Winter feeding

The last month has been busy with Christmas preparations beginning. The disaster that is my Nativity play has begun. So blogging has been low of late. But now I’m getting past deadlines. Quite a bit has been happening in my garden and progress has been made on my school outdoor area, which I will try to update during the next few weeks.

After thick snow descended on Thursday the garden has been well coated with ice on snow. It had just thawed on Saturday. This has left the garden with lots of hungry birds struggling to find food.

Through Winter it’s important to help the birds. The water sources freeze, so I’ve been trying to get out to crack the ice in the bird bath. The food I put out disappears quickly. The seed goes in a few days. So as well as the seed I try to keep the peanut feeders filled with either peanuts or suet pellets. These seem to last a bit longer than the seed. So even when it’s been a busy week and I haven’t got out to replenish the seed I’m still leaving something for the birds.

Haith’s have been helping me out as they sent me a bag of their help to fly Autumn/Winter mix to review. This is a seed mix with high energy and oil content to  help give birds that fat and energy they need to survive the Winter. Haith’s bird food is put through a cleaner process. The grain dust created during harvest can be damaging if seed is not cleaned. Much of the bird food you buy won’t be cleaned in this way.

Haith’s sent me a bag of both the cleaned and the unclean mix. I wonder if from the photo you can spot the difference?

On the left is the cleaned and the right the unclean. I was surprised at how much of a difference I could see in the two batches. While I’m not able to do the test taste to appreciate  the difference I’m sure the birds will appreciate it at this time of year when food is scarcer.

Before filling the feeders I also gave them a good clean out. I’ve talked about it before, but it is important to clean feeders to limit disease spread.

Before I’d left the garden the birds were already sneaking in, clearly ready, for a feed.

Over the day I’ve seen a good mix of visitors: sparrows, great tits and blue tits got in to test it first. Then pigeons, starlings and jackdaws followed. Then had wrens, dunnocks and robins in and out.

Then a few herring gulls came in, although not for the seed.

Alice has enjoyed getting out to explore the garden again after several days of frost. She checked in on the bug hotel and gave the flowers a sniff.

Thanks again to Haith’s for sending the bird food to review. The birds seem to be enjoying it. It’s been nice to get out briefly into the garden and then sit in doing data input while looking up to see the birds enjoying the new seed.

School garden

Over the Summer the allotment section of my outdoor area had become quite overgrown. I’d been working gradually to weed it with the kids, but it needed  a decent chunk of time in one go. So on Thursday I got into school during the holiday to get the garden back on track.

The garden is overlooked by magnificent trees, which I’m grateful to have, but means a lot of time is spent on clearing leaves. Luckily the kids quite like doing this and I’ve set up a leaf box, so next year we should have some lovely leaf mould. Monty Don would be pleased. This was the garden at the start of Thursday.

The first allotment section I’ve dug over and put weed matting down. Then going to use the tyres as planters. These are going to be used for fruit and veg. It’s important to show the kids where our food comes from and they’ll enjoy eating something they’ve grown.

The middle section I’ve moved around the existing plants. The plan for this section is to have a garden section of shrubs and flowers requiring little maintenance. So I’m adding shrubs and flowers that will suppress weeds and will gradually fill the space. We had several patches of rosemary that have been doing well. I’ve put the three together to hopefully grow into a bush. Then lavender next to these. I dug in plenty of grit for drainage. These should be fine with the Summer holiday where they will be neglected of watering everyday.

Along the back I’ve got four conifers to give us some greenery through the year. There only meant to be small varieties, but have plenty of space to move them if they get too big. Then in front of them a number of hebes, again to give us some greenery through the year and the flowers are beloved by many insects. Mainly small varieties, so we can still see across the two playgrounds.

The front I’d planted daffodils with the children. I like doing a few bulbs with the children as they learn to wait for that long term pay off next year.

The third section I’ve just dug over for now apart from the dwarf apple tree I planted earlier in the year. This has established well. This last allotment section I’d like as an orchard, so I’m going to look at a few more dwarf fruit trees. I reckon I can fit four in. Again this will teach the children more about where our food comes from. Again once it’s set it won’t involve too much maintenance. As it was four large allotment sections is too much work to do with the children. Hopefully how I’ve set it now the children should be able to be involved in the upkeep and see some rewards for their work later next year.

The water butt has some willow cuttings I’d taken earlier in the term. Their starting to root now. We have a number of willow tunnels and structures, but some are looking the worse for wear. Hopefully the cuttings can help build them up again or be used to extend the structures.


Not a bad days work. While it may not look like much now. Give it a year and it should be looking more like an area the children can be proud of. While I’ve been busy working Alice had a nice day out at the deep in her Halloween costume. She loved the fishes, running from tank to tank in excitement. She’s that little bit older than last time, so could enjoy it better.

Folklore Thursday: Jack o’ Lanterns

Halloween has been and gone. Our Halloween efforts were a little lack lustre, just the traditional pumpkin.

Alice was quite interested in it though. She kept coming back to check it out.

The Halloween Jack O’ Lantern is thought to have originated in Ireland where a face was carved from a turnip or mangel wurzel. Traditionally they were carved into grotesque faces, but now people have made it an art form with intricate pictures being carved into their pumpkins. The face would be placed to ward off evil spirits at Samhain. Samhain being the festival that brings in the darker part of the year. Samhain is a liminal time. A time when the boundary between worlds is weaker. A time the spirits of fairies can return.

Settlers to America changed to using pumpkins as a bigger, easier substitute to carve than turnips. If you’ve ever tried to hollow a turnip in the traditional way it isn’t easy. The Jack o’ Lantern being immortalised as a pumpkin in literature by the headless horsemen of Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow.

The name Jack o’ Lantern has several associated stories. My favourite is Stingy Jack. Jack was a miser. Never paid for anything. He invited the devil for a drink. True to form when it came time to pay he asked the devil to transform into a coin to pay for the round. Jack changed his mind and put the devil coin back in his wallet with a silver cross stopping the devil changing back.

Jack only agreed to release the devil on the condition that he wouldn’t take his soul to hell when he died. The tale goes on with Jack tricking the devil several more times.

When Jack eventually dies he can’t go to hell where he belongs and heaven won’t accept such an unscrupulous individual as Jack. So the tale ends with the devil giving Jack a lit coal to light his way in limbo. Jack places the ember in a carved turnip and has wandered the world since.

The tale has much in common with my favourite Jim Henson storyteller episode the soldier and death. In this story a soldier tricks devils and death ends his days unable to access heaven or hell. Again he is forced to walk the world for evermore. Well worth watching or reading up the folk tale. Maybe one for another Folklore Thursday. For now I’ll leave you with one of the best intros to a TV series.

Half term begins

The half term holiday has begun for me. Me and Alice got out for a wander yesterday.

We headed down to the Mere. Alice enjoyed the rather noisy geese and mallards.

It was a bit windy, but Alice enjoys the feel of wind.

Alice has started to imitate animal noises, so we got a good baa at the sheep.

Back home the garden is seeing more bird life. Next door decided they didn’t have the time for their cats. So the cats have been given to family. Suddenly we have much more bird action again. What a difference a cat makes.

The goldfinches have returned after several months of absence.

The birds are enjoying the feeders for longer, so the seed is disappearing quicker.

With the cats gone the birds are becoming more confident coming close to the house.

With the lack of cats and the leaves falling I’m getting lovely views of the birds now. I can sit in the kitchen and look out on a wealth of life.

Autumn gardening

Autumn gardening, for me, mainly seems to be about preparing for the next year.

The Spring bulbs have gone in ready for next year. I had daffodils from last year. They were planted where the bench now sits. These have been redistributed around the border.

I’ve gone with a number of allium varieties. I like alliums for there structural interest and there generally popular with pollinators. Might well be allium overload. We’ll see next year.

Purple sensation says it grows as a cluster up to 80 cm.

Blue drumsticks are a little shorter at 60cm.

Then one giganteum up close to the patio. I’ve planted this with a few drumsticks surrounding. Hopefully have the tall gigantism towering with the blue drumsticks as a lower tier. While a bit pricier it will hopefully come back each year giving a good show.

I’m not a massive fan of tulips, but we saw some lovely varieties when we went to the open gardens. They’ll add a bit of colour before the Summer colours kick in. I’ve gone for tulip alectric; a pretty variety with pink and white petals. I should really wait for tulip planting, so they don’t rot in the ground, but I know I’ve got a lot on with work the next month. But I haven’t had major issues with bulbs rotting in the soil from last year, so hopefully be OK.

 

I’ve neglected the weeding for a few weeks while I’ve got other jobs done, so had a good upheaval. It wasn’t too bad though. Now I’ve got more plant coverage than last year there isn’t as much space for weeds to come up.

In the front the wildflowers that grew these year have died down. I had one patch of lavender growing by the door. I’ve added a second variety at the other end. The stripy leaved plant is a wild plant Lords and ladies. While not something I planted I like the leaves so it can stay for now. As time goes on if the lavender does alright I’ll fill the whole patch. Then it’ll be fairly low maintenance, needing little watering and as it fills the gaps shouldn’t need much weeding. While it may not look very much now it will hopefully develop into a lavender hedge giving lovely scent as you come in the house.

The lavender around the front and back garden has had its hair cut for this year stopping it getting too woody and encouraging a bit more growth next year.

On the patio I’ve filled three pots with some new evergreens giving the patio some foliage and a bit more interest through the winter and into Spring. Two “little leaves” hebes that just have a small spread well suited to starting in a pot.

Then an annual shrub, chamaecynaris pisifera, known as “blue sky”. It will grow a little bigger than the hebes at 50cm. I like the blue tinge to the foliage. Should be good for retaining some seasonal interest through winter.

The birds are starting to return to the feeder. Things can be a bit quiet at the start of Autumn while there is plenty of food to be had naturally, but starting to see a bit more action on the feeders again. This robin was practising its poising ready for the Christmas cards.

The roses are still flowering, although I reckon I might be looking at the last bunch for this year now. Once there done they’ll be needing a trim, then probably a bit further in early Spring. They had quite a harsh cut back this year and did better for it, alongside being fed better.

The leaves on the shrubs and trees are still hanging on in there. Once they drop I’ll be doing the last major Autumn job giving them a

Autumn equinox

The Autumn equinox has passed and the world outside is looking more Autumnal. Berries are filling the hedgerows, leaves are starting to turn and my mornings are filled with mist more frequently.

However my garden doesn’t seem to have got the message. Last weekend I still had painted ladies hanging around. They’ll be needing to get a move on soon to manage their migration.

 Bird numbers are quite low in the garden as there is plenty of food they can scavenge naturally with all the fruit on the trees and berries along the hedges. I have however seen quite a lot of great tits on my feeders.

While the variety of butterflies and moths are dropping there are still plenty of caterpillars around.

Hopefully this weekend I’ll get going on some of the Autumn garden jobs. I’ve got bulbs to go in for Spring and a number of evergreens to plant to give us some greenery over the Winter. I want to move a few plants and a few shrubs need a trim.

A walk in the park

Yesterday I made it out for a walk in the park after several days in school working in a windowless room on my Early Years School Evaluation Form. This form is the schools judgement of how well we believe we’re doing. This is then presented to ofsted when we get the inspection phone call. So I was quite happy to be outside despite a bit of drizzle.

The hedges along the park were a ladybird hot spot last year, but so far I had not seen many. Yesterday they had returned in force with lots of signs along the whole of the hedge.

Amongst the trees we found a decorated rock. Decorating rocks, then leaving them hidden places has been a craze this Summer. When you find them you photograph them a tag on facebook/twitter. I have mixed feelings about this activity. I like that it gets children out. But living by the seaside I’ve seen people taking buckets of rocks away. There is a legal side to this that many of them shouldn’t be taking the quantity they are as well as dismantling a habitat. But this probably deserves a whole blog on itself. People have always taken rocks and seashells as souvenirs from beaches, but the quantity people are taking is a concern.

Amongst the long grass area a robin perched on branch serenading.

Conkers are now falling. It looked like they’ve already been scavenged through, but I did find a few to take into school for my discovery area.

Now it’s time to get back to writing my school action plan and evaluation form. A bit nicer though working from home with a view of the garden. Red admirals and sparrows are back and forth across the garden currently.

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