Promise of a hot summer!

Promise of a hot summer!

Gerry spotted several of this insect among our olives and Eric Gabiot (who photographed insects here last year) told us it is the Libelloides coccajus, or Ascalaphe in French (because it is in the Ascalaphidae family). We had to double about like young chamois to catch up with it and take the photo as it is fast-flying. It attacks other insects in flight and its larvae are fearsome predators on the soil. It is rare and only lays its eggs on perennial herbaceous plants in meadows which are not used for grazing, so we’re doing the right thing here only cutting the grass once a year which allows a full growing cycle and promotes this interesting bio-diversity. The Ascalaphe is a good sign: hopefully it will eat millions of the olive fruit fly and it’s thermophile so presages a very hot...
Larvae

Larvae

The wild boar have caused a lot of trouble this winter, rootling about in the soil like tractors, digging about for rotten wood because that’s where insects lay their eggs, which turn into juicy fat larvae, which they love. In the process they rip out and scatter stones everywhere which have to be cleared up or they will damage the grass cutter. This afternoon, cleaning up stones – again – I came across two of the culprits (see photo) in a rotten stump. They were huge! The larvae of stag horn beetles, about 7 cms long, fat as my thumb, and, if you’re a pig, Yum, Yum! Once quite common, the population of the Lucanus cervus, along with that of other species of beetles which feed on wood, is in steep decline, and is now listed as a globally threatened/declining species. Someone ought to tell the pigs. The larvae go through several developmental stages (instars), taking 4 to 6 years (!) to become pupae. The work of entomologist Charlie Morgan during the late 1970s discovered that the pupae of the stag beetle live in the soil for about 3 months, then emerge in summer to fly off awkwardly to mate. Their slow, lumbering flight, usually at dusk, makes a distinctive low-pitched whirring sound. Adults only live for a few months feeding on nectar and tree...
Frost Damage

Frost Damage

The very cold weather in February, with snow which persisted for ten days, caused widespread damage to olive trees all over Provence. Temperatures dropped to -12 and even -16, which is the limit for most olive trees, and stayed low for days. The tips of branches, main branches and in some places whole trees froze solid, but the damage wasn’t immediately obvious because the trees were dormant, unmoving. So, as soon as the weather improved, the sap rose, the trees started to produce their new leaves, and the branches began to swell with the new season’s growth. And splits appeared (see photo). A killing frost ‘ring-barks’ a branch, or trunk, separating the bark all round the branch entirely from the hard wood beneath. Some producers in the Var have been badly hit and lost many whole trees. We’ve been lucky, for a change. We haven’t lost any trees, but a couple of trees have needed a harsher pruning than might otherwise have been necessary, cutting the branches right back to a basic goblet shape, or ‘charpente’. We found quite a few small tips split so the February ‘cold snap’ seems to have been at the limit for our trees Happily January wasn’t especially warm or the sap would have been rising already which leaves the tree very susceptible to a sudden freeze. The fact that there had been no rain at all since the downpours in November probably helped too. Had the trees been swollen with rainwater, the branches would have been solfter and more vulnerable. Our trees are exposed to wind in some places, which may have dispersed...
Bizzy Bees

Bizzy Bees

The weather is warm and sunny, the apricots which flowered earlier are already producing small fruits, and the cherries and plums are in full blossom… Attracted by the scent, bees of all sorts are busy collecting pollen, the air filled with industrious...

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