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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

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.

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Allotment Diary

2020…The good bits

We awoke in 2020 in the Lake District, and we couldn’t help but visit and climb The Old Man of Coniston while we were there. The weather was great and it was a great start to the year.

I was nearing the end of my plot makeover and really looking forward to growing some real produce, for what felt like the first time in ages.

Storm Dennis was doing a number on parts of the country, especially around where we’re based, so I was prepping by creating toilet roll seed starters.

They’re really easy and therapeutic to make if you’re looking to pass the time, during these rainy and cold winter months at the beginning of the year.

Shortly after storm Dennis happened… March is when covid-19 started to take hold, and gardening, the outdoors and open spaces (in my eyes) became much more important.

After creating the toilet roll seed starters, I felt I needed a place to store them, and this led me to create Homemade propagators out of mushroom and fruit punnets.

They’re not sending anyone to the moon, but they did work, they’re fun to make, cheap and there’s some recycling involved there too.

To complete the make-it-yourself trilogy, I came up with a way to make your own garden labels out of pots and plastics that are around.

Needless to say, I’ve already started stock piling toilet rolls, mushroom and fruit punnets and plastic pots for the year ahead.

Then… A complete national lockdown was announced and that changed everything.

Can I visit my allotment during a lockdown?

How gardening will help get us through covid-19

The nation was paralysed with the imposition of travel restrictions and a stoppage on social gatherings.

Panic buying then started and this without a doubt rejuvenated the Dig for Victory spirit, to help with food supplies and anxiety about food shortages. Prince Charles even commended this can-do attitude during a BBC Radio 4 attitude.

This ethos seemed to spread across the globe, as I remember seeing this article by the New York Times.

Armed with homemade toilet roll seed starters, propagators and seed labels, I thought it might be useful to do a little how to (ish) series on how to start growing your own produce from seed – which I’m hoping people find useful.

Growing preparation

Seed
sowing

Separating seedlings

Planting
out

Leading into the summer everything became incredibly busy and this definitely did affect blogging activities.

I did a recap here on how fruitful the season was, and how all of the preparation paid off.

A lockdown can really spur on dipping toes into new interests – and so it was only a matter of time before I decided to experiment with new ways to make alcohol more interesting.

There were elderflowers growing nearby and I had seen that you can make your own elderflower infused gin – which was amazing and something I’ll do again. I feel I need to grow an elderflower for this purpose only.

Naturally, I had to compare an ordinary gin and tonic, along with an elderflower gin and tonic – just to make sure it was worth the effort.

That was a really difficult experiment…

The Vincent Hazel Project is something I embarked upon – which took up a great deal of time, energy and brain space from between the end of May and October.

The project involved cleaning up an alleyway between Vincent Avenue and Hazel Bank in Tolworth, which had been subject to years (possible even decades) worth of fly tipping, which had resulted in unsightly mounds and overgrown areas.

This project really came together with nothing less than phenomenal results, thanks to dedicated residents, Idverde and local landscaper Greenwood Paving. A big shout out to everyone who got involved 🙂 .

I’d encourage anyone, looking to get involved with a community project to do so, it can make you think differently about the area you live in and it’s a great way to make new friends and contacts, whilst making a difference at the same time.

These before and after photos of the project really do speak for themselves.

The clear up phase of that project is behind us, and so now I can turn my attention to a new allotment project, which I’ve started just toward the tail end of this year.

There’s a patch at the allotment that needs some overdue TLC and this is the year where I’m going to make a start with turning this little corner into a wildlife garden.

The Vincent Hazel Project, really did make me think more about nature, the outdoors and encouraging a more beneficial wildlife on the plot.

So far, I’ve managed to clear the area for the wildlife garden and I’ve even managed to make my first bug hotel.

So that brings us to now. Goodbye 2020 – Hello 2021. Let’s all hope for a better year and good tidings all round.

I’d love to hear how your year went, in the comments below 🙂 .

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Allotment Diary

How I built a bug hotel

You may have seen on Instagram lately that I built a bug hotel, so I thought I’d go into a bit more detail as to how I did it.

This all part of the wildlife space I hope to create and was one of the first things I was looking to build – mainly because I’ve never built one before.

What and why have a bug hotel?

An insect hotel, also known as a bug hotel or insect house, is a manmade structure created to provide shelter for insects. They can come in a variety of shapes and sizes 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insect_hotel

After I cleared the space, I was left with some scrap wood which is slowly rotting and I was confident that I can make something rustic and useful.

I’m hoping to attract pollinators and insects that will do me a turn, with keeping the ecosystem of the plot in check. Ladybirds and solitary bees in particular, are a desired visitor.

The base

I’ve started with two 3ft(ish) logs, which have each rotted on one side, as the base of the bug hotel. Woodlice have already gone to town here, and they will no doubt continue to do their work, of which there is plenty to do.

I dug a hole to sit the logs in and steady them together. I then buried the rotted sides into each other, to help create a gap for insects to stay in.

Bug hotels come in all shapes and sizes, but I really wanted mine to be a feature of sorts, meaning the logs on their own wasn’t really enough for what I wanted to achieve.

I decided to build a top section, and one of the main obstacles here was getting a level(ish) base to build upon, something easier said than done, when the top ends of the logs aren’t the same in any way possible.

I nailed in some sections of pallet wood, to create a new level to to the bug hotel.

The house

Once I had a level base, I could really let my creative juices flow and decided to build a triangular structure to layer smaller logs, twigs and other bits of wood within.

I used old pallet wood, to build two triangles and used some nails to tack everything together. It being a bug hotel means, that it doesn’t have to be perfect by a million miles – if anything, my poor DIY skills adds to the feature.

Filling the house

I had some old perspex laying around, which just so happened to be the correct size for a roof, so I tacked this on to help keep everything dry.

I then filled the triangle with smaller, inch thick logs and I packed them in as much as I could into the triangle.

There was a sizeable gap between the triangle and the logs, and I had some half rotted railway sleeper that fit perfectly into that space. I cut them to length and knocked them in with a hammer. It was pretty tight and with the last tap, I was convinced the triangle would pop off.

I drilled some holes into the sleepers using the biggest drill bit I had to help with creating more habitats. I then stuffed the remaining gaps with older bits of wood and pieces of scrap.

There was still a decent gap between the two logs, so I stuffed this with more wood consisting of twigs, off cuts and other small bits of log. Woodlice have already inhabited this section, so hopefully they’ll appreciate a bit extra.

And with that – the bug hotel is complete!

Keeping in mind that this was built with no real plan in mind and a hotchpotch of materials – I’m more than impressed with myself with how this has turned out.

Not only does this look like a great feature, but it will also hopefully make for a productive bug hotel.

Building this was a great mental exercise, and so I would encourage anyone who has some old wood laying around to give building a bug hotel a try.

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Allotment Diary

New Allotment Project – a wildlife garden it is!

During the first lockdown, I’ve taken part in The Vincent Hazel Project and this without a doubt has sparked a little interest in the nature side of things when it comes to the outdoors.

The timing couldn’t be better as I’m starting a little new project on the plot. I’ve been wondering what to do, and how I can make the most of a space on that plot that doesn’t tend to get much attention.

After much deliberation and unnecessary agonising – I hereby declare that I’m going to be putting my efforts into making a wildlife orientated garden.

This year I found I had a problem with pockets of black fly, slugs and other pests – so I’d like to try and explore natural ways of creating a first line of defence against such things. I also want to find ways to make my own fertilisers out of what’s growing nearby. This has led me to establishing the following desired features.

A bug hotel

Bug hotels are a haven for insects and pollinators that are beneficial to your garden and are solitary in nature – solitary bees and wasps for example. Ladybirds also use these for a habitat and these are of course great for combatting black fly. Earwigs are also attracted to bug hotels, and these are great for fruit trees and keeping pests that are attracted to fruits down.

Lavender

Whenever I see lavender, I always see it teaming with bees – which is great. They’re also quite hardy and don’t need a lot of maintenance, which is another plus for an area that resides under some oak trees, and is left to elements. They’re also very vibrant and hopefully will give off a lovely scent in the spring, heading into the summer.

A bird table/feeder

Birds are quite important to an ecosystem, as they’re predators that keep pests under control. I do know that I have healthy number of pigeons to the plot, but these tend to focus on the berries I have growing. I think I’d like to focus on getting other types of birds to visit, and try and deter them away from my main crop.

Comfrey

Comfrey grows all around this space and they are, like the lavender low maintenance and do have a nice enticing flower to help attract pollinators. I’ve also singled out comfrey as you can make a feed with with the leaves – which is also very handy. I tend to not feed my plants, mainly due to time, but next year, armed with the comfrey, I think I might adopt a new habit.

A bird bath

Where you have birds visiting, it’s also a good idea to have a bird bath there as well. Like the table, it’s a great source of food, and also doubles up as a place to bathe in. Birds need to wash themselves to help keep their feathers in check. Water will dampen and loosen dirt which makes it easier for feather tending.

Wildflowers

I’ve got two worn out old wheelbarrows and I’m itching to make use of them, by growing something in them. Wildflowers seem like a good idea here. It would attract some more pollinators, and also look nice and rustic – a good example of up-cycling. We grew wildflowers before and were very happy with the results. The benefit of wildflowers can be untold if done right.

A hedgehog house

Hedgehogs are a good thing to have in the garden – they eat slugs! So I’m going to build a hedgehog house, in a bid to call in the cavalry, to help with that eternal battle between gardener and slug. In July of 2020, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society announced that the hedgehog was officially “vulnerable to extinction” – so I’m going to do my bit and try and help them out.

Nettles

I hear that nettles are great for attracting blackfly – so much so that blackfly will move off of your plants and into the the nettles. Similar to comfrey, nettles can be used to make a fertiliser. I’ll be watching closely as to which fertiliser works best if I get around to making some. I’ll also be growing these in the other old wheelbarrow – to help make sure they don’t spread.

Making it low maintenance

Of course wildlife spaces are low maintenance in nature, so I can’t see too much attention is going to be needed overall.

I’ve cleared the space, and I’ve laid out a path using some pallet wood I’ve collected over the last few years. I used the mower as a guide to help me make sure the space is wide enough and that I can turn easily, when maintaining a path.

The beds are quite wide and are a (admittedly) strange, but logical shape. Something I’m conscious of, is being able to reach in to tend and weed where I need to, so most of the immovable features, like the bug hotel, nettle and wildflower barrows will be in the middle, so that I just need to reach in about a foot or so.

Now that the space is cleared and the beds are laid out, I feel that I can move on with filling it 🙂

What do you think? Do you have a space dedicated to nature at the allotment? I’d love to know in the comments below.