Snow can be good

The snow is falling outside and for us its been a few years since we have any of any significance. I use the word ‘significance’ though not in the manner of a weather forecaster, a few inches of snow isn’t a lot to fall. Instead I mean that there is enough for it to be a valuable aid to the poultry keeper.

Snow means easily visible tracks!

If you think you might have a pest or predator problem then a few inches of snow can help in proving their presence. Rats will take the same routes they always do each night and they will leave a muddy track leading right back to their nest making it easy to target. Perhaps best of all though is the way the snow will help you find out a) if you have foxes visiting overnight and b) precisely where they are breaching your fence.

Fox tracks are easy to identify, they make a single set of prints where the back feet are placed in the print made by the front feet and this morning I located my breach which has now been repaired.

foxtracks2s

 

So before you go rushing into all that fresh virgin snow to build a snowman, take a quick moment to have a look around and see if anyone else has been there already.

Are things a bit late this year?

Its a question asked quite frequently when it comes to gardening or the flora and fauna of the countryside but for me I can’t say I can always provide evidence to support my answer. Ok I know the date when the swallows return or the first chiff chaff call but thats based on whether I’m paying attention and could, for all I know, be out by a few days or even weeks.

I was out taking some photo’s the other day and that was when some real evidence landed in my lap…. there are precisely 2yrs and 22minutes between these two pictures of the same oak tree… I guess that answers my question for this year at least!

May 12th 2010

 

May 12th 2012

 

Green Roof for the Chicken Coop

Every now and then I’m given a chicken house to put through some field trials and as a consequence I can end up with quite a few ‘buildings’ covering the field. It was on one such coop I figured I try a different kind of field trial by sticking a green roof on it. Why not, after all it’s a roof like any other so it would provide “the environmental benefits of having a living, breathing space where once there was nothing, transform an otherwise dull space into something aesthetically pleasing AND provide you with more growing space.”

This project will take you through how to go about constructing a simple and effective green roof on your chicken coop. There are options to buy ready-made matting that can be rolled out and attached to a roof but at over £20 a metre this can prove a little prohibitive, especially as this whole project costs less than £20 if you sow or propagate your own plants. Better instead to build your own, that way you can decide the planting plan and over the years it will pad out and provide the same effect as the matting. It also enables you to create your own personal blend of weather-hardy plants such as sedums, alpines, mosses, grasses, seasonal herbs, and house leeks.

In fact you could apply the same design principles to a shed, log store, over even a bird box!

What You Will Need:

  • An offcut of pond liner or damp proof liner
  • Geotextile membrane or some old blankets
  • Sufficient Yorkshire board to go around the perimeter of the roof
  • Screws
  • A sack of 10mm gravel
  • Peat free compost mixed with sharp sand
  • Drill
  • Saw
  • Screwdriver

Step 1

Identify a suitable roof structure ideally with a 9-10 degree pitch on it. Check it’s strong enough to take the weight of a saturated green roof and add supporting framework (crossbeams attached to the side supports & roof will help) if necessary.

Step 2

Attach the section of pond liner or damp proof membrane and make sure it overlaps the edges so water will run off and not seep into the roof. Staple into position and trim off any excess with a knife or pair of scissors

Step 3

Cut lengths of board to ‘box in’ the roof. This will stop the planting medium from simply washing off. Allow a 5mm gap between the board and the roof on the lower edge. This will help with water drainage.

Step 4

Staple the geotextile member (or old blanket) to the box sides. This layer will help retain moisture and reduce the need for frequent watering.

Step 5

Add a 2cm layer of the gravel to the roof. This layer will aid water dispersal and drainage.

Step 6

Finally add about 5cms of the compost and sharp sand mix and level it out. You are now ready for planting it up.

March – A month of firsts

I was digging through some old articles I had written and stumbled upon a section I wrote some years back. Each month I would need to produce a short section on what would be going on outdoors for that given month. Now given most monthly magazines can be working 2-3 months ahead of themselves then a piece that would appear in the March magazine would need to be written in December.

This piece was penned back in December 2008 I think and whilst its nothing extraordinary, it struck me today, with its 23 degrees C sunshine out there, just how unpredictable the weather and climate seems to be these days – my references to winter and snow seem rather out of place!

 

“March tends to be the beginning of the “firsts” of the year, the first primrose, the first bumble bee, the first catkin, the first glossy yellow lesser celandines appearing on the road verges. It is also the true beginning of the nesting season for birds with nests being built or repaired in earnest throughout the trees, hedgerows and nest boxes.

The first of our feathered summer visitors such as the Chiffchaff will be reaching the shores and pushing further inland. It’s a small green warbler often overlooked but always given away by its metallic “chiff-chaff” call as it perches on top of the now green tinged thickets and scrub.

Coots will begin to build their tower like nests from reeds and frogs will start to spawn in the pools and ponds where the rushes and irises start to wake up from their winter slumber..

Wild forget-me-not is coming into flower and on sunny days the first ladybirds sit there warming themselves as they come out of hibernation. Cow parsley will be ready to burst into flower after throwing out a profusion of fresh green growth complimenting the delicate white blooms of the blackthorn which sits on the bare stems like a reminder of the snow falls of winter. ” Mar 2008

 

March 27th 2012

Build a bird box!

This is a part of an old article I wrote some years back but on the request of a twitter friend Heather Wilde of @KidsNorthWest I’m uploading it here as she’s holding a bird box building party soon so hopefully she’ll find this timely and useful 🙂

Birds are an integral part of any garden, be it an urban one or one out in the sticks. More and more people are feeding birds (click for a novel bird feeder idea) and enjoying this doorstep wildlife spectacle, and what better way to further enhance it than to provide some simple accommodation for them to raise young in.

 

I’ve been a keen bird watcher since I was a child when my mother gave me a collection of children’s “Things to Do” cards she had received by collecting Batchelor’s soups labels. Within the pack was a card about bird watching and how to start a field note book, and I thought I would give it a go. We only had a small back garden on an estate in a village near Leeds, but having spent many an hour at the kitchen window I’d recorded in excess of 30 species of birds there in my first year of ‘watching’. I was hooked and still am to this day, be it rarity turning up locally, the first swallow of the year or a house sparrow feeding her brood on the window ledge.

 

Over the years I’ve lived in both urban and rural settings, and for some reason that escapes me I’ve developed a habit of making and putting up a bird box at the beginning of each year. Winter is a good time of year too, it gives the box a chance to weather and settle before the breeding season starts in earnest. It’s an extremely simple and cheap thing to do. It requires minimal woodworking skills and is perfect for getting the kids involved in something that might just have the same impact as the cards my mum gave me all those years back.

On top of that it’s a great idea for new and unestablished gardens that may not have the natural nest sites for birds. Of course you could just buy one ready made however different birds have different housing requirements just like people.

 

This design alone can be modified to attract around 7 different species of bird by simply changing the size of the entrance hole – 25mm for coal, blue and marsh tit, 28mm for great tits and tree sparrows, or 32mm for house sparrow and nuthatches.

 

Many garden bird species are declining in numbers year on year, yet they are an essential element for the success of our garden ecosystem, so why not spend a couple of pounds and a winter hour knocking up some accommodation for them, you’ll be repaid by the bucket load when you see the first young appearing at the entrance hole.

 

And just to prove I’ts not beyond anyone’s reach to build, my youngest son (with some assistance from his older brother) performed almost the entire build himself. I built one myself at the same time and I have to declare, his was better!

 

 

What you will need

Tools:

  • Saw
  • Hammer
  • Measuring tape
  • Galvanised nails (3cm)
  • Drill
  • Hole saw or large drill bit
  • Bored teenager or enthusiastic youngster ‘optional’

Materials

  • 15cm x 2cm x 142cm tanalised plank
  • 15cm x 5cm rubber strip (car inner tube, pond liner etc)
  • Small hook and eye fitting

 

 

Step 1

Using the template below, measure out the cuts to be made on the plank. Most hand saws have 90 and 45 degree guides built into the handle these days, or alternative use a set square. Then cut the sections out.

 

 

Step 2

Having decided on the entrance hole size, drill the entrance hole. It needs to be at least 125mm from the base. This means the nest will be low enough within the box to minimise the possibility of predation by cats.

 

Step 3

Attach the side panels to the back piece using the hammer and nails. Be sure to check the sides are positioned directly opposite each other or the rest of the build will be out of line!

 

Step 4

Side the base into position between the two side pieces and nail it to the sides. Drill a few small drain holes in the base. This is precautionary measure as the completed box should remain dry inside.

 

Step 5

Making sure that you have the entrance hole nearest the top, place the front section on and nail it to the sides and base.

 

 

Step 6

Nail the rubber strip to the roof section first,  and then nail the flap to the back section. Hinging the lid in this way means you can easily access the box to clean it out at the end of the season should it be required.

 

 

Step 7

As a further precaution against predation, add the hook and eye to the lid. It will also stop any gusts of wind flipping the lid up.

 

Step 8

Decide on the location for your new nest box choosing a sheltered spot 2 metres or more above the ground. Face it between northeast and southeast so it avoids the worst of the weather and is not exposed to too much sun.

 

Wine Bottle Bird Feeder

I’ve always had a bit of a passion for birdwatching which stems from my childhood sitting by the kitchen window recording and drawing all the bird species that visited our little semi detached garden. One of the best ways to attract birds into the garden is to feed them, and feeding them is equally essential during the harsh winter months.

These days the interest in feeding garden birds has expanded significantly since my younger years and there are a plethora of feeds and feeders available on the market but there’s no need to spend too much when this simple project can be put together for a fraction of the price. On top of that this particular project not only indulges my love of wildlife but also my love of wine, soI have to say that this is a favorite build project, though quite possibly fuelled by the fact I have an excuse to empty a bottle of wine in order to make it!

One plank and one plonk (emptied first of course) is all you need to create this bird feeder. The precise dimensions of some of the cuts, such as the neck hole, will be dictated by the size of the bottle used but the principle is fairly straight forward to follow and modify.

As a handy hint don’t fix the bottle holder permanently to a wall because when you come to refill the bottle it will be easier if you can insert the bottle into the holder in an upright position and then tip it over as you re-hang the holder. Also should the bottle become grubby then simply recycle it and replace it with a new one, obviously enjoying emptying the new bottle first.

One plank, one plonk bird feeder

(By the way, the Great Tit in the picture arrived to feed within 10minutes of hanging the feeder up, so there’s one happy customer.)

What you will need

Tools

  • Saw
  • Hammer
  • Drill with hole saw fitting
  • Tape measure
  • Rasp
  • Sandpaper

Materials

  • One wine bottle, enjoy emptying it the night before
  • One 1 metre 20cm thick plank, 40cm wider than your wine bottle
  • Screws and panel pins

Step 1

Measure out and cut the backboard (150mm longer than your bottle), table and neck supports (10mm wider than your bottle).

 

Step 2

Using a hole saw cut the neck hole in the centre of the neck support section. Smooth the neck hole for a snug fit using a rasp or sandpaper.

Step 3

Screw the table section to the bottom end of the back support

Step 4

Using 10mm wide lengths of plank (or some spare beading) pin three edges to the table. This will reduce the seed spillage.

Step 5

Insert the bottle into the neck support and position it approximately 20mm from the table. Mark the position and then screw the neck support to the backboard

Step 6

Cut 20mm wide lengths of plank, 20mm longer than the bottle width. Position these as the bottle base support and screw into position.

Step 7

Cut another 20mm length to act as the cross beam. Make sure the bottle fits snugly in place with a bit of give but not so it rattles.

Step 8

Screw the cross beam in place attaching it the two side supports to complete your base support

Step 9

Find a suitable location. Drill and attach the unit to the wall, shed or other relatively flat surface. Fill the bottle with seed and slot it into position.

Insect Hotel

Having once being a little boy who, by rights, was into all things creepy crawly, and then later in life becoming an avid ecologist and nature lover, I have come to understand the importance of food chains from beginning to end. As a gardener I’ve also come to appreciate that not all that flies, crawls or slithers is necessarily bad for the garden, in fact some are positively essential. Many insects in the garden are not only needed in terms of pollination but are most definitely a gardener’s best friend, acting as a predator to the many ‘nuisance’ pests that plague our crops throughout the growing season.

Whether you operate a spotless, regimented garden, or like me, head for the more naturalistic plantings in both flower beds and vegetable plots, there can never be enough hiding places and hibernation spots for our useful insects, and this is where this quick and easy project comes into play – a homebuilt insect hotel. Its also the ideal time of year to build one!

The project takes approximately an hour to knock together, and ‘knock together’ is the right term for it, the more rough and ready, the better. It’s made from materials you will find languishing in most potting sheds. Mine here is made of an old skirting board, some off cuts from the veg bed edging, old bamboo canes that had seen better days and a couple of roof slates that had come off the house during the recent windy days. And if you have children around, get them involved, my own daughter found a whole new interest when helping me and I wonder if there’s another ecologist in the making!

What you will need

Tools:

  • Saw
  • Drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Mallet
  • Chisel
  • Hammer

Materials

  • Old planks, skirting board, pallet wood 200cm x 15cm
  • Old bamboo canes
  • Straw
  • Old roof slates

Step 1

Cut the 4 box sides (30cm each) and drill both the ends of two pieces. I’m using an old skirting board I found in the workshop

Step 2

Screw the four sections together. Don’t worry if its looking a bit rough – the more ‘rustic’, the better!

Step 3

Cut the centre inserts, one will be 30cm long, the other 30cm minus 2x the width of the wood you used for the outer box. Use a saw to cut the sides of the slot and a chisel to remove the waste

Step 4

Slot the two centre inserts together and insert them into the box frame. The fit should be snug and may need a mallet to knock it into place

Step 5

Hold the centre inserts in place by drilling and screwing through the outer box. Again don’t worry about how rough things might be looking

Step6

Cut lengths of bamboo approximately to the depth of the box and pack them into one of the sections. Use a mallet to ensure a tight fit

Step 7

Stuff the next door section with some straw before then filling the opposite cell with further bamboo off cuts

Step 8

Before filling the final section attach the box to a wall, fence or side of a shed. A hook or mirror fixing can be used

Step 9

Deploy a small person with a hammer to break up some roof slates (my kids loved this bit!). Keeping the pieces reasonably large, stack them into the remaining empty section

And there you are, one hour, one plank, one pile of rubbish, one fine insect hideaway.

Build a Bat Box!

One of the major attractions of gardening for me is seeing what wildlife your efforts can bring into the garden. One way to increase the wildlife diversity in the garden though is to provide roosts or safe havens for them.

 

If you are fortunate enough to have bats frequenting your garden or allotment then why not provide a roosting box or resting place for them. If you don’t believe you have bats this may be because the habitat doesn’t provide natural roosting spots such as holes in trees or dry outbuildings so why not try and attract some with this simple design.

The DIY Bat Box

 

It’s a quick and easy design that you can knock up in an hour and even get the kids involved. Be sure to get snug fits on all the joints as good insulation and the avoidance of draughts is essential in attracting bats to boxes. Also use untreated rough cut or sawn timber, the later means it provides something for the bats to cling and climb on and former because bats are very sensitive to timber treatment chemicals

 

 

What you will need

Tools:

  • Power drill
  • Hammer
  • Staple gun or small tacks
  • Set square
  • Tape Measure
  • Saw
  • Nails
  • Jigsaw (optional)

 

Materials

  • 120cm x 20cm x 2cm sawn untreated timber plank
  • A short piece of wheel inner tube or pond liner

Step 1

Measure out the plank according to the cutting plan

Cutting Plan

 

 

Step 2

Cut the sections out using a hand saw. If you have a jigsaw you may find that easier to use when cutting the side diagonal.

 

Step 3

Make a bevel cut on one of the roof section. This needs to be approximately 60o and will make a snug fit against the back and provide the correct angle for the front

Cutting the bevel

 

Step 4

Using a hand saw cut grooves across the width of the back section and for its full length to create a ‘bat ladder’. This is essential to give the bats something to climb up and hang from.

Making the bat ladder

 

Step 5

Cut an 8cm length off the acute angled end of the side pieces to provide easier access to entrance.

 

Step6

Nail the sides on to the back section. You may find it easier to drill pilot holes to reduce the risk of the wood splitting. Be sure to get them in exactly the same position on each side or it will throw the box out of shape.

 

Step 7

Slot the roof section into place and nail it to the side sections. Again drilling pilot holes if necessary to reduce the risk of the wood splitting

Assembling the box

 

Step 8

Staple or nail the pond liner or inner tube across the joint of the roof to the back section. This will reduce the likelihood of damp or draughts getting into the box

 

Step 9

Slide the front section in and nail it in place . There will need to be a ‘door gap’ of between 10-20mm to allow access. Any wider and predation could be a problem, any smaller and the bats may not be able to access the box.

Mind the Gap

 

The box should be located close to where you have seen or would see bats, close to the garden pond or near an outside light. It should be positioned as high as possible, sheltered from strong winds but exposed to as much sunlight as possible in order to maintain a good internal temperature.  Don’t be disappointed if the bats don’t take as readily to your box as perhaps the birds or insects have done to the other artificial roosts, they do so less readily, however after having a box up for three years,  this summer I’ve been regularly treated to a small hunting party of pipistrelle’s emerging for an dusk feast.