Today was beautiful, a welcome break from wet and windy weather that seems to be hanging around. We visited the allotment to harvest the remainder of the beets and to do a spot of weeding. There’s still a fair bit of work to be done before the real winter weather arrives, mainly harvesting, tidying and hand weeding. Oh, and garlic planting. Lots of garlic.
We sat for a while in the warm sunshine listening to the sounds of the allotment, observing the 2 minute silence at 11am. Then I noticed a Comma butterfly visiting the Field Scabious growing on our plot, a very welcome visitor. Going by the wing shape and condition I’m pretty certain our Comma visitor was male and from the summer brood, he will hibernate soon and be on the wing next spring with a bit of luck.
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on November 10, 2013
Last year nearly 27,000 people took part in the Big Butterfly Count. It’s simple to do, follow the simple instructions in the video clip above and away you go! This years Big Butterfly Count runs from 20th July to 11th August 2013, but you can start recording your sightings now if you wish. Visit http://www.bigbutterflycount.org to download your free ID chart.
I’m taking part, are you?
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on July 16, 2013
We have some exciting news to share! Mason bees (Osmia rufa) are making nests inside the bamboo cane bug box, sited on the allotment shed. Mason bees are solitary and do not form colonies or produce honey. The Mason bee gets it name due to using mud in building nest compartments, rather like a stone mason constructing a house. After mating, males die and females begin collecting pollen and nectar to build nests. After laying her eggs (males at the front and females at the back), the female seals the entrance to the tubular nest using mud. Mason bees may nest inside reeds or holes in wood made by wood-boring insects, some British species make their nests in empty snail shells. Luckily for us, 3-4 females have chosen to use our bug box.
If you look closely, you may just be able to see a couple of the mud-sealed nest entrances
The bug box is in full sun, sited approximately 5′ 8″ high, this is the first time the box has been used by bees. The bees were very calm considering we were about, using the shed and nearby area as we usually would. Mason bees are usually non-aggressive and will only sting if they are really threatened, ie being held between fingers. They would much rather get on with the job of building a nest rather than defending it.
We’re thrilled to be able to watch the bees, they’re brilliant little pollinators and very welcome on our plot. Plot 4 is certainly living up to its name – The Little Haven.
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on May 27, 2013
I recently blogged about frogs in the koi pond, pleasantly surprised to see several ‘frog couples’ I quickly realised their spawning efforts would be in vain. Forty (or so) Koi most likely enjoyed frog-egg suppers and breakfasts. I did go spawn-spotting but never got the chance to save it.
The main pond
Just a few of our Koi
A few days after the frog visits we spotted a smooth newt swimming to the rocks (sadly my camera wasn’t to hand), this was very exciting indeed. Pond life activity increased on and in the koi pond during the recent warm weather, water boatmen and pond skaters have arrived too. We decided to help our amphibian visitors successfully reproduce by introducing a small wildlife pond near the main pond, with plenty of mature plants and large rocks to act as hiding places and cover, the elevated position inside the rockery will protect it to a degree from frost.
The rockery surrounds the koi pond, the wildlife pond is just inside the rockery in the photo
The wildlife pond is quite small, just a puddle in comparison to the main pond, but that doesn’t matter. We placed rotting wood logs nearby and planted grasses, foliage and creeping plants such as Ivy around the pond edge. Inside the pond there’s floating oxygenating plants, floating and potted water cress, water forget-me-not, a submerged lily and marsh marigold. Gradually the plants will mature and provide extra cover around the pond edge, the corners have shallow levels to make it easier for wildlife to climb in and out.
Happy frog in the new wildlife pond
Already a frog is visiting the new pond daily, every evening a pair of sparkling golden eyes blink back at me from the water. We realise it’s probably too late for spawning frogs now, but it’s there, ready and waiting to welcome pond life throughout the year.
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on May 10, 2013
Our garden is a visual and audible treat at the moment, even though spring arrived a little late this year everything appears to be catching up. The huge pine trees are a nursery to many garden birds right now, twiggy nests can be seen in branches.
Blackbirds are nesting inside the rockery conifers surrounding the pond, occasionally I hear the ’peep peep’ sound of hungry chicks throughout the day, eagerly awaiting the return of their parents with food. At dusk we are treated to an aerial display of bats hunting, if we listen really carefully we can just make out the distinct clicking-sound. Another nocturnal visitor to our garden and a favourite of mine is the hedgehog, they can be heard snuffling around the lawn at night, on a clear moon-lit evening we might catch a glimpse of one, scurrying off into bushes.
I’ve noticed squirrels digging in the lawn, taking off for the pine trees when I approach. I love watching them leap from tree to tree with the grace and skill of a gymnast. Some of the fruit trees are ablaze with blossom, attracting bumblebees in their numbers, daffodils are just finishing now and Forget-me-nots are taking centre stage, creating a pretty blue haze.
I saw my first ladybird of the year yesterday and a number of butterflies on the wing are passing through the garden too, mainly Peacock. Here’s a great website for those unfamiliar with UK butterfly species: http://www.britishbutterflies.co.uk/index.asp
I love nature, especially during spring. I hope you’re enjoying watching and listening to nature/wildlife in your garden too.
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on May 2, 2013
I’ve seen at least three frog-couples since the weekend, sometimes sat at the edge of the pond and other times swimming around. Each morning (and some evenings by torchlight) I check the pond for spawn but so far nothing. Last year, before we moved house, frogs spawned in the wildlife pond we made, we enjoyed watching the spawn develop into tadpoles and eventually froglets.
The pond here at our new property is deep with no shallow areas (although frogs can get in and out without any problems) and is home to large Koi, if the frog couples I have seen are spawning then it’s very likely the Koi are eating it. There are no other ponds nearby, so I’d like to help our froggy-friends by introducing a small shallow pond within the rockery surrounding the large pond. Under cover of shrubbery and surrounded by rocks and crevices, I’m hoping females will eventually choose to use it.
If you’ve found spawn in your pond, pop along to Big Spawn Count 2013 and use the online form to record your findings.
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on April 18, 2013
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on April 10, 2013
Watch the birds visiting your garden or local park on the weekend of 26 – 27 January 2013 and submit your sightings (bird sighting form will be open from the birdwatch weekend until 15 February 2013) to the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. I take part every year, it’s very easy and only takes an hour of your time! http://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/
Register to receive a free birdwatch pack full of tips:
You can also download and print out this handy bird ID sheet to help with your birdwatch:
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on January 14, 2013
I was admiring how well the onions were swelling the other day, suddenly I noticed some of the leaves had been chewed in a neat circular way. Something had completely sliced open the tips of the leaves (bulbs are fine), so I did a bit of investigating to see what it could be. It didn’t take long to find the culprits way down inside the hollow leaves, complete with lots of green poop. Nice.
After a bit of research it appears the podgy caterpillars I found inside my onion leaves are cutworms. Cutworms are the larvae of several species of night flying moths, they’re not actually worms at all. Apparently, they’re a common visitor to the vegetable garden but I’ve never noticed them before, I mean, they’re not exactly easy to miss.
They hide in soil or under leaf litter, feeding on crops and other plants at night (more common early in the year), often cutting young plants or seedlings straight down to ground level. I guess that’s how they get their rather cruel name. When alarmed they curl into a C-shape, my personal observation is they have very sticky feet, making them difficult to pick off plants. They’re large and meaty so I didn’t fancy squishing them (I’m useless at killing things anyway), they’d make a heck of a mess. I simply moved on the ones I found and did a bit of hoeing to see if I could spot any lurking in the soil.
Gardening organically and living where I do I’m always going to have the odd ‘pest’ problem here and there, that’s how it goes. I don’t use nasty chemical sprays, my preferred method of natural control will be to keep a close eye for more, picking them off if I see them, digging the onion bed over after harvesting to expose any I may have missed. Cutworms have many natural predators including wild birds, our chickens will scratch in the onion bed later on in the year too.
Cutworms, your days are numbered.
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on August 13, 2012
As you look upon your soggy vegetable beds with pity, spare a thought for our struggling butterflies and moths too. I’m sure you didn’t need me to point out the distinct lack of them this year, it’s a real concern, our native species are already in trouble. With your input the charity Butterfly Conservation can keep a really close eye on how our butterflies and moths are faring this year.
Pop over to the Big Butterfly Count to find out how you can help: http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/about
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on July 16, 2012