Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Why phacelia is an agricultural winner

July 19th, 2014

YOU COULD be forgiven for thinking that the two fields of startlingly blue flowers growing just outside Brechin, on the road to Montrose, are lavender. My agricultural gurus confirmed that, in fact, it is phacelia which I’ve seen growing in small patches but not as an apparent crop.

I’ve learned it is grown as green manure. Once the flowers and foliage die back they are ploughed into the ground to provide an organic answer to artificial fertilisers. It promotes healthy soil and healthy crops, altogether an ecological win-win situation.

Some years ago a reader contacted me about strips of phacelia growing round the headlands of the fields at Prettycur Farm, Hillside, outside Montrose. I phoned farmer Alex Sanger to remind myself about his comments at the time.

Phacelia has a double benefit apart from its value as green manure. It attracts bees, hoverflies, lacewings and other pollinators which are essential to a successful crop and are good news for the farmer.

Aphids are destructive agricultural pests and consequently bad news, but hoverfly larvae feed on them. To protect his broad bean crop from aphids Alex planted phacelia so that predator and prey were next door to each other, making economical as well as agricultural sense.

Phacelia provides conservation benefits too. Alex wants to encourage our native grey partridge which have suffered a sad decline in recent years.

The tall stems provide ideal cover for partridge chicks from hunting buzzards and sparrow hawks when they are at their most vulnerable. It’s an excellent source of caterpillars, beetles and other plant bugs that the chicks thrive on when the hen partridge takes her brood to forage.

They say that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Perhaps, in this case, it really is.

At the gate of a field of barley was a pile of old fertiliser bags filled with oats – which weren’t. They were wild oats and not the type that the more unrestrained readers of this column might have sown in their youth!

Wild oats are an unwelcome weed on cultivated agricultural land and will spread and compete with the principal crop if not eradicated. This is done by inspecting the whole field on foot – rogueing it is called – to get rid of the rogue plants by pulling them up by the roots.

It’s bad enough finding a wasp’s bike in the loft but when neighbours found two, luckily both built outside under the eaves of their house, it probably exceeded their worst expectations.

Dave Dalgetty, the local pest control expert from Fettercairn, was quickly on the scene. Dressed in his bee suit to protect his face and hands he was up his ladder with a chemical spray that freezes the insects, killing them instantly.
Dave explained that more queen wasps than usual survived the mild winter and spring and it’s turning into a busy summer dealing with wasp eradication.

The bike, or nest, made of paper produced from the wasps’ saliva and chewed wood, is surely another of nature’s wonders. As the family of wasps grows, so does the size of the nest to accommodate them.

Son James lives in a wooden eco-house and has told us that on quiet, windless days he can hear the wasps chewing at the walls of his house gathering the building material for their own.

When the bigger of the two nests, almost the size of a football, was opened there were red strips and white strips showing in the paper walls. Wood had been gathered from redwood bark, probably nearby Wellingtonias, as well as local white pine fencing.

A colourful welcome greets you as you drive into Forfar from Kirriemuir and Padanaram. A section of the grass verge at the outskirts of the town has been planted with a wildflower mix – it says so on the notice.

It’s a proper wee wildflower meadow and looking its best with everything in full bloom. Grass verges often aren’t treated with fertilisers or chemicals and the flowers can grow quite naturally.

The little site provides butterflies and honey bees, bumblebees and even wasps with a ready source of nectar, and us humans with a fleeting moment of pleasure as we race by in our cars.

Written on Saturday, July 19th, 2014 at 1:10 pm for Weekly.