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: ,
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 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.
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