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Gardening for Bees

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The Bee Book with bees and honey combs on coverDespite the snowy weather (or perhaps because of it) my thoughts have been turning to spring and what to plant in the way of bee friendly flowers. I have written about our plans for planting for bees on previous occasions but I have not yet mentioned a lovely book on bees that I received as a gift. The Bee Book (Fergus Chadwick et al, Dorling Kindersley Ltd, 2016). Verity gave me this as a birthday present in that year and we have turned to it for advice since then. Having said that, the main focus of the book is on keeping bees, the dizzy heights of which hobby we have not yet tackled. Maybe that will be one of our future projects. We might start off gently with making some homes for wild bees as demonstrated in The Bee Book. You can make houses with bamboo or wooden frames containing clay punctured with holes, the book giving excellent illustrated instructions. An example is shown of a really large bee palace but I think a simpler construction is better to begin with. Watch this space!Young foxglove plants by shed

In the meantime, we have been contenting ourselves with consolidating and improving our bee-related planting. I have posted previously about some foxglove seedlings that I was nursing along and these I then planted in a nice spot by the shed, under the lilac tree. They flowered for the first-time last season and we were delighted to watch bees crawling inside the flowers. I cut the plants down in the autumn so I am hoping that they will put up new growth and flower this year. As we were so pleased with the results of that batch of flowers, I set another tray of seeds from which I had a better crop of thirteen new plants. All thirteen were successfully planted out last September. I have grouped the foxgloves in two locations, in slightly shaded positions; some in a cluster around one of the lilacs and some in our bulb and wildflower patch. At the end of last season, I gathered up nasturtium seeds from the bed where they have established themselves in the last couple of years. I am planning to spread them more widely around the garden as they are another popular bee flower.

Page describing biennials

The book I mentioned above has a section on what plants are good to grow for bees, considering biennials, annuals, perennials, bulbs and so on. Each flower has a handy key so that you can tell what each one has to offer and to which variety of bee. For example, our foxgloves will appeal to both bumblebees (in particular) and solitary bees and is a source of nectar. I was pleased to note that one of our most prolific garden occupants, chive plants have a wide apian appeal, being a good flower for bumblebees, solitary and honey bees. The flowers have the double benefit of supplying both pollen and nectar. It is useful to have something in the garden early in the season when little food is available. Into this category comes snowdrop and crocus; snowdrops used by honey bees and crocuses by all varieties but again a favourite of honey bees.

Page describing bulbs for bees Ideally you would aim to cover as much of the season as possible with flowers to appeal to all of your bee visitors. The book also explains about the life cycle of bees, how they forage and the differences between the common garden varieties. Bees are fascinating creatures and I think I have much to learn! I hope to return to bees and The Bee Book further into this season and I will tell what new bee benefits are to be found in our garden.

In the meantime, it’s back to keeping cosy in the snow!



Making fat cake bird feeders

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This post will be my first garden post of the year, although it does involve preparatory work in the kitchen. As you will see from the title, I have been busy making bird feeders to put in the garden. I have been meaning to have a go at making some sort of feeder for a while, as I would like to have some addition to the bird table that Verity made from driftwood some years ago (an activity with the OWLS group). This works well for the larger birds but I wanted to try making something especially for the smaller birds. We do actually have a small wooden feeder box with a wire grill on one side that hangs on the lilac tree, but the blue tits don’t often seem very interested.Cover of The Secret Life of Cows

The immediate prompt for making a feeder however (and choosing to make a fat-based feeder) was reading a book that I was given for Hogmanay, The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young (Faber 2017, Farming Books & Videos Ltd, 2003). In amongst all of the cow, sheep and pig stories was an episode about wild bird feeding. The Youngs make winter bird feeders by melting fat, stirring in breadcrumbs and moulding the mixture in small plastic cups. I was very taken with their method of fixing the feeders onto canes and putting them in the ground instead of stringing them to hang. This, I felt I had to attempt for myself.

In a further bit of research before beginning my wildlife task, I consulted and discovered a couple of useful articles. Here is my version of a fat cake, adapting the ideas from the website and the Life of Cows instructions. Gardeners’ World advise putting out fat balls from November to March, so I am just about in time for this season. The writer suggests fillings which include oats, cake or bread crumbs, peanuts, dried fruit and cheese in melted lard or suet. I used a couple of left over disposable cups to mould the feed mixture as my book suggests, although you could use yoghurt pots as the instructions in the Gardeners’ World recipe. The guide proportions are a ratio of one part of fat to two parts of filling.

My recipe

I used a basic lard from the supermarket and reckoned that trying 100g would give me about the correct amount to fill my two cups. For my mixture I had a root around the kitchen and came up with porridge oats, desiccated coconut, a dried fruit and cashew mix, mixed seeds (pumpkin and sunflower seeds) and some brown soda bread. I didn’t have any cheese in, but I figured that if you have a fat base then you don’t really need the fat in the cheese. I used a blend of these ingredients to make up 200g, crumbling up one slice of bread and crushing up the cashews a little before mixing with my melted lard. My mixture just nicely filled the two containers. For the one cup, I made a hole and put string through as per Gardeners’ World and as you can see, I fixed a wooden spoon in the other to make it easier to fix the cake onto a cane when set. I popped both in the fridge for an hour to set firm.

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The final stage was to fix the fat cakes in place in a good spot in the garden. I hung my strung feeder onto the lilac tree, near the old wooden feeder as that spot is familiar to regular bird visitors. In one of last season’s tomato pots I stuck a long cane and fixed the other cake on to it (after removing wooden spoon!). I did push a bit too hard and the cane came through the end slightly, so I fixed some wooden pegs underneath so the cake wouldn’t slide down the cane. As you will see from my photographs, one of our ever-curious resident robin pair came to have a close look at what was going on, while the mate kept a watch from a distance. Then, I retreated to the house to watch for my first proper customers. Perhaps not surprisingly, the blue tits were the first to sample new tuck shop, though the robins were not too far behind. Both these birds managed to get the hang of the feeders very quickly and perched or clung on to feed. These birds have managed to feed from both types of feeder quite easily.

Rosamund Young describes in her book the antics of various species of birds when confronted with a delicious new food source on a stick. Similar to my experience mentioned above, she comments that the blue tits ‘learn how to feed from them within minutes, hanging upside-down with ease’. Where we differ is in the case of robins, as she notes that it took the robin some time to achieve success. She writes, ‘The best the robin could ever manage was to screw himself into a tight ball on the ground directly under the cup and leap vertically’ until eventually one bird learned to shimmy up the bean pole to feast. Apparently, chaffinches became quite angry with the feeders, but so far, I haven’t spotted any in our garden so I am unable to make a comparison. What we do have are greedy starlings however, arriving en masse to hog the food and scare away smaller feeders.

So far, my experiment has proved a success and I will hope to make another couple of feeders to see the birds through March. If anyone out there has had a go at bird feeders, do let me know what you have tried.

April Garden Activity

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In this long-delayed Curiously Creatively update, I will be telling you about this year’s spring preparations in the garden. Over the autumn and winter months, I have been trying to continue doing odd jobs and not to let the garden become a bleak no-man’s land. It is all too easy on cold days to ignore the garden, except for fetching in another bale of peat or tipping the vegetable peelings in the compost bin. During the last couple of years, I have tried hard to be less of a fair weather gardener; I cannot say that I have completely succeeded, but I think there have been improvements. As we never entirely stopped gardening after the summer activity, it has been easier to pick up the work again in the spring.

So where does all this industry leave us then? Well, I am forced to say that we are never as far forward with various jobs as I would like to be at this time of the year. However, many seeds are a–sprouting and we have plenty of spring colours on the ground. Much of the colour comes from the very productive self-seeding forget me nots which have scattered themselves liberally around the garden. We have blue ones, but I do want to add some different colours to the mix this year. These little flowers are so useful for brightening up odd corners and filling in gaps. We have plenty of nasturtiums self-seeding again and this year I am determined to try to use them in the kitchen as we usually have a plentiful supply. Cheerful yellow Welsh poppies are also poking their heads up all over the place.

I am delighted to report that it looks as though we will have some lily of the valley this year, on the third attempt at raising them. I paid a visit to Homebase recently and succumbed to the temptation of having one more go at these lovely flowers. The shoots looked healthy, so I was optimistic of success, though the roots were imperilled when some nocturnal creature decided to dig in my newly planted patch. Fortunately, the roots survived being dug up (by said strange creature) and then being roughly stuffed back in the soil (by me). I have long wanted to have some lily of the valley plants because I remember them fondly from my grandparents’ garden, growing under the hedge. Fingers crossed that I will have flowers in a few weeks time.

While in Homebase, I had a rummage in the marked down section and bought seed potatoes in two varieties. As you might imagine, they were already considerably chitted. I have five each of Kestrel and Nicola, which have sat around in the shed awaiting my attentions (and becoming even more chitted into the bargain). Finally, I am pleased to say that my seed potatoes now nestle snugly in my new Dealz potato bags (€1.50 each). We have been able to use our own compost for some of our planting so far; with careful attention, I am hoping that our compost bin will yield a good supply this season. I do however have the perennial problem of an over abundance of eggshells in the mixture. Still, I suppose there are worse horticultural problems to have.

Look out for a further garden update soon, and do let us know how your garden grows…

Autumn Leaves: Putting the Garden to Bed…Again

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Yes, it is that time of year again. Time to empty out pots; lift and divide plants; prune hedges and shrubs and generally to do all of those little autumn gardening jobs that need doing before winter really takes hold. Moreover, let us not forget about endless sweeping up of fallen leaves. I have managed to assemble four large sacks of leaves so far. Casting an eye over both front and back gardens tells me that the whitebeam tree is now winter naked, but that the sycamore has yet a frustratingly leafy appearance. If I am being truly conscientious, I will wash out all of the plant pots and tubs ready for spring. Oh, and tidy the shed, throw out anything broken or unnecessary and put the garden furniture somewhere dry.

My autumn resolution (my own innovation) has been to make myself take advantage of every mild, dry hour to do odd jobs, because I know from experience that when the bad weather really sets in then I might not set foot in the garden for days (OK, weeks). So far, this is working out, which is just as well as I still have bulbs to plant out. I do also need to lift and divide the miniature strawberry plants that have expanded over the summer. You might recall from a previous post that I have divided and re-planted some large clumps of chives, now settled in nicely before the winter. Also remaining on the ‘to do list’ is to find a home for two pots of campanula, bought weeks ago (marked down to clear) at the Airfield Estate garden shop. I hope it isn’t too late to tuck them into the ground; ideally they will go into our bulb/wildflower patch to add some gorgeous purple tones.

Returning to the topic of fallen leaves, I have been checking on the state of the compost bin before I run out of steam with the advent of winter. Our compost is improving all the time, I am glad to say. I cannot say that we are up to Monty Don’s standard yet (and anyway he has a much bigger space to play with) but I am pleased that we have been able to use compost for at least some of our planting for the last couple of seasons. Some of the bagged up leaves will gradually make their way into my compost mix, while the rest will mulch down for spreading directly on the borders. I am even contemplating acquiring a second compost bin. Sometimes, I am not sure whether I look rather eccentric, earnestly giving my compost a stir round with a stout stick at regular intervals. As it seems to be working, I think I will just have to risk it!

One of the lovely things about the garden at this time of year is the colours of the seasonal berries adorning various shrubs. For practical reasons, my favourite of these are the rosehips. Once again, we are planning to make some rosehip and apple jelly so I have been risking scratches to gather in the harvest. If there is a plant not to trifle with, it’s a dog rose; it takes no prisoners. At present, the fruit safely tucked away in the freezer awaits a jelly-making session. Thinking ahead to summer colour, I am anxiously watching my young foxglove plants, hoping that they survive their first winter and then bloom next year. My final mention goes to the lavender plants. We have three now, and I trimmed the oldest one back recently. The saved lavender flowers are awaiting attention. If we can find some suitable fabric tucked away, then I will be sewing up lavender sachets for the linen trunk at some point. That sounds like a cosy occupation for those cold, wet winter days when my gardening mojo falls by the wayside.

How are your autumn tasks going? Do drop us a line.


Garden Diary Update: Hollyhocks and Chives

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I have just looked at our garden diary to refresh my memory for this garden blog post, only to be faced with a dreadful fact. Not to beat about the bush (no pun intended) I see that we haven’t written a single garden entry since December 2015. Haphazard we may often be at diary keeping, but eight months of no entries is hitting a new low even for us. As it happens, this hasn’t been our most industrious gardening season, but even so, you would be forgiven for thinking that we’ve done nowt this year to judge by the accusingly blank pages. Dear reader and garden lover, I promise you that we were not entirely idle this year; merely not as active in the compost as we usually like to be.

After a spring in which we didn’t manage to get any flower or vegetable seeds sown, we decided that this season we would effectively mark time. It was to be a year of maintaining, improving, dividing and re-planting before making fresh plans for next spring. There was even a foolish plan to clean and re-varnish the garden furniture. I have to confess directly that I have never even picked up a piece of sand paper. I have however, lifted and divided a patch of chives and attempted to do the same to some badly placed hollyhocks. The chives were very accommodating and fell in with my wishes, whereas the hollyhocks fought back resiliently. It may have been a mistake to attempt to move and divide them, but I initially planted them in the front of a border, where they are also struggling for headroom because of spreading tree branches. In short, to get the best out of the plants, a move was required.

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I raised hollyhock (Antwerp Mixed) seedlings in 2010 and bedded out the young plants the following year. The Mr Fothergill’s seed packet promised a variety of shades in pink and yellow flowers but I think I only ever had one pink shade, which was not robust and subsequently died. The single yellow shade is pretty and the flowers seem to be attractive to bees so I am anxious to keep hold of my home raised progeny. I decided to cut the stems down as far as possible, so that it would be easier to dig out the roots. At this stage of growth, I am not even sure whether I am trying to lift one large plant or multiple smaller ones. I encountered problems when starting to dig a trench around the hollyhock, when I found it hard to distinguish which roots belonged and which were spreading hedge roots. Either way, after much digging I could not find a way to release the plant(s) without damage. The result of my attempted hollyhock moving is that the original plants remain exactly where they were last year, having stubbornly refused to let go. They have even flowered, though admittedly not profusely.

Thus, I still have my original hollyhock in situ for another season, with the prospect of much more digging and disentangling of roots if I am ever going to move it. On the plus side, I now have several small plants from the off cuts, two of which I have settled into a spare patch in the border (suitably near the rear). All I can say is that hollyhocks are certainly tough customers and born survivors. This must be good news for our local bee population, along with the fact that my chives are proliferating madly and likely to take over the remainder of the garden. Bees seem to love the chive flowers so I never bother to remove them, as I believe you are supposed to do, so you have better flavour in the leaves. I have re-planted most of the divided chives in odd spaces that need filling. While doing that, I cut down many of the plants and have chopped and frozen chives leaves to use during the winter. We love doing scrambled eggs with chives; they are also nice in egg mayonnaise.

That’s all for now on the garden front; I still need to plant out a couple more hollyhock off-cuts and the remainder of the chive roots. I have made a gallery of what is growing now and will offer another garden update soon (I hope!).

How does your garden grow?


Garden Flowers: Almost Spring…Really!

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A lovely shade of blue

Surely, surely, it must start to feel like spring now that we have passed the vernal equinox on 21 March (I know the exact beginning of spring can be a contentious issue, so I won’t even go there). I admit that I am struggling to feel seasonally appropriate. Whether this is due to a lingering cold and cough or the annoyingly persistent gloomy grey skies that have out numbered the blues ones lately, I am unable to be sure. Suffice to say that although I have felt twinges of spring, I can’t say I that am whole heartedly into the new season yet. The result of this is that I have been struggling to find the motivation to go grubbing around in the garden. I have had a few cautious forays to inspect the signs of spring growth in the flowerbeds, but that’s about as far as my gardening activity has gone.

Having said all of that, we have both been trying to keep up with any tidying jobs that need doing over the autumn and winter. I did promise myself that I would stop being a fare-season gardener and ensure that everything didn’t go to rack and ruin over the winter. I am not sure that I have entirely succeeded in my aim, but I have been outside on the brighter days, if only to rake up leaves and poke around in the compost bin. I can comfort myself with the knowledge that we did put the garden reasonably well to bed in the autumn, so we are not faced with too much debris from last year, as we have been in the past. Usually, I really have to fight against running out of steam come September and simply letting everything slide into decay and disorder. That creates a daunting start to the new season. In addition, my ideal would be start sowing seeds very early, to get a good start on the growing season. Well, maybe next year for that…

tulip buds

Still green…

In previous Curiously, Creatively posts, I have written about our seed stock and our plans for the growing season, but implementing these ideas has been slow so far. There are foxglove plants waiting in the shelter of the potting shed, ready to go outside, so that really should be a first task. I hope that the Easter break proves to be mild enough to inspire me to get a few jobs done outside. On present showing, that is not looking very likely. Maybe I will just have to gird my loins and brave some inclement weather. However, I think that I will need to harden off the foxgloves before risking planting them outside. The shed isn’t heated, but even so, I don’t want to risk too abrupt a change in temperature for the small plants. I am quite excited about the prospect of having foxgloves as it’s taken me years to get around to growing some.

Foxglove Seedlings

Ready to plant out soon

Elsewhere in the garden, the tulips are coming up, though they are not yet blooming and the primroses look pretty. The long green leaves of bluebells are in evidence and the anemones are a delicately encouraging sign of things to come. The ever busy forget-me-nots are popping up in places where I am fairly sure they weren’t in evidence last year. Once you have them, they do tend to take over any available space. I did put up some spring photographs last year, so I have only added a couple more here rather than repeat too much. As usual our daffodils seem to be slower than everyone else’s, so I persist in thinking that spring isn’t truly here until my jolly yellow blooms are showing.

How does your garden grow? Do let us know.


Creative Uses for Fruit Boxes

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As I was picking up a few groceries in Lidl the other day, I noticed that someone had abandoned a small wooden crate that had previously contained oranges. Clearly, an over burdened customer didn’t want to take the empty box home and had thoughtfully left it for someone else to clear away. The more I looked at it, the more I felt that surely I could find a use for the orange box. Then, I realised what stray thought had prompted my musing. When I was a child, my dad made me a dolls’ bed from a similar wooden fruit box, donated by the local greengrocer.

Fruit Box

Waiting for inspiration to strike…

Sadly, I no longer have the bed, but I can still picture it to myself (that is, if my memory serves me correctly). Dad made the bed as a divan style, putting padding on the top of the box and tacking (striped ?) fabric over it to form the mattress. I think he made a padded headboard too. With a pillow, sheet and a blanket my dolls must have been quite comfortable. Though I am almost sure that at some point the bed ended up being used as something else entirely (turned upside down, it could have been a boat). Anyway, I think that dolls’ bed transformation was doing up-cycling before it was even called up-cycling and it became a fashionable thing to do.

Now, I am trying to come up with an idea to use my ill-gotten gain from the supermarket. I have even considered lugging a full box of oranges home on the bus so that I have another box to incorporate into some grand creative plan. One of my ideas (apart from making my own dolls’ bed) is to make some sort of outdoor planter for the spring. With a good coat of exterior paint or varnish, this type of wooden box could make a great herb planter for instance. If I painted some up, they would complement Verity’s painted pallets very nicely. You could get quite arty with the decoration, perhaps painting ‘parsley’, ‘mint’ etc. and painting leaves and flowers. I can see another excuse to buy an assortment of match pots in all the colours of the rainbow.

My other idea, again by adding at least one more crate, is to make a vegetable storage structure. These boxes are stackable, so you could store potatoes in one box, green stuff in another and so on. A bit of fancy painting, and there you are. In fact they would make great storage towers for all sorts of items. Of course, on the other hand I could simply break the box up for kindling…what do you think folks?

More Fruit Boxes

And then there was three…

UPDATE: I now have three boxes to use, since I found two more on a trip to yet another branch of Lidl (I do occasionally shop elsewhere you know!).  At present, they are stored in the shed, waiting  for my inspiration to strike. I can see them as I look through the kitchen window, so there is no escaping the task ahead….


Spring Seed Sowing Plans

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Seed packets

Seeds Galore…

As I type this seasonal piece, the sun is busy shining brightly, bringing me optimistic thoughts of the coming spring (it’s still warmer inside than outside though). Once we get past Christmas, I begin to anticipate lighter evenings, buds coming on the trees and bulbs poking green shoots through the chilly earth. Accompanying these spring dreams, I have thoughts of seeds and seasonal sowing plans. We will be raising a mixture of bought and saved seeds; some of the bought seeds are new and some left over from last year that it seems a pity to waste.

To look at the saved seeds first: our biggest seed haul by far is from our chive plants (bottom right) closely followed by the Welsh poppies (tin on the bottom left). Mostly we scatter the poppy seeds around areas that need a bit of brightening up, rather than save them to cultivate in trays. Similarly, with the chives, we have strewn the seeds in patches where the purple flowers would be a welcome addition rather than sow them indoors. However, as you can see from the photograph, we still have plenty left. The other seeds are wallflower seeds (top right) which I have never tried to grow before, and the seeds of a tall purple flowered plant that we like, but can’t identify (top left hand dish).

Saved Seeds

An abundant seed supply!

After an audit of the unused seeds from last year, we have discovered that as usual some seed packets have gone past their ‘best before’ date. As I can’t bear to give up on them completely, I usually tip them out in a corner somewhere in case they do actually germinate. This year, I have found two packets drastically out of date, having a ‘best before’ of 2014. Several sachets are dated 2015, but I think I will chance those and the remaining seeds packets carry an expiry date of 2016. As you can see, we have plenty to sow if the weather ever warms up enough to start planting. I know spring really will come again, but it just doesn’t feel like it when my toes are cold, (as Piglet might have said if he was a gardener).

Perennial Sweet Pea packet

Everlasting Mixed

In the new seeds category comes a packet of perpetual sweet peas, a Thompson and Morgan variety bought from the great range at Mr Middleton’s in Dublin city centre. We have long admired some perennial sweet peas in a garden near our house, which climb through the hedges every year in a very attractive way. Apparently, this variety has no scent so there will be a downside to growing a perennial. I think we will probably buy a scented annual variety (we had a spencer mixed last year) to plant in between. When I look at the range of flower seeds available in the shops, my fingers begin to itch with the growing possibilities. As I mentioned in a previous post, we are trying to make the garden as bee friendly as we can. A good excuse for buying more flower seeds methinks!

What seeds are you planning on growing this year? Do let us know.

The Bees Knees

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There has been much in the news lately about how important bees are to our ecosystem and what gardeners can do to encourage bees (for example this recent article from The Journal.) I have always loved to hear the buzz of bees on a summer’s day (and I am a great honey lover) but of course the important aspect of bee activity is in pollinating plants so that we continue to have food to eat. Bearing that in mind, here at Curiously, Creatively we have been gradually working on ensuring that the garden pulls its weight on the bee supporting front. Our aim is to have a garden where virtually every plant is bee friendly.

Many plants loved by bees are great favourites of ours anyway, so we were able to get off to great start with our good intentions. One of our very favourite summer flowers is lavender, of which we now have two plants, one from 2009 with a second specimen planted last year. I can’t find a note on the varieties but I think the first one was ‘Hidcote’ and the second was ‘Butterfly Lavender’. As you will know, our stripy friends are very fond of lavender too, so there is a great deal of gentle buzzing going on chez nous in the summer months. There is something wonderfully relaxing in hearing the sound of that industrious nectar gathering.

I recently came across an Irish Times article on bees’ needs by Jane Powers (2010) that I had stuck into the Garden Diary for inspiration. Jane Powers’ article (Gardens for Busy Bees) suggests a list of plants suitable for honeybees and bumblebees, as they having slightly different needs. What I didn’t realise was that bumblebees have longer tongues, so flowers suitable for them might not be so good for honey bees. In this category comes the foxglove, a plant that I have long meant to have a go at raising. We are nursing along some seedlings, started off in the summer so I hope to have plants established next season. We will let you know how we get on with the foxglove project. Another project to talk about another time (and also a bee related exercise) is seed saving and even a little seed scavenging, to expand our plant stock.

To tide us over until next year’s blooms, we took pictures of some of our burgeoning stocks of bee friendly plants. These snaps were taken in the autumn, so it was nice to see have the colour right into the gloomy wet weather. You might even spot the odd bee…

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Despite the miserable weather, we are trying to be good gardeners over the winter so keep an eye out for some winter gardening posts (we hope!) Meanwhile, please do let us know what you’ve been up to this autumn…

Picture Credits: Verity

Let’s Talk about Compost…

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Compost may seem to be a strange subject about which to write a blog post; but it is a subject that has frequently occupied my mind. I am not, I hasten to add, a compost expert, but it is something that I have been trying to learn a little more about so that I can improve the crops in the pots. In truth, my approach to compost has always been somewhat less than scientific; more akin to making it up as I go along and hoping for the best. I usually reason that most things will break down eventually, at some point giving me something more or less resembling compost. I am here to inform you that system only works up to a point. I do need to plan and manage what goes into the compost bin more than I have been doing up till now.

The Rotters Guide

Useful Hints and Tips

To give us some compost inspiration, we have the Rotters Guide Compost Chart (courtesy of ENFO and Wicklow County Council) stuck up on the kitchen wall. As you can see from the illustration, it is a basic, but very handy guide for what to put and what not to put in your compost bin. As I am now reading this properly for the first time in a while, I might be encouraged to add a little more variety to my usual compost concoction. For instance, it never occurs to me to put the vacuum bag and its contents in the compost bin. We have been putting extra coffee grounds into the mix lately, due to the fact so many cafes are now environmentally aware enough to leave bags of grounds out for people to take. Eggshells, I find rather vexing, as they really need a thorough crushing to ensure that they mix in and break down properly.

I have also been consulting my copy of the RHS book Nature’s Gardener: How to Garden in the 21st Century by Matthew Wilson (Mitchell Beazley, 2007, 2011). Compost is obviously very dear to Wilson’s heart, as he starts the relevant chapter thus:

Successful composting constitutes one of life’s unsung pleasures. Taking raw waste material and turning it into the stuff from which plants grow is tremendously satisfying. Some of my happiest moments have been spent sniffing handfuls of sweet-smelling compost (I really should get out more). Compost is, after all, one of the oldest means of recycling.

He then goes on to point out that, ‘The key to good composting is to understand how the raw ingredients are broken down and to manage the way these ingredients are mixed and added’. This compost management is where I have gone wrong before (see above) though I am now trying to balance the leaves, grass cuttings and kitchen waste more than I did formerly. The Rotters Guide colour code differentiates between brown and green ingredients, which is useful. I have concluded that if I treat mixing compost in the same way that I would a cake, then I will be on the right track.

Nature's Gardener

RHS & Mitchell Beazley

We relocated the compost bin (one of those bottomless green plastic bins with a lid) to a warmer spot the year before last, which was a great improvement. The change in location has meant that much more heat is generated which speeds the process along. I have made more effort to shred the ingredients (both woody items and vegetable waste) and to give the mixture a regular turnover. The reward has been an abundance of busy worms in the bin and more promising results. I probably need to be more patient however because I tend to keep anxiously checking the progress of the concoction. Much like peering into the oven too soon, this probably achieves very little.

One of last year’s successes was putting leaves in bags to make leaf mould. Matthew Wilson suggests using black bags, which we have tried previously. What we have found works well are old mail bags (salvaged and re-purposed), which let the air in without the need for punching holes in the bags. So far, I have used some to put on top of pots and beds to help retain moisture. I will also probably use some in the compost bin. Meanwhile, we have also discovered that the bags of leaves give the lightweight mini greenhouse some useful ballast in windy weather!

My only problem now is how to get rid of the cloud of annoying tiny flies in the top of the bin. Any suggestions?

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