National Allotments Week

This week is National Allotments Week. This is organised by the National Allotment Society. With people having smaller gardens in new builds and pressure to remove allotments for new housing it seems nice to celebrate the allotment. That little space where Brits have escaped to for many years. The first were established in the 1700’s for the use of the poor. By the name Victory Gardens they played a role in digging for victory in the World Wars. Now with a young child I don’t have the time needed for an allotment. I’m still getting on top of my own garden. But my parents do and they have donated various fruit and veg. So to celebrate National Allotment Week I have attempted a rhubarb and apple crumble using the recipe here.

The variety of apples my parents have grown are supposed to be a cross between an eating and a cooking apple depending on when you pick them. So we’ll have to wait and see whether they are tasty or disgusting in the crumble.

The crumble mix felt suitably crumbly before going on.

The finished result. My parents are visiting tomorrow and since they donated the apples and rhubarb I think I will have to save it for them to test. Just crisp it up a little bit more. So we’ll see what do you reckon will it be delicious or totally inedible?

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Apple Picking-Robert Browning

A quick poem linked to the apples.

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Garden update

The long tailed tits have been back again. They are gradually becoming more comfortable with me being around allowing me to get a bit closer for clearer photos than last time.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust-North Cave Wetlands

Today Amy was off for a day at the races, so I decided to take Alice for an adventure further afield. We’ve worked our way through a good area of our more pram accessible local bridleways and public footpaths. So we headed out to one of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserves at North Cave. The last time I went to the wetlands was just before Alice was born March/April time. It was an amazing time to visit for the birds as there were a lot of nesting birds including sea birds and migrants. The reserve is being developed further with large areas set to be turned into different habitats. This was just getting started when I last visited.

The site was originally a quarry that has since had areas dug, some filled with topsoil to make the islands and lakes.

Currently the main centre is a large lake. From the photo you can see the islands are providing a whole host of birds homes. The area has been managed to provide a mixture of shallow and deep lakes giving a wide range of birds suitable habitats.

The shallower lakes and reeds offering a number of waders homes.

The number of species of wildlife is immense. For me to go through all of what I saw would provide a months worth of blogs. I would have my head buried in field guides to a point where my partner would be pulling her hair out in desperation at losing her partner. So I’m just going to flag a few key species I either liked or was happy with the photographs I had taken.

I didn’t see as many birds as I could have. I didn’t think the birders would appreciate her giggling and running around the hides. The paths are designed with either tree lines or embankments to stop visitors disturbing the birds, particularly important in the breeding season. So as we gave the hides a miss I didn’t see as many birds as I could have. That said I still saw plenty.

Swans and lapwings. You have to love the lapwings crest, like a quiff gone wrong.

What I think is a pochard. I’m working on my knowledge of waders, so I don’t just have to say duck for everything vaguely similar.

What I think were house martins, from the tails and as they were stopping in the trees.

A few coots on the edge of the lake.

While I may not have seen as many birds as if we’d gone in the hides insect pickings were high. The shallow lakes and pools provide perfect habitats for dragonflies and damselflies.

The vast majority of the dragonflies I photographed are common darters. I did see a few different varieties I think I saw hawkers, but still building a knowledge of dragonflies.

I saw a number of damselflies in a number of different colours.

The variety of butterflies was astounding. Next year for the butterfly count I may need to visit North Cave. I also added one more species to this years sightings and saw flashes of what might have been different species.

The small tortoiseshell.

A mixture of whites. Butterfly Conservation have a good ID guide to distinguishing between the main cabbage whites.

Meadow brown butterfly.

A peacock.

A speckled wood

And my new sighting of the common blue. A rather stunning shade of blue particularly the furry thorax.

There was plenty to see low down as well with this rather striking cinnabar moth caterpillar.

The accessible areas are worth a visit, butt one of the amazing aspects of North Cave is that it still has massive areas being developed. New lakes are being excavated in two new zones.

While the areas don’t look like much now from photographs the areas will hopefully provide homes potentially for lots more species. Of high interest to me are the marsh harriers and stoats. By offering slightly different wetlands in each area the reserve is going to be an amazing space, providing for a massive variety of species. With 38.98 hectares it’s going to be a lovely large area. I hope a visitor centre is planned in to the new areas.

Alice wanted to go each bench as we went round, insisting on pulling her self up. On some she sat and watched the lakes, others she wanted to be straight off.

She quite enjoyed the hide at the end of the road as it had a large glass window for her to look out of, but I think the path back to the car was actually her favourite area. She had to be in the pram around the lakes perimeter, so she was happy to get out for a run. She did enjoy investigating the stones on the path, but did part with them before we left.

North Cave Wetlands are a superb testament to the wonderful work the Wildlife Trust do. Through there planning they have created an area that is supporting such an amazing wealth of life. Careful management of a disused quarry has created a site that on its own justifies my membership fees. Well worth a visit.

http://www.ywt.org.uk/reserves/north-cave-wetlands-nature-reserve

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Hedgehog Home Survey

Just a quick mention that the Hedgehog Preservation Society are starting a new survey to help combat declining hedgehog numbers. The survey is asking about different hedgehog homes people put out, whether you feed any of the mammals and birds in your garden and about other potential homes in your garden. It only takes a few minutes to complete if you have a chance to do it. The survey runs to October, so plenty of time.

https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/help-hedgehogs/housingcensus/https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/help-hedgehogs/housingcensus/

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I’ve discussed helping hedgehogs before, but it’s worth repeating.

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My homes have yet to be used for hibernation, but I only put them in last year. I do get plenty of hedgehog visitors though. I also discovered we get hedgehogs visiting at school, so set up a home there as well. So fingers crossed may get some hibernating this year.

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Bench of happiness

For the last few weeks I’ve been working on several larger garden jobs: building a paved area for the compost heap, knocking out a brick veg planter on the patio, and building a bench area. The planter is knocked out. It didn’t have proper drainage and was up against a wall of the house. It may of caused water damage if left and it’s also give us a bigger space for a table on the patio. The compost heap was dismantled as while the house was rented the renters filled it with rubbish. In its place is a paved area and a compost bin. The bench area hadn’t come on though as we couldn’t find a bench we liked. We wanted a bench down on the lawn so we have somewhere to sit and watch Alice play.

However at the weekend we saw a sign for a yard sale. Not expecting very much we ventured down to have a nosey. We went down the street and found one of the roads had a number of houses having yard sales. Mostly junk they wanted rid of, but one man was selling planters he built and had a bench he’d made for sale. For the bargain price of £35 we got something a little bit more unique.

The area we wanted the bench to go in has been underused. I had some daffodils there in Spring, but apart from that it’s largely been empty meaning weeds have moved in regularly. The area has a slope to it as I think someone at some stage intended a kind of rockery, but never finished it. So I’ve levelled it a bit and then used the stone bricks I had from knocking out the veg planter to build a line at the back to keep the soil slope back. Then tried to level it flush with the lawn at the front.

Alice was keen to help. I laid some sand to help make a better foundation. I think she thought it was some sort of wonderful sandpit for her, but living by the beach we don’t really need a sandpit. She did spread some sand though with the dibber. The dibber is probably her second favourite tool after the watering can mentioned previously.

 

Then weed matting went down and a layer of gravel around the bench legs. Alice is going through a stage of being fascinated by rocks. So she helped get them out the bag. She didn’t cry though that the stones had to stay when we were done.

All in all I’m pretty happy with the end result. I have few practical skills, beyond looking after plants, so this feels like an achievement. The stones at the front are pretty level with the lawn and feel firm.

The bench area looks good from the house with the view through the hydrangeas.

Hopefully we can enjoy sitting watching Alice enjoy the garden and it won’t subside.

The road goes ever onwards

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

J.R.R Tolkein-The hobbit

Sunday saw Alice and myself escaping out the house to escape paint stripper fumes. Amy has been working hard stripping paint off the stair bannister. We’ve tried to avoid Alice being around it. We headed off along one of the footpaths through the new housing estate that brings us out into the countryside. The crops were being harvested today. A great amount of dust and wheat shreds were in the air.

The side of the path has a number of the largest buddleia bushes. The peacocks who were absent a few weeks ago are now swarming all over it.

From here we explored a bridleway I’ve not ventured down yet. It runs alongside one of the caravan parks and is quite well kept in comparison to other around.

A number of speckled woods departed as we came along.

The bridleway took us out back along the coastal edge. The path took us down past a boat club. Along the path are a number of objects diving crews have brought ashore.

We stopped the pram to let a ground beetle cross our path. It seemed to be in more of a rush than us.

The sun was out bright and the sea was looking spectacular.

Flamborough Cliffs looking good today.

We walked as far as the pram would safely go before returning back along the coast path back to town. On the way saw a distant rabbit hopping back into the hedges as it saw us.

Alice had a run around on the grass along the coast edge before heading for the park. She was in a very sociable mood today chasing other families shouting hiya and waving bye as people went past.

Alice discovered a stick. She’s starting to realise why this is one of the most popular toys of all time. She engaged in some mark making on the path, running and waving it around and bashing other sticks. An excellent toy available in a range of sizes and limited colours. She carried it most of the way home before dropping it as we got back to our street.

We fitted in a quick go on the swings before leaving the park. She’s becoming a bit of a thrill seeker enjoying going higher and higher.

As a teacher I get these long periods of time off for the Summer and it’s lovely being able to spend time like this with Alice. She’s really starting to develop rapidly now. Her understanding is improving daily and her desire to communicate and interact. She loves getting out and has started fetching her shoes and going to the door to show her preference. We’re lucky that we have so many wonderful places to explore around us. I hope everyone had as pleasant Sundays as me and Alice.

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My favorite gardening tool

Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade.

Rudyard Kipling

Gardens can require a lot of work, but I have one tool I probably use more than anything else. My hori hori knife has been invaluable since I bought it last year. Also known as a Japanese soil knife the word hori translates as, “to dig”. Hori hori also works as an onomatopoeia for the sound of digging.

I first saw the hori hori on Gardner’s World used by Monty Don. The knife has a decent six inch blade with a concave shape. One edge is serrated, the other sharp. The blade is almost full tang, going into the handle making it secure.

This is a multifunction tool. Its main purpose is to remove weeds. It does this wonderfully for me. I’d tried a number of different weeding tools and none quite satisfied. When we moved in the garden had been neglected with many deep rooted dandelions. This allows me to cut in deeply and precisely into the lawn to remove weeds down to the roots. 

The knife also acts as a trowel as the curved blade allows you to dig. I use this for digging a lot of the smaller holes for plug plants. It’s also good for digging around plants for moving. The serrated edge can work through roots. It is equally good for splitting perennials.

I also find it works well for edging the lawn where the sharp and serrated edges allow me to mark the line I want and then saw or cut through giving me a neat, precise line.

The blade also marks depth with the ruler on the knife. This can be used for planting bulbs. It goes into the soil easily. A little wriggle and you have a hole ready for a bulb. I prefer it to my traditional dibber as I’ve mainly planted large bulbs like daffodils and aliums where this has worked better.

With the size of the handle and blade it does feel a bit like taking a machete to the weeds, but that is rather satisfying in itself. It is a tool I’ve seen described as, “fun to use,” and it is. It makes an otherwise dull job somewhat pleasurable. Allowing you to lose yourself in the zen of weeding. While not the cheapest tool it has replaced a number of tools in my gardening arsenal. I highly recommend the hori hori to garden lovers. 

Alice on the other hand favours the watering can. Used by her both to water plants and deadhead flowers as she brandishes it in all directions, smiting any flowers in her way.


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Birds of a feather

Having written about my new bird feeder I think it’s a good time to look at what I am getting in the garden. Often Summer is quite a quiet time for the feeders with an abundance of food around for the birds they can find themselves. But with the sporadic weather going back and forth between torrential rain and baking sun when the sun is shining the birds are looking to fill up on high energy foods.

Nothing puts the pigeons off coming to the feeders. Even in the rain they will sit out on the feeder getting plumper.

With lots of young sparrows around the feeders have seen the house sparrows back and forth on lots of visits.

The starlings have been swarming in large numbers, then flitting off as quickly as they came.

The blackbirds have been enjoying the wet ground, picking though for the worms come to the surface.

The goldfinches mentioned in a previous blog.

I’ve almost seen the whole tit family. There have been blue tits, great tits, long tailed and coal tits. Although I haven’t managed any photos of the coal tits.

The ever present herring gull shed mafia has been keeping watch over its domain.

I’ve also seen wrens, collared doves, jackdaws, chaffinches and thrushes. Part of the reason for getting so many I believe is down to the variety of food on the feeders. The tits seem to be going mad for the suet and peanuts. The jackdaws come for the meal worms and kitchen scraps. The pigeons seem to devour everything. The finches like the niger and the sunflower heads.

I also have feeders on different levels. Some ground feeders and some up higher on the station. Then I also have some located hanging in the trees and these seem to be favoured by the smaller birds. It’s worth trying putting more than just a seed mix out if you want to attract a variety of birds. Or if there is something you particularly want put out appropriate food.

The insect life has also been pretty good with a good variety of butterflies, dragonflies and bees coming in.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my whistle stop tour through my garden birds and all have good weekends.

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I’ll finish with an Emily Browning poem.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.