Wednesday, 18 May 2016

In May... Orchids, Bees and Lambs

Green-winged orchids have been flowering in a local meadow. At first glance, the meadow looks as if there's only grass growing there.  But on closer inspection, there's a purple sheen over the grass. These are the orchids.

When I wandered through the meadow last week, I wanted to see if they were green-winged orchids (anacamptis morio) rather than early-purple orchids (orchis mascula - also flowering now). I did this by looking at the leaves. The leaves of the green-winged orchids don't have the blotches that are found on the leaves of the early-purple orchids. The petals are different, too. The green-winged orchid has a 'hood' with a pattern of lines, like veins.

The green-winged orchid grows in traditional meadows and grassland, and as there isn't much of that around here now, they're becoming less common. Fortunately, there are some local initiatives to encourage them, so hopefully these beautiful flowers will continue to grow in this part of the world.

There were also bees buzzing in the meadow, but I think most of my honeybees are still on the oilseed rape. Some of the bees, though, are bringing in pollen that could be hawthorn.

I can see hawthorn flowering everywhere at the moment, but I have mixed feelings about the smell of it. I like that it reminds me of this time of year (and it's also known as the May Tree) but it's not the most pleasant smell in the world. In the Middle Ages, it was thought that this blossom smelled like the Great Plague and that bringing it into the house would bring illness and death. But Medieval folk must have also loved hawthorn as it was at the heart of May Day celebrations (maypoles were made of it, the green man had a wreath of it).

I love hawthorn, too.  It's a beautiful, native tree and great for wildlife, although it's an unreliable source of bee-food. Apparently, the weather conditions have to be right for the bees to take something from it.

My bees are also on the horse chestnut. The lovely, white candles are out and the bees are bringing in a brick-red pollen from them, which looks quite striking in the comb.

The horse chestnut candles are fascinating; as the flower develops a yellow blotch on the lower petals changes colour from orange to pink. When the flower has been pollinated the blotch turns red, and as bees can't see the colour red, they are no longer attracted to the flower (in other words, it's a signal from the flower to the bee that it's already been pollinated).

We have many, mature horse chestnuts around us here, and we also planted one on the smallholding about sixteen years ago. Although the horse chestnut isn't native (and was introduced to the UK in the seventeenth century), I think it's a wonderful addition to the countryside.

Also on the smallholding, here are a couple of the sights I've enjoyed this May...
Geum in flower

Orange tip butterflies - this is a female
And the cuckoos have returned. That is, I've heard cuckoos but not seen one on the smallholding. There are (it seems) two cuckoos calling around here this spring, but they're not close, and now all the leaves have come out they're hidden in the trees anyway. So the only photo I've been able to take is of a distant one calling...

And finally, our lambs are growing up fast. We visited the breeder not long ago to see how they were getting on.  It won't be long until they'll join our small flock where - if they're like their Ryeland cousins - they won't stop eating.  I've never seen anything like it.  The Suffolks and the Cheviot haven't eaten half as much, but our two Ryelands are always eating  When we visited the breeder, three of the lambs came up to her van at once looking for food...

Three again watching my camera (is it food?!)

And a last, hopeful stare...

We should be bringing the lambs home in about a month. I don't think we'll have a problem with long grass this year!