Friday, 28 August 2015

Some odd Canadian news: mostly beehive theft

Friday August 28, 2015: Twelve full beehives were stolen from a field in Innisfail, Alberta. That was a loss of about 600,000 bees, and honey, and hives, totalling about $10,000.  The beekeeper, Kevin Nixon, is offering a $1000 reward for information that helps find them.

The Nixon honey farm on Wednesday.  You can see the stands where the hives are missing (CBC).

I can think of two possibilities here:

1. Someone wanted to start a beekeeping operation, for free, with very heavy hives carried from the field and loaded into a truck by hand, while full of agitated bees.  That doesn't seem like a very good plan, aside from the loss it cost Nixon.

2. Activists have "liberated" domestic honeybees.  Not a good plan either.

While I was reading about this, I found a bunch of other cases of honeybee theft, and I wasn't even looking for them.  Beehive theft has been a growing problem for a number of years (more under the cut).

Wednesday, 12 August 2015


I was bored this evening, so I went out into the fields and took photos with my phone.  I spent so much time walking and playing in these fields and in the woods as a child and a teenager, but they are suddenly become small.  The hut that I built and used to live in is gone now; even that corner of the field where it was is gone, taken over by alder trees and blackberry brambles.  I found the rusted woodstove on its side in a patch of thistles, and a wooden bench nearly a foot thick, and some mint I planted still growing along the fence.  That's all that's left.

Those are reed seedheads in the foreground, and behind them silky white thistledown starting to blow away, and cedar trees in the background.  The fields are boggy most of the year, hence the reeds.  It's no good for keeping horses in, because the lush grass and the wet causes them to founder.  Foundering is really awful; it's laminitis, an inflammation of the tissue that attaches the hoof to the bone inside the horses foot.  It's pretty gruesome if it's not stopped and can kill the horse in severe cases; you can google it if you want the details. I ended up selling our pony to a horse rescue for a dollar quite a few years ago, because he was foundering, but there was nowhere to put him that wasn't grassy and I couldn't pay for a vet.

Another view of the same field.  Those are alder trees on the left.  There's a creek in there.  It used to be big, my mom and her sibling used to swim in it.  By the time I was a child, it was smaller, but there were still fish in it and you could still fall in and get totally soaked.  Now it's only a trickle, hardly even a stream.  So many tributaries have been covered over or diverted by the new subdivisions that there isn't much water in it anymore, and no fish or tadpoles.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) going to seed.

Canada thistle is an invasive weed commonly found along roadsides and in cultivated fields; it spreads laterally by root to form huge patches, and by seed.  Its common name in the US and Canada is misleading, because it's native to Europe and northern Asia.  It's widely considered an injurious weed even where it's native, but the seeds are an important source of food to European Goldfinch, Linnet, and other finches; the leaves are food for over 20 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars, including the Painted Lady; and lots of insects visit the flowers.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense)

These alders by the creek are the biggest alders I've ever seen.  The fields were probably cleared by logging at some point in the late nineteenth century, but there are young alder trees springing up in the middle and they'll going to go back to forest given time.  But the farm will be sold and subdivided before that can happen, so nobody is bothering to pull them.

Grass seedheads behind the barn.

The wild roses are still going, surprisingly.  I knew wild roses flowered in June, but if I ever knew that they continued all summer (I must have, I spent so much time in the fields), then I forgot.

The blackberries are still doing their thing.

Common ragwort, native to Britain.  The English poet John Clare wrote a poem in praise of it in 1831:
Ragwort thou humble flower with tattered leaves
I love to see thee come and litter gold...
Thy waste of shining blossoms richly shields
The sun tanned sward in splendid hues that burn
So bright and glaring that the very light
Of the rich sunshine doth to paleness turn
And seems but very shadows in thy sight.

 The alkaloids in ragwort make it somewhat toxic to livestock, although they don't usually eat it when fresh because it's bitter.  It is usually removed from fields that are mown for hay, because livestock will eat dried ragwort in hay and in large quantities it causes cirrhosis of the liver, although confirmed cases of poisoning are rare.

In ancient Greece and Rome a supposed aphrodisiac was made from the plant; it was called satyrion.  Ragwort leaves can be used to obtain good green dye, and the flowers to make brown, orange, or yellow dye.

John Clare, the poet who wrote that verse, lead an interesting and very sad life.  He was born the son of illiterate farm labourers in Northamptonshire in 1793 and had very little schooling, but he is known for his poems about the country.  He suffered from depression and psychosis and spent nearly thirty years in an asylum.  He was mostly forgotten until being re-published in the 20th century.

 He became an agricultural labourer while still a child; however, he attended school in Glinton church until he was 12. In his early adult years, Clare became a pot boy in the Blue Bell public house and fell in love with Mary Joyce; but her father, a prosperous farmer, forbade her to meet him. Subsequently he was a gardener at Burghley House. He enlisted in the militia, tried camp life with Romani, and worked in Pickworth as a lime burner in 1817. In the following year he was obliged to accept parish relief.  Malnutrition stemming from childhood may be the main culprit behind his 5-foot stature and may have contributed to his poor physical health in later life. [...]

Clare was constantly torn between the two worlds of literary London and his often illiterate neighbours; between the need to write poetry and the need for money to feed and clothe his children. His health began to suffer, and he had bouts of severe depression, which became worse after his sixth child was born in 1830 and as his poetry sold less well. In 1832, his friends and his London patrons clubbed together to move the family to a larger cottage with a smallholding in the village of Northborough, not far from Helpston. However, he felt only more alienated.

His last work, the Rural Muse (1835), was noticed favourably by Christopher North and other reviewers, but this was not enough to support his wife and seven children. Clare's mental health began to worsen. As his alcohol consumption steadily increased along with his dissatisfaction with his own identity, Clare's behaviour became more erratic. A notable instance of this behaviour was demonstrated in his interruption of a performance of The Merchant of Venice, in which Clare verbally assaulted Shylock. He was becoming a burden to [his wife] Patty and his family, and in July 1837, on the recommendation of his publishing friend, John Taylor, Clare went of his own volition (accompanied by a friend of Taylor's) to Dr Matthew Allen's private asylum High Beach near Loughton, in Epping Forest. Taylor had assured Clare that he would receive the best medical care.
Clare was reported as being "full of many strange delusions". He believed himself to be a prize fighter and that he had two wives, Patty and Mary. He started to claim he was Lord Byron. Allen wrote about Clare to The Times in 1840:

    It is most singular that ever since he came… the moment he gets pen or pencil in hand he begins to write most poetical effusions. Yet he has never been able to obtain in conversation, nor even in writing prose, the appearance of sanity for two minutes or two lines together, and yet there is no indication of insanity in any of his poetry.

During his first few asylum years in High Beach, Essex (1837–41), Clare re-wrote famous poems and sonnets by Lord Byron. His own version of Child Harold became a lament for past lost love, and Don Juan, A Poem became an acerbic, misogynistic, sexualised rant redolent of an ageing Regency dandy. Clare also took credit for Shakespeare's plays, claiming to be the Renaissance genius himself. "I'm John Clare now," the poet claimed to a newspaper editor, "I was Byron and Shakespeare formerly."

In 1841, Clare absconded from the asylum in Essex, to walk some 90 miles (140 km) home, believing that he was to meet his first love Mary Joyce; Clare was convinced that he was married to her and Martha as well, with children by both women. He did not believe her family when they told him she had died accidentally three years earlier in a house fire. He remained free, mostly at home in Northborough, for the five months following, but eventually Patty called the doctors in. Between Christmas and New Year in 1841, Clare was committed to the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum (now St Andrew's Hospital). Upon Clare's arrival at the asylum, the accompanying doctor, Fenwick Skrimshire, who had treated Clare since 1820, completed the admission papers. To the enquiry "Was the insanity preceded by any severe or long-continued mental emotion or exertion?", Dr Skrimshire entered: "After years of poetical prosing."  He remained here for the rest of his life under the humane regime of Dr Thomas Octavius Prichard, who encouraged and helped him to write. Here he wrote possibly his most famous poem, I Am.

He died on 20 May 1864, in his 71st year. His remains were returned to Helpston for burial in St Botolph’s churchyard. Today, children at the John Clare School, Helpston's primary, parade through the village and place their "midsummer cushions" around Clare's gravestone (which bears the inscriptions "To the Memory of John Clare The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet" and "A Poet is Born not Made") on his birthday, in honour of their most famous resident.

In his time, Clare was commonly known as "the Northamptonshire Peasant Poet". His formal education was brief, his other employment and class-origins were lowly. Clare resisted the use of the increasingly standardised English grammar and orthography in his poetry and prose, alluding to political reasoning in comparing "grammar" (in a wider sense of orthography) to tyrannical government and slavery, personifying it in jocular fashion as a "bitch".  He wrote in his Northamptonshire dialect, introducing local words to the literary canon such as "pooty" (snail), "lady-cow" (ladybird), "crizzle" (to crisp) and "throstle" (song thrush).

In his early life he struggled to find a place for his poetry in the changing literary fashions of the day. He also felt that he did not belong with other peasants. Clare once wrote:

    "I live here among the ignorant like a lost man in fact like one whom the rest seemes careless of having anything to do with—they hardly dare talk in my company for fear I should mention them in my writings and I find more pleasure in wandering the fields than in musing among my silent neighbours who are insensible to everything but toiling and talking of it and that to no purpose."

It is common to see an absence of punctuation in many of Clare's original writings, although many publishers felt the need to remedy this practice in the majority of his work. Clare argued with his editors about how it should be presented to the public.

Clare grew up during a period of massive changes in both town and countryside as the Industrial Revolution swept Europe. Many former agricultural workers, including children, moved away from the countryside to over-crowded cities, following factory work. The Agricultural Revolution saw pastures ploughed up, trees and hedges uprooted, the fens drained and the common land enclosed.

This destruction of a centuries-old way of life distressed Clare deeply. His political and social views were predominantly conservative ("I am as far as my politics reaches 'King and Country'—no Innovations in Religion and Government say I."). He refused even to complain about the subordinate position to which English society relegated him, swearing that "with the old dish that was served to my forefathers I am content."
John Clare, painted by William Hilton in 1820 (Wikipedia).
The house where Clare was born in Hepston, Peterborough.  The house was subdivided, with Clare's family renting a portion (Wikipedia).

Clare's poem "Autumn:"
The thistledown's flying, though the winds are all still,
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill,
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot;
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red-hot.

The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread,
The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead.
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed,
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.

Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we're eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Lawrence of Arabia's Daggers

T.E. Lawrence, British archeologist and later military officer who assisted the Arab forces against the Ottomans during the First World War, had three Arabian daggers he obtained during the desert campaigns, two silver and one gold.  He gave one away, one is held by the University of Oxford, and one was bought at auction last month for nearly two hundred thousand dollars.

The second silver dagger (Christie's).
Above is the second silver-gilt jambiya dagger (30cm long), gifted to T.E. Lawrence in 1917 by Sherif Nasir at Aqaba after the Arab capture of that town from the Turks.  The dagger was auctioned by Christie’s on July 15, 2015, for a price realised of £122,500 (US $191,713).  (The price realised is the hammer price plus the buyer's premium).

Sherif Nasir was an Arab leader and cousin of Emir Feisal I, a Hashemite prince who was the third son of the Grand Sherif of Mecca, lead the forces of the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans from 1916-18, and was appointed king of Syria and then Iraq after the First World War.  Emir Faisal commanded the Arab forces alongside Abu ibu Tayi in the Battle of Aqaba, with Sherif Nasir participating and Lawrence advising.

Emir Faisal’s delegation at Versailles, during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Left to right: Rustum Haidar, Nuri as-Said, Prince Faisal, Captain Pisani (behind Faisal), T. E. Lawrence, unknown person, Captain Tahsin Kadry (Wikipedia).
 In 1921, Lawrence left the dagger in the possession of sculptor and society hostess Kathleen Scott (widow of Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott), who had seen him at the ballet and not known who he was.  She would later comment to him in a letter that when she had first seen him ‘you had a turban on and I think I thought you had been born in it,’ which makes me wonder why he was wearing a turban to the ballet, who does that.

I have never seen Lawrence in a turban, and they weren’t worn by the Arabs where he was (they still aren’t), so I suspect that when Scott saw him at the ballet he was actually wearing a kefiyyah and agal like he did during the Arab Revolt.  There are many photos of him in one.  Still, why would a Welshman wear that at the ballet.

Scott saw him again at Waterloo station and requested a sitting so she could make a sculpture of him: 
Lawrence acquiesced, stipulating only that she did not ‘do me as Colonel Lawrence (he died Nov. 11. 1918)’. In fact, the resulting sculpture depicted him in just this manner, in full Arab dress, dagger at his waist. Of the sitting on 9 February 1921, Scott wrote: ‘Oh, what a very pleasant day, first Col. Lawrence came. We had great fun about dressing him up in his Arabian clothes, which he finally put on in the drawing room’. After his final sitting on the 20 February, he left the present dagger and robes with Kathleen, that she might continue her work while he sailed to Cairo; it would be over a year later, on the 28 August 1922, that he would write to request their return – ‘There’s a little artist wants to do an Arab picture, & has asked me for kit … Do you think you could provide some from your store?’ – later mentioning in a letter to Lionel Curtis in 1929 (see below) that the dagger still remained in the possession of Lady Hilton Young [Scott having married Edward Hilton Young, later 1st Baron Kennet, in 1922]. No such retrieval was made, and the dagger and the robes have remained in the possession of the family since then.  (Christie’s). 
Lawrence died in a motorcycle accident in 1935 and Lady Kennet died in 1947. This is the only one of Lawrence’s three Arabian daggers known to remain in private hands; it’s being sold by the estate of the last Lady Kennet following her death.

The first silver dagger was given to Lawrence by Sherif Abdullah, elder brother of Feisal and future ruler of the Transjordan. Lawrence presented it as a gift to the Howeitat chiefs in the Wadi Sirhan at the urging of Sherif Nasir - an investment lavishly rewarded by the support of the Bedouin in the assault on Aqaba, according to Christie’s.

 Lawrence appears with a dagger in many photos, including this one from the Telegraph article about the auction:

 I can't tell which dagger he's wearing. It's not the gold dagger, because the gold dagger is a lot smaller and its front bulges.  I think it might be the first silver-gilt dagger, which he gave away in Arabia, as it looks like the shape’s different from the shape of the dagger in the photo provided by Christie's - the point of the dagger being auctioned curves up all the way to the hilt.

Here's another photo of him in the desert somewhere, taken by B.E. Leeson in 1917.  I can't tell if it's the same dagger here either:

(National Portrait Gallery)
Here's a hand-coloured photo of him from 1917.  His dagger is tinted gold, but that doesn't necessarily mean it was gold.  It's definitely not the same shape or size as the gold dagger held by All Souls:

T. E. Lawrence in a classic pose from a photo in the Metcalf collection, 1917 (The Huntington Library).
 His third, smaller gold dagger was sold to his friend Lionel Curtis for £125, and subsequently presented to All Souls’ College, Oxford.  Lawrence was a research fellow at the college from 1919 to 1926.  The college still holds a thobe Lawrence wore, and the canteen set he used during the campaign.

Lawrence's mother gave these robes to All Souls College after his death, in 1938.  He adopted Arab dress in 1916 after being requested to when he joined the Arab forces, because he felt he could not gain the trust of the Arabs while dressed as a British officer, and because Arab dress was better suited to the desert.

Lawrence wore the dagger, discreetly acquired in Mecca in 1917, during the war; it also appears in the famous Augustus John portrait. He had it made small because a full-size one would have been too cumbersome. After the war he sold it to pay for repairs to his Dorset cottage, "Clouds Hill"; in 1938 it was given to All Souls College.  Lawrence had purchased the head-dress in Aleppo in 1912 and given it to his mother the following year. He recovered it to wear during the war because good quality examples were by then hard to obtain. (source).
About 1917 Lawrence had a canteen set made in Jidda to his own design. It included the plate, bowl, and spoon which he carried and used throughout the desert campaigns (source).
 A Hittite horse and rider. Lawrence kept the terracotta figure in his room at All Souls College in Oxford after the war. It dates from the ninth century BC and comes from the area of his excavations at Carchemish before the war (source).
 I haven’t been able to find a picture of the sculpture of Lawrence that Christie’s says Kathleen Scott made, or any other mention of it anywhere, so I’m not sure if it still exists or who might have it.  In 1920 Scott did cast a sculpture of T.E. Lawrence’s younger brother A.W. Lawrence, who was later Cambridge Professor of Classical Archaeology.  It’s a nude statue called "Youth" of a young man with his arms outstretched, which Kathleen Scott (by then Lady Hilton Young) presented to the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge for the opening of the Institute’s building in 1934.

Lady Hilton Young also presented a number of objects and papers to the Institute in memory of her first husband and his four companions, who died on their return journey from the South Pole in 1912.  The statue of A.W. Lawrence still stands outside the building (you can see it here.  It's a photo of the nude statue from behind).  The Latin inscription on its pedestal – LUX PERPETUA LUCEAT EIS – is translated as "let eternal light shine upon them."

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Garden: August 03 2015

I walked into town this morning to go to the bank and pay bills (I haven't payed my healthcare premium in four months, oops), but it was closed.  It turns out it's BC Day, a statutory holiday.  But I got a few things at the grocery store, and I took a few pictures along the way.

Angel wing begonias outside the grocery store.

Fuschias outside the grocery store.
 I believe that's Fuschia triphylla 'Gartenmeister Bonstedt,' which is bushy and upright but is not hardy.  Carl Bonstedt of the Gottingen Botanical Gardens in Germany introduced it along with a bunch of other cultivars in 1904-1905, and it's still very popular. (American Fuschia Society)

Above, some flowers growing along the side of the road.  On the left is rudbeckia, and I think the one on the right might be purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), which is listed as a noxious weed in BC.

The blackberries are coming along.  I ate a bunch and they're actually sweet now.  Himalayan blackberry is also a noxious weed, but at least it produces something edible.

I was surprised when I came back, after nearly fifteen years away, and the gardens were gone and a thriving thicket of Himalayan blackberry and strapping alder trees in their place.  There's blackberry and morning glory up to the eaves, and in some places you can't see out the windows at all.  I've been back a few times over the years, but if I've looked at the gardens in that time I don't remember it.  It's like being in Sleeping Beauty's castle.

Our house is at the bottom of a hill just after the bend of a sharp corner.  There's a concrete barrier along most of the front yard, but there's a 15ft gap in it at the bend.  There's also a straight clear path between the road the the front right corner of the house.  It's perfectly placed for drunks who lose control on the corner to shoot through the front yard and hit the house, which happens frequently.  There used to be fruit trees between the road and the house, and there still are some around the side of the house, but over the years the drunk drivers have cleared a path to the house.

My brother was telling me that last time a drunk hit the house, he was too plastered to find his way out of the yard.  He drove all over the front lawn hitting trees and the concrete barrier.  There is another gap in the barrier next to the driveway that a vehicle can fit through, but it was dark and he was too drunk to find it.  While he's driving around, my brother calls the cops and gives a description of the truck and the driver, and then the guy gets out of the truck and staggers around, so my brother locks all the doors from the inside.  A while later, he saw flashing lights and went outside to meet the cops, and the door slammed and locked behind him, and he didn't have his keys or his wallet on him.

The cops saw a truck abandoned on the lawn and a tall youngish man standing in the yard looking at him, and they decided he was their suspect and would not listen when he said he lived there and he wasn't drunk and he didn't even have a driver's license.  They unzipped his hoodie, and he was wearing a red t-shirt underneath.  He had said the driver was wearing a red shirt, so that sealed it.  They arrested him and put him in the back of the police car while they went to investigate the truck.

Luckily our uncle came by from next door to see what the flashing lights were about, and saw my brother in the back of the cruiser.  The cops believed my uncle that my brother lived there and didn't drive, and they didn't charge him with anything.  I assume they found the driver eventually, since he was catastrophically drunk and had left his truck behind.  All that's left now is a huge dent in the siding on the front right corner of the house.

I'm almost certain I grew this cactus from seed in the sixth grade.  It's survived somehow, although it's barely been watered since my grandmother died eight years ago.

Sweet Cicely seedheads against the summer sky.
You can almost watch the zucchini plants grow.  That little zucchini wasn't there before the weekend, but it's already 4" long.

A rose mallow (Malva sylvestris 'zebrina') growing out of a crack in a concrete path.

Here's a bigger mallow plant growing in Russia.

It's a very old plant and an easy one to grow, technically a short-lived perennial, but ours only live a year.  They reseed themselves and grow back the next year without an any effort or attention.  They have a long flowering season, don't need a lot of water, and aren't invasive.  A good-sized bush will be about three feet tall and two wide.  My grandmother used to grow them, but the only ones left are growing in cracks in the pavement and not in the garden beds. 

Our cats: left, Gracie; right, Jesse.

Shortly after I took this picture, Gracie jumped off the couch and caught one of her claws in the afghan on the way down.  I was reading something and it took me a few moments to realise that she was flailing around on the floor in a panic.  Her paw was still stuck to the afghan sitting on the couch cushion.  I yanked the afghan off the couch and dropped it on the floor.  She freed herself and ran off.

Jesse used to only sit on my lap when he really wanted attention and I wasn't giving him any.  He would sit on my lap and lick my hand while I tried to type on my phone, until I stopped and pet him.  Then he would get off my lap and curl up against me on the couch.  Except last weekend, he curled up on my lap and wouldn't get off.  I moved him and got up and later sat back down again with my laptop on my lap, and he stood next to me on the couch and yowled at me until I put the laptop on the table and let him back on my lap.  And then I was stuck reading on my phone, because I couldn't have both the cat and the computer on my lap at once, and I couldn't reach the coffee table from the couch.

He was really clingy, and I thought maybe he was sick, but he was eating fine and behaving normally, just sitting on me a lot.  But this is the cat who wouldn't even come near me for four months, and then started wandering into my kitchen and demanding to be fed.  I think he just levelled up in trust again.  He's not on my lap all of the time anymore, he's beside me right now, but he still sleeps on me a lot.  I guess that's normal for cats, I'm just not used to it.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Garden: late July 2015

 (Another post I forgot in the drafts folder.  Oops).

Most of the trees in the orchard died years ago and were never replaced, but there's a few types of apples and pears left. The plums are all gone, sadly. We do have one younger plum tree, and for the first time ever it has half a dozen plums on it, but it's been there for 20 years and it's never had plums before.  It needs another tree to pollinate it.  Maybe someone else planted a suitable one?  We can hope.  And whatever it was grafted to is now a thorny bush the size of a truck, and sending up thorny suckers all over the backyard.  That tree was not a success.

Apples on the older tree.  They're fine for cooking or sauce, but they don't taste nearly as good as the apples on the bear tree.

The two pear trees are very old and the fruit isn't that good, but it's fine for juice or canning.

 The bear tree.

A bear tried to climb this small apple tree to get at the fruit a few years ago, so now it's propped up by a stick.  But it's still covered in apples, and my brother said they taste the best out of all the trees.

It was a hot day and the cows were all laying down.  The goldenrod is starting to flower.  I couldn't get any closer because there's a ditch in the way and the ditches here don't fool around.  The ditch is big enough that there are cattails growing in it.  And there's a fence on the other side, so even if it was narrower, jumping the ditch wouldn't work

Add caption
Left: Buddleia.  I haven't seen any butterflies on it, but the bees love it.

Right:  Sunset on the night of July 23 2015.

Garden: late June / early July 2015

I bought this phaelenopsis for I think ten dollars at Costco in February or March and the flowers lasted quite a while, but eventually they fell off. I never got around to cutting off the old flower stalk, since I didn't have scissors that could do the job, or pruner, and a while later I noticed that the plant was growing a new flower stalk partway up the old one. I didn't really think anything would come of it, but to my surprise it kept growing, and then developed buds, and another stalk branched off it. And now it's flowering again, and if the third stalk keeps growing, it will flower for many months. I've never seen a phaelenopsis do that before, or any orchid for that matter.

In our front yard, up near the road, there's a crabapple tree.  I don't know how old it is, or how old crabapple trees live to be.  It was here when my family moved in nearly fifty years ago, and the house is over a hundred years old.  It could be quite old.  It's a small tree, and it's easy to pick the apples, which are less than 3cm across when ripe.  Every year, without fail, it's covered in apples. They're sour and hard and not good to eat, but they can well.  We used to can crabapples, in jars full of red syrup that dyed the apples red over time, and spiced with whole cinnamon sticks.  We've had canned crab apples for decades, but I no longer have the energy to can.  The tree still stands though. 


My younger brother and cousin started vegetables in the greenhouse this year.  The tomatoes are still inside, as you can't really grow them outside with much success here.  The growing season is short and gets quite wet near the end, so the tomatoes get blight before they get ripe, and you can't even use the green ones if they're blighted.  Before the greenhouse was built, we used to pick the tomatoes early while they were still green, and lay them carefully in dresser drawers lined with newspaper, and add an apple to each one, and pick them over every few days.  They would ripen, mostly, but not as much as they would naturally under the sun, and they didn't taste nearly as good as sun-ripened tomatoes.  Still, store-bought tomatoes are expensive and our family was large and not well-off.

The guys have around thirty tomatoes in the greenhouse in one-gallon pots.  They're over two feet high now, and they don't have any tomatoes on them yet, but we're going to have more tomatoes than we'll know what to do with in a few months.

Below is a zucchini plant.  There's about half a dozen of them, and they're planted in a bed outside right now.  Six zucchini plants is a lot of zucchini plants, we're going to have more zucchini than we know what to do with too.  I have no idea what we'll do with it all, probably give it to anyone who'll take some.  We used to make zucchini relish tinted yellow with turmeric and mustard seeds, but that won't happen this year unless the guys do it.  I used to make zucchini marmalade too, and zucchini bread.
The guys are growing basil too, purple and green.  They all like to cook, so they will probably use it for that.  It's quite a bit taller now, I think I took these pictures last month.  My cousin goes into the greenhouse and picks tomatoes off my one tomato plant (which I bought and which does have tomatoes, although they're very small) and wraps basil leaves around them and pops them in his mouth.  He says it's very good, but I haven't tried it.
It's late July, and we're in a level three drought, which is fairly normal for this area, although it's a bit worse than normal this year.  I'm not sure when's the last time we had significant rain, probably May or early June.  We did have one day of rain this month.  The drought means we're under voluntary water restrictions, which is normal.  So we don't water our lawn or anything else, although we probably wouldn't even if there wasn't a drought.  We're not much for lawn care.  My family mostly agrees with me that lawns are a waste of labour and water - seriously, during the growing season, my brother spends nine hours cutting the lawn.  We have a lot of grass.  There are tenants to help him now, and the lawn isn't growing at the moment because it's dry, but that's still a lot of work.

At least half the lawn was never seeded, we just let it grow in naturally after the addition was built and the second septic field was put in (our house is big.  Three generations lived here until my grandmother died).  So it's really a meadow, except that we mow it.  And we only mow it because my mom says it's a fire hazard, it might be required by the house insurance, I don't know.  It's only actually been cut like twice this year, my brother left it until my mom insisted he cut it and it got quite long (she doesn't live here, she lives in a tiny village about half an hour away.  Seriously, it has a population of thirty and it doesn't even have a general store anymore.  It's just a cluster of houses in the woods).

There are all sorts of plants in there, although it's mostly various grasses and yarrow.  Right now, the only thing that's green are the huge patches of yarrow over the septic lines.  The flowers mostly haven't opened yet. 
We picked the first few blackberries a few days ago.  My brother and cousin made some sort of (probably alcoholic) drink with whole blackberries in it in mason jars, but mine are still sitting in the fridge because I don't really know what to do with them.  I'm told the blackberries are early this year (I've been gone so long I don't remember when they usually ripen.  Today is July 23) and they looked ripe but maybe we should have left them a bit longer because they're very sour.  They're so sour that I could only eat a few, and I don't like cooked fruit so I can't just bake something.  Someone suggested I make smoothies with them, and I might, but I haven't felt like eating lately.  I might just end up freezing them.
Blackberry flowers. I think I took this photo in June. Some of the brambles still have flowers, but they're mostly green berries right now.

There are apples now! I haven't seen apple trees in a very long time.  There's a few trees, but the ones on the bear tree are tinged with red, they're the prettiest.  And my brother says they taste the best too.  It's called the bear tree because a bear tried to climb it to get at the fruit a few years ago, and now it's growing out of the side of the hill at a forty-five degree angle, propped up by a 2x4.  It survived though, and it's covered in fruit.
Apples on the bear tree
Buddleia.  Very pretty and drought-tolerant and fast-growing, and the butterflies love it.  I haven't seen any butterflies though.

There are wild roses mixed in with some of the blackberry brambles at the bottom of the yard.  They smell nice.  I took this photo in June too.
There's a clump of tansy at the top of the hill beside the road.  It's very pretty, and looks like it's tough.

Tansy has a long history of use. It was first recorded as being cultivated by the ancient Greeks for medicinal purposes. In the 8th century AD it was grown in the herb gardens of Charlemagne and by Benedictine monks of the Swiss monastery of Saint Gall. Tansy was used to treat intestinal worms, rheumatism, digestive problems, fevers, sores, and to “bring out” measles.

In England, sprigs of it were placed in bedding to drive out insects.  A yellow dye was made from it.

In the 15th century, Christians began serving tansy with Lenten meals to commemorate the bitter herbs eaten by the Israelites.  Tansy was thought to have the added Lenten benefits of controlling flatulence brought on by days of eating fish and pulses and of preventing the intestinal worms believed to be caused by eating fish during Lent.

Tansy has also been cultivated and used for its insect repellent and in the worm warding type of embalming.  It was packed into coffins, wrapped in funeral winding sheets, and tansy wreaths were sometimes placed on the dead.   Henry Dunster, the first president of Harvard University, was buried wearing a tansy wreath in a coffin packed with tansy; when “God’s Acre” was moved in 1846 the tansy had maintained its shape and fragrance, helping to identify the president’s remains.  By the 19th century, tansy was used so much at New England funerals that people began to disdain it for its morbid association with death.

During the American colonial period, meat was frequently rubbed with or packed in tansy leaves to repel insects and delay spoilage.  Tansy was frequently worn at that time in shoes to prevent malaria and other fevers;  it has been shown, however, that some mosquito species including Culex pipiens take nectar from tansy flowers.

 (All info from Wikipedia)