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Archive for May, 2012

If you enjoyed taking part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch in January this year or maybe you missed out why not take part in the RSPB’s ‘Make Your Nature Count’ Survey next week from Saturday 2nd June to Sunday 10th June.

To take part all you need to do is to watch which birds and creatures visit your garden or local park for one hour during those dates and record the highest number seen at any one time then send in your results before 2nd July 2012.

Square Ground Bird Table

Square Ground Bird Table

This survey is a bit different than the Big Garden Birdwatch as creatures e.g. Bagdger, Grey Squirrel, Slow Worm, Muntjac Deer, Hedgehog, Roe Deer, Mole and Red Squirrel and Blackbird, Robin and Song Thrush chicks can be included. Only record the birds that land in your garden or park with the exception of Swifts and House Martins as these are most likely to be seen in flight. To help you to identify the species there is a Counting Sheet available to download.

Hedgehog Snack Feeding Bowl

Hedgehog Snack Feeding Bowl

By taking part in the UK’s largest garden wildlife survey you will be helping to build a picture of the wildlife that visits green spaces in summer.

This is a great free half term holiday activity that all the family can take part in, all you need is a pencil, paper and if you have some a pair of binoculars plus a little bit of patience!  If you are watching the birds on the park why not take a picnic as well.

We will be taking part too, Thomas can’t wait.

Happy watching

Gill

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At the moment our back garden is not very tranquil we have approximately 16 young Starlings and their parents visiting throughout the day, I can’t believe how much noise they make. They are very demanding and very naïve as are most of the birds that are newly fledged from nests or bird boxes. It is a very critical time for birds and their chicks, this warm weather really helps as it brings with it new hatchings of insects and caterpillars, perfect food for young birds, but a cold and wet spell can really affect the young and parent bird’s survival.

Starling Nest Box

I put bird food out every morning on the lawn and on the bird table, I am sure they must watch me through the kitchen window, waiting for me to come out, they are all very hungry, as soon as I’ve turned my back they are tucking in. The young Starlings (which look bigger than their parents) make me laugh they sit on the lawn surrounded by food and wait for their parents to feed them, which they dutifully do. The young birds are fascinated by the pond they keep climbing on the metal grid that we have over it, wobbling and falling in, they manage to get out quite easily though. The pond provides water for drinking and bathing which is very important especially during the warm weather if you haven’t a pond consider putting out a bird bath/water dish.

Provide water for the birds

In the evening, and a moment of calm after the birds had gone to bed, we were sat out in the garden when some large insects flew over they were ‘May Bugs’ also called Cockchafer Beetles or Melolontha melolontha. They are not a true bug but a large beetle and the largest species of Chafer Beetle in the UK. They are more commonly found in the South and appear on warm evenings from May to July, and are attracted to artificial light often coming indoors through open windows. ‘May Bugs’ may look a bit scary but they are harmless to humans. They are about 3cm in length with short feelers on their black head and a hairy body, with non hairy reddish-brown wing cases. The complete life-cycle from egg to adult takes about 3-4 years.

The grubs are considered a pest feeding underground on roots and they can destroy pastures and crops, you may have come across some of the grubs whilst digging, I have on my allotment and they are pretty horrible to look at. The grubs are ‘C’ shaped, have six legs and are white with reddish-brown heads, they hatch from eggs in about 5-6 weeks and can grow to 4 cm they will live for 3 years and then turn into a pupae and remain underground over winter to emerge as adult beetles the next year. The beetles only live for about a month but will mate and lay their eggs underground on roots before they die. The grubs are favourite food for Rooks, Crows and Gulls and the beetles are eaten by Owls and Bats.

Keep looking out for ‘May Bugs’ we found this one on the road; it was probably hit by a car.

May Bug

Love your Environment  (not sure about the ‘May Bug’ grubs!)

Gill

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Preparations are well underway all over the country for the Queens Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June. Bunting is being made, entertainers are being booked and street parties are being organized, if you are having your own Party, Street Party or BBQ why not make some of our delicious Red (Strawberries), White (Mascarpone/Cream) and Blue (Blueberries) Jubilee treats.

Fruity Jubilee Cheesecake

  •  400g (approx) Strawberries and Blueberries
  • 250g Digestive Biscuits
  • 100g Melted Butter
  • 600g Soft Cheese
  • 284ml Double Cream
  • 100g  Icing Sugar
  • ½ teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  1. Put the biscuits into a plastic food bag, seal and crush with a rolling pin until they become crumbs.
  2. Gently melt the butter in a pan and add the biscuit crumbs mixing thoroughly.
  3. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom of a 23cm loose bottomed cake tin in an even layer and place in the fridge to chill for an hour.
  4. Mix the Soft Cheese with the Icing Sugar gradually adding the cream and the vanilla extract and beating until smooth.
  5. Spoon the cream mixture onto the biscuit base and smooth down removing any air pockets.
  6. Place in a fridge overnight to set.
  7. 30 minutes before serving remove the Cheesecake from the fridge.
  8. Place the cake tin on a can or a cup and slowly pull the sides of the tin down then carefully slide the Cheesecake off the base onto a serving plate (if you can).
  9. Wash your Blueberries and Strawberries (slice in half if large) arrange on top and decorate with sprigs of mint.

 

Fruity Jubilee Pavlova

  • 4 Large Egg Whites
  • 225g Caster Sugar
  • 2tsp Cornflour
  • 1 tsp White Wine Vinegar
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 300 ml Double Cream
  • 400g (approx) Strawberries and Blueberries
  1. Preheat oven to 150C, Fan 130C, Gas 2.
  2. Line a baking tray with Greaseproof Paper.
  3. In a clean, dry bowl beat or whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks then add a few spoonfuls of sugar at a time and continue whisking until glossy and smooth, fold in the cornflour and vinegar.
  4. Spoon the mixture onto the greaseproof paper in a circle about 22cm in diameter making a slight dip in the centre.
  5. Bake for 10 minutes then reduce temperature to 120C, fan 100C, Gas ½ and bake for 1 hour.
  6. Turn the oven off and leave the pavlova to cool in the oven.
  7. Just before serving whip the cream to soft peaks and spoon on top of your pavlova.
  8. Wash your Blueberries and Strawberries (slice in half if large) arrange on top and decorate with sprigs of mint.

Both these recipes can be made the day before and finished off just before serving.

Whatever you are doing have a great time and let’s hope the sun shines.

Gill

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There is still time to have a go at our two current competitions to win some great childrens gardening equipment, but don’t delay as the closing date of 31st May 2102 is only two weeks away.

Our first competition, to celebrate the Queens Diamond Jubilee, is in

The School Zone

This year the Queen celebrates her Diamond Jubilee and there will be lots of events and festivities taking place all over the country.

For a chance to win get patriotic and ‘Draw a Royal Garden’ and one lucky school will receive:

Kids Standing Raised Bed Growing Table

1 x Kids Standing Raised Bed Growing Table

1 x Gardener’s Apprentice Hand Fork

1 x Gardener’s Apprentice Hand Trowel

2 x Children’s Gardening Aprons

1 x Kid’s traditional Watering Can

A selection of Seeds

So get designing and send in your drawings to us before 31st May 2012. For more information and an entry form see our School Zone.

Our second competition, about sowing and growing from seed, is in

The Family Zone.

Lots of seeds can be started off on your windowsill and an ideal way to grow them is in a Mini Propagator especially if the weather outside is cold or wet.

To win some great garden goodies all you need to do is to

SOW AND GROW SOMETHING YOU CAN EAT ON YOUR WINDOWSILL

and then tell us all about it or send in a photograph or a drawing

 The winning entry will receive:

So get planning, sowing and growing as entries need to be in by 31st May 2012. For more information and an entry form take a look at our Family Zone.

Good Luck

Gill

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Over the Bank Holiday weekend we managed to get away in the caravan to Bolton-le-Sands. We took the Bird Feeders with us but unfortunately we were pitched in the centre of a field away from trees and hedges. The weather was glorious sunny days and cold nights with a hard frost on Friday and Saturday night reminding us that although we are in May we still need to be vigilant and protect any tender plants or blossoms with Fleece and Cloches. We had a walk on the coast which was grassy salt marsh with saltwater pools and mudflats which are teaming with food for birds this makes it the most important estuary in Britain for its seabird and waterfowl populations and attracts the third largest number of wintering wildfowl in Britain. Morecambe Bay is unique and is a designated Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Wetland of International Importance and a designated European Marine Site (Ems).

The Rockpool Guide

We took our fishing nets, a couple of buckets and our Rockpool Guide (a very handy, waterproof 6 page leaflet which makes identifying Shells, Anemones, Seaweed, Crabs etc. very easy) we caught a few crabs, some Brown shrimps and some tiny fish in the pools. The tide was on its way in so we went to the waters edge and started fishing again but this time we were catching Ladybirds! Floating on the surface of the water there were hundreds of Ladybirds amongst the seaweed and debris, they must have been on the grassy salt marsh and got caught by the incoming tide. We rescued as many as we could but soon realised that they would probably be alright as the tide does comes in twice a day, everyday, but we had fun!

Fishing for Ladybirds

Rescued Ladybirds

Next stop was the RSPB’s Nature Reserve at Leighton Moss it’s the largest reedbed in the north-west and a haven for many species of birds and is my son Thomas’s favourite place. We went well prepared with a pencil, wildlife diary, binoculars and our Guide to Wetland Birds (a 12 page guide featuring 49 common wetland birds) which was invaluable and we managed to spot most of the birds on it. One species of bird that we saw which wasn’t on the guide was an Osprey and we were lucky to see not one but three, one of which was carrying a fish in its claws, another rare visitor we spotted was a Glossy Ibis a dark brown long-legged wading bird more commonly found in Southern Europe these were the highlight of the day and the weekend.

Guide to Wetland Birds

When I get back to the office I shall have to invest in a Guide to Ladybirds of the British Isles so that we can identify which one of the 46 Ladybird species found in the British Isles we rescued and have a look at the other Wildlife Guides that we stock too, they are very child friendly and easy to use with lovely illustrations, making them perfect for every little wildlife enthusiast.

Guide to Ladybirds of the British Isles

So get out there wildlife spotting you don’t need to be in a nature reserve to find something unusual they could be just around the corner or even in your back garden.

Enjoy your environment

Gill

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On my Allotment things are really starting to grow despite the cool and wet weather.

Onion Sets

The onion sets I planted in March are really doing well, I planted out 7 rows with only one bulb ‘missing’, usually a lot of them are pulled out by the birds but as a deterrent I placed my old autumn fruiting raspberry canes (which I had just cut down) across the bed and this seemed to work, I would recommend covering sets with fleece, netting or cloches until the sets have rooted. Back in November last year I planted some winter onion sets these were not as successful with about a quarter ‘missing’ probably down to mice/rabbits/frost or the wet weather, but I managed to carefully transplant them to make 5 rows. The sets become well rooted over winter with a small amount of top growth but come spring they really get growing a lot faster and produce an earlier crop of onions. My onions and garlic need to be kept weed free and well watered in dry weather, the onions will benefit from a top dressing of general fertilizer such as organic Chicken Poo in about a month.

Elephant Garlic

I bought 3 elephant garlic bulbs from The Recycleworks as I had not grown these before and I was rather curious because of their large size, I planted these at the end of March and I am very pleased as they now have some very strong healthy tops.

We still have some of last years leeks left which are delicious especially in Leek and Bacon Quiche, Leek Parsnip and Potato Bake and Leek Soup.  They will need eating soon before they go to seed and I need their space to grow peas, which is one of my next jobs.

The strawberry plants have plenty of flowers on them but quite a few have been caught by the weekend frosts I would have covered them with fleece if I hadn’t been away.

I planted most of my seed potatoes at the end of April a little later than I intended due to the weather. When their shoots emerge they will need ‘earthing up’ by scraping up the surrounding soil to create ridges along the rows of plants.

Greenhouse Tomato

In the greenhouse I have planted out my tomatoes in their final growing position and provided canes for support as they are indeterminate varieties (this means that I will need to remove the side shoots that grow between the leaf node and the main stem) and they grow taller than bush varieties.

Seeds I need to sow next include: Sweetcorn – singly in 8cm pots. French Beans – singly in 8cm pots. Herbs – Basil, Coriander and Parsley – a few seeds per 8cm pots, Rocket – in a small seed tray. Mixed Salad Leaves – in a small seed tray. Courgette –singly in 8cm pots sowing the seeds on their edge. Pumpkin – singly in 8cm pots sowing the seeds on their edge. Sunflowers – singly in 8cm pots.

Sowing Mustard and Cress

I must remember to ask Thomas if he can sow some more mustard and cress seeds in his Mini Propagator the last batch has nearly all been eaten, they are delicious in salads and sandwiches and are great fun for children to grow too.

Mustard and Cress ready to eat

Must get on, lots to do

Happy Growing

Gill

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The 2012 RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch/Big Schools Birdwatch results have been published, this was something that we took part in on 28th/29th January. Just under 600,000 people took part and counted over 9 million birds, of over 70 species, in 285,440 gardens across the UK. In first place was the House Sparrow, second was the Starling, and third was the Blue Tit. Although second place, sadly, this survey revealed that Starlings are at an all time low, they were seen in fewer than half of the gardens with an average of three per garden. Research is now underway to find out more about their decline and they have now been placed on the red list as a bird of high conservation concern.

Starling Nest Box

To help this stunning glossy purple/green speckled bird why not put up a Starling Nest Box, designed specifically for the Starling it has a larger entrance hole and more space inside. It is still not too late to put up any type of Nest Box.

Single House Martin Nest Box

We have a multitude of nest boxes on the sides of our house (as it’s a semi-detached there is plenty of space) at the front we have a Single House Martin Nest Box ready for their return from Africa (these are proving very popular at the moment and our stocks at The Recycleworks are going out within days of arriving especially the Double Chamber House Martin Boxes) unfortunately last year the returning House Martins didn’t get a look in as the House Sparrows had occupied it first, so instead they built their own nests on our neighbours house across the road. They are elegant birds with their distinct white rump and forked tail, it’s lovely to hear them ‘chatter’ to each other.

Bowland Nest Box

Curiously there’s no shortage of nest boxes for the Sparrows, as at the back of the house there are nine single Nest Boxes spaced out in a terrace and a three chamber House Sparrow Terrace Nest Box, two of the chambers are being used by House Sparrows as are two of the single boxes. We have got a Nest Box Camera in one of these boxes and last year we were thrilled to watch eggs being laid, and the chicks hatching and being fed by their parents – what a privilege. One of the single boxes had a wasp nest in last year and I believe Bumble Bees also nest in them. At the side of the house we have another single nest box and two Swift Boxes (homemade) again all these are occupied by House Sparrows, we have quite an increasing colony which is lovely, but they do torment our poor cat ‘Bramble’.

Camera Ready Nest Box

So why not put up some bird boxes you never know who will make their home in them!

Love your wildlife

Gill

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