Spring has been a time of anticipation in the garden. There have been lots of signs of promise, but little that's ready to harvest. The rhubarb plants have been the mainstay so far delivering four good crops, with plenty more left. There have been a few other small harvests - lots of herbs, salads and sorrel, but nothing substantial. There are some plants that will fill this gap in future years. I've put in two rows of asparagus plants and last weekend planted some Soloman's seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) whose shoots are ready in the spring. There should be more perennial veg as well by next year that will provide more greens at this time of year. I will probably grow some potatoes to supplement the perennial crops as well. I've got three lots in planters this year and they are growing well.
Anyway, this week has seen the first fruits ripen in the garden. We've had a handful of strawberries from the plants put in last year. We've hardly let them ripen, but they are still delicious. There are lots more on the plants and so far the slugs and snails haven't had any. They are mulched with bark chippings at the moment and that seems to do the trick.
There are a few other plants that are looking as though they are nearly ready. The gooseberries are swelling up and the blueberries too. The tayberry has lots of fruit and the raspberries are starting to appear. There are hundreds of green sour cherries waiting to ripen and a handful of sweet cherries - although some of these have shrivelled up and gone brown, maybe because I haven't watered the tree much?
There are still lots of bees in the garden and there seems to be a steady succession of flowers for them to feed on (more by luck than judgement). Also, there are still lots of small moths on the mints. In the mulch the spiders are busy and I've seen two nursery-web spiders (Pisaura mirabilis) carrying their egg sacs underneath them. I got a nice surprise too when I saw a large frog hiding under one of the hazel trees. He was some way from the small pond in the garden in a spot with some really dense vegetation. I hope he's working on the slugs.
The weather has been really warm this weekend and everything in the garden seems to be growing faster. I took a risk and planted out some of the seedlings that have been struggling in the mini-greenhouse. I cleared some of the dandelions that have been colonising the spare bits of the garden that haven't been planted up yet. I planted out some chicory, salsify, scorzorena, peppermint, lovage, sorrel and welsh onions. I also sowed some good king Henry direct in the soil. I planted them as a polyculture patch with some of the plants in multiples. I also made room for another redcurrant bush - Junifer, an early variety. What's missing at the moment is some low-growing creeping ground cover to fill in all the gaps, but thanks to some tips I got from the ForestGardening Yahoo group I think I will try some transitional ground cover in between. I will probably wait a little while for the seedlings to get established before sowing.
The garden is buzzing with life now. There are insects of all sorts, including lots of small moths that are all over the mint and other herbs nearby. The most common one I have seen is the one in the picture above. I think it is a Pyrausta aurata which is often found on mint according to my insect book. There are also lots of bees. We planted some ornamental alliums last year and they are out now and the bees are really enjoying them, the bumble bees especially. The summer raspberry flowers are out now too. They don't look very exciting, but the smaller bees like them a lot.
There is a great video on the Help Save Bees blog that provides lots of information on the many different types of bumble bees and how we can help protect them.
With the warmer weather the garden is filling up with more and more wildlife. I came out into the garden this morning to see a red kite (Milvus milvus) flying low over the garden. Not long after two crows appeared and chased it off. Closer to the ground there is plenty of life too. There are hundreds of mouse spiders living in the mulch. There are lots of nursery-web spiders and garden spiders spinning their webs too. The nursery-web spiders are interesting - they look as though they are dead with their legs curled up, but as you get closer they spring to life ready to run away.
Today was the first day that I've seen ladybirds this spring - two seven spotted ones and another with more spots, possibly a harlequin one. There are lots of bees about - mostly large bumblebees, but also honey bees and some mid-sized black bees. There are also some bee flies (Bombylius major) in the garden too - I have never noticed these before. They are very characteristic with their long proboscis. They are busy feeding on dandelion flowers and also on grape hyacinths (Muscari racemosum). I managed to photograph one whilst it had a rest on some bare soil by the newly planted asparagus.
It's difficult to be objective about how much wildlife is in the garden this year because I am paying more attention than last year. However, I think the amount of mulch in the garden has provided habitats for many species to overwinter. There are definitely a lot of spiders on the ground and I suspect there are a wider range of insects this year too.