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Archive for February, 2014

Frogs & spawn

There was much excitement at our house on Tuesday morning; we had got our first two blobs of frog spawn in the pond, we now have at least eight blobs. The frogs started to appear in the pond on Saturday 8th February and have been croaking on damp, mild days and especially nights ever since, I did a rough head count today from the window with my binoculars and counted 22 but I am sure that there are more under the water too. Last year the frogs appeared on 16th February but didn’t lay any spawn until 9th March but we had that long spell of cold, frosty weather making spring late, in 2013 the first blob appeared on 28th February.

Frogs spend much of their adult lives on land but return to water (usually the same pond) in spring to mate and lay their spawn, each blob of spawn can contain 1,000-2,000 eggs this may seem a lot but only a small percentage will survive the journey to adulthood, frogspawn can freeze or dry out and many tadpoles and young frogs are eaten by predators. Frogs lay their spawn in a single clump near the water’s edge often in the sunniest and warmest part of the pond; fresh frog spawn is firm and solid and will sink to the bottom, where it will absorb water and then float. Each single ball is made up of two distinct parts, in the centre is the dark ovum (egg), this will develop and grow into a tadpole, surrounding the ovum is a sphere of clear jelly, this jelly provides nourishment for the developing tadpole before it hatches as well as insulation from frosts and protection from diseases, predators and the sun.  If you handle frog spawn you will notice that the top of the ovum is black/dark brown and the underside is pale grey, this pale underside is the developing tadpole’s yolk reserve, always return the spawn to the water the right way up.

Spawn

Frogs can lay their eggs in the most inhospitable places – damp ditches, tractor ruts, temporary ponds in flooded fields and even puddles all of which can dry up very quickly. If you come across some wild stranded frog spawn or tadpoles rescue them and find them a new home in a nearby wild pond, to prevent the risk of spreading diseases it is not advisable to put them into a garden pond or likewise transfer garden frog spawn/tadpoles/frogs into wild ponds.

Both myself, Kim and Sylvia have ponds in our gardens all of which are home to many frogs, this year I am the first to have frog spawn – not that I am competitive!

Why not have a look for some frog spawn this weekend and take some photographs of it, make a note on your calendar or in a Wildlife Diary when you see your first frog spawn of the year.

Love your environment

Gill

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Twigs are useful, fun, free, and help wildlife too.

This Half Term why not put on your warm coat and wellies and go for a walk in the woods or the park and find some sticks, after all this windy weather there should be plenty lying on the ground, collect different lengths and thicknesses, you may also find some on the beach which have been washed up by the sea often in interesting shapes and colours.

Here are a few suggestions for your bounty of sticks:

Pooh Sticks

This game was played and made famous by Winnie the Pooh, you can play it on any bridge over running water, each person drops a stick (at the same time) from the bridge on the upstream side then peers (carefully) over the downside of the bridge to see whose stick appears first, this is the winning stick.

Did you know that there is a World Pooh Sticks Championship, this year it is on Sunday 30th March at Day’s Lock, Little Wittenham, Oxfordshire it is a charity event organised by the Rotary Club of Oxford Spires and Friends.

Tracking Sticks

Tracking with Sticks

Tracking with sticks is a popular Scouting activity; you can play it in the park (split your participants into two groups), in the back garden or even in the house. Use your sticks to leave a trail of arrows to give clues to your seekers of your whereabouts they can be in the open or can be slightly hidden to make it harder.

Spider Catcher 2

Make a Spiders Web Catcher

Spiders are opportunists and will make their web wherever there is the chance of catching some insects. Choose three straightish sticks about 30cm long, place them on the floor in a triangle and tie each corner tightly with string, next pick a strong thickish stick about 80cm in length and tie your stick triangle to it at one end. Push your stick into the ground near some bushes and wait patiently, it may take a while before a spider makes its web there.

Build an Insect/Bug home

When you have finished with your sticks return them to nature and make a home for Insects, Bugs and Beetles. Find a nice quiet corner of your garden, break your sticks so that they are roughly all the same size and then lay them all the same way on top of each other, you can put some leaves, soil and grass in between this will make a damp environment for your creatures, finish off by putting some more leaves and foliage on top.

Have a great holiday and have fun!

Gill

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They say that the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach, there is no better way to do this than with Chocolate, these Double Chocolate Chip Cookies are just perfect to show how much you care, they are quick and easy to make too.

Valentines Chocolate cookies

Valentines Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

What you will need

  • 225g butter/margarine
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 225g plain flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 100g milk or dark chocolate chips

To decorate

  • Icing sugar/red food colouring
  • Ready-made icing in tubes
  • White Chocolate
  • Cake Decorations

What you need to do

  1. Mix the butter/margarine and the caster sugar in a bowl until fluffy and light in colour.
  2. Add the egg yolk and the vanilla essence and beat thoroughly.
  3. Sift the flour and cocoa into the bowl (a bit at a time) and mix, the dough will become quite firm.
  4. Stir in your chocolate chips.
  5. If the mixture is slightly soft and sticky place it in the fridge to chill for at least 20 mins this will make it easier to handle.
  6. Divide the mixture into 12 balls, roll and put onto a baking tray lined with parchment, 6 to a tray allowing room for them to spread, and squash down slightly.
  7. Bake in a preheated oven at 190C/Gas 5 for 10 minutes, remove and leave to cool and set for at least 15 minutes before decorating when cold.

To decorate

Hearts, crosses and patterns can be made from icing or runny white chocolate (melt in a bowl over hot water) add cake decorations when wet – sugar strands, mini marshmallows, silver/gold balls, glitter sugar, sugar hearts.

Don’t forget to reward your young helpers with a sample of their hard work.

Delicious!

Gill

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Oranges are always a favourite at our house, especially Tangerines at Christmas but wouldn’t it be nice to grow your own Orange Tree.

Oranges and Lemons

Many children will not have seen oranges growing on trees except in books, on the television or maybe in garden centres. If you have a bit of time and a lot of patience (it can take 8 years for a tree to produce an orange) why not have a go at growing your own tree from pips that you have collected.

How to Grow your own Orange Tree

Peel your orange and break into segments, hold each segment up to the light you should be able to see the pips inside, carefully split the skin and remove the pips.

Rinse the pips in warm water (keep your pips moist this helps them to germinate).

Sowing Orange pips

Fill some small pots with compost and plant your pips about 1-1.5cm deep, one or two to a pot.

Water lightly to moisten the compost but not too much to make it soggy.

Make a label recording the date, what and how many seeds you have sown.

If you have a propagator put your pots inside and place on a warm, bright windowsill, alternatively push 2/3 sticks into the compost around the edge of the pot and cover with a plastic bag, tie loosely with string around the pot or use a rubber band.

At night remove your pots from the windowsill as it can become quite cold especially if you have the curtains closed, returning them during the day.

Check regularly that the compost is moist, once your seedlings appear remove their protective cover and place in a sunny position avoiding the midday sun.

Re-pot your plants individually as they grow.

When your plants are much larger stand them in a conservatory or porch or outside on a sheltered patio in warm weather during the summer bringing them inside, before any frosts, for the winter.

Why not try growing lemon or grapefruit pips too?

Have fun!

Gill

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