Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Mr Duck has flown the nest!

Spring is definitely in full flow. The blossom is out on the fruit trees, the birds are busy making nests, and the swallows have arrived. However, there are also other signs of spring in our garden. Around this time last year, our drake decided to fly away one day and leave his ladies. He didn’t go very far, just down to the neighbours. He came back of his own accord a day later, and stayed put. However, he must have had the urge to try again, as he’s disappeared. None of the neighbours have seen him, and it’s been three days since he left, with no sign of him returning. We think he must have gone further afield to try his luck elsewhere. We’re not too bothered he’s gone, as he did molest the ladies a lot, and he was just another mouth to feed, with little in return. He certainly didn’t like us, often hissing at us if we got too close. The ladies don’t seem too bothered either (as far as we can tell), and they are still laying well. We’ll keep a look out for him, but I think given the time he’s been away he’s gone for good.

Whilst we’ve lost a duck, we’ve gained another occupant in the garden, just in time for Easter. A rabbit (we assume it is only one), has decided that they are going to make their home in our garden, and more specifically in our polytunnel. We’ve caught them on the camera trap, so we definitely know it’s a rabbit, and I surprised it the other day when I went to open up the polytunnel one morning. This is the first time we’ve seen a rabbit this close to the house, but given they have been growing in numbers in the area, it was only a matter of time before one appeared in the garden…but we hadn’t expected it to set up home in the polytunnel! We’re making efforts to remove it from the tunnel, but of course as soon as we laid a trap it hasn’t returned. We will have to play the waiting game!

Hen Pheasant caught on camera

We hope we’ve made our garden and grounds more wildlife friendly since we moved in, and given the amount and variety of birds we see, we think we have. And while we can see the birds and sometimes other wildlife in the garden, we haven’t seen much wildlife in the rest of the grounds…but we know it’s there as we see the evidence. Tracks criss-crossing the fields, large holes appear overnight, badger latrines and activity all over the place, and various “deposits” left around the place for me to find when I’m gardening!

I’ve been wanting to get a camera trap (sometimes called trail camera) for a while, which would help solve what is responsible for some of these mysteries. And for my birthday my wish was granted. Simon did lots of research on the various types of cameras available, and with a little help from a company called NatureSpy I received a Bushnell Essential E2 Trophy Cam. It takes both video and still photos, and can take pictures during the day and night. It’s a relatively simple device, relying on movement to trigger the camera into action, which takes either a series of still photos or a short video of whatever is in its field of view. The camera comes with a strap, which enables you to secure the camera against a tree, however, given there aren’t always trees available where you want to site the camera, I invested in a camera pole, which means you can place the camera wherever you want and at different heights.

My first attempts weren’t very successful, perhaps due to where it was positioned, but the camera is now down in our bottom field, not far from our pond, where we think there is wildlife activity. And we weren’t wrong as we’ve managed to capture a number of visitors – a local cat (which solves the mystery deposits left in our heather bushes), a hen pheasant (which is now a regular in the garden), and a fox (which is a little worrying given we keep chickens and ducks). I’m hoping once the badgers and their young become more active, we’ll get some good footage.


Diamond leision on trunk of ash tree

Diamond lesion on trunk of ash tree

I can’t believe I haven’t written anything on Sow The Seed since July. It’s now  the beginning of December, and summer is a distant memory. And unfortunately my first post in 5 months brings bad news…we’ve identified Ash Dieback on our plot. Some of our ash trees, which we planted during our first few winters here, have been growing well. However, this summer some of them didn’t look quite right, and when I went to look at them in the week, I saw the classic symptom of a diamond shaped lesion on the trunk of one of the trees. I didn’t see this on any others, but I’m sure if one of them has got it, then the rest will follow suit in due course. The saplings were all ones we had found growing nearby, and not from a tree nursery, so the disease must have come in on the wind, and will transfer from tree to tree this way as well. This is a bit of a disaster, not only are many of the trees we planted going to die, but much of our hedgerows are ash, so if these succumb to the disease, then the hedges are going to be very bare. I’ve read that some ash trees appear to be immune from getting Ash Dieback, so fingers crossed this may be the case with some of ours. Also, mature trees, of which we’ve got two in our garden, may also be better at withstanding the disease. We will just have to wait and see what happens.

All the advice says it is best to remove and destroy any small trees, to at least slowdown any transmittance to other trees, so we have cut down and burnt the tree, as well as a few others that looked a bit suspect. I will also report it, but I can see from the Forestry Commission website, that Ash Dieback has already been reported in our area, so this is not strictly necessary, but it might help to identify how quickly the disease is spreading.

We will now have to decide whether it is worth planting anything in place of the ash, or use this as a way to thin the trees, which would have needed doing at some point anyway.

So not great news to end the year on, but inevitable.

Section through trunk with leision

Section through trunk with lesion


Water, water everywhere

Water, water everywhere

The last time we had a completely dry 24 hours was the 2nd November 2015… and it hasn’t stopped raining since! This may be about to break, with cold and dry weather forecast for the end of the week, but I won’t hold my breath until I see and hear the evidence for myself (the rain has been waking us up every night). The ground is sodden, with springs popping up all over the place, where the ground can no longer take any more water. The ditch in our bottom field is now a proper stream, being fed by a number of springs, including the one in this picture, where two springs merge. At least we know some of the drainage work we have done over the years is working, with water being channelled away off the land into the streams.

Fir branch duck island

Fir branch duck island

The wet ground is making it hard to do anything outside. The areas we walk often, particularly to and from the animal houses, are thick mud. We’ve had to lay some temporary plastic garden track in one area, as it was getting hazardous to walk on the slippery mud. The animals don’t like this wet weather at all – even the ducks. The other day I found one of the ducks sleeping on top of a tiny mound of grass, with a moat of mud around her. I assume this was so she didn’t have to sit on the cold wet mud. So we’ve put some fir tree branches down for them, both to sit on and lay their eggs (their nest hollows had filled with water too). The branches act as a protective mat from the wet ground, and so hopefully this will make them feel more comfortable.

We don't like getting our feet muddy!

We don’t like getting our feet muddy!

The goats, needless to say, are also pretty miserable. They don’t like getting wet and will do their best not to get their feet muddy and wet. We’ve put down some paving slabs between the field gate and their house, so they (and we) have got somewhere mud-free and dry to walk. Luckily the field is well drained, so it’s not getting too muddy, otherwise I don’t know what we’d do.

The chickens seem least affected, continuing to peck about and keep out of the wet when it rains heavily. They don’t seem to mind the wet too much, and are continuing to lay well into the winter.

The UK record for the longest period of rainy days is 89, a record achieved in 1923 on the Isle of Islay. Eglwyswrw, a village in Pembrokeshire, about 20 miles from us, reported it had had 75 consecutive days of rain (on the 8th January), so perhaps the record is about to be broken. But I’m sure, like us, the villagers would rather this was one record they didn’t beat.

Our first hedgehog!

Our first hedgehog!

We’re pleased to discover that we’ve got hedgehogs (or at least one hedgehog). We inadvertently trapped it in a (humane) squirrel trap we’d put down under our apple trees to stop them getting gnawed.

We saw a squirrel last week in the trees, and after finding some of our apples eaten on the tree, put it down to the squirrel. The windfall apples are also being eaten, but had assumed it was birds or possibly badgers, but didn’t even think it could be hedgehogs. We’d put an apple and a fat ball in the trap to lure the squirrel, but it seems this is also what the hedgehog enjoys eating. It must have gone in there overnight, as the trap was checked yesterday evening. The hedgehog was unharmed, but as soon as we went to get it out it curled itself into a ball. We put it back into the long grass by the hedge and left it to unfurl itself. There’s no sign of it now, so hopefully it scuttled away into the undergrowth. The squirrel trap has now been moved elsewhere – even though it is exciting to see a hedgehog, we don’t want to end up trapping it every night. We will now be extra vigilant with our piles of wood for the bonfires, and keep a look out for any other signs of hedgehogs around the garden.

Six months on...

Six months on…

Back in January I wrote about one of our projects for 2015 – a wildlife garden. We started by creating a pond from an old bath, and a bog garden from the run off, and then finally sowed and planted the rest of the area with plants that would be beneficial for wildlife. Six months on, and it has really started to flourish. The foxgloves plants which I transplanted from elsewhere in the garden have done well, and attracted lots of bumblebees. These are now going to seed, but the seeds will scatter themselves, giving us plants for next year. The flower seeds (both annuals and perennials) which I scattered are now flowering, with the borage doing particularly well in attracting bees. I’ve seen a few butterflies coming to the buddleia (another transplant), and we’ve seen two toads in the pond. So in a relatively short space of time the area has become full of plants and wildlife, and is doing what we hoped to achieve.
I’m hoping most of the annuals will seed themselves around, and fill in the gaps, without me having to add extra plants in the following years. The only thing I would like to add is a log pile close to the pond to give somewhere for the frogs and toads to hibernate. I’m not sure if I’ll bother with a “bug hotel”, which seems to be the trendy thing to do when creating a wildlife garden – they look interesting, but of those I’ve come across few seem to have much living in them!

Wildlife garden in the making

Wildlife garden in the making

2015 is already well underway, and as a new year begins so do our various new projects. This year we want to put in place a small wildlife garden, put up some permanent electric fencing in our large field and then acquire some livestock. I’m sure other projects will emerge as the year progresses, as they always seem to whether we plan them or not!

We began the wildlife garden at the end of last year, deciding what we wanted to incorporate and making a plan of where to put everything. Although we’re not short of wildlife in and around our smallholding, we wanted to bring more into the garden where we could hopefully enjoy it more. We also needed to do something with the rest of the old vegetable patch, now that we’ve finished the log store, and could see what space we had left.

Any good wildlife garden will have some kind of pond. We’ve already got a wildlife pond in the field, so we only needed something small to bring a few amphibians and insects into the garden. So we decided that we would utilise one of the old baths we’ve had sitting in the field for some time – a perfect size for a small pond. I also wanted to include a bog garden – an area of ground which remains damp, and can grow a number of different types of plants, such as ferns and primulas, as well as providing a habitat for wildlife. The run off from the pond would be able to feed the bog garden with rain water, and if it is lined (in much the same way as a pond) then it should remain damp. Read the rest of this entry »

Close up of an exposed bumble bee nest

Close up of an exposed bumble bee nest


Whilst walking in the field this morning, I stumbled upon a flattened area of grass, with a shallow hole dug in the middle of it. We know we’ve got badgers around, so this is not unusual, especially at the moment with the young about, and they tend to dig little holes for their latrines. But on closer inspection I discovered a cluster of bumble bees. I can only assume the badgers had smelt the bumble bees nest and dug it up, leaving the poor bumble bees exposed to the world. They looked like they were busy trying to protect the wax cells, which contain either eggs or food.

I hope they’re able to move their nest and young, as the badgers may make a return visit tonight!

Damage done by excavating badgers

Damage done by excavating badgers

Common toad

The good! A (large) Common toad

We appear to have quite an active wildlife population setting up residence in the garden – some good, some bad and some ugly (depending on your point of view). We keep on finding common toads around the place, hiding in the silliest of places, like under a heavy plant pot, as this toad was. It’s the biggest one I’ve seen for a while – must be all the slugs that are emerging in this warm wet weather.

The bad!

The bad!

The slugs are munching everything in sight, despite the presence of the toads, so I’ve had to resort to putting some slug pellets down where new seedlings are emerging. Like every gardener I’m no fan of slugs, but you’ve got to admire their persistence and the variety of species. In this group I counted at least three species, of which one was the non-native Spanish Slug (top right). Read the rest of this entry »

Broad bean flower - designed for a bee

Broad bean flower – designed for a bee

I always try and plant some broad beans in the autumn in the polytunnel so that we can have an early picking come the following spring. And because of the relatively mild winter, the broad beans grew well over the winter, and are now in full flower. In fact they’ve been in flower for nearly a month now, but there is still no sign of a bean pod forming. The reason being is that no bees (or any other pollinating insect) have ventured into the polytunnel and transferred the pollen from one flower to the next. And without this happening the plant can’t start to set seed (or form a bean pod).

With the leguminous family of plants (of which broad bean is one), one characteristic is the flowers have formed so that they need an insect, preferably something heavy like a bumble bee, to land on the lower petals, which forces open the flower to reveal the pollen-bearing stamens. You can hand pollinate them, using a fine paint brush, but I’ve tried this, and it just doesn’t compare to the action of a bee (and it’s very fiddly unless there are two of you).

There are bees about, but without thinking, I planted the beans at the far end of the polytunnel, and there is no reason for a bee to make it that far down – there is nothing inviting near the door to make them want to enter. So a lesson for next year, plant them nearer the door, or plant an avenue of flowers to lead the insects where I want them. It also is a lesson in why bees are so important to our food supply.

Modified version of the Summer Polaroid Pics template