Oct 162013
 

The strange things that smallholders find!

I came across some star snot tonight whilst closing up the pigs.  What is it I hear you say?

“Suggestions include that the substance is a type of mould, an animal excretion or even ‘star snot’ from meteorites.”

There are many theories about what this stuff is, and more qualified people than I can tell you about it.  (Although being a self-confessed Trekie you can guess what one I like to think is the answer. )

 Click here for the link to one of my favourite radio programmes BBC Scotland  ‘Out Of Doors’ debating the subject.

Live Long And Prosper :0)

 

star snot

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.

Apr 012013
 

Its Easter and there is the sound of chicks in the old swallow nest attached to our sunroom.  This concerns me as 2013 has been the coldest Easter in 100 years.  We still have snow and its very cold.  I know that wild bird chicks need catepillars, and greenfly to survive and there will be very few (if any) of these around – I haven’t even seen a bumblee bee this year!  I want to give them some help (food that parents can take into the nest) and here are some useful links that I have found:

Advice from RSPB

“Temporary food shortage can occur at almost any time of the year, and if this happens during the breeding season, extra food on your bird table can make a big difference to the survival of young. Avoid using peanuts, fat and bread at this time, since these can be harmful if adult birds feed them to their nestlings. If you feel you must put out peanuts, only do so in suitable mesh feeders that will not allow sizeable pieces of peanuts to be removed and provide a choking risk.

Meaty tinned dog and cat food form an acceptable substitute to earthworms during the warm, dry part of the summer when worms are beyond the birds’ reach. Blackbirds readily take dog food, and even feed it to their chicks.

Dry biscuits are not recommended as birds may choke on the hard lumps. It is sometimes added to cheaper seed mixtures for bulk. Soaked dog biscuit is excellent, except in hot weather as it quickly dries out. Petfood can attract larger birds such as magpies and gulls, and also neighbourhood cats. If this is likely to be a problem, it is best avoided.”

 In an emergency I am considering putting the following on my bird table for the parents to feed their chicks:

  • Yolk from hard-boiled eggs mixed with crushed, soaked cat biscuits, mealworms, finely chopped tinned cat or dog food, and some chick crumbs.

I also thought the advice on this webpage would be useful should I come across an abandoned chic:

 April 1, 2013  Nature, post archive, spring Tagged with: ,
Jan 252013
 

In honour of Burns Night 25th January – here is my favourite poem -

To A Mouse

In the poem the mouse’s hard work is destroyed in one fail swoop, and now it will be forced to suffer through the hard Scottish winter despite its careful preparations.

“Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,

O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!

Thou need na start awa sae hasty,

Wi’ bickering brattle!

I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,

Wi’ murd’ring pattle! 

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,

Has broken nature’s social union,

An’ justifies that ill opinion,

Which makes thee startle At me,

thy poor, earth-born companion,

An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;

What then? poor beastie, thou maun live! 

A daimen icker in a thrave ‘S a sma’ request;

I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,

An’ never miss’t!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin! 

It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!

An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,

O’ foggage green!

An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,

Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste, 

An’ weary winter comin fast, 

An’ cozie here, beneath the blast, 

Thou thought to dwell

– Till crash! the cruel coulter past 

Out thro’ thy cell.

That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,

Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!

Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,

But house or hald, 

To thole the winter’s sleety dribble, 

An’ cranreuch cauld! 

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,

In proving foresight may be vain;

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men

Gang aft agley,

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

For promis’d joy! 

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me 

The present only toucheth thee:

But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.

On prospects drear! An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,

I guess an’ fear! “

Robert Burns 1785

Listen to it being read here.  

For analysis of what it all means click here.

 January 25, 2013  Nature, 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:

 

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 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

Dec 282011
 

Importance of short tailed or field voles to conserving predators and raptors

In the winter when the rough grass has stopped growing and weeds have died down in our wood, the runs or motorways of the short tailed or field vole become more prominent.  This little creature plays a very big part in the ecosystem that exists within our smallholding, because it is the main source of food for the Kestrels and Tawny Owls found at Fife Smallholder.  Both these birds have nationally been in decline, and their presence here is a good example of the part that smallholdings can play in conserving wildlife in the countryside.

What does a short tailed or field vole look like?

Microtus pennsylvanicus

Description

Body length 10 – 12 cm. Grey-brown above, cream-grey below. The tail is less than 40% of body length, the tail is also much shorter than that of a bank vole. Ears are almost completely covered by fur, whereas those of bank vole are more prominent. The eyes are relatively smaller than those of a bank vole.

 Reproduction

Between March and December, the short-tailed field vole may have as many as four to five litters containing 4-6 young. The young females are ready to mate  at 6 weeks.

Where do short tailed field voles live?

They are found generally in moist grassy habitats, such as woodland, marsh, or river banks.  Here we find them in the rough grass in our wood and wild areas.

Although they dig burrows, they usually build nests above ground and build intricate runways through grasses.  Sometimes, voles will use the burrows of moles to get around.  Many vole families will share the runway systems.

English: Patterns of vole runs Tracks left in ...

Voles feed on a variety of herbaceous plants and grasses. Voles feed on above and below ground plant parts such as foliage, seeds, stems, roots and bulbs. As food becomes scarce in autumn and early winter, voles may seek the tasty cambium of small tree roots, crowns and trunks.

Short tailed field voles can damage trees

 Trees chewed by short tailed field voles are stunted, spindly and have very little foliage. Leaves can even show signs of reddening and other water-stress symptoms.  Damaged trees can look like they have been whittled near the trunk. The chew marks made by a vole can be recognized by: the pattern, location, and the size of the bite marks. Voles feed close to the ground, if not below ground.
For trees, there are protective barriers available. These tree guards can be purchased or homemade. Guards are often made out of plastic.  Make sure that the height of the guard is at least 12 inches and also plant the base of the guard deep enough that voles cannot burrow beneath them, 6-10 inches is enough. Check these guards regularly because you may have just made a cosy vole home!

Who eats field voles?

Kestrels and Tawny Owls eat the voles that are found in our wood and rough grassland on the smallholding.  As an important food source for owls and some other predators, their population peaks and troughs in a four-year cycle.  As they travel, field voles leave a trail of scent to warn off other voles. Hunting birds of prey, such as kestrels (identified by its characteristic hovering and perch hunting techniques) look out for the UV light that radiates from the trails.

Relationship between voles and Tawny Owls

Deutsch: Ein Waldkauz (Strix aluco). English: ...

Tawny Owls prey primarily on short tail voles, field mice and shrews. They will hunt at day and at night but usually at first and last light. They will hunt in and around wooded areas and in fields. Tawny Owl numbers have dropped dramatically over the last 80 or so years. As the Tawny Owl (like most birds of Prey) are very high up on the food chain,  any human changes that destruct and fragment the habitats and environments of animals at the bottom, invariably affects things at the top.

Reasons for the decline of the tawny owl

  •  Hedgerow destruction and replacement with maintenance free fencing. Great for Modern Farming but bad for mice and voles
  •  Increase in stocking density of Sheep and greater silage production. Lots of food for Cows and Sheep but means that the grass is too short for voles to run around in.

Relationship between field voles and Kestrels

Kestrel populations have declined over the last 25 years, but has remained stable over the last few years.  Population fluctuations generally tend to parallel that of its main prey species (the short-tailed vole) which has been affected by farming intensification and the lost of rough grassland.  The Kestrel has also suffered from increased competition from other raptors that have recovered from the low population levels in the second half of the 20th century.
The short tailed field vole is the preferred diet of Kestrels and breeding performance is closely tied in to the three-year cycles of this small mammal. In peak vole years Kestrel territory occupation is high, clutch sizes large and brood survival high. When the vole numbers bottom out after the peak the Kestrel occupation and productivity also falls.

The effect of snow on voles and predators

Snow can be good for voles as it protects their runs from the Owls and Kestrels, and voles can benefit from a fall of snow because it provides an insulating blanket over their territory.  Voles can eat roots below ground, and can therefore continue to find food.

Predators such as Tawny Owls and Kestrels find it much harder to catch voles after a snow fall and this weather can put great stress on these birds.

Nov 022011
 
fungi

The relationship between trees and fungi

Its been a good year for mushrooms or fungi, on our smallholding.

 

woodland mushroom at fife smallholder

 

What is fungi?

Fungi, together with the bacteria, are the ‘decomposers’ of our environment and they are just as important as the ‘producers’ the green plants. Fungi lack the green pigment chlorophyll, the pigment that is essential in converting sunlight into plant energy, because they don’t have this pigment, fungi have to get their energy from other sources, from organic material produced by other plants.

Fungi are not plants but belong in a kingdom of their own. Their cell walls are made of chitin (a white horny substance more easily recognised as the substance that forms the outer skeletons of crabs!) and instead of using photosynthesis to obtain energy they digest organic matter.

Where will I find fungi?

Many fungi grow only in very specific places, or are associated with particular kinds of trees. i.e. ‘Birch’ polypore or Razorstrop, a bracket fungus.  Fruiting bodies may also be produced in a particular season. Although Autumn (August to November)  is the most fruitful season. In spring for example, there are Saint George’s mushroom so named because the fruiting bodies first appear around the 23rd April, which is St. George’s Day. In Summer  –  giant Puffballs and the edible bracket ‘Chicken of the woods’.

woodland fungi

woodland fungi

The fungi in the picture above is likely to be Honey Fungus.  This is a destructive parasite which can be found on tree stumps, roots and buried branches.  It is recognisable  from the black rhizomes encircling its host which resemble a network of leather bootlaces.  Do not eat raw.  Collect the caps when young, when the gills are white.  Blanch before cooking and then fry slowly.  Honey Fungus has  a strong flavour and firm texture.        

Types of fungi

Fungi can be divided into three groups:

  •  Saprophytes 

are probably the most numerous, performing a vital role in breaking down dead organic matter. Feeding on dead tree trunks, decomposed plant remains in the soil, dead insects, man-made foodstuffs and clothes. e.g. Stinkhorns.

  • Parasites 

Parasitism is the dark side of fungal ecology, these fungi obtain all their nutrients from a living host. In many cases resulting in the death of the poor host. A plant parasite commonly seen locally is the Honey Fungus Armillaria mellea.

  • Symbionts 

These fungi live in close association with the roots of other living plants to their mutual benefit, this symbiotic relationship is known as mycorrhizae (fungus roots).  The fungus benefits by receiving sugars from a plant and the plant obtains phosphates and other nutrients from the fungus.

In particular, this is the type of mushroom I am interested in – the mycorrhizal. They have a symbiotic relationship (friendly exchange) with trees or other plants.  Mushroom mycelium receives carbohydrates and other nutrition from trees while delivering minerals and water. The tree often receives a significant amount of it’s water intake by delivery from the extended mycelial network. Both organisms benefit. More than 90% of all plants form beneficial associations with fungus.

Trees in our woodland

Oak  supports many species including maitake,  chanterelles,  chicken of the woods, honey mushrooms, oysters and many others. 

White, yellow, and other birches can harbor polypores on the wood and chanterelles,  and others on the ground. Mature, scarred, or dying trees usually produce more. 

Beech are where you find chanterelles,  and occasionally oysters.

 

mushroom found on smallholding

nibbled mushroom

What fungi is in our wood just now?

Bearded Milk Cap: Lactarius pubescens 

All the Lactarius species produce a milky fluid if the gills or the cap is damaged, giving rise to the common name “milk caps”. Cap 3-10cm across, convex with a depressed disc and in rolled margin, becoming flat then shallowly funnel-shaped with an arched margin; pale tan or cinnamon pink, slightly darker at the disc. Found on soil amongst birch, Broadleaved and mixed woodland, parks. Common. Late August to October to autumn.

Jew’s  Ear –  Auricularia auricula- judae

 
Common, found in the UK  all year round. Soft, floppy, reddish brown ear on branches. Jew’s Ear fungus likes to grow on common elder and false acacia.  It is edible and considered a delicacy in the far east. n.b.  ‘Jews ear’ refer to the legend that Judas hung himself on an Elder  the ‘ear’ being his returned spirit.

 Oyster Mushrooms – Pleurotus ostreatus

In the woods near me there is a semi-rotten beech tree that hosts oyster mushroom mycellium. Every year, after a very cold snap (usually in January) the mycellium runs and its fruiting bodies appear. Behold! Sumptuous oyster mushrooms.

Check out this website for lots more info

http://www.rspbliverpool.org.uk/Fungi.htm 

Check out other posts from Fife Smallholder on this topic including the Scottish Wild Mushroom Code.

Sep 102011
 

Our smallholder garden has plants that the birds enjoy the seeds from in the autumn.

There is a delicate balance going on – the sparrows are quite heavy and bob about in the wind whilst eating the seeds.  This is a resident flock of sparrows that live on our smallholding.  But we also get migrant and seasonal birds that visit, to eat from the range of berries, nuts, and seeds that are available naturally.

 

Wild birds in smallholder garden.

Feeding wild birds in winter

In winter, small birds should be fat to avoid starvation and lean and agile to escape predators. This means that they face a trade-off between the costs and benefits of carrying fat reserves. Every day they must gain enough fat to survive the coming night. Severe winter weather can therefore be a major hazard for survival. A bird will lose a substantial proportion of its body weight during one cold winters night, and unless it is able to replenish its reserves, a prolonged cold spell could be catastrophic for large numbers of birds. Some species such as tits and crows cache or store food for times of less natural food abundance.
 

Supplementary Feeding

If offering supplementary foods provide a wide variety of foods at different levels – on the ground, in feeders and on a bird table. Scraps of bread (provided it isn’t stale), cooked rice and lentils, dried fruit such as raisins and sultanas, apples, oranges and grapes, coconut halves, mashed potatoes, peanuts, vegetable suet, millet and black sunflower seeds are all suitable foods to offer to birds. It is also possible to purchase ready-made up high-energy bird food mixes.
 
Providing birds with supplementary food will bring them closer for you to enjoy their fascinating behaviour and wonderful colours. However, supplementary feeding can’t provide all the natural proteins and vitamins that adult and young birds need, so it’s important to create and manage your garden to provide a source of natural foods as well, through well-managed lawns,  shrub and flowerbeds.
 

All year round food for wild birds

If you provide both natural and supplementary food, your garden will be visited year-round by a host of different birds.
 

Ways of Attracting Birds into the Garden

There are many simple things that we can do to entice birds into the garden and encourage them to live and breed there. Basically, birds need water for bathing and drinking, a constant supply of food, shelter from the elements and nest sites. Water can be supplied by making a small pond with marshy edges or if that isn’t possible by obtaining a birdbath or drinking dish and regularly changing the water. Nest boxes can be installed for breeding purposes and climbing plants (e.g. ivy, honeysuckle and clematis) and shrubs, especially prickly shrubs, will provide additional natural nest sites as well as berries for the birds to eat. A well-stocked bird table will provide food, but of course providing natural sources of food is even better. With careful planning, it should be possible to provide a natural supply of food for birds for most of the year. Plants and shrubs, which provide fruit, berries and seeds are especially useful to birds and don’t be in too much of a hurry to pull up your weeds as many of these will also provide food for birds.
 
 

How to identify some common garden birds from their song

Planting for Birds

There are many trees, shrubs and plants that are especially attractive to birds, but of course the plants that you choose to grow will depend on the size of your garden/allotment, soil type, aspect and your own personal preferences. However, when selecting which plants to grow for birds do try and choose plants that don’t all produce food at the same time!
 

Trees

If you have a large garden or smallholding you may wish to include some trees. Trees provide shelter, nest sites and perches for birds, but there are many trees that will also provide them with food. Oak supplies acorns and woodpigeons, and woodpeckers will eat these. Rowan’s berries are popular with thrushes, fieldfares, redwings, bramblings, blackbirds and waxwings and the fruits of bird cherry (Prunus padus) and wild cherry (Prunus avium) are much loved by birds. Alder provides food for siskins,  goldfinches and tits, both the cones and the catkins being eaten. Bullfinches eat the seeds of ash and beech mast is popular with bramblings,  great tits, woodpeckers and chaffinches. Goldfinches and bramblings like the seeds of silver birch and various insectivorous birds also feed on the many insects that live on this tree. Conifers such as scots pine, larch, spruce, and yew also supply food for birds and have the advantage that they do not lose their leaves in winter, thus providing all-year cover. Scots pine seeds are eaten by finches, woodpeckers and the Scottish crossbill. Various types of thrushes eat yew’s berries and the seeds of larch and spruce are popular with finches, spruce seeds also being eaten by woodpeckers and European crossbills. Fruit trees such as apple, crab apple and plum are especially popular with birds. So why not plant some fruit trees or fruit bushes just for wildlife?
 

Hedging Plants

Hedges act as windbreaks and like trees provide shelter, somewhere to roost and nest sites for birds. Of particular value in a hedge are shrubs bearing berries such as elder, spindle (Euonymus europaeus), bramble, blackthorn, hawthorn, holly and wild privet (Ligustrum vulgare), which supply food for birds as well as shelter. In addition quite a few of these shrubs are spiny and offer good protection from cats and other predators. Hawthorn is popular with many nesting birds for this reason who often nest in tangles of bramble.
winter seeds for wild birds
 
Waxwings and redwings will eat hawthorn’s berries, whereas those of blackthorn are popular with thrushes. Holly and elder berries are loved by many types of birds, but are especially popular with blackcaps and thrushes. Hazel can also be used to make a hedge and its nuts are a valuable source of food for many mammals as well as for birds such as woodpeckers, jays, pigeons. Why not plant some honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)? It will soon clamber over the hedge and thrushes, warblers and blackcaps will eat its berries. Dog rose (Rosa canina) and guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) produce hips and also do well in a hedge.
 

Useful Shrubs

The following shrubs should attract birds into your garden/allotment:
 
  •  Berberis (Berberis stenophylla) – Berries are mainly eaten by thrushes and blackcaps.
  •  Cotoneaster (especially C. horizontalis, x watereri and C. frigida) – Waxwings, fieldfares, redwings and blackcaps will eat cotoneaster berries.
  •  Pyracantha – (P. coccinea, Pyracantha ‘Mojave’, Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’). Berries mainly eaten by blackcaps, waxwings and certain thrushes. Can be used to make a hedge.
  •  Viburnum – Waxwings like these berries. Can also be used to make a hedge.
  •  Ivy – Best grown up a fence, wall or tree. Woodpigeons, thrushes, warblers, blackcaps and robins eat ivy berries, which ripen in the winter.
  •  Mistletoe – Is an important garden plant, supplying berries at a time of year when food is normally in short supply.
  •  Buddleia – This shrub is tremendously popular as a nectar source for butterflies, but it will also provide seeds for bullfinches and other seed-eating birds.

Garden Plants

Many garden plants will supply seeds for seed-eating garden birds such as finches and linnets. These include evening primrose, michaelmas daisy, foxglove, aubretia, forget-me-not, sunflower, cosmos, snapdragon, wallflower, sweet william, lavender, sweet rocket, honesty, goldenrod, bird’s-foot-trefoil and globe thistle. And when I left some purple sprouting broccoli to go to seed I found that the seeds attracted quite a few greenfinches.
 

Weeds

As previously mentioned many plants that are generally classified as weeds are of tremendous food value for birds. Burdock, chickweed, cow parsley, clover, dandelion, groundsel, black medick, greater stitchwort, hogweed, fat hen, knapweed, shepherd’s purse, plantains (e.g. ribwort and hoary plantain), stinging nettles, teasel and many types of thistles such as spear thistle and woolly thistle will all provide seeds for birds to eat. Thistle seeds are especially popular with goldfinches, linnets, siskins and serin whereas goldfinches will eat the seeds of dandelions, groundsel, knapweed and fuller’s teasel. Dock, stinging nettle and meadow cranesbill seeds are popular with bullfinches.
 

Bird Identifier

The RSPB has an improved, interactive bird identifier to work out what bird you saw. Tell them a few details about the bird and they will suggest what it could have been. 
 
 
 


%d bloggers like this: