Monthly Archives: January 2012

Taming the Jungle

I’ve taken advantage of the mild weather and spent time today hacking through the jungle that is my border.  I now have a mountain of dead growth culled off the garden. Underneath, I’ve found some little gems, in my book anyway. Sedums, bergenia (in flower!) and ferns galore adorn a badly neglected ‘rockery’ currant bun style. It will need a major overhaul, as it’s choked with couch grass and brambles threaten nearby. But with work and a change of rockery construction I’m sure will look stunning. It’s a border that backs onto our patio, so I want it to look good as well as attract wildlife. My lifestyle as well as the wildlife’s is important!

bird cam goldfinches

bird cam goldfinches

I also found, on the other border, a bird’s nest from last year. I feel rather guilty for clearing this area, as the nest site clearly won’t be available for this years birds, but as I’m planning more hedge planting and will be getting the current one into shape there will ultimately be more places for them to nest, not less. We’ve already put a nest box high in a tree and have another one to go up, making four in total.

Bird cam was left on video setting today, and caught a lot of goldfinches and greenfinches plundering the feeders. But the quality wasn’t good. We had a the distance setting a little out, and sunlight staring into the lens, so I need to think more carefully before setting it up next time. It’s all a learning experience! One or two of the jpegs came out OK, so they’re here for you, as is a photograph of the found nest. Anyone know what species made it? The secateurs are there for scale.

bird nest

bird nest found in the garden

In the trees at the bottom of the garden, I counted 30+ goldfinches. They don’t all come to the feeders at once, but I’m sure take turns in groups of six to ten at a time. A charm of goldfinches, if ever I saw one. They have to be among our prettiest native species.

bird cam goldfinches and greenfinches

bird cam goldfinches and greenfinches

12 Wild Flowers To grow In A Nature Garden

I’ve been really busy  the last couple of days actually making a start in my new garden. I’m faced with overgrown, neglected beds that need renovation. Before I can dig them over, I need to wait for spring to assess what’s already there. I’ve been able to dig out some brambles, cut down dead overgrowth and identify snowdrops and crocosmia  so I’ve started at last to be able to see what comes up when spring comes. But of course it’s dark by 4.30pm, so the long evenings are spent blogging to you and dreaming of what I will grow. I brought a lot of stuff from my old garden in containers, and they all sit on the patio awaiting replanting. Many of them are native plants suitable for gardens which will be rich in nectar and pollen for our insects to feast on.

This will help keep a balance in the ecology of the garden and hopefully increase the diversity. I’ve made a wildlife poster to illustrate the 12 wild flowers to grow in my garden. There will be more, but these are particular favourites I wanted to share with you.

12 wild flower poster

wild flower poster

Incidentally,  I’ve put this poster for sale, so if you want a copy just click here.

What wild flower can you add to your garden this spring?

5 Winter Greens to Grow on the Windowsill

Here are 5 winter fresh greens to grow so easily you’ll be amazed and wonder why you haven’t done it sooner. You can buy special sprouting seed trays, which stack and drain very easily, but why not re-cycle a jam or coffee jar and some old tights? That’s all you need to grow these nutritious fresh greens. Add to salads, sprinkle into stir-fires or use as a vitamin packed garnish costing a fraction of those at the supermarket and once you’ve bought a pack of seeds you don’t have to go shopping (carbon and money-saving even more). They’re also organically grown if you think about it. Water and no additives!

All sprouted seeds have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than their fully grown counterparts, as the nutrition in concentrated in them so they can grow. The content of each varies, but they’re all great for you and at this stage sweeter, tastier and more crunchy. To see more detail, click into the picture.

sprouted seed winter greens

sprouted seed winter greens

I grew all of these in less than a week from opening the packet of seeds to putting them on the plate. All you do is place a tablespoon or so of seeds into a large jar or layer of a seed sprouter, covering the end of the jar with a bit of old tights or stocking. Secure this with an elastic band. Rinse them with room temperature water, drain and leave on the windowsill ( but not in bright sunlight). Do this twice a day until the sprouts have reached the size you want to eat. Some have rough seed coats that you might not want to chew, but if you put the grown sprouts into a bowl of water and stir, most of the husks will float and you can scoop them off and put them in the compost bin. Nothing wasted, ecologically!

Some sprouts, such as mung beans, used in stir fries, are better grown in the dark to make the sprouts grow longer and juicier before they go tough and bitter. Just pop them in a kitchen cupboard between waterings. And beware! Not all seeds can be sprouted. Many of the bean family are poisonous raw, so don’t try to sprout runner, French, kidney or other true beans. Check a seed catalogue for the most appropriate ones. Thompson and Morgan and Kings Seeds do good ranges. You don’t have to pay through the nose, though, for tiny packets from specialist seed growers. I buy standard packets of mung beans and whole lentils from the supermarket and they sprout perfectly well. Children would find these sprouts very rewarding as they grow so fast, teaching them how things grow and maybe getting them to eat their greens into the bargain.

But among those you can sprout are:

  1. radish
  2. onion
  3. spring onion
  4. mung beans
  5. alfalfa
  6. lentils (whole or they won’t grow)
  7. chickpea
  8. sunflower
  9. fenugreek

We started with five and ended with nine. There are many more for you to discover. Bonus! Let me know what you grow on your windowsill. Any recipe ideas?

Slash and Burn – Some Things Can’t Be Recyled!

I’ve spent the day clearing one of the very neglected flower beds in my new garden. There were brambles waiting to get me as soon as I stepped in it, so first I had to cut them back. Then slash off the 3ft high dried couch grass and other annoying weeds. It’s all stuff I can’t compost or burn as it’s wet through. So into the council recycling container it goes. This seems to be the best ecological solution for such difficult rubbish. I will be growing organically, but need compost not choked with weeds and thorns. I also found lengths of timber, which will go into our temporary wood store to dry, and will be used to keep us warm!

So I haven’t played with bird cam but have burned some calories and have, finally, made a bit of headway towards my goals out there. Jon’s temporary wood store is made from an old wooden shelving unit designed for use in a shed. We have an excess of them now he’s cleared out some of his old stuff, so with a bit of cladding down the sides and some lino left in the shed when we moved in here, we can keep the rain off the found wood and allow it to dry out for later use. Nothing is wasted here! What can you recycle?


I’ve also been looking at the plants I brought from my old garden to the new one and checking what is here. I seem to have plenty of houseleeks and a bare shed roof. If it’s feasible, I may make a green roof with the houseleeks. Green rooves help to soak up rain, thereby recucing flood risk. Natures environment is further helped by giving insects a home and food, then the birds benefit from the insects. Ecological improvement all round!


18 Bird Species, One Humble Garden

Bird Cam

My lifestyle has improved no end since we moved here. I’m already meeting new people at the local radio station cafe and the local people are so friendly. I spent a happy couple of hours today at the knit and natter group at the station cafe. As I only crochet, I took the baby blanket I’m making for my first grandson, due in March. Joking about being a happy hooker has perhaps caused a re-naming of the group, as it caused much hilarity! On top of that, despite  only being here a few weeks I’ve already clocked 18 species of bird in my humble garden. Already spotted are:

  1. Blue tits
  2. Great Tits
  3. Coal Tits
  4. Goldfinches
  5. Greenfinches
  6. Bull finches
  7. Heron (after next door’s fish no doubt)
  8. Crows (a murder of them live in the trees outside)
  9. Jackdaws
  10. Chaffinches
  11. Magpies
  12. Robin
  13. Sparrows
  14. Wood pigeons
  15. Collared Doves
  16. Pied Wagtail
  17. Starling
  18. Thrush

If I can get so many to visit already, imagine the wildlife that might come once I’ve finished planting more hedging and improved the environment for them. Hopefully some will nest (except pigeons and collared doves if I’m to grow veggies).

So I’ve had fun with my new bird cam, a Christmas present from my lovely Jon. It can be set up and left to take photographs remotely relying on a sensor to catch the birds as they come in. I’ve had to be patient and get used to using it, plus delete a lot of empty feeder shots with the windy weather we’ve had but today was perfect, so here are a few  lovely close-ups of some of my visitors feasting my cash away! It’s easy photography with great results. A local squirrel tries his luck at the feeders, so I put a few nuts on the ground for him, and have had to intsall a cat scarer aimed around the feeding station.

Bird Cam goldfinch

Nature needs a helping hand sometimes. At this time of year it’s really important to keep those feeders topped up, because the birds soon come to rely on their local breakfast and may die if their food supply suddenly runs out. It’s also important to keep the feeders clean. Greenfinches are suffering currently from an infection running through their population, and it can be passed on via dirty feeders. Luckily, the ones I’ve spotted seem perfectly healthy.

Bird Cam Finches

What birds visit your garden?

5 Money, Carbon Saving and Re-cycling Tips

There are lots of ways in which money, time and carbon can be saved with very little effort. Here are just 5 that I regularly employ in my home and think you might find useful, especially in these stretched economic times. Some may seem obvious and simple but they really do work. You get to help the environment and yourselves.

1. Get a slow cooker. In mine I make  home-made baked beans, stews, casseroles, soups, stock, rice puddings and other delicious dishes. They have a lot of advantages. For one thing they use very low amounts of electricity and work out much cheaper than switching on the gas or electric oven because you’re only heating the dish, not a whole oven. Not only that, but on a low setting you can go out or to bed and forget about them for hours. Nothing will burn. Plugging a slow cooker into a timer to switch it off for you will also ensure you don’t forget and leave it on longer than you intended.

Making my own beans started due to allergies, but they’re more carbon friendly anyway. No tins of you-know-whose from the supermarket. I buy dried beans in a cellophane wrapper, onions and (admittedly tinned) tomatos and mustard. Much less packaging waste and the slow cooker means very low-cost food results. In a later post I’ll put up the recipe.

2. Get a pressure cooker. Boiled potatos and carrots (they’re more steamed in a pressure cooker) are done in six minutes instead of twenty and can be cooked all in one pan. Think of the gas/electricity savings. You can also make soups, stews, casseroles, boiled ham, steamed puddings etc in one. The modern ones are very easy and safe to use and a boon when you’ve little time to spare. Nutrients in the food are also preserved better due to less cooking time and less water used. (you only need 1/2 pint for potatoes/carrots etc.)

recycling tip

3. Grow your own sprouting seeds. Have you seen the prices lately of fresh sprouted greens? And you have to carry them home in their packaging then dispose of that. Just buy your dried seeds and put them in your pocket, go home, put them in sprouter, wait a few days and eat them at their very best and freshest. Blog post coming up on growing these nutrition packed foods. You can buy sprouters but a jam jar will do the same job with a piece of muslin or an old stocking over the top to drain the water away.

4. Use old toilet tubes to sow your sweet peas or French/runner beans in. Just line them up in a seed tray and fill with compost, pushing one seed in each. The roots will grow down into the compost and you can plant the whole thing out without root disturbance. The tube will rot down. Free plant pots!

5. Re-use your margarine tubs in the freezer. Two tips for the price of one here. When cooking, double the quantities you need for one meal. Then freeze the half you don’t need that night. Use margarine tubs, on which you can write the contents, to freeze your extra batch. Just remember to tip the contents into a glass bowl for re-heating as these containers won’t be microwave/oven safe. You save time, carbon, money and effort.

You might have noticed the photo. That’s a bonus sixth tip. Try growing strawberries on the patio like this. What can you recycle? I’d welcome your tips to share with everyone. Let’s do it together. Just leave your tip in the comments box. I’m waiting to hear from you.




Bees Worth £430,000,000

Is that a figure that astounds you? It did me when I read it. Yes, Bees pollinate £430,000,000 worth of edible crops for the UK economy each year. (Stats from Defra)  A service they provide free. So we DO need to take care of our environment for our own sakes, if not for love of nature.


Bees are worth £430,000,000 to the UK economy.

Without bees, we’d not have the food supplies we have. Then what? So my plan for this year is to begin on my new garden with those precious insects in mind. I want to mix fruit and vegetable growing with flowers for the house and the bees and butterflies, moths and beetles, spiders and other lovely little creatures that our ecosystem needs in its environment. I’ll choose single rather that double flowers, as these are easier for the insects to access and generally provide more pollen and nectar.

I’m not being purely selfless providing them with food, of course, as once they’ve been enticed to feed and maybe breed in my garden they’ll help to pollinate my crops, and therefore we’ll all benefit. We hope to improve our own lifestyle and that of our fellow creatures!

The weather has been a little hectic, with powerful winds, heavy rain and frost, so work has not yet begun, but my son will be coming over as soon as possible to help get started making the first beds for planting. I’ve got a lot of long-term plans for the garden, but will have to be realistic about what I can achieve with health issues to take into account and the time available, as I still need to write and do photography if I’m to have an income.