Archive for April, 2013

Big Worms, Bumble Bees and Boiling Water.

So, finally we have a warm snap. A couple of windy days that blew the TV aerial off the chimney (post and all) then scraped it back and forth over the tiles all night making sleep , hmmm what’s a good word … fitful? (Too tired to think maybe?). All fixed now, used the Best of Cannock web-site to find a tradesman who was happy to crab about on the roof in a very convincing professional manner in some fairly high winds. So a night of blessed sleep last night, well, at least no TV aerial Alfred Hitchcock background accompaniment.

So, some serious time up on the plot, with all regular seed sowing having been done in the un-heated greenhouse and stacked up on improvised shelves and staging, because it needs to be done and outside has not been an option … we’ll catch up at some point (honest). And finally able to start turning over the “old” Autumn fruiting raspberry area.  Being raspberries it has, in the nature of these beasts spread itself, so turning the ground over is a real task! The roots run and tunnel and twist and defy my distinctly average efforts: perhaps resistance isn’t useless after all I can almost hear them (the underground movement whispering).

Because the ground has not been dug for five years the soil is heavily compacted, but down there are some of the biggest, healthiest looking earthworms I have seen for some time. Not to be confused with the tiger worms (plenty of those too) in the wood chip heaps we have used to re-mulch our blackcurrant beds and orchard. Rescued handfuls of these little “energy snakes” and reinvested them in the growing compost heap. The turf covering and few wisps (so far!) of “squitch” (couch) grass will have to be dug over again – this is clearly a marathon, not a sprint!

The air was also filled with the occasional heavy-plane sound of a huge bumble bee navigating the paths and stopping by the “wildflower station” – sorry, nothing flowering there yet, before heading back to what I am guessing is her nest in the hedge bottom. Not much evidence of honey bees yet, but then again there’s little for them to visit for food: very few flowers. Even the spread-like-wildfire forget me nots are only just starting to bloom: lovely simple flowers but invariably not in the right place. As for forgetting them ?

Dug the runner bean trench and filled it with well-rotted manure. This being a one hundred plus plot allotment, others are at different stages. Dave has his runner beans already sprouting and his runner bean frames up and secured: bamboo wig-wams. Steph has the top ends of her whole row frames wider apart than the bases, an engineering marvel – and seeds ready to plant direct into the ground. We go for two double rows, successional planting and bamboo and hazel frame, tips together and a ridge pole to bind the whole together.

The sun was warm and the digging and carting hard but pleasant work. I saved some of the plants, we are having a fund-raising event tomorrow to raise money for the West Midlands Air Ambulance. We are combining this seed/plant/equipment swap with a tea (or coffee) and cake get together. I am, once again, in charge of the brazier, so, looking forward to that one! I have also cleaned out the home pond and will be taking some elodea oxygenating weed up the swap – in case. It grows like crazy, but having taken it out of the pond I was surprised by how clear the water is … suddenly we can see the fish! The other big step forward is getting the gas burner up to the shed for the first time ever, so as to be able to brew our own drinks up there, rather than keep “doing a flask”. Think it’s a step forward, but it’s the logistics of sugar, water, washing up ….

 

20th April, 2013

 

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The Magic of Sparrows.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Photo credit: NotMicroButSoft (Winter Survival – Keran Top Exped)

 

Got up this morning to see scattered wood pigeon feathers beneath the mountain ash (rowan) tree in our back garden. It is not clear what visited death upon the pigeon but I suspect a sparrow hawk. We have had one settled in the trees in our neighbourhood gardens – and one was actually feeding on a pigeon at the end of her garden last year. Possibly a fox or even a cat (Heaven knows we have enough of those in the area –and I am allergic to everyone!). But I imagine the hawk, doing the high-speed dive and kill, then retreating in to the rowan to pluck the carcasse.

Now, on the allotment I am a serious enemy of wood pigeons – hey, come on they eat hell out of our cabbages and turnip greens. In the garden they balance uneasily on the bird feeders, cunningly arranged, I like to think that does not allow them to actually take the food. But, of course, there is always something sad about death and the machinations of the Circle of Life: nature red in tooth and claw. Chris Packham has gone on record in defence of sparrow hawks with a very logical reasoning; saying something like …

“British tourists will pay good money (I did!) to see lions hunting, or on a kill in Africa … and they have the chance to see a top predator in their own back gardens but hesitate when they see a sparrow hawk …”

So I started on a routine blog, about raking and planting three kinds of potatoes now that the weather seems …

sparrows

… then, came the hoards of noisy house sparrows (and a robin to be fair). These are regular visitors tour bird feeders, agile and gambolling in mid-air, in snow banks or in dust bowl baths. They surprised me – being able to hang at all angles and feed from suspended half coconuts like Victorian midshipmen in the tea clipper rigging. I cannot help but be cheered by their antics. Investigating the edge of the lawn scene, hopping around like slightly demented puppets. I ceased tapping half-heartedly (if earnestly) at the keys. The sparrows held some kind of parliamentary tea party before grabbing beakfuls of the smaller feathers and cartwheeling into the warm air and crossing the lawn like darts with this cargo.

Lining of course for their work-in-progress nests: perfect in every way.

The Fight of The Year

The Fight of the Year

And there goes the bell for the third month  and

Winter comes out of his corner looking groggy

Spring leads with a left to the head

followed by a sharp right to the body

daffodils

primroses

crocuses

snowdrops

lilacs

violets

pussy willow

Winter can’t take much more punishment  and

Spring shows no signs of tiring

tadpoles

squirrels

baalambs

badgers

bunny rabbits

mad march hares

horse and hounds

Spring is merciless

Winter won’t go the whole twelve rounds

bobtail clouds

scallywag winds

the sun

the pavement artist

in every town

a left to the chin  and

Winter’s down!

1 tomatoes

2 radish

3 cucumber

4 onions

5 beetroot

6 celery

7 and any

8 amount

9 of lettuce

10 for dinner

Winter’s out for the count

Spring is the winner!

 

Roger McGough

Goldcrest.

On our way out of the house today – allotment events committee meeting (seed swap and Gardeners World Live trips to organise) – but, for some unknown reason glanced at the bird feeders. We have had unusual visitors this year, almost certainly due to harsh weather conditions, but I was surprised to see a pair of goldcrests there, tucking into the fat/insect mixture in the half coconuts.

goldcrest
Took me back to a fierce argument I had with Peter in penultimate primary school year (I was nine years old!) about which was Britain’s smallest bird. Me? I reckoned the wren, and we both found books to compare. He was right, I was not annoyed: it was the way we added to our knowledge. About plants, animals, paths to walk, where to find the brightest, feistiest sticklebacks, the hardest conkers (and how to prepare them to become champions), the trickiest trees to climb, where to find frogs – or more exotically the tiny dragons that were called newts and, in this season, their spawn. In short we taught each other so much about  each other and about ourselves. We carried out risk assessments even before the phrase had been dreamed up by politicians, because that was, that is what life is about: taking responsibility for your own actions … always done better in the  light of experience. That’s what we were getting, of course, first-hand experience. Building rafts  and timber and riding them on building site puddles; making soap box trolleys, throwing ropes made from binder twine into branches overhanging streams and swinging out, over and across to the other bank – or failing and laughing it off.
Indeed, as will happen no sooner had I found out about these beautiful birds, than I discovered a goldcrest nest. To date it retains the neatest-nest-ever award. It was built in the underneath of end-of-branch foliage in a European larch at the edge of the game-cover wood opposite our house.  At the end of a branch to protect it from predators, where we lived magpies and grey squirrels. But a typically beautiful and structured piece of engineering.
The discussion we had about goldcrests lead me to believe they were rare birds and so I though  when these two appeared on our bird table. Until I looked at the RSPB website. It seems they are both widespread and common. Look out for them, especially if you are near conifer woods.
But, if for whatever reason I had not glanced out of the back bedroom window, we would have missed this sighting; the pair did not stay long, certainly less than five minutes. I felt truly blessed.

 

Photo source: http://www.arkwildlife.com
28/3/2013

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