Friday 20 September 2013

Alates Away!

A Yellow Meadow Ant alate shakes off a worker from another nest.
 Every year winged Lasius spp ants emerge from their nests in the ground and form subtle shifting clouds above the trees with their mating swarms. The books all refer to this as occurring in July and August, but my observation is that late September is the moment in the Touraine - just in time to feed hungry swallows fattening up for their imminent and epic return to Africa. These flying, sexually mature ants are referred to as alates.

A Yellow Meadow Ant alate (queen).
Yellow Meadow Ants L. flavus, like their cousins Black Garden Ants L. niger are very common here. As their names suggest, Yellow Meadow Ants are yellow(ish brown) and live in meadows (or any rough grassland, like our orchard) and Black Garden Ants are black and like the fine tilth of garden soil. Black Garden Ants are the ones that come inside in the spring if it's wet too. Both species 'farm' root aphids underground for their honeydew, and eat the adult aphids in the winter. Apparently Yellow Meadow Ants will also host Chalkhill Blue caterpillars in their nests. One of the ways of confirming ancient natural pasture is the presence of Yellow Meadow Ant nest mounds in the field. The mounds build up over decades if the land is undisturbed by ploughing or mowing.
Orchard News: I picked the Doyenne de Comice pears yesterday -- best crop ever. They are small, but no sign of disease or infestation. I hope they ripen nicely in their wooden box in the kitchen and are ready in about 10 days when I have time to deal with them. I also picked some Melrose apples, a huge bucket full which hasn't even made a dent on the crop. The Black Hamburg grapes aren't quite ripe yet and the hazelnuts could probably do with a few more days.

I picked a few tomatoes and a chilli, which will be our one and only.
Orchid News: My friend Alice rang yesterday to say that the Autumn Lady's Tresses Spiranthes spiralis in her lawn were up and flowering! Last time I looked there was no sign of leaf rosettes, much less budding flower stems. They have clearly responded almost instantaneously to the 50 mm of rain that fell on Saturday.

I am also pleased to see that the orchid seed pods in the orchard, including those of the late flowering Broad-leaved Helleborine Epipactis helleborine, have all split open and distributed their seed. Next year could be exciting!
A la cuisine hier: Potager Pie -- that's basically Cottage Pie, but with about a 4:1 ratio of vegetables to meat. Probably also known as Fridge Pie. You can use any veg you like, especially if it needs using up, and the mash on top doesn't have to be just potato. Also good for sliding unloved veggies past the fussy eaters in your household. Sadly, none of the veg I used was actually from our own potager except the potato.

Green Vegetable Soup -- that's another one for clearing out the fridge. Just sweat any green vegetable you have hanging around, add vegetable stock and a couple of diced potatoes, simmer for a while then blitz.

Poached Pears -- the Beurre Hardy and Nashi pears picked a week ago, poached in syrup infused with vanilla, lemon, cinnamon, cardamon and pimento. This technique has the added bonus of giving you not just poached pears, but lots of flavourful poaching syrup which can be turned into sorbet.

Apple Jelly -- quite a firm set as made with slightly under ripe windfall apples.
Wine News: There was an article on France Info this morning about English wine. The report was serious, positive and complimentary -- 'France Info, tasting for you, and very pleasantly surprised!' The English winemaker pointed out that if you want to buy land suitable for growing vines in Burgundy, you would have to pay between 1 and 3 million euros per hectare. In Kent similar land is available for 50 000 euros per hectare. (Vincent Roussely told us a story of a friend of his in Burgundy who was offered 15 million euros for a parcel of 2.5 ha of vines by a Chinese buyer. Vincent pointed out that in the Touraine vines go for about 100 000 per hectare.)

In other news, Chateau Gaudrelle (Vouvray) tell us that they are harvesting from 10 October -- their latest ever harvest. Christian Davault from Domaine de la Chaise (Touraine) says he will be harvesting next week, which is his normal time.


Tim said...

"mounds build up over decades"...
And then Couch / Twitch Grass grows on top...
and THEN...
I discover it with the mower!!

However, a very informative article... tareversuch!
I might not go Grrrr so much next time I hit one!!

On the otherhand...
so glad to hear that you've loads of bookings...
even if it means you lose a bit of harvest...
you were looking a tad distracted when you collected Pauline last!

Tim said...

And alates are refered to by me as ALL LATES....
because if I see an un-winged queen...
or one searching for somewhere to set up home...
rapidly becomes LATE! Very LATE!!

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