Thousands of thrushes, mainly redwings and fieldfares (rødvingetrost og gråtrost) arrived back in this part of Norway over the last couple of weeks and local breeders are already established in their territories. Both species breed right up to the tree line where there’s still a lot of snow and will forage for food on agricultural land until the snow disappears, mainly on higher ground. However, there’s been significant snow falls higher up and the snow line has moved back into the lowlands as is common at this time of year. Many of the new arrivals are then pressed down and concentrated on a narrow strip of lower ground near the fjord where there is only a sprinkling of snow which will disappear again during the day. This happened today and a large flock of very talkative birds arrived in the garden and some, mainly, redwings can be heard singing at the start and then many of the fieldfares take to flight in the second segment…
Chiffchaff and Willow
My interest in recording the incredible diversity of insects in my 40 year old edible forest garden lead to a much better understanding of the importance of different key species for the biological diversity present in the garden and the goat willow (selje) is perhaps the most important species of all despite the fact it is only a very marginal edible plant for us. I was aware of the importance of the nectar provided by willow to bumble bees and wild bees in the spring, but I was totally unaware earlier of the importance of this tree for moths emerging as adults in mid-April. I have so far recorded over 30 species of moth which are dependent on willow either in spring or in the larval stage (see the amazing diversity of the moths photographed in the garden in the picture at the bottom. However, this also explains the arrival of the chiffchaff (gransanger) and other migratory species in a wave in the middle of April here…arriving to a ready supply of insect food. The videos show our chiffchaff insect catching up amongst the catkins of one of the goat willows in the garden on 21st April, often singing as he hunts. Another fascination I’ve had for many years is the incredible complexity and beauty of bird song when slowed down (like a sound microscope; after hearing a BBC radio program about this and particularly the song of the wren: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9x2rjExeW8). The second video is of the chiffchaff at normal and 10% speed as it hunts amongst willow catkins. The third video is also slowed down and shows a singing flycatching chiffchaff and a bumble bee flies past at the end (see at full screen)!
Emerging sallow catkins and biodiversity on the rise in the garden
As the most important tree for insect diversity in the spring – goat willow / selje (Salix caprea) – emerges into flower, two more moths that feed on the catkins turned up in the garden this morning, yellow horned (vårhalvspinner) and clouded drab (variabelt seljefly). Just waiting now for the influx of birds (chiffchaff, dunnock, thrushes) that feed on this insect feast!
There are records of arctic peoples chewing the flowers of various Salix species for the sweet taste and, from Alaska “Indigenous children strip the catkins of this shrub and chew them. They are commonly referred to as “Indigenous bubble-gum” and are eaten before seeds ripen in June and July”.
The catkins of Salix caprea taste good to me, but I don’t know of any use of this species historically.
Monkey puzzle overwinters in Malvik
It looks like I’ve finally managed to overwinter a monkey puzzle tree (apeskrekk) here in Malvik probably thanks to stable but not very cold winter weather! It only needs a partner and a wait until my 108th birthday to harvest the first Malvik monkey puzzle piñones I’ve sowed more seed this winter!
Doug Clifford eats dandelion
A curiosity in an occasional series “The famous eat dandelions”: From the documentary Creedence at the Royal Albert Hall where they played in 1970, drummer Doug Clifford asks the cameraman if he’s eaten a dandelion and proceeds to eat a flower :)
Fairchild’s Experiments with Udo from 1914!
Yesterday, I introduced Agricultural Explorer David Fairchild who, inspired from visiting Japan, was determined to try to introduce udo (Aralia cordata) and wrote an interesting paper 120 years ago giving more details about this novel perennial vegetable:
Udo introduction to the US with cultivation instructions (1903)
11 years later in 1914, he wrote a really interesting report summing up his experiences with udo. It blows my mind to read how much work was done on this plant over 100 years ago, but sad to see that it was never adopted in a big way! You can read the whole report and I recommend you do, but I’ve picked out some titbits from the report that I found particularly interesting followed by a few other interesting excerpts from various inventories of introduced plants to the US!
Selecting for a local early broad bean
I sowed broad (fava) bean / bondebønner (Vicia faba) seed indoors yesterday as there’s still snow where I’d planned to put them outside. In addition to my late broad bean grex with a mix of colours, I thought it would also be worthwhile to start developing a local early variety which could also potentially be useful in more marginal areas such as North Norway and mountain areas. I’m starting with 4 early varieties, two from IPK Gatersleben: 1) Expresse Zeer Vroege Witkiem (meaning “very early white germ (seed)” (FAB424), Express (FAB 7066), my own selection of the commercial variety Express which I’ve grown as my early sort for some years and another purportedly early variety De Monica from Chiltern Seeds. I’ll select mainly for earliness and seed size.
Two spring signs
This spring sign today went unnoticed for many years, one of many moth species that has been registered feeding on Salix caprea (goat willow / selje) in spring, soon to be in flower here: this is the satellite / bølgefly (Eupsilia transversa); it overwinters as an adult. I’ve recorded it over the last few years from 14th March to 2nd May and once in the autumn. Its larval food plants are a variety of broad-leaved trees and shrubs including blackthorn, hawthorn, hazel, field maple, sweet chestnut and elms (all of which are found in the garden).
The first bumblebees have been out in the garden this week on snowdrops and Crocus, here a tree bumblebee / trehumle (Bombus hypnorum), one of the commonest species here. It will too soon move over to goat willow (selje)!
Udo introduction to the US with cultivation instructions (1903)
I stumbled upon this interesting US Department of Agriculture Bulletin from 1903 by David Fairchild, who calls himself Agricultural Explorer, entitled “Three New Plant Introductions from Japan”. There are 4 pages and some photos concerning udo (Aralia cordata) in the article “Udo : A new winter salad” (see pages 17-20 and the plates in the pdf below). This gives detailed growing instructions for “Kan udo” and “Moyashi udo” for harvesting during winter (October to May); these are cultivation techniques rather than udo varieties. Winter cultivation is more relevant to areas with relatively warm winters.
The other two plant introductions are Edgeworthia chrysantha as a fibre plant (for producing paper) and wasabi (Wasabia japonica).
Kyle Dougherty posted on my Edimentals Facebook group in 2021 about the same program with a great picture of udo cultivation and wrote “Here’s an interesting story for the udo (Aralia cordata) fans out there. In 1902 the USDA imported some 25,000 improved udo plants into the United States from Japan for trialing as a new vegetable crop. Plants were grown at the experiment station in Rockville, MD until at least 1917, and were also distributed to private gardens around the country and the Chico field station in CA. The Rockville experiment station is long gone, and is now the site of Montgomery College, but I can’t help but wonder if any of these plants are still out there somewhere. It’s also kind of a bummer that it never really caught on despite the effort the USDA put into it.”
Here’s the document I discovered (pages and plates are repeated below)