There have been far too few ladybirds in the garden this summer. Hardly a one, and not just in my garden – all over the country numbers have been on the low side of normal. The problem started with the cold, wet, miserable experience that was summer 2012. Cold, wet, miserable conditions don’t encourage ladybirds to breed, so there weren’t so many larvae around to overwinter as in an average year. And then, the hardy few that made it through the freezing months emerged in what should have been spring to yet more cold, miserable weather… and very few aphids to eat.
In the last few weeks though, the ladybirds have been appearing again. There are ladybirds on the sunflowers, globe thistles and nestling in the dried up astrantia flowers. I’ve only seen adults but maybe there are some larvae out there too, ready to overwinter and boost next summer’s population.
Butterflies have fared better this year. The Big Butterfly Count organised by the charity Butterfly Conservation showed big increases in the numbers of many species recorded through late July and early August. The small and large whites topped the charts – lots of them. Not such great news for those gardeners growing cabbages and broccoli… there may well have been a related increase in the sales of protective netting for brassicas. The count of peacock butterflies went up by 3,500% on 2012 numbers, and with the caterpillars of this butterfly happily munching away on nettles – there’s no netting required for this one.
One butterfly I didn’t see many of during the butterfly count was the comma. A beautiful butterfly with elegant and distinctive wavy edges to its wings, and a white comma on the underside. Last weekend was the first time I’d seen more than one at a time this year. The late afternoon sunshine and sedum flowers attracted, maybe not hoards, but a good few commas to join the bees foraging in the warmth.
Of course, it hasn’t all been wildlife spotting in the garden this week, there’s been harvesting too. I’ve been picking more blackberries as they ripen – a good big bowlful today to turn into jam. This jam drew inspiration from two places – firstly from Sarah’s post with a recipe for ‘Easy peasy blackberry jam’… I’m all for easy recipes. And then inspiration too from one of my favourite jams of all time – Honey & Co’s pear and ginger jam, very possibly the best jam you could spread on your toast on a Sunday morning while listening to the Archers omnibus. Combine ideas from these two jams and you have a sweet, richly coloured, autumnal preserve that’s full of fruit and perfect on toast, with scones, or (my kids tells me) really good in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich…
Blackberry, pear & ginger jam
3 knobs of stem ginger, finely chopped, plus 2tbsp of syrup from the jar
2 ripe pears, grated
250g preserving sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
Wash the blackberries and put them into a large pan. Warm over a medium heat and simmer until the berries start to soften and break down. Add the chopped stem ginger and grated pears to the pan and cook for another five minutes.
Take the pan off the heat and add the ginger syrup, sugar and lemon juice. Heat gently, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved, then turn the heat up to bring the mixture to a boil. Allow to boil for 10 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and test for a set (I put a small amount of jam on a chilled saucer, allow it to cool a little then push the jam gently to see if a ‘skin’ has started to form). If the setting point hasn’t been reached, return the pan to the heat and boil for a further 5 minutes before testing again.
Once the setting point has been reached, pour or spoon the warm jam into sterilized jars and cover the tops with wax paper discs. This makes enough jam to fill two (mismatched) jars, with a little over to keep in a bowl in the fridge for tomorrow’s breakfast.