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Archive for April, 2015

This Sunday it’s International Dawn Chorus Day (3rd May 2015) so why not get up really early in fact at least an hour before sunrise and you will be rewarded with one of natures finest events – The Dawn Chorus, the best time to listen is between late April and early June this is when you will hear the most species singing. Birds will start to sing an hour before sunrise peaking half an hour before and half an hour after sunrise, birds seem to take it in turns to sing, some of the first birds to sing are Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Robins followed by Finches, Dunnocks and Sparrows and then the smaller birds such as Wrens and Warblers.

Blackbird Nest Box

So why do birds sing?

The main reasons for singing in Spring are to:

  • Claim and guard a territory – They tell other birds that their patch is occupied and that a territory exists.
  • Attract a mate – The stronger and better their song is, the more likely they are to be a good partner and attract a mate.

Birds can make different calls which can either be to indicate a source of food, keep their flock together or to warn of danger from predators.

Giant Fat Ball Feeder

Some birds such as Great Tits and Blue Tits have more than one song which can be confusing, if you are new to bird watching and not familiar with identifying birds songs there are many organised events taking place on Sunday and throughout May, you can go on a guided walk with an expert who will help you to identify the birds that you hear. It can be quite chilly so early in the morning, wear plenty of warm and waterproof clothes, take a hot drink, a note pad and your binoculars or camera; some events have breakfast included!

A word of caution some birds are very talented and can mimic the songs of other birds, one such bird is the Starling. We have Starlings at home that sit on the gutter and sing their little hearts out, they do sing their own song but they are also very good at imitating a Curlew, Lapwing, Heron, Gull, Sparrow and a Hen, they really are amazing.

It really is worth the effort getting up early on Sunday to listen to the Dawn Chorus, you can always have a lie in the day after – it’s a Bank Holiday.

Have fun

Gill

 

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This week it has been glorious with long, dry days of warm sunshine, perfect weather for gardening and getting outdoors and also for Butterflies too, on my allotment I saw quite a few including Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks, Small Whites and my first Orange Tip, they are all stunning to look at, when they eventually settle to feed on the spring flowers.

In Britain there are 59 species of butterfly that breed here plus up to 30 other species that come here as occasional or regular migrants from elsewhere in Europe, but all is not well for these beautiful fragile creatures, according to a report published in 2011 by Butterfly Conservation three-quarters of UK butterflies showed a 10-year decrease in either their distribution or population levels with numbers of ‘garden’ butterflies dropping by 24%.

DSC03741

Loss of habitat including food plants for caterpillars and butterflies can have a devastating effect, in Spring many species emerge from hibernation and are hungry for nectar and pollen, by growing Spring flowering plants in the garden we can really give them a boost early on in the year, favourite Butterfly plants include Aubretia, Arabis, Forget-me-nots, Polyanthus, Primroses, Sweet Violet, Wallflowers and of course Spring bulbs. Wildflower seeds can be sown now to provide food in the Summer/Autumn they will also benefit Bees and other pollinating insects, there are many different ‘mixes’ available, they need very little looking after but look stunning.

 Short Mix

If you are really keen to do more to help Butterflies and Moths why not consider joining Butterfly Conservation, if you join before 31st May 2015 you can get your first year’s membership for half price, members receive a Gardening for Butterflies and Moths Booklet, colourful identification charts, Butterfly magazines, e-newsletters and more, have a look at their website for full details.

If you have seen an early sighting of a Butterfly you can register it on the Butterfly Conservation website, many of the early Butterflies have already been spotted but there are many more species yet to find, have a look at the list for the species that still haven’t been seen yet this year and keep your eyes peeled.

Which reminds me I must report my Orange Tip Butterfly sighting on the BIG Spring Watch website, they are also asking you to register your first sightings of a Swallow (which are returning from Africa), an Oak Leaf and a Seven Spot Ladybird all the sightings will be studied and used to help save and conserve our wildlife and provide a picture of how it’s doing.

So get out this weekend and get spotting!

Gill

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National Gardening Week (13-19 April 2015) was launched four years ago by the RHS and since then has grown into the country’s biggest celebration of gardening. Thousands of people, gardens, charities, retailers, culture and heritage organisations and groups get involved with many events and activities being held up and down the country from beginner’s workshops to guided walks, face painting to garden parties, there’s something for everyone and everyone is invited. Find out what’s on.

There are plenty of things you can do yourself or with your family to get into the spirit of National Gardening Week here is my suggestion:

Sow some seeds

Having been a gardener for most of my life, I must have sown thousands and thousands of seeds, yet I am still excited when they grow and appear out of the compost, it’s magical and also amazing to think that vegetables, flowers, grasses and even trees all start from a small seed.

If you are new to gardening, sowing seeds can be a bit daunting and perhaps scary, why not start off with something very simple that is quick to grow and can be picked and eaten straight away, I remember growing Cress when I was at Primary School. Cress Seeds can be grown on compost in a seed tray or pot, or on kitchen roll or cotton wool; they germinate quickly, grow fast and need very little attention.

Mustard and Cress ready to eat

Grow speedy Cress in a pot

Fast growing crops are best for children, fill your pots with compost, water then sprinkle your Cress seeds onto the surface place in a bright position and watch them grow, simply cut with scissors just above the compost level when ready, usually 7-14 days after sowing, and eat fresh. A brightly coloured Children’s Mini Propagator Kit is the perfect introduction for your budding gardener to sow and grow their seeds and will fit neatly on the windowsill.

 

1. Cress Heads

  1. Decorate a small plant pot or empty container with a happy, funny or scary face using paint, felt tips or crayons, why not add some sequins, wool, glitter.
  2. Once your decorations have dried, place some compost inside the pot, water and sow some cress seeds on top.
  3. Place on a windowsill and water carefully when it starts to dry out.
  4. When the Cress has grown, give your Cress head a ‘haircut’ and enjoy.

Cress Cotton Wool Lamb

2. Cotton Wool Cress Lamb

What you will need

  • Plastic or Polystyrene disposable plates
  • Coloured Felt tips
  • Cotton Wool
  • Glue
  • Cress Seeds

What you need to do

  1. Draw a lamb on the plate, give him/her a large body.
  2. Spread some glue on the lambs body and press on a piece of cotton wool, allow to dry.
  3. Carefully wet the cotton wool.
  4. Sprinkle your cress seeds on the cotton wool and place on a light windowsill, keep the cotton wool moist.
  5. Watch your seeds grow, they will be ready to eat in 7-14 days, simply cut with scissors and enjoy.

Have fun

Gill

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They say what a difference a day makes; it’s not only a day but a week too, last week it was cold we had wind, gales, rain and wintry showers, this week it is settled and dry with light winds, and sunshine, the weather is just like life full of ups and downs.

The final image.

A couple of months ago I received an email from Toni Abram who is the founder of the website ‘The Information Point for Centronuclear and Myotubular Myopathy’. The Centronuclear Myopathies are a family of rare inherited neuromuscular diseases, which can affect children and adults, and causes muscle deterioration and weakness affecting breathing, feeding and movement making simple everyday tasks such as walking up stairs, rising from a sitting position unaided, lifting and carrying and opening bottles difficult and often impossible.

After Toni and her father were diagnosed with the condition in 1998, she soon realised that it was relatively unknown and information was hard to find so Toni set up a website to help others in their search for information and to bring those with the condition together, whatever their age, whatever form of the condition they have and wherever they may be in the world; and to create awareness of this rare condition.

Bright, vibrant Sunflowers are featured on the website and were chosen for the cheery and positive outlook they convey they can grow to such dizzy heights, as if they are on a mission to touch the sky and nothing can hold them back, I cannot think of a more appropriate flower to use.

The Big Sunflower Project

The Sunflowers were the inspiration for their now annual Big Sunflower Project, which was started in 2011, and raises awareness of centronuclear and myotubular myopathy. The aim of the project is to get as many people as possible growing sunflowers, participants can obtain their own seeds or request seeds from The Information Point by emailing their name and address with the subject line ‘The Big Sunflower Project’, you can request seeds for yourself or on behalf of a group in return just send them photographs of your sunflowers, either as they grow or when they are in full bloom, which will then be displayed on their website, newsletters and on social media.

Sunflowers are easy to germinate and grow and a favourite with all children so why not grow some this year, they are stunning to look at and will brighten up any corner of your garden, as well as taking part in The Big Sunflower Project by growing them you will also be providing a good source of nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, moths, hoverflies and other insects and the seeds will be enjoyed by the birds in Autumn/Winter.

For more information have a look at their website –

The Information Point for Centronuclear and Myotubular Myopathy

The Big Sunflower Project

I grow Sunflowers each year and will be sowing my seeds at the end of April/early May, here is a picture of Thomas with some giant ones.

T and our Sunflowers

For more information on ‘How to grow Giant Sunflowers’ click here.

Have fun and enjoy the sunshine

Gill

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Easter is here and it’s a great time to get outdoors and enjoy all that Spring has to offer, the garden is coming to life, buds are bursting, daffodils are dazzling and the birds are busy building their nests and singing loudly, especially early in the morning.

If the weather is not great and those sneaky April Showers are keeping you indoors here are some activities to pass the time:

Have fun

Traditionally an Easter Egg Hunt takes place in the garden, of course you can always have them indoors around the house, here is another version if space is limited, it’s great fun and perfect for a children’s party.

Mini Eggs in rice

Mini Easter Egg Lucky Dip

What you will need

  • Mini Easter Eggs
  • A bucket/washing up bowl
  • Cheap Dried Rice (enough to ¾ fill the bucket/washing up bowl)
  • A blindfold or scarf
  • An Easter Egg for the winner
  • Extra Mini Eggs for all runners up

How to play

  1. Fill your container with rice and push in your eggs (you could use different sizes of mini Easter eggs).
  2. Place your container on the floor with a table cloth underneath to catch any rice.
  3. Each child takes it in turn to kneel on the floor, blindfolded and find as many eggs as they can in 1 minute.
  4. Count and record the number of eggs found and return to the rice for the next person.
  5. The winner is the one who finds the most eggs.

Grow

Lambs are synonymous with Spring, why not get crafty and make a Lamb which will grow.

Cress Cotton Wool Lamb

Cotton Wool Cress Lamb

What you will need

  • Plastic or Polystyrene disposable plates
  • Coloured Felt tips
  • Cotton Wool
  • Glue
  • Cress Seeds

What you need to do

  1. Draw a lamb on the plate, give him/her a large body.
  2. Spread some glue on the lambs body and press on a piece of cotton wool, allow to dry.
  3. Carefully wet the cotton wool.
  4. Sprinkle your cress seeds on the cotton wool and place on a light windowsill, keep the cotton wool moist.
  5. Watch your seeds grow, they will be ready to eat in 7-14 days, simply cut with scissors and enjoy.

Bake

Hot Cross Buns are traditionally eaten toasted and buttered, why not have a change and make them into a delicious dessert, it would be ideal for an Easter family get together and is a great way to use up buns that have gone dry.

Hot x Buns

Hot Cross Bun Pudding

What you will need

  • 6 Hot Cross Buns
  • 30g Salted Butter
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 450ml whole milk
  • 3 tbsp light brown sugar
  • Handful of Raisins and Sultanas
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • Icing sugar to dust

What you need to do

  1. Butter a shallow ovenproof dish (approx. 25 x 32cm)
  2. Cut your buns in half and butter both sides then cut each half into quarters.
  3. Layer the bottom quarters butter side up in the dish and sprinkle over the Raisins and Sultanas.
  4. Whisk the eggs, milk, sugar and nutmeg together and pour about two thirdsof the mixture over the buns and leave to soak in, then place the remaining ‘top’ quarters on top with the top of the bun upwards and pour over the remaining custard mix, press down lightly and leave to soak in again.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180C and bake for approx. 40 minutes or until golden brown on top check that all the custard is cooked through, dust with icing sugar.
  6. Serve with ice cream, cream, crème fraiche or yoghurt
  7. Serves 6-8

For more fun, crafty and delicious Easter activities click here.

Whatever the weather have a great Easter

Gill

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