Six on Saturday: 27.2.21 Spring approaches

Well, this week has seen a big shift in the weather. I’ve seen my first butterfly of this year. Lots of signs of returning life.

1. Frogs

The first isn’t from my garden. It is from the local park. There is a sea of frogs across the waterlogged grass. Truly spectacular.

2. Primulas

We now have a decent mass of primulas. I will probably divide these later in the year as they are getting nice and thick.

3. Primula victoriana gold lace

From one patch of these they have been divided twice now and they are getting to a decent point.

4. Second nature

I’ve been reading this the last few weeks and it’s been quite interesting seeing an American view on gardening. Particularly the open front lawns. Pollan gradually finds his balance with nature while conforming to socities norms. He isn’t quite ready to remove all the lawn.

5. Alice’s bird house

Alice finished her bird house last week. She decided she wanted a picture of clouds in the shape or robins on it. As you do.

6. Iris reticulata ‘Katherine’s gold’

This is coming up in a planter in the front garden. It’s an absolute beauty. I could go for more of these.

A short one this week, but lots going on to enjoy. Hopeful I may get out to do a few jobs in the garden this week. Hope you’re all keeping well.

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Six on Saturday: 20.2.21

I know a lot of people find this time of year depressing as they wait for spring to return. Garden literature often bad mouths February but I think there is actually quite a lot to enjoy currently. The snowdrops are still out and the crocus emerging. Daffodils will be following soon. The spread of irises coming into flower is breathtaking. The hellebores are looking tatty but still giving a few blooms. Mahonia are in flower around town. There is lots to enjoy and finding six things in the garden is becoming easier again. I actually had to choose between options rather than scraping the barrel. If you fancy taking part check the founder’s blog. I’ve not really read through everyone else’s the last few weeks while suffering with Covid but getting my concentration back.

1. Galanthus, possibly nivalis pleniflorus Flore Pleno

I’m going to upset all the galanthophiles with this possibly incorrect identification. I only have a handful of different varieties of snowdrops so I should really know. I think is my only double. I know I have Galthus woronowii and elwesii kicking about but they are both singles I think. I shouldn’t really upset the snowdrop lovers as I know they can be a bit fanatical, so sorry if I’m wrong here. It is pretty but apart from being bigger than my others it doesn’t look much different unless lifted to inspect.

2. Crocus

This is the first crocus I’ve spotted in flower. I mainly have yellow and purple in the back garden and white in the front. They are looking a bit bedraggled after the snow but glad to see some returning and some in the lawn. I live in the hope they will spread to give the early bees a food supply.

3. Sunrise

We have had a good run of stunning sunrises over the garden this week. And having a four-year-old I have been awake for all of them despite it being our holiday. No sleeping in for us.

4. National nest box week

It is the BTO’s national nest box week. I haven’t added any new boxes this year as previous ones are still in good condition, look clean and haven’t been used. I have seen a few birds, mainly tits, inspecting. But, I don’t think any are moving in. Alice has got another build a nest box kit to do, which I’m aiming to get done today with her.

5. Nesting material

I have put out some nesting material. We have been crafting lots this half term and had little scraps of felting and yarn. I don’t know if they will use it but if they do we’ll have some colourful nests.

6. Iris reticulata ‘harmony’

Or it could be rhapsody. They were cheap Tesco purchases a few years ago. As with last weeks, they are in pots with the hostas. Iris flowers and shrivels and then the hosta comes up. They seem to be co-existing harmoniously anyway. The first to open came out in the rain and looked a bit weighed down.

But as they’ve all opened they are looking very pretty.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my six. Lots more to come over the next few weeks. We’ve got many more Irises to enjoy. Crocus coming out. Daffodils on the way. Lots to take pleasure in. I’m going to enjoy my weekend off before the return to work. Hope you are all keeping well.

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Six on Saturday: 13.2.21 fun in the snow

It will come as no surprise why today’s six theme is. Last week it appeared everywhere in the UK was snow covered but us but it came eventually. Not as thick as elsewhere. Being coastal it doesn’t tend to last long.

1. Snow

The snow started light but it got heavier over a few days. The front garden is north facing and thus shaded so it isn’t melting away there.

2. Snowdrops in the snow

These nivalis are looking particularly pretty with the Ophiopogon behind. The snowdrops seem to be doing well in the clay soil with lots returning. I’m not sure as many crocus will come back as not seeing as many coming through.

3. Birds in the snow

The birds have been in lots this week with me keeping the feeders well stocked.

4. Snowman

We didn’t have very long for making a snowman. All we managed was this little lump before school. But it put some of my sprouts to use.

Alice was happy anyway.

5. Iris reticulata Katherine Hodgson

The first of the Iris reticulata are in flower. This is one of my favourites. It grows in one of the hosta pots. These flower and shrivel and the hosta then comes up for summer. The feathery pattern is particularly beautiful.

6. Birdwatch competition

We had some nice news that Alice was picked by nest friends to win a bundle of prizes from learning resources UK for her birdwatching efforts in the big garden birdwatch. She is now asking when they’ll be delivered.

The snow is gradually melting away but for a day or two the pavements will be lethal as it changes to ice. We are on half term now so will probably shelter inside for a day or two while it melts away. Snow is fun, ice less so. My chest is gradually feeling better after Covid. Still a background headache but all manageable day to day.

I hope you’re all keeping well. The weather and lockdown not causing too much disruption for you all.

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Six on Saturday: 6.2.21-Garden Birdwatch results

Last week we carried out our Big Garden Birdwatch for the RSPB. As expected I didn’t end up with all the birds we have visiting. With several trees having been taken out next door but one it has affected how many birds are coming in. It was also a very windy wet weekend so I think some of the birds will have been sheltering. But I still like to keep the log each year to give me a long term record of how the garden is doing. For the week after we’ve had far bigger numbers visiting but that is how the birdwatch goes. I reckon every school locally set the birdwatch as part of their home learning so the birds have been well. I took a few photos along the way. They aren’t my best as I was shooting through the glass as I didn’t want to disturb the birds. But they illustrate which we see a lot of.

1. House sparrows

Normally, I get both dunnocks and house sparrows but only the house sparrows came in during our watch so that was all I included. These enjoy the ivy hedge that runs behind our garden. It provides plenty of thick cover to flit in and out of.

2. Blackbirds

We are getting many blackbirds in currently. They mainly feed from seed left out in the ground feeders and from the apple tree in a neighbours garden. But they will also dig around in the borders for food.

3. Collared dove

We have seen a lot of the collared doves and wood pigeons dominating the feeders currently. At times they can become a bit of a deterrent for some of the smaller birds which is part of why I keep some feeders in the mass of lilac where they can’t fly.

4. Blue tit

The blue tits had been in and out in the run-up to the birdwatch but were absent when it came to the count. The great tit did show, however.

5. Wren

The wrens have been visiting a lot and coming along the honeysuckle on the fence right up to the house. However, they are very speedy hopping around so I’m struggling to get a photo in focus. Here it is hiding behind a plant label.

6. Gulls

We get gulls in most days, usually sitting on the shed. At the moment they are not getting as much fish and chips so they are being a bit aggressive and have broken a few feeders shredding them open.

I’m hoping my number continues to grow as the garden establishes. The climbers are gradually taking over the fence giving birds more cover. I have a number of plants that provide food for birds. So with any luck, my garden should be able to counter the loss of trees along the street. I have finished my isolation period after recovering from Covid. I’m still a bit tight of breath but I am feeling a lot better. Not planning much gardening right now but should get back into it soon. For now, I’ve got 10 more plant profiles to write up for my RHS. It’s been a bit rushed finishing the current propagation assignment after covid. But almost all done. Hope you are all keeping well.

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Six on Saturday: 30.1.21

Well, this week has been spent at home. I tested positive for Covid at the start of the week. I didn’t show a lot of the common symptoms but I had a splitting headache and I was very achey. I seem to have been let off lighter than many others. My head is still hurting but I have still been able to move within the confines of our house. Sadly, this means I haven’t got to teach beetles this week. It has meant I’ve been home schooling Alice again but she is happy with this situation. This weekend is the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. I’ve wanted to involve Alice each year and tried to make it an event so even though we are stuck isolating at home we can still create happy memories. The birdwatch helps keep Alice interested in the garden and help teach her care for our world.

1. Robin gingerbread

We can’t do a birdwatch without snacks. I picked up a reduced Christmas baking kit a few weeks back but these would be easy enough to make without. The kit contained a gingerbread mix that you just added golden syrup and butter too. You cut a circle for the robin and a smaller circle for the breast. A hardboiled sweet went in the hole and this melted when baked to fill the circle.

The sweet didn’t come out that red, but I think they are quite cute.

2. Fat candles

Before we went into isolation I brought some lard back from work. We have an eco pantry where we get donated food the supermarkets know they won’t sell and we ended up with an abundance of lard. Fat candles are dead simple to make. Melt lard or suet in the microwave. About a minute will do. Mix in seed, raisins, grated cheese, seed, whatever you have available. Put a piece of sting in a cup and spoon the mix in around it. Put it in the fridge to set and then you can pull it out once set. This is easier with paper cups where you can cut them off. We didn;t have any in so I had to scrape it out a bit.

Off all the different home made bird feeders I’ve made over the years these are the most popular. The Cheerio feeders are largely left, the bottle feeders swing around too much. But I carry on making them with Alice as they help to engage her with the garden and the birds.

3. Bird hide

We used Alice’s den kit she got for Christmas to make a bird hide. It is not the most subtle with the red sheets but it was what we have spare.

4. I spy

I bought Alice the I spy birds book for the occasion. These are published on many themes to suit different children’s interests. You tick off as you see the birds. They each have a score. When they have reached set scores they can send them in for a certificate and a badge.

5. A robin reward

I’ve wanted to try to make the bird watch a memorable experience. While on lockdown we don’t get the chance to go out and visit places but we can still make lasting happy memories at home. So I ordered this fused glass robin to give Alice as a souvenir, something to remember it by, for when we’ve finished our birdwatch.

6. More snacks

We’ve made more chocolate nests following on from nest work. These are particular decadent with milky bar cookie chocolate and honey nut cornflakes. I’m not a big eater of chocolate preferring savoury options but these are particularly good.

The birdwatch results will follow. I’m expecting a dip from previous years due several circumstances. Lockdown means we have more seagulls in the garden as they are lacking fish and chips. These scare off many of the other birds. Also, our next door but one neighbours have had one of the tallest trees cut down. This was a perch many of the birds used before coming down onto our feeders. So, I’m expecting good numbers of gulls and pigeons but I have less expectations for the smaller birds. But we’ll see. I’ve got most of next week in isolation to recover. Hopefully get my head back to a point where it doesn’t hurt. My concentration is pretty low so sorry if I’m not reading your posts. I’m pretty restless. In the meantime, I am planning activities for children who are off home schooling. Next week’s topic is rainbows. Alice is very excited for this topic whereas I have less enthusiasm for it. They look pretty but serve no purpose so I’m looking for some hook to engage me. I hope you are all keeping well and staying safe. Enjoy your weekends.

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Nature schooling: nests

Next weeks topic in the forest school is nests. It’s a great topic with lots of possibilities. Nests are defined as “a bed or receptacle prepared by an animal and especially a bird for its eggs and young“. While we mainly think of birds with regards to nests there are many other nest making creatures.

One of the main books I’ll be using is A nest is noisy. It has beautiful illustrations and it also shows many different birds and animals that build nests.

 

The second story I will be using is bird builds a nest which is part of a series of books, “a first science storybook”. It’s a nice simple book that shows how the big builds a nest and also shows concepts such as big and little and heavy and light.

Chocolate nests

I only cover the two sessions in the nursery so I won’t have that many chances to teach different aspects of nests. I would like to do chocolate nests but I’m not sure I’ll get a chance as I don’t have the baking area this week. But I decided I would make some with Alice even if I don’t do them in school.

It has to be the easiest baking you can do with kids. I’m not sure if it even qualifies as baking it’s that simple. But it’s fun, the kids can do most of it themselves and you get something edible at the end. We made use of cornflakes and chocolate from the eco pantry. It is nice to use bran as it looks more like a nest, but I like to make use of the eco pantry. This is food that the supermarkets have rejected or is coming close to best before and they know it won’t sell. It cuts down food waste.

The chocolate was melted in the microwave giving us the chance to discuss changes of state. Alice took every opportunity fo spoon licking so we went through a lot of spoons making sure she didn’t double-dip.

The cornflakes are mixed in. A little chocolate goes a long way with these.

The mix was scooped into bun cases.

And an egg on the top of each one. We set them in the fridge which gives them a bit of crunch.

You don’t really get simpler cooking with kids but it keeps Alice’s attention as she gets to do most of the stages so I don’t need to interfere. Plus, we get an end result she actually wants to eat.

Playdough nests

Making playdough is pretty much part of most Early Years professionals skill set. You constantly replace it as kids use it, it gets too dirty, or in many cases gets eaten. Over the years I’ve picked up many different recipes for making different varieties and different activities to go with each. Making nests has been a regular activity over the years.

The basic recipe I use needs:

          • 1 Cup of salt
          • 2 Cups of flour
          • 2 spoons of cream of tartar
          • 1 spoon of oil
          • 1 cup of water

It all goes together in a bowl and gets mixed.

If it is too dry add a little water. If it is too wet add a little more flour. Carry on adding and mixing, then knead it into a ball to check the consistency and that it is mixed through.

For the nest, I collected a pile of sticks and animals that make nests. As I already said it isn’t just birds that nest. Tree frogs, alligators, orangutans, wasps, some beetles many animals make nests.

I test out lessons on Alice beforehand. She wanted to lay her sticks int the playdough very carefully comparing sizes.


And then some went around the outside before she decided who was going to nest in hers.

It’s a dead-simple activity but it’s nice and open-ended. Lots of opportunities for covering many areas of learning. Making the playdough has lots of science opportunities with changes of state and the maths side with the measuring. Then building the nest allows more opportunities for discussing the animals and creative play with playing with animals. Stories quickly emerge and characters develop.

Gardening

Next month many of the birds will start to collect material to build their nests. So to encourage the birds in we will put out some material for them to use. Many like to collect material from close to the nest site. So we can help by leaving piles of sticks, straw, wool and other nesting material. I use this strange hanging egg device to help. It can be stuffed with wool and the birds can pull bits off for their nests. I’ve not filled it yet as it’s still a bit early and I don’t want it getting wet.

 

Music

I like to plan in a few songs to go with each theme and usually aim to teach a new song. However, this week I think I’m going to stick with one most of the children will already know. Five little ducks is a popular one and we have the resources for me to place the toys in a nest to sing the song. There are other songs that actually mention nests but I like five little ducks.


Alongside the singing, I’ll be slipping in some bird song to listen to at some point during the week. Or I may just play it while we do some of the other activities.

 

I hope you are all managing well. If you are homeschooling don’t place too much pressure on yourself. Particularly if you are working from home alongside, you need to do your job to earn. You can’t do everything at once. Unprecedented times. I’m going to leave you with another playlist. Nests as a topic for music seem to largely be reserved for very herdy gerdy folk music of the sort in the first song from Morris on. So, I have extended the theme to bird songs.

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And an earworm to finish.

Six on Saturday: 16.1.21

It has felt like a busy week at work. I’ve enjoyed the work I’ve done about the moon. I’ve still got a few ideas I didn’t use but I can save them for another year or if we revisit the topic. We managed a few quick jobs in the garden last weekend and then I’ve barely been out except to top up the bird feeders and crack the ice on the water bath.

1. Birdhouse

We completed assembling Alice’s birdhouse from a few weeks back and found a spot to hang it in the lilac. I’m not sure the birds will settle in a spinning house but we’ll see.

2. Narcissus elka

We planted up last week’s hanging pot with some Narcissus elka. These came as a cheap addition to the juniper. They are a miniature daffodil with white flowers with a creamy central trumpet.

It looks good with a bit of gravel on the top. It is quite late onto plant these but I’ve got them and not really got anything else to plant in their right now.

3. Garden birds calendar

Alice has been asking constantly about when events are coming up so we got her a cheap calendar to put her dates on. She wanted one with a robin on. They feature in a good few months of this calendar. Believe it or not, she was happy with the calendar and this was a happy face.

4. Birdfeeder

I bought a new metal feeder as the seagulls have pulled my main seed feeder off and broken it. They have become more desperate for food during each lockdown. Without the constant fish and chips, there isn’t enough to go around. This one isn’t really big enough but I wanted a metal one that was easy to clean. When we get through lockdown I’ll have a look for a better choice.

5. Primula elatior

Last week’s National Gardening teatowel got a good few comments so here is another gardening related teatowel. This one is from the charity Plantlife and features an oxlip, Primula elatior.

6. The bub expert

A house around the corner had a box left outside it on their wall with a sign free books. I found this gem in it. Hessayon is usually worth a read. While his use of chemicals is out of step with current times his knowledge of plants was clearly immense. The books are always clearly illustrated and diagrams are usually good where they are needed. Plus it was free. Lovely neighbourhood.

It’s looking to be another busy week at work next week so I doubt I’ll find much time for gardening but you never know. I’m working on my next RHS assignment on propagation which will be completed for next month just in time for starting the first seed sowings. Hope you are all doing well and managing in these strange times.

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12 Days Wild: Day 12-Final day

So, we have come to the end of 12 Days Wild. As ever, I would recommend supporting your local Wildlife Trust. It is a great organisation and like so many of the charities it will have lost out on some of its revenue this year.

We didn’t get much time today for acts of wild, but we did finish Alice’s birdhouse. She’s happy with it and once the glue has dried we can find a spot outside to hang it. I’m not sure whether the birds like hanging super colourful homes. But we’ll see. She enjoyed making it and it encourages an interest in birds. So, that’s all positive.

She certainly went with the brightest colours.

After discussing the sound of the rain yesterday, I found a nice website for nature sounds, Tree FM. People around the world have made recordings of forest sounds. They are lovely and peaceful and if you are in need of a moment of calm today I would recommend listening. Some of you may not be able to get out right now but the Japanese concept of Shinrin-yoku-forest bathing is a good one. The sounds of the forest are reported to be one of the most significant elements in this.

Tree FM.

I hope you are all keeping well and if not reach out to people. There is help out there. The news in the UK is pretty grim right now so it’s more important than ever to have your stress relievers. We have had a lovely break off and our time outside plays a large part in this. Stay safe.

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12 Days Wild: Day 8-Happy New Year

Well, we have made it through 2020 and into a new year. I know for many this has been a difficult year but I have ended the year in a better state. My work-life balance is better. I work locally so get to walk and spend more time in nature rather than wasting much of my day on commute. So I’m happy to be moving onwards.

Just because it’s New Year’s Day doesn’t mean we get any extra sleep. Alice was up for her usual 6:30. I was generous and let Amy carry on sleeping. The birds have been very active in both the front and back garden enjoying the lack of humans while they nurse hangovers.

When Amy did emerge, I got out for a run. It was pretty horrible weather but it woke me up a bit getting out. I ran a little stretch of the old railway line through the wooded section. I’m using the couch to 5k app and it currently very gentle 90 seconds of walking followed by 60 seconds of running. But I want to ease back into it after a strain.

Then a short stretch of the seafront. It was busy today, even with the rain, with people coming out for the traditional New Year’s Day fish and chips.

Then headed out to run along the edge of the fields. I do like running along the bridle path but it will be off-limits for winter as most of the time it is underwater. But in spring and summer, it’s nice running along here startling the odd rabbit. But we are fortunate to have several natural environments we can run through. It’s very easy to get away from housing and into either more rural areas or along the coastal path. I ran while we lived in Hull but it wasn’t as enjoyable running through urban sprawl.

On the walk back home I kept an eye out for which wildflowers were in bloom ready for when we go to do our official count.

 

The rest of the day has been spent putting Christmas away. While the tree is pretty decorated the house feels bigger again for having it away and most of Alice’s new toys assigned to a place. The wetter weather has left the garden very squishy but I do have a few bulbs still to plant and I couldn’t do that while the ground was frozen.

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12 Days Wild: Day 7-New Year’s Eve

The day started very cold again. The back door was very stiff to slide open. But, it’s been nice sitting in the backroom and seeing the birds enjoy the extra bird feeders. They are obviously appreciating the food in the cold weather with large swarms coming in.

A good day to steal Amy’s macro lens for a few close up photos. I have a suspicion that all this frost is probably going to destroy the camellias emerging blooms but so it goes. I think it’s going to get dug out after its next round of flowers.

The colour of the Golden King holly almost concealed by frost.

It has stayed cool enough that the frost hasn’t really faded. We didn’t get out until after lunch and there was still lots of ice around. Alice wanted to go to the park to play hide and seek and look for more robins to show her robin toy.

Alice all wrapped up with her favourite new hat.

We did manage to find a robin over by the church wall. The wall here is covered in moss and ivy and you can usually find a good few birds hopping in and out of the cover.

Alice with her robin.

We spotted a squirrel which Alice told me is robin’s brother. It’s an interesting family tree.

I’m glad we are getting some decent sunny days before we head back to school. It is freezing but it’s still a tolerable temperature once we are wrapped up. But we are lucky to have numerous nice spots to walk out too. We will not be doing anything special for New Year’s Eve. Even if there weren’t restrictions in place New Year’s Eve isn’t much fun when you know you’ll still get woken up the same time as normal by a 4-year-old. So, normal bedtime for us. But I hope you all manage to welcome the New Year in safely and enjoy whatever you are up to.

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