Not Just the Plants that Grow

My wife is very proud of her ‘butterfly flowers’ in our front garden this year (photo above). There are over 50 species of butterfly found in the UK, but unfortunately many are becoming quite rare. There are a wide range of flowers and shrubs you can plant that will help attract butterflies to your garden, including buddleia, lavender and many other flowers. I’ve also discovered that broccoli and cabbages work well, but that’s another story !

When we think about biodiversity, we often automatically think of exotic rainforests or other far off habitats, and we can fall into the trap of not valuing our own surroundings and wildlife the same way. We should all bear in mind the old environmental mantra of ‘thinking global, acting local’, and ensure our local wildlife is also receiving our best attention. Whether you have a large or small garden, or even just a window box, there is much we can do to help our local wildlife.

Attracting more insects into our gardens will usually benefit both larger wildlife, such as birds, bats and hedgehogs, and also improve the pollination of plants. Many insects like hover-flies and ladybirds will also help keep pest insect numbers down.

The photo above is our newly painted insect box – it’s easy to make your own from a few short pieces of bamboo cane – a possible summer project for the kids !

Much as I like butterflies, I’ve netted the brassicas recently in an attempt to keep the caterpillars off. Having to make a small pile of steamed caterpillars on your plate really detracts from the taste of your home-grown broccoli.

Overall all the vegetables and fruits are all doing well this year – we’ve had huge crops of plums, gooseberries, raspberries and onions. The runner and green beans are also picking-up after a slow start.

I’m trying to improve my year-round cultivation, and have recently started planting follow-on crops for harvest in the winter and early spring. A lot of gardeners, me included, sometimes neglect winter harvesting crops, concentrating mainly on spring planting and summer & autumn harvesting, but there’s plenty of veg we can still plant in mid summer for later in the year: beetroot, chicory, winter onions, lettuce, radish, chard and winter maturing potatoes.

The easiest way for most of us to increase the productivity of our vegetable gardens is to improve our rotation and successional planting and keep our gardens productive for more of the year. This is very new territory for me, so I’ll let you know how I get on.

Our three new chickens are settling in well, and the two older birds (a White Leghorn and a Rhode Island Red) have now started laying regularly. Hopefully the younger Cream Legbar won’t be far behind.

I built quite a large coop and henhouse in the garden a few years ago, for our first set of birds, and it’s lasted well. Chicken runs can be pretty much any size though, and keeping a small number of birds in urban settings is becoming increasingly popular. We’ve found keeping chickens very rewarding, enjoying the birds as part of the garden, as well as the eggs they produce. A large range of advice can be found online, if your’e thinking of starting a flock, including excellent advice from the Government.

I initially decided against buying a purpose-built henhouse and simply bought a small wooden lean-to shed instead, which I modified a little. This has proved pretty successful and popular with the birds. We did add a stand-alone wooden henhouse later when we added a second group of birds, so they could roost separately if they wished, but in fact they never did. We keep the birds supplied with clean straw and some sawdust, which serves as bedding in the winter, but also makes ‘mucking-out’ easier throughout the year. We feed them organic layers pellets or maize, as well as most of our non-meat kitchen scraps. In return we should get on average two eggs a day from our three birds throughout most of the year.

And as for the chicken manure – all I’ll say is: great in the compost, not so great on the lawn  :)

“When gardeners garden, it is not just plants that grow, but the gardeners themselves.” – KEN DRUSE

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