I have a number of bug hotels and hovels built specifically for insects and slugs and snails to hide in on the wildlife plot. Without these we wouldn’t get the frogs and toads, slow worms and birds as the food web or chain won’t be complete.
First of all we have the Hilton of bug hotels. I didn’t build this one – The Wildlife Trust did – and it has everything in it with a waterproof roof. This type of shelter can be a hotel for anything from hedgehogs to toads, solitary bees to bumblebees, and ladybirds to woodlice. I don’t like to ferret around in it so I don’t know what is in there apart from woodlice – lots of them! This just needs an occasional top up of materials and possibly rebuilding every few years. It is certainly a feature of the plot. The RSPB has a good set of instructions for creating one of these.
The flowerpot people are also bug hotels – more like Premier Inns than the Hilton – and suit slugs and snails. They are near the pond so that there is a food source for frogs and toads and slow worms in the summer when they are in the sun. They are extremely easy to build, no instructions needed and have grasses or pinks in the top pot as hair.
The next inn was made from a rusty plant support and a bit of netting stuffed with teasel heads and pine cones. I wrapped the netting inside the support and then stuffed the teasel heads down to the narrow end and then filled it up with the cones. To keep it all inside I placed a piece of the netting over the legs of the support and slid it up. Birds may well have a look at the teasels so I have stuck some outside the support as well making it look a bit peculiar. This is now sited in the taller end of the rubble wall that snakes through The Thugs Bed.
Someone left a Bee Brick on the bench for me. I looked them up and they need to be about 1m off the ground so built up a brick tower to sit it on, facing south. From everything I have read about solitary bees, you really need to clean out the tubes so I am not sure how well this will work but will give it a go.
Then we have the rubble pile on the Brownfield Site Bed. This has logs, stones, dried grasses, water pipes leading in for solitary bees to go down and through, corrugated iron and then broken bricks on top. This is designed for a range of creatures and it will be interesting to see what uses it. This idea comes from John Little and shows how brownfield sites can be rich areas for insects and invertebrates meaning that building rubble does not have to be removed just shaped and repurposed appropriately saving a lot of waste.
As the weather warms up, this bed will be planted with yellow and white wildflowers or weeds depending on your point of view.
All this bed needs now is the mound of sand. I will use builders sand as part of the waste materials on a building site and it will be south-facing and specifically for solitary bees. It will be interesting to see what happens, if anything.
The next two bed and breakfast rooms are similar but look very different. They are the wall built out of waste building materials (not unlike the pile above) which offers lots of nooks and crannies and a stone filled gabion (quite small) with lots of gaps between the stones and warm enough in the sun to bask on. The gabion will have soil pockets put in and then plants popped in. I have a daisy, Erigeron karvinsianus, that someone has donated and no doubt I will never be without it after this.
On order is a solitary bee hotel with a viewing panel which will be fixed to a pole about a metre off the ground. You will be able to take the side off and look into the chambers to see what the bees are doing. This is mainly for the schools that visit the site but I suspect we will all be interested in it.
Have you got any bug hotels?
This post is linked to the #SIXONSATURDAY blog posts hosted by The Propagator
We have had a strange winter here on the south coast. Very little wind, evident from the fact that we have not had the sand blown off the beach and along the road at all this year, and little rain. That is not to say, however, that we haven’t had storms with a lot of wind and rain in one heavy drop. I do wonder if this is the future.
The downside of this is that the weather has been grey. Dreary and grey. The upside is that I have been able to do quite a bit of work outside in December and January. We had an official complaint about rats which is tricky as we border houses and have had to re-organise our plots to ensure that it isn’t us providing the perfect conditions for them. It turned out it wasn’t but we have all had to move our compost bins and other detritus from the bottom of our plots and store it elsewhere. I found carpet under the soil, a burial pit of plastic bags, many, many tree and bramble roots plus all my poles and wood. I also had to move 5 large compost bins most of which were ready to use and that has been strenuous but warming work.
From the store we have been pulling out potatoes – we’re still eating Charlotte – and carrots which are a mixture of Autumn King and Oxheart. We are also valiently working our way through a Queensland Blue squash that is delicious with a firm flesh but is quite large and has lasted for about 3 weeks already. Memo to self – eat more squash!
From the plot we have Brussel sprouts and Kalettes, Parsnips (Tender and True), lettuce (Rouge Grenoble), lambs lettuce (Vit) rainbow chard, Boltardy and Bona beetroot and fennel from the tunnel.
When I brought the veg in yesterday, a Red Admiral came in with them. Its wings look a little tatty at the edges, particularly the bottom so I think it must have over-wintered here as it is not really the right time for the migrating ones to arrive. Apparently, down here in the south that is happening more and more.
I put it outside but with a fairly heavy heart as it really wasn’t warm enough.
It is the first year that I have almost grown enough sprouts! I had 8 plants which I started picking at the beginning of December and still have a few left to go. I think 12 plants next year would be fantastic and I won’t have to ration them! They were of a good size probably because I grew F1 varieties – Crispus and Brodie – rather than open-pollinated which seem to be a lot more variable. I have been trying to grow more OP vegetables but sometimes F!s are better. Food is becoming a lot more expensive here for a variety of reasons so getting the best crops is more important.
I’m off to finish the bug pit on the wildlife plot before seed sowing starts in earnest. Have a good week.
I have linked to Harvest Monday on the Happy Acres blog. Do visit to see what else is being harvested around the world.
Log piles are a really important part of a wildlife garden for a variety of reasons.
- They provide shelter and a habitat for many insects, beetles, birds and reptiles.
- As the wood rots down, it creates space to put more on top so offering a way of getting rid of twigs, branches, trunks and everything in between.
- They can sit quietly where no one notices or they can be a designed feature of the garden – they can be large or small.
Here are a selection that we have on the wildlife plot – all built slightly differently.
My first log pile is a dead hedge or what some people call a brash pile. I have used metal rods to provide a support to contain the branches and then laid them reasonably neatly along the length of the supports. I intend to increase the length of this dead hedge with hazel supports to provide a boundary between the plot and my garden neighbour. Dead hedges do not have to follow a straight line but can weave and snake around. On the plot ivy is starting to grow through and over it, providing even more shelter for whoever uses it. The whippy growths at the front of it are elm roots running and sprouting as the dead elms are cut down. There are some nice examples of dead hedging here.
The second log pile is probably what most people think of as a log pile. This one consists of trees cut down and then stacked in situ. We had to cut several cherries and dead elms down just to open up the site a little and to prevent too many of one particular thing taking over. Someone will use the bigger chunks as firewood eventually but here they sit, providing shelter for now. You can make excellent decorative piles with logs such as those created by Nigel Dunnett in what he calls wave form log piles. They look stunning when the plants are in flower and as they die down. I think for those structures, the logs are better if all cut to the same length, spread out and then you can choose which ones to put on the base and make use of the smaller and smaller branches as you go build up.
Next up is a log pile that was already on the plot when I started to work on it. This is in a shady corner and made out of awkward shaped bits of branches usually with 2 or 3 smaller branches coming off them. This is a good place to put the knobbly bits. The pile has been here long enough for dead nettle and harebells to grow through and around it. It is at the bottom of the bed near the pond and I do wonder who uses it – are the newts sheltered in there? I have seen a toad sitting in there a couple of years ago.
This is my latest log pile. It is in the Brownfield Site bed and rather than lay the logs down on their side, I have stood them up on end. I dug a pit about 30 – 40 cms deep and then buried the logs in it. This log pile is in full sun so will be used more by insects and others that like to bask. The stones at the base also provide a basking site so we will see who visits when we get a bit of sunshine.
I have also gone one step further in other parts of the wildlife plot and planted dead trees. They have peeling bark, some have woodworm and other creatures who have already attacked them but dead wood is dead wood and they will crumble and rot away just like a wood pile. They may also, however, offer perching places for birds. The tree I have planted are from dead elder and a Euonymus europaeus that blew down in storm Arwin.
And, finally the last wood pile was already on the plot so I didn’t build it. Leave a tree trunk of a tree that you no longer need. It will rot and decay and bits will fall off creating quite a nice pile at the base. This is a fascinating process to watch. There are all sorts of woodlice and spiders living in the peeling bark and something is very neatly shredding the top of the trunk. It would make a good study and one I might do later on in the year just to see who is using it. @grassroofco uses trees in this way.
Have you got any log piles? Who or what uses them?
This year I am going to see how early I can harvest potatoes and how late I can harvest them. The reason is that I found a bag of potatoes sprouting and rotting in the back of the garden shed that I had forgotten about and it started me off wondering whether I could harvest potatoes all year round.
I know harvesting potatoes late is a ‘thing’ because many people grow new potatoes to harvest for Christmas day or around that time. I wonder how long you could leave them in the ground and harvest them – end of January?
I have looked around to see what others are doing in this area and the answer is quite a lot.
The earliest potatoes are grown in Cornwall and Jersey on south facing slopes and so if I want early earlies, I need to see if I can mimic these conditions which I can in my greenhouse and polytunnel. I am going to grow them in pots so that I can move them in and out of the polytunnel but will grow 2 Charlotte and 2 Sarpo Mira in the polytunnel and greenhouse just to see whether pots or undercover is best. The green house is at home so those plants may well get more attention as they will be the ones nearest to me and that I will see most days.
Once they are ready, I will cut off the haulms and store the pots outside ready to harvest when I need them.
I also want to grow my own sweet potato slips so am going to give the following video a try.
I have grown sweet potatoes before in the polytunnel and will do so again this year. I have always had mixed results but if the year is like last year, there should be enough sunshine for a good crop. Which? recommend Beauregard, Beauregard Improved and Carolina Ruby.
How are you growing your potatoes this year?
We grew a lot of winter squash this year; Crown Prince, Waltham Butternut and Hunter – a type of butternut.
Here they are after we had harvested them in October . As you can see, the bench is quite full. We ate the Butternut squash first because they do not last as long as the Crown Prince which will still be going strong in May. There were five Crown Prince in total and they all grew on one plant. Normally I have five plants each with one squash on so I do put the vigour of the one and only plant that survived the slugs down to no-dig. I have also just noticed that there is an Uchiki Kuri, the bright orange one, in there as well.
This is what the bench looks like today. Just the Crown Prince to go and they are probably the best-tasting of all of them.
New no-dig bed
I have created a new bed for some squash this year on a slight slope. Being a no-dig gardener, I have put cardboard down first, watered it, and then manure and home-made compost on top and covered it with black plastic that lets the rain through. A new bed in 15 minutes. I reckon I will get three squash plants in it.
It is not essential to put compost on top of the manure but I have found that plants seemed to do better in that mix rather than just compost or just manure. That could be more about my compost and manure than anything else. The compost I have is full of weed seed because it was made before I got on top of the weeds which is why I covered the bed with black plastic. Again, it isn’t essential to do this but beds that I haven’t covered, where I used my compost, do have weeds growing in them. I need to get the hoe out!
I am as desperate as everyone else to start sowing seeds but the weather is so cold at the moment. I might sow some chilli seeds in a propagator on the kitchen windowsill but that is all until this cold snap disappears.
I really enjoyed Charles Dowding’s latest video about growing multi-sown module leeks. He certainly seems to grow a lot in a small space which is what I want to do. Leeks are one of the seeds I will be sowing soon. I have Musselburgh which were free with the magazine Kitchen Garden and are ready from October onwards; Tadorna, which I have not grown before, are ready in December and Blue Solaise which are ready from November onwards. With these three, I should be able to have leeks throughout the winter and into the early spring. I planted 50 leeks last year and they are just about to run out now so I would say I need another 20 at least.
And so to the harvest. I really can’t show kale again which doesn’t leave much to show this week. I do have large clumps of parsley in the polytunnel and so a salad of parsley, cucumber and tomatoes all chopped really small would go well with my chicken tagine tonight. I know people talk about the hungry gap starting in April/May but mine seems to start now! I do still have a freezer half-full of blackberries, raspberries and black currants which we eat for breakfast every morning.
What is the best fruit or vegetable you have stored over winter?
With all the talk in the news recently about increasing our fruit and veg intake to 10 a day, a friend asked me if I could do that if I only had the veg on my plots.Well here goes:
There is spring cabbage, flat-leaf parsley, turnips, leeks, chard, flower sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, sprouts and red Russian kale. I didn’t take photos of the cavalo nero and beetroot. So yes I do have 10 things I could eat now but I might end up looking like a brassica!