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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

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

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.

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Allotment Diary

New Allotment Project (Unknown)?

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 this particular patch.

The space is at the end of the plot and it resides underneath some very old oak trees, which means, that not much tends to grow there, because of the fallen acorns, leaves and the level of light in this space.

Mainly, this space has been used to house nailed together cold frame, which succumb to the elements not so long ago.

If I’m totally honest, I currently don’t know what to do with this space. All I know is that it needs to be easy to maintain and useful. If you have any ideas, please do let me know in the comments below.

The first job on the agenda is clearance, whilst figuring out what to keep and what not to keep.

Pruning Red Gooseberry bushes

At the front of the plot are two well established red gooseberry bushes, which I’m reluctant to remove or move, for fear of doing more harm than good to the plants themselves.

The plants haven’t seem much pruning in recent years, and so as a result have become quite leggy. I’ve left around of the third of the plant left, and I’ve made sure that I’ve made cuts where there’s buds and new growth ready to sprout.

Moving the wood store

Keeping the gooseberry bushes in tact were two wired up logs, which have been there for quite a while.

Removing these wasn’t too much of a struggle as they have rotted at the base and just needed a quick push over. I’ve moved all of the wood in this space to a new area on the plot, behind the shed.

The wood store consists mostly of these logs and off cuts of decking used to create the raised beds.

I’m thinking that these could be quite good for a bug hotel perhaps?

Pulling back membrane

Covering the ground is a plastic membrane which has done a good job of keeping weeds at bay, but over the years, weeds have come grown through the membrane and on top of it, making it unworkable.

I used to be able to pull up the weeds fairly quickly clearing it of weeds, but that’s no longer the case. Going forward, it would be easier to run a mower over the ground.

Pruning fir tree

The space is home to a very well established fir tree, which has grown leaps and bounds over the years, without much encouragement and I’ve kind of left it to it’s own thing.

Needless to say, it’s become a little bit leggy in places and some branches have grown in the way – so a trim was well overdue.

Amazingly, as I was pruning the tree, I was greeted with a strong, delightful lemon scent – something I’d not experienced before with a fir tree. A Google search has revealed this tree could be none other than the Monterey Cypress Goldcrest.

I will most likely keep this tree in place.

What to do next…

Clearance is still underway, and I’m sure inspiration will come to me as I go as to what to do with this space.

Maybe just focusing on clearing the space should be my goal over the next few weeks, rather than getting caught up in figuring out what to do with it… What do you think?

I’d love to know your thoughts, suggestions and ideas in the comments below 🙂

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Allotment Diary

Foxes – friend or foe?

If you walk around the the Knollmead Allotments on a sunny afternoon, you’ll be sure to spot at least one fox, maybe even two.

Genuinely, I find them a real delight to watch as they scurry around playing, hunting and generally being fox like.

I managed to capture the footage below.

Like most things wildlife, foxes produce moments that are rare and unique.

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Travels

Exploring Nuuksio National Park, Helsinki – Finland

I’m lucky enough to have a job where I get to do a decent bit of travelling and last week I was in Helsinki, Finland.

Photo by Fresatomica