A day in the garden.

A dry day in the garden gave us time to catch up with a few bits and pieces and take note of what was growing well (notably not the courgette which is now completely lacking leaves). The tomatoes (Gardener’s Delight and Beefeater) have now been planted into larger tubs, as has my remaining courgette. Sweet Peppers (Mini Bell and Sweet Nardello) as well as Chilli Peppers (Heatwave and Hungarian Hot Wax) were also put into larger pots, but, following a trip to Ryton Organic Gardens last year, in smaller pots than in past years in the hope that they may be more successful. These last may be transplanted to the front of the house once we have finished the front garden to try to ripen the fruit.

Also seemingly growing well were the families of both goldfinches and greenfinches which arrived in the garden this morning, presumably recently fledged (one young goldfinch and four young greenfinches). They were much quieter than the baby sparrows, and, generally quite well behaved.

Organic Milk – Tastier and Healthier than Inorganic!

According to an article in The Times on Wednesday (28th May) organic milk is healthier. The milk tested from cows fed on organic diets contained more good fatty acids (the level was up to 60 per cent higher in the Summer months) when compared with cows fed in fields where fertilisers are used. The difference is thought in part to the higher levels of clover in the diet of the organic cows. This is leading to research to improve the health qualities of butter and cheese.

Having switched to organic milk about a year ago (although Waitrose do have a tendency to run out from time to time) I can definitely say that not only is it better for you but it also tastes better and is creamier too.

Sluggy Devastation

Well, it just goes to show how much I know, my advice to grow courgettes and rhubarb if you want something that doesn’t require much attention and will repay you many times over seems to be a little ironic at the moment.  

We had neglected our rhubarb for a couple of years whilst we were re-landscaping the back garden and so had it imprisoned in a pot for the entire time.  It is planted in the ground now, but is looking a bit weak and feeble still (although it is growing).

Courgette after slug devastation A couple of weeks ago, when the weather was warm I optimistically planted out a courgette hoping it would get a head start whilst there seemed to be a ridiculously low number of slugs around.  Well, what a fool I was, as the picture shows the sluggy grapevine seems to have put the word around quite quickly that I had dared plant my crops out and as soon as the damp weather (damp being a bit of an understatement, it feels a little like monsoon season at the moment) appeared so did the slugs.  

Blauhilde I know that I could prevent this with little blue pellets, but we are trying to be as organic as possible and are trying to encourage the ecosystem (although at this rate I may start charging the frogs board and lodgings as they are not earning their keep).  I have another courgette in reserve, but I will plant this in a pot this weekend.On the plus side, I have planted my beans in various parts of the garden, and some of them are still in one piece.  

Time to fly the nest, for some anyway.

Well, it is bank holiday and it is raining again.  I say this despite the sunshine of earlier in the month, because it was raining this time last year.  I remember this specifically because we spent far too much of our day watching recently fledged blue tits, great tits and coal tits in the garden, and were thankful that they had chosen a rainy bank holiday because our neighbour had gone out for the day and left the little furry killing machine (aka Harry the cat) indoors.

I think that things are running a bit later this year as the blue tits don’t look as manky yet and do not seem overly interested in the mealworms.  The sparrows have, however, fledged, their youth betrayed by their awkward flights around the garden and their constant clamouring for food.  Life for an adult sparrow seems much akin to that of human parents really, particularly for the one female who spent some time gathering mealworms for the noisy offspring, popped out from the feeder to hand them over, then stood on the fence looking vexed and wondering where they had wandered off to.  Baby sparrow had popped over to the other side of the garden to investigate a different fence which looked more interesting!

Hopefully it will rain when the blue tits finally decide it is time for independence.

Beavers to Come Back to Scotland

There was an article on the BBC news website today announcing that 400 years after we wiped them out in the UK beavers are going to be reintroduced into Scotland.  Three or four families of beavers will be captured in Norway in the autumn, kept in quarantine for 6 months and then released to a number of sites in Scotland.  

The reintroduction of species has been the subject of controversy, this seems to be more the case with mammals than in the bird world which has seen reintroduction programmes for red kites and ospreys in the last decade.  This will be the first reintroduction of a mammal in the UK, and has followed a lengthy period of preparation and research.

Although some people seem concerned about the effect reintroducing these creatures will have on the environment, they are being settled in areas that they used to inhabit (unlike the ospreys at Rutland Water), and will bring benefits to the environment.  It seems to me that the planning for this was probably more in depth than that for new houses on flood plains and many of the other project we carry out which are detrimental to the natural processes which keep the environment balanced.

The full article can be found on the BBC website.

Unexpected Visitor

I have been eagerly awaiting June and July when more of my garden flowers will be in bloom and I expect more butterflies (assuming that the weather is better than last Summer!).  Last week I had a pleasant surprise when I saw a blue butterfly in my garden fluttering around and rarely stopping (hence the poor quality photograph).  This was particularly surprising as I associate blue butterflies with chalk areas, not with the claggy clay of Northamptonshire.

  Holly Blue Butterfly 1                                Holly Blue Butterfly 2 

I looked the butterfly up in my insect book and discovered that identification was easier than I had expected owing to the fact that both the top and the underside of its wings were blue (most have brown undersides).  This, and the fact that it was spending most of its time flitting about the holly bushes (doh!) led to the conclusion that it was a Holly Blue (celastrina argiolus).  These are more common than I realised (having never seen one before.  As the name suggests they lay their eggs mainly on holly bushes (we now have 5 of these so this could explain its sudden appearance) where the caterpillars feed on the flowers of the aforementioned shrubs.  In Summer when hollies are not in flower or when there is a dearth of holly they will make do with other shrubs such as dogwood (grows well on clay), gorse and bramble (not good as I have recently planted a blackberry in my fruit corner of the garden).

I think I will trade a few holly flowers and berries for a few blue butterflies to lighten up the Spring days, I just have to be ready to get a better photograph next time!

Garden Produce Update

The warm weather in the last week has allowed everything to put on a big growth spurt and left me with decision as to whether it is time to give them their independence and allow them to leave the safety of their home as they know it and plant my veg out.  I took the picture below a week ago and they look even better now.

There is part of me thinks that they are doing so well it is time they were allowed a bit more room, but the other part is filled with anxiety about the dreaded slugs. Last year all my beans and sweetcorn went in the first week, and it is a miracle that the courgette didn’t follow. Then there is the worry that I am leaving it too late (although Monty Don claims not to plant his beans out until June). I think I will leave it to the weekend, then I can keep a watch over them – I can’t leave it much longer as the courgettes have flower buds coming. So this weekend I resolve to plant out the courgettes, sweetcorn, beans and tomatoes.
We planted the potatoes a week ago, we are trying Charlotte (an old favourite and the only one we have grown before), Mimi (being trialled on Gardener’s World) and Shetland Black (bought them and enjoyed them from Waitrose), the Shetland Blacks are growing already!

Another surprise in the garden this week has been the appearance of the first fruit on the gooseberry.First Fruit  The joy from this has been tempered somewhat by the discovery by my better half that the sawfly larvae are back and munching away the leaves. My better half has kindly checked every leaf and removed a goodly quantity which are now imprisoned and probably going to become bird food! Does everyone have such lazy birds, I have fed them all year round and now, unless their dinner is served up to them, they don’t seem to be interested! I may make them work for their food in future!

Proof if Proof Were Needed

Just in case anybody thought that I was being unfair to the poor starlings here are some pictures I took on Thursday.

First the starling lands to take a look. Then he eats everything he can reach.



The ‘action’ (aka blurred) shot was taken as the bird dropped down from the feeder chasing the mealworm that fell from his beak.


This shot was taken as he scoured the ground in disbelief, surely there must be more somewhere!


Today’s best bird.

I couldn’t decide today between a trip to Brandon Marsh and a visit with my spotting scope to the Country Park. I opted for the Country Park on account of a) it being closer so I didn’t have to get the car out and b) it being a weekday so it was less likely to be packed with dog walkers. In the end it proved a good choice.

I thought I would start by sitting on the dam and setting my scope up to watch the terns which have moved back in for the Summer. I love watching these birds, they are so graceful and languid as they hunt along looking for fish. I also caught glimpses through my scope of swallows and house martins darting across the water at high speed. The true harbingers of Summer (although I am not sure we have had a spring yet really) also turned up today as I got my first sighting this year of swifts (duly recorded on the Nature’s Calendar website). These birds know no fear, zooming along the dam and up the bank past the cuckoo flowers and startling those who happened to be walking past.

Whilst watching these I noticed something fluttering near the trees and turned my scope away from the water to get a wonderful view of a kestrel, hovering above the bank obviously watching its dinner. The colours in the sunlight (which made a briefer appearance than the kestrel) were so rich. However, on today’s visit to the Country Park all of these ornithological wonders were eclipsed. Whilst watching the terns fishing above the water I noticed something else, of a similar size darting across – Hobbies! (Falco Subbuteo) This is the first time I have seen them at the Country Park, I thought there were a pair there, but as I watched them zooming around, turning to show the russet red underbelly, sometimes almost stalling, yellow legs out, obviously catching some flying insect, I realised that there were actually four of them. According to the RSPB website they will also chase martins and swallows, but these seemed oblivious to the predators. I watched enthralled as they darted and chased across the water, even the rain didn’t manage to stop play. Eventually I had to leave them and come home (there was only so long I could sit in rain sodden trousers) but I will be back to see if they stay for the Summer or are just passing through.