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Allotment Diary

How it started and how it’s going

If you’ve just started a plot, or you’ve decided to start again like I did a few years ago, sometimes you just need to take a step back and smell the roses.

2018

2021

The full “starting again” series

I’d love to know how you’re getting on in the comments below on the plot or in the garden. 🙂

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Allotment Diary

Building a bird station for the wildlife garden

First came a bug hotel, then a hedgehog hotel, now a bird station to complete the wildlife trilogy

As I’ve been building the wildlife garden, and dismantling the bramble area, I’ve accumulated a fair few decorative logs to use for one thing or another, some have rotted out at the bottom – others still have some life in them – And that’s when I thought they could be the solid basis for a bird station.

Noticing the birds

When the pandemic started last year, there was less traffic, less movement, less pollution, and this made the birds a lot more noticeable.

The reason why we’re noticing them more, probably is because there’s less background noise. This is known as the Lombard effect – i.e. when it’s louder (like at parties), we talk louder and vice versa.

There’s a bit more on this here.

As a result we started putting bird food out, and we would watch the birds come and go. This proved to be quite therapeutic and so it was logged in the back of my mind to build something to help the birds, and encourage birds to the plot.

Birds are a good sign that a garden is healthy, they’re very good for pest control as they’ll generally go for slugs, aphids and mosquitos but to name but a few. They’re also very good for pollination.

Tools and materials

I didn’t have a lot, but just enough to put something together. Something unique and allotmentesque – or allotment chic if you will.

  • Plywood
  • Log
  • Old saucepan lid
  • Broken spade handle
  • Screws

The tools were really minimal, and admittedly my DIY skills could be a lot better – but I did my best, and that’s what matters.

  • Spade
  • Handsaw
  • Drill
  • Metal and wooden drill bits
  • Spirit level
  • A little bit of sandpaper

The build

Ok let’s get to it!

The first thing I did was mark out the square for the main top platform, and also the circle of where the post would sit on. I made the square bigger than what I needed at this stage, mainly because I knew I’d have to shave off a bit more here and there.

Cutting a board of this size by hand is quite tricky, and if you have a power tool – use it, it’ll save you tonnes of time and you’ll probably get better results.

Once I cut the board, I then marked out squarer markings to try and square everything up a bit more. Plywood tends to splinter a little bit, so a bit, so a bit of sanding here and there after helps to smooth the edges.

The next thing I did was dig the hole for the main post, and I dug the hole about 2ft deep.

The pole was about 7ft foot (give or take), so the the two foot depth would keep this pretty sturdy against the elements. I used the spirit level on the two sides to keep everything upright.

Ideally it would need to be kept upright so that food and things doesn’t slide off.

Then came a slight oversight, even thought the board was square-ish and the poll was straight, the top of the post was wonky… Less than ideal.

So I cam up with the genius idea of making the hole, through what I’d already marked out.

Like cutting the board in the first place, trying to make this hole by hand is a lot hard than it looks, so again, if you have a power tool, then use it.

I started off by drilling lots of holes into the board, until I was at the point where I could punch the hole through. The hole was a very snug fit, I needed to shave some of the inside of the hole with a hand saw to get it to fit in places.

I tapped it down and made sure everything was was level with the spirit level.

A water source is something that’s a must have for any bird station. Not only do they use it for drinking but also for preening.

I’ve used an old saucepan lid as the bird bath part of the station. It’s perfect because it’s not too deep, it’s nice and shiny and therefore visible and the handle part of the lid can be used to dangle an extra feeder.

I drilled a hole just under the lip of the lid and screwed it to the wooden post. The lip of the lid will make the lid point toward the ground, so I screwed in an extra screw just under the lid to keep everything level, and so the water doesn’t run off.

The great thing about this is that the base of the saucepan lid can be used to dangle a feeder or an extra treat.

The last thing was to create a perch for the birds to stand on and move to and fro from when getting some water and food.

Fortuitously, a couple of years ago, I broke a spade doing some digging (probably trying to dig out some rhubarb), and the handle stayed in the shed, until such a time as I could use it again for something. The broken edges were sawed off and I sanded the corners so that there’s no hard edges to the perch.

I drilled a pilot hole into the handle at an angle and then I drilled the rest of the screw into the post to hold it steady.

A bird station wouldn’t be complete without some food, so I covered the top with bird feed, which really does set it all off nicely.

I haven’t used any particular bird seed of note, just the regular fare that you would find in a local garden centre or pound shop. I’m sure at some point, I will most likely learn how to make my own bird feeders to use with this new bird station.

What birds do you see on the plot or in the garden? Is there anything you do in particular to attract different species? I’d love to know in the comments below.

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Allotment Diary

How I built a hedgehog hotel

A hedgehog hotel is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now and today I spent the day putting it together.

This is all part of the wildlife garden I’m putting together, and having a hedgehog hotel is a nice supplement to all of the other wildlife features that are in place – like the bug hotel.

You may have noticed earlier that I’m getting into the habit of using egg shells as homemade slug deterrents, and having hedgehogs in the garden is a good excuse to move away from chemically based slug deterrents.

Why encourage hedgehogs to the garden?

Hedgehogs eat slugs and snails. As a gardener and allotmenter, (for selfish reasons) that’s the biggest selling point for encouraging hedgehogs into the garden.

That said, there is a greater, wider need to encourage hedgehogs, and this is because the British Hedgehog Preservation Society in July of 2020, announced that the hedgehog is close to extinction.

To make things worse, the Mammal Society conducted a survey in the August of 2020, which discovered that the extinction of the hedgehog was close to imminent, especially in Surrey, which is where I am.

Materials

Pallet stamp: IPPC, PL 04-522, HT

As is with true allotment style, I built this with a pallet, some screws and other bits and bobs.

Now, with this particular build, pallet selection is quite important, as this is going to be home to hedgehogs, it’s best to use as friendly materials as possible.

If you look closely at the picture, you’ll see there’s a stamp on the pallet which indicates:

  • IPPC: The International Plant Protection Convention helps to reduce the spread of pests for plants products internationally. This means, this is an international pallet, intended to move around the world.
  • PL: Country of origin – Poland
  • 04-522: This is a regional identifier, and this is a region in Warsaw.
  • HT: This pallet was Heat Treated, which is preferable for this kind of project.

If you see MB on a pallet, the pallet was treated with Methyl Bromide, which is a toxic pesticide. In my opinion, think twice when using these pallets.

For more pallet advice, please see a great point of reference here.

Making the sides

The first thing I did was cut the strips off of the pallet wood, which would go to make the four sides.

I then used strips of old deck board to brace the sides together, and also to help give me something to drill into, for when creating the actual box.

I didn’t actually measure anything when I was cutting the wood, but when screwing in the deck, I did make sure that they were at a 90 degree angle.

This allowed me to cut and shave as needed to make sure it was all square… Well, as square-ish as I could make it.

Making the hole

Now that the sides were all put together, the next thing was to make a hole for the little critters to enter into.

Having done a Google search, I’ve read that the ideal size for a hole is approximately 5inches (13cm). I cut this using a multi-tool (thank you for lending me that for this project – you know who you are!).

To add extra stability to the hole, I added a brace made from one of the off from the hole.

The lid

At this point, I hadn’t really put too much thought into the lid, outside of knowing that it needed to be made from wood.

I used three deck boards, which as tremendous luck would have it, were the perfect width of the whole box.

These were actually the same pieces of board I used to create the raised beds, so I cut them to size, leaving an overlap to act as a kind of canopy. The canopy is really just for looks and isn’t really necessary for a hedgehog hotel, but it looks nice. 🙂

Next came the second piece of tremendous luck – and that’s that the piece of old perspex for the lid, fitted perfectly onto the lid, without having to cut anything. Love it when a plan comes together.

I wanted to add a piece of perspex to help keep it dry from rain water, and also it would match the bug hotel.

The tunnel

Ideally, I’ve read that a hedgehog hotel needs a tunnel at the front, and this is to help stop predators from getting inside of the box, and causing any damage.

This was easy enough to construct with some old scrap pieces of wood, and just drilled into the sides, around the hole of the box.

One thing I did make sure was that the hole of the tunnel was still that 5inches (13cm) in size to allow the hedgehogs to get in.

Placement

I placed the hedgehog hotel under the citrus fir, and next to the mini bug hotel, by the wheelbarrow bed.

The citrus fir will provide some extra shelter from the wind and rain, and hopefully the insects that the bug hotel will attract will act as a food source – I’ll also try and place in a water source nearby, out of an old bowl too at some point.

Around the back of the box and the sides, I added some old dead leaves – this is so that the hedgehogs can use this material to create a nest inside.

All in all, I think it all came together quite well, baring in mind that it was made from scrap wood and old pallet.

Hopefully, this will make for a nice residence for some hedgehog guests. Fingers crossed they go to town on the slug population too!

Have you had any experience with hedgehogs? I’d love to know what they are in the comments below.

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Allotment Diary

Homemade eco slug pellets

Making homemade slug pellets/repellent is easy, cost effective and much more friendly.

Making homemade slug pellets, or a slug deterrent is very easy, and much like collecting toilet rolls for seed starters, does involve an habitual change, in the fact that this will involve putting aside and collecting eggshells day to day.

What you will need

  • Egg shells
  • Container
  • Rolling pin, wine bottle, pestle and mortar… something to crush with
  • Baking paper and tray

What to do

The first thing to do is to get into the habit of collecting old egg shells, and the easiest way to do this is to get a box or any kind of container for them to build up in. Before you know it, you’ll have a healthy amount of egg shells to work with.

Once they start to build up, you’ll know doubt look at them and think “Cor blimey! We really should start doing something with those,” that’s the time to whip out a baking tray and some grease proof paper whilst you’re making dinner.

Whether the oven is already on, or whether it’s heating up, around 10-15 minutes in the oven will dry them out dry off any gooey bits. Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve not kept to any real records of how long they should bake for, but 10 minutes plus at any usual heat seems to be the ideal rule of thumb.

Once baked, let cool and place into a container of choice and crush into tiny little bits. This is very therapeutic and very satisfying. Once crushed, spread around plants you deem to be the most vulnerable. The idea here is that this will prove to not be a pleasant path for slugs, and so will them put them off from eating any plants that are in their way.

Video

As I said in the video, I find this on Instagram and commented on the post saying what a great idea it was. If read this, and this was your post, leave a comment and take all of the credit 🙂

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Allotment Diary

Frost damage

We’ve had a bit of a cold spell so I thought I’d check out the damage incurred

It’s so lovely to look at the plot when it’s covered in snow, however, in my experience, it’s the frost and the ice which can prove to be much more damaging.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed shoots in January, only for them to be decimated by a thick frost a few weeks later. That trend, along with the the colder temperatures in general, is one of the reasons why I tend to not do much growing, outside of hardy plants and fruits that can withstand the frost like conditions.

Blackcurrants and
alpine strawberries

I recently transplanted black currants and red currants from the back of the plot to a bed nearby.

With that I also planted some alphine strawberries, to act as ground cover. Alpine strawberries tend to grow pretty rampantly, so I’m hoping they’ll keep the weeds down.

The currents themselves, at this time of year, don’t tend to show much life, and they’re kind of twiggy anyway. The alpine strawberries however, have taken a bit of a pounding. The leaves were a little bit frost bitten and burned.

I’m hoping that they can recover, it’s only because I’ve transplanted them from elsewhere which makes me slightly uneasy about their survival.

Plum tree

The plum tree is always a delight to look at, and it’s pretty hardy too.

Because this is currently dormant, like the blackcurrants, this does look very twiggy – but if you look more closely, you’ll see very tiny shoots that are holding off from sprouting.

In the spring, I’ll give this the annual prune, and now it’s a mature tree, I’ll need to think hard about which direction I want the tree to grow in, and how high I want the tree to grow.

I’ll need to do some research on how to do this, much more properly.

Garlic

A couple of weeks ago, the boredom of lockdown and the need to garden led me to plant brown and red onions, along with casablanca garlic bulbs.

I know I was way too early and probably a bit too keen, but just thought… why not. With that in mind, I planted everything just that little bit deeper to withstand the cold that little bit longer.

That said, it didn’t seem to deter the garlic, which has poked through unhindered.

Rhubarb

Now, in the past – the rhubarb has seen a lot of damage due to frost. What I’ve noticed happen previously is, new shoots will sprout, only to be struck down, and those damages shoots rot into the crown, damaging the plant as a whole.

This results in stunted growth of the plant, and ultimately not as much rhubarb.

These shoots have indeed only just sprouted – but I’m hoping that they’re small and innocuous enough to not get damaged.

I’ll keep you posted on how well they grow as the year trundles on.

Strawberries

Overall I think they faired fairly well – the older, outside leaves were frost bitten and scorched, but the strawberry plants themselves looked pretty good and strong.

In my experience, strawberry plants are quite resilient and I’m hoping the cold temperatures we’ve won’t cause too much damage. I’m not too sure what varieties these are, but they are terrific croppers and crop both in the early summer and in the autumn.

I’ll be cultivating these and filling in any gaps of where these plants reside.

Generally speaking, I think I’m fairing quite well during these cold spells – how’s everything on your plot thus far? I’d love to know in the comments below.

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Allotment Diary

Wheelbarrows make great beds

I’ve always wanted to grow something in a wheelbarrow, mainly because it looks so cool and rustic – and now I’ve got my chance.

Quite a while back, a much used and beloved wheelbarrow rusted right through to the point where the wheel and the frame were the only parts that were fit for purpose.

I parked it up and parked up is where it stayed, until last week whereby I was able to make use of it, as part of the wildlife garden I’m making.

I want the area to be as low maintenance as possible, and the beds are rather large. With large beds, you have to consider how easy it is to stretch in and out of the bed, therefore I plan to fill the middle of the bed with permanent structures, that generally don’t need to be moved.

I started by setting up a small water butt in the middle as a source of water for the area. Leaves from the trees will fall into this and this will over time also make for a rich source of natural fertiliser. I sat the tank onto some cardboard, followed by a slab to raise it up slightly.

Around the edges of the tank, I placed some logs – a. to make it look nice and to b. provide further habitation for things.

In front of the tank, came the wheelbarrow itself which I lined with cardboard – to cover the rusted holes. I weighed down the cardboard with some thick twigs that had naturally rotted and fell off of the old oak trees from behind.

What came next is nothing short of composting gold dust! I fill the barrow with oak leaves that had fallen from overhead, followed by compost from the compost bin.

I did a similar thing before when preparing the raised beds for the strawberries and this is a real winner of a method, and so easy to do. The leaves will rot down on their own accord and produce some really fertile soil to grow in.

That bit underneath the wheelbarrow felt like empty space – that needed to be filled, so I cut down some spare logs that were laying around and stacked them accordingly to to create another small bug hotel, that will attract something beneficial (fingers crossed).

It is a wildlife area after all and I did enjoy making a bug hotel not so long before.

So there we have it, a wheelbarrow bed for wildflowers 🙂

I have a frame and a wheel left over – what would you do with these? I’d love to know in the comments below.