My first conker
As my regular reader will know I own a couple of fields not far from home, the first of which was bought in 2007 and the second, immediately next door to the first, in 2009. From early in 2008 we have gradually been planting trees on what was originally sheep-grazing land and now there must be close to two hundred “trees” at various stages of growth – including 70 or so silver birch “trees”, each no more than two feet in height!
Last week, I plucked a small “bouquet” of things to photograph and send to Fatima for her birthday which she spent in Brazil whilst I am here in England (send the photograph, that is, not the things themselves!). I am more than a little pleased to report that in pride of place in the “bouquet” is the first (and only!) conker from the fields, which graced one of the horse chestnut trees – `early-planted` in 2008.
In fact – as you will see in the photo – it is, strictly, a lop-sided “twin” conker, but I am delighted the trees are beginning to mature enough to start “fruiting”. Also, you may see in the bouquet picture that we have our first edible sweet chestnuts too, although they are, as yet, very small, so no hot chestnuts this Christmas. Maybe next year?
Because it is only on a small scale and entirely a labour of love, all of the planting has been done by hand with help from various friends and family at times (thank you, folks). I think I may have mentioned this before, but, since the fields were used for sheep-grazing for many, many, years, the hole-digging has always proved to be rather hard work. The soil is a little clayey and very compacted from the feet of hundreds of sheep over a long time`s trampling!
But the hard work is beginning to pay off in terms of pleasure now. I may never see the horse-chestnuts in their full adult splendour, unless I live to about 120, but we have had quite a few flowers on the first ones planted in 2008 and this first, lovely, fruit. Conkers are so glossy and tactile aren`t they?!
Indeed, the whole field has been rather splendiferous for flowers this year, with lots of May on the hedges and wild roses too, as well as blossom on the medlar tree and on a few privet bushes scattered through the hedge row. All the hedgerow plants are now laden with fruit, too, so I am hoping it will provide a few good meals for our birdlife over the winter.
Indeed, the feeding has already begun! If you look carefully in the “bouquet” photograph on the left hand side you will see a bunch of small black fruit. Those are the fruits of the privet bushes, not something you will normally see on the oft-snipped privet hedges in urban streets, but, as my hedgerow plants have been allowed to do their own thing, they have flowered heavily and fruited heavily this year.
So, on Tuesday of last week, I was walking round the field with my good friend Ken and I decided to pick a few fruits for Fatima`s Birthday bouquet and the privet bush from which this little branch was nicked was absolutely full of fruit. On Friday, when I visited the field again, there wasn`t a single black fruit to be seen. Rather toxic for humans (apparently capable of inducing vomiting and diarrhoea – sorry if that is too much information!) this little black juicy berry is a favourite for the birds.
Clearly over just a few days – maybe even on just ONE of those few days – there were lots of birds with very full tummies. Unfortunately the birds were there when I wasn`t so I cannot report which birds had the biggest shares, or whether all the fruit was taken by a ravening hoard of just one variety of bird. Perhaps I will treat myself to one or more movement activated cameras to record such events!
As it happened it was not just birds which would have had full tummies. At least one fox (for fox I assume it must be) had a tummy full of wasp lavae and nectar. I drove into the field with my trailer full of cuttings from the garden for my “wood pile” (for food and homes for wildlife) and discovered I had driven over quite a large hole without seeing it in advance. It was about the size of a 45rpm extended play (ep) disc for those old enough to know what I am talking about, and about as deep.
Though puzzled by why such a hole might have appeared, I was soon to realise that it had been the site of a wasp`s nest in the ground. The reason I knew this was that there were a few pieces of honeycombe lying around with an odd wasp or two still feebly trying to mend the whole thing, or search for their precious grubs. It seems most likely there had been a large animal around which had dug up the nest and risked being stung on the nose to rip open the actual nest to get at the pickings inside.
I had heard about this kind of thing before, of course, but never seen such a sight before. fascinating stuff, wildlife, isn`t it.