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School walk 1

I love being outdoors, there is nothing better than going for a walk, it is a great way to relax and get fit whilst being surrounded by birds, animals, insects, flowers, trees and the varied and unique landscapes that make up our fantastic countryside, it really makes you appreciate how wonderful nature is.

Next week is National Countryside Week this is an annual awareness campaign by the Princes Countryside Fund (who give grants to projects that help support the people who care for the countryside) to celebrate the British countryside and the people who live and work in our rural areas, they are encouraging everyone to get together with their family, friends or colleagues and take a walk in the countryside between Mon 14th – Sunday 20th July.

School Walk 2

If you go on a walk be prepared and plan ahead, check the weather forecast and take appropriate footwear, clothing and accessories, bring food, plenty of drinks and a first aid kit, if you are exploring somewhere new take a map, mobile phones are wonderful but only if you can get a signal and most of all don’t forget to follow

The Countryside Code

Respect   –  Protect  –  Enjoy

Respect other people

  • Consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors
  • Leave gates and property as you find them and follow paths unless wider access is available

Protect the natural environment

  • Leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home
  • Keep dogs under effective control

Enjoy the outdoors

  • Plan ahead and be prepared
  • Follow advice and local signs

You may see some of these signs on your walk, do you know what they mean?

FootpathFootpath – open to walkers only, waymarked with a yellow arrow.

 

 

 

BridlewayBridleway – open to walkers, horse-riders and cyclists, waymarked with a blue arrow.

 

 

Restricted bywayRestricted byway – open to walkers, cyclists, horse-riders and horse-drawn vehicles, waymarked with a plum coloured arrow.

 

 

Byway open to all trafficByway Open to All Traffic (BOAT) – open to walkers, cyclists, horse-riders, horse-drawn vehicles and motor vehicles, waymarked with a red arrow.

 

National Trail acornNational Trail Acorn – identifies 15 long distance routes in England and Wales. All are open for walking and some trails are also suitable for cyclists, horse-riders and people with limited mobility.

 

The most important thing is to get out there and have fun you don’t need to walk for miles, a walk around your local park can be just as enjoyable, remember to take your camera or your binoculars you never know what you may see.

Mucky Wellies

Happy Walking

Gill

 

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In the office this week we have been watching Sylvia’s latest video blogs, the first featured a large frog and the second a very tiny froglet, Kim has a pond in her garden and commented that she couldn’t mow the lawn because of the tiny froglets, Sylvia has froglets and toadlets in her garden, this got me thinking – how many people would be able to identify a toad from a frog?

 

Frogs & spawn

Frogs

What do they look like?

Common frogs have smooth skin which can be grey, olive green and yellow to brown with irregular dark blotches and a dark stripe around their eyes and eardrum and dark bars on their legs, they can lighten or darken their skin to match their surroundings, adults frogs grow to 6-10cm in length they can breathe through their skin as well as their lungs. In Spring frogs lay their eggs in large clumps this is called frogspawn.

Where do they live?

Common frogs are most active at night between February and October you can find them by ponds, lakes and canals and in meadows, woodland and gardens, in Winter they hibernate in pond mud or under piles of rotting leaves, logs or stones.

What do they eat?

Frogs eat snails, slugs and worms as well as insects which they catch with their sticky tongue.

 

Toad

Toads

What do they look like?

Common Toads have warty skin which can be dark brown, grey and olive green to sandy coloured, they have broad, squat bodies and they tend to walk rather than hop. To deter predators they secrete an irritant substance from their skin and can puff themselves to make themselves look bigger, females can grow up to 15cm long the males are slightly smaller, toads can live up to forty years.  In Spring Toads lay their eggs in long triple stranded strings in still water amongst water plants.

Where do they live?

Toads are more active at night and can be found in woods, parks, scrubby areas, fields, ditches, lakes and damp areas of the garden often in compost heaps, during the Winter they hibernate in deep leaf litter, log piles and in burrows.

What do they eat?

Toads eat slugs, worms, insect larvae and spiders occasionally larger toads eat slow worms, small grass snakes and harvest mice!

 

Provide the frogs and toads in your garden with a safe place to rest and hibernate by putting a

Frogitat – Ceramic Frog and Toad House

Frogitat - Ceramic Frog and Toad House

or a Woodstone Frog and Toad House Bunker

Woodstone Frog and Toad House Bunker

in a wild quiet corner of your garden.

You can watch Sylvia’s video blogs on facebook or by subscribing to ‘Sylvia’s Briefs’

Gill

 

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National Insect Week logo
 
Next week is National Insect Week (23-29 June) it is organised by the Royal Entomological Society and encourages people of all ages to learn more about insects.
 
Did you know that there are over one million species of insects in the world these are just the ones that have been discovered and named with possibly many more new species out there just waiting to be found? In the UK alone there are more than 24,000 species, they are very varied in appearance (shape, size and colour) and live quite differently in their own habitats, many go unnoticed in our day-to-day life, why not go and explore your patch to see what is living in your school garden or your garden at home.
 
Be prepared
Hopefully the sun will be shining but you may need waterproofs, old clothes and Wellingtons.The Minibeast GuideEquipment
A Minibeast/Insect Identification Guide, Camera, Magnifying Glass, Note Pad, Pencil and a suitable container (not airtight) to study your insects (release your insects as soon as possible and return them to where they were found, please take care not to injure the insects themselves or disturb their environment).
 
Where to look
Have a look under stones/rocks/plant pots/logs and rotting wood, in compost heaps and long grass, on the underside of leaves, on flower heads, in leaf litter and near ponds (always have an adult with you).

Dragonfly

Insects to look out for
  • Dragonflies and Damselflies
  • Ladybirds
  • Grasshoppers/Crickets
  • Beetles
  • Butterflies
  • Hoverflies
  • Aphids/Greenfly
  • Moths
  • Lacewings
  • Ants
  • Wasps
  • Bees
  • Earwigs
  • Flies
  • Bugs
Elephant Hawk Moth

Elephant Hawk Moth

 
Once you find your insect, make a record of what it is, draw a picture of it or take a photograph, record where you found it, what it was doing or what it was eating/feeding on and the date.
 
When you have been on your Insect Hunt why not tell us what you find or send in your drawing or photograph to enter our free Family Zone competition for a chance to win a Ladybird and Insect Tower and a Field guide to Ladybirds of the British Isles for full details click here or have a go at our Insect Quiz in the School Zone for a chance to win your school a Solar Insect Theatre and a Minibeast Identification Guide for full details click here.
 
If you want to encourage more insects to your garden why not put up some Insect Houses, they will provide a safe winter haven as well as looking attractive.
 
Wildlife World Bee & Bug Biome

Bee and Bug Biome

Solitary Bee Hive

Solitary Bee Hive

The Butterfly Biome

The Butterfly Biome

 
An Insect Hunt is a great way to get children (and adults) outdoors and interested in their environment, everyone can take part whatever their age (I love it just as much as Thomas), here are some of our findings on our Insect Hunt last weekend.
 
Common Green Grasshopper

Common Green Grasshopper

Fritillary Butterfly

Fritillary Butterfly

 
Happy hunting
 
Gill
 

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Chocolate Easter eggs are everywhere they seem to have been in the shops since Christmas, this year why not make some ‘traditional’ Easter eggs with the children to decorate your house this Easter and to celebrate the humble egg too!

Dip and Dye Decorated Eggs

What you will need

  • Cooled Hard Boiled Eggs (White or pale coloured)
  • Food Colouring
  • White vinegar
  • Warm water
  • Bowl or Cup for each colour, deep enough to submerge an egg
  • Spoons

Dyeing eggs can be very messy, wear old clothes if possible and waterproof painting aprons, cover the kitchen table with a plastic tablecloth and newspapers.

For each coloured dye place half/one teaspoon of food colouring and one tablespoon of vinegar in a container then top up to approx. ¾ full with warm water.

The Simple Egg

Carefully lower your egg into the dye with your spoon, the longer you leave it in the dye the darker the colour will be, remove your egg when you are happy with the colour and leave to dry.

The Arty Egg

Using a wax crayon or a birthday candle, draw a picture, pattern or write a message on your egg before dipping as above, the wax crayon/candle will stop the dye colouring the egg, experiment with different colours.

The Abstract Egg

Using masking tape, cut out lots shapes and stick them on your egg, dye several times in different colours after each colour allow to dry before removing some of the shapes before dyeing again alternatively place elastic bands around your egg and remove some after each dipping you could dye the egg a light colour first before covering with the masking tape shapes or rubber bands.

You can decorate all of the dyed eggs further by drawing/painting patterns, shapes, flowers, animals or faces etc. on them or by sticking on glitter, sequins, coloured foil, paper, wool, string, cotton wool etc. the possibilities are endless.

Place your eggs in a basket or bowl filled with tissue paper or straw for a wonderful display, unfortunately you will not be able to eat these eggs unlike the chocolate ones!

Have fun

Gill

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We have had an ‘Ask an Expert Enquiry’ this week from Janice Ketley who has asked

‘When I take out my tomatoes, what can I plant for the winter that is low growing and easy harvesting’.

I am presuming that Janice has her tomatoes in a greenhouse, at present I haven’t got any spare room in mine with lots of green tomatoes still to ripen as well as a cucumber plant, two aubergines, 10 chilli and sweet pepper plants and onions drying out.

It is a good idea to plan ahead now for the winter months, a greenhouse, polytunnel or even a cold frame can provide a crop throughout the year and should be utilised as much as possible. Here are my suggestions what Janice could grow.

 Lid support

Plant some potatoes

It is possible to harvest your own new potatoes at Christmas or in the New Year, these are called second cropping potatoes and one of the best varieties is Carlingford. To ensure a harvest for Christmas they need to be planted by the end of August but you could still try planting some in the next few weeks for a later crop. Your seed potatoes need to be planted in large pots or growing bags in good compost, water them in and place somewhere warm and sunny, watering again when dry. When the weather turns cold bring the bags/containers inside to protect from frost and harvest once the foliage dies back.

There are many kinds of salad leaves and lettuces with varieties especially suited for winter cropping.

  • Spinach (Baby Salad Leaf varieties): Sow September, harvest leaves when small from October-April.
  • Lettuce (Winter varieties): Sow September, harvest October-April.
  • Lamb’s Lettuce: Sow September, harvest November to January.
  • Endive (Broad leaved varieties): Sow July-September, harvest September-November.
  • Pak Choi: Sow September for late Autumn winter harvest perfect in stir fries or steamed.
  • Rocket and Mixed Salad Leaves (Winter Blend): Sow September and pick leaves when young.
  • Cutting Parsley: Harvest the young stems and leaves.

Spring Onions: One of the best to grow is White Lisbon (Winter Hardy) a quick cropping hardy variety, sow seeds September/October for a spring harvest.

Radish: Sow September in rows.

Herbs can be potted up and brought indoors to extend their crop.

The BIG Red Paraffin Greenhouse Heater

Winter crops can be slow to germinate and grow due to low light levels and low temperatures, protect crops with a fleece or invest in a heater to regulate temperatures and keep the greenhouse frost free. During warm days leave the door open slightly and open the vents to keep the air moving and prevent fungal diseases, water you crops sparing.

Greenhouses/Polytunnels are perfect for drying out onions for winter storage and ripening squashes and pumpkins for use during the winter months.

 

I hope I have given you some suggestions

Happy sowing and growing

Gill

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This year both the garden and the allotment are flourishing, what a huge difference the sun makes, the flowers in the garden are in full bloom with many now producing seed for next years plants, even the vegetables are outstanding with some even worthy of the show bench (local only). Soft fruit picking has been never-ending from Strawberries to Red/White/Blackcurrants, Gooseberries, and Raspberries with the promise of a good crop of Blackberries, Apples, Pears, Damsons and Plums yet to come.

If you have grown some vegetables which have produced an exceptional and tasty crop why not try saving some of their seeds to grow next year, this is not a new idea. Millions of people, for many thousands of years have been saving their own seeds to grow year after year, this has led to the preservation of many old ‘Heritage’ seed varieties and the creation of many new varieties.

Collect seed from strong, healthy, vigorous plants when they are fully mature/ripe choosing the largest seeds and those that are not damaged or deformed. Allow fruits to fully ripen on the plant before collecting their seeds. Don’t be tempted to collect seeds from F1 hybrids they will not grow true to the parent plant, producing an inferior plant and crop.

You can harvest seeds from most types of vegetables, the following varieties are perhaps some of the easiest to start with:

Beans and Peas

Let the pods mature and ripen on the plant.  Pick the pods whole when they are dry and start to turn brown and lay them out on newspaper indoors to dry out for at least two weeks, remove the individual seeds from the pods, allowing them to dry out further before storing.

 

Pepper SeedsRed Chillies

Collect seeds from Peppers that have fully ripened on the plant and have started to go soft and wrinkly. Remove the seeds and place on a plate to dry out, when they are completely dry they are ready to store. Care must be taken with Chilli Peppers, it is advisable to wear gloves and allow an adult to remove and handle the fruits and the seeds.

Beef Tomatoes

Tomato Seeds

Pick tomatoes that have been left to fully ripen on the plant. Scoop out the seeds and the pulp, place them in a container with water for a few days swirling the water each day. The seeds should come free from the pulp and sink to the bottom, drain off the liquid and any seeds that float, rinse the seeds in a small plastic sieve. Place the seeds on a plate to dry out, when they are completely dry they are ready to store.

Place your dried seeds in paper envelopes, labelling them with the name, variety and the date that you collected them, adding any growing instructions or notes. Store the seeds in a cool dry place in an airtight tin, which will keep moisture, unwanted insects and animals out.

Allowing the seeds to mature on your plants will reduce any further crops as the sole intention of any plant is to put all its energy into making seeds so that they will grow again next year and once this has been achieved its job is done.

Collecting seeds will save you money, is rewarding, fun and educational, teaching children about the life cycles of plants and how the food that they eat grows.

Gill

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This week I have spent quite a lot of my free time on my allotment on my hands and knees weeding, it is amazing what you see when you get that bit closer to the ground.

Whilst digging up some of the larger weeds I uncovered two types of grubs one was cream and is the larvae of the Cockchafer Beetle, the other one was grey and is the larvae of the Crane Fly or Daddy Long Legs both these grubs will happily munch their way through the roots of your plants and crops but they will also make a welcome meal for a young bird.

Above ground amongst the foliage were Ants, Spiders, Beetles and quite a lot of Ladybird larvae, which is good news, as I have not seen many Ladybirds this year.

Field Guide to Ladybirds

I began wondering about the life cycle of Ladybirds, so I had a look at my Field Guide to Ladybirds and thought I would share my finding with you.

During the winter months (October-February) Ladybirds become dormant which is known as ‘overwintering’, prefering a dry, sheltered place away from predators usually in leaf litter or bark crevices.

In March/April the Ladybirds will become active and look for aphids (greenfly) to eat.

During May the male and female Ladybirds will mate.

Ladybird Larvae

Ladybird Larvae

During June-July the females lay their eggs on the underside of leaves they look like very small yellow jellybeans, they will choose a plant that has a good supply of aphids, which the larvae will eat once they have hatched out, the larvae don’t resemble a Ladybird at all, they mainly have a long grey body with black and orange markings and have six black legs, after a couple of weeks growing the larvae start to change and after attaching themselves to a leaf become a ‘pupae’.

Ladybird Larvae

Ladybird Pupae

In August the new Ladybirds emerge from the ‘pupae’ and begin to feed on aphids, they need to eat lots of them to build up their reserves to see them through the winter.

Minibug Ladybird Tower

Minibug Ladybird Tower

Ladybird and Insect Tower

Ladybird and Insect Tower

Ladybirds really are good news for gardeners, eating lots of aphids and should be encouraged in every garden, why not put up some insect houses to give them a home for the winter.

Gill

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If you like a bit of heat in your cooking then why not have a go at growing your own pot of Chillies on your windowsill.

Chilli Pot

Windowsill Chilli Pot

Chillies make attractive plants, there are lots of different varieties to choose from which will produce chillies in varying shapes, sizes, colours and degrees of heat from mild through to hot, some are even described as ‘inferno’ these definitely are not for the faint hearted.

Chilli seeds need heat to germinate, the plants prefer a warm and sunny position to grow on and ripen their fruits, as they are slow to germinate they need to be sown early to crop in late summer.

Fill your seed trays or pots with seed compost and sow the seeds thinly on the surface, lightly cover with compost or vermiculite and water carefully with a fine rose.

Place in a propagator or on a warm windowsill at a temperature of 18-21C (65-70F), do not exclude light as this helps germination, which can take 7-14 days.

Once the seedling are large enough to handle pot on into small pots of good quality compost, and then when they have outgrown their pots transplant into larger pots, hanging baskets, containers, or into grow bags where they are to crop. If you want to grow them outside harden them off and plant out in a sunny sheltered position after all risk of frost has passed,

Feed the plants weekly after the first fruits begin to form and water when the compost feels dry, you may need to stake the plants to support the fruit bearing stems.

Chilli Starter Kit

Chilli Starter Kit

Give them a try; why not treat yourself or someone special on Mothers Day (10th March) to a Chilli Growing Kit .

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If you have grown your own pumpkins this year now is the time to put them to good use and turn them into fantastic Halloween Lanterns, don’t throw away the lovely orange flesh, use it to make some delicious Mini Halloween Pumpkin Cakes.

Mini Halloween Pumpkin Cakes

  • 250g Pumpkin Flesh (peeled weight)
  • 150g Self-Raising Flour
  • 150g Light Brown Sugar
  • 100g Butter/Margarine
  • 90g Sultanas
  • 1 teaspoon Orange Juice
  • zest of ½ Orange
  • 2 Eggs beaten
  • 2 teaspoons Mixed Spice
  • 1 teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
  2. Line a 12 hole cake tin with paper cases.
  3. Grate the pumpkin flesh.
  4. Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix together.
  5. Melt the butter/margarine in the microwave and then beat in the eggs.
  6. Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and mix together.
  7. Add the orange juice, orange zest, sultanas and the grated pumpkin and stir well.
  8. Spoon the mixture into the bun cases.
  9. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and springy. 

The Topping

  • 75g (3oz) Butter/Margarine, softened
  • 2 tbsp Milk
  • 225g (8oz) Icing Sugar, sifted
  • Few drops of food colouring red/green

Beat together the butter, milk, food colouring and half the sugar to combine, then add the remaining sugar and beat until fluffy.

  1. When the cakes are cool, generously spread them with the topping.
  2. For ‘Snake Stew Cakes’ keep the topping messy and press jelly snakes into it or for
  3. ‘Spooky Spider Cakes’ smooth the topping and add 2 round sweets for eyes and Liquorice Strips or Strawberry Laces for legs.

These cakes make an unusual alternative to sweets for your visiting trick or treaters.

Let’s hope that we have a moonlit, dry and crisp Halloween night, as being a soggy ghost, witch or skeleton isn’t much fun.

Happy Halloween.

Gill

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Halloween is nearly here and the shops are full of scarey and wonderful Halloween costumes, masks and decorations, I am sure that there are lots of excited children all over the country, Thomas is very excited and so am I!

Every Halloween we trim up the front of our house, each year adding new decorations; these are either home-made or bought in the post Halloween sales the previous year. Making your own decorations is great fun and a great way to spend a cold afternoon, here is a crafty idea for this year.

Egg Box Spiders and Bats

You will need:

  • Egg Boxes
  • String
  • Pipe Cleaners
  • Paper
  • Felt tips/Crayons
  • Glue
  • Paint
  • Glitter
  • Scissors
  1. To make the Spiders cut up the egg box into its six cups, paint or decorate the outside as you wish and allow to dry.
  2. Ask a grown up to make 8 small holes around the bottom edges of the cups and one at the top.
  3. Carefully thread each pipe cleaner (4 per spider) through a hole at one side and out of the hole at the other side.
  4. Thread a piece of string through the top hole and tie a knot.
  5. Draw some eyes onto a piece of paper, cut them out and stick them on.

  1. To make the Bats cut your egg box into 2 strips of three cups.
  2. Cut out the front of the left and right cups slightly, and on their backs cut them out to leave a ‘V’ shape (as shown above).
  3. Paint or decorate the outside as you wish and allow to dry.
  4. Make a hole in the top of the middle cup and thread a piece of string through and tie a knot.
  5. Draw some eyes and teeth onto a piece of paper, cut them out and stick them on.

Have fun.

Gill

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