By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener It has been a very wet February in The Wildlife Garden. The upside of this was a letter from Sutton and East Surrey Water telling us that the drought is officially over and we can now use our hosepipes. The downside is that the gutters, blocked with oak leaves, are overflowing all down the house and the veg patch has been far too wet to dig. Ideally, soil should be rough-dug the in the autumn to allow the winter cold to break down the clods. Because we moved into the house just before Christmas, we have to dig in the spring. Tempting though it may be to dig very wet soil, don’t ” you’ll compact it and spoil the structure. Far better to wait for it to dry out while you start seeds off under glass and dig the ground as and when you need it, which is what we’ll do this year. Doves In Love The twitching has, if anything, become much worse this month. The lardy bird cake proved a huge hit and robins loiter around the back door first thing in the morning asking for their scraps.
We’ve also got a bit emotionally involved. A pair of collared doves became such regular visitors that my daughter christened them Peace and Goodwill (from Dick King-Smith’s novel Noah’s Brother): always together, charming with their uninhibited displays of lovey-doveyness, mutual grooming, nibbling, head rubbing, and general snuggling up. We looked forward to squabby little Peaces and Goodwills come early summer. And then one day there was one. Goodwill is a solitary figure, sitting forlornly fluffed up on a trellis oblivious as torrential rain pours down upon him. What has happened to the other dove? A cat? Magpie? Sparrowhawk? Maybe, just maybe, sitting on a nest of eggs somewhere. But I doubt it. P&G spent more time canoodling than picking up twigs and straws to make a nest. Watch this space. Perhaps, as in Noah’s Brother, Peace will return before the next bulletin. If it carries on raining like this she will be bringing an olive twig. One bird down, (two if you count last month’s dead blackbird, happily not a victim of H5N1) but many more have appeared to join the astonishing throng: four long-tailed tits, a greenfinch, a wren, some sort of fast-moving brown raptor and a fieldfare (pictured) – the first one I have seen for many years – joined the nuthatches and greater spotted woodpecker. I can guarantee seeing a green woodpecker on my daily drive through Broadham Green about midday. How on earth does it tell the time? It’s gone by 12.30. Arsenic and Old Lacewings A familiar cry in our household is “You’ve just drowned another polar bear” as I continue my campaign to make everyone switch off lights in unused rooms. It has now been joined by “You’ve just drowned another lacewing” when we forget to put the toilet lid down and some of the dozens of hibernating green lacewings that choose to overwinter in our upstairs loo fall in. Green Lacewings (Chrysoperla carnea) are fabulous, voracious creatures to have in your garden. Females lay about 300 eggs, and each lacewing larva (which looks a bit like a ladybird larva, but bristlier) eats up to 10,000 aphid pests in its lifetime. You can buy lacewing hotels from garden centres, or even better, make one by cutting the bottom off a plastic bottle, loosely roll up some corrugated cardboard inside it, secure the cardboard with some wire pushed through the middle of the bottle and hang the bottle horizontally in late August. Green lacewings are the only ones of the three British species to survive the winter as adults. And survive they do, in our upstairs toilet, until they fall in and drown. What A Lot Of Rubbish I was thinking the other day about a trip I made with my dear friend Sara to Sudan twenty years ago. In Omdurman market, traders were selling and people were buying kitchen implements made from food or oil cans, table mats made from UN aid sacks, and measuring jugs made from sawn-off plastic milk cartons. Everything that could be used, recycled and sold had a second incarnation. As I put another plastic milk carton in the bin (our council doesn’t yet recycle plastics ” boo Tandridge!) I decided to make a very conscious effort to “refuse, reduce and recycle” and slim the D’Alessandro dustbin. My aim is to put out no more than 1 black bin bag per week for our family of four, and try to get it down to a half. I’ll report how we are getting on in the monthly bulletin, but this is what I am doing:
- Getting the milkman to deliver the milk. Keeps a local business going, no more plastic bottles. Remember the satisfaction of popping off those foil caps with your thumb? You’re worth it.
- Shopping at the local farm shop. Lots of lovely brown paper bags to put in the compost as dry material, or in the First Aid box in case someone starts hyperventilating. Save the plants, save a life
- Shopping at local shops in general. Most products come home in a simple waxed paper or a polythene bag, and you can refuse the carrier bag in favour of your own Fairtrade raw hemp handwoven shopping bag
- Leftover food (not a very likely contingency in our house): the cooked stuff goes out on the bird table (which then causes me to stand around for an hour watching what comes to eat it), the raw stuff straight into the compost bin. See my treatise on composting in my earlier incarnation as The Urban Gardener
- Trying to buy food in recyclable containers ” ketchup in glass bottles, not squeezy plastic ones (unless your council is more enlightened than boo! Tandridge and collects plastic)
- Every scrap of paper goes in the recycling. Egg boxes go in the compost, or to make crocodiles.
- Beat Fraud! By composting your shredded bank statements. Nobody will want to try to piece them back together once the worms and maggots have been at them.
Not the Veg News No vegetables have yet been planted up in the greenhouse because of the cold night temperatures. Because many of our seeds are heritage varieties from the Henry Doubleday Research Association, we don’t get many of each variety, and I would hate them to fail because of too early planting. How sad would it be for a tray of “Cherokee Trail of Tears” beans (originally carried by the Cherokee Native Americans on their forced march to exile in the nineteenth century) to suffer wet rot and die in Surrey? The Wildlife Garden Notebook for February/March
Bird species seen this month Blackbird, songthrush, robin, collared dove, wood pigeon, tits: blue, great, coal and long-tailed, chaffinch, greenfinch, hedge-sparrow, jackdaw, magpie, jay, wren, nuthatch, woodpeckers: green and greater spotted, fieldfare Mammal species seen this month Fox, grey squirrel, dead badger on A22 Insect species seen this month A single tortoiseshell butterfly, green lacewings, possibly a harlequin ladybird Garden Plant species in evidence Snowdrops, crocuses, primrose, hellebore Vegetables Glasshouse planting starts this month! No of bin bags this month 4, but working on it As I write this, the rain is still slashing down. Happy ark-building! Ruth D’Alessandro