Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category


Birds-in-garden

 

Not sure about you .. but I love to see our native wildlife in the garden and in particular, our beautiful native birds. It’s at this time of the year, they need our help more than ever. It’s cold and there isn’t much in the way of seeds around in February.

I know we live in the countryside .. but we have all manner of beautiful birds in the garden which I believe is because we put food and water out on a regular basis.

By putting out a little food and water, the birds are more likely to use what limited energy they have at this time of the year to stop off at your place for a feed. So make it easy for them and your garden will be alive with the sounds and movement of wild birds.

We have a male pheasant stop by most mornings to pick up any corn that we’ve dropped on the way to feeding the chickens. He visits most days and I feel privileged he’s chosen our garden to stop off. Mind you he is a little nervous .. and as soon we try to approach him he takes off … straight up and over the hedge into the farmers fields!

Another charming bird is the Robin red breast. If you want him in the garden simply turn over your compost heap from time to time, and I promise you within 15 minutes he’ll be in there with you!

Of course the most important thing you can do is build a simple bird table and put out some regular old wild bird mix. You can pick it pretty much anywhere, but watch out as it can be expensive.

JAN7TH
The cheapest way is to buy a large bag and decant a cup full every other day … never let it go stale.  If you don’t have  a Bird Table they’re simple to make.
A couple of years ago I posted what has become the most popular post on the site which explains how to make a simple bird table.
Using feeders is another good idea as it keeps the food away from the squirrels and stops it from spilling onto the floor which attracts rats.
goldfinch

Our native Goldfinch – A welcome visitor to the garden.

If you’re feeling adventurous you could make your own fat balls. Really easy to make … and cheap! (I’ve included a recipe at the foot of this post)

I know for a fact the birds will be grateful for anything you can put out  and who doesn’t like to see our beautiful native birds in the garden?

Back soon.

Best wishes
John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

 

A simple Fat Cake recipe

You’re going to need:

  1. 1-2 Packets of Lard.
  2. A Bag of Wild bird Seed.
  3. An Apple or English Grapes when they are in season.
  4. Stout String (candle string is ideal)
  5. So used yogurt pots.
  • Melt the lard in a deep pan, then let it cool slightly before adding the seeds and fruit. A word of caution here, melting lard gets verrrrrrry hot, so keep the heat low and just wait a bit longer for it to melt. Above all stay safe!
  • Before the fatty mix starts to set pour it into a mould,   not too big (old yogurt pots will do just fine or Yorkshire pudding trays work just as well).
  • Before the lard starts to set take a 3-4″ piece of string and drop it into the mix keeping about 2″ outside the mould.
  • Leave the moulds to set  for a couple of hours and then place in the fridge overnight to set nice and hard.
  • The next day remove the fat cake from the mould and tie the string to the hooks around the outside of your new bird table.

 

Read Full Post »


Kohl Rabi Plants

I think of April as the ’emerald month’ because it’s the time of the year where everything is bursting into growth in anticipation of delivering the most amazing display in the coming months. It’s the sheer number of different shades of green from the deep green of the evergreen clematis Armandii to the lime green of the Acer’s.

It’s at this time of the year we’re preparing for the busy period ahead which basically revolves around striking this years softwood cuttings from mid May through to the end of June.

mist-plants

Last years softwood cuttings under mist

If you want success with cuttings then there are two things to remember.

  1.  Use a free draining medium like sharp sand or a combination of sharp sand and compost.
  2. Keep the cuttings moist under some form of mist system.

One of our readers wrote the other day and said “don’t you have to have lots of money to start your own plant business?

My answer is absolutely not! We’re starting small to limit the financial risk and we’re only prepared to invest what we’re prepared to lose which is as little as possible!

Honestly you really don’t need to spend lots of money to get started and in the coming weeks and months we’re going to show you how you can get started with very little investment.

Talking of clematis Armandii ours has just finished flowering.

clematis_armandii

 

Of all the flowering clematis I think Armandii has the most intoxicating scent and it’s an evergreen so will give you a glossy green backdrop in the winter.  Throw in to the mix a plant that’s really easy to propagate and you have almost the perfect plant!

This cutting was taken in June 2012 and two years on has grown into a wonderful plant. armundii

At the moment we’re busy potting up last years rooted cuttings which have gone through the winter pretty much unscathed and produced some serious roots.

It’s our third year and we’ll be potting our two year old plants up ready for selling in the summer.

We’ve learnt loads over the last 3 years about raising and selling plants, but most of all we’ve realised customers buy with their eyes. By that I mean they want plants with flowers and preferably with a scent. There are of course the old stand by’s like evergreens,  box hedging, the conifers etc … but in the main people want colour and as much of it as you can give them!

Tip for anyone starting out growing plants for profit … Seek out one or two unusual varieties of a plant species and make your customers aware you stock the plants, or if you don’t now you will in the future. Most important of all make sure the plants you raise and sell are not protected by Plant Breeders Rights.

Other stuff we’ve been up to in April.

We’ve changed the layout of the bottom plot this year to make way for the new outbuilding which has meant we’ve had to shift the cutting bed and the compost heaps. Also created a dedicated work area adjacent to the polytunnel as it felt more central to nursery.

I’ve also been top dressing my borders and beds with a good mulch of compost. My neighbour swears by it and every year she buys eight bags of conditioner and adds it to the surface of the soil. She doesn’t dig it in but instead let’s the worms drag it down over the course of the year.  You’d never believe her garden was on chalk as the soil has turned into this gorgeous friable soil AND growing very nice rhododendrons. On chalk yes!

The Acer’s are waking up and putting on some good growth now.

acers

I bought these as small 10 inch plants on EBay in early 2013  for £6 each and just a year they are starting to look like great little plants.

Just as soon as any sign of frost has passed they can moved from the polytunnel to sheltered position outside.

Also spotted our old friend the Goldfinch on the feeders this week.

A welcome visitor to the garden.

A welcome visitor to the garden.

Really busy time now for us with all that’s going on in the garden but will try and post again soon.

As always please feel free to drop us a comment with any questions.

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

Read Full Post »


Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

My bat box I put up last year in the beech tree is home to at least two bats.

Ever since I came to Blackbirds I wanted to create a wildlife friendly garden and having been gardening this way for nearly 5 years now I must say we don’t seem to have half as many problems with pests and diseases.

That is apart from the cabbage white caterpillars which are the pain of my life, so much so that I’m thinking of ditching brassica altogether! I won’t spray and don’t much fancy spending an hour each day collecting the little buggers.

Oh and the cheeky pheasants that sneak into the garden looking for any stray corn the chickens may have left behind, lovely to look at, but the males give out the loudest shrieking noise … usually when you least expect it.

The secret is to create balance in your garden between the planting and the creatures.
I’ve found the best way to encourage wildlife into the garden is to achieve a balance between the more orderly parts of the garden and the more natural spaces.

When you get the balance right, then you will significantly increase the bird, amphibian and insect population in your garden, which in turn will help you to deal with your pest problems. It’s like magic, I can’t explain how it works, it just does.

Take the dreaded cabbage white caterpillars as a point in case. I encourage the robins and blue tits by putting up next boxes in the hedge close to the vegetable patch next to the compost heap.

They help me with my caterpillar population and in exchange they have a ready made takeaway practically outside their front door

I understand robins are quite territorial so it’s unlikely you’ll attract more than a single pair, but my garden just wouldn’t be the same without my little companion.

That’s basically what encouraging wildlife is all about,  creating a balance, a harmony between the gardener and the natural world that isn’t always obvious, but rather creeps up on you the longer you garden in this way.

Take the humble Hostas as a point in case. Such a majestic looking plant, but I used to have problems with slugs and snails eating the fresh shoots in early summer.

Then a  a couple of years ago we built a small wildlife pond, and since then we’ve had no slug problem!  I suspect the frogs were attracted by the water, and in turn have taken care of the slug population.

Poor slugs …  lucky frogs!

Out of the chaos we have order
I don’t know about you but I’ve always tried to maintain a tidy garden but since I’ve adopted a more ‘organic’ approach to my garden I’ve begun to make changes and it’s producing tangible results.

For example,  I no longer close mow all of the grass, instead I leave some areas to grow long. As a result  wildflowers have seeded in the grass and are now well established attracting loads of bees, which in turn pollinate the fruit trees. A simple principle and very effective.

I purposely leave piles of logs and branches around the place to help bring in the insects for the birds to feed on. Wood piles are particularly effective around the pond as they provide habitat for the frogs and toads, especially when it’s sunny and they need to shelter from the sun.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

This is were Dave and Trigger my adopted frogs live!

If you’re  planning to start a wildlife garden of your own, or perhaps you just want to try out a few ideas here are a few of the changes we’ve made at Blackbirds that we feel have  made a real difference.

1. Build a pond, or water feature.
Having water in the garden will always encourage all manner of new visitors into the  garden, but if you really want to score highly with the local amphibian population running water is even better!

How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden

Water will bring in all sorts of wonderful creatures and insects.

Try to leave at least one side of the pond to grow away undisturbed. A tidy pond is better than no pond at all, but if you want to encourage slow worms, newts  and frogs, then natural is best! If you’d like to see an example of a wildlife friendly pond I’ve posted a short video on YouTube.

2. Plant a hedge.
I like to grow hazel hedges  for the foliage in the summer, nuts in the Autumn and we coppice the hazel every other year. The poles are really handy for all manor of things. Hazel is probably my most favourite tree of all, its just so versatile.

Another favourite of mine is willow. Really easy to grow and you can so much with it. I’m going to have a go at creating an arch next year.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

Willow makes a perfect lush green screen

3. Build a compost heap.
Really easy to build your own compost heap and can be built out of pretty much anything. Try to keep it open on one side so the robins can get at the worms and they’ll repay you many times over.

4. Grow plenty of scented plants.
Grow lots of scented plants, the bees will love you for it and the smell is intoxicating late in the evening when the sun has warmed the flowers. In turn the bees will pollinate your fruit and veg. This year we planted a small cut flower garden and the amount of insects that came to visit was unbelievable.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

Next year I’m planning to plant more cut flowers, so easy and so little maintenance required and the house had flowers pretty much from June onwards.

5. Don’t be too tidy.
Leave a few upturned clay pots around the garden for the toads to shelter and the odd brick pile. Position them anywhere you have a slug problem and the toads will come in to shelter and clean up your slug problem.

6. Keep a few chickens.
Chickens can be quite destructive but they will seek out bugs and grubs in the garden and dispatch them with consummate ease. The other good thing about the chickens is they will provide ready made feed in the form of droppings.

The girls enjoying their favourite passtime, having a dust bath!

The girls enjoying their favourite pass time, having a dust bath!

Just remember to put them away in the evening, or you may attract an unwelcome fox into your garden. I love foxes, but not if they plan to dine out on my girls!

7. Grow a tree …  better still grow lots of trees!
If for no other reason than they are just the most majestic of plants. We have a mature Walnut and a Beech and they are home to so many creatures, like bats and owls.

We put up a bat box last year and I’m pleased to report the bats have taken up residence.

I like to encourage bats in our garden to keep the midges under control. We like to have family BBQ’s in the summer without fear of being bitten by the little buggers! so we’re doing all we can to encourage the most interesting of our native mammals.

If your garden is too small for a tree, never fear, then try a small espalier fruit tree in a pot and get the best of both worlds, gorgeous fresh fruit in late summer and gorgeous blossom in the Spring. The bees will love you for it!

8. Mediterranean herbs.
Great for attracting pollinating insects … Plant thyme, marjoram and lavender near to your fruit trees and tomato plants. The bees will do there stuff and you can look forward to the sweetest tasting autumn puddings.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

My herb bed is a tad overgrown now, but the bees just love the flowering marjoram and thyme.

9. Wood piles.
Build a few wood piles around the garden, mainly for the insects and creepy crawlers which the wrens and hedge birds tend to feed on, but also they make great shelters for the frogs and toads.

10. Bricks and Tiles.
We have a few bricks and roof tiles left over from the build chucked into redundant corner of the garden. I’ve noticed frogs and toads use the pile to hide from the direct sunlight.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

Nice and cool for small mammals to hide in.

In the last 5 years that we’ve been living at Blackbirds I’ve found the secret to attracting wildlife is not one particular measure but essentially a combination of lots of different things that together produce a balance with nature.

Yeah, not everything will work for you but if you get the balance right, then you’ll notice a difference in the way you garden. Pest control will be managed by nature and you’ll have the most wonderful natural space, and all just outside your back door.

If you have any other suggestions for how we can make our garden more wildlife friendly we’d love to hear them.

Best wishes

Rural Gardener

Read Full Post »


How To Build A Simple Bird Table

Building a bird table is great fun and it’s much easier than you think. All you need are a few basic DIY skills and be prepared to have a go. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy and can be made from any spare timber you have lying around.

When you put wild bird seed and perhaps a few slices of apple out first thing in the morning, it’s not long before the birds arrive to start feeding.

I chose this particular design as it looks fairly elegant and was simple to make.  It’s a pretty standard design and one that you’ll find examples of all over the Internet.

The important thing about any bird table is to keep the seed as dry as possible and try to keep it on the table so as not to attract rats or mice to the table.  So I’d recomend building a roof into your design and add a lip around edge of the table to stop any food falling onto the floor. Having said that the pigeons will scatter the seed all over the place anyway. 🙂

What about the sizes? 

I’m not sure about how big or small a bird table needs to be but it needs to be in proportion.

These are the dimensions I used for the table in the photograph but feel free to experiment, that’s half the fun. If you’re worried about how it might turn out, one tip is to make a prototype out of cardboard first.

Recommended sizes …

  1. Table Top – 24″ long  x 16″ wide.
  2. Height – 9″ to the top ridgeline of the roof.
  3. Side Supports  – 8″ high x 3″ wide
  4. Side Pieces – 18″ wide and 4″ at the highest point
  5. Post – treated 2″ x 2″ (approximately 5ft from top to bottom)
  6. Post stabilisers – 2″ X 2″ softwood

Construction

To make the table in the photo you’re going to need the following:

  • 18 mill plywood for the table
  • 2″ x 2″ Rough sawn softwood
  • 4″ Featherboard
  • Edge trim for the table – (1″ x 1″ softwood battens)
  • Angle bead to finish the ridge line of the roof
  • Four (4) Metal Angle Brackets
  • Exterior Grade Wood Glue
  • A Power Drill
  • Assorted Screws
  • A Mitre Block and Tenon Saw. (For cutting 45 degree angles)

First job is to cut the edge trim to size and pin around the outside of the table, then screw the table top to the post using a couple of 2″ screws. I also used 4 angle brackets fitted underneath for added support.

Tip – If you need to find the center of a square or oblong piece of wood, draw a line from one corner to the opposite corner. Where the lines cross is the dead centre of the board.

bird-table

Lines Cross Dead Centre

bird-table-fixings

Angle Brackets For Extra Strength

Stability

I discovered when I was making my table just how important it is to make sure it’s  stable.  My first prototype base was made using two pieces of 2″ x 2″ crossed over and fixed in the center, but on the first really windy day it fell over which became a constant source of frustration.

So I looked at the commercial tables and found that fixing the legs at a 45 degree angle made for a more stable result.

bird-table-legs

If you have a chop saw the angles are easy enough to cut, if not then a miter block and tenon saw will do just as well.

Continue to build the remainder of the supports and side pieces using the drill and screws and finish the roof.  You can use any board thin board but  I had some old feather board lying around and it seems to look great as a bird table roof.

Final job is to finish off the roof with a piece of angle bead to allow the water to run off the ridge and paint the whole thing with a water based preservative. Worth checking the label as it’s important to use non toxic stain so as not to harm the birds.

Bird-Table-Roof

I added a few hooks around the outside for hanging peanuts and fat cakes and that’s the table pretty much done.

What should you feed the birds?

There are folks out there far better qualified than me to comment on what to feed our feathered friends but I use a combination of wild bird seed mix and fat cakes  that I make myself. Really easy to make, all you need is some lard a wild bird seed mix and some chunks of apple.  They are really easy to make, cheap to make and the birds seem to love em!

If you fancy having a go at making your own fat cakes the recipe I used is below.

***

A simple Fat Cake recipe

You’re going to need:

  1. 1-2 Packets of Lard.
  2. A Bag of Wild bird Seed.
  3. An Apple or English Grapes when they are in season.
  4. Stout String (candle string is ideal)
  5. So used yogurt pots.
  • Melt the lard in a deep pan, then let it cool slightly before adding the seeds and fruit. A word of caution here, melting lard gets verrrrrrry hot, so keep the heat low and just wait a bit longer for it to melt. Above all stay safe!
  • Before the fatty mix starts to set pour it into a mould,   not too big (old yogurt pots will do just fine or Yorkshire pudding trays work just as well).
  • Before the lard starts to set take a 3-4″ piece of string and drop it into the mix keeping about 2″ outside the mould.
  • Leave the moulds to set  for a couple of hours and then place in the fridge overnight to set nice and hard.
  • The next day remove the fat cake from the mould and tie the string to the hooks around the outside of your new bird table.

***

I hope your bird table brings you as much pleasure as ours has, and keep an eye out for the varieties of birds that visit. We are up to 12 so far and one of those is a Jay who while looking fantastic, frightens the other birds. Not sure what we’re going to do about that one.

Good luck with your table, and do feel free to ask if you need any more info on the construction methods.

Best wishes,

rural-gardeners

PS.  We’ve included a FREE pdf of this post that you can download and use at your leisure with our best wishes.

How To Build A Simple Bird Table (pdf)

 

Read Full Post »