Tag Archives: conservation

Grow Food, Teach Others, Get Well

Garden progress0001_9

New label and pen. Tired of the ordinary ones fading, and these are on show to the public.

What a packed and progressive few days! So many seeds sown, so many improvements made. My son has been over and strimmed much of the wilderness back, at least making the ground visible and easier to navigate. The old greenhouse base halfway down the garden is now cleared of rubbish and ready to set up as a shaded seating area and I have sorted out every last container on the main patio-my main view from the conservatory, and it’s all looking really good!

My main source of pride is the trays and trays of seeds and seedlings, and the sprouted seeds we had with our salad tonight, flavoured with edible chive flowers and lemon balm leaves. Herbs add depth to what could be pretty boring lettuce!

Seeds sown? In the vegetable bed Rick cleared for me: Carrots – Nantes 5, parsnip Tender and True and beetroot Boltardy. Out on the patio in modules we have most other things, like lettuce, spring onions, garlic chives, loose leaf salad, sugar snap peas, runner beans, dwarf French beans, climbing French beans, chard, and more. Strength may be lacking but determination certainly isn’t. Bit by bit the garden I thought may go to ruin this year because of recuperation time is getting done because I need to incorporate it to recover! My doctor last week prescribed anti-depressants. But the ones IN the soil (yes, scientists have found antidepressants in the soil) seem to be working for me. Now I’m gardening again I’m happy again!

Being keen on conservation and organic growing, we had two linked water barrels taking the water off the house roof. They have both now developed bad leaks, so my plan is to cut them in half (his job) and turn the bases into planters for my demonstration front garden, then use the others as raised beds in the back. I’ve seen this done before and they look great, and there’s no plastic waste, just up cycling! We still have to get new water barrels, though. I also have an old council composting bin which can be re used as a potato barrel next year. For now it lives behind the shed. And I bought special black labels and a white maker pen for labels that stand out and won’t fade. So they say. Time will tell.

Up the path by the greenhouse

View back towards the house, newly sorted patio looking good!

Raspberries planted last year, good crop expected!

Raised beds. One cleared, but work needed on the rest

Wire doggie protection for my seedlings.

My newly sorted and tidy patio. At last somewhere nice to sit.

View from my bench down the garden

Back From The Brink – A Conservation Success Pyg Nymphaea Thermarum

NYMPHAEACEAE, Nymphaea thermarum, 2010535, Bonn, Rwanda

NYMPHAEACEAE, Nymphaea thermarum, 2010535, Bonn, Rwanda

Naturally, as I’ve just installed a pond I have been researching plants to furnish it. In doing so I came across an interesting conservation success. Pyg Nymphaea Thermarum  is the smallest water lily in the world and the rarest. In fact in the wild it is now extinct. Its pads, or leaves, measure only about 1cm across, which is less than 10% of the next smallest species in the genus. It came from Rwanda, where it grew in thermal spring water that cooled to about 25 degrees. The thermal spring was over-used by farmers and in 2008 it dried up. As this was the ONLY place where this lily grew, it eventually, tragically died off. German botanist Eberhard Fische, seeing the p[ant was in trouble sent some plants to Bonn Botanic Gardens. However, they could not persuade seeds to germinate and the plant’s existence hung in the balance. Carlos Magdalena, at Kew, only discovered the solution when down to the last twenty seeds in the whole world AND one of the two remaining plants had been eaten by a rat. It turns out that most of this genus germinate in deep water, but Pyg needs co2 to germinate, and once that had been discovered, eight healthy plants were raised from seed. This little survivor now has the potential to become a houseplant! Back from the brink, this is one conservation success! I still haven’t chosen a water lily or stocked my pond with plants. That will happen this weekend, when I make a special trip to a large water garden centre I’ve had recommended to me, but I’ve had an interesting time reading!

Photo from the Kew website.

Returning To Ambitions

Primroese

Primroses

There’s a reason this blogs been inactive. I have. Broken ribs last August on top of lifes little curve balls that piled into a mountain last year took their toll. But spring of a brand new year is here, so I’ve come back to continue with my dreams and ambitions.

I’ve been off the garden for months until recently. As I’ve mentioned, August last year saw me unable to do anything due to broken ribs, and I lost heart over the winter. But something stirred in me a couple of weeks ago and I’m back on the case. It helps that I now have the money to pay for the big heavy jobs. I can concentrate on what I can do, and not feel snookered by the path building, shed erecting or new raised bed building. I can get on with growing stuff and sorting out borders (when I have a bit of strength and energy).

The greenhouse and conservatory are filling up as I sow more seeds and things need pricking out and take up more space. So far the broad beans have come through. That’s a blessing as the first batch were all pinched by mice. So I re-sowed in the greenhouse. Onion seeds have just started to germinate, and I’m trying them from seed for the first time this year. Khol rabi is in modules, and I’m hoping to keep a more continuous supply than I’ve previously managed. There are also leaf salad, blood red spring onions, leeks and greyhound cabbage yet to push through.

I’ve also sown two types of sunflower,  giant and red, 5ft tall ones. That’s just as well, when sunflower seed for the birds is working out at £1 per large feeder refill. And during the worst weather we were filling it, plus another feeder, once a day! I’m hoping the achillea, zinnia, dahlias, cosmos all do well, as I’m going to have a lot of space to fill this year and many of the seeds from these are good extra bird offerings. The garden has to work for the wildlife as well as me.

My ambition is to make my garden good enough to get into the yellow book in a couple of years time. That’s a massive amount of work, but I think worth it.

I am installing a pond as part of that plan. It was going to be large and butyl lined, but Daisy could easily damage the liner, so a prefabricated one will be better. I’m looking at one that holds 750l or 170 gallons and is about 6ft x 4ft for £163 delivered. I’ve found a dog paddling pool for £30 so if I get Daisy that and make the pond less attractive by not having the very shallow sloping sides of a butyl lined job she’ll prefer to jump in her own pool and leave mine alone! I can always protect mine with a wire grid, too, as long as the animals I want to reach it can.

I’m already watching the blue tits build a nest in the box screwed to the patio fence. I hope the other four boxes are occupied this season, too. Four of the five were last year. While eating lunch on the patio (it’s been a warm, sunny day) I saw a sparrow hawk flash through the garden. I love all the sightings I get just from being in my garden and keeping my failing eyes peeled. Yes, failing until I have cataracts removed. Hopefully that will be soon. We’ve had greater spotted woodpeckers in in the last couple of weeks, and all the usual suspects. Now I want to find a hedgehog, a grass snake and even slow worms, though if I ever will is a matter of wait and see.

I’ve bought plants as well as sown seed. The primroses in the photo adorn a cool windowsill in the house now, but once hardened off and split they’ll be great for the spring garden next year. I’ve planted a new clematis called Freckles today against the arch. There are heathers, more primroses and even some daffodils to get in the ground. Pots of meadowsweet, tradascantia and other perennials sit waiting patiently for their turn, but I can only do so much then have to rest, so still tons to do! I’ll try and keep you informed.

Holiday, Wildlife, The Garden and Photography

I’m getting my final packing for my holiday done today. Once the camper is packed and my bed in the back made up, I’ll be able to do the last bit of watering, feeding and harvesting of vegetables to take with me. Thereafter, I’ll be on the road. But I’ll be looking out for inspiration, ideas for my plot. I’ll be spotting wildlife (I hope) with my camera, my binoculars and my scope. With any luck, I’ll be able to keep you informed along the way. If I can’t get an internet connection, I’ll catch up with you when I get home. The camera battery is fully charged and I can’t wait to get out there and take some great shots. I’m after wildlife, flowers, insects etc. I’m learning as I go and every shot of a creature helps me identify them, and in some instances add to general knowledge by including them in the various surveys being done by researchers. You could, too.

Home And Studio For The Next Couple Of Weeks.

Home And Studio For The Next Couple Of Weeks.

 

I’ve found some very interesting areas to survey, and we can all take part. Children would love to join in. Springwatch made the point that all you have to do is show a child a bug and they are instantly interested and fascinated by it. They want to know more. Why not help them learn by looking up the bug? Then add it to a survey, and further conservation efforts, becoming part of the solution. Here’s a list of links you can check out for yourself.

Buglife are looking for a rare beetle, an Oak aphid and more. Their site also offers links to other key wildlife surveys. Suffolk Wildlife Trust need you to record with them hedgehog sitings, anywhere in the UK. Hedgehogs are in big trouble. You’ll also find on this site information about how to help them. Their numbers have dropped considerably, but they’re a great garden friend, so this is one creature we should all be trying to help. Also, The Guardian have published a useful list of links to various surveys and ways to get involved with conservation and wildlife. It was published last year but the links are still relevant. Natures Spot is loaded with information, including great identification photos for insects, tree, birds mammals and anything else you want to find out more about. I have a photo of a fly I’m still trying to ID. It settled on ragwort, as many insects do. It’s a nectar rich plant! Do you know what the fly is? The photo’s at the end of this blog.

Hedgehog

hedgehog

One of the friends I’m going to see is working hard on his new plot of land to create as close to sustainable living for himself as possible. I’m dying to see what he’s up to. He’s on the edge of Dartmoor and has very different circumstances and problems to deal with, including rabbits and deer. I’ll let you know what solutions he’s finding.

Magpie Moth

Magpie Moth

I’ll spend a lot of this holiday taking photos. My interests happily co-exist. Gardening, wildlife, photography all come together for me now. After a lifetime of following them as separate activities, I now combine them all. The photography gives me a way to pass on my experience via my blogs, a chance to identify species that won’t hang around while I get the books out, or a plant I want to ID when I get home, without picking it. It’s also part of my income via iStock, where most of my photos are flower or insect photographs, many of them macro. I love to peer into the tiny world I can’t see with the naked eye. There is beauty in macro form! It’s amazing what can be seen through a macro lens or magnifying glass. That hedgerow or leaf can reveal some amazing detail. Bees dusted in pollen, tiny beetles you didn’t know were there. Stamens on flowers show their shape and form. It’s a whole other world from the one we live in most of the time. The gardening itself provides the material to photo, the space for wildlife to come to, so more things to photo and food for the table!

Unidentified Fly Visitor On Ragwort Flower. Can you help with an ID?

Unidentified Fly Visitor On Ragwort Flower. Can you help with an ID?

 

 

Butterflies, Bees, Birds And The Big Butterfly Count 2014

 

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Today has been exceptional. Walking back up the garden having sown more radish and beetroot, I disturbed the butterflies feeding. They swarmed in front of my eyes. Such a delightful sight! Most of them were peacocks, but I have spotted today small coppers, a common blue, red admirals and large and small cabbage whites.

Peacock Butterflies dance

Peacock Butterflies dance

That’s just the butterflies. I noticed a couple of years ago when visiting Geoff Hamilton’s garden at Barnsdale Gardens that the marjoram had more bees on it than anything else. As this herb is one I make a lot of use of, I resolved to ensure at least one big clump adorned one of my borders. I have one marjoram and one oregano clump right nest to each other. This has paid huge dividends. Not only do I have plenty for my antifungal, antibacterial tea, but I have many, many bees of many types. Now, I’m no bee expert, but I saw working honey bees, buff tailed bumble bees, leaf cutter bees, white tailed bumble bees and lots of others. Hoverflies dodged their way around them, all feeding and buzzing to my delight. The maxim I keep repeating, ‘build it (or grow it) and they will come’ actually does pay off.

Bee On Marjoram - One Of Hundreds Today

Bee On Marjoram – One Of Hundreds Today

There’s a big event happening. I’ll be getting involved myself. This is a cause that really matters. One third of our food needs pollination by insects, mostly bees. Peaches, runner beans, apples, pears, you name it, bees do the job for us. The Big Butterfly Count 1014 takes place from 19th July (so it’s happening folks) until Sunday, 10th August. Right now, you can help conservation by giving the scientists the information they need. Here’s the link to get you started. 

Bee On Dahlia

Bee On Dahlia

And you can plant marjoram, simple single flowers like these dahlias, Buddleja davidii to help our insect population. Our gardens are hugely important. They cover so much of our land that we can save these insects from their demise if we try. Sorry to rant, but they need our help and it’s such a simple, easy thing to do. Grow simple flowers! Grow herbs. Will you?

Oh, I’ve had to come back and edit this post. My memory is tragically bad. I mentioned birds, didn’t I, in my title? That was to remind you. They need water. If you don’t have a pond, please put out a dish of water or a bird bath. They need to drink and bathe. Many have visited my bird bath today. They’re lovely to watch, so don’t miss out.

Great Crested Newts Welcome Here

Great Crested Newt. Once Common, Now Endangered.

Great Crested Newt. Once Common, Now Endangered.

Well, I was chatting to my neighbour. Comparing gardens, I told him of my plans to install a wildlife pond this autumn. Guess what? When he had a wildlife style pond he had great crested newts! So they are in the area. This may well be the best case of ‘build it and they will come’ I’ll have had so far. I certainly will build it. Of course the advantages of ponds are well known. Not only will I have a chance to help an endangered species, but all the other wildlife a pond will inevitably attract is going to increase the biodiversity of my garden and many others.

As a child brought up in the north of England, before the days of Elf and safety, I played in the mill ponds that serviced the cotton industry. The mills, ponds and industry have gone, and so have the great crested newts that were then common and we played with. The ponds were steep-sided concrete affairs, but the newts didn’t seem to mind. Now they rely on us to make homes for them and leave them be to reproduce and hopefully recover their numbers. This is just as well. Our local council have approved planning permission for houses to be built on green fields behind us, and the farmer who owned them is quite happy to take the money and run.

So anything I can do to make homes for the creatures that will be displaced can only help. We have a hedgehog house, a bat box, five nest boxes (and will install more) a log pile, long grass, wild flowers and a huge nectar bar in the form of my borders. They will get bigger as I continue to expand them and shrink the amount of lawn. I say lawn, it’s more like rough grass, and not my top priority. I’ve planted lots of climbers around the fencing, where native hedgerow isn’t. In the hedgerow, I’ve added more honeysuckle, and pushed in native flowering plants, hoping they’ll cope and get on with it. So far I’ve had success with one or two vetches, and leave bits of nettle, but don’t really need to. There’s lots of it around where we live, so I don’t have to get stung every time I’m tending the garden.

I love this lifestyle. Food on the table and wildlife in the garden.It’s quite easy, this environmentally friendly gardening, once you know how. Much more relaxed than the old stiff, prune it to death style of gardening that saw every blade of grass regimentally organised and every flower standing to attention, bare soil in between. Give me abundance and flowers, insects and animals very time.

How about you?

 

 

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!