A 'Christmas' Robin

As I sit writing this blog I can see a Robin in the garden perched by the bird feeders, we do not get many Robins in the garden, they tend to appear when the weather turns colder and there is less natural food available, on the allotment though they are about throughout the year often watching and waiting for insects and grubs that have been disturbed whilst digging and sitting on the handle of my spade when my back is turned.

The Robin has long been associated with the festive season, this could be because we see them more in Winter but it may also be because the Robin, also known as the ‘Robin Redbreast’, gave its name to the first postmen who wore red jackets and became known as ‘Robins’, some suggest this is the reason why Robins appear on Christmas cards.

Robins sing all year round, they are one of the few birds that can be heard singing during winter, both the males and females maintain territories for feeding during this period, these may be later become their breeding territories.  Robins can be quite tame during the colder months and with a lot of patience they may eat out of your hand, but despite their cute appearance they are quite aggressive with intruders who enter their territory. Around Christmas-time they begin looking for a mate, by mid-January they will have paired up and the females then stop singing. Male and female birds look identical, young Robins are spotted with golden brown they do not have a red breast until they are 2/3 months old, Robins eat insects, worms, seeds and fruits and are very partial to mealworms.

Open Fronted Teapot Bird Nester and Nest Box

Robins are well known for nesting in unusually places including sheds, greenhouses, plant pots, hanging baskets, under car bonnets and in farm machinery, to encourage Robins to breed in your garden put up an Open Fronted Robin Nest Box or a Teapot Bird Nester, they can be sensitive to disturbance whilst nest building and laying so it is best to stay away at this time, they will lay a clutch of 4-6 eggs, which once incubated by the female will hatch in 13 days, both parents feed and care for the chicks that then fledge at 14 days old even though they are still unable to fly for another couple of days, the parents will look after the chicks for another 3 weeks, Robins normally have two broods a year.

This year for the first time the people of Britain were asked to vote for Britain’s National Bird, it may come as no surprise that the winning bird was the Robin; in total more than 224,000 people cast their votes, the Robin came out top with 75,623 votes, followed in second place by the Barn Owl with 26,191 votes and the Blackbird in third place with 25,369 votes.

This Christmas why not give someone a gift of a Nest Box for the Robins in their garden?


P.S. Don’t miss out on our two free competitions on the Gardening With Children website in the School Zone and the Family Zone, for a chance to win some bird feeders for your garden, the closing date for both competitions is Thursday 31st December 2015.


Next week is National Tree Week (Saturday 28th November-Sunday 6th December), it is organised by The Tree Council who’s aim is to inspire thousands of people across Britain to join forces and plant upwards of a million trees, it is the UK’s largest tree festival and this year celebrates its 40th anniversary.

Tree planting activities and workshops are taking place around the country by Schools, Community Groups and The Tree Council’s member organisations, details can be found on The Tree Council’s interactive ‘Near You’ map.

With Christmas just over 4 weeks away, we begin thinking about buying the perfect Christmas Tree, Christmas is not complete without a tree, they are the focal point in the home, lots of fun to decorate, and with presents underneath magical and very exciting, the scent from a real tree is amazing.

Christmas Tree

Why not have a go at growing your own Christmas Tree?

If you have space in your garden, school garden or allotment why not plant some young Christmas trees which will take pride of place in your home/school in years to come, small pot grown trees can be bought from nurseries and garden centres the most common types are:

Norway Spruce (Picea abies): The Traditional Christmas tree with a good scent, but quick to drop its needles.

Nordmann Fir (Abies nordmanniana): Denser branches and dark green needles that are very slow to drop.

Blue Spruce (Picea pungens Glauca group): Blue needles, more prickly than other trees, holds its needles better than the Norway spruce.

Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri): Good needle-holding properties, a lovely pine fragrance and the regular shape of a Norway spruce.

Plant your tree to the same depth as it is in the pot, water in well and remove any surrounding weeds which can inhibit growth, keep weed free for the first years whilst it is small.

Christmas trees need very little training when grown outdoors, aim to maintain an attractive cone shape, removing any shoots that spoil the silhouette or any strong upright branches that compete with the main stem or ‘leader’. Every year the tree will produce a set of lateral branches and a leader, during the first years the tree will not produce much growth, but once established in subsequent years you can expect  approx. 14-16”. Prune away any dead, diseased or dying branches, the tree will naturally shed some needles. Christmas trees prefer a slightly acid soil, the Nordmann Fir will cope the best if you garden on chalk.

If you have not got the room to plant young Christmas Trees they can be grown on in pots, simply repot every year into a larger pot, bring indoors for Christmas as late as possible, place in a cool position and keep well-watered, eventually there will come a time when the tree plus pot will become too heavy to bring indoors so trim up with outdoor decorations and enjoy it through the window.

Christmas trees grow slowly; growing your own is a long term project, plant one or two each Autumn/Winter so that you will have one ready to cut every Christmas in years to come.

I am getting excited about Christmas already but I will have to wait another few weeks before I buy my tree.


In Britain we love to talk about the weather it must be our favourite topic of conversation, over the past week it will have been discussed a lot, the weather has been dreadful, very wet and very windy in fact you could call it extreme.


This picture was taken on Sunday 15th November at about 12 noon and shows the point where the Duddel Brook meets the River Ribble, you can just make out the polytunnels and cabins on the flooded allotments at the back.

My allotment has been flooded twice in 5 days, not just by inches but over 4 foot of muddy brown water, it is in a lovely position but the allotments are one of the first areas in the village to flood, it is surrounded on one side by the River Ribble and two of the other sides by the Duddel Brook, it has flooded many times and is something that we prepare for, at this time of year I have very little growing, and try to harvest my crops by October, I leave very little equipment there and remove or secure things that may get washed away, there was very little harm done, unlike a flash flood in Summer which can be devastating and ruin many crops.

I am interested in the weather and regularly look online at the forecast, I was thrilled when the BBC launched ‘BBC Weather Watchers’ so today I have signed up online and posted my first weather report.

Once you have joined you can post your weather reports, have a look at other weather reports near where you are, and read lots of weather information and interesting facts and of course see the weather forecast.

To create a report choose a weather symbol to illustrate your weather, then add the temperature and also download your photograph to illustrate the weather at your location (photographs must be of places and not include any people), there are advanced settings for people with data gathering equipment who can also include the rainfall, air pressure, wind speed and direction and air humidity, you can post up to 10 new reports a day and even add a report for yesterday or last week there is lots of guidance and information on how to measure the weather to help you.

This is a great activity that you can do at home or at School, you have to be 16 or over to join, set up and oversee the account, but parents and teachers are welcome to involve children in their care.

I think it is very interesting, there is nothing more changeable and unpredictable as the weather, why not have a look and sign up?

Enjoy the weather


Congratulation to our Competition winners

We had lots of entries for our September October Competitions, I hoped that you all enjoyed reading and learning about Hedgehogs and Bees, the first correct entries pulled out of the hat were:

For the Family Competition: Isabella Dolbear-Zaleska from Cambridgeshire who wins a Hogitat Hedgehog House, a pack of Hedgehog Food and a Hedgehog Guide.

For the School Competition: Canolfan Addysg Y Bont, Isle of Anglesey who wins a Bug and Bee Biome and a Butterfly/Bee Nectar Feeding Station.

Why not have a go at our two new free competitions on the Gardening With Children website, there are some more great wildlife prizes for you to win:

In the School Zone

Send in to us a picture of a Robin, it can be painted, crayoned, drawn in pencil or even as a collage and you could win for your School

a Square Ground Bird Table

Square Ground Bird Table

and a Wooden Peanut Butter Feeder (supplied with a jar of bird peanut butter with mealworms)

Wooden Peanut Butter Feeder

Click here for full details and an entry form.

In the Family Zone

Simply tell us which is the most interesting bird you have seen in your garden, park or on a walk and you could win

a Wooden Peanut Butter Feeder (supplied with a jar of bird peanut butter with mealworms)

Wooden Peanut Butter Feeder

and a Birdie Bistro Seed Feeder (one supplied)

Bird Bistro Feeder

Click here for full details and an entry form.

The closing date for both competitions is Thursday 31st December 2015.

Good Luck



There is no doubt about it, it is a very exciting week for children and adults too, the Halloween costumes and decorations been just been packed away, and now we are looking forward to Bonfire night this Thursday. Bonfire nights are great fun with a lovely roaring fire to keep you warm, spectacular fireworks and delicious treats to eat such as Parkin, treacle toffee and toffee apples, unfortunately not everyone enjoys Bonfire Night, spare a thought for our wildlife and of course our pets.

Hedgehogs are having a tough time, and their numbers are declining which is a huge concern, at this time of year they will be looking for a cosy place to hibernate and may have chosen the pile of twigs and wood that you have been gathering for your bonfire for their winter retreat, on the afternoon of your planned bonfire night have a good look through your bonfire and if necessary dismantle it to check for sleeping hedgehogs, you may also find frogs, toads, newts, grass snakes, mice and voles that need re-locating to a safe part of your garden.

Cats and dogs should be kept indoors, consider also bringing in rabbits and guinea pigs that are normally kept in cages outside, keep the curtains and windows closed and leave on the television/radio and the lights to disguise the loud bangs and flashes, in rural areas you may want to bring horses and donkeys in to their stables.

If you are planning a display with loud bangs, let your neighbours know especially those with pets, the elderly and families with young children, fireworks are fun but not everyone enjoys them.

Firework safety is very important, follow these rules to stay safe:

  • Only buy fireworks that comply with British Standard 7114 or its European equivalent.
  • Keep fireworks away from children and in a closed box.
  • Read and follow the instructions on each firework and check that they are suitable for home use.
  • Make sure that everyone is stood at a safe distance.
  • Light fireworks at arm’s length using a taper and stand well back.
  • Direct rockets away from spectators and nearby buildings/trees.
  • Never go near a firework that has been lit, if it hasn’t gone off it still may explode.
  • Never throw fireworks or put them in your pocket.
  • Always supervise children around fireworks and bonfires, make sure you know where they are at all times.

Sparklers can be beautiful but they are not toys, did you know that sparklers can reach temperatures 15 times hotter than boiling water?

  • Always supervise children with sparklers.
  • Don’t give sparklers to children under five years old.
  • Light sparklers one at a time and wear gloves.
  • Teach children to hold them at arm’s length and not near anyone else.
  • Have a bucket of water handy to put the sparklers in as soon as they have gone out.

Before you begin constructing your bonfire here are some guidelines to ensure that everyone is safe and everything goes to plan.

  • Build your bonfire in the open away from sheds, fences, trees and overhead power lines and cables and not near a road as drifting smoke may cause a traffic hazard, burning damp materials will create a lot of smoke.
  • Don’t build it too large, you can add more twigs/wood later, make sure that it is stable so that it won’t collapse outwards or to one side.
  • Don’t use petrol or paraffin to start the fire, these accelerate the flames and may cause the fire to burn out of control.
  • Keep a bucket of water or a hose pipe handy just in case.
  • Don’t leave the fire unattended, at the end of the night once the fire has died down pour water over the embers to stop them re-igniting.

Here are some ideas for quick, no cook children’s treats for that last minute Bonfire Night celebration.

Edible Sparklers

Dip Chocolate fingers quickly into warm water and then into hundreds and thousands to make your very own edible sparklers.

Children’s Punch

Take some warm apple juice, add small slices of oranges and sprinkle in cinnamon for a warming drink.

Popping Chocolate Apples

Melt some milk chocolate in a bowl in the microwave, insert lolly sticks into small eating apples next to the stalk, then dip and spin your apples in the melted chocolate, sprinkle with popping candy and place on greaseproof paper in the fridge to set.

Have a very safe and fun Bonfire Night


I love getting crafty and usually make something for Halloween, here are my latest creations to add to the ‘Halloween Box’:

Pom 5

Pom-Pom Spiders and Pumpkins

What you will need

  • Coloured Wool
  • 6cm cardboard squares
  • Scissors
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Googly eyes
  • Paper and felt tips
  • Glue

What you need to do

Wind the wool around the cardboard square, top to bottom, until it is thickly covered.

Pom 1

Tie (with a bow) a small piece of wool securely around the middle of the wool and the cardboard.

Using scissors carefully cut the wool horizontally at both ends of the cardboard.

Pom 2

Gently remove the cardboard and insert your pipe cleaners under the wool tied around the middle, then untie the bow, pull the wool tight and knot it.

Pom 4

Pom 4a

Fluff up the wool and trim off any long pieces, bend you pipe cleaners to form spiders legs or pumpkin stalks and leaves

Make and stick on eyes and a pumpkin face.

I have used black and orange wool but any colour will do, if you have lots of shorter lengths they can be tied together for a muti-coloured Spider or Pumpkin, hang your Pom-Pom creations individually or in a row in the window or from the doorway.

If you have made something for Halloween that you would like to share with our other readers, send in photos and details to gill@gardeningwithchildren.co.uk

Have lots of fun this Halloween


P.S. Don’t forget to enter our two free competitions on the Gardening With Children website, before the closing date on Saturday 31st October 2015

In the School Zone

Read all about Bees then answer some easy Bee questions and you could win a

Bee and Bug Biome

and a Butterfly and Bee Nectar Feeding Station


for your school garden. Click here for full details and an entry form.

In the Family Zone

Fill in the missing words and learn about Hedgehogs for a chance to win

a Hogitat Hedgehog House


a pack of Hedgehog Food


and a Guide to Hedgehogs.


Click here for full details and an entry form.

Good Luck

Rosy Apples

This Wednesday, 21st October, is Apple Day when we celebrate apples and the beautiful orchards where they are grown. It was first launched in 1990 by Common Ground who were dismayed by the loss of so many traditional orchards yet amazed at the 3,000 varieties that have been grown here.

The first Apple Day was held on October 21, 1990 in the old Apple Market in Covent Garden, London, bringing fruit back there for the first time in 17 years. Since then, Common Ground have worked to extend, support and promote Apple Day countrywide through nurseries, fruit farms, restaurants, the National Trust, RHS gardens, museums, art centres, community groups and schools who celebrate this day in their own place, in their own way. There are lots of organised events celebrating the apple throughout the country click here to find one near to you.

Apples must be one of the most versatile, convenient, and healthiest foods available. Apples can be baked, stewed, fried, microwaved, roasted, made into jellies, chutneys and delicious desserts in fact there is very little you cannot do with an apple. For a quick snack that’s fast, easy to eat, delicious and very healthy just pick up an apple, we have all heard of the saying ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ but just how true is it?

‘Apples really are one of the healthiest foods a person can eat, they are high in fibre and Vitamin C, are low in calories, with only a trace of sodium, and no fat or cholesterol.’

So why not go to school or work with an apple tomorrow.

One of my favourite ways to eat apples is simply as Apple Sauce made with Bramley Apples which soften and fluff up perfectly, I add only the minimum amount of sugar so that they retain their distinctive tang. Whilst peeling the Bramleys to go with the Roast Pork I set myself a challenge to see how long I could get the peel in a single piece, the longest measured 169cm.

Apple Peel

The record for the longest unbroken apple peel was set on the 16th October, 1976 by Kathy Wafler Madison, aged 16, from New York, USA, she carefully peeled a 567g apple for 11 hours and 30 minutes, the peel measured 52metres 52cm long.

Why not have a family or school challenge to see who can create the longest piece of apple peel from a single apple, for the adults it has to be one piece for the children it can be several pieces combined.

Love your environment – love Apples



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46 other followers