wildlife

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: ,
Sep 212012
 
green hazel nut

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

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

Hazelnut Tree

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

 Why are hazels a good smallholder tree?

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

Things to make with hazel

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

 Growing or propogating hazels

Hazels can be acquired in three ways:

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

Where to plant a hazel tree?

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

Hazel pests and diseases

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

hazelnut eating insect

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

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

What is a hazelnut?

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

How are hazelnuts created?

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

Why eat hazelnuts?

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

Nut allergy info

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

 Hazelnut FAQs

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

 Hazelnut recipes

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

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

 Hazel Folklore

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

websites used in the making of this article:

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
 
scotland flag

Scots country terms, dialect, or words for country matters.

 

 

  • ben – mountain
  • blackie – blackbird
  • blue bunnet – blue tit
  • brae – hill
  • brock – badger
  • cauf – calf
  • clippin – sheep shearing
  • coo – cow
  • corbie – raven
  • craw – crow
  • crock – old ewe sheep that has stopped lambing
  • croft – smallholding
  • donie – hare
  • dou – dove or racing pigeon
  • dug – dog
  • gimmer- a 2 year old ewe sheep
  • gress – grass
  • hen – chicken
  • hurcheon – hedgehog
  • kye/kyne – cows/cattle
  • moose – mouse, click here for a link to my favourite poem about a mouse
  • pous or pousie – cat
  • souk lamm – bottle reared lamb
  • speug – sparrow
  • tod – fox
  • tuip – male sheep ram
  • windlestrae –  A tall, thin, withered stalk of grass.
  • yowe – ewe female sheep

 

source:

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.

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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.

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. 
 
 
 


Aug 232011
 

A smallholder always loves free food.  

However, someone is enjoying eating the fungi in our wood and it’s not me. Perhaps it’s the hedgehog ………

nibbled mushroom

A wide range of animals are known to eat wild mushrooms – including badgers, deer, mice, pigs, rabbits and squirrels. Wild mushrooms are also eaten by slugs, snails and many insects.

“It is dangerous to assume that it is safe for humans to eat the same species that animals consume without any ill effects – deer and rabbits can eat poisonous fungi with impunity.”

Check out my other blogs about mushrooms:

 

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