I’m taking part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this month, it will be my 5th year of doing so and I look forward to it every year. Identify and count the number of wild birds visiting your garden for just 1 hour during 24th – 25th January (pick a day that suits you), it’s so easy to do and gives you an hour of relaxation. What if I don’t have a garden? Don’t worry, you can still take part by doing the count in your local park or green space.
My allotment plot and garden welcome many species of beneficial wildlife, such as hoverflies, lacewings, bees, ladybirds, butterflies (yes, butterflies are very welcome on my plot!) and lovely little mason bees. I grow plenty of flowers throughout the year to attract them, and my organic approach to gardening ensures there will always be food in the form of juicy aphids.
Providing bee and bug boxes in your garden helps to attract the good guys too, these safe hidey places are essential for surviving cold winters and reproduction with certain species.
Mason bees visit my plot to use the bee boxes as nests to reproduce, I find it fascinating to watch females carrying mud to seal the entrance to a nesting tube. In turn, they pollinate my fruit bushes and most probably my plot neighbours too.
Some of my boxes were purchased or gifted, and some were made using scraps of wood nailed together to form a box and filled with hollowed out bamboo canes. Online gardening shops and garden centres sell bee or bug boxes, I recently picked up a couple of nice examples from Waitrose and Poundstretcher stores.
I re-painted the Waitrose bee box (pictured above right) using a tester pot by Cuprinol Garden Shades (country cream).
I’m planning to make a bug ‘hotel’ using stacked pallets and other materials inserted into the gaps between each pallet. Now is a great time to provide some shelter for our helpful beasties, they’ll repay your favour by munching on the bugs you really don’t want on your veg. And, if you’re really lucky, you might just see mason bees nesting in your boxes from late April onwards.
A couple of weeks ago, following a storm, I found a little bird nest.
Thankfully empty (with no sign of eggs anywhere near) it lay there, upside down on the lawn, perfect and beautiful. A victim of the destructive gale force winds.
It’s a miniature work of art, and I wanted to share its beauty through my photographs. Each piece of the nest carefully and expertly constructed, using natural materials of twigs, moss and leaves, with soft man-made fibres lining the centre.
I got a little emotional when I spotted long black and tan dog hair entwined with the fibres, I recognised them instantly. Our boy, a German Shepherd who we lost suddenly last summer, lives on in this nest. And for this very reason, I’ll treasure it.
I’m so excited! I spotted this lovely couple in the wildlife pond early this morning, a pair of common frogs in a copulatory embrace called Amplexus. I rushed to the house to grab my camera before they disappeared. During our first spring living here we saw plenty of frog couples, but until now they had little choice but to use the large Koi pond, ending in disastrous results for the spawn.
If this pair (or any others) spawn in the wildlife pond it will have a greater chance of becoming tadpoles, I’m especially happy because our wildlife pond is less than a year old. We decided to add an additional small pond to our garden not long after moving here, our intention being to offer the already present frog and newt community a safe place to reproduce successfully.
Have you spotted any spawn where you are? Take part in this years Big Spawn Count and record your findings, the more people counting, the better the information to help provide more of an insight into the amorous lives of toads and frogs.
Anyone can take part in the Big Spawn Count by going to their garden or school pond, and counting the number of spawn present. You can print the form to help you complete the survey, please enter the results on-line afterwards.
I’ll be watching, will you?
National Nest Box Week (NNBW) runs from 14th February to 21st February. The aim of NNBW is to encourage everyone to put up nest boxes in their garden, allotment or local area in order to promote and enhance biodiversity and conservation of our breeding birds and wildlife. Being a big fan of helping wildlife I provide nest boxes in my garden and at my allotment, but I confess to not knowing about National Nest Box Week until now. Gasp!
Here are a few facts about National Nest Box Week:
- NNBW is organised each year by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Britain’s leading bird research charity, whose work primarily involves studying the populations of our common and garden birds.
- NNBW takes place each year from 14-21 February, and after 10 years it is now an established part of the ornithological calendar.
- The founding sponsor and co-organiser of NNBW is Jacobi Jayne & Co., Britain’s nest box specialists, who created the idea of National Nest Box Week together with the late Chris Mead of the BTO.
To get involved and contribute to the conservation effort in the UK, simply put a bird box in your garden or any other place that you can, monitor your box and take part in the Nest Box Challenge during early spring by recording your findings online (something else I’d never heard about before, double gasp!). http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/nbc
Make your own bird/nest box using these plans: http://www.bto.org/nnbw/make.htm
To find out more about National Nest Box Week visit: http://www.bto.org/nnbw/index.htm
Mason bees were attracted to our bee box at the allotment last May, it was fascinating watching them building nests within the hollow tubes. Mason bees are non-aggressive solitary bees, they are very small and do not sting unless really threatened (a sting is not usually painful and only females are capable). They do not swarm, bother people or produce honey, but they are prolific pollinators. Named because of their habit of making compartments of mud in their nests, which are made in hollow reeds or holes in wood. Mason bees will also use handmade or purpose-built bee boxes to nest, hollowed out bamboo canes or tubes will attract them, drilled holes in wood blocks will attract them too.
Nest building begins in spring, it’s a good idea to have a bee box in place beforehand if you’re thinking of providing a nesting site to attract them to your garden or allotment. Site bee boxes in a position that receives early morning sun, on a tree, post, wall or shed for example. Have a go at making your own Mason bee box or purchase a ready-made box suited to Mason bees. I particularly like these examples http://myfriendlygarden.co.uk/product-category/for-bees/
This will be my 4th year taking part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. Identify and count the number of wild birds visiting your garden for just 1 hour during 25th – 26th January (pick a day that suits you), it’s so easy to do and gives you an hour of relaxation. What if I don’t have a garden? Don’t worry, you can still take part by doing the count in your local park or green space.
Register to take part before the event and apply for your free bird identification chart to help you with your count. Visit https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/home
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.
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?
I checked the bug box on the allotment shed yesterday and found a ‘mud plug’ sealing the entrance to a tube, indicating a completed nest. I didn’t have my camera to hand so I used my Apple iPad.
The weather has been utterly gorgeous, I planted sweetcorn, giant pumpkins and three varieties of courgette, then gave the whole plot a good soaking. I noticed the foxglove raised from seed is flowering now, I had no idea what colour the flowers would be but I’m pleased, they look gorgeous against the blue shed.
More iPad photos:
Lupins are slow to get going this year (just one in flower so far), but they will!
I planted courgettes in the bean bed (beans will be planted out soon), I use courgettes in this way as ground cover which cuts down on weeding, the courgette plants eventually shade bean roots as they grow, cutting down on watering.
Back to the plot today to plant sunflowers!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
There hasn’t been much going on in the vegetable garden lately, persistent heavy rain and gusty winds constantly prevent any real activity from happening. The greenhouse is heaving with plants crying out to be planted out, I’ve yet to sow a bean seed, carrots are just a disaster and I’ve just about given up trying to keep the summer raspberry canes tied in to their support, they’re trailing on the ground again and that’s where they’re probably safe to be honest. More high winds are set to batter our region this weekend.
Aside from letting the hens out early in the morning, some days I haven’t bothered to venture outside for fear of a tree landing on my head. Our neighbour suffered substantial damage to her fence and garden when a huge tree came down, the noise and destruction was horrific but luckily nobody was hurt. But, there’s some good news with all this wet weather we’re having; potatoes, strawberries and onions are thriving, the lawn is looking the best it ever has and lots of small frogs are regularly visiting the wildlife pond, and being quite brazen about it too.
I don’t miss all the watering this time of year usually requires, but, please, a break from the wet and wild weather would be nice. I’m starting to lose enthusiasm.
Today was the first day of spring and a beautiful one it was too. I spent a few hours in the vegetable garden, getting a few jobs done. I couldn’t help but notice the 7-spot ladybirds breeding, my garden is a magnet for them at the moment.
They certainly seemed to be enjoying the warm sunshine. Ahem! Record your ladybird sightings at: http://www.ladybird-survey.org