Tag Archives: gardening

The Bumblebee Nest

bumblebee nesting in straw on compost heap

I was so pleased to see that they’d built a new nest, I stood holding my breath for ages watching this little one

In early February, my strawberry runners arrived weeks earlier than the website I bought them from had suggested they would. I popped them in toilet roll inners that I’d been saving for my sweet peas, and resolved to pot them up on the weekend. But I’d run out of compost from my open heap.

Ah well I thought, I needed to turn the dalek bin that I’d been filling up since July onto the open compost heap and while the three year old was playing in the garden and the baby was napping in her pushchair I proceeded to lift the black bin off the heap and with my garden gloved hands I moved chunks of semi-composted material to the open heap next door with my eyes on the prize of the good stuff at the bottom. I thought about getting the fork from the garage but didn’t want to risk waking the baby by opening the door.

There’s something fascinating about going through semi-composted materials. Especially when you get hints of what wildlife ha been visiting your compost heap. I was just thinking that I really need to set up a wormery for our egg shells because I could see a mouse had been gnawing at some of the empty egg boxes that I’d added to the heap when I thought I heard a buzzing sound. Then nothing. I checked where the three year old was playing and carried on moving the heap then “zzzzzzzzzzzzmmmmm” that buzzing sound, louder and more urgent than before. This time with irritated looking bumblebees. I’d inadvertently lifted a nest from my dalek bin onto the open heap. Fortunately for me, it was cold enough for them to be pretty dormant and not sting. Fortunately for them, I hadn’t tackled the heap from the base with a fork as planned.

Cue me coming inside and spending all my free time that day reading the bumblebee conservation trust website to learn all I could about what to do if you disturb a bumblebee nest. I duly snuck out after dusk to make sure that the nest was properly sheltered and that the bees have the best chance of survival.

I checked on them a week later, and they’ve fixed up their nest and are bumbling around questing for pollen. It means my open compost heap is out of action until the Autumn when the nests will die down naturally and the queens will move on, but I can use the daleks and have plans to make a wormery in the meantime. Either way, the inconvenience is worth it to have a thriving population of bumblebees.

 

Seeds are Hope

cosmos seedling emerging from seed caseThe sight of seedlings lifting their heads up from the soil always fills me with hope. No matter what else is going on, how busy or stressed I am, how many things I have to do, I always feel better for sitting down with some soil and seeds in the evening when the children have gone to bed and sowing some seeds.

Even though I know they take time, I check the pots constantly for any hint of the ever so slightly fuzzy white emerging from the darkness, the shot of green that promises baby leaves. And when they appear it always feels like the best sort of surprise. Flowers are beautiful, but there’s something about the elegance and hopefulness of the tiniest seedling that stirs my heart.

I’ve currently got two boxes full of seed sat in my utility room. Some I’ve bought, some I’ve been given, some I’ve collected. But when they start sprouting I find myself constantly on the lookout for more seeds so I can grow someone the perfect chilli for their cooking, the ideal calendula for their raised bed, the happiest sunflowers to pop in their border, I want to share the joy of those seeds.

So while the stormy winds are making it impossible to get outside, I sit in the conservatory, pretending that I too am soaking up the weak sunlight through the windows watching my seedlings emerge with a cup of tea.

 

Tree planting in the wildlife garden

I’ve been pretty quiet about my plans for our wildlife garden while I’ve been focusing on my goals for sustainable living in 2019, but be assured that the wildlife garden is still a really key feature in this.

Planting a tree, child’s play!

We actually planted a cherry tree in the garden on Sunday, but it was such a bitterly cold day, no one was much in the mood to take a photograph! We went for Stella on a colt rootstock. The blossom will be great for pollinators, it will help maintain privacy between our garden and our neighbours, and as long as the children get to eat a few cherries when it fruits, I won’t mind the birds having a share.

This is the second tree that we’ve planted since we moved in, the first was a Scrumptious apple tree to replace my beloved Scrumptious the First who we had to leave behind when we moved house. I’ve also got plans for an orchard of patio fruit trees to green up a paved area and our neighbours fence. It’s budget dependent as to how I’ll progress with that, but we have a Victoria plum on extremely dwarfing rootstock to form the first part of that because our eldest was so taken with our neighbour’s windfall plums that they were kind enough to let her keep in the summer.

We live in a country that’s quite prone to flooding so I’m hoping that by planting some more trees it will help contribute to reducing the flood risk. I’m also conscious that the Committee on Climate Change has said that tree planting in the UK must double by 2020 to help lock up carbon and reduce flood risks so our tree planting in our medium-sized garden is to help this. Even if they are less than a drop in an ocean of necessary change, they’ll make the garden look nicer, will provide food and shelter for wildlife and hopefully some fruit for us in time.

Pruning and crafting our way into Christmas

I’m sneaking five minutes of peace and quiet while the baby sleeps and my oldest is being read a bedtime story by her father who is just back from work. Monday is my long day with both of them (I work part-time when not on maternity leave so Monday is my traditional quality day with the little people) but it’s normally very relaxed and low key. The closer we get to Christmas, the wilder it seems to be with nap refusals, manic giggles and tears a bit too close to the surface.

The baby wakes, I go for bedtime cuddles… an hour later I’m able to carry on what I was doing. I love our days together but everything does seem a bit fragmented at times, and my to do list is only ever half complete,

I’ve been trying to bring a bit of calm to the Christmas frenzy by making lots of our own decorations this year. Our new garden is a mass of ivy which I left to flower for late season pollen and much of this now is covered in the luscious looking purple berries which will be a nutritious treat for the birds in the lean months. I’d like to plant more holly as we only had enough for a few sprigs to sit on top of photo frames, but we had an abundance of fir and conifers to provide the materials for a festive garland for the stairs. I went a little over the top foraging this in the back garden with the eldest on the weekend, so I’ll need to make some kind of table centre piece to use it all at some point.

 

As well as our stair case garland from the garden, I made a scented garland while my oldest was painting. She was quite critical of how long it took and pointed out that she’d produced quite a prolific body of work while I was stringing dried orange slices onto garden twine (she insisted that the limes were dried kiwi fruit). I really enjoyed making this and might try drying my own oranges next year, they are slightly sticky but smell so Christmassy with the cinnamon sticks. It’s not the most polished creation ever, but fills a gap above the fireplace where I want to get just the right mirror but have yet to find one that’s on budget.

I’m planning to make some pomanders to decorate the Christmas dinner table on Christmas Eve Eve.

 

What I’m doing for wildlife in November

Is anyone else feeling a little bit lost now that Gardener’s World has finished for the year? I mean, I never had time to do the jobs for the weekend that Monty Don suggested but I did appreciate the slightly Mary Poppins-ish direction.

This has led me to develop my own list of key jobs for the wildlife garden in November, and while it might not look like much, I’m finding it difficult to get it all done with my two little helpers!

My November Wildlife Garden Jobs

Planting spring bulbs

Because we’re in a new garden which has some great trees but otherwise not much growing I spent big (well, relative to my budget) on Spring bulbs. I normally like to save money in my garden, but I see the spring bulbs as an investment because they will come back year after year and with a bit of luck the ones I’m naturalizing in our lawn will spread themselves all across it in a few years giving any early bees and insects some vital fuel on the go. I’ve nearly finished planting and the weather hasn’t gotten truly frosty yet so I’m counting that as a win.

Planting for winter flowers

I get quite bad seasonal affective disorder, so I like to get out in the garden as much as possible even on very cold days. I’ve thought ahead and got the groundsman to dig two holes to plant a winter honeysuckle and winter flowering viburnum to allow some more early season nectar followed by some useful berries for the birds. I’m hoping the flowers and fragrance will be a big mood boost when I need it.

Feeding the birds

I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t like feeding the garden birds, but it’s obviously so important for the survival of UK birds when food starts to become scarce. I’ve already got some basic fat ball feeders hanging up, one at the front, one at the back, but I want to make sure that I have some high energy bird food made for colder days and stations offering food for the insect feeders when their prey is in short supply.

Making wildlife habitats

I’ve been doing some pruning as and when I can and the Happy Dandelion and I have been using the woody off cuts to create some wildlife habitat areas under hedges in the vain hope that they will be useful for a passing hedgehog. Vain because of the lack of hedgehogs available to take up residence not because the piles are no good. I’m planning to make an even bigger pile behind the compost heap with some of the bigger branches. We had stag beetles in our old garden, so I’d love it if we could create an environment for them to thrive here as well.

Creating hedgehog holes

I’ve gone out with my measuring tape to check whether the holes under our back garden fences are big enough (they need to be 13x13cm) to allow any hedgehogs that did happen to be passing to access my garden. There’s a lovely gap between the one neighbour’s hedge, but not in the other fence so I’m going to ask whether they would mind me cutting a small access hole in the wire when I see them. In the meantime, I’ve persuaded the groundsman to cut some holes in our back fence and front gate to allow easy access to the back garden so I need to hold him to that.

Am I missing anything that you do for wildlife in your garden in November? I’m keen for new ideas!

Spring, nipped in the bud

Well, it was beginning to look a lot like spring.

The crocus, narcissi and hyacinth bulbs that we planted in the autumn were coming up nicely alongside primulas that we’d transplanted into tubs alongside the lavender cuttings that I took last year. The Under Gardener was enjoying wheeling her toys around in the wheelbarrow that she got for Christmas and telling them how the flowers were full of nectar for the hungry bumblebees….

Then along came “The Beast from the East”.

Now the flowers are wilting into the snow in their tubs, I’m guessing their roots have frozen to prevent them taking up water. I’m hoping that the buds on other plants aren’t getting too frost nipped. Even the birds seem to be keeping away from the feeders, hopefully sheltering somewhere warm while the snow piles up in drifts.

I was really looking forward to life coming back into the garden. Now it feels a bit like Narnia, always winter but never Christmas.

 

Planting up a log pile for wildlife

Recently, I’ve felt like I haven’t had much opportunity to spend much time doing anything in the garden because we’ve just been so busy doing other things. I hate the cult of business and am much more in favour of an Ode to Indolence outlook, but we have been very busy and when we haven’t been busy we’ve been faced with the issue of the wall.

You don’t have to be an expert in construction to see the issue with the wall, even from that angle. My neighbour’s lilac tree had damaged it over the course of decades to the point where it had so slowly almost as not to be noticed become unsafe for the under gardener to play around it. So it had to come down and the lilac tree had to have (with the consent of my neighbour) a pretty brutal pruning, branches, trunk and root to make sure that the wall could be rebuilt without the problem recurring for another 100 years. All of which meant that my garden has been covered in rubble and a twelve-foot section of lilac tree.

I decided to put the trunk to good use, but when I moved the tree to one side, it turned out the local garden snails had decided that under the canopy was a hip new hangout and were unsurprisingly very slow to act on their eviction notice…

 

I spent a few hours chopping the section of the lilac tree up into pea sticks, bean poles, twigs, sticks and log sections to use in the garden and began layering them to make a log pile. I used a long trunk section of trunk as a base and some thinner branches with some leaves on first to weave together a sort of hollow that I hope will be a good hiding place for frogs and snails, which I then layered some thick branches over to create a strong base.

Then I added in some tree trunks that the previous owners of our house had left behind from felling a tree, some gnarly roots from the lilac and a hollow log to create lots of nooks and crannies that mini-beasts will be able to hide in. This is stacked behind a hazel tree, some bushing roses and a carpet of mint, so I’m hopeful that there will be some seasonal nectar for wildlife. There’s a bird bath sunken into the ground in front of the hazel so there’s water for frogs etc. I’m also considering planting the log pile to create pockets of shade and moisture.

The structure is in place

Does anyone have any suggestions for wildlife friendly plants that would make it more aesthetically pleasing? I thought maybe some kind of trailing flowering plant, but I’m not sure what would suit full sun and a dry aspect. Can anyone offer any suggestions?