The Garden of Birdly Delights

The sparrows like to eat my Swiss rainbow chard so much, in the end I decided to leave out their own special supply. It did have beautifully lush green leaves and colourful stalks, but now it’s just… stalks.

Chard is a cut-and-come-again veg, but I think I’m going to have to hide it for a bit to give it a fighting chance of coming again at all. At this rate though, we’re going to have the healthiest sparrows in the land.

It was only a few days ago that the chard still had leaves…

While I had my telephoto zoom lens out, catching them in the act no less, instead of having lunch some of the flock decided it was bath time. I’ve seen this behaviour before but until now I didn’t have my camera handy.

One juvenile starling will start having a good ole splash about, then everyone wants a bit of the action.

Our garden birds are healthy and clean.

Going back to chard, last week I was able to really start munching on my own produce. I started growing chard simply because it’s easy and generally problem free (unless you have clean eating sparrows), but I didn’t have any particular desire to eat it. But eat it I did, and it’s rather nice. A similar taste to spinach.

I also tried my first bit of homegrown kale, which wasn’t much (it’s very popular with the caterpillars) but was absolutely delicious. I’ll really try to ramp up my supply next year as it’s something I generally eat a lot of.

On this occasion I very narrowly avoided eating the worlds’ smallest omelette.

Last week’s most exciting development though was the potatoes! I have no idea when I actually planted a few old potatoes that were growing eyes in the cupboard, so I had no idea when they would be ready to harvest. Not much to do rather than dig around and have a look, then. This is what I found.

I haven’t a clue what variety they are, because I hadn’t decided to label anything at the time. More recently I started labelling and dating everything, so I shouldn’t have the same problem in future.

A friend pointed out they look like they came straight from a Tesco bag, which was surprisingly on the money.

If I remember rightly I did indeed get this hessian bag from Tesco’s.

They were really tasty taters, despite me taking my eye off the pan and boiling them to within an inch of their lives. This week I will plant Charlotte potatoes that should be ready to harvest around Christmas.

Despite having a great start (this shows them from the beginning of April to last week) my squash seems to have stalled. I’ve had buds for ages but no flowers, so I’m thinking they grew too much foliage instead of the energy going into fruiting.

I’ll be patient and see what transpires though – at the end of the day they were grown from seeds I took from a squash I ate, so I’m not losing anything if they all fail. In any case, I just love them as a plant. Check out this gorgeous tendril in the evening light.

Best of all though, oh yes definitely best of all… this week MY TOMATOES HAVE TOMATOES!!!

I started noticing them yesterday and I could not be happier. I planted them much later than is advised, so I was happy enough just to get flowers. To see the fruit though! I had a count up and I have a total of 46 tomato plants that have flowered, so even if I only get one tomato from each plant, that alone would be ace. As things stand, it’s a good job I bloody love tomatoes!

Again, I’m not sure about the varieties. I think I grew five different kinds, 2 from bought seeds and 3 kinds that came from supermarket tomatoes. It’ll be lots of fun finding out, whilst in the meantime every week I buy different tomatoes to eat and put aside some seeds for next year. Until I get my first harvest that is.

Although I’ve already learned so much about gardening, now I’m learning to be patient. It’s not something I’ve had much success with in the past, however yesterday I sowed some seeds that are going to really put me to the test.

They’re Japanese maple (acer) seeds, and first of all you have to soak them for 24 hours. Normally even that would put me off.

Anyway, stage one is complete. Next, they go in the fridge for 2-4 months, to make them think it’s been winter. It might work, it might not. If not, back in the fridge they go.

It could be a full TWO YEARS before they germinate. Please, don’t hold your breath for updates on this one!

Whilst I could go on about the garden indefinitely , there’s stuff to be done. Including gardening stuff.

Who would have guessed?

Thanks for reading,

Hayley x

Me and my Squash

It’s all been happening here, I hardly know where to begin! The garden continues to be the gift that keeps on giving, and it has genuinely burst into life over the last few weeks. Considering that apart what’s currently in a greenhouse and cold frame I haven’t added any plants to the garden, it’s looking remarkably lovely.

I started to dig out a little patch at the bottom of the garden for growing some veg soon, and the sparrows have absolutely LOVED it. Where I’ve turned over the earth they have feasted on the worms and grubs I revealed, but also (and this is crazy cute) they’ve been taking dust baths in the soil. I managed to capture it on the wildlife cam.

They have been driving my mum a little bit potty, because although I’ve spotted them feeding their fledgelings and teaching them how to forage by themselves, they are already getting ready for the next brood. These randy sparrows are extremely noisy, but it’s worth it because one couple have just moved into one of our nest boxes. Every day I look out the window to see them collecting more nesting material.

Another thing that has become part of my daily routine is filling up an old dustbin lid with water, as that’s where they like to drink and bathe. It’s funny how my life is currently revolving around several different animals – the evening routine involves religiously feeding our new resident hedgehog.

We have named him Wonder, because I think he might just be blind. He lets me get very close to him even in daylight but if I make a noise he will run away. Now I’ve discovered this I feed him and leave him alone, and I’m glad he found our little house. He comes out like clockwork and doesn’t even wait a whole minute after I’ve put the food out before he starts eating his dinner.

We’ve had aquilegias in our garden for years and they have been self-seeding of their own accord without us having to do anything. This is what a normal single aquilegia looks like:

But these are some of the more exciting ones I’ve been discovering:

Lockdown rules are starting to be relaxed in the UK, which for the most part I think is a huge mistake, however after a lot of thought we decided that it was time for my sister to come and visit. She stayed in the garden the whole time, and it was like the intervening two months never happened.

Of course she brought the marvellous Newton with her, and he has changed quite a bit! He’s pretty much fully grown now and he’s a lot more muscular, but also he has calmed down a lot. He’s not quite the boisterous puppy we saw last, but he’s still perfect in every way.

He very helpfully ‘watered’ the poppies for me (thanks dude) and also helped me eat my strawberries.

He takes things from you so gently, it’s absolutely adorable. I don’t think it’s possible for a dog to be more loved than this guy.

As for the things I’ve been growing, it’s been mostly successful so far. Everything in a pot seems to be doing really well even though I’ve had to improvise. I have stuff growing in old food packaging like tomato trays, plastic bottles and coconut milk cartons. Everything I’ve directly sown into the ground however has been immediately eaten by slugs before it even got going, so I’m waiting on a delivery of nematodes before I plant out my veg.

Nematodes are microscopic worms that aren’t harmful to humans, pets or wildlife, and might give my corn, beetroot, carrots, rocket, cauliflower, chard, four different varieties of tomatoes, chillies and various flowers a fighting chance. The thing I’m most excited about though, is my butternut squash.

When I last ate a squash I just threw a few seeds into a container with some compost and hoped for the best, even though you are supposed to dry out the seeds first. I just thought I’d see what would happen as an experiment, and this is what I found.

This was one squash plant at the beginning of May:

This is the very same plant today:

I’m completely invested in this plant now and rather than just sitting back and seeing what happens, I’m doing my best to look after it properly and hopefully I’ll get a harvest from it in the autumn. So exciting!

I think it’s nap time now as I have to go back to work on the 16th of June. I’m slowly, slowly working on switching my body clock back to nights mode. On the one hand, boooooo, work. But on the other, yay, naps!

Gotta keep focusing on the positives.

Thanks for reading,

Hayley x

Manual Labour

Another day, another opportunity to get out there and enjoy the garden. Yesterday it was raining most of the time, and I can’t even remember why I went out at all to be honest. What I ended up doing was weeding a little section of the garden and transplanting some wildflowers that were spreading over the grass. It’s nice to just do whatever I feel like doing at the time.

I don’t know if the transplants will work, but I thought it was a much better idea than just mowing over them. Hopefully they’ll stay healthy. I’ve also created some space to put out the plant babies when they’re ready, though I don’t think they’re quite there yet. Even so, my hand may soon be forced as I have way too many per pot and nowhere to put them. It’s fun not knowing what the hell you’re doing!

I didn’t take a before picture, and since it was in such a terrible state it’s one area I tend to avoid when I have my camera out. Once I had started I was in my happy place and forgot all about it. Here’s the after picture anyway:

After I took this picture and went indoors for a nice shower, we only went and had a poxy hail storm. I timed that just right, because although I stayed out when it was raining I draw the line at hail. Luckily it didn’t seem to harm the plants.

My task for today was to give the pampas grass a haircut, but I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. The garden has just been going wild for the last few years without any intervention from us apart from cutting the grass from time to time when absolutely necessary, and the last time I even went near the pampas was to photograph a fly five years ago.

There are a couple of viable options with a pampas grass. You can cut it right back till it’s just a stump, but now is the wrong time to do that. Or, you can set it on fire. I decided to give that one a miss. Before I started it looked like this:

I thought it would be a case of pulling out the old stalky bits from the top (technical term) and yanking out a few of the dead… leaves? The dangly bits, anyway. But when I got right into it, I saw that were a lot more dead dangly bits than I thought.

The pampas grass should be renamed the Tardis grass.

That’s not even all of it! It’s also razor sharp and the seeds are all fluffy so I’ve been sneezing like mad since I stopped. Now I’m learning about these things, it should never get that bad again. So that’s something. When it’s the proper time, it’s not just getting a haircut, it’s getting shaved.

There have been some developments as far as the wildlife cam goes. You can get up to ten different hedgehogs visiting your garden every night, but I now know for sure the little chap/chapette visiting us every night is the same one. I suspected our little friend has a leg missing, but I wasn’t sure whether or not it was just hidden in his underfluffies. After reviewing around 3 hours of footage (so far) I can now say for sure he (I’m also around 60% sure it’s a boy) only has the three legs.

A friend of mine suggested a great name for him, so henceforth he shall be known as Tripod. He seems really well adapted and he’s obviously getting along just fine, but yesterday night he had an itch that he just couldn’t scratch. If I didn’t think it would be scary and stressful for him I’d be tempted to catch him, but since he’s seems happy and healthy enough I’ll just leave him be.

I almost forgot to feed him last night but remembered just before going to bed. When I checked the camera in the morning it showed he had appeared a mere four minutes after I put the kibble out. He must have been waiting!

We’ve so far had an appearance two nights running from what I believe to be a field mouse, but on the second night it came too late and there was nothing left. It’s name is Dangermouse.

Last night we had what is possibly a house mouse, but I don’t know enough about these things to be sure. The field mouse has longer legs, and is much more nervous. And fast, too! This one, as yet unnamed, seemed much more relaxed.

The final species was our neighbour’s cat. I’m so glad it didn’t eat any of my new friends, both of which visited again after it had gone. Nothing will come between them and Hoggy Crunch, it seems.

Yesterday I found a wildflower which I think may be a common vetch. Or perhaps a spring vetch. Either way it’s delicate and pretty. Once I spotted that one I found three others, and avoided doing any more gardening around that spot. I’ll keep an eye out for when the seed pods are ready and we’ll hopefully have loads more next year.

Finally, I saw my first ever brimstone moth today after my bright gloves confused it.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I FLIPPING LOVE OUR GARDEN! I love the physical work, which completely takes me out of myself while I’m doing it, almost like meditation.

Simply marvellous.

Thanks for reading,

Hayley x

A New Normal

Waking up is becoming less of an ordeal. I remember when I was a kid and everything was up in the air (parents divorcing, moving houses, that kind of stuff) I’d wake up each day with an instant feeling of unease. It takes a while to talk yourself out of it – you tell yourself that you’re safe, get grounded again and carry on.

As I get used to this new version of what normal life is, the unease is slowly dissipating. Still though, nothing remains simple.

My anchor at the moment is still Slimming World. When all this started I lost my appetite, and although it’s coming back in full force I just cannot let myself slip this time. Believe me, I’ve thought about it. I’ve imagined the moment where I eat something purely for comfort, and then I imagine… what next? It only works when there is an unlimited supply of food, and I can’t just jump into the car and pop to the 24 hour Tesco.

There’s only one possible outcome – I’ll end up feeling worse than I did to begin with either through guilt, or because I can’t get enough junk food to keep the high going. Or both, come to think of it.

As it is, food and diet is how I organise my day. Getting up is always nice because there’s the first coffee of the day. If I have them in (luckily I managed to get some with last week’s shopping) I start with a ‘posh’ coffee- a Nescafé coconut milk latte that comes in a sachet and is only 3 Syns.

I have a Syn-free lunch around 3 or 4pm, then dinner is as late as I can manage and whatever’s in the fridge that is going out of date first. Dinner is always big and satisfying, which helps me sleep through the night.

It’s working out pretty well so far. Then on a weekly basis we have the Slimming World virtual online group, which is run through Zoom. I enjoy this so much that I attend one on a Monday night and one on a Tuesday night.

Official weigh in is now Tuesday morning, and this week I’ve stayed the same. I’m not even overly disappointed, because the fact is I’ve barely moved for two weeks and I’ve had really good losses up until now – much better than I imagined I would. It stands to reason that I couldn’t keep that pace going.

Activity however is something that I really must start working into my day, for so many reasons. Aside from the positive impact exercise brings to physical and mental health, I’ve found that if I don’t move my creativity also disappears.

Yesterday I did some hula hooping, some kettlebell workouts and some walking around the kitchen/living room, and as I did I found I had the urge to paint. So I did!

It’s just a little start, but it’s more than I’ve felt like doing for a while. I also feel less inclined to rush. When it comes to arts and crafts I definitely tend to hurry towards the end result. This is because while it’s in process I think it’s crap and I find it hard to sit with that feeling while I’m doing it. So I’m experimenting with just slowing down and letting things develop as they will. It’s harder than it sounds.

I’ve given a lot of thought to exercise, and I’ve realised that I must make the most of being allowed out for one walk a day. After speaking to some Slimming World people yesterday I’ve been given advice as to the best times of day to do things, because I’ve seen through Facebook friends that all my usual haunts have been absolutely rammed with people since lockdown was implemented. I have to keep the risk as low as possible.

Tomorrow, I’m going to get up super early and go out during sunrise. Hopefully not many others will be out and I can see if it’s a feasible way to carry out my daily stroll. I’ve gone through different routes in my head to identify places where it’s impossible to be 2m away from someone passing in the opposite direction and have adjusted the route accordingly. Since I stopped working, I’ve been burning over 1000 calories a day less, and I can feel myself getting lazier and lazier. I really must work on getting a new routine going. After all, I’ve got 11 more weeks of this. Minimum.

I feel like I owe it to the other people who are out there putting themselves at risk to keep the rest of us safe and fed to make the most of my privileged situation. So that’s what I’ll do. I’m not taking a single thing for granted.

Now I’m officially poor I really have to stop spending money, but as one last treat I bought a couple of Kindle books to use for trying to identify wild flowers and trees. I got sidetracked when looking for specific things and ended up just browsing through thousands and thousands of entries, but now I’m desperate to find out what one thing is because it’s driving me NUTS.

I was in two minds whether to write about this, because I didn’t want to admit defeat, but if you know what this is PLEASE let me know because it has eluded me so far. I think it’s from a tree or was growing around a tree, but I can’t get back to the spot to investigate further for the time being. I can’t find it online, on any plant/tree ID apps or in any of my books. When I took the photos it was just because it was pretty, I didn’t give a second thought as to what it was. It’s become something of a mission! I bet it’s something really bloody obvious. I literally spent an entire day, A WHOLE 10 HOURS, trying to find it to no avail. Still, it passed the time!

Hopefully you’re all staying safe and adjusting to life as it is now.

Take care,

Hayley x