Hoglets!

We’ve reasonable knowledge about hedgehogs over 300 g, and have overwintered some of these prickly darlings in our purpose-built animal room. But hoglets?!

A passerby saw a hoglet outside the house, knocked on the door … a quick search and we found 4 more abandoned hoglets. We put them in a carrier with a heat pad to warm them through – they were freezing! and quickly phoned the vet. Of course, Sunday service! But Scarsdale Vets in Derby were fantastic and an hour later we were armed with a Royal Canin Babycat milk kit with feeding bottle.

They’re so Tiny!

The smallest hog was 50 g and the largest 66 g, two with eyes open. Using my Vale Wildlife Hospital hedgehog rehabilitation course booklet, we worked out they are 14 days old. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of feeds. Dunk volunteered to take on the night shift as they have to be fed every 2 to 3 hours. Each hog has been marked, so we know who’s who to keep track of weight/feeds/poo. They also have to be stimulated to poo and wee after every meal. They survived – but we have a battle ahead to get sufficient milk into them. Huffy – named after his nature – curls into a ball and huffs and the smallest drinks gratefully.

We are currently at a weight range of between 67 g and 85 g two days after they were found. Watch this space for cuteness!

Hedgehog Nest

Hedgehog Nest

Later in the day we went searching for the nest, just to make sure there were no more waifs and strays waiting to be picked up. It didn’t take us long to find it – only about 2 metres from where they were all found – they must have left it to go looking for their mother, which is a sad thing to think. We’d been walking about ten feet from it all this time, in the front garden, and it’s only about ten feet from the lane at the front! Carefully pulling some leaves back from this heap of dry leaves showed an empty nest, and a thorough search of the rest of the area turned up no more, so we’re pretty happy we have them all.

New Animal Treatment Room

Finally we have a dedicated room to look after those animals in need of extra care. For the last ten years we’ve been using the kitchen, the Sunny Room (the only living area room that gets sun in the day, hence the name!), the hall way, the garage. You name the room, at one stage or another there’s been a poorly or young animal in it.

But not anymore (well – not any more as often as there was). The dedicated room has stainless steel worktop for easy disinfection, an industrial floor, and soon to also have medicine cabinets and cupboards. The first occupants? The hedgehogs who have been rescued from outside because they were either caught in the flooding in the area, or are part of the large number of underweight hoglets which seem so prevalent this year around the country.

Importantly, it’s not attached to the main house, so any animals being looked after will get some peace and quiet!

2-spot ladybird (Adalia 2-punctata)

Ladybirds & Strimming

Electric fenceToday I made use of some spare time to strim under the electric fencing I installed over winter. With the sheep netting acting as the earth, it was a relatively simple task to string four strands of positive cable along the front of the fencing. The lower strand is solid steel, mitigating and strimming accidents.

After strimming, a quick walk through the orchard saw me noticing the ladybirds below on one tree – all within around 20cm of each other! It’s fantastic to see the ladybird army awake and ready for the greenfly, which will undoubtedly follow. There’s a mix of native and imposter harlequin below, an all too familiar sight today.

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Hedgehog!

When we first landed at Merrybower, about ten years ago to the day, we were chuffed to bits with a hedgehog that sporadically showed itself – one night even appearing silhouetted against the garage doors by the car headlights, like a slightly less sinister parody of Nosferatu.

hedgehog

Mr Hedgehog makes use of the fallen grain.

But as the years passed, the hedgehog has been sadly lacking here, for whatever reason. The reality is that whilst we live in the countryside, we are surrounded by open fields, the distance between hedges growing ever longer as some are grubbed up to allow for larger machinery.

Not One,

However, this year our hedgehog, the one above, has become a nightly visitor, almost like clockwork. Of course, the hedgehog’s clock isn’t based on time, but the sun, and our prickly fellow pops into the garden to nibble on fallen grain from the bird feeder, having wobbled its way from the patch. We’ve been careful to leave gaps under the various gates, to allow such passage, and delighted to find our little friend is making use of his own personal highway.

Not Two,

It doesn’t stop there though! A few weeks ago I was on my way down to the patch to close the coop pop holes when I noticed a prickly bottom poking from a clump of grass near the rhubarb patch. At first, in the light from my head torch, I thought it *was* a clump of grass, but the noise gave it away. It had its head firmly planted in the grass, and wasn’t shifting, so I carried on. Several minutes later, coming up the path in the opposite direction I met the hedgehog once more, heading back to the patch having extracted itself from the clump. Rather sweetly he just bent his head to one side, to avoid being blinded by the beacon on my bonce. I muttered an apology to “Mr Hedgehog” and scurried past him, watching him continue on his merry way as I’d passed. Fifteen feet further I glanced at the clump I’d seen him in and, to my delight, there was a prickly bottom still wedged tight! Wait til I tell Suz, I thought – two hedgehogs!

But Three!

My last chore was to head to the front of the house and bring the eggs in from the front and to empty the honesty box. Now either one of our two previous friends was extremely quick on their legs and had sprinted around the house or, as I strongly suspect – mainly due to the fact this one was so much larger – I was confronted with a third hedgehog coming in under the main gate! Wow – three hedgehogs at Merrybower – incredible!

That night further affirms the good that our way of growing does for not only ourselves, but the animals we share the land with – we’ve gone from an empty acre of monoculture crop to a feast of wildlife, all making it their home. And that feels good.

Gooseberry Sawfly

2016 gooseberry sawfly larvaeCrikey – it’s that time of year when everything wants to devour everything else! This time it’s gooseberry sawfly larvae, and our prized gooseberry bushes – it looks like a caterpillar, it moves a bit like one, but it’s actually a fly maggot – nice! They’re between 1-2cm long, and eat fast!

Our Answer to the Gooseberry Sawfly

Luckily for us, and unluckily for the gooseberry sawfly, we’ve been here before and on the same bush. It’s the earliest bush, and the largest and greenest – if I were a sawfly larvae I’d head straight to it, knife and fork at the ready. But we know the routine now – I immediately ordered three sachets of Namasys Natural Fruit & Veg Protector.

It’s easy to apply – wait for an evening, when rain isn’t forcast. Mix one sachet with 5 litres of water, if you’re applying with a knapsack sprayer or other type of sprayer, and give the affected plants a really good dousing of the spray mist. The liquid has to touch the sawfly larvae for the nematodes to enter the body of the larvae, so it’s important to get right under the leaves too, to make sure you nobble them all. Make sure you cover the entire plant, not just the eaten leaves as you can see in the video above. If you get them in time, fruit drop will be minimal and you’ll still get a decent crop. A week later, mix the next sachet up and repeat the process, and then again a further week later of the final sachet. The shelf life is limited, and they must be kept in the fridge, but so far this has been the best way for us to keep the sawfly under control, unless you like bleeding to death from the millions of cuts by pulling them all off by hand.

We should also point out that also check your red and white currant bushes, as they are also a member of the genus Ribes in the gooseberry family, unlike the black currant. To be safe, as soon as you begin to see leaves on your gooseberry bushes, check them as you walk past, near the base, as that’s where the sawfly larvae starts it mission upwards!

Family Day in the Patch

2014 Allotment Quarter Layout Update

Updated 2014 patch plan with final planting distances. Grid size is 1 foot.

Every year the weekends surrounding the last frost date (about mid-May for us) are one of the busiest. And every year Suz’s parents pop on down to help out with weeding, digging, hoeing and sowing. This year is no exception, with the exception that the weather has been glorious and everything has got off to a good start. We had a minor hiccup a few days ago with a slight frost, which seems to have nobbled the peas and the newer leaves on the orchard trees, but the potatoes survived it and it’s going to be a good harvest at this rate.

The potatoes were mounded up, lovely and regimented. The french climbing beans (Sultana) and runner beans (Enorma) were sown at the bottom of the wigwam canes – 8 or 10 canes, two per cane, and we’ll thin the weaker plant out later in the year. A few additional Scorpio and De Monica broad beans were sown to fill the gaps, and more Onward peas were sown as they were hit pretty hard by what I can only assume was the frost. They never germinated, but we have them netted and slug-pelleted (organic pellets) so it’s the only conclusion I can draw.

2014 Root CropsThe onion patch was de-weeded – a painstaking process – but so worth it when you see the neat lines of onions and shallots. The carrots were thinned to 1-1.5″ spacing, and will be thinned again in a few weeks. The beetroot were thinned to 4″ and will stay at that, and the parsnip weren’t touched as they didn’t seem big enough yet. Then went in some corgette (Nero di Milano zucchino), two per station, straight in the ground after it had been 2014 Squash Patchrotovated nicely. Cloche protection over those – to be safe, and then under the mini poly tunnels we planted out the pumpkins which had been growing on nicely in the dining room for a month or so.

Talking of which – alongside the pumpkins, inside we also had:

  • Tomatoes (Roma VF plums, Marmande beef and Shirley)
  • Cucumbers (Telegraph Improved)
  • Sweetcorn (Incredible F1)
  • Sweet peppers (Antohi Romanian, Golden Bell and Friggitello)
  • Hot peppers (Jalapeno, Hungarian Hot Wax and Red Cherry)
  • Aubergine (Black Beauty)
  • Butternut squash (Butternut Rugosa)
  • Leek
  • Basil (Italiano Classico)

Onwards with the outdoor work – the sweetcorn mentioned above were planted out and watered in, and the flower bed was coming along nicely, having been sown a fortnight ago with sunflowers, marigolds and nasturtiums. Unfortunately, we hadn’t realised the tenacity of sunflower and nasturtium seeds in particular. The sunflowers that were planted this year were obvious to make out, as were the unintended sunflowers that were the result of dropped seeds from last year! It was quite painful to hoe them out, but they would drown out everything else, and we really did need to weed the flower bed. A couple of rows of nasturtiums were also equally easy to define, but the no-mans’ land that stretched between the sunflower and nasturtium bed was awash with everything that nature, and we, had allowed to grow there in the past; sunflowers, nasturtiums, chickweed, wild pansies, shepherds purse – all the favourites plus those I couldn’t identify. So with heavy heart I hoed the land there and will wait a few days before re-sowing the marigolds. Lesson learned – next year the marigolds will be sown in plug trays and potted out in their final positions.

On to the soft fruit – all were looking great with the exception of one black currant bush and one gooseberry bush, which had succumbed to greenfly on their newer growth. I have some organic spray which I used sparingly on both, but I have noticed the ladybird population looks quite healthy, so dropped a few on to the infected plants to munch their way through the green nasties. No sense spending money on a spray when nature will do the work for you.

The fruit trees are all looking decent – again, some greenfly here and there but nothing too onerous yet. I counted approximately 300-400 apples on one small cider tree! I know the June-drop will see many lost, but it’s a sign of how decent the weather has been so far.

2014 Small Orchard QuarterOh, and we lost the colony of bees Christian had brought around a few months ago. At the time he was unsure whether there was a queen at home, and it turns out there wasn’t. But on Friday he brought a new colony around. Again, not a large colony and maybe without a queen, but it’s a second attempt. Whilst I was planting the sweetcorn out, I heard  a buzz nearby, and looked around for the culprit. Nothing, and yet it was getting louder and louder. I had my wide-brimmed hat on, and couldn’t see past the horizon, which was my mistake. I looked up and around six feet above my head was a swarm of bees – stretching about twelve feet in diameter! Needless to say – a couple of expletives passed my lips, the hapless sweetcorn I was holding was cast aside and I legged it to the first gate. The last time I was pestered by a bee I made the mistake of thinking I had run far enough, only to be hit on the head by it at this very gate, and then the next, and only lost it after running 200 yards back to the house. This time I just opened the gate and ran, only stopping to check behind me half way to the next gate. I needn’t have run – the swarm wasn’t interested in me – it was still hovering over the sweetcorn, possibly mildly interested in the adjacent strawberry flowers, but then it just moved off at a fair whack, heading south over the vegetable patch, then the hay quarter (much to the consternation of the geese) and into the rape seed field. What an experience! I have never witnessed a swarm before, and I have to admit I was quite nervous of it, but you just can not help but be in awe at the scale of it! Worried that it may have been our new colony, I went back to check on the hive, but they were still happily plodding in and out of the entrance. Only the day before Christian has said he’d been inundated with swarms this year, due to the clement weather, and was physically shattered.

As the day waned, into the greenhouse to tend those plants already in position – the Roma VF, Marmande and Shirly tomatoes, plus duplicates of those inside the house (the cucumbers etc). I edged my bets and placed half of everything from the house into the greenhouse a couple of weeks ago, to see how they fare. So far not bad at all, though the indoor plants have really taken off in the last few days, and will need potting on very soon.

 

Root Crops

Another scribbled mental note – these are so useful for the following year, to get a feel for the plants that do well here. The day began with the usual dandelion beheading – another barrow full, then watering the new fruit trees in as it’s been a dry week so far. The strawberries and raspberries had some of the lovely manure donated by Ken spread around their bases, as did the rhubarb and gooseberries. The geese had their full clean out – fresh straw in the houses, ponds emptied and refilled.

Then on to the root crops. This plot hasn’t been manured, but the squash stations will have plenty added just before they go in later in the year. For now the stations will have cloches dropped where the plants will go, to help warm the ground up. The seed that went in today were one 9′ row of Flyaway F1 carrot, three rows of Boltardy beetroot and three rows of Hollow Crown parsnip.

All root crops were netted against the dreaded pigeon, sparrows and rabbits. Or row of peas were also netted, but we need to rethink the layout of the peas and beans to make netting easier. Whatever the case, we need more netting!

The final job of the day was to water in all the seeds sown over the last two days – that was over an hour’s job as the onion patch was also beginning to look a bit parched. As were the strawberries, rhubarb, gooseberries and currant bushes. A quick check on the chicks, who have now taken up residency in the garage as the fluff and dust produced by week two was just too much to keep them in the house, and 10 o’clock saw me finally stumbling in, to a warm fire and mahoosive mug of sweet tea. Perfectamundo 🙂

Bees!

Today another piece of the jigsaw slotted into place. Christian, a friend who keeps a few local bee colonies, has kindly offered to keep bees here for us. His experience means we won’t be fumbling in the dark, and we can hopefully learn from him without the pressure of another new task being totally on us. It’s going to be a busy year with the usual workload plus the various birds, so it’s the perfect start to bees here at Merrybower.

He has cautioned us though – this colony didn’t look very strong, and whilst there was a queen bee present going into the winter, he thinks it may be queenless at the moment, and if so it will fail as a colony. Still – it’s worth a try.

One surprising fact Christian mentioned was that bees tend not to feed within 100ft of their hive! Also, if there’s a field of something gorgeous close by, such as the oil seed rape we’re currently surrounded by, they’ll literally make a bee-line for that rather than the few paultry blossom on our trees. Ah well – more pollinators surely can’t be a bad thing anyway.

Two Interesting Moths

Dagger Moth Caterpillar

Vapourer Moth Caterpillar

I managed to carry out a quick walk of the orchard this afternoon, after cleaning out the geese and chickens. Along with the pear slug, which has the unfortunate quality of smelling like sweet butter if you crush it between your fingers (how bizarre), I found these two critters. They were on the pear and plum trees, and the one with the forked head looked to be eating the leaves, the trees I found them on had more damage to their leaves so I assume it was these blighters as they were doing the nibbling.

It turns out they’re not fruit tree specific, they are, in fact, the caterpillars of the Grey Dagger Moth and the Vapourer Moth.Vapourer Moth

Dagger Moth

A Strange Caterpillar

This little blighter was found crawling over one of the fruit trees – I can’t remember which type of fruit tree it was on, I suspect it was the plums as I’ve been keeping a particulary beedy eye on these as the leaves look as though they’ve been nibbled by something – some have numerous holes in the leaves as though nibbled by a beetle, but the damage is more prevalent in the trees being grown as bush trees, though they are on the same St Julien A rootstock the half standard trees are being grown on. I’ll add a picture of the damage soon.