When the longest day fell on the 21st of June, it was dark and overcast and seemed like the shortest day. Thousands of years ago our ancestors would have been most put out to find their stone circles could not be used to align with the sunrise on this Midsummer Day. No doubt the fires would be lit high on the fells and mountains as this went on right up until the late 18th century. The Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian calendar in 1751, and that caused some confusion since Midsummer was 11 days later according to the Julian calendar. I imagine this led to disagreements as to when to light the fires, until the whole matter became tedious and died out.
St John’s Wort, thought to be imbued with the power of the sun, was gathered along with vervain, trefoil, rue and roses traditionally placed under a pillow in the hope of inducing significant dreams. Midsummer Eve was renamed St.John’s Eve, applying a Christian usage to replace the pagan, because they said it was the birthday of St John the Baptist.
On 22nd June, in a car park in Oregon with 55 picturesque Linden trees adorning the area, a landscaping company sprayed the blossoms with Safari, a neonicotinoid, to control for aphids. OregonLive reported:
Safari’s main ingredient is dinotefuran, a neonicotinoid. There are two main kinds of neonicotinoids, both of which are general use insecticides. Safari is a member of the nitro-group. Research published in 2012 shows these are generally more toxic to bees than the other type. The European Union issued a temporary ban on three other kinds of nitro-group neonicotinoids, which will go into effect this December. …………Meanwhile, other reports of bees dying around Wilsonville and surrounding towns have prompted Xerces to check whether similar pesticides were used elsewhere.
“My worry is that we’re going to lose sight of the real message,” said Mace Vaughan of Xerces. “I think we’re (using insecticides) all over the place, and people are doing it in their backyards without even knowing it.”
50,000 plus bees are known to have died, including other insects drawn to the blossoms on the trees.
From Friday night over to Sunday, 23rd June, it rained, at times heavily. No chance of seeing the Supermoon which is associated with disasters ( a mythical association). West Canada saw unprecedented floods in Calgary, Medicine Hat and parts of the Rockies. Northern India saw flash floods in the Himalayas, which wiped out villages and killed hundreds of people. All coincidences of course. As the moon aligned with the sun swung closer to Earth to within 222,000 miles it appeared as if close enough to touch, an optical illusion as it sits on the horizon with silhouettes of trees and buildings against it.
On Monday, 24th June, we learned imported Juniper saplings from South America have brought with them a killer fungus (Phytophthora austrocedrae) which is now causing havoc on tree plantations in the Lake District and Scotland. The gin makers are worried as Juniper berries are a vital ingredient, going back to the Middle Ages. They do mostly import the berries nowadays, but no-one wants to think we can no longer produce them in the UK. Some 45% of Scottish trees are likely to be destroyed by the fungus and the only solution is to grow saplings in Scotland and avoid imports. See my earlier blog on destruction of trees by various parasites. 19 pests and diseases are currently attacking UK trees, and 10 of these have reached epidemic proportions.
I saw a Garden Tiger Moth caterpillar in my garden on the 24th June. Known as woolly bears, these used to be a common sight, making their way across open ground in search of a suitable place to pupate. Between 1968 and 2002 numbers of the Garden Tiger fell by an alarming 89%. Ideal conditions for these caterpillars is long frosty winters and not the mild wet winters and warmer springs of recent years. It would be terrible if these beauties were to become extinct because of climate change.
I saw many worms (annelids) whilst weeding out the buttercups which were strangling the other plants in my garden. In doing so I found numerous earth worms , so read up on their characteristics at http://www.wormdigest.org/.
There are four types I was probably locating:
Nightcrawlers: 8 to 10 inches long and the fisherman’s favourite.
Garden Worms: 5 to 7 inches long and found commonly in damp soils.
Manure Worms: 4 to 5 inches long and found in manure rich soils.
Red Worms: 3 to 4 inches long and the most commercially available.
Thanks to their efforts, the dry weather is not as dangerous to the water supply to the vegetation as one might imagine. The tunnelling of worms retains water in the soil and holds air to help bacteria break down organic matter within the soil. Their tiny excrement helps fertilize and is called called “castings” or “vermicompost” . Worms guarantee porosity and moisture retention and I can see by the sturdy health of my plants that this process has helped growth and fought off pests and diseases.
Charles Darwin , who studied the earthworm said of them: “The plow is one of the most ancient and most valuable of man’s inventions; but long before he existed, the land was in fact regularly plowed and still continues to be thus plowed by earthworms. It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures.”
Steve Jones’s book “Darwin’s Island” explains how worms can live longer than 2 years (if we don’t accidentally chop them with a spade). If they are cut in two they cannot become 2 worms as mythology has told us over my lifetime. That must have come from someone witnessing some types of worms who reproduce through simple fission: the back breaks off and forms a new worm…some break into several bits and each becomes a new individual.
Steve Jones tells us, “A worm has a central nervous system, with a distinct brain connected to a set of nerve cords”…..”The body is divided into segments….Each segment bears a simple kidney. A series of even simpler hearts is distributed along the animal’s length.” There’s more to a worm than meets the eye.
Nineteenth century gardeners mistakenly thought worms were pests and battered them to death at every opportunity, believing them some sort of tapeworm. Now we realise how vital they are, like bees, we could not live without their contribution. All the time we keep learning how blind we have been to the importance of small creatures which we may swat or kill with such ease. We are killing ourselves when we endanger them.
On the 25th June I learned that it has been 124 years since the RSPB was formed by a group of courageous women who fought the hunters of a variety of birds such as egrets, kittiwakes, birds of paradise to stop them killing their prey then making money out of selling their feathers for the hats of ladies. They asked all ladies to stop wearing hats with these feathers adorning them. They were originally known as the Plumage League. They had a massive trade to campaign against. In the first quarter of 1884, almost 7,000 birds of paradise were being imported to Britain, along with 0.4 million birds from West India and Brazil, and 0.36 million birds from East India. Emily Williamson used her house in Didsbury, Manchester to found the charity and that is now the Fletcher Moss Botanical Garden.
There will always be campaigns to fight against ignorant exploitation of this fragile world for financial gain. But few of us even appreciate we have a responsibility within our immediate environment to protect and learn about the natural world around us. It is more rewarding an interest than anything the man-made entertainment world can offer us.