Category Archives: ecoclogy

Finally! The Butterflies Arrive to Feast Among the Bees

I’ve had the odd meadow brown, the odd cabbage white (not quite so welcome) and a couple of small tortoishells, and have scanned the borders every day to see what would come to feed. In my last post I shared my frustration at planting so many nectar flowers this year, using the maxim ‘build it and they will come’, but they didn’t. However, today, TWO peackock butterflies inside five minutes turned up on my flowers. Hooray! Numbers this year must be way down, though, for me not to have at least the buddleia covered in the different species we normally see.

verbena bonariensis

verbena bonariensis

The bees, however, are intriguing. I’ve seen new (to me) species of bees I can’t identify, and have a leaf cutter bee nesting in a trough on the patio. Even honey bees are in evidence. The bergamot, calendulas, cosmos and sedums and of course verbena bonariensis seem to be bring them in. We also have plenty of hoverflies and other insects, so hopefully the butterflies that are around will feed and breed, raising numbers for next year. Moths also seem to be coming in, judging by what I can see when sat out in the dark with only background lighting from the conservatory. Something’s working then.

I can also now list frogs, toads, lots of birds species and a visiting hedgehog, so slug numbers are way down on previous years, and I actually get to eat my lettuce! Just wait until I get my pond in there. Damselflies, dragonflies and newts may join us. One of my friends has grass snakes. I wish! There is a woodpile and compost bins at the end of the garden, so you never know.

Watch this space!

What A Beauty!

Magpie Moth

Magpie Moth

I posted a couple of days ago my astonishment at finding lots of moths visiting my flowers at dusk, and assumed that until I could set up a trap  I wouldn’t get  a chance to photograph them and show you how gorgeous some of them are. Well I was wrong. Throwing the ball for Daisy this afternoon, I spotted this flitting into the grass. A Magpie moth. How stunning! Apparently, according to my book, they do sometime fly during the day, and here’s the proof. Moths can be beautiful, just like their daytime counterparts that we call butterflies.

Have you spotted any in your garden? What could you do to invite them in?

Butterflies Everywhere

Comma Butterfly

Comma Butterfly

I am delighted! The last year’s work to install in my garden plants for the butterflies and bees has been so worthwhile. Today I’ve noted many species of bumblebees, honeybees, comma butterflies, gatekeepers, green veined whites, small whites, peacocks and meadow browns. The marjoram is smothered in both bees and butterflies, and the buddleia of course in butterflies (the peacocks especially). Next year will be even better, as I’m busy making more plants to extend the flower beds and I’m saving seed or cuttings of every flower that’s nectar or food for them. I also intend to make bug houses and a bat box. For now I will of course be adding my sightings to the Big Butterfly Count so that better conservation can be achieved. Come on in wildlife! What are you doing to help wildlife? I’d love to know. And if you’ve any tips….please leave them for us all.

Green Veined White Butterfly

Green Veined White Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Gatekeeper Butterfly

Gatekeeper Butterfly

Make a Simple Bird Box For Free

Robin open nest box

Nest Box

I’m not a DIY expert. I’ve only ever used a jigsaw twice, twenty years ago. But yesterday, in an hour, I was cutting straight lines and had made a nest box for robins. It was so easy I wonder why I haven’t done it before. We’ve been fencing the garden, building raised beds and had lots of scrap pieces of gravel board wood, 18mm thick and roughly 15 cm wide. Size is not critical, but the recommended floor area should be a minimum of 10cm x 10cm. The minimum thickness recommended by the RSPB is 15mm for insulation from heat and cold. So, determined to help the birds as much as I can and having been delighted to watch a Robin family being fed by their parents this year, I wanted to encourage them to move in. We have native hedgerow running down one side of the garden so as Robins like plenty of cover, that is where the box will live. Then it’s fingers crossed for next year.

Here are the dimensions I used if you want to make your own.

Back 500mm x 150mm

Lid 150mmx 265mm

Sides (cut two) 150mm x 265mm sloping to 312mm at the back

Front 150mm x 135mm

Base 150mm x 120mm

Cut all pieces with a jigsaw or handblade. To make sure you don’t make mistakes when putting the box together, as I nearly did, check at each stage that the box will sit on the base neatly as you go.

Start by attaching the sides to the back, then the front. secure to the base then the trickiest bit is the lid. I used some old car seat belt strapping to make a hinge so the lid can be opened for cleaning, though this isn’t absolutely necessary for an open box, it will make life easier when the time comes. A hook and eye latch at the side will stop predators lifting the lid.

Perfection, when making nest boxes is not required. some ventilation is needed and some way of rain escaping if it gets in. So don’t glue the box together or try to seal any slight gaps at the joins. This is the perfect project for a beginner! I painted mine on the outside only with the same colour fence paint so it will blend in with the hedge. I used non-toxic wax based fence paint. Do be careful that any paint you do use is safe for animals and birds! You could decorate your box and way you like, but don’t add any perches or paint the inside.

For lots more on birds, bird boxes and conservation try these links

BBC Springwatch website, which is loaded with links and information on birds and all other UK wildlife 

BTO Nest Record Scheme

NTO Nest Box Challenge

Making and siting nest boxes, plus lots more information at the RSPB


I’m Digging For Victory

They did it before I was born. The Germany army was the reason back then. But the concept is relevant now. We have bigger problems than an advancing army. Looming food shortages, a financial catastrophe leaving lots of people cash-strapped, carbon miles piling up with imported food that isn’t fresh and last but not least, health. So despite my aching back, exhaustion and advancing years, I’m digging for victory. My garden, I’m even more determined now, is to be the source of as much of our food as is possible. I can’t raise meat or fish, but I can grow lots and lots of veg if I keep at it. So could you. Small space or large, we can all make a difference.

Dig for Victory! The source of my inspiration. Lime Tree Farm, Yorkshire

We can all make a difference to the wildlife, too. The system has to work in harmony. We need the birds, frogs, toads, newts, worms and other creatures that make our gardens their home. They eat the pests, make the eco system work properly and even help make compost and put nutrients into the soil that will end up in our plants and therefore our food.

I was away on a yearly pagan camp last weekend. I met up with old, like-minded friends and spent a damp weekend in a field dedicated to conservation by a farmer of forty acres who has turn his whole life and farm into a conservation project. We helped him build a stone circle there over ten years ago, and he has, with the help of volunteers, installed a roundhouse, dug wildlife ponds, built a hide and viewing station for badgers, had specialist groups in to monitor progress and developement. On his farm they have found eighteen of our twenty odd species of ladybirds. Marvelous, and just shows what can be done in a few short years.

digging for victory

Lime Tree Farm’s Stone Circle (the gatestones aren’t on this pic)

My conversations with Pete, the unsung hero farmer, about standard food production hardened my resolve, which was weak given the calamatous weather for veg growers this year. Did you know that your five a day isn’t as healthy as it should be? The factory farming of food using chemical fetilisers makes the plants grow even and good looking, but lacks the trace elements and some of the vitaims we NEED to be healthy. The land has not been replenished properly, so we aren’t either. It stands to reason if you can grow your own that food will be fresh, so contain more vitaims. And gardening organically ensures the existence of those trace elements we need. So, I’ve come home and finished digging over my second border, which in the spirit of the late gardener Geof Hamilton, is going to be mixed planting of perennials, annuals and veg. Tomorrow I can start planting. Now I’ve got air back into this tired land, incorporated some compost and cleared the weeds, the soil is starting to dry out. Fortunately, we’re on good, deep soil with a low water table, so as long as the jet stream does stay where it should be for this time of year, I hope we can now grow food!

I’m already getting plans ready for next year, which will be my first full growing year in this home. Not for me are the plastic-packed Kenyan French beans, Egyptian potatoes and other such carbon gobbling, vitamin destroying, far away supermarket veg. I did a little experiment. I bought some radish. If they are anything to go by, it’s all been rinsed in bleach or something. The radish came in plastic and have been in my fridge two months, yet are still LOOKING fresh! Bah humbug to that idea, hello digging for victory!

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 in full bloom. Great bee food.


Grape hyacinth or muscari, another great early insect feast


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


Pansies or violas are good early insect food, too


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.

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.

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.

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