Monthly Archives: February 2012

Inspired Recycling Idea from another blogger!

How about this for an inspired recycling tip?

recycled eggshells

Recycle eggshells into seed containers

Completely free, organic and biodegradable. How ecological is that? It fits perfectly with this lifestyle. I’m allergic to eggs, so fellow blogger dabawenyolife kindly let me use their photo and excellent tip.

Bees and Butterflies fed on the cheap

I’ve been out shopping. Not my favourite activity, but this time I enjoyed leafing through the choices available at a local shop. Flower seeds. At 89p a packet, I’ve come home with two packs of seeds. One is a butterfly mix, the other is called Mixed Field Flowers.

Remember my overgrown hedge at the bottom of the garden? It’s almost south-facing, and is almost bare earth as it’s had rubbish on it for a long time, so I’m going to clear it completely and simply scatter the Field mix on it. The farmer that owns the fields uses them only occasionally for grazing ponies and certainly doesn’t pay any attention to the hedgerows along his site. I can tell that by the fact that other household have dumped their rubbish (including wood that we scavenge for our fire) and none of it is ever moved, and I am the one picking beer cans up out of his fields. So I’m sure he won’t mind seeing a few native wild flowers along my stretch.

The butterfly mix is going to be sown in a flower bed in the garden, and should be fabulous insect food and photographic opportunity for me, plus flowers for the house. This is a win, win, win situation if you ask me! Ecology, aesthetics and lifestyle all satisfied in one go.

poppy-bee-food

Poppy loaded with food for the bees

I can see in the photos on the packets poppies, Calendula, scabious, cornflowers, Rudbeckia, daisies, Echinacea, corncockle and cosmos. Sarah Raven has pointed out that the simple flowers, especially cosmos, are excellent bee food. I’m also planting simple, open dahlias. Not the big, multi petalled blousy ones, but the ones where you can see the open flower centre with pollen. They make great late summer food for bees and cost very little, even grown from tubers. I’ve also found a cheap clematis, which also has open flowers and lots of pollen so that will be trained through one of my trees. If you want to find out more about this whole topic, Sarah explains it in her series Bees Butterflies and Blooms, just click this link.

clematis-bee-food

Clematis

Sunflowers are also going in. Last year I did an experiment in my much smaller garde. I grew tall sunflowers, then trained runner beans up them It worked and I got two crops from one space. The bees loved the sunflowers. Each one has a large amount of food for them so they don’t have to fly so far to get a good meal. I’ll do this again this year in my new garden, and we’ll see if it has the same response. Of course, once you’ve enticed the bees in, they’ll pollinate your crops for you while they’re there.

sunflower-bee-food

Sunflower. Bee food and climbing frame

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to help nature out, and ensure my grandson (due in the next week or so) will enjoy good food, courtesy of our insects pollination, and the beauty of a buzzing environment.

The Great Carrot Experiment

Carrots. My favourite vegetable, and one I’ve found difficult to grow. That may be because I’ve always had gardens on heavy clay. But now all has changed, and I’m trying again. As the garden is still being prepared for any sort of planting, I thought I’d try a method of sowing I’ve not used before with carrots, and it neatly involves recycling. Hence, the great carrot experiment begins. It all starts with toilet roll tubes!

great-carrot-experiment

great-carrot-experiment

I’ve filled them with compost and placed one seed in each (a fiddly job to say the least!) These are of course going to allow plenty of depth for the carrots to send their roots straight down and will hopefully encourage long straight roots that don’t split. They’re now in the cold frame and I eagerly await germination. Once established, my intention is to plant them straight in the ground, very well watered, complete with tube. This means there will be no thinning out, so less chance of carrot root fly finding them, and gets around the fact that I’ve had to dig the soil close to planting, which usually causes roots splitting in carrots, as in the photo. Before you say anything, nature did this, not me!

split carrot

Split carrot

I’ve also sown dwarf french beans, three to a five-inch pot in my conservatory (the holding spot for seedlings until the greenhouse is built). This method was taught by the late Geoff Hamilton, and he expected you’d be able to harvest from the pot in about June. That should save quite a lot of money, as we love our beans and they’re expensive, both in monetary and carbon terms when bought from the supermarket. Often they’re shipped in from abroad with a high carbon footprint and lots of packaging. Not ecologically sound, in my book. Everything I do here is based on organic growing, so our food costs the planet and us as little as possible and are as healthy for us as possible.

Broad beans are through and in the cold frame, as is parsley. And yesterday I finally did some planting of herbs in the first bit of garden I’ve managed to clear and sort out. This patch is right next to the patio and barbeque, and handy for the kitchen, so perfect for part of my herb collection. I found out the previous owners did nothing out there, and lived in the house twelve years, so It was well overdue for an overhaul. While digging and sorting the plants that were in that border I found vine weevil, which I will treat with nematodes.

Herbs have always interested me not only because of the wonderful flavours you can put into a meal, but for their medicinal properties. Plants have always amazed me with their knack of survival, too. We know that a poppy-seed can germinate after 100 years in the soil, popping up the minute it is exposed to a bit of light. But the following report is truly astounding and shows firstly just how amazing seeds can be and how important plant medicine can be.

“Israeli researchers say they have succeeded in growing a date palm from a 2,000-year-old seed.”

date palm

Date Palm

Here’s the link for the full article from the BBC  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4086348.stm

Fascinating stuff and possibly, in the future, new medicine from a previously extinct plant. Isn’t nature wonderful?

Tame the hedgerow, make room for birds and insects

great day for gardening

What a great day for gardening!

What a great day for gardening. My son came over today and continued digging the base for my greenhouse. I was lured out by the sunshine and have made a start on the overgrown and neglected hedge at the bottom of my garden. It’s been used as a dumping ground and I found  boxes of empty beer cans under it. After my last blog you can imagine my response to that little find. My recycling boxes are filling up with other people’s bottles and cans.

overgrown-hedge

Overgrown-hedge at the end of the garden

The hedge contains a young horse-chestnut tree, a silver birch, my large crab apple and a lot of overgrown privet. It’s this that needs taming. Once I’ve got the canopy down more light will get into the ground below, so by next spring, once I’ve cleared all the rubbish, I’ll be able to grow lots of spring flowers such as crocus and snowdrops, and perhaps some aconites. All early nectar plants for our insect population. If you’re interested in helping our struggling bees hoverflies and butterflies to thrive, there’s a previous post on this subject here, I’ve also got a list of native wildflowers to grow in the garden here.  I’ll be posting more on this subject as this garden is intended to be as wildlife friendly as possible , and the more of us that help wildlife, the better our environment will be. The privet will thicken up in time and make a safe haven for birds and more places for them to nest. We have nest boxes already in the trees, but not all birds use them. Some prefer to hide away in a nice thick bush, so that’s what we’ll make for them.

preperation-for-the-greenhouse

Preparation-for-the-greenhouse

While doing all this work I’ve already seen bees out feeding from the crocus in my ealier post, and lots of ladybirds ready to attack the aphids that threaten  plants. No doubt my garden will soon be buzzing. I love my new lifestyle!

Where’s Our National Pride?

I haven’t done this before. That is, I haven’t used my blog to vent frustrations. I care about the environment. I care about our wildlife. And I care about our country. England has a climate to be envied, flora and fauna that’s unique to us and threatened. We have species going extinct and others under massive decline. It’s all over the TV, it’s all over the net yet so many of us fail to act.

Rubbish! That’s what’s bugging me. Rubbish thrown out of car windows, wrappers dropped wherever folk are, regardless of provided bins, people’s private property or any regard for the countryside. When I was little, being taken out to the countryside on a Sunday for a picnic was a regular treat, and I clearly remember those trips. I loved looking at the hedgerows and fields full of cattle, sheep, birds and other animals. I was the kid with her bum sticking out of the hedgerow, intently watching a spider or woodlouse or field mouse.

Now I sadly look out of the window on trips to see piles of rubbish. Bin liners, carrier bags, crisp packets, beer cans, bottles, plastic strapping, oil drums. You name it, I’ve spotted it somewhere on a verge. Driving down any dual carriageway or motorway is a horrid sight and illustrates our contempt for our outdoor landscape.

What made me write about it today? The 80+ bits of plastic and other rubbish I found when tidying up my new front garden and clearing away the winter leaves etc. All inside half an hour. I’ll spare you photos of rubbish except for one photo, which I’ll explain later. No need for more. Just look out of your window, or windscreen next time you go out.

So come on, folk. Put that rubbish in a bin, take it home with you, put it in a pocket until you find a bin. And how about a radical idea? Pick up rubbish when you see it. The council won’t do it for you. They don’t have the resources. Anyway, would you rather the housing problem was addressed, or elderly people taken care of etc or all their money  spent on cleaning up other people’s sheer laziness?

When I walk on the field behind my home I pick up bottles and cans etc and put them in my recycling. The ponies that graze there then won’t be harmed by it, nor will the other wildlife. And the place is more beautiful without ‘Stella’ twinkling in the grass or ‘Walkers’ blowing about. On the plus side, I found a large water container that will help drip feed my tomatoes this season for free!

Last summer on holiday, I was disgusted to see a lot of rubbish on a small Cornish beach packed with tourists. They watched in amazement as I went round picking it out of the rock pools. That’s the one picture. It doesn’t look as good as the rock pools, does it? And the animals that live on that beach can easily be killed by this plastic dross. Of course, I was there with my camera. So I spotted this stuff more readily than others. I collected two carrier bags full in less than half an hour, walked back up the beach to the bins provided and deposited the lot. To my surprise, others then did the same, and I heard one set of parents making their kids pick up what they’d dropped. I like to think I pricked a few consciences. Have I pricked yours? Can you persuade others that rubbish is rubbish and shouldn’t be part of our landscape? Can you set a good example? Don’t we deserve a clean, gorgeous environment? Doesn’t our wildlife deserve a break?

beach rubbish

Beach rubbish

seaweed

seaweed

Cornish-beach-rubbish

Cornish-beach-rubbish

Take a closer look at the last photograph. If you click into it you can enlarge it. In the foreground you can see white plastic strapping wound in the seaweed. It shouldn’t be there and will harm the beach’s rightful inhabitants. THINK before you drop it.

TAKE PRIDE in our countryside.  Preserve what we have, don’t destroy it. Please. Then spread the word. Share this blog. Thanks!

8 Spring Flowers to Feed the Bees – early nectar plants

I’ve just taken stock of the 8 spring flowers already open in my garden and pots. Some I brought from my old home, others were waiting for me in my new one. All of these will make nectar and pollen available for the early pollinating insects that will soon be emerging for food, especially as a warm spell is predicted later this week.

Bees, hoverflies and butterflies, moths and beetles are all in decline, and are massively important for humans. Without them we would not eat. No apples and pears, no tomatoes or plums, blackberries or raspberries; the list is endless. They pollinate our food for us for free. We owe them a lot, and it doesn’t take much to help them get back their strength. So if you are starting a new garden or trying to improve your garden for wildlife and biodiversity, go to your garden centre and buy things with SINGLE flowers, not flouncy doubles. Plant them out in groups, making them easier for the insects to spot, and watch your garden come alive. If we all do this, we can turn around an alarming decline in our insect population. This is ecologically very important for all of us.

Fifteen days ago my garden looked like this!

snow on tree

Snow covered tree

This morning I went outside to take the photographs you see of spring flowers which are laden with food for the bees and other insects. Isn’t nature wonderful when we give it a chance?

heather-early-nectar

Heather in full bloom. Great bee food.

grape-hyacinth-early-nectar

Grape hyacinth or muscari, another great early insect feast

Primula-and-snowdrop-early-nectar

Primula and snowdrop. Both great early insect food.

early nectar plant for bees

Hellebore. Great for early bee food

crocus for early nectar

Crocus. Great early nectar and pollen for insects

Pansy

Pansies or violas are good early insect food, too

hebe-early-nectar

Hebe. Lots of different ones that flower early

Sarah Raven’s Bees, Butterflies and blooms is an excellent programme with lots more information that you can glean to help you make a difference. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01c89vp/Bees_Butterflies_and_Blooms_Towns_Gardens_and_Britain_in_Bloom/

There are many more early spring flowers that will help our insects to recover from the lack of food and habitat we’ve caused for them. You can find more listed here. http://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/features/wildlife/plants-for-bees/1107.html

Time to put something back, don’t you think? So get planting. Let me know how you are helping our wildlife.

[Added 28 Feb 2012] Many thanks to the BBC who have highlighted this blog as one of the most relevant to Sarah Raven’s programme, and I’ve since written more on this subject, showing you how to feed the bees and butterflies on the cheap. You can read that blog here.

And here’s my latest offering for bees. Perennials from seed that bees will love.

Gardening Begins Now the Ice Has Melted.

ice hebe

Iced Hebe

At last the snow and ice has melted and the temperature is above freezing. So the last couple of days I’ve been able to relieve the cabin fever that had struck me. I’ve made a start on pruning the native hedging growing down one border of the garden. It has been neglected and needed a hard prune to help thicken and strengthen it. Not to mention the increased light levels in the rest of the garden now it’s been brought down to about 6′ tall instead of double that! I’ve also taken courage in both hands and done some pruning on a fairly mature apple tree. It was leaning far too far into the centre of the garden, and perilously close to where we want to site the greenhouse.

My poor hebe has also defrosted and is looking good. How about those brave crocus, too, flowering in the snow? I had to get photographs of them. Click on the pictures to enlarge.

ice crocus

Iced Crocus

We’ve erected a ‘man shed’ for all Jon’s tools and clutter which I’ve also painted in the last day or two in ‘forest green’ to help it blend in. I’ve discovered that the birds don’t notice me at all when I use it as a hide, so as soon as I can cope with sitting out there with the camera, I hope to get some good close-ups of them raiding the food I put out daily.

My son started on the greenhouse base but then the snow came, so now it’s gone I’ll get him back to finish the job. I’ll then have an 8′ x 12′ greenhouse for all my growing needs! Currently, there are seeds coming through on the windowsill in the conservatory. So far parsley, sweet peas and tomatoes are making their entrance into the world.

I’m doing several types of tomato. There’s one called Roma, which is a plum type like the tinned ones we cook with. Why buy tinned if you can have fresh?  I reason that as long as I can bottle or freeze  a surplus we will save money and the use of tins. Then there’s a cherry variety for salads. They came through first. Lastly, I got some tomato Marmade – big slicable Italian ones that you can grill, eat raw or cook with. I’ve not grown those before so I’m looking forward to sampling them. I’d better get the basil seeds on to flavour all those lovely toms!

Incidentally, toilet tubes are great for any deep-rooted plants when sowing seeds. I’m using them to sow sweet peas, french beans, broad beans and carrots. I’ve had to ask friends to save empty tubes for me. More recycling, less pots to store as they rot down when you plant them, tube and all, and no root disturbance for the seedlings. As I want to grow everything organically, this method is perfect.

potato

Odd Potato

Growing your own sometimes has unexpected benefits, not just environmental and financial ones. In this case it was amusement. Here’s a potato that grew last year. I wonder what I’ll dig up in this years crop?