflies, freezing them for use latter in the season when the fresh ones are no longer available.

I am nearly certain that I have two varieties of olive tree. While the fruit of the rest are still tiny weeks after the flower petals died and fell away two are racing ahead. Or perhaps this is just an individual olive tree thing. I suspect I won’t be able to know until I have fruit I can compare. Last year there were no olives at all so this year is already a major improvement.

English olives

English olives

The pinot noir vines are showing no hint of producing fruit this year but the plants themselves look healthy and are reasonable just as ornamental foliage. The pinot blanc have produced small bunches of grapes that are making progress and I still have hopes of these ripening this year. That too will be an advance on last year.

English Pinot Noir

English Pinot Blanc

The patrol of the garden undertaken today (and during which the outdoor photographs were taken) produced no moths but one mature bush cricket on one of the grape vines, and more Speckled Wood (pararge aegeria) butterflies. I had first spotted them a couple of days ago during a break in the weather and they seem to be drawn, as Red Admirals are, to the rotting fruit.

Speckled Wood (pararge aegeria)

Speckled Wood (pararge aegeria)

And so to yesterday. As tweeted I went to London which is always a mistake. I step out onto those streets and wish I was back there permanently. Commuting suddenly looks appealing again. I get over it, but slowly. Last year I went to an extraordinary exhibition staged by Wellcome Collection at the centre near Euston.

Something like 30 skeletons had been laid out in the display centre. These skeletons had been selected from the Collection and had been recovered from sites across London at various times and dating back to a variety of periods in London’s history.

They were the remains of individuals who ranged in age at death from pre-natal to advanced old age, and in occupation and socio-economic background. The exhibition including remains from London’s Roman past and from as recently as the late Victorian period. For a fair proportion of the remains, particularly the later sets, biographical had been established.

I understand that such an exhibition will strike many as macabre and visiting such a display as disturbing behaviour. I can only say that I found the tenor of the exhibition curiously reassuring. The curators had made every effort to produce a dignified and enlightening presentation. Well the Trust is running a new body exhibition at the moment and I went along. Closed, for the day. What luck. I may have another chance to get up to London next week. Fingers crossed.

With that plan scuppered I moved on toward Covent Garden. I can’t get vegemite locally and the lack of vegemite for my toast amounts to a domestic crisis. I now have a very large jar of the stuff. The Australia Shop is a treasure trove of half forgotten goodies: summer rolls, twisties, fruit tingles, life savers, minties, etc. I confined myself to one box of barbeque shapes and three (on offer) boxes of TeeVee snacks. And I haven’t opened them yet. Am I not good?

Being good at the sweetie counter meant I could spend up in the bookstore. The Waterstones in Gower Street is a favourite; I prefer it to Foyles in fact. It is close to UCL and has vast quantities of serious reading rather than shelf after shelf of rather banal and lightweight general interest level non-fiction in standard grade Waterstones shops. It also has a cracking remaindered section.

Apart from the other stuff I carried off as an indulgence I am now the proud owner of a new copy of the current edition of the Waring Townsend Field Guide to British (Macro) Moths. My old copy which was secondhand, heavily annotated by the previous owner, can now be donated to the charity shop when next I do a run over there, in the hope that it will assist another budding moth hunter as it has served me.

And that’s about it. No moths to report in the house or outside; aside from another Bird-cherry Ermine and a Brown Housemoth which I turfed outdoors. The weather has been abyssmal and though the sun is out I fear the bulk of the good (and in moth hunting terms, productive) weather might be beind us. But if I’m wrong, I’m now well armed.


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But before I get into all that (and anyone who’s checking the tweets already knows the punch line) let me just announce that the first petals have fallen from the olive trees and I am definitely the proud parent of innumerable very tiny baby olives. The fruit are not actually microscopic but they do have quite some growing to do before they’ll be any use to man or beast.

I am quite ecstatic about this after last year’s to failure to produce fruit. Though the weather has been bad over the past few days it is only mid-July. Plenty of time for those little baby fruit to swell and ripen. And in the meantime I shall be very busy doing sadistic things to Victoria plums by the look of things; branches practically hanging to the ground with the weight of fruit well and truly on the turn.

So, it was while I was checking things over this evening and making the observations underpinning the above part of this post I spotted something quite lovely on the dilapidated wooden shed down at the bottom of that garden. Much semi-hysterical running about ensued as I couldn’t be certain (a) I knew where my camera was, and (b) I had any spare charged batteries.

We’re OK and I’m indebted to Ben Sale (Essex Moths) who has confirmed my ID for the moth. I knew I was looking at a new species for me and probably a new sub-family as well; meet the Star-wort (cucullia asteris).




This is not an ordinary, run of the mill moth.* It will not turn up, as a matter of routine, in moth traps in this part of Essex, and the pics just about do it justice.

It is a noctuid, but a member of the cucullinae family and a big moth with a wingspan of around 50mm.

This particular member of the family is found around the south-east of England (a geographical designation for which we qualify here, when we’re not been lumped in with East Anglia) particularly on coastal salt marshes and also in woodland. Food plants include things such as Flowers of Sea Aster, and Sea Wormwood which it pains me to confess I would not recognise if I slipped on them and fell into the North Sea. In woodland the larvae will feed on Golden Rod and if bred in a garden will feast on Michaelmas Daisy.

 And now I am going to toddle off upstairs (on my own).

*Technically scarce, but technically this means something quite specific: a matter I’m going to look into today.

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Vile weather has returned, black clouds have gathered and thunder is rolling in the distance. Yesterday wasn’t much better and there was not a single moth in the bathroom last night. I didn’t expect much and so retired early with the book I’m reading a book.

I did spot another Grey Dagger (acronicta psi) on a fence panel; though as a species is hard to distinguish except with scalpel and microscope from the Dark Dagger the two have very different caterpillar forms and it is the Grey Dagger caterpillar I’ve found. There was also a pug which rested and which I photographed. I was very excited and sure I’d get an ID having been able to take the pics with natural light. Ha. Definitely a pug is the best I can do.

The strawberry patch looks rather tragic now, deflated and all ‘morning after the night before’ but if the sun is out that part of that garden stills smells delightfully of the few rotten fruit I left behind.

And then I spotted this on the old wall. Something singularly stupid or just foolishly optomistic has laid its eggs on  the paintwork. I guess whatever is developing inside has a chance of a future but there’s a reason why insects lay their eggs on the foodstuff their larvae will feed on, the books don’t reference ‘paint’ as a foodstuff of any lepidoptera larvae.

Mystery green eggs

Mystery green eggs

No reference I have at home crosses by egg colour, a google search revealed only large number of references to Dr Seuss and Ham and an image of  Stink-bug eggs. I’ll keep an eye on these, but hold out little hope of establishing what they were meant to become.

Out in the ‘olive grove’ all are now in bloom to some extent and the first of those little cream coloured petals are turning brown; when they fall away and reveal what lies behind I will hopefully get my first glimpse of my first olives. Expect a slightly hysterically gleeful post on that subject.

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In the preceding post I dispensed with the more commonplace and familiar among last night’s visitors. The rest of the motley collection are a vexacious offering – for the most part unnamed. But at least the dreary prose will be leavened with the odd photograph or three.

Before we get to the illustrated part I must mention the Pug. These are small moths and a constant source of frustration. They lurk in high corners often in poor light and they are small. Even when they do hang about until daylight they are not often easy to differentiate. The Pug that was in last night was perhaps this, or perhaps that. The photographs are not a great help except in eliminating a number of the more extravagently marked species of pug. So it remain The Pug.

There were two very small moths and after expending further time this evening attempting to ID or at least even form an idea of which families they belong in I’ve given up. The photographs will not be any assistance, but here, for what it is worth are the next two moths:



On the other hand there was a very familiar figure making a return for the first time this year; vast and vividly orange then strangely subdued once it had settled into its resting position this is the Large Yellow Underwing (noctua pronuba). This is a species that came to the bathroom quite frequently in 2007 but was notably absent last year.

Large Yellow Underwing (noctua pronuba)

Large Yellow Underwing (noctua pronuba)

With a wing span of around 55mm it is far larger than most of the moths that come to the bathroom. If it is about this year then it could become a frequent visitor between now and October which is its flying season. The larva feed on a wide variety of herbaceous plants.

Having realised that I’ve omitted to mention yet another of the moths that I cannot name and couldn’t photograh I’m left with the final three.

The first is a smallish and very unremarkable moth in that it conforms to the stereotype of being heavy bodies and dingy and furry. That said it is actually quite distinctive in its very unremarkableness (sorry). There have been two of these moths in the house already this year, this photograph taken last night is possibly the best I’ve managed in terms of capturing what defininition of marking it has:


It is about two thirds the size of a Bright-line Brown-eye or slightly larger and the wings have a blunter shape to them.

The last two I have tentatively identified. The first is the kamikaze character that has been bombarding the closed window. It is big, approaching the size of the Large Yellow Underwing but seems bigger because it is quite frenetic around light. Last night there were half a dozen in the room at one point and it was almost too much. My hesitation in naming comes because the ones I’ve had visit have all rested so that some part of the underwing is clearly visible, with wings somewhat spread out, which is not a pose the Broom Moth (melanchra pisi) is normally shown in.

Broom Moth (melanchra pisi)?

Broom Moth (melanchra pisi)?

Broom moth (melanchra pisi)?

Broom moth (melanchra pisi)?

And yes, the last (just before I head up to have a look at what tonight has brought) is I think a Marbled White Spot (protodeltote pygarga). I simply cannot find anything, anywhere that has the same shaped pale patch across the wings.

Marbled White Spot (protodeltote pygarga)?

Marbled White Spot (protodeltote pygarga)?

What a relief. For the record I found my first Garden Carpet moth outside (as opposed to indoors) resting on the trunk of one of the green gage trees. And also for the record the olives are recalcitrant. We had a downpour here today and I haven’t been outside in the garden since. Those buds have to open one day.

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