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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

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.

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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.