Thursday 28 April 2016

Potatoes in blankets

This week we've had typical April weather, sunshine and showers, but wintery showers of hail and snow. And overnight its been icy. So each evening I'm on patrol up to our unheated greenhouse to cover up the potatoes with sacking and fleece. One time I forgot till just before bed-time and i went up with a flash-lamp. Lots of rustlings and flappings and squealings as I obviously disturbed the other residents.

In the morning sun I carefully unwrap them. I think it's worth the trouble because they are looking pretty good. I reckon we'll have new potatoes to eat within 2-3 weeks.

This year I'm late with the sowing of potatoes outside. I did one batch (1.5kgs each of Orla and Colleens) two weeks ago and the second (1.5kgs each of Maris Piper and Sante) last weekend. The soil has been seriously wet and unworkable previously. I gave them all a good bed of compost to get going with and that should help with the wet too. I still have some Kestrels saved from last year but I'm getting a bit short of space so I think I'll put them in big pots. No reds this year. I hoped there would be some Desirees from last year's harvest, but they were very small and didn't store well. There will be a few "feral" Desirees I expect, and they usually grow to a good size..

Wednesday 20 April 2016

Tadpoles and squashes

The tadpoles in the fountain pool have hatched. They are all wriggling around trying to find green algae to eat. I suppose that birds will be checking them out for a snack because there's not much weed or other plants for cover.

Yesterday was gloriously sunny and I sat in the garden and planted up 8 marrows and 6 each of squash varieties - Winterfest, Turks Turban and Hurricane (like butternut I think). These are all bought seeds. I have some seeds saved from squashes and marrows grown last year bit I haven't labelled them very well (or at all) so they will be a surprise. If I can squeeze a bit of space in the veg beds I may just throw the seeds in and see what happens!
I planted these in small pots using our own compost and put them in the small conservatory. The greenhouse gets very warm during the day but cool or even frosty overnight, so the conservatory will hopefully provide a more constant temperature for them to germinate. I also covered the pots with polythene. This is suggested on the seed packets. I don't usually do this but let's see what happens.

Tuesday 12 April 2016


We've just bought a new 2-wheel wheel-barrow. We already own two which have done good service. The first one we inherited from Mum & Dad who bought it for their house in Dorset over 20 years ago. The second we bought from the same manufacturer not long after we moved in here.

But you can always do with another barrow. On sunny weekends there are often three of us working on different projects in the garden and each needing a barrow. And unfortunately they don't last for ever and one of them needs a new tyre.

So, last week when we visited the local Aldi in Coalville to buy a couple of rose arches they were advertising, we were pleased to see they had 2-wheeled barrows on offer at a very reasonable price.

Seems crazy that gardeners use one-wheelers. They are handy for wheeling along narrow paths and wooden boards, but they are fiddly to balance and you need both hands. The two-wheelers, with pram handles, are easy to push or pull along with one hand and are always stable.

You may still be able to get some from Aldi, although they tend to have "special purchases" and not keep them as a regular item - but you can get something very similar (if not identical) from Clifford James who sell via Amazon. I wrote about these a couple of years ago >>   or click on the photo for more info.

Thursday 7 April 2016

Busy birds

Long-tailed tit
(Photo from RSPB website)

Spring has truly sprung, the days are brighter and longer, and the birds are busy rushing around everywhere.

Flocks of long-tailed tits are cleaning the climbing roses of bugs and picking spiders from around the windows frames. I went to open the door of the utility room and there was a little tit hovering just at eye-level outside. Very acrobatic little birds. The RSPB have just published the results of their annual Big Garden Birdwatch which took place in January. The long-tail tits used to be fairly rare but now have reached no 10 position in birds counted throughout the UK and 9 in the county of Leicestershire where we are.

These are the results for Leicestershire:

Species Rank Mean no of birds recorded % gardens seeing bird
House_sparrow 1 4.1 63.3
Blackbird 2 2.9 92.5
Woodpigeon 3 2.6 83.3
Blue_tit 4 2.6 78.4
Starling 5 2.4 36.8
Goldfinch 6 1.8 34.6
Great_tit 7 1.5 59.1
Robin 8 1.4 83.2
Long_tailed_tit 9 1.3 28.9
Chaffinch 10 1.2 39.0
Magpie 11 1.0 51.2
Dunnock 12 1.0 53.0
Collared_dove 13 0.9 41.4
Jackdaw 14 0.6 16.6
Greenfinch 15 0.6 22.5
Coal_tit 16 0.6 31.7
Carrion_crow 17 0.6 23.2
Feral_pigeon 18 0.4 13.2
Wren 19 0.3 29.7
Common_gull 20 0.2 5.9

Looking at the results the long-tailed tit has reached no. 9 in the ranks but only being seen in less than 30% of gardens. Of course when they come, they come in flocks of 10 or sometimes more.

The crows and wood-pigeons are busy building nests. They are taking dried twigs, even pulling off twigs from the red-wood, silver-birch and plum trees. Our neighbour has a very vigorous laurel hedge which provides a nesting-place for many small birds, blackbirds and pigeons. There's a bit of activity by the row of nesting boxes on the summer house, although great-tits often nest on-top just under the roof.

Ducks are busy and even though there are several large ponds close by they seem to enjoy dabbling in the flooded stream that runs through Billy's field that surrounds our garden.

And of course the birds are singing like crazy, especially the black-birds, thrushes and robins. It's a delight to walk around the garden towards evening and hear them all in chorus.