Tuesday, 23 February 2016

signs of spring

Spring is on its way.  The bees were flying today, buzzing around the Chaenomeles under the kitchen window.  They even found their way to two small pots of hyacinths blooming outside the greenhouse, though you wouldn't think it was worth the scout bees' time to go all the way back to the beehive and recruit foragers to a patch of flowers as modest as six hyacinth flowers.  The bulbs are left over from last year's bigger pots by the pond, by the way, and were only potted up again last autumn because I never got round to moving them out into the garden after they'd finished flowering.  They were lovely fat bulbs, much too good to waste, so I repotted them in five inch pots meaning to plant them out in the spring when I could see what else was growing in the borders. They spent the winter in the greenhouse, along with the new bulbs in this year's big pots, since I have learned the hard way that potted hyacinth bulbs can rot at the base if left outside in a wet winter, and for some reason the home saved bulbs are far more advanced than the others.

I've seen a couple of bumblebees as well in the past couple of days, further proof that spring really is on its way.  At this time of the year they must be queens, newly emerged from hibernation and looking for somewhere to nest.  Neither worker nor drone bumbles live from one season to the next. The queens need to find forage, since they will have to start building their nests and feeding their young entirely unassisted until the first generation of workers mature and can take over the housework.  All the more reason to plant early spring flowers.

The potted Fritillaria meleagris have been a mixed success.  I got one hundred bulbs of the ordinary purple chequered ones last autumn, and twenty-five white, the white being approximately four times as expensive, and potted them up at three bulbs to a deep nine centimetre pot inside sealed propagating cases in the greenhouse, to try and keep the mice off them.  The mice were finally kept at bay, after two years of abject failure, and the purple sort came up beautifully.  I have planted most of them out now, and where the compost fell away from the tops of the bulbs could see that they were huge, fat, and bursting with health.  Half the pots of white ones didn't come up at all, and when I tipped the contents out of the pots I found the bulbs had rotted.

It can't have been a dodgy batch of compost.  The purple fritillaries and scilla potted at the same time were absolutely fine.  Maybe I over-watered them, though they were sharing a case with a dozen pots of Scilla bifolia and those are all emerging normally, suggesting I didn't slosh water into that tray with a heavier hand than on any of the others.  I am left with the dark suspicion that the bulbs could not have been very good, and carried the mouldy seeds of their own destruction within them.  Still, the purple ones made splendid plants, so compared to buying that many from a garden centre in a month's time when they are on the point of flowering I'm still quids in on the exercise. Whether they will manage to flower is another matter, since I fear the rabbits may have a taste for fritillaries.  I found some suspicious looking chewed leaves in the grass when I was planting them out, but am hoping the rabbits won't find all of them.

I still haven't caught any.  I moved the traps again yesterday, as they seem to have abandoned the front garden and be round at the back again, to judge from the most recent scrapes in the borders. I have tried baiting the traps with apples, following advice from the Systems Administrator who spent some time researching online rabbit trapping forums.  Some people advise pouring cheap apple juice over the traps to disguise the smell of humans, but their rabbits must be picker than ours.  Our rabbits will eat things overnight I've just planted that day, not in the least deterred by the fact that I was handling them less than twelve hours previously, and did not douse them in fruit juice afterwards.

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