Saturday 23 March 2013

Gardening Companions...and Homemade Bird Feeders

I'm never alone when I'm gardening; I always have a companion hovering close by waiting for any worms I happen to dig up.  This year I have two companions; first of all, a lovely female blackbird (above) who sits and watches me until I throw her treat (she usually gets a piece of apple). Not that I get any thanks for this, because every year female blackbirds attack the lining of my hanging baskets for nest material and every year my hanging baskets come a bit closer to total collapse...

The other companion I have is a robin (below).  I'm always amazed by how bold robins are; I've known them come into the house as well as eat from my hand.  And they're great opportunists when it comes to worms, often dipping down right by my feet to seize one.

We always want to encourage more birds into the smallholding, so we've been adding more bird feeders and, to save money, we've been making these ourselves. I've mentioned before about converting old car exhausts to bird feeders (after being rescued from a local car mechanic's scrap metal bin) and that these turn out to be stronger than the plastic feeders we've bought in the past...

By converting these, I like to think that a car can actually help the environment for once!

We've also made a low bird table for the robins and other birds that prefer to pick their food from the ground.  This has been made from scrap wood with a fine wire mesh.

And here it is being tested and approved...

We also find that the standard plastic chicken feeders don't last long and so,when the last one broke, we bought a galvanised feeder. But it didn't even reach the chicken pen, because we were inspired to use it for something else altogether - and now the tops of several galvanised feeders have been wired up as light shades in the barn...

The barn owl next to the light is a wood carving we bought on holiday as a fun addition to the barn.  At the moment, it's the closest I'm getting to photographing a barn owl, until I can actually take a decent picture of the barn owl I see flying in the next field. 

In the cottage garden patch, it's about time to pull up last year's evening primroses.  They look untidy, but I leave them, because the seeds have been so loved by the goldfinches throughout the winter.  And there are always flocks of different finches each winter in the trees on the edge of the smallholding, so we do get a variety of them on the feeders.

But there's still no sign of any wild birds' nests on the smallholding this year and I'm sure I usually see the first young blackbirds by the end of March.  I haven't heard a chiffchaff yet, either; there's usually one calling in March from the scrub around the smallholding.  I'm guessing that the cold weather is holding everything back here - and so there will be a rush of activity, when the warm weather eventually arrives.

Friday 15 March 2013

Buried Somewhere Beneath Winter...

.... is spring.  Last week, on a day of beautiful, warm sunshine, I took a photograph of honeybees collecting pollen from the crocuses (above), but, since then, spring has been smothered by another spell of winter (with snow). Like many other gardeners, I'm becoming frustrated with the cold weather, because I can't get on with everything in the garden I want to do. I know that when spring, proper, does arrive, I'll suddenly have a whole list of things to get on with.

So, in the meantime, I'm preparing the smallholding for gardening. The first job is to finish the cold frame we've started.  It's almost ready, but needs a cover, either glass or plastic.  I'd prefer glass, but this will be more expensive than plastic (unless we can get hold of some cheaply). We'll have to make up our minds soon because I'll want to harden off seedlings in there.

We're also preparing for spring visitors; all the nest boxes we've made over the years are in place including the owl box that we hope will attract the barn owl we've recently seen hunting in the next field.  And we've started to leave the door of the hay barn open as we try to tempt the swallows to nest there this spring...

We're not short of mud on the smallholding this year; so they'll have plenty of nest material!

As well as the crocuses, I have hellebores in flower, one clump of primroses (my other primroses are still just small, green leaves), some miniature daffodils and some fading snowdrops. 

The large daffs and other spring flowers have yet to show themselves.  So I've been looking for some signs of spring in the wider countryside.  I've walked through the woods looking for wood anemones, but there is no sign of them yet.  I love these little star-like flowers, which carpet the woodland floor in early spring, before giving way to the bluebells.  I'm sure I saw wood anemones and bluebells by the end of March last year, although the weather had been drier and warmer, of course.

But I did discover this small bloom of blackthorn...

The geese have been ready for spring since early January; the three females have all built nests in different corners of the smallholding and the two ganders are having clashes about who should be boss. At the moment, Cador, the young gander, thinks that he is - and I'll be glad to see the end of the breeding season to have a bit more peace between them at last...

Cador preparing to see off George, the other gander

So not too many sights of spring here just yet; but I do have a taste of it, I suppose, because last year's hawthorn blossom wine is now ready to drink.

Hawthorn Blossom Wine

This lovely hedgerow drink, gathered last May, will have to keep me going, then, until spring really arrives.

Monday 4 March 2013

Our Carvings - and Other Gargoyles and Grotesques

Thaxted Church

If I sometimes have a feeling of being watched, then it's no wonder, because there are many different carved faces around the smallholding.  Over the years, we've added them to the barn and to fences - and we've even carved them into gate posts and hedges.  I didn't realise, until recently, just how many faces we do have around the place; we certainly seem to have added a whole new bunch of characters to our home.

Most of our carvings are of wood; it's the material we work with most and have available on the smallholding.  Our main carving is our wizard, of course, (please see picture at the side of the page, below, as well as, my earlier post about him) - and at the same time he was created, Simon Hedger (our visiting woodcarver) also produced a face from a chunk of oak.  This carving was inspired by the grotesques sometimes seen on churches and cathedrals - and then the shape of the piece of wood dictated the contours of the finished face.
Our grotesque on the front of the barn
Over the years, we've also bought Green Men and May Queen wall plaques, and these hang on fences and walls and in different corners of the smallholding - sometimes barely glimpsed through leaves and flowers, and sometimes in plain sight.

Because we love grotesques, we're now considering putting up more on the barn - and to get ideas of the faces we'd like, I took some photographs of grotesques and gargoyles on local churches.  One of the best churches for this is Thaxted Church; a large and grand church with some wonderful gargoyles and grotesques on the walls outside.

Thaxted Church

Thaxted Church

Thaxted Church

I find it really fascinating that sometimes even the smallest parish churches can have grotesques peering back at me; and I wonder if they were based on the faces of local villagers living at the time.  Thinking about this gives me an idea for future carvings for our barn, although - instead of carvings based on local villagers - perhaps I ought to think about faces closer to home...

Actually; I think I'd like the idea of my face carved as a gargoyle or grotesque.  After all; why not? Why be vain?!!

Although we asked an expert woodcarver to carve here before, we've had a go at some carving ourselves. This weekend we carved these fence posts, below, from sweet chestnut - and they're now ready to be put into place.

I don't think we've the sort of place for statues, but I do think we've room for more faces.  They could be mythical, beautiful or comical - and they'll soon become an established feature of the smallholding.