Category Archives: Gardening

You get out of it what you put into it

Heading into June I can’t help but beam with a big smile as the hard work put into the garden is finally starting to give back. In early Spring we were blessed with the Daffodils and these were followed by the Purple Tulips at the end of April. This was their first appearance since I planted the bulbs in the Winter. I’d even decorated the garden with Plum Slate Chippings and these were pushed aside as the bulbs revealed their green tips.

   
 

We have been truly blessed by the wildlife that have used our garden as their Kitchen. The birds didn’t take residence in our nesting boxes however we are now starting to see their babies feed. Last week we had the baby Starlings join us which is quite fitting as we love Game of Thrones!! 

We created a hotel for our Solitary Bee and are pleased to announce the babies survived and emerged from their little tunnels. This was put back out in the same place last month and this week the same bee has returned to start this years batch. On closer inspection we actually have two bees both using the homemade hotel. This is pretty exciting, I love it when nature appreciates what humans try and do to assist in their lives.

   
 

At the beginning of May we dug up the worst part of the lawn and lay some new turf. It was one of the most knackering of Bank Holiday Weekends experienced but that was purely down to the Clay. The benefits of this hard work are now clear especially as I gave it the first cut, this means it is actually growing! We spent the best part preparing the ground with sharp sand, ground purifier, feed, and fertiliser with top soil. The photo below shows it from before we started to the first lay right through to its first cut.

   
   

The BBQ’s have started and we even bought the Chiminea that I’ve been desperately after. These are the moments that you truly enjoy what you have. As I reflect back to the title of this post it’s clear for all to see. Understand that the hard work you put in to whatever you do in life, will eventually pay back. As I walk around the garden I think back to the work put into it over those many hours. 

   
 

Right before I wander back out into the Sun we are currently enjoying I must apologise for the long absence. If truth be told I’m finding life is very busy right now but please be assured I will still be writing and when I get the moment to write then I’ll be here again.

Thanks

Mark 

Birdwatch Update Spring 2015

We have had some fantastic birds visit our garden throughout Winter and Spring this year. They are certainly busy in their own little world as we are starting to head into the nesting season. The Blue Tits have already inspected our bird nesting boxes as we hope this is the year they take up residence. I thought it was only fair to share some of the amazing photos that we’ve captured to show the variety of feathered friends we have sharing our garden.

  

Our Blue Tits are busy sharing the suet coconuts together.

  

The original Robin regularly feeds off the ground around our feeding station.

  

The Dunnocks love a wander hopping amongst the plants.

  

The Bullfinch proudly puffs his chest showing off his prominent colour.

  

One of the Starling family are always around eating the suet and worms.

 

We love our Pied Wagtail always bopping along the ground being scatty as ever.

There will be further photos as we head into the Latter Spring months.

Mark  

Natures surprises

There have been some strange sights and also some wonderful sights in our garden these last few days. We decided to clear out the old pots and get our garden in some shape ready for this Summer. Where we have grown our own vegetables in the past, this year it’s a lot simpler with focus more on plants and nature. We have had our fair share of birds in the garden, but sadly following on from my previous Blue Tit update I am sad to confirm that our nest boxes are empty this year. Despite this there have been some interesting developments within our gardens walls.

Last year there were no end of stories in the UK’s press relating to False Widow Spiders. These stories now seem to have died down, probably because of the colder months. I joked that it would be typical if my first encounter would happen as soon as they were out of fashion. Whilst emptying out the soil I had bagged to fill up the troughs I saw my first False Widow Spider. It was about the size of a 50p piece and the body was dark with a light pattern across it. The legs were quite muscular and the shape something similar from the film Arachnophobia. I managed to be brave and removed it from the garden, however a couple of days later another one appeared in our house by the front door. My fiancé duly sucked it up with the vacuum and I disposed of the evidence once returning back from work. I do have a photo below, I wonder how many more will appear now the weather is warming up. From first appearing in Devon, it’s safe to say the False Widow has made it to Towcester, much to our annoyance.

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Moving onto a more pleasant story, the one involving our Solitary Bee. On Sunday whilst out in the garden this bee was flying into a hole on our Garage Wall. It kept returning and because of the obvious reservations of it nesting within the mortar, I blocked the hole up. The bee then tried to unblock it to no avail, it then turned it’s attentions to elsewhere. The bee flew into our conservatory and made a beeline (excuse the pun) to some bamboo we have and flew into the hollow innards. After removing the bee again we decided to read up on what it was trying to do, what we discovered was quite fascinating.

The bee was trying to find a place to collect pollen and lay eggs. The bee will create chambers within the nest area so each one contains enough pollen for the egg to hatch and grow from. Because of this frantic behavior demonstrated we created our own nest and placed it near the hole in the garage. This needs to be South facing as Solitary Bees are cold blooded which makes sense as to why it had chosen these places. The sunlight that hits the nest during the day will keep
It warm during the night.

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We used three pieces of Bamboo and glued them using a glue gun. They were then wrapped tightly in twine and the bamboo smoothed out on the inside with a file. This was secured in place so that it couldn’t fall down. Within 5 minutes of hanging this up our bee returned. Since doing this there are five chambers with obvious signs of nests in them, at least we have something nesting in our garden. Let’s see if these hatch safely, one things for sure we have helped our Bee, who still remains unnamed.

Once the pots start growing I will post some photos. I’ve decided on planting a couple of tomato plants as the corner on our patio is a sun trap. This will hopefully see us grown some red toms this year after a couple of disappointing years attempts.

DarcyB

Blue Tit Update – March

Following on from my post about putting up the bird boxes in our garden, there has been a hive of activity going on.

March is typically when Blue Tits will start to feed themselves in preparation for the busier nest building month of April. With the weather being so mild it could be easy to think the nesting season has already started. The chorus of bird songs filling our blossom trees around our garden are a pleasant reminder that we are in Spring.

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There have been some long visits to our Peanut filled bird feeder and this photo taken on Mothering Sunday confirms our local Tits are starting to feed themselves up for a busy April.

We have had a couple of the Blue Tits visit our Bird Boxes and in the early mornings there have been sightings of garden greenery being taken into the boxes. It’s not clear if they have taken residency or put down their deposit 🙂 but they are getting close to making a choice.

It’s very exciting and I hope to have some further positive updates and photos should our Blue Tits decide upon a home for their Nest Building. More updates to follow next month.

DarcyB
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Bird Boxes up ready for Spring

This weekend we took full advantage of the sunny weather and did some jobs around the house. In the UK we have been very lucky this weekend with sunshine allowing temperatures to hit just under 20c. There is an extremely positive feeling that Spring is here and we may escape the snow that plagued us last March.

One of my first little jobs this weekend was to remove the horrible buff yellow slabs we have on the front garden. I removed these and laid down a deep bedding of 20mm Gravel which will make it easier when parking the cars but also it looks a hell of a lot better.

A tip run and some moving around the garage sandwiched the main job in the garden. We are keen lovers of nature and have been impressed with the numbers of tits and other house birds that occupy our garden. It’s a colourful canvas of action and noise with them all chirping and fluttering around our suburban neighborhood and at this early part of Spring it’s important to do our Spring Watch duties.

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I’ve put three bird boxes up in the back garden. Two of them are suitable for tits and small birds whilst the other is for Robins and Wrens. The location of the one for the tits is between 3-4 meters high and in a South facing position which means they will stay warm but not too hot. These have been kept away from the bird feeder to prevent too much disruption from other birds. The open fronted type for Robins and Wrens is North facing and around 2 meters high which will be camouflaged by our hanging plants on the fence.

This Sunday evening we were amazed to see that the two hung up on our Garage were visited by a couple of Blue Tits. They went into both boxes probably having a viewing before deciding if they meet their high standards. This is really encouraging after only a few hours of being placed up. I will keep my blog readers updated with any other news.

One thing is for sure, Spring is in the air, let’s hope it’s not a false dawn!

DarcyB

A Winter Garden

For those of you who have been following my blog these last 4 months, you will have gathered by now my love of spending time in the garden. It is something that I’ve certainly inherited from my Mum and I’m fortunate that the people I’ve grown up along including my fiancée have and are supportive of this love of mine.

It’s the time of year sadly, where there is very little left to do, well in my garden anyway. I spent last week tidying out the raised beds and removing all the seedlings that have sprouted from seeds that had fallen into them from the bird feeders. One thing I would say, sparrows are incredibly noisy and messy little things, it’s a shame that they more than make up for this with their amazing characteristics and cheeky little faces. It’s at this point I would like to ask my followers, are you finding your bird feeders are being emptied almost daily? It’s happening in my garden and I’ve started alternating the days I refill it.

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With colder nights and shorter days the once colourful roses and snap dragons are replaced with fleece covered beds and pots. It can be quite a depressing sight at this time of year, however it’s great to do the more practical jobs that are easily overseen in the Spring and Summer.

One of our major issues is the Ivy which has grown along the side of our house. Ivy is painfully attractive and looks lovely, the grim reality is the damage it does to brickwork and wooden window frames. A couple of months ago I tried something and it’s only now the benefits are visible. It was so high that I couldn’t reach it with a ladder so I cut along the highest clear part I could reach with some garden clippers. It was a straight cut along the ivy which in some parts was very thick. It was because of this that I think the ivy retained so much water and nutrients in this section.

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As you can see from the photo above it’s finally started to die back from the area that was causing me so much trouble. It is funny now as stray bits of ivy continue to fall away, but it’s far safer than trying to remove live ivy from a dangerous height on ladders. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has had similar issues with hard to reach troublesome ivy.

So what else is there to do in the garden in December? Well I think the array of leaves have stopped accruing on the path so they can be raked up and put in our green garden waste bin. Secondly I think it’s a great opportunity to remove all weeds and look after the winter wildlife that visit your garden. Thirdly I think it’s important to check which plants need protection from the frost and get your fleeces in place!

It may have slowed down out there but it’s still a place of activity as the colder months approach us.

DarcyB

Pickling Beetroot

Tonight I decided to preserve the two mammoth Beetroot that I picked from the garden a couple of days ago. I’d love to claim ownership of this recipe, but I wouldn’t take that away from a certain Delia “Lets be Avin you” Smith. That was a football reference for my non football following followers, google it! The steps are easy and I’ve attached some of my photos from each stage.

Quantities required are:-

450g of Beetroot
175ml of Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of Mixed Pepper Cloves
1/2 teaspoon of Maldon Sea Salt Flakes
2 x Shallots

This little lot cost me £6.90 but then I grew the Beetroot so probably around £8 if you had to buy them. I also chose an Organic Red Wine Vinegar, it only seemed fair!

You will also require a 1/2 liter glass jar to keep this in once completed. This must be sterilized before hand. I just wash it and put it in oven at no more than 130c to dry out. The rubber seal is washed by hand and placed in kitchen roll to dry.

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Firstly you need to cut back the stalks and roots to no more than an inch on the Beetroot. All you need to do then is wash them but leave the skin on. Wrap these in a parcel of foil and put on at 190c for a minimum of 3 hours. Mine took just under this but I tested how well they were cooked by using a skewer tip to see if it glided through softly. They should look similar to my effort below:-

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It was at this point I peeled the two shallots as this allowed for the Beetroot to cool down and chopped them finely. Once these were chopped, I started to prepare the vinegar.

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The vinegar sauce or dressing whatever you call it is simple to make. Take the 175ml of Red Wine Vinegar and add the 1/2 teaspoon of Pepper Corns and Sea Salt to it. Being to the point of simmering and then you can take it off the hob. This gives you a lovely mixture of colors and a very strong smell. I ended up requiring 250ml of the Red Wine Vinegar so be prepared to pro rata extra Pepper and Salt to suit this. It was at this point I peeled the Beetroot that had cooled down and started chopping them finely.

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Now you need to take the sterilized jar and make sure it is still warm. If you don’t you risk a cracked jar. You need to layer the Beetroot and Shallots so they form nice compact layers. Once you have done this to just below the top of the jar, you are ready to add the Vinegar.

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I poured the Vinegar from the Pan back into the glass jug as it is easier to fill the Jar this way. In order to ensure the risk of cracking is removed, once the vinegar had reached simmering point, I sat the jar in cold water. This allowed it to be cooler. I then poured slowly the Vinegar with Pepper Corns shimmering into the jar, ensuring the top layer is covered.

Once this was completed, I shut the jar tight and clanked the lid down. According to Delia this will be edible in 2 days. It can last up to 2 years, I think I will be nibbling on this sooner. Please note the Shallots are added raw and not cooked. Only time will tell how good these taste, but I’m going to give the ease of this recipe an 8/10. The only down side is the 3 hours waiting for the Beetroot.

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DarcyB

Life’s amazing

This weekend has been a very special one. It will be one that stays in my mind for an extremely long time and as I find myself sat back at home following it, I am smiling on the inside.

Whilst I was away in Cornwall a couple of weeks ago, I asked my partner to marry me. It was one of those moments that is extremely nerving and if any guy tells you otherwise they are either lying or have never been in that situation.

We spent this weekend back in my home town after finally revealing to the Facebook world that we are Engaged. We enjoy tradition and wanted to at least tell all of our family in person or on the telephone before splashing the news over Social Media. The weekend comprised of a lovely evening and BBQ at my sister and her partners with my family, before spending this afternoon catching up with my old school and college friends. If there is one thing I’ve learnt from this weekends antics, it’s that I’m not coming out of retirement and taking up playing football again! Oh and another thing, Mohitos are extremely addictive (thanks Luke!)

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On Sunday we went to Stratford Butterfly Farm which is a truly magical and amazing place. It was fairly overcast and chilly before we went inside, however by the time we’d left it had certainly warmed up. There were a huge variety of Butterflies that had lost all interest in landing on my grey T-shirt, however there were many situations where they intentionally moved just as I was taking their photo. I am almost certain they knew what they were doing. This place also homes snakes, scorpions, spiders and quails. The latter were out and about roaming with the butterflies, the others fortunately not. I can confirm that at one point the place felt like a Disney Film with colorful Butterflies filling the skies and fluttering around our faces.

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If this wasn’t enough, I’ve been clinging onto the number 33 with both hands clenched firmly around them. It was also a Birthday celebration for me and a rare year where my birthday didn’t fall on the Summer Bank Holiday. Tomorrow (or Tuesday, depending when you read this) I turn 34 and have been so grateful for all the surprises and gifts I’ve received so far. All I can say is that I am truly blessed and am very very fortunate to have the life I do. The sad thing is I’m back at work tomorrow where I’m pretty certain I will be buying cakes for my work colleagues. This is one tradition that I have no idea how and why it exists!? If anybody knows then please feel free to enlighten me.

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Finally I harvested some vegetables from our garden tonight. It was a pleasant reward for all of the hard work and effort put into watering and feeding our raised beds. I pulled up two beetroots the size of tennis balls and foraged around and found some potatoes and onions. I will be pickling these Beetroots tomorrow night and will let you all know how they turn out. I am half tempted to buy a cutter that gives them that crinkled crisp effect. Fingers crossed I can actually do it right. This follows on nicely from my blog about Self Sufficiency earlier this month. I think there may be a weeks worth of Beetroot in our household, wow!

Yes for those wondering, it’s me in the photo with my hands on my head. That kinda gives away my footballing decision. 😉

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DarcyB

A big crop? Nah give me uncertainty anyday!

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One of my favourite things is the garden, it’s something that brings me and my girlfriend closer and also it gives us the excitement of creating our own little haven. Last year was our first attempt of growing some fruit and vegetables and in the end we were presented with a couple of beetroot, green tomatoes, deformed carrots, slug ridden lettuce and a lifetime supply of beans. 2012 wasn’t the best year for us gardeners and if it hadn’t been for the colourful Pansies and Roses aplenty it would probably have resembled amass of green shoots that would have been best suited in an allotment.

Roll on this year and 12 months later there is certainly something different going on outside in our garden. We have not let anything put us off our debut year and have gone for it again. The three-week spell of consistent sunshine has helped and where we decided upon giving the carrots a miss this time around, we have certainly been rewarded with some other successes. Now I know it’s tempting fate but already the beetroot are twice the size of last years efforts and the Tomatoes look as if they may just be a bit embarrassed this year with a red tint already evident. It’s at this point I would like to thank the bees for pollonating our gardens plants, what shortage?!

Now there is all this talk in the papers about self-sufficiency. It’s where people like ourselves who have relatively small areas to grow a few token gestures will never quite get there. I however, think this is well and truly over hyped and taken out of context.

Tonight I decided to explore the growbags and raised beds to see what was ready for harvesting, I really do love that word. It paints pictures of being sat in a tractor travelling across the acres of land pulling up the years crops. My girlfriend always smiles when I use that terminology, it’s my way of being all proud and somewhat smug when there is something that can be eaten grown from scratch. I feel like Richard Briers from the Good Life, I love feeling like Richard Briers. For all the days of nurturing the seedlings to the endless evenings of watering them and seeing them grow (well some of them) and suffering the heartache of pests attacking them, it does make you slightly envious of our Supermarkets who sell big bunches for a few pennies.

So my reward tonight…..? Well I managed to find 4 potatoes in the grow bag, a couple of beans were plucked off the bean stalks and the largest beetroot I have ever seen* pulled up from the raised bed. I tell you what, self-sufficiency is well and truly overrated and overstated. Give me the uncertainty anyday of what I will find edible in my garden, that’s what keeps it interesting for me.

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* Away from the Supermarkets, I can only compare this to 2012!

DarcyB