Members may remember that Stephen had given a very informative talk to us last year about Hedgehogs and how to set up a Hedgehog Highway. He was formerly a Vet but changed career to pursue a lifelong passion for wildlife photography, filming and conservation.
He`s come back to tell us all about Hornets that he has observed and photographed at very close quarters through a window into his loft space. He had made this viewing area to see a Barn Owl which he had encouraged to nest in the eaves of his house in the countryside. However, the Hornets moved in too.
Hornets are related to Ants and Bees (Hymenoptera) in that they have 2 pairs of wings, whereas the Fly (Diptera) to differentiate has only 1 pair of wings. Like Moths they are attracted to the light.
He showed us close up images of Queens, Workers and Male Hornets – the males can`t sting. They all have long black antennae on their head and strong mandibles for chewing up rotting wood. In between the eyes they have “ocelli” which help to maintain flight stability, adapt to light conditions and circadian rhythms. Further down the body after the head, the Thorax with wings attached then the abdomen, at the bottom the sting. Unlike a wasp, there is no barb to latch on, the sting is to subdue their prey and can be used again. The legs are shaped to become a cleaner for the antennae when needed. The feet have claws at the end for latching on.
Moving on to the life cycle of these creatures, Stephen showed a video and had brought a disused Hornets’ nest with him to show us how intricately it is made. The Queens emerge from hibernation in May / June and starts building her nest where she lays eggs in the cells which then hatch into workers. Nests can be made in the hollow of a dead tree, in a shed, in nest boxes or even a grassy bank. The outer layer is called the envelope and the inner is called the comb – looking much like a honeycomb, a small 6-sided shape called a cell. These cells are built from a type of “Papier Mache” made by the worker hornets out of old wood which they have chewed to a pulp. The Queen lays one egg in each cell and the workers feed the grub with any nectar source they can from the surrounding area supplied from fruit for example, for protein - the workers catch flies and insects. The grubs take about 7 days to hatch then the grub spins a cocoon over the entrance to the cell until after about 2 weeks it bites its way through the membrane to emerge as the next generation.
As the season progresses the envelope, or cone as it now resembles, grows downwards and outwards in layers. Towards the end of the autumn the Queen will mate with the male and goes into hibernation until the spring. Hornets are important for our eco system as they eat insects and the Hornet Rove Beetle lives off the waste that`s produced from the nest which falls below.
With her partner David Lamboll, Lori has a fruit farm at Bishopsteignton, turning the produce into preserves, pickles, jams and marmalades, selling them at Farmers Markets and events throughout the year. The farm is open for “Pick your Own” from July to September. Lori talked to us about the Elderflower and hedgerow foraging.
There are lots of myths & legends surrounding the Elderflower such as farmers say it protects cattle from lightening. They would head for shelter under the Elder trees. Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm both wrote stories involving the Elder and it`s thought that it is bad luck to burn the wood.
Elder takes easily as cuttings, so you can quickly increase your stock of plants. There are lots of edible things in hedgerows, including Elderberries, Rose Hips, Brambles, Sloes, Mushrooms and of course Elderflowers.
When making Elderflower Cordial it`s best to take the newly formed blooms as it`s the pollen that gives the flavour to this popular drink. The finished liquid won`t be clear, because of that pollen but just shake to incorporate to your own taste. A top tip Lori gave us, is to choose a dry day to pick the flower heads and if you can`t make the cordial straight away – you can freeze the flowerheads until you have the time to do it.
There is a recipe for Elderflower Cordial in the DGS Summer Show Programme so why not make a batch and enter it into the competition in August.
While we all had a sample tasting of her own bottled Elderflower Cordial, Lori suggested various ideas of how to use the cordial once you`ve made it – use it to transform other fruits, add to Gin & Tonic or Prosecco, add to stewed fruit, or to cakes, stir into cream or crème fraiche, make a sorbet with cucumber and lime and add to that mixture. In fact, you can add elderflower flavor to anything you like.
Lori then demonstrated how to make a Lime Curd chatting as she went along-
She whisked 2 large eggs in a glass bowl then adding the zest and juice of 3 limes together with 50gms of unsalted butter and 75gms of caster sugar and 6 tablespoons of elderflower cordial.
She then put the mixture in a double boiler but a glass bowl over a slow simmering pan of water would also work well. She kept the mixture moving by stirring and whisking constantly for about 10 minutes before checking the consistency to see if it had thickened enough. Once the mixture was ready, she used a funnel to place into sterilised jars and passed that around for us to sample.
In September she is running a whole day Preserving Course at the farm, more information is available on the website – shutefruit.co.uk
Pelargoniums are native to South Africa; they were brought to Britain by sailors who made extra money selling them to plant collectors. In the 1700`s the botanists renamed them Pelargoniums from the Greek for Storks Bill. Unlike our native hardy Geranium / Cranesbill, the tender Pelargonium are not frost hardy and require cover in winter.
Brian then demonstrated how to take and strike cuttings:
· First use fresh moist compost to which sharp sand, perlite or vermiculite is added 3 parts to 1 part, then add a slow-release fertilizer
· The best time of year to start taking cuttings is July, August and September they will root in about 10 days, there is no need to use hormone rooting powder,
· Cut the stem below a leaf node, using a sterilized scalpel
· Strips off the lower leaves – just the top 2 remaining with the growing shoot.
· waters from the bottom so the compost uses capillary action to take up water.
· Once the cuttings have roots, pot them on into a 3.5-inch pot first until better established then 4.5 inch pot, don`t stand these pots in water for longer than 5 minutes or the compost gets too soggy, Pelargoniums don`t like to have their roots wet.
· To make the new plants bushy, nip out the growing tip – this will make the plant grow from each axil on the stem.
· To get his plants to show quality standard feed them regularly with various Chempak products – Nitrogen for green soft growth, Potash which encourages flowers and ripens stems and later on a fully balanced feed.
· Pelargoniums like light, however, can succumb to pests such as greenfly and whitefly, you can uses Rose Clear as a spot treatment as it is systemic.
Brian will be taking his best plants to the Pelargonium & Geranium Show at RHS Rosemoor over the weekend of 17th /18thJune.