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CJ Wildlife Blackbird Nest Box

We are all familiar with our summer migrants the Swift, Swallow and the House Martin who come to Britain to breed and escape the harsh African, yet did you know that tens of millions of birds arrive in Autumn from their breeding grounds to escape the bitter cold weather and a shortage of food (hidden under ice or snow) to spend the winter in our mild climate. These birds travel large distances from the north and east (Scandinavia, Northern Europe and the Arctic) and include Fieldfare, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Brambling, Robin, Starling, Blackbird, Bewick’s Swan, Whooper swan, many types of ducks, wading birds and geese including Pink Footed Geese who fly very high in a V-shaped formation called a ‘skein’.

Here are some amazing statistics about some of our Winter migrants:

Brent Goose – Over 120,000 arrive October onwards from the Canadian Arctic flying 19,000 miles to the UK, overwintering mainly in Ireland.

Bewick’s Swan – Over 7,000 arrive October onwards from Siberia flying 2,500 miles to the UK.

Fieldfare – Over 720,000 arrive October onwards from Scandinavia and North West Russia flying 1100 miles to the UK.

Many birds arrive on our shore hungry and exhausted, some make emergency stops on their journey and rest on oil rigs and boats out at sea (as seen in this year’s Waitrose Christmas advert).

Wildlife World Open Fronted Teapot Bird Nester and Nest Box

You might be surprised to hear that Robins, Blackbirds and Starlings are winter migrants as we see them throughout the year, in the UK we have our own resident populations but during the winter their numbers are boosted by birds escaping the extreme cold of Eastern Europe. These visiting birds act differently as they are not used to their new surroundings and having people nearby, they skulk in the undergrowth and near the feeders before darting out for food they are easily frightened unlike our residents that dive on the feeders, they will after time adjust to their new environment and become more confident.

We all know the importance of feeding the birds throughout the cold winter months, knowing that thousands of winter migrants are coming here to feed makes it even more important, if you haven’t got any birdfeeders in your garden now is a good time to invest in some, they are inexpensive and will provide many hours of pleasure for you and the birds! It is a good idea to put up different types of feeders that will hold a variety of bird food, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, mixed bird seed, fat balls and mealworms, different types of food will attract more species of birds. If you are fortunate to have an apple tree or maybe know someone who has, store any surplus apples now to put out later on for the ground feeding birds, this year has been a very good year for fruit. Some kitchen leftovers can be put out for the birds these include grated cheese, cooked potatoes, rice or pasta, porridge oats, fruit, biscuit and cake crumbs. Water is just as important as food, fresh water changed regularly will provide birds with drinking and bathing water.

For more information on feeding birds through the Winter click here or to see our range of bird feeders click here.

This weekend make time to put up some bird feeders in your garden.

Gill

bread

This Thursday 17 November is Homemade Bread Day, it is a day to celebrate and make our own homemade bread. Bread is a staple food using flour, water, yeast and sugar, usually it is oven baked but in some cuisines it can be steamed, fried or cooked on a skillet, there are many ingredients that can be added to bread to either make it sweet (sultanas, raisins, cherries, orange peel, cranberries, chocolate chips, bananas, apples, spices) or savoury (onions, pumpkin, herbs, nuts, cheese, seeds such as poppy and sunflower).

Bread is often referred to as the “Staff of life” and has been prepared for at least 30,000 years, there have been two major developments in the industrialization of bread-making the first was in 1912 when Otto Frederick Rohwedder began work inventing a machine that would slice bread, bakeries were reluctant to use it as they thought that sliced bread would go stale, later in 1928 it was re-developed to slice and wrap the bread, then in 1961 came the development of the Chorleywood Bread Process which used intense mechanical working of the dough this dramatically reduced the fermentation period and the time taken to produce the bread, this process is today used around the world in large factories.

White bread was once the preferred bread of the rich whilst the poor ate whole grain bread however in the late 20th Century in most western societies this was reversed as whole grain bread was found to have a higher nutritional value whilst white bread became associated with the lower class.

Homemade bread is far superior in taste, aroma, quality and appearance although it does have a shorter ‘shelf life’ which is not really a problem as it is usually eaten within hours of being made, if you want to have a go at making your own bread see below.

Charlotte’s guide to making delicious bread with children.

When bread making with the under 10’s we recommend preparing the dough in advance, up to step 7, and dividing the mixture into balls to make rolls.  Each child can then finish their own fairly easily.

Ingredients

  • Just over a pint of tepid water
  • 2 sachets of dried yeast
  • 1 dessert spoon of brown sugar
  • 5 cups of strong white bread flour (note our cup takes around 160g of flour
  • 2 cups of either wheat bran, ground oatmeal, wholemeal flour or granary flour (experiment to see which you prefer)
  • Handful of seeds – sunflower, poppy, sesame etc.

 

Method

  1. Add the dried yeast and the brown sugar to a jug containing the tepid water and whisk until the sugar has dissolved
  2. In a separate large deep bowl add the strong white flour and the 2 cups of either wheat bran, ground oat meal, wholemeal flour or granary flour (this will give the bread a little more texture) and mix together
  3. Add contents of the jug and stir and then with your hands form into a ball of dough
  4. If its too sticky add a little more flour but don’t add too much
  5. Work the dough by stretching, folding and kneading for 10 to 15 minutes
  6. Stand in a covered bowl in a slightly warm place until twice the size (about an hour)
  7. Knead for a second time for around 3 to 4 minutes
  8. At this stage you can add seeds of your choice (little hands love to prod them into the dough)
  9. Put into bread tins or make into roll shapes.  When making rolls with children you can be creative, try cobs, plaits and cottage rolls
  10. When the children have finished leave the dough to rise a second time, for around half an hour until it doubles in size
  11. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes for rolls.  For a loaf allow 30 – 35 minutes at Gas mark 4 to 5 or 180 C.
  12. When the bread is cooked, place on a rack until cool.  Store in a sealed tin or bag to keep the bread fresh for longer

 

Happy bread making

Gill

The days are shorter and the nights are colder, now is the time to think about our garden wildlife and give them a helping hand with a safe retreat to spend the winter months, why not enter our two free competitions on the Gardening With Children website for a chance to win Wildlife products for the Hedgehogs in your garden:

In the School Zone you could win a Hedgehog Pack containing:

Hogitat Hedgehog House

Wildlife World Hogitat Hedgehog House Habitat

Hedgehog Snack Bowl

Wildlife World Hedgehog Snack Feeding Bowl

220g pack of Hedgehog Food

Hedgehog Food

A field guide to Hedgehogs

Field Guide to Hedgehogs

To enter all you need to do is to find the hidden words in our Hedgehog Word Search the first correct entry drawn out of the hat will win.

For full details, The Hedgehog Word Search and an entry form click here, the closing date is Wednesday 30th November 2016.

 

In the Family Zone you could win a Hedgehog Pack containing:

An Igloo Hedgehog House

Wildlife World Hedgehog Igloo House Habitat Shelter

A Hedgehog Snack Bowl

Wildlife World Hedgehog Snack Feeding Bowl

220g pack of Hedgehog Food

Hedgehog Food

A field guide to Hedgehogs

Field Guide to Hedgehogs

To enter draw or paint a picture of a Hedgehog and give him/her a name and our favourite picture will win.

For full details and an entry form click here, the closing date is Wednesday 30th November 2016.

Good Luck

Gill

I hope that you all had a very enjoyable Halloween and now we look forward to Bonfire Night!

Penny for the Guy

When I was young I remember knocking on the doors of neighbours with my friends and asking them if they had any old wood that they didn’t want for our bonfire and also if they had a ‘Penny for the Guy’ who was sat in our wheelbarrow wearing our old clothes and stuffed with newspaper/leaves/straw, the money went towards fireworks, thinking about it now it does seem rather cheeky although I suppose it is not too different to trick or treating which seems to have taken over.

The ‘Guy’ represents Guy Fawkes who was a member of the conspiracy who intended to blow up the Houses of Parliament on 5th November 1605, the Gunpowder plot was thwarted when he was caught the night before guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellars beneath the House of Lords.

I can’t remember the last time I saw children’s asking for a ‘penny for the guy’ it is such a shame that this tradition has died out, it is harmless fun although not for the Guy who unfortunately takes pride of place at the top of the bonfire.

Bonfire Night is all about keeping warm by the bonfire, watching fireworks, eating delicious treats and having fun here are some tasty easy to eat snacks for you to try:

popcorn

Home-made Popcorn

Ingredients

  • Popcorn Kernels/Popping Corn
  • Flavouring of your choice: Icing Sugar, Salt, Honey, Butter

What you need to do

  1. Place the popcorn kernels in one layer on the bottom of a heavy-based, deep pan with a tight fitting lid.
  2. Place on the stove on a medium heat with the lid on.
  3. Stay nearby as you need to listen to the kernels as they pop, at the beginning they will pop vigorously, when it slows down to a second or two between the pops remove from the heat.
  4. Wait a few minutes for the popcorn to cool, carefully remove the lid and place in a bowl, whilst warm sprinkle over the sugar, salt, runny honey or melted butter and stir.

Johns Red Apple plot

Spicy Apple Crisps

Ingredients

  • 2 large red skinned eating apples
  • Cinnamon and Nutmeg
  • Spray Oil

What you need to do

  1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C Fan/Gas 3. Core and thinly slice the apples ideally with a mandolin (adults only) which will give even slices.
  2. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and spray lightly with oil.
  3. Lay the apple slices out on the tray so that they are not touching and sprinkle with the spices.
  4. Cook in the oven for 30 minutes turn over the slices and if required sprinkle again with the spices.
  5. Return to the oven for about 30 minutes, check regularly and remove any crisps that are golden brown.
  6. Allow to cool on a baking rack.

Edible Chocolate Sparklers

Ingredients

  • Bread Sticks
  • Chocolate
  • Syrup
  • Cake decorations (stars, edible glitter, hundreds and thousands)

What you need to do

  1. Melt the chocolate in the microwave and add some syrup so that the chocolate doesn’t set too quickly.
  2. Spread or brush (with a silicone brush) the chocolate on one half of the bread stick, then sprinkle with your favourite cake decorations, why not also try popping candy, nuts, desiccated coconut or even Rice Krispies or Coco Pops.
  3. Leave to set then enjoy.

firework

Don’t forget Garden Wildlife on Bonfire Night

With all the excitement of bonfire night don’t forget about the wildlife in your garden.  Make sure the bonfire isn’t set up too far in advance, as hedgehogs, small mammals and frogs/toads will be looking for somewhere to hibernate at this time of year, and may find a pile of leaves and wood enticing.  Why not provide hedgehogs/frogs/toads with an alternative home such as a Hogitat or a Frogitat. Click here to see a large selection of Wildlife Habitats.

Place fireworks away from trees and hedges where birds may be roosting, when bonfire night is over remember that now is an excellent time to start feeding your garden birds.  Click here to have a look at our bird feeders and accessories.

Safety is paramount on Bonfire Night click here for a reminder of the rules and tips for a safe and enjoyable Bonfire Night.

Gill

A lot of children will be enjoying half term this week whilst many others will have to wait until next week, I love half term as it usually includes Halloween and Bonfire Night, every year I try out new treats and decorations here are this year’s ideas:

 

dsc06832

Mummified Sausages

Ingredients

  • 8 Sausages (long and thinnish if possible)
  • A packet of ready rolled Shortcrust pastry (approx. 375g)
  • An egg (beaten)
  • Tomato puree
  • Tomato Sauce or dips of your choice

What you need to do

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C/Fan 170 and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
  2. Lay out your pastry sheet and cut it into 1cm strips.
  3. Starting at the bottom , wrap a pastry ‘bandage’ around each sausage in one direction, then repeat and wrap another strip of pastry in the other direction overlapping to look like a mummy, leave a space for the eyes, dip a cocktail stick in the tomato puree and dot on two eyes.
  4. Brush the pastry with a beaten egg and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden and the sausages are cooked through.

dsc06826

Witches Fingers

Ingredients

  • A packet of ready rolled Shortcrust pastry (approx. 375g)
  • An egg (beaten)
  • Tomato puree
  • Dried grated hard cheese
  • 1 or 2 Peperami Sausages

What you need to do

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C/Fan 170 and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
  2. Lay out your pastry sheet and cut into approx. 20 pieces.
  3. Roll out each piece to the length of a finger, gently round one end and press in the tip of a knife for the fingernail, using the knife score two lots of 3 lines across the finger to resemble the knuckles.
  4. Cut the Peperami into 1.5cm slices and then cut each slice in half, dab some tomato puree at the end of the finger and press on your peperami finger nail.
  5. Place on a baking tray, brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle on the cheese.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

Serve both with your favourite dips and watch them disappear

 

dsc06841

Spooky Twig Spiders Webs

What you need

3 twigs of similar length and thickness (per web)

Light coloured string or wool

Plastic/rubber spiders

What you need to do

Lay your 3 twigs on the floor then tie and knot the string/wool around the middle to secure, then carefully loop the string tightly around each branch working in a circle until you reach the end of the twigs, cut and knot the string leaving a long length to hang your web up. Thread your spiders on to the web between the string or tie them on. I have hung my web on the front door.

 

spider-light

Spider Lights

What you need to do

Simply fill jam jars/glass bowls/vases or containers with shop bought ‘spiders webs’ or cotton wool (stretched and pulled), place a safe LED tea light (white or coloured) in the middle and your scary spiders in between the web and the glass, place on your windowsill or by the front door.

 

Have fun

Gill

dsc06813

Last Saturday we went to our friend’s wedding, it was at a beautiful old hotel in the Forest of Bowland surrounded by glorious countryside, the weather couldn’t have been better it was calm, sunny and mild, the surrounding trees were looking at their best in stunning shades of gold, amber and red – it was perfect.

The groom is an Arboriculturalist, and trees played a part at their wedding, they were on the invitations, order of service and the menus, at the wedding breakfast each table had been named after a tree and at each place setting was a favour for each guest, it was a tree sapling beautifully presented in its own woven pouch. We were sat on the ‘Rowan’ table so received a Rowan tree, other tables included Beech, Sweet Chestnut, Hawthorn, Wild Cherry, Field Maple Oak, Crab Apple, Birch what a fantastic idea and a gift that will last a lifetime (ours, our children’s and grandchildren’s) it went down well with all the guests and everyone took their trees home.

Trees make a lovely and unusual gift they can be planted to mark a special occasion, the birth of a child, a wedding, birthday, retirement, mothers/fathers day, an anniversary, and also to remember someone by they are a powerful symbol representing eternity and life.

Growing your own trees

Now is the ideal time to grow your own trees, this year there is a bumper crop of tree seeds/fruits such as acorns, conkers, beech seeds and sycamore/maple/ash keys, most are now on the ground and ready to be collected. Choose seeds that are firm, undamaged and mould/disease free, place in a plastic back to retain their moisture before planting. Sow your seeds in trays, modules or pots depending on their size, in a mixture of 50% multi-purpose compost and 50% perlite or coarse grit, water the compost and allow to drain, sow your seeds to a depth of roughly the height of the seed, small seeds will only need covering lightly with compost, label with the variety and date.

To prevent the compost from drying out cover with an inflated plastic bags, cloche, plastic lid or sheet of clear Perspex, place on a cool windowsill, in a cold frame, greenhouse or polytunnel, keep the compost moist but not soggy. When your seedlings start to emerge remove the cover and when large enough (a good indicator is when you see roots growing through the bottom of the container) transplant into individual pots to grow on. In Spring harden them off and grow on outdoors, if they are large enough in Autumn plant out in their final growing position, this can be delayed a year or two to allow your trees to grow to a larger size, you will need to repot each year into a larger container to allow their roots to grow, container grown trees will need regular watering and feeding once a month with a liquid fertilizer.

If the weather is good this weekend get outdoors, collect and sow some tree seeds.

Gill

red-tomato-chutney

This morning there is a faint smell of vinegar in our house, yesterday I made Red Tomato Chutney using the crops that I had grown, Tomatoes (Large fleshy beef variety that contain very little juice or seeds), Onions and Bramley Apples, I made a large batch which produced 13 jars of this wonderful chestnut brown preserve, it cannot be eaten straight away as most chutneys take time to mature and should be left for at least a month before opening, I like to leave mine a little longer and will be eating this at Christmas with the Turkey. There are so many variations of Chutneys I think it is a case of anything goes whether its fruit, vegetables or a combination of both, it’s a great way to use up the last of your crops or alternatively to make good use of a glut. The word ‘Chutney’ is derived from the Hindu word ‘chatni’ which means strongly spiced if you like lightly spiced chutney then this recipe is perfect for you.

Red Tomato Chutney

Ingredients

  • 900g/2lb Tomatoes (firm but ripe)
  • 450g/1lb Onions
  • 450g/1lb Cooking Apples (weight when peeled and cored)
  • 450ml/¾ pint Malt or Wine Vinegar (I used Malt)
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon Ground Mixed Spice
  • 350g/12oz Sugar
  • 300g/10oz Sultanas
  • Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper to taste

What you need to do

  1. Skin and chop the tomatoes, peel and finely chop the onions and the apples.
  2. Put all the ingredients into the preserving pan except for the sugar, sultanas and the seasoning, simmer gently until tender.
  3. Add the sugar and stir over a low heat until dissolved then put in the sultanas and seasoning.
  4. Simmer steadily, stirring regularly until it is the consistency of a thick jam.
  5. Spoon into hot sterilized jars, add a waxed circle and tighten the lid securely.
  6. Store in a dark, cool and dry place.

Notes:

  1. I made 2.5 times the above quantities in a large stainless steel pan 17cm high x 25cm diameter, this is the maximum volume that can be made in this size of pan.
  2. Once the sultanas have been added you need to stir the mixture regularly as they sink to the bottom and can burn.
  3. If the chutney is slow to reduce down to a jam consistency, spoon off some of the watery mixture from the top of the pan and sieve out the vinegar liquid returning any pulp to the pan.

Homemade chutneys, jams and preserves make a lovely personal gift, why not plan ahead and give friends/family a home produce hamper this Christmas.

Gill