May 122013
 

Bible for Beekeepers & Smallholders who garden in Scotland

 

What to plant to attract pollinators, insects, bees, moths and butterflies to your garden.

Register with this site and request your free ebook through the contact button.

Nov 302012
 
coloured willow and dog wood stems

Coloured willow stems for sale at fifesmallholder

It’s winter again and the coloured willows and dog woods that have been hidden by the other flowers and shrubs, now shine out in the garden.  I have been admiring them, and thinking about what I will do with them.  Some I will leave in the garden to enjoy, but will harvest the rest.  Some we sell, customers can come and gather their own, or we deliver within reasonable distances.  I also like to use them in my own Christmas Decorations  (such as wreaths and table decorations) but I also display them in house throughout winter, instead of supermarket flowers.  The smaller branches are put into a vase and will give me a long period of enjoyment.  

willow weaving

“These coloured stems are always a favourite with flower arrangers and florists at this time of year when other foliage is past its best.  “

coloured willow stems

Coloured stems in a vase just keep on giving

First is their contrasting stem colours, then (in the vase with water and the heat of the house) they will develop buds (the white buds on the dark stems are lovely), leaves (fresh vibrant green) and lastly flowers.  When I’m done they will have rooted easily in the water and I can then replant them. For me that is sustainable local flowers and stems!

willow bud

Twisted coloured willow ring/Christmas wreath

I will also make a twisted willow ring or wreath, ( I mentioned this in a previous post), the colours remain vibrant over the winter and slowly over time.  I then use the previous winter’s willow ring as the basic structure to make my Christmas wreath which is covered with with winter flowers (such as viburnum) and evergreen foliage collected from my garden.

wreath

Coloured willow and dog wood stems for your garden

The thicker stems of my prunings may be stuck into the ground in a damp spot in my garden or woodland.  This is the time of year to do it (when the plant is dormant) and they will grow away in the Spring (although they do grow better if kept weed free whilst establishing themselves).  The decorative willow is not as vibrant in growth as the superwillow that we grow elsewhere on the smallholding for firewood, wattles, and living willow structures.  This means that the decorative willow produces fine shoots and branches suitable for the vase or weaving.  To ensure vibrancy and suitable shoots every year the willow does require to be harvested or coppiced.  This  keeps the willow at a good visual height and size and ensures a fresh growth of young colourful stems every winter.

The many uses of willow

willow cuttings

Finally, it is also a great source of pollen and nectar for the bees and insects in the spring.  

All of the above are for sale at fifesmallholder – please visit our shop

 coloured willow wreath

 Click here for another post on things to make with willow.

Why not check out my Willow Board on Pinterest for lots of ideas and tips on things to make with willow?

 

Nov 182012
 
Bird On A Wire

Why the swallows like to come to Fife Smallholder every year

The pictures of this nest sum up for me the reasons why the swallows find our part of the world a good place to come.  They arrive every year in the late spring, and if the weather is not poor (like last year 2012) they will have one or two broods in the season.  Our hen sheds are popular spots for them to make their nests and raise their broods and we make sure there is an ‘in’ and an ‘out’ where we can.  This is achieved by removing wooden panels high up to allow the swallow to enter and exit even when the hens are shut in for the night.

 

summer migrant nest

I follow @swallowsightings on Twitter so know when the swallows first arrive in Britain and then slowly travel up the country following the spring, to our home in Fife.  As the saying goes, “one swalllow doesn’t make a summer” but the sight of the first swallow is a very welcome one.  I am also a fan of Springwatch and love the fact that they regularly feature this migratory bird nesting and raising chics as well as tracking them to their winter homes in Africa and other sunnier climates.  Click here for a link to BBC info and footage on swallows.

 

What is a nest made of

These pictures show how the nest is constructed with ingredients found around the smallholding.  We have heavy clay and the swallows use this along with water from our pond to create the bricks or building blocks, this is then woven with horse hair and straw to give strength and rigidity.  Then the cup is lined with feathers to make it soft and warm.  Some nests are used again and again, and others are built every year.  We have two spots where the nests are removed once the swallows have gone, but are built again in the same spot every year.  I can only presume that it is the same swallows who build them and like the view.

There is plenty of insects to eat around the smallholding, but the swallows particularly like swooping low over our sheep fields, presumably getting insects and flies that are attracted to the sheep poop.  When it rains or is very windy they are found flying  in our woods – following the insects who have gone there for shelter. I think of them as the day shift, and the bats as the night shift. They have a very distinctive call, and I know when the cat is around because they will buzz it and give off an alarm call.

All too soon the swallows and their young start to line up along the overhead electricity cable, I have counted over 100 on a good year.  Then one day you look around and they have gone, sometimes leaving the last brood which has fledged and will feed up before they too leave for the sunshine.  I find it fascinating that these young fledglings will fly unguided all the way to their wintering grounds, and that they have the strength to do this journey so soon after leaving the nest.

There are many migrant birds that visit our home, but the swallows are by far my favourite.  Like all things in the cycle of life, they will be sighted once more on the southern shores of Britain and I will eagerly follow their journey north to my home.  Its winter here in Scotland just now, but it pleases me to think that my Scottish born swallows will be enjoying themselves in the warmth of the sunshine in Africa feeding and getting ready to follow the spring north to their breeding grounds in Scotland, where there are plenty of midges and beasties for them to eat.

 

 November 18, 2012  bird watching, insects, post archive Tagged with:
Oct 282012
 

What is nectar?

Nectar – nectar is loaded with sugars and is a bee’s main source of energy.

What is pollen?

Pollen – pollen provides a balanced diet of proteins and fats.  

Bees forage for both nectar and pollen from plants and flowers.  Dry pollen, is a food source for bees, which contains 16 – 30% protein, 1 – 10% fat, 1 – 7% starch, many vitamins, but little sugar.  Bees mix dry pollen with nectar and/or honey to compact the pollen in the pollen basket. The protein source needed for rearing one worker bee from larval to adult stage requires approximately 120 to 145 mg of pollen.

“An average bee colony will collect about 20 to 57 kg (44 to 125 pounds) of pollen a year.”

Pollen comes in different colours and you can see it either dusted on the bee, in the pollen sacs on the bees leg, or stored in the beeswax foundation along with honey and brood.  Each plant produces a different pollen colour and because honeybees collect pollen from only one source at a time it is easy to see the colours. The bee adds a tiny amount of nectar to the pollen as it collects it which makes the pollen stay on the bee’s pollen basket or sac, which is in fact on just one strand on each rear leg.  However, bumblebees’ pollen sacs don’t have similar colours, because they  gather pollen from a variety of plants so the colours are mixed up.  

Here is a link to a pocket pollen colour guide that will help with your identification.

Why do pollinators collect pollen?

“So why do bees collect pollen? It is a source of protein, fat, starch and vitamins and fed to bee larvae along with honey and a little of what is called queen jelly, a secretion from the glands in the heads of worker bees.”

The nectar is the bees source of energy while the pollen is consumed because it is a source of protein and other nutrients and is feed to growing larvae.  In the process of collecting pollen and nectar they inadvertently fertilise flowers, trees, and plants (read more).

Plants can attract pollinators through scent (e.g. moths find flowers at night using the smell) or colours (bees are more attracted to some colours e.g. blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow).  Some bees also have a special connection with certain flowers. These bees are called oligolectic and it means that you will see the females gather pollen only on a few species of plants. For more information on the different types of bees and what plants they like click here.

Bees are a big help to plants that flower because they help with pollination. When honey bees land on a flower to drink its nectar, pollen grains stick to its legs and bodies. Then, the pollen rubs off on other flowers and helps them reproduce.
 
“The importance of garden plants yielding nectar and pollen is that together they provide a continuous food supply from early spring to late autumn. Colonies of bees need food through their active season , so that they can develop and rear new bees. “
 October 28, 2012  bee, Flowers, garden, insects, post archive Tagged with: , , ,
Oct 072012
 
01may12 036

What to plant to attract pollinators, insects, bees, moths and butterflies to your garden

Bees and other pollinators are active in the fifesmallholder garden and woodland, from very early in Spring until the Autumn frosts.  Sometimes, if you are lucky you might see a bumble bee flying in a warm winter day but rarely a honey bee. Moths and butterflies are also seasonal, some overwinter and others migrate here in good weather. In order to make sure that there is always pollen and nectar available, it’s important to have suitable plants in flower, at the appropriate time. 

“We used to have 27 species of Bumble Bee in Britain, two have become extinct in the last 70 years and several more are on the critical list.”

As well as providing bee friendly habitats and nesting sites why not join the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust  and/or your local Beekeepers association

“Bees and butterflies hibernate in winter, so don’t forage when it’s truly cold. But it’s good to have a few winter-flowering plants that bees can use on warmer days and a regular food source from March to November.”

Plant flowers in groups

Flowers clustered into groups of the same species will attract more bees than individual plants scattered through the border. Where space allows, make the clumps four feet or more in diameter.

“if you plant them they will come”

What is pollen and nectar?

Nectar – nectar is loaded with sugars and is a bee’s main source of energy.

Pollen – pollen provides a balanced diet of proteins and fats.  

Bees forage for both nectar and pollen from plants and flowers.  Read more. 

 What Is A Pollinator?

Here in Britain ‘pollinators’ means small flying insects such as hoverflies, bees, beetles, butterflies and moths.

 What do I need to plant for nectar and pollen?

 

“Most bedding plants are absolutely useless for bees and so are most with double flowers.”

Research suggests native plants are four times more attractive to native bees and pollinators. They are also usually well adapted to your growing conditions and can thrive with minimum attention.  Below is a list of plants and flowers suitable for pollinators and include pictures of ones that grow in our garden and woodland.

“Single flowered cultivars (some are marked as ‘Single Flowers’) are more useful to bees than double flowered cultivars.”

Annuals

An annual is a plant that grows, flowers and sets seed all in one year.

 Balsam 

Birds foot trefoil  

Borage

Calendula

California poppy

 Candytuft

China aster

Clarkia

Convolvulus

Corncockle

Cornflower

 Cosmos

 

Digitalis

Echium  

Forget me not

French marigold

Gypsophilia

Impatiens

Lavatera

Limnathes

Mallow 

Mignonette

Nasturtium

Nicotiana

Nigella

Phacelia

Poppy

Saponaria

Scabious

 Sunflower

Teasel

Zinnia

 

 Perennials

Perennials are plants that flower and die down in the winter but return every spring/summer.

 

 Achillea 

Aconitum 

 

Angelica

Antirrhinum

Alyssum

Aubretia 

Aster

 Campanula

 Canterbury Bells

 Catmint

 Clematis 

 Cowslip

Fuchsia

 Geranium

 Geum

Goldenrod

Gypsophilia

 Harebell

 Heather

Hellebores  

Helianthus

Hollyhock

Honeysuckle

Horehound

Hyssop

Iris  

 

Ivy 

Jacob’s ladder

Japanese anemone

 

Kniphophia

 Lavatera

Lavender

Lupin 

 Mallow 

 Meadowsweet  

Michaelmas daisy

 Mint 

Ox-eye daisy

 Peony

 Poppy

 

Ragged robin

Red campion

Rudbeckia

Scabious,

 Savory 

Sea holly

 Sedum

Thrift

Thyme 

Verbena Bonariensis

Veronica longifolia

Wallflower

 

 Bulbs & Corms

 Aconite

Agapanthus 

Allium 

Camassia

 Chionodoxa 

Colchicum 

Crocus

Fritillaria

Galanthus nivalis

Hyacinth

Ixia

 Leucojum

Muscari

Narcissus

Scilla

Snowdrop

Trillium

Tulip

 

Herbs

Basil

Calindrinia Bianca

Chicory

Chives  

Coriander

Foeniculum

Lemon Balm

Marjoram

Mint

Rosemary

 Sage

Thyme 

 

Trees

 

Alder 

Apple

 Apricot

Ash

Birch

Blackthorn

Cherry

Chestnut  

Elder

Hawthorn 

This honey can be sought after because of its rarity. The Hawthorn only yields nectar for a short period of time so the bees have to be quick.   Read more about the Hawthorn tree.

Hazel

Laurel

Lime

Maple

Oak

Pear

Plum

 Peach 

Privet

Sycamore

Sweet and horse chestnut

 Blacl locust

Willow

 

Shrubs

 

 Berberis

Broom

Buddleia

Buckthorn

Choisia

Ceanothus 

 

Cotoneaster

Echium

Elderberry

 Escallonia

 Flowering currants

Fuchsia

 Gorse 

Heather

 

Hebe

Holly

 

Mahonia

 

 Pyrocanthus 

 Privet

Quince

Snowberry

 

Weeds

A weed is a flower in the wrong place.

 

Blackberry

Chick weed

 

Clover

Coltsfoot 

Dandelion

Dead nettles

 

Field Scabious

Hairy Willowherb

Hedera helix known as common Ivy

Hogweed

Knapweed

Rosebay willow herb 

Thistle

 Yarrow

 

 Vegetables (when left to flower)

Asparagus

 
Beans of all varieties 

Brassicas 

Broad bean 

Cabbage

Carrots

Cauliflower

 Chicory

 Chives

Courgettes 

Endive

Field Bean

Fruiting currants

Kale (and other brassicas)

Leeks

 Marrows 

Oil seed rape

Onions

Parsnips 

Pumpkins 

Radish 

Swede 

Turnips 

 Fruit

Blueberry bush

Gooseberry bushes    

Raspberry

Strawberry

 

Flowers

 

 Asters

Borage

 Christmas rose

Nasturtiums 

Pansies

Poached egg plant

Phacelia

Violets  

Tansy 

 

For more information and photographs please register for my ebook on this subject.

 

Websites used in the making of this article:

 

Sep 212012
 
green hazel nut

The hazel – a good smallholder tree that also produces the hazelnut

Hazel trees are part of the genus Corylus which includes nearly 20 different specimens, and most types also yield delicious nuts that can be eaten raw or cooked (more of that later).  The tree’s smooth, reddish-brown wood is also prized for its durability and elasticity.

Hazelnut Tree

Hazel is fast growing and easy to shape and therefore has a long history of use in hedging. The leaves stay with the tree much longer than most other trees, sometimes well into December.  The tree/shrub also provides habitat to numerous animals and birds, as well as serving as a source of food for animals, butterflies and insects.

 Why are hazels a good smallholder tree?

It is a good smallholder tree because it offers so many uses, as well as fitting comfortably on a smallholding. Those not familiar with forest gardening or agroforestry might not know that hazels like willows can also be used as animal fodder.
“In pastures, cows nibble on the leaves which increases the butterfat content in the milk. Sheep will readily eat the leaves, and pigs get excited if given hazel branches because they search for the crunchy nuts to eat.”
Growing hazels is also an opportunity to grow and harvest nuts at home without having to plant trees that will grow huge, and take years before they produce. Hazels grow in fertile, well drained soil. Once established, they can produce heavily and consistently.

Things to make with hazel

  • hurdles – read more here on how to make them.
  • bean poles
  • pea sticks
  • hedge stakes
  • walking sticks
  • fishing rods
  • baskets
  • tool handles
  • shepherds’ crooks
  • charcoal

 Growing or propogating hazels

Hazels can be acquired in three ways:

  • You can start new plants from hazel nuts. They tend to take some time to germinate (use a file to rub a small notch through the shell of the nut before planting), and do best when planted in pots. When germinated, let them grow to at least 6 – 12 inches before you transplant them in their final position.
  •  An easier way to propagate is by digging runners from established bushes.  Hazels spread by underground runners that develop roots. These runners can be cut away from the main plant, ( in autumn time after leaves have dropped and and the bushes have gone dormant).
  •  If all else fails there are garden centres or nurseries that sell both native, and hybrid cross hazelnut plants.

Where to plant a hazel tree?

  • Hazels need full sunlight in order to thrive.
  • Hazel trees prefer soil that is slightly acidic.

Hazel pests and diseases

Occasionally, pests, such as leaf hoppers and caterpillars will attack the hazel tree and damage its leaves and twigs.  One other insect that you may not welcome is the Hazelnut Weevil (pictured below) read here for more information.

hazelnut eating insect

Hazel trees are durable and typically don’t fall victim to epidemics.  However, there are a few diseases that the tree is particularly susceptible to, including:

  • Crown Gall – causes the formation of round wart-like galls to form on the tree’s lower branches.
  • Twig Blight – attacks the tree’s twigs; though, if left untreated, the blight will cause damage to the Hazel’s leaves and lead to premature leaf drop.
  • Powdery Mildew – appears as a white coating on the top of the leaves. In severe cases the leaves will turn yellow and drop before autumn.

What is a hazelnut?

Hazelnuts are produced by hazel trees and generally ripen in late August. The shell of a ripened hazelnut is brown, glossy, and roughly ovoid. Once shelled, the hazelnut has a bitter dark brown skin, which should be removed before cooking the nuts. The flesh of hazelnuts is white, and slightly sweet when the bitter skin is not present. The nuts can be used as a topping for soups and salads. Many cooks toast hazelnuts before using them to enhance their mild flavour. They are a good source of Vitamin E and B. Oils from the nuts are extracted and used in a number of beauty products.

How are hazelnuts created?

The catkins actually bloom in the winter, which makes the hazelnut unusual for a fruit tree. The wind carries the pollen to the female red blossoms, and then, it goes dormant until spring, when fertilization actually occurs. Shortly afterward, the nut starts to develop.

Why eat hazelnuts?

Hazelnuts are eaten raw, roasted or ground into flour. They are not only tasty, but they offer many health benefits as well, making them a delicious and nutritious snack.
 
Here are four reasons to increase your intake of these super-healthy nuts.
1. They Contain Good fats – high in omega-9 fatty acids. These healthy oils play an important role in balancing cholesterol in the body, as well as helping to lower blood pressure and offer protection against coronary heart disease and diabetes.
2. They are rich in vitamins and minerals – an excellent source of the antioxidant Vitamin E.  Hazelnuts have the highest concentration of folate among all the tree nuts and also contain calcium, magnesium and potassium.
 3. They are rich in Phytochemicals – including proanthocyanidins, quercetin, and kaempherol.
 4. They are high in protein and fibre – a good alternate protein source for those who don’t eat meat.
 

Nut allergy info

More of the light oils are present when the nuts are green or raw (unroasted) and are much more dangerous for anyone with a nut allergy.

 Hazelnut FAQs

  • Will hazelnuts keep if I pick them when them when they are still green? You can harvest and store green hazel nuts as long as you allow them to dry properly (airing cupboard, window sill etc) and will keep till Christmas. Alternatively roast them, allow to cool and store roasted nuts in zipper bags. Use within a month or freeze them.
  •  Can I forage for hazelnuts in the wild?  Yes fresh green hazelnuts are prolific in most ancient hedgerows, and are ready to eat straight from the tree, (squirrels permitting).  In this green state they are quite different from the hard, brown-shelled, Christmas nut they will eventually become.  Their flesh has the crisp crunch of overgrown peas, and a sweet vegetable taste.  However they are probably smaller than the commercially grown ones.  Most wild hazels are best eaten green as they tend to be on the smaller size, and thus shrink to next to nothing if you let them ripen.
  •  What is a Cobnut?  A cobnut is the most widely cultivated form of  hazelnut (the word filbert is also sometimes used).   Cobnuts were traditionally grown in Kent and can still be found there, as well as in Sussex, Devon and Worcestershire. Grown commercially they are bigger than wild hazels and, provided they are fresh (the leafy frill on the nut casing should not be too brown and dried out), they are very worthwhile. You may be able to buy fresh hazels from the local farm shop or grocer.
  • How do I dry green hazelnuts?  Collect the nuts and keep the good ones (those not damaged or with scabs on) leave them in a dark but ventilated place they will rippen nicely.  Only use larger ones if you are aiming to keep them until Christmas.  Here’s a link to info on how to store the unripe ones which you often have to pick early to beat the squirrels/mice/birds to.
  • Where do dried hazelnuts come from? Despite the fact that hazelnuts are grow in many different regions worldwide, the vast majority of the dried ones sold in this country come from Turkey.
  •  How to remove the skins from hazelnuts? Try roasting them in the oven at 275 degrees for 15 minutes. Then put them in a towel and rub them until the brown skin falls off. Or place the nut on a hard flat surface and place a heavy board on top,  roll the board over them and most of the husks will split. Then pull off the husk where it splits.
  • When will hazels fruit? Hazels will begin to produce nuts three to four after planting, but it may take 2-3 more years before they really take off and produce heavily.  A healthy tree can remain fruitful until well into its fortieth year of life.
  • Do I need a male and female hazel tree? Hazels have both male and female blooms on the same plant which form during the prior year and remain dormant through most of the winter. They bloom very early in the year (spring). Male (pollen producing) blooms are called catkins. Female (fruiting) blooms produce the nuts and are very small and easily overlooked. They look similar to leaf buds on branches, but they are rounder shaped with very small red threads coming out of them.

 Hazelnut recipes

Home-Made Nutella
Roast your hazelnuts.   Using a food processor, grind the hazelnuts until fine and powdery. If your food processor is strong enough, the hazelnuts will eventually turn creamy and smooth. Then add the spread sauce made from 150g Icing sugar & 50g green & blacks cocoa powder. Video link to making nutella. Recipe link for vegans.
Pesto
Whizz up some hazel nuts and garlic in a blender with some olive oil , lightly simmer for a few minutes to take the edge off the nuts and garlic, then take off the heat and add chopped basil and serve on top of pasta.

Pickling 
Select the best hazelnuts, (plump without any sign of shriveling).  If the shells of the hazelnuts are still on, look for smooth, glossy shells with no signs of cracks or holes, and shake them. The nuts should not rattle in the shell, as this indicates that they have lost moisture.  Lay the nuts out on newspaper to dry for a few days before roasting them. Add your pickling ingredients and store in an airtight container.
 
Link to recipes
 

 Hazel Folklore

Celts and Druids believed that hazelnuts were a source of wisdom and the tree itself was sacred.  In Greek mythology hazel branches were woven into headpieces and worn to protect warriors from evil.  Irish folklore states that drinking hazelnut beverages helped develop prophetic powers.
 
In Roman Britain, Hazel trees were once cultivated and became so abundant that Scotland was named Caledonia (a term derived from Cal-Dun, meaning “Hill of Hazel”) after them.
 
The nuts of the Hazel were commonly used to bring luck by stringing them together and hanging them in the house.  Such a string of nuts were often given to a new bridesmaid as a gift to wish her wisdom, wealth and good health.  When eaten the hazelnuts are said to increase fertility, and of old were eaten before divination to increase inspiration.
 
Down through the ages the Hazel has always been considered magical, and was used primarily for its powers of divination.  Hazel divining rods or dowsing rod are used to detect water and mineral veins.  Typically a divining rod has two forks off its main stem shaped like the letter “Y”.  The two forks of the rod are gripped with the fore fingers along the forks, so that the tail end of the rod points down toward the ground to begin searching.  Another method was to peel the bark of the rod and simply lay it on the palm of the hand.

websites used in the making of this article:

Aug 072012
 
15sep12 039

Fly Strike is the thing a smallholder fears the most when they have sheep

Some people (usually your vet) will tell you that sheep are born to die, and sometimes I think its true.

Its summer, its August, and the lambs are growing fast.  At 5 months old they are now weaned from their mums, and eating grass like there’s no tomorrow.  The ewes and tups have all been sheared and there is enough fresh grass to go around.  All the hard work has been done now and its time to relax.  Take a holiday, or have BBQ’s in the garden.

Aye right!

Relax at your peril.  Warm damp weather is ideal conditions for flies, blow flies in particular.  They are lovely to look at, shiny and green, but if you see them near your sheep you are in trouble.  If you don’t check the sheep regularly then you are in even bigger trouble.

Once you hear that someone else has had fly strike you immediately go onto full alert and check your own sheep.  Then you worry about it until the first frosts. Or, like I did recently, you discover fly strike in one of your lambs.  Having to deal with a struck sheep is a distressing thing for both animal and human, but it must be dealt with.

What is fly strike?

Someone will say that they have had fly strike when they discover that their animal has a wound that is infected with maggots from the blow fly.  Most of the blowfly lifecycle occurs off the sheep and adult flies may travel large distances to find food.  

“When given favourable conditions of humidity and warmth, the entire life cycle from egg to adult can occur in less than 10 days.”

Eggs hatch within 24 hours and first stage larvae penetrate the skin using their hook like mouthparts and secrete enzymes which liquefy and digest the tissue. Larvae are very active and cause further skin and muscle liquefaction with secondary bacterial infection as they develop. Maggot development can take as little as 5 days before they fall off and burrow into the soil to form pupae.

“Struck areas often attract other blowflies

and further waves of strike.”

Once hatched, larvae feed and grow rapidly, undergoing two moults before they become mature maggots in three to 10 days. They then fall off the sheep and undergo further change on the ground, transforming to adult flies in about three to seven days.

“Female flies can lay 2,000 to 3,000 eggs in batches of hundreds, and live for approximately 30 days.”

Blowflies fall into two categories: primary flies are capable of laying eggs and starting a strike, while secondary flies cannot start a strike, but attack areas damaged by an existing strike, and make the injury worse.

When does flystrike occur?

Flystrike can occur at any time of the year, but in the UK animals are particularly at risk between April and October when the weather is warmer.

Why is fly strike bad for sheep?

“Blowfly strike is a major welfare concern and an important cause of ill thrift and death in affected animals.”

 Flystrike occurs when certain species of fly (Lucilia sericata, Phormia terrae-novae and Calliphora erythrocephala flies) lay their eggs on another animal. These eggs hatch into maggots that then begin to eat the animal’s flesh. Flies are attracted by soiled or wet fur/fleece, often around the animal’s rear end. However, any area of the body can be affected, as can any wound, cut or scratch. Flystrike causes serious pain and suffering and it can be fatal.

 How do I know if my sheep have fly strike?

“if its bad you will know just by looking”

There is a saying  – ‘there are people who look at sheep but never see them’ – don’t let that be you.  The quicker you spot something unusual the better.  Lean on the gate and just watch them, get used to watching their normal behaviour.  I’m told I have an obsession with poo – however I think you can tell a lot from the rear end of a sheep and their poo.  What do you need to look out for?

  •  Fly struck sheep are usually restless and may bite or kick at the struck area. They may often turn back their head, biting nervously, or run in short gallops and lie down. Affected areas are usually sites of faecal contamination or infected wounds and are, therefore, usually over the hindquarters and perineum or elsewhere on the body at wound sites.
  • The fleece overlying struck areas is discoloured, moist and foul-smelling. During the early stages, the maggots, which are approximately 1.5 cm long, are only visible, end-on, when the wool is parted, but as the disease progresses, the wool falls out to reveal the underlying affected tissue.
  •  Typically, they will also seek out shade, and may be lying under a tree or hedge. The affected area of the fleece may also appear damp and will be a darker colour.
  • On closer examination, wool will be moist and may be stuck tightly together. The area may also be accompanied by a foul odour. 
  • In severe cases, the skin may be broken. 
  • If the disease progresses, septicaemia could result from secondary infection of the damaged area. If left untreated for long enough, the animal will die. 

Sheep suffering from fly strike show obvious signs of distress. They spend less time grazing and more time tail wagging and rubbing the affected area and biting the struck areas of the fleece they can reach.  If these signs go unrecognised and secondary strike occurs, the wounds can become very extensive and bacterial infection may lead to serious complications such as death from speticaemia and toxaemia. On examination of the sheep the result is often a foul smell from the wound and visible signs of maggots.

What do I do if I discover fly strike?

“Because the toxins released into the bloodstream by the maggots can cause the animal to go into toxic shock, death can result very quickly if flystrike is not spotted and treated rapidly.”

 The recommended way to treat flystrike:

  • Hand shear struck wool (where the maggots and eggs are) and a 5 cm barrier of clean wool around the strike, close to the skin to remove maggots. Unless wool is shorn off it is likely that maggot trails will be missed and sheep will remain struck. 
  • Flystruck sheep need to be treated immediately.  Struck areas are sensitive to sunburn, so should not be clipped other than to gain access to the wound.  A good soaking with an insecticidal organophosphate or high-cis cypermethrin dressing will then kill the maggots and protect the surrounding skin from secondary strike.  Insect growth regulators (cyromazine and dicyclanil) are ineffective for the treatment of established flystrike.
  • Weak and debilitated sheep with extensive flystrike wounds may require humane euthanasia, discuss this with your vet.  You may have treated the maggots on the outside but what if there are maggots inside?
  • Collect the maggot-infested wool into a maggot-proof (plastic) bag and leave the bag in the sun for a couple of days to kill all maggots. This breaks the life cycle. Don’t rely on registered flystrike dressings to kill maggots – some are incapable of killing large maggots and many maggots escape treatment by dropping from the sheep and burrowing into the soil before the insecticide can be applied. Unless maggot infested wool is collected and bagged, most maggots will survive and pupate and come back as adult flies.
  • Apply a registered flystrike dressing to the shorn area to prevent re-strike.
  • Remove struck sheep from the flock. Leaving struck sheep in the flock attracts blowflies. Move the struck sheep to a ‘hospital’ paddock (with a friend for company) this allows closer monitoring of recovery and reduces the risk to the rest of the flock.
  • Protect your other sheep by checking, dagging, and applying a preventative treatment.

Pour-ons are normally what smallholders will use.
When applied correctly to potential areas of strike over the back and breech, pyrethroid or insect growth regulator pour-ons can provide effective control of blowfly strike. High-cis cypermethrin pour-ons provide protection for about 6 weeks and alphacypermethrin for 8 – 10 weeks, while the insect growth regulator pour-ons, cyromazine and dicyclanil, provide protection for 10 and 16 weeks respectively. Pour-on chemicals dissolve in the wool grease and are removed when animals are shorn. In the case of high-cis cypermethrin, this may lead to wool residue problems. Furthermore, the use of pour-ons in adult animals before shearing may be wasteful as it will simply be cut out – shearers may also insist that you do not apply treatments prior to shearing for their own health reasons.  These chemicals are dangerous and there is the risk that without proper personal protective equipment humans may absorb some of the chemical through their skin when handling sheep.

 How to do I treat my sheep after fly strike?

*within your emergency kit you should have the following – hand shears, stiff brush, maggot oil, spoton, crovect, stockholm tar, purple first aid or other antiseptic spray, tea tree oil, citronella or other fly repellant*

It will be just your luck that you discover fly strike on a Saturday afternoon when all the agricultural supply shops are closed for the weekend.  Be prepared!

  • Shearing can clear up most active strikes, we also found a stiff brush handy for getting rid of the exposed maggots.  Remember to put as much of the fleece and maggots into a plastic bag as possible.  This will stop the cycle.
  • If you nick the skin when clipping apply an antiseptic spray and something such as stockholm tar (I like the sprayable horsey version) to seal the wound to prevent access to flies. Other recommendations are tea tree oil cream.
  • I apply spoton directly onto the maggot infested area to help draw them out of the skin and kill them, others may use what they have to hand such as Crovect or Maggot Oil.
  • Apply an insecticidal dressing (such as maggot oil) which protects the healing wound from re-strike. This will either prevent egg-laying female flies, or kill newly hatched larvae that emerge from eggs laid onto treated lesions.
  • Treat any open wounds to prevent infection.
  • The animal should also be treated with an effective broad-spectrum antibiotic.  This is normally given by injection (if you do not have any antibiotic- contact your vet who will supply you with a syringe of appropriate medication – if you are not comfortable injecting yourself then you will either have to pay the vet or get someone who is skilled to do this task).  Smallholders need to learn how to do these jobs – its tough – but its necessary.  I have never had a problem with talking through a concern with my vet.  The raw area attacked by the maggots is an open wound through which infection can enter and a vulnerable/stressed/ or sick lamb can also easily get pneumonia too.
  • If weak and sickly your sheep may not eat, and this in itself could be fatal.   If you are not sure that the animal is eating and drinking then it may be necessary to make sure that it gets adequate liquid and nutritional supplements.  I do this by utilising a bottle and sturdy straw originally for administering nutrients for twin lamb disease, you may also be able to use a large syringe (without the needle) to give the sheep an oral application of water/salts/sugars/vitamins & minerals to keep it alive.  This needs to be done gently and in little doses.
  • Wash the open wound with an antiseptic solution every day to keep it clean (just syringe in or spray and let it soak in or run off). Keep an eye on the skin as it is vulnerable to sunburn or cracking and re-infection as the new skin grows underneath and the old skin falls off.  Other recommendations include vaseline to keep skin moist, and or tea tree oil cream to sooth and prevent restrike.
  • Check for more or hatching maggots and if necessary give a shot of invermectin to deal with any remaining deep seated maggots.
  • Does your animal need wormed or fluked – was this the cause of the dirty bum and infestation?  Even a change of food can upset a sheeps stomach e.g. from eating grass to being in a pen with hay and sheep feed.

After treatment, wounds can take several weeks to heal. The skin will start to grow under the dead areas within a few days and the peeling skin will fall off.  During this time, your animal will be at increased risk of further bouts of flystrike and infection, so it will require careful nursing and additional preventative measures detailed above. Then when the skin heals and dries it might crack so keep it soft with creams such as udder cream, vaseline, or tea tree cream.

Herbal remedies to treat fly strike:

  • Tea tree oil.  Research in Australia has  found that tea tree oil was highly successful in both preventing lice infestations and killing blowfly maggot larvae. “Tea-tree oil could be effective as a preventative treatment for  any wound likely to be struck. It has also been shown to have antibacterial properties and is suggested to have wound healing effects”  

How do I prevent fly strike in my sheep?

  • keep on top of your worm burden especially lambs on new grass or who have not developed resistance to an acceptable worm burden
  • if you have dirty bums then deal with it – cut away the soiled fleece (called dagging or crutching)
  • keep on top of foot rot in your flock especially during wet weather – if your sheep are limping and there is no obvious problem then deal with it and consider vaccination for the long term (blow flies are attracted to the smell of foot rot)
  • I use garlic licks and citronella sprays to discourage flies and reduce the risk
  • use treatments at vulnerable times, some chemicals give you up to 10 weeks protection – a must if you are going away on holiday

Blowflies prefer a warm, moist and sheltered environment, so the risk of strike can be reduced by moving sheep to more exposed pastures. The smell of wool grease and the presence of foot rot, urine soaked wool, skin diseases, scour, or infected cuts attract blowflies to sheep.

Established strike lesions attract even more blowflies. Recently shorn sheep are seldom struck and effective control of gastrointestinal parasites and footrot, general animal health care, crutching and dagging can further aid in the control of flystrike.

Which animals are most at risk of fly strike?

Flystrike (‘myiasis’) is a major welfare problem that mainly occurs during warm weather. It’s a painful condition that can affect rabbits, guinea pigs, cats and dogs as well as farm animals such as sheep, goats, llamas and alpacas.

“Even clean, well-kept animals can get flystrike.

It only takes one fly and one area of soiled fur/fleece or damaged skin”

Animals (not just sheep) that have a dirty rear end or generally dirty fur/fleece.

Causes can include:

  • Long-haired animals that may not be able to groom themselves thoroughly without human intervention.
  • Obese/overweight and older animals that cannot reach round easily to clean themselves.
  • Animals with dental, spinal or balance problems, which make cleaning difficult or painful.
  • Animals that are ill, as they may not feel well enough to clean themselves thoroughly and, depending on their illness, may also produce abnormally smelly urine or have diarrhoea, which will attract flies.
  • Animals that have an inappropriate diet.
  • Animals that have an internal parasitic infection.
  • Animals with an open wound anywhere on the body.
  • Unshorn sheep of woolly breeds.
Mar 272012
 
spring yellow flower

Yellow Gorse / Whin – (onn) – Ulex europaeus

Here at fifesmallholder we like to keep our gorse, whereas next door the farmer annually cuts it back or burns it.  He probably does this to control the growth and spread of the gorse because it reduces his grazing and can cause health issues with his sheep (Orf can be caused through the wounds inflicted by eating gorse and other prickly vegetation).

Why do I keep it?  

  • the deer will stamp on it and eat it in the winter (the stamping reduces the threat of the thorns or prickles)
  • it is a safe habitat for some wild animals (e.g. hares or small birds)
  • the bees, insects and pollinators love the pollen in the spring
  • dry gorse is a good fire lighter
  • a gorse branch can be used to fill a hole in the fence or hedge
  • I love the smell of coconut when it is in full bloom and will make gorse wine from the flowers (you can download a recipe here)

What is gorse?

Gorse is a bushy, dense evergreen spiny shrub and will grow up to 2 meters tall. It’s a prickly shrub, which can almost always be found in flower somewhere, all twelve months of the year, and this means it has many positive connotations in folklore. It prefers poor grassland, mainly acid soil,  and drier ground. It can grow in nutritionally poor soil, is drought and salt spray tolerant, preferring a full sun position. In leaf all year and flowering all year, the seeds also ripen all year, however a burst of flowers occur in the UK between February to May.

Gorse is closely related to Broom and both are members of the pea family.  It has green stems and very small leaves and adapts to dry growing conditions, but differs from Broom in its extreme spininess, with the leaves being modified into 1-4 cm long spines. All the species have yellow flowers, some with a very long flowering season.  In hot sunny weather in April and May the seed-cases of gorse burst open with a crackling, popping noise, scattering the small dark and round seed sup to 30 feet in all directions. Reproduction is mainly by seed, with each seed having a hard water resistant coat that prevents immediate germination. Gorse seeds can be dormant in the soil for 40 years and still germinate.  Gorse can live up to 30 years.

Can gorse be used as animal fodder?

Gorse provides excellent food for goats, cattle, horses and sheep (it has half the protein of oats) and it is said increases the milk yield of cattle. It gives peak fodder production from the end of November to the end of February arriving just in time to repla­ce exhausted autum pastures (cut right to the ground but harvested only once every 2 years, only the top of the plant is used for fodder).  However it is not advisable to use without treatment such as being crushed or rolled first. Or dried and hung in the stable/barn to supplement Winter fodder. 

What other uses are there for gorse?

  • It’s bark produces a green dye and flowers a yellow dye.  Add a bucket of urine and wait 3 hours.
  •  its roots for basket weaving
  •  chimney sweeping
  •  green manure – gorse is member of the legume famlily, and so it has nodules in the root system that fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. Coppicing the gorse releases some of the nitrogen making it available to other plants near the roots space.
  •  fuel – the very high concentration of oil in it’s branches, makes it easy to ignite, and also burn well, it is reputed to give off almost as much heat as charcoal.  When harvested for fuel gorse is usually cut down to ground level, as a three year rotation.
  • The ashes were used to make lye for cleaning linen (the alkali rich ashes produced from burning gorse have been for soap-making in solution as lye which was mixed with animal fat).
  •  roofing 
  • Gorse seeds have been soaked, then used as flea- repellant
  • Gorse flower buds are reputed to make a fine pickle in vinegar and then used like capers in salads
  • Gorse flowers have been used to add extra flavour and colour to beer, whisky, wine and tea
  • Sprinkling gorse sprigs and holly leaves in a seed row will help deter small creatures such as voles and mice from digging up your seeds
  • Alkali ashes also are very enriching to the soil, so in the past gorse was often burnt down to improve the quality of the land, that also caused new growth which grazing stock could eat. However, burning the oil rich gorse can be a hazard in dry weather
  • walking sticks canbe made from the gnarled branches
  • Gorse is a good windbreak and a gorse bush is the best place to dry washing – it naturally pins it in place.
  • Gorse protects against witches.
  •  Planted for soil stabilisation in sandy areas with maritime exposure, it is fast growing, puts nitrogen back into the soil and provides conditions for woodland trees to become established.

 gorse on the smallholding

links to websites used in the making of this post

 

Mar 062012
 
scented spring flower

Pollen and nectar rich plants in the spring garden

Although I always have something in flower in my garden throughout the year, it is springtime when I get the most excited.  I have a lot of spring bulbs and my perennial flowers and shrubs are a good source of nectar and pollen to any bumble bees or honey bees that venture out in warm sunny days.

nectar or pollen spring flower for insects

An example of plants that flower during this time that are beneficial to insects and pollinators are:

  • gorse
  • mahonia
  • snowdrops
  • willow 
  • crocus (especially yellow)
  • pulmonaria

A range of some of these plants can be purchased from our shop.

lungwort

Check out my Plants For Bees post or click here for a link to some simple guidelines to encourage the sustainable build-up of pollinating insects – what to plant and when.

  • Annuals: Garden annuals are useful for both pollen and nectar. 
  • Perennials: These plants are a real boon to any insect reliant on nectar or pollen, as they provide a food source year after year, and require little input from gardeners once they are established.
  • Bulbs: The early pollen and nectar from bulbs is vital to bees each Spring. Some are found wild, whilst others are cultivated.
  • Trees: Fruit and nut trees are much loved by bees.
  • Shrubs: A number of ordinary garden shrubs are useful to bees for both nectar and pollen.
  • Weeds: What man might consider a weed, is a bee’s bread and butter, so think before you make your garden too tidy.
  • Vegetables: The flowers of a number of vegetables are attractive to bees, though normally these are harvested before the plant reaches the flowering stage. If just a few plants at the end of a row could be left to set seed, this would be beneficial to bees, and could save the gardener money on next year’s seed.
Feb 212012
 

Hedgehog found during the day

We recently found a hedgehog on our smallholding.  This is unusual because it was found during the day, and in February.  In the Autumn we discovered a dead hedgehog  -(that we had also seen during the day)- which we now  know was probably underweight.  We therefore resolved to actively do something to help this little one.

If you have found a hedgehog here is a website with links to organisations who will care for a hedgehog who needs help. 

Weight of a hedgehog is crucial to its survival and your intervention

The minimum weight for a hedgehog through the winter is 450gms (1lb) and any hedgehog below this weight is likely to have problems. If you find a hedgehog that you are concerned about this will indicate to you whether it may need some assistance.  Although 450gms is the minimum weight, many hedgehog carers prefer to get their autumn juveniles up to 600gms (1lb 6oz) or more to give them an extra edge. Autumn juveniles are youngsters found alone under this critical weight after the end of September, and will need extra help even if it is just additional feeding in the garden.

 call the British Hedgehog Preservation Society for further advice on 01584 890 801

Initial caring advice for a vulnerable hedgehog

If the hoglet is very young (under 160gms/6 oz) it should be given extra warmth with a hot water bottle wrapped in towelling or a blanket, or a heated pad. It should be placed in a box with plenty of clean, fresh straw, crumpled newspapers or old towelling for bedding. Out buildings are fine if heated but don’t put hedgehogs on a metal grid or wire floor or straight onto concrete – they have sensitive feet and cold will permeate through.

Why is ‘my’ hedgehog ‘sunbathing’ or staggering?

Sick, injured and orphaned hedgehogs are very susceptible to hypothermia. When they become cold they are lethargic and go off their food. This makes them even colder! The staggering (or wobbling and rocking) is a sign of hypothermia, and they may look like they are sunbathing as they spread themselves out in the sun in an attempt to get some heat into their bodies.

When they are spotted in this state they need help quickly. They should be taken indoors on a box with a well-wrapped hot water bottle placed underneath them. The bottle must not be allowed to go cold or it will undo the good it has done. Once you have the hedgehog settled and warming up, call the British Hedgehog Preservation Society on 01584 890 801 for further advice.

Food for hedgehogs

Wild food 

In the wild, damp grassland is the hedgehog’s favourite hunting ground. Hedgehogs will eat the following:

  • Beetles
  • Caterpillars
  • Earthworms
  • Birds Eggs
  • Small Mammals
  • Slugs
  • Snails
  • Millipedes
  • Earwigs
  • Bees
  • Birds

Human feeding of hedgehogs

If feeding wild hedgehogs in your garden then a shallow (non-tipping) dish of chicken-based cat/dog food, along with a shallow dish of water, put out each night will help them enormously. A good hedgehog diet would include tinned pet food, chopped peanuts (not whole ones) or crunchy peanut butter, raw or cooked meat leftovers, muesli and a small amount of vegetables. Hedgehogs should not be fed on bread and cows milk if they are captive and cannot find other foods; this gives them diarrhoea . Other food you can feed them includes:

  • based pet food (not in gravy)
  • cooked chicken (excluding bones)
  • minced beef or lamb
  • a little bran or unsweetened moistened muesli cereal
  • banana
  • raisins
  • unsweetened crushed digestive biscuits
  • dry cat or hedgehog biscuits

Fresh water should ALWAYS be available. Cows milk SHOULD NOT be given.

Hedgehogs are full of fleas and other parasites 

This is the first thought of many people, and may put them off helping a sickly hedgehog.  If it is necessary to remove fleas from a hedgehog, then a commercially prepared mite powder suitable for caged birds or chickens can be dusted amongst the spines (taking care to avoid the eyes of the animal) as an adequate treatment, but do not use on very young hedgehogs.

Blood-sucking ticks are often found on hedgehogs and after taking their fill of blood, will drop off the host in order to complete their life cycle. Removal of these ticks is a difficult task but can be accomplished by dousing the ticks in olive/almond/cooking oil. Removing these ticks with forceps is to be avoided as the inexperienced may leave the mouthparts and head in the skin that may turn septic.

Will my dog/cat get fleas from the hedgehog?

Hedgehog fleas are host specific, which means they will not usually live on any animal other than a hedgehog. Not all hedgehogs have fleas.

Hibernation

Hedgehogs avoid the coldest times of winter by hibernating, usually between November and early April, depending on the weather. If it is warm enough and there is enough food, hedgehogs do not hibernate at all. click here for a link to a hibernation leaflet.  Or if you want information about a specific time of year or month then here is a good link to the hedgehog year. Information sites used in the construction of this post:

 

Jan 282012
 
hand woven willow heron sculpture

Willow cuttings available for sale from Fifesmallholder

  • Salix Viminalis – very fast growing and ideal for firewood etc.

  • Continental yellow

  • Zwarte Driebast

  • Flanders Red

  • Noire De villaine

  • Continental Purple

  • Brittany Green

Our willows can be used for different purposes 

 
 “there is a willow grows aslant the brook
that shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream”
 
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
 

Benefits of willow

  • Properties of Willow 

    Willows will grow in a range of habitats and survives in most localities.  In soil of pH 6.0 – 8.0  Most soil types. Most topography.

     

    There are species of Willow, which are adapted to different conditions:

     

    S. alba – low lying conditions

    S. fragilis – river bank

    S. herbacea – mountains Scotland

    S. repens – colonises sand dunes

 
Willows are the fastest growing & highest yielding tree or shrub in Britain. When grown as Short Rotation Coppice they can produce as much as 10 to 15 tonnes of dry wood per hectare per year and often more on the better sites.
 
Farmers are now growing willow to supply power stations with a natural, renewable and carbon neutral source of energy. It is usually harvested on a 3 year rotation then chipped, dried and loaded into giant hoppers to be fed automatically into the boilers to produce electricity and/or heat.
 
For a smallholder or householder though, logs are more useful than woodchips. Known as the 5 year Coppice Rotation, a site is divided into 5 beds and 1 bed is harvested each year, providing a regular supply of firewood year on year.
 
Using this system, 500 plants on 750 sq m (less than a fifth of an Acre) can produce 1 Tonne of dry firewood every year.
 
To read more about firewood click here.

Planting willow

These plants are delivered as setts – unrooted cuttings.  Willows should be planted during the time when they are dormant, i.e. after the leaves have dropped and before the sap starts to rise again.
 
As they need to develop a good root system, before they can afford to develop leaves, willow cuttings should be planted between December and the beginning of April and willow rods should be in the ground by the beginning
of March.
 
They establish rapidly in any soft earth, free of weeds.  Soak them in water overnight, then plant them to about half their depth, coloured end pointing upwards. Cut back half the new growth in the winter after planting to make them bush out.
 
Planting willows link 
 
  • Healing

Country folk have been familiar with the healing properties of willow for a long time. They made an infusion from the bitter bark as a remedy for colds and fevers, and to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatism. Young willow twigs were also chewed to relieve pain. In the early nineteenth century modern science isolated the active ingredient responsible, salicylic acid, which was also found in the meadowsweet plant. From this the world’s first synthetic drug, acetylasylic acid, was developed and marketed as Aspirin, named after the old botanical name for meadowsweet, Spirea ulmaria.

  • Bee Fodder

Willow benefits pollinating insects in early spring. Willow plants when flowering produce both nectar and pollen. Females give only nectar, but male plants give both nectar and pollen. Planting a variety of willow types, will give an extended flowering season. The Salix Viminals often flowers in April, at the end of the period that is crucial to honey bee brood building time.
 
click here for more information 
 
  • Willow is a good supplementary feed for sheep and lambs, it also helps them cope/expel/resist worms.

 

Willow links with Scottish place names 

The Gaelic words for willow are shellach, or suil, and feature in Scottish place names such as Achnashellach in Ross-shire, Glensuileag in Inverness-shire and Corrieshalloch on Speyside. These names would have referred to both the presence of willow and the attendant industries utilising the willow’s gifts.

 

Willow folklore

 click here for some folklore 

Links

Jan 152012
 
timber damage after storm at fife smallholder

The relationship between Beech, Bats, Woodpeckers, Owls, and Pigs on our smallholding

‘Piglet has his own house, a “very grand house in the middle of a beech tree,” which he gave to Owl when his house was blown down on a very blustery day’ .
Winnie the poo
large beech trees in winter
We have some large Beech sentinels in our wood that are estimated to be 190 years old, and one of them suffered damage in the recent high winds that hit Central Scotland.  The limbs on these trees are very large and although unfortunate it does offer opportunities from the adversity.
fallen tree trunk from beech tree

Firewood

Beech wood is an excellent firewood, easily split and burns for many hours with bright but calm flames.

Woodlander

Beech wood burns well and can be used to smoke herrings and cheese. Chips of beech wood are also used in the brewing and making of some beers. 

Wildlife

Although a fallen limb or tree is good for firewood, it is also a part of the natural process within a wood and many species depend on this happening to maintain the balance and ecosystem that exists within a woodland.  The larger the concentration of old trees in an area and the longer they have been present on site the richer the variety of species you will find among them.
Many species live here all year round. Some are visitors and some live here permanently. Some come for the spring (Great spotted woodpecker), summer (Insects: Hoverflies, Birds: Green woodpecker), autumn (Fungi), and others for the winter months (such as Brambling birds ). Because of the variety of habitats available. A range of birds use the broad leaved woodland, evergreen conifer, open rough grassland and low bog areas.
nest in beech tree

Beech mast and Beech leaves

Beech mast is also a favourite food of many woodland animals such as badgers, deer, mice and squirrels and birds. The leaves are eaten by caterpillars.

The laughing woodpecker

The Green Woodpecker is the largest of the woodpeckers and has been known to visit our woods and its collection of fallen and rotten timber. It has a heavy-looking body, short tail and a strong, long bill. It is greeny-grey on its upperparts with a bright green rump and red on the top of its head. They have an undulating flight, and will climb up tree trunks and branches and will move around to be on the side away from anyone watching. It has a very distinctive call in that it sounds like it is laughing.
rotten wood and timber

Relationship between bats and woodpeckers

Tree are vitally important for our bats. The majority of British bat species have been recorded roosting in trees and some, such as the Noctule, rely almost exclusively on them. Noctules are often found in Woodpecker holes appearing to prefer them over natural cavities. Some researchers have suggested that Noctules may be dependant on woodpeckers to provide suitable roosting opportunities. Read more about bats.
potential bat roost in old woodpecker hole in tree
The picture shows an old woodpecker hole which could be used by Noctules for roosting. The hole is formed in a soft section of the stem of a tree. The stem has been infected by a decay fungi which has caused the wood to become soft enough to allow the woodpecker to create the hole. This potential roost has been created by a complex ecological relationship between Beech tree (Fagus sylvatica), Tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius) and woodpecker, possibly the Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis).  It isn’t just roosting opportunities that make beech trees useful for bats. The trees attract insects and therefore provide valuable foraging habitats.

Bats and Beech

Bats roost in trees, in obvious cavities, cracks and splits, but also in less obvious places such as under ivy and under loose bark.  The damaged parts of a tree are the most likely places to find roosting bats.  Any tree can be used for roosting as long as shelter is provided,  but old oak, beech, ash and Scots pine are most frequently used. Bat roost sites can be at any height, although the upper trunk and branches are favoured. Entrance holes may be narrow slits on the underside of a branch that can be easily overlooked, as well as more obvious old woodpecker holes in the main trunk.

Owls and Beech

One of the best trees to attract owls is the beech tree. That’s not because owls eat the beech mast, or beechnuts, but because the mice eat them. In this way, the carnivorous owls get nice, fat, juicy mice to eat to keep them in the area.
beech nut casings
“As long as owl’s habitat is left alone by man and in such a state as to produce a great number of rodents, there will be no loss of owls in a region. One of the things that those people managing woodlands can do is not to clear out all of the undercover where mice live. Tawny owls will particularly benefit from this practice. Wood left on the ground and a pile left to rot will draw all kinds of insects which also feeds owls.”
decaying wood attracts insects that are predated by owls

Livestock

Pigs and Beech

Livestock were once released into beech woodlands to feast on the beech’s oil-rich bounty. The nuts were also important as a source of food, particularly for pigs. They are energy rich and could be used to fatten pigs up for market. The period when the nuts ripened and fell was perfectly timed to fatten swine for late autumn butchering. A farmer with access to oak or beech mast could thus convert calories present in nuts into calories in pork with little or no additional effort and at no additional cost in fodder. Indeed, by using mast rights a farmer was able to make use of a resource that would otherwise be unharvested or very inefficiently harvested.

Pheasants, Poultry, Turkeys and Beech

Beech mast has also been used to feed pheasants, poultry, and turkeys.  Beech nuts should never be fed to horses.
fifesmallholder beech trees in autumn

Smallholder

It is commonly accepted that the foods used to feed and to finish meat livestock affect the final flavour of the product. Pigs  fed on oak mast, chestnut mast or beech mast has a reputation for producing exceptional finished meat. As a result, with the new interest in artisanal and high quality foods as well as humane stock handling, there is a resurgence of mast-fed pork.
While beechnuts are nutritious for humans, eating too many can cause headaches or giddiness, as vast amounts of potash are contained within the tree.

Beech Tree facts

  • Beech trees are shallow rooted, and mature trees are at risk of being uprooted in high winds.
  • These trees grow slowly, eventually reaching a height of up to 120 feet, with branches spanning 50 feet.
  • The nuts are encased in a spiny bur and are favored by birds and other wildlife. Beech has a full crop of nuts every 5 years but does not really start producing a good crop until it is at least 50 years old.
  • The timber is practically pure white and is used to make furniture and toys.
  • The tree is best known for its many and low branches that create a deep shade.
  • Beech leaves take a long time to decay, so few nutrients are released to nourish ground plants. Consequently, there is little undergrowth in a beech wood, unless trees have been deliberately thinned out (coppiced).

Folklore

names on a tree trunk

Magically, beech is specifically useful for making wishes. To do this write a or scratch your wish on a piece of beech wood then bury it in an appropriate spot.  As your written wish is claimed by the earth so will it begin to manifest in life.  Beech is also popular with lovers, as witnessed by the many hearts arrows and names carved upon the smooth trunks of beech trees.
beech leaves in fifesmallholder wood

Recipe

Beech leaf Noyau

1 bottle vodka
225g (8oz) caster sugar
1 glass of brandy
Collect young, fresh beech leaves and strip them from the twigs.  Half fill an emptly bottle or jar with the leaves  and then pour on the bottle of vodka.  Seal up the container and keep leaves in it for 3 weeks, before straining them off.  Boil the sugar in half pint of water and add this to the vodka with a good sized glass of brandy.  You should end up with 2 almost  full bottles of noyau for the price of one bottle of vodka.

Links

Oct 012011
 

What is the white spot on my honey bees -is it a disease or mite?

fife smallholder honey bee

It is October, autumn here in Scotland and my bees are taking advantage of a late spell of warm weather to gather stores for the winter.  I can often tell what they are bringing in to the hive by the colours on their bodies.  Some of the bees in the picture have a white spot on their backs.  This is a good example where the bee has been touched by the plant whilst it has been raiding the flower for nectar.  This crop of nectar which was swallowed by the bee will be regurgitated and turned into honey, and capped with wax for eating later when it is too cold to fly.

fife smallholder bee fodder himalayan balsam

This is the plant that causes the white spot, Himalayan Balsam.  A good source of food for bees in autumn.

Sep 282011
 

Every smallholder should have at least one hive of bees

My garden and wood are well stocked with bee friendly plants and flowers, I have been known to follow bees round a garden centre and buy whatever they land on.  Plants for bees is one of my passions and I love to see them on a flower or shrub.  A consequence of this is that the moths, butterflies, and bumble bees benefit too.  Win win.  From January to December I have something in flower just in case they need nectar or pollen.

So ………. when all this well stocked larder is open to them, why do they choose to go to a flowering weed ?  :0)

honey bee

honey bee

 Click here for a link to more information about plants for bees.

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