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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Waking Up is Hard to Do

Guest post by Steph Best – wildlife hospital and rehabilitation volunteer with Vale animal Hospital

One of the most recognisable and pleasing noises you can hear at dusk in your garden, is the snuffling and rustling of Hedgehogs. Often you can catch glimpses of them as they forage under bushes and scurry through the flower beds, eating spiders, snails, and any other tasty morsels they deem worthy.

When they first emerge from hibernation in the spring, having snoozed away the cold winter months, they simply want to eat to fill up their fat reserves and start looking for romance!

Unfortunately every year some are not so lucky. During our hotter, longer summers many hedgehogs have a second litter of Hoglets in the autumn. These babies struggle to reach the 600g weight needed to survive the winter and as a result hedgehog carers, myself included, and wildlife hospitals sometimes receive an influx of autumn juveniles, brought in by concerned members of the public. Last year Evesham’s Vale Wildlife Hospital had over ninety hoglets due for release in the spring.

I started caring for Hedgehogs a couple of years ago after finding two Hoglets wandering around a relative’s garden. My wildlife hobby soon developed and took me to the Vale Wildlife Hospital where I began training in Wildlife care and rehabilitation. I now also enjoy doing a range of talks and school visits, educating adults and children in wildlife care, supported by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. The Vale has an open day every year, and is well worth a visit to see what they actually do.

Hedgehogs were added to the ‘species in need of protection’ list recently, but many wildlife carers believe that they should have made the Endangered Species List. Sadly humans are once again the main cause, with habitat loss, road accidents, litter, enclosed gardens and netting, bonfires, and accidents with lawn mowers.

Many people are already Hedgehog aware, and leave out food and provide shelter for them. TV programs such as ‘Autumn and Spring Watch’ have also helped popularise wildlife awareness. This is a lovely time of year to look out for and enjoy our wildlife. Hoglets usually start to appear from May onwards, and you could well have several different Hedgehogs visiting your garden each night. They can wander up to two miles in an evening, visiting ten or more gardens looking for food and love.

There are several ways you can encourage Hedgehogs in your garden:

  • Regularly put out meat based pet foods and plenty of water in shallow dishes, or on old dinner plates, which are perfect.
  • Contrary to what many people believe hedgehogs should not be given milk to drink, as they cannot digest lactose and can become very ill. Bread is also not recommended as it can cause digestive clogging.
  • You can add to their natural diet by giving fruit, unsalted nuts, scrambled egg, meat left-over’s (cut up small), and some cat or dog biscuits. They should not be fed fish, however, or pork products or other salty foods.
  • You can make a feeding station by putting the food under a wooden board up on bricks, low enough for a Hedgehog to get under or get a plastic storage box, 30cm by 45cm, cut a door way in the shorter side, 10cm square; tape up the edges of the doorway, line it with newspaper, and place the food and water inside towards the back of the box, shut the lid to keep thieving cats away. Place the box in a sheltered area of your garden where there is any evidence of hedgehogs visiting.
  • Create a daytime sleeping place for hedgehogs by putting straw or shredded newspaper in a medium sized box, under a sheltered spot, cover the top with some plastic to keep it dry.
  • Keep garden netting and sports netting up off the ground by at least 1ft, to avoid causing strangulation injuries to tangled hedgehogs.
  • Cover drains, and check compost heaps before sticking a fork or spade in, and thoroughly check bonfires before lighting. Many Hedgehogs die this time of year because they sleep in piles of dried garden refuse ready burning. If you find a Hedgehog move it to a safer quiet place in the garden.
  • When mowing or strimming areas of long grass, or undergrowth check for Hedgehogs who could be asleep. Carers and Wildlife Sanctuaries have seen a big increase in horrific injuries caused by strimmers.
  • If you use slug pellets, please buy organic varieties, which are animal friendly and widely available at garden centres, or use some of the brilliant alternatives, such as nematodes, copper tape, egg shells and beer traps.
  • If you have an enclosed garden, make a small gap under a fence to encourage Hedgehogs.
  • Don’t let your dog ‘play’ with a hedgehog in the garden, as the Hedgehog may die from shock. Move it to a quieter area of the garden where the dog can’t get to it, and distract your dog by playing with its favourite toy.
  • If you see a Hedgehog out during the day, it will need help. They never come out in daylight unless disturbed or ill. If you’re worried a Hedgehog is ill, injured, or abandoned by its mum, put it in a warm place wrapped in an old towel, offer it cat/dog food and water and ring a carer or the BHPS for advice.
  • Never disturb a nest, especially in the evening the mother generally won’t be far away and could abandon the babies if scared.

Making a few changes and adapting our gardens to help wildlife may seem small in scale, but will have a large impact overall. Hedgehogs are such a pleasure to see in our gardens and have been an inspiration for stories passed down the generations – I still have my very first copy of Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Tiggywinkle.

Hopefully with our help they can thrive and inspire more stories for years to come.

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society

The Vale Wildlife Hospital & Rehabilitation Centre

Photos by Steph Best