Blonde, but not as blonde as I thought

I have been feeding live mealworms to the garden birds for the last couple of years and think that it is definitely paying off. Although the weather of last May apparently made it a bad year for broods of blue tits and great tits we had more than usual in our garden throughout the autumn and winter. Last year we invested in a new feeder complete with bars in order to keep the starlings out. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against starlings, it is just that I think they are the most intelligent of the garden birds, and they would watch and wait for the mealworms to be put out and then come and eat the lot. Even with the cage they manage to get their heads in and eat the mealworms. To this end my other half has created a modified ground feeder with the mealworms in a plastic pot on the central pole raised from the bottom, the only way to thwart these super-intelligent fiends (never fear dear reader they still get some as we leave some on the bottom of the feeder for them and they capture any escapees). See photos below for an illustration of the starling-thwarting engineered ground feeder.

Contrast this with the behaviour of the humble and incredibly blonde blue tit. Last year was the first introduction of the modified feeder – boy did they struggle. A female sparrow who had not really bothered with the feeder when it had only had seed in it was the first in, went straight to the feeder, did the blag and went off to feed her brood. For a couple of weeks she was the only taker. Eventually the blue tit figured it out, then turned psycho. It chased any bird away that it caught near the feeder, even greenfinches, and they were only taking a break between fights at the sunflower seeds.

Today the first of my multimail mealworms arrived from Wiggly Wigglers. We put them out in the modified feeder which the birds have been using all winter. The blue tit eventually figured the way in, but spent several minutes on several visits looking at the mealworms from underneath, eventually settling for a sunflower heart from another feeder and flying away each time. However, we finally had breakthrough and in record time for a blue tit it was happily murdering mealworms. Next came the great tit, another bird regularly eating mealworms from the same feeder last year. It eventually made its way in and duly sat under the pot, pecking at the worms from underneath. It then started looking under a pile of sunflower hearts for some worms (I assume it found one there earlier), then the blue tit turned up. Aha I thought, the blue tit will give it a clue, but no, the blue tit sat in the hazel for some time, watching, and probably laughing, and then nonchalantly flew to another feeder, grabbed a sunflower heart and sat in the tree to eat it. The great tit then tried hiding between the wheelie bins to tempt the blue tit down, and it nearly worked. At the last minute the blue tit saw him, pulled out and flew away, taking his secret with him. The last time I saw the great tit he still hadn’t figured it out, I guess he will get there eventually.

Blue Tit 1 Great Tit 0.

Proud parent announces arrival of beans.

A few weeks ago I planted some courgette, bean and sweetcorn seeds. The courgettes, as expected, took about a week to start to grow in the heated propagator and four out of the six have been sat outside this week in the ‘mini-greenhouse’ that we have outside. The beans and sweetcorn were put into root trainers and therefore were not in a heated propagator (although they were next to the radiator in the garage). These have taken a little longer, but I am not the proud parent of a number of healthy looking beans and sweetcorn. I have tried two varieties of French beans this year, Hildora, a dwarf variety with a yellow pod that I tried last year, but which fed only the slugs, and Blauhilde, a purple podded variety. All of the Blauhilde seeds appear to be growing, and all but two of the Hildoras have made the effort. (Seven out of eight of the sweetcorn minipop are also growing.) I am so pleased by the progress of my beans that I took a photograph of them relaxing in the Spring sunshine yesterday.


Garden Duties

Today I decided that I had better get on with sowing some of the seeds that I had planned to do last weekend. So in went the courgettes, two types of beans (blauhilde and hildora), some sweetcorn and cavolo nero (I have never grown this last one before so it will definitely be a case of trial and error).
Following on from my four carrot success of last year, we have put some seeds in a smaller pot this year and are trying our hands at growing them as baby veg. I have also started some salad leaves and radish off. All of these are things I want to try succession planting to try and prolong the season.
I also took the plunge and decided to pot on some tomatoes that I started off last month. I am trying coir pots this time so that I am less likely to kill them off when they get into their final pots.
Other things that seem to be growing OK at the moment are the gooseberry (lots of flower buds already, but I am checking for sawfly infestations daily after the wipeout that was last year) and the blackcurrant (it has finally been put back in the ground after being held in a pot for a couple of years whilst we relandscaped the back garden). Of more concern is the blackberry (oregon thornless) which we kept in a pot for too long due to delays in the aforementioned landscaping and which does not show many signs of life yet (but I live in hope).
I need to plant the seed potatoes soon as they are well chitted, but every time I look at the weather forecast there is some frost expected. They are going in tubs, so should be better protected, so they will be going in next weekend, whatever the weather.

Grow your own veg.

One of the things that has come to mean more and more to me in life is my garden. This isn’t because I want to be the next big garden landscaper, I don’t even get much of a kick out of working out what looks good where and what kind of soil I have and whether a plant needs full sun or shade (despite the obvious importance of such things). No, it is much simpler than that, I like growing things. I get a feeling of immense satisfaction from watching things grow, change, mature. From the seeds that I plant each year, to the hazel that I planted as a twig six years ago that has amazed both of us since by both its size and how well it fits in to the garden (and the fact that it survived despite my planting style which has been described as a little roughshod).

I listened to a podcast today that suggested that in a recession more people grow their own vegetables to save money – I am not sure that this works unless you have an allotment sized veg garden, or you eat a lot of courgettes! I think that for me the chance to nurture something successfully (sometimes), to learn from it to do it better next year and to produce something that tastes better than any equivalent bought in a shop, that hasn’t travelled a long way to get to my plate is more important than saving money (and I am apparently incredibly tight with my money).

So, growing your own veg – great exercise, relaxing and good for you and the environment – I am amazed everyone doesn’t give it a try. If you are starting out I suggest courgettes and / or rhubarb – both will grow however much you neglect them!

Easter Snow

I had a long list of things that I had intended to do over the 4 day Easter break, but the weather put paid to many of them. The last week has seen rain, wind, hail and, for the last two days, snow. However, we did manage to get out into the garden and move some plants and the snow does not seem to have done anything any harm – as witnessed by the huge number of birds in my garden this weekend.

Rhubarb in the snowAlso sticking two fingers up at the weather are the various plants which are putting on their spring growth including the rhubarb shown in the photograph which is poking its bright cheery stalks above the ground and giving me great hope of the crumbles and cakes to come. (Rhubarb is also great in a stir fry!)

Carroty Contentment

I have been in the same job for seven years now and to be perfectly honest do not enjoy the majority of it. It is not that I couldn’t enjoy the job that I do, it is just that I seem to spend most of my time frustratingly fixing the same avoidable problems. This week I had one of those weeks that has actually persuaded me that it may be time to finally move on and I have applied for a job that will involve at least a 40 minute commute, going against all of my principles and for what? It is not as if (should there be any such thing) that when I am at the Pearly Gates I will be marked by the job that I have done, the size of my bank balance and the perceived success that I have achieved in the world of work (although who would judge that and against what criteria I am not sure).

So, after a pants week at work I was hoping to be able to fill my precious weekend with fulfilling useful accomplishments. Inspired by the tulips on Gardener’s World on Friday night, my beloved and I decided that we would go to the garden centre to check out the spring bulbs. We were completely thwarted, we tried two garden centres only to be confronted by a mass of Christmas tat where the bulbs used to live (don’t get me started on the subject of Christmas – I could rant for days). On Saturday night we settled down to watch a film that a work colleague lent me – 300. This was the worst film I have seen since Charlie’s Angels, I feel I was robbed of two hours of my life! The weekend was not going to plan.

You may be wondering where all this is going and what it has to do with Carrots. Well, today I had planned to visit one of the two tetrads that I have volunteered to survey for the BTO Bird Atlas. I got the Ordnance Survey map out, we planned the route to take in all the habitats that we could in the two hours, and then the sky darkened and the wind picked up. If I went out today I am guessing that I wouldn’t see many birds as they would all be sat in the trees laughing at me getting soaked. So that left all of the jobs that I had been putting off; washing the ash off the car that all those fireworks kindly scattered (it was time for its annual wash anyway), do some more tidying in the garden, move what remains of the gooseberry once the sawfly had devastated it, that kind of thing. Whilst I was out there I decided it was time to empty the tub in which I had been attempting to grow carrots.

I had had a torrid time with the carrots (and everything else that wasn’t a courgette). I planted them with Welsh Onions in order to prevent an attack of the evil carrot fly that I had read about, I had carefully watered the seeds, covered them with a sheet of plastic to keep the pests out, watched as the little ferny seedlings had appeared and slowly got bigger, looked in disbelief as they vanished overnight (I know not where), not once but twice. I finally threw all caution to the wind and chucked some seed in the same compost in late Summer which seemed to grow. I had assumed that lack of thinning and late harvesting would lead to small and weedy carrots.

Home Grown CarrotsHowever, I was pleasantly surprised with my four bits of produce (they are not anaemic, they were meant to be different shades) and I found a strange kind of contentment that despite the poor weather and the disruption that has come from spending the last two years re-modelling the garden I still managed to grow something. I have come to the end of the weekend with a level of contentment that I have sadly never had from work, and the motivation to try again next year.