Dec 182012
 
Festive Table Decoration

Home-made Christmas Table Decoration

At this time of year, like our ancestors, it is good to bring some greenery into the house as a reminder that not all is lost in winter.  

willow festive table decoration

Evergreen foliage available for sale from fifesmallholder

Its winter and I spent just half an hour going round my garden taking cuttings from evergreen shrubs, flowers, seed heads, and trailing plants to produce the table decoration above.  It all sits in water so should keep fresh throughout the festive season, and if not then I will just nip out and cut some more.  The scent from the leaves adds another dimension, and next year I intend to use my own hand-dipped beeswax candles that will add to the festive aroma.

From a winter garden

Don’t give up on your garden at this time of year – take a trip to the garden centre to see what they have in season- you’ll be surprised at some of the flowering and scented shrubs that dare to shine in winter.

Home-made Wreaths

Doing this has inspired me to try and make my own wreaths next year – I intend to  collect lengths of willow, dog wood, grape vine and pliable shrub prunings – twist them into spirals and hang them up to dry in the greenhouse.  

Here are links to some nice wreaths made with things from the garden.

 

 

 December 18, 2012  Flowers, garden, income, winter Tagged with: , , ,
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?

 

Oct 312012
 
010adecember2011 034

Blackthorn Sloe Berry 

Last year at Fifesmallholder we harvested our very own sloes for making into that wonderful winter liqueur Sloe Gin.  Many people do not associate sloes with the blackthorn shrub, but this is the name of the seed that it produces.  Like some root vegetables that improve after a frost (makes them sweeter) advice is that you are best to collect sloes after a frost. The skins become soft and bletted (half rotten) and become more permeable.  Sloe Gin made at this time will be ready just in time for Christmas.  

However if you have no blackthorns on your property you are unlikely to find any left by then.  Many people will pick the sloes early winter when they are plump (not wizened) and then put them in the freezer.

What is a sloe?

Also known as blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), the sloe is the ancestor of all our cultivated plums, yet the wild sloe is the tartest, most acid berry you will ever taste.  This deciduous shrub flowers from March to May and bears fruit in September and October.  The flowering of the blackthorn is often accompanied by a cold spell, and this is known as ‘blackthorn winter’.

For all its eye-watering acidity, the sloe is a very useful fruit: it makes a clear jelly, wine, sloe & apple cheese, and sloe gin.

Not sure how to tell the difference between a Hawthorn and a Blackthorn?  

The blackthorn will produce small white flowers before the leaves in March and April.  Hawthorn will produce flowers after leaves.  Hawthorn berries are small and red, blackthorn berries or sloes are bigger and purple/black in colour.

How to make sloe gin

Pick about 500g (1lb) of the berries. Pierce the skin of each berry  with a fort to help the gin and juices to mingle more easily.  Mix the sloes with half their weight of sugar, then half-fill bottles with this mixture.  Pour gin (alternatively brandy or aquavit) in to the bottles until they are nearly full, and seal tightly.  Store for at least 2 months, and shake occasionally to help dissolve and disperse the sugar.  Strain the liquor through fine muslin or filter paper until quite clear. The result is a brilliant, deep pink liqueur, sour-sweet and refreshing.  Bottle, and store for use.

 

 October 31, 2012  garden, post archive, recipe, tree, winter Tagged with: , , ,
Oct 192012
 
PLS-00008663-001

Deer mouse, Peromyscus maniculatus 8360 lores

To a mouse – Robert Burns

“Wee, sleekit, cowrin, 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’ murdering pattle.”

Winter time is likely to be the time when you start to suspect you have rats or mice (also known as rodents or vermin).   It is cold and food supplies are less plentiful outside – this is often the time when rodents move into the house or buildings around the smallholding. As a nature lover I am happy to live and let live – so what is the big issue about mice and rats?

What is the risk from rats and mice?

Rats and mice spread germs that can cause severe illnesses and disease in humans, some of which can be fatal to humans, although this is very rare.  They can carry  Salmonella and Weils Disease through their droppings and urine.   Campylobacter (Campylobacter infections, can cause diarrhoea and fever. This bacteria is spread via rodents to poultry and thus enter the human food chain  and Leptospira.  The pathogens of this potentially fatal febrile disease are transmitted via rodent urine and can enter the human blood stream through small cuts, for instance.  Mice may also carry tapeworms, and organisms that can cause ringworm (a fungal skin disease) in humans.

Rats and mice can also cause fires by gnawing on cables. Research conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that half of all agricultural fires in Great Britain can be traced back to rodents.

Signs of rodent infestation:

  • Sounds. Gnawing, climbing noises in walls, squeaks.
  • Droppings. Found along walls, behind objects and near food supplies.
  • Burrows. Rat burrows are indicated by fresh diggings along foundations, through floorboards into wall spaces.
  • Runs. Look for dust-free areas along walls and behind storage material. A tracking patch made of flour, rolled smooth with a cylindrical object, can be placed in pathways overnight to determine if rodents are present.
  • Gnawing may be visible on doors, ledges, in corners, in wall material, on stored materials, or on other surfaces wherever mice are present. Fresh accumulations of wood shavings, insulation, and other gnawed material indicate active infestations. Fresh gnawing marks will be pale in colour.
  • Rodent odours. Persistent musky odours are a positive sign of infestation.
  • Visual sighting. Daylight sighting of mice is common. Rats are seen in daylight only if populations are high. Quietly enter your barn at night, wait in silence for five minutes and listen for the sound of rodent activity. Look around with a powerful torch; rat eyes will reflect the light.
  • Smudge (rub) marks. These may be found on pipes or rafters where dirt and oil from their fur leave a greasy film.
  • Urine, both wet and dry, will fluoresce under ultraviolet light, although so will some other materials. Urine stains may occur along travel-ways or in feeding areas.

“It is a generally accepted rule of thumb that there are approximately 25 mice or rats for every one that is seen.”

Why Control Rodents?

Damage from rodents comes in many forms:

  • Damage to buildings. Mice and rats will damage wood and electrical wiring, which can be a fire hazard.
  • Destruction of insulation. Many livestock and poultry facilities show serious deterioration within five years. Associated with this damage are costs for re-insulation, increased energy costs and poorer feed conversions by animals.
  • Feed consumed. A colony of 100 rats will consume over 1 tonne of feed in 1 year.
  • Feed contaminated. A rat can contaminate 10 times the amount of feed it eats with its droppings, urine and hair. A rat produces 25,000 droppings per year, a mouse 17,000.
  • Biosecurity. Rodents are recognized as carriers of approximately 45 diseases, including salmonellosis, pasteurellosis, leptospirosis, swine dysentery, trichinosis, and toxoplasmosis. Mice and rats can carry disease-causing organisms on their feet, increasing the spread of disease.

Is It A Rat Or Mouse Problem?

Since rats and mice require different control strategies, you should determine which vermin you have. The simplest way to differentiate between the types of infestation is by examining the droppings.

Rodent or Vermin Droppings

Mouse droppings are black and rice-kernel size, whereas rat droppings are black and bean-sized.

Breeding

Mice and rats have tremendous breeding potential. Under ideal situations, a pair of rats and their offspring can produce 20,000,000 young in 3 years. Mice reproduce even faster.

Life expectancy of a rat is around one year, during which female rats will typically breed five times and produce an average of 8 offspring. A mouse life expectancy is around one year, during which a female may breed up to six times and produce about six offspring.

Mice prefer to nest in dark secluded areas with little chance of disturbance. They may burrow into the ground in fields or around structures when other shelter is not readily available. Nests are constructed of shredded fibrous materials such as paper, and generally have the appearance of a “ball” of material loosely woven together. They are usually 4 to 6 inches (10.2 to 15.2 cm) in diameter.  Foraging territories are no more than 6 metres away. If there is abundant food nearby they can nest within 1.2-1.6 metres of the source.

Litters of 5 or 6 young mice are born 19 to 21 days after mating, although females that conceive while still nursing may have a slightly longer gestation period. Mice are born hairless and with their eyes closed. They grow rapidly, and after 2 weeks they are covered with hair and their eyes and ears are open. They begin to make short excursions from the nest and eat solid food at 3 weeks. Weaning soon follows, and mice are sexually mature at 6 to 10 weeks of age.

Mice may breed year-round, but when living outdoors, they breed mostly in spring and autumn. A female may have 5 to 10 litters per year. Mouse populations can therefore grow rapidly under good conditions, although breeding and survival of young decline markedly when population densities become high.

Senses

Rats and mice have poor eyesight but excellent senses of smell, taste, touch and hearing. They do not like open areas and prefer contact with walls and other objects.

Mice are considered color-blind; therefore, for safety reasons, baits can be dyed distinctive colors without causing avoidance by mice, as long as the dye does not have an objectionable taste or odour.

Habits

Rats and mice move rapidly and are excellent climbers and have no problem climbing vertical brick walls. They are also active burrowers and like to build nests in compost heaps or underneath hedges, sheds and decking. In the house they will nest in wall cavities and beneath floorboards. They are mainly active at night feeding on a range of commodities, particularly cereals and cereal products. They will eat about 10% of their own body weight of food daily. Rats require a regular supply of water, whereas mice do not as there is normally enough to survive on in their food. Rats are also good swimmers and are often found in sewers where there is food, water and shelter.

The front teeth of rats grow continuously and to keep the teeth to a useful length the rat needs to gnaw on hard objects all the time; objects can include lead water pipes, brickwork, electric cables, wood and anything else available. They usually have well worn runs between their living area and their food and water sources.

Mice will easily enter gaps of 5mm wide and they are very good climbers.

If a pencil fits in a gap, then a mouse can get in!

Mice eat many types of food but prefer seeds and grain. They are not hesitant to eat new foods and are considered “nibblers,” sampling many kinds of items that may exist in their environment. Foods high in fat, protein, or sugar may be preferred even when grain and seed are present. Such items include bacon, chocolate sweets, and butter (a little melted chocolate is a favourite in our mouse traps).

They do not range far from the nest. The maximum range for rats is 45 m (148 ft), for mice 9 m (30 ft). Rats are extremely apprehensive about new objects and will avoid them for several days. Leaving a trap out for about 5 days is necessary to ensure acceptance. Mice quickly accept new objects. This becomes very important when designing baiting or trapping programs.

Rodent Damage

Rats and mice will invade buildings in search of food and shelter. In doing so they may be involved in the transmission of disease, soiling and destroying belongings, damaging equipment and can cause serious structural damage by gnawing through cables, waterpipes and woodwork etc. They also eat and destroy food stores.

Did you know?

  • mice are sexually mature at 6 to 10 weeks of age?
  • worldwide, rats transmit roughly 40 diseases?
  • unlike mice, rats avoid anything new? They only take tiny amounts of freshly laid-out bait and often avoid new traps completely.
  • rats do not just eat food leftovers, but also soap and paper, dead mice, birds and fowl
  • a rat produces 25000 droppings per year, a mouse 17000.
  • rats and mice are highly adaptable creatures. Some of them have even developed resistance to rodenticides

Controlling and reducing vermin 

The next step in controlling a rodent problem is to reduce the population with a combination of baits, traps, and cats.  It is best to ensure that you set up a programme of activity that is overseen by you – some of the work can be undertaken by other people such as private pest control companies, or your local authority pest control officer.  However, this will be an ongoing matter that will require you to be vigilant and pro-active.

Prevention – Reducing rodent infestations

Eliminating Hiding Places and Nesting Sites

Rodents do not like to be exposed. Maintain sound housekeeping, eliminate loosely piled building materials, old feed bags or anything else that a rodent can hide in or under.

“Best practice says that when cleaning you should let it air for 30 to 60 minutes, and if you find mice droppings or you find nesting material, you should spray it with a 10% bleach solution or disinfectant, and let it soak in for a while.  Ideally you should never sweep or vacum the droppings because this puts infectious matter into the air, where it can be inhaled.  The best bet is to clean with something disposable whilst wearing rubber gloves.”

Remove Food and Water

Eliminate water sources such as leaky taps, open water troughs, sweating pipes and open drains. Keep all feeds in rodent-proof bins (we use metal dustbins with lids or old wheelie bins), covered cans or metal hoppers. Reduce feed spillage and immediately dispose of dead animals. Without readily available food and water, populations cannot build.

Mice and Rat Predators

vermin control

Some dogs  and cats will catch and kill mice and rats.  Cats may limit low-level mouse or rat populations.  However, if conditions are ideal for rodents, cats cannot eliminate a problem because they are not able to catch mice as quickly as they multiply. Cats may also introduce disease into a facility by bringing in rodents caught in fields.

Around most structures, mice can find many places to hide and rear their young out of the reach of such predators. Cats probably cannot eliminate existing mouse populations, but in some situations they may be able to prevent reinfestations once mice have been controlled. Farm cats, if sufficient in number, may serve this function.

Noise

Mice are somewhat wary animals and can be frightened by unfamiliar sounds or sounds coming from new locations. Most rodents, however, can quickly become accustomed to new sounds heard repeatedly.  There is little evidence to suggest that rodents’ responses to no-specific, high-frequency sound (ultrasonic sound) is any different from their response to sound within the range of human hearing.  Tests of commercial ultrasonic devices have indicated that rodents may be repelled from the immediate area of the ultrasound for a few days, but then will return and resume normal activities.

Repellents

Rodents find some types of tastes and odors objectionable, but chemical repellents are seldom a practical solution to mouse infestations. Substances such as moth balls (naphthalene) or household ammonia, in sufficient concentration, may have at least temporary effects in keeping mice out of certain enclosed areas.

Other solutions to rodent problems, including rodent-proof construction and methods of population reduction, are usually more permanent and cost-effective than the use of repellents.

Toxicants

Anticoagulants (slow-acting, chronic toxicants). Mice are susceptible to all of the various anticoagulant rodenticides , but they are generally less sensitive (often far less sensitive) to the active ingredients than rats.  Anticoagulants have the same effect on nearly all warm-blooded animals, but the sensitivity to these toxicants varies among species. Additionally, residues of anticoagulants which are present in the bodies of dead or dying rodents can cause toxic effects to scavengers and predators.

Anticoagulant Resistance

Within any population of  mice, some individuals are less sensitive to anticoagulants than others. Where anticoagulants have been used over long periods of time at a particular location, there is an increased potential for the existence of a population that is somewhat resistant to the lethal effects of the baits.

Anticoagulant Bait Failure

Resistance is only one (and perhaps the least likely) reason for failure in the control of mice with anticoagulant baits. Control with baits that are highly accepted may fail for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Too short a period of bait exposure. —Insufficient bait and insufficient replenishment of bait (none remains from one baiting to the next).
  • Too few bait stations and/or too far apart. For mice, stations should be within 6 feet (2 m) of one another in areas where mice are active. —Too small a control area, permitting mice to move in from untreated adjacent areas. —Genetic resistance to the anticoagulant. Although this is unlikely, it should be suspected if about the same amount of bait is taken daily for several weeks.

Reasons for failure to achieve control with anticoagulant baits :

  • Poor bait choice, or bait formulated improperly. Other foods are more attractive to the mice.
  • Improperly placed bait stations. Other foods are more convenient to the mice.
  • Abundance of other food choices.
  • Tainted bait: the bait has become mouldy, rancid, insect-infested, or contaminated with other material that reduces acceptance. Discard old bait periodically, and replace it with fresh.
  • Occasionally, mice accept bait well and an initial population reduction is successful. Then bait acceptance appears to stop although some mice remain. In such instances, it is likely that the remaining mice never accepted the bait, either because of its formulation or placement. The best strategy is to switch to a different bait formulation, place baits at different locations, and/ or use other control methods such as traps.

“Never place bait stations where livestock, pets, or other animals can knock them over. Spilled bait may be a potential hazard, particularly to smaller animals.”

 If misused, anticoagulant rodenticides can be lethal to non-target animals such as dogs, pigs, and cats.

Rodent droppings and pigs

The causative organism of Erysipelas in pigs is the ubiquitous bacterium Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae, formally known as Erysipelas insidiosa. The bacterium can survive in soil or dung for 6 months or more but probably more significantly is carried by a wide range of wild birds as well as rodents, especially mice. Pigs are particularly susceptible to disease with this organism and the classical manifestations are the acute, septicaemic form producing sudden deaths or in milder cases “diamonds”. These forms of the disease can be controlled by a combination of hygiene, medication and vaccination.

Mice have also been found to act as reservoirs or transmitters of diseases of veterinary importance, such as swine dysentery, a serious bacterial disease of swine often called “bloody scours.”

Rodents and poultry

It has been estimated that rodents can increase poultry feed ussage by as much as 2% especially in the cold weather. Rats and mice are likely to find poultry houses a great place to live. Rodents spread diseases to poultry flocks by contaminating feed and bird living area with urine or droppings. Rats and mice are linked to poultry diseases such as salmonellosis, colibacillosis, coryza, pasteurellosis, mycoplasmosis, hemorrhagic enteritis,hymenolepiasis, capilariasis, and ascaridiasis. Because of their ability to harbor pathogens, rodents also can carry over disease organisms from one flock to another even if the facilities are cleaned and disinfected.  Rodents also carry parasites such as lice, fleas, and mites.

All types of rodents eat poultry feed and they waste and contaminate more than they eat. It has been suggested by some authorities that one rat eats approximately 25 pounds of feed per year.   In addition to damage and feed loss rodents can cause high mortality rates and production losses. Rats have been known to kill baby chicks and break and eat eggs, and they may frighten birds by their movements or by noises they create.  Research has shown that by reducing the rodent population in poultry houses the bird mortality rate can also be lowered.

Rodent proofing a building

• Concrete: Concrete should be 2 inches thick if made of precast reinforced concrete plates fastened together, or at least 3¾ inches thick if not reinforced.
• Galvanized Sheet Metal: 24 Gauge or heavier; perforated sheet metal or grills should be 14 gauge.
Brick: Regular size, 3¾ inches thick with joints filled with mortar.
• Hardware Cloth: 19 Gauge ½ by ½ inch mesh to exclude rats, 24 gauge, ¼ by ¼ to exclude both rats and mice.

Any openings that are needed for ventilation should be screened or rodent proofed to prevent rodent access. With elimination of entry points, any potential hiding places outside the house should also be eliminated. Obvious food sources such as spilled feed should also be eliminated, use hanging feeders and remove any uneaten food before nightfall.

In some instances, a strip of heavy gravel placed adjacent to building foundations or other structures will reduce rodent burrowing at these locations. In any event, keep the perimeter of buildings and other structures clean of weeds and debris (including stacked lumber, firewood, and other stored materials) to discourage rodent activity and to allow easier detection of rodent sign.

However, any drastic change to their habitat may cause rodents to abandon their habitat. However they will only move to the next building or into the woods to wait until the coast is clear to return. Therefore the best plan is to elimate the rodents before undertaking a major clear-up.

Livestock food storage – making it vermin proof

Where possible, store bulk foods in rodent-proof containers or rooms. Stack sacked or boxed foods in orderly rows on pallets or tables in a way that allows for thorough inspection for evidence of mice. In such storage areas, keep stored materials away from walls.  Sweep floors frequently to permit ready detection of fresh droppings.

When storing foods or feed on pallets, keep in mind that mice can jump up more than 12 inches (30.5 cm) from a flat surface. They are also good climbers and can walk up surfaces such as wood or concrete (unless the surfaces have a slick finish). Mice can live for considerable periods of time within a pallet of feed without coming down to the floor.

Useful links

Oct 112012
 
15sep12 015

Why Grow your own firewood?

Wood is the natural sustainable choice of fuel for many domestic fires – in use since the first fire thousands of years ago. When we warm our homes with wood, we participate in a natural cycle that we share with ancient ancestors.

The ability to burn wood for heat in our homes gives us more control and options for fuel. We are no longer dependent on large energy utilities and multinational corporations whose charges only ever increase. Even if we have to buy in our logs at least we are supporting our local economy.

Unlike the burning of fossil fuels like coal, gas or oil, burning firewood releases no more greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide) than would be produced were the wood to simply rot on the forest floor. If we are responsible in the ways we grow, cut, and burn our firewood, wood burning can actually be a good choice for the environment.

When sourcing wood you have three choices, buy in, buy a mature woodland, or grow your own.  This article will focus on the latter, check out this other article about sourcing wood away from the smallholding.

What trees are the best to grow for firewood?

Note that all woods burn better when seasoned and some burn better when split rather than as whole logs.  In general the better woods for burning that you are most likely to come by are:

  • Apple and pear – burn slowly and steadily with little flame but good heat.  The scent is also pleasing.
  • Ash – the best burning wood providing plenty of heat (will also burn green)
  • Beech and hornbeam – good when well seasoned
  • Birch – good heat and bright flame, burns quickly
  • Blackthorn and hawthorn – very good, burns slowly but with good heat
  • Cherry – also burns slowly with good heat and a pleasant scent
  • Cypress – burns well but fast when seasoned, and may spit
  • Hazel – good
  • Holly – good when well seasoned
  • Horse Chestnut – good flame and heating power but spits a lot
  • Larch – fairly good for heat but crackles and spits
  • Maple – good
  • Oak – very old dry seasoned oak is excellent, burning slowly with a good heat
  • Pine – burns well with a bright flame but crackles and spits
  • Poplar – burns very slowly with little heat
  • Willow – good if seasoned well

If the tree you are looking for is not here then try this link.

Timescale for harvesting wood as fuel

If starting from scratch then the quickest tree to plant and harvest is willow.  It can be grown on damp unusable ground, and if properly undertaken, will produce wood of a size that is manageable by a smallholder without specialist equipment.

Willow as firewood

Pros

Super fast growing varieties can produce logs up to 3 inches or more thick in only 5 years.  It is best to cut or coppice in the dormant season from late autumn to late winter.  This ensures there is the least quantity of water within the coppice poles, which reduces the time taken to season the firewood to a minimum.

To get reasonably sized logs you will have to coppice your willow every 4-5 years.  The advantage of short rotation coppicing has always been the small diameter of the trees which enabled them to be worked with hand tools.  The production of firewood is best carried out using the coppice system  because a felling licence is not required to cut coppice poles with a diameter at breast height (1.3m from the ground) of 15cm or less.

Cons

Willow wood is mostly water and takes a long time to dry out.  Some other woods will dry all on their own, simply as a function of time, but the willow dries best with good access to a breeze. Otherwise it can rot or start to grow again before it drys out.  If it sits outside and get’s rained on, it will soak up water like a sponge even if it was previously “dry”. Willow has to be kept dry- in other words, kept under cover. It should dry for a minimum of six months, but letting it dry for two to three years improves its performance slightly.

Willow is very soft wood and it burns very quickly so mix it in with your other firewood because it won’t last long.

Click here for more information on the benefits of willow, planting willow, and willow types for sale.

Coppicing trees 

Many species of tree can be coppiced (e.g. hazel). This involves regularly cutting the tree down to a stump called a stool. Multiple new shoots (known as poles) regrow from the stool. The cutting is done on cycle so to keep a consistent supply you need to plan ahead and have sets of trees which you cut each year. The interval between cutting depends on the species of tree. The trees are cut during the winter before the sap has risen, and the branches are all cut low to the ground. By repeatedly cutting the trees their lifespan can be greatly increased. One of the advantages of coppicing is that you do not need to replant the trees every time you cut.

The new growth is fairly straight and manageable, and can grow very fast. Because the wood from coppicing is relatively small it also takes less time than large logs to season and you should easily be able to season it over one summer. Coppiced firewood can be burnt in a wood stove and is ideal for use in gasification / batch boilers – these boilers have very larger fireboxes which can take long length logs. You fill up the firebox and the boiler burns the fuel transferring the heat to a heat storage or accumulator tank for use when needed.

Many types of deciduous tree can be coppiced: Alder, Ash, Beech, Birch (3-4 year cycle), Hazel (7 year cycle), Hornbeam, Oak (50 year cycle), Sycamore Sweet Chestnut (15-20 year cycle), Willow, Sweet Chestnut, Hazel (7 year cycle), and Hornbeam. 

Turning trees into firewood

Once you have harvested your wood you must split any logs that are more than 6 inches in diameter.  This increases the surface area of the wood exposed to the elements and therefore enhances drying.  You can get mechanical splitters, and attachments for a tractor, when you have large quantities to split, but they are not cheap.

For the average user or smallholder a maul is the tool needed.  It is a type of axe with a heavy wide head especially for splitting logs.  A maul does not need to be particularly sharp – unlike a narrow felling axe which slices at wood and needs to be sharpened regularly.  You can use a felling axe for splitting logs but it is much harder work than a maul.  The trick with a maul is to let the weight of the head do the work – swing the maul over your shoulder and let the head fall on to the log without forcing it down.  The wide head will force the log apart.  It’s also important to have the log you are splitting at a good height – on a tree stump or larger log about 18 inches to 2 feet off the ground is ideal – this makes the job easier and avoids back damage.

Kindling

Trees and shrubs suitable for kindling include:

  • The older wood or prunings of Buddleia
  • Gorse -as a fuel it has a high concentration of oil in its leaves and branches, and so catches fire easily and burns well, giving off a heat almost equal to that of charcoal.
  • Lilac: Thinner branches make good kindling, whilst the thicker burn well with a clear flame and a very pleasant smell.
  • Rhododendron: Old thick and tough stems burn well.


More articles on firewood can be found here


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:

 

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 202012
 
grantown on spey 031

“It is a common myth sometimes believed by novice smallholders that sheep don’t need to be given water”

As with people, water is the most important “nutrient” that sheep need. How much they consume depends upon their age, and size, as well as temperature of the water and the amount of moisture in their feed. Sheep consuming wet grass or wet feeds (e.g. silage) won’t drink a lot of water because they are getting plenty of water from their feed. Conversely, they will drink more water if they are eating dry hay or dry, mature grass.

“Sheep don’t like to drink dirty water.”

Pregnant Ewe

For pregnant ewes, water intake increases by the third month of gestation, is doubled by the fifth month, and is greater for twin-bearing ewes than for ewes carrying a single foetus. A lack of water accompanied by a severe depression in feed intake predisposes ewes to all sorts of problems, namely unthriftiness, malnutrition and, possibly, pregnancy disease in the case of multiple bearing ewes. It is estimated that lactating ewes require 100 percent more water than non-lactating ewes.

Summer/Warm Weather

Sheep may consume 12 times more water in summer than in winter. Adequate intake of good-quality water is essential for ewes to excrete excess toxic substance such as oxalates, ammonia, and mineral salts.

How Much Does A Sheep Drink? 

 How much a sheep drinks depends on the sheeps growth stage, if she is lactating (producing milk for lambs), the ambient temperature and the moisture content of the feed they are eating.    

Daily Water Requirements

——————————————
Adult sheep 1-2 gallons or about 4 litres
Lactating ewes 2-3 gallons or up to 10 litres
Feeder lambs 1-2 gallons
Baby lambs 0.1-0.3 gallon or about 1 litre
——————————————

Temperature

Try to maintain water temperature above 35 F in winter and below 75 F in summer.

 Running Water

Sheep actually prefer to drink from running water rather than from still water . Running water is generally much healthier and less polluted than stagnant , still water .  Furthermore, sheep are afraid of water.  If they fall in, their coat of wool will soak up the water and pull them to the bottom. So they gravitate to water that is still. If the water is moving, the shepherd makes a dam that will cause the water to be quiet and still. Once that water is still, the sheep drink and are refreshed.

Health

Always keep clean drinking water available because sheep, unlike cattle, do not drink dirty water. If the water is not clean there will be a decline in the production of sheep. This will cause them to eat less, have trouble digesting food properly, be more likely to get digestive and metabolic problems.

Coccidiosis in sheep & goats

Illness such as coccidiosis can occur as a result of drinking water contaminated by sheep faeces or droppings.  This is a common disease of sheep and goats, especially when they are placed under stress:
  •  putting too many sheep and goats together
  • keeping sheep and goats in dirty, wet pens
  • sudden changing of feed
  • moving sheep and goats to a different location 
  • weaning (removing lambs/kids from their mothers).
It is an important disease because it leads to economic losses as a result of deaths, poor growth and treatment costs. It usually affects younger animals. The disease is most severe in
  •  lambs/kids 2 to 8 weeks of age
  • lambs/kids 2 to 3 weeks after weaning
  • adult sheep and goats moved to a new location or experiencing some other form of stress.

Kidney Stones In Rams

Having sufficient water also helps prevent the development of kidney stones in male sheep. Sheep and goats get sick by eating food or drinking water contaminated by the droppings.  It is also claimed that cider vinegar given regularly to stud males (tup/ram) will help prevent urinary calculi (stones).

Rain & Dew

When sheep feed on large amounts of new growth and there is precipitation (including dew, as sheep are dawn feeders), sheep need less water. When sheep are confined or are eating large amounts of hay, more water is typically needed. Sheep require clean water, and may refuse to drink water that is covered in scum or algae.

Winter & Snow

In the winter if there is snow, as long as it is not hard, sheep will eat enough of the snow to get all the water they will need.  However they do prefer warm water to cold water and may reduce their intake.  Drinking cold water slows the function of the rumen and can lead to loss of condition.   If you ever wonder why ewes are not producing enough milk for their lambs, don’t overlook the possibility that they’re not drinking enough water because it’s too cold.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Adding a little AC vinegar to the drinking water or storage tank will help to prevent algae growth, especially in the summer. ACV is a well-known water purifier, we add ACV every time we re-fill the water trough.  It also acts as a natural antibiotic, and we find it helps the sheep maintain their health in every season.
Cider vinegar helps maintain the correct pH in the body, which is probably one of the reasons it is so useful. Due to its potassium content, it is invaluable for all animals just before breeding, because potassium deficiencies cause blood vessel constriction, affecting the extremities and also it seems the cervix and uterus in the final stages of pregnancy; dystocia (difficult birth) is the result.
Apple cider vinegar can tarnish metal watering containers over time; only use it in plastic containers.

Garlic

 Do not add the raw garlic juice to the sheep’s watering trough. It will become rancid in a short time, additionally the natural oils in the garlic juice will rise to the top of the water and the rest of the juice will mix in the water. Both the juice and garlic oils are essential in treating parasites. Adding to water is not a recommended method.
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

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. 
 
 
 


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