Barbara’s Back Yard – Bees Butterflies and the Cinnabar Moth

Bees, Butterflies and the Cinnabar Moth

I finally found a farmer to cut the grass in our fields – and make hay – 164 bales!  I had to pull all the ragwort out first – fortunately a cinnabar moth fluttered past – which reminded me that they lay their black and yellow caterpillars on ragwort – so I left some plants at the edge of the field.

Cinnabar moth – photo courtesy of butterfly conservation

I check on the caterpillars every day when I take Duke for his morning walk – and of course the bees, hoverflies and butterflies also love ragwort so there’s quite a visual orchestra to watch every morning.

The caterpillars absorb the toxins from the ragwort which makes them taste bitter and they are unpalatable to most birds – an exception being the cuckoo – and most other predators – except ants.  If there is not enough food they will also eat each other!

This is a small copper

And here is a speckled wood

I will of course have to remove the ragwort before its seeds blow everywhere but hopefully the caterpillars will have finished eating by then and turned into pupae!

A New Puppy

A New Puppy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were 7 puppies in the trailer – all clamouring for attention.  They were different colours as their mother was a blue merle border collie – both parents were working dogs.  I instinctively chose the one that looked most like my old Duke.  I picked him up in my arms and was speechless.  It had been so long since I had held a dog in my arms, it was a wonderful feeling, a dog of my own again.  And this time, he would be living with me all the time.  A permanent companion, sharing my life outside – but such a lot to learn first!

I asked what food he had been having – standard dried dog food mixed with milk (dairy farm dogs nearly always get milk with their food).  I took a small amount of the dried food home with me.  And we also had the paperwork for his microchip.  Since April 2016 every puppy has to be microchipped and registered by 8 weeks of age.

I got the towels ready for the journey home – nearly two hours – he slept most of the way – but was sick three times.  We finally got home and I found a old collar for him (he wasn’t terribly happy about having it round his neck – but he soon got used to it).

I expected him to wake in the night so I slept on the settee downstairs, surrounded by newspaper.  He slept in the old cat basket which was just the right size.  Surprisingly, he slept through the night.  I took him out for a wee first thing in the morning – then he got back into bed with me.

The next night we made a bed for him on the floor in our bedroom and he slept on that.  But subsequent nights he kept waking up – and waking us up – so he now sleeps on our bed – between us – and with his head on the pillow if he can possibly manage it!

I fed him on the dry food mixed with a bit of tinned food but he was sick every time he ate.  He usually ate it all again, and second time around it stayed down.  I asked advice from our local animal food supplier and Belinda said to feed him dried food soaked in water in small amounts at regular intervals.  This generally worked and it was only if he ate something different – or too much at once – that he was sick.

His name was pre-ordained – as he looked like my old Duke – he became Duke II – and learned his name quite quickly, along with sit and stay.

Our garden is fairly secure but, from previous experience, if a border collie wants to get out – he will get through anything – so we had to watch him all the while.   He had been brought up with hens in a farmyard so didn’t chase them – but Dillon the cockerel wasn’t terribly happy with this new addition to his domain.

Duke sniffed inquisitively at the rabbits – Lunar, mother rabbit with babies in the hutch – got quite cross at puppy sniffing at her and turned her back on him.  Offended, he barked at her – she was not impressed!

Duke was used to hens – ducks were a different matter – and Duke was fascinated with these strange things – he wanted to investigate further – but of course they ran away when he went near.  So this is going to take a bit of time.  The ducks learned to keep out of his way – but Jasmine duck has just hatched 3 tiny ducklings so we’ve had to provide a secure pen – and Duke will have to have some lessons in looking after the ducks – my old Duke used to round up my ducks at night and put them to bed.

So, to our first walk in the field.  The grass is quite high in places and Duke couldn’t see where he was going, so he followed ‘doggedly’ in my footsteps – until we reached the badger set – where the grass is shorter – and he started sniffing around.  Then we had a dig in the sand by the rabbit holes – and he got sand all over his nose.

He’s now learned to fetch a ball – he will bring it back if he gets a treat. He still curls up in the cat basket – but he’s really too big for it now and ends up half in and half out of it.

Potty training is not going terribly well – he hasn’t got the hang of going to the toilet on newspaper so we’ve given that up – instead we take him outside every time he wakes up and after he’s eaten – but he still doesn’t seem to know the difference between inside and outside – and if it’s raining he really doesn’t want to go out – for a farm dog he’s certainly over-fond of his home comforts.

He loves serrano ham treats – and melon rind – and he’ll play for ages with a broad ben pod.  He’s nearly wrecked the conservatory – I’ve had to move everything off the worksurfaces as he’s managed to climb up – somehow.

He’s had all his injections and we’ve been patiently waiting for the day we could go a proper walk – which was Thursday – but it hasn’t stopped raining since then!  Made a mental note to remember the poo bags!  Wonder how he’ll get on with other dogs?

Today’s Treasures – Spring is Just Around the Corner

Today’s Treasures – Winter is over and Spring has just begun

The celandines are sunning their golden faces, coltsfoot flowers are lifting their heads and opening their petals to the wintry sunshine and the frogs have finally woken up in the pond.  The dawn chorus is back – the liquid notes of the blackbird serenading the sunrise, soon joined by all the other birds waking up and flexing their wings – they feast on the seeds on the bird table then they are off making nests, flying to and fro with beaks full of moss.

The robin has inspected the bird boxes – and investigated the apple tree – and now seems to have settled on building his nest in the Pampas grass – whilst the blackbird has made a big song and dance about building in the hedge – and finally decided on the ivy climbing over the weigela.

If we didn’t have so many cold, wet, windy, dismal, days in winter – we wouldn’t look forward quite so much to spring.  It’s such a relief when the first snowdrops poke their heads through the frozen ground – then the primroses and hyacinths brighten up the winter borders, closely followed by the daffodils – crowds of them, fluttering and dancing in the breeze – as Wordsworth so aptly described them.

The cherry blossom is out in candyfloss clouds of pink and the first tiny crimson buds are showing on the apple blossom.  Bees have woken up from their winter sleep and are busily investigating the spring flowers.

The scent of the first new mown grass is full of the promise of hot sunny lazy summer days full of sunshine.

Winter is over and spring has just begun …

 

 

Published in the April edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

 

March in Barbara’s Back Yard – Spring is Just Around the Corner

March in Barbara’s Back Yard – Spring is Just Around the Corner

Spring is just around the corner – the celandines are sunning their golden faces, Coltsfoot flowers are lifting their heads and opening their petals to the wintry sunshine and the frogs have finally woken up in the pond again.

The broad beans I planted in December have mostly survived but don’t seem to have grown at all – and the ones I planted in pots a few weeks ago are about the same size – I planted them out this week – quite firmly – with news of the impending strong winds.

In between the showers, I have planted the first lot of onion sets but they don’t seem to be growing at all yet – obviously need some warmth before they get started.

This year I bought Eckford sweet pea seeds (which I found in D T Brown’s catalogue) – and I’ve had much better success with growing these than other varieties.  In previous years, although I’ve always put them in the propagator, less than half have sprouted.  If you pinch out the tips of sweet peas it encourages them to be more bushy.

The Eckford Sweet Pea was first bred in Shropshire – but it is named after the horticulturist, Henry Eckford who was born in 1823 in Edinburgh.  In 1870 he was in charge of a garden at Sandywell in Gloucester and his employer encouraged his interest in breeding plants.  When they moved to Boreatton in Shropshire, Dr. Sankey encouraged him further and he started the development of the Sweet Pea which had changed little since it was first introduced from Sicily in 1699.  In 1888 Henry Eckford moved to Wem and established Eckford’s Nursery which specialised in sweet peas and now sweet pea lovers from all over the country visit Wem in July each year for the Eckford Sweet Pea Festival, organised by the Eckford Sweet Pea Society – and Wem has become the ‘Home of the Sweet Pea’.

And Eckford sweet peas seem to be much easier to germinate than other varieties I have tried.

I’ve also sown some herbs in pots – coriander, basil and parsley – and they have all germinated and I have moved them to the polytunnel as there is more light there than in the conservatory.  Tomato seeds are now just sprouting in the propagator.

Daisy has started laying again – as soon as she goes broody – and stays on the nest at night – I will move her to a separate pen – and hopefully we might get some Dorking chicks this year.

I’ve now sold most of the NZWhite x Californian rabbits.  There is still one white buck – and an adorable Californian buck who is so soft and so friendly I shall be sad to part with him – he will make a lovely pet.  Lunar’s first litter are now 10 weeks old – 3 survived – two does and a buck.  She has just mated again.  With this litter I will make sure they all just have rabbit pellets – no mix and no apples – and hopefully they will all survive – although I can’t be sure it was different food that caused the upset to their digestive system.  Dandelion is doing really well at 4 years old but I might need to think about getting a new buck soon.

So lovely to see all the spring flowers – daffodils and tulips, primroses and grape hyacinths – and to hear the frogs burbling in the pond again.

February in Barbara’s Back Yard

February in Barbara’s Back Yard

End of February and the weather is beautiful.  Still very cold at night – and the tap by the barn was frozen this morning so had to use the bucket by the house – but the sun is lovely once the mist and frost have cleared.  This time last year we had the Beast from the East and we made a snowman, this year we are told it will be the Wet from the West at the end of the week – but we could really do with some rain – the wild pond has only a puddle of water in the middle.

I’ve been looking out for frogs – by the end of February they are usually hopping back to the pond to find a mate – but there’s no sign of them yet – in any of the ponds.  It’s quite fascinating watching them – if you sit still, more and more beady eyes pop up out of the water – and I love to hear their burbling – especially late in the evening – it always sounds louder in the dark.

As it’s been quite dry so far this year, I’ve dug the bean trench and put in a mixture of manure from the hen house, rabbit manure – and compost from the compost bin.  The rest of the compost has been spread over the potato patch.  One February it myvegetable patch had a moat around it – and I couldn’t do anything as the ground was much too wet.  This year I’ve already planted some onion sets and the parsnips will go in once my seeds arrive – which should be today.

This year I ordered seeds from www.dtbrownseeds.co.uk – I received a catalogue in the post – and you can still order with a cheque – or by phone – but online is definitely easier – there are more varieties on the website – and you can also find out if items are in stock.

I’ve ordered some potatoes – second earlies – and set them out in trays ready to sprout.  The DT Brown instructions are excellent:  After unpacking, put potato tubers in a cool, light, well-ventilated and frost-free place, away from direct sunlight.

Potatoes can be divided into five categories, planted from March to July

  1. First earlies – plant mid-late March – ready June to July
  2. Second earlies – plant in late March – ready July to August
  3. Early maincrops – plant in April – ready August
  4. Late maincrop – plant early May – ready September onwards
  5. Second Cropping / Late Cropping – plant from early July – ready September to December

The chitting process allows strong green shoots (chits) to develop on the tuber before planting.  Although not essential, it is particularly beneficial for the earlier cropping potatoes because it give the potato a quick start, thus cropping earlier.  Set the seed potatoes out, side by side (I use egg trays) blunt end uppermost (this is the end opposite where the stalk was that attached the potato to the parent plant – but you can’t always see this).  

Plant tubers 4-6 in deep (10 – 15 cm), earlies 10-12 in apart, in rows 2 ft apart; maincrop 12-14 in apart in rows 30 in apart.  Once shoots appear above the surface you need to earth them up (draw up soil over the tubers forming a ridge).  This gives the plant a volume of soil in which to grow, stops the tubers turning green, and improves drainage and ventilation. 

It also gets rid of weeds.  I mulch everything else with grass cuttings – but when I did this with potatoes they all got blight so earthing up regularly works much better.

Potatoes are ready to harvest when the tops reach full size – weather permitting, they will usually attempt to produce flowers – or at least buds – at this time. 

Onion Sets: 

When onions arrive put them into a cool, light, well-ventilated and frost fre place, away from direct sunlight.

Plant between February and April, as soon as the soil is sufficiently dry and warm.  Onions form a bulb when the temperature and the number of daylight hours hit the right combination for them, which triggers their clock.  Until that happens, onions use the daylight to produce a good deal of top growth before they form bulbs (and the more top growth, the bigger the bulb).  When the day reaches the right number of hours for that variety of onion, the onion will stop forming top growth, and form a bulb instead.  The size of the bulb that eventually forms depends on the size of the ‘stalks’ and the number of them.  there will be 1 ring in the onion for every stalk that formed, and the larger the stalk, the larger each ring will be.  bulb formation will pause during dry, very hot or very cold weather.

Break off any flower stems which appear.  Mulching is useful for cutting down watering and for suppressing weeds.  Stop watering once the onions have swollen and pull back the covering earth or mulch to expose the bulb surface to the sun to dry.  When the bulb is mature, the foliage turns yellow and topples over.  Leave them for 2 weeks and then carefully lift with a folk on a dry day.

Onions which are not for immediate use must be dried.  Spread out the bulbs on sacking or in trays; outdoors if the weather is warm and sunny of indoors if the weather is wet.  Drying will take 7 to 21 days depending on the size of the bulbs and air temperature.  Store unblemished onions in trays, net bags 0r tied into plaits. 

I’ve also planted some broad beans in pots – and sown some herb seeds – which are in the propagator.

Daisy has decided to sit on some eggs so I’ve moved her to a pen on her own – it stops the other hens pestering her (because they always want to lay their eggs where she is sitting) and, if the eggs do hatch, they are in a safe place.

 

Imbolc – 1st February

1st February – Imbolc

Imbolc is a Gaelic festival marking the promise of spring.  It is a celebration of the lengthening days and occurs halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.  It corresponds to the Welsh ‘Mary’s Festival of the Candles’ and the Christian feast days of Saint Brigid and Candlemas.

The word Imbolc probably comes from the Old Irish Imbolc meaning ‘in the belly’ which refers to the pregnancy of ewes – as at this time of year we see new born lambs along with snowdrops and early spring bulbs.

Purification was an important part of Imbolc – with spring cleaning – and lighting of candles and fires – representing the return of warmth and the increasing power of the sun.  People would visit holy wells and ask for good health whilst walking in a deosil (Gaelic sun-wise) direction around the well.

Squirrels in Barbara’s Back Yard

Squirrels can be a real nuisance – and they have wrecked some of my bird feeders.  When we had a dog she used to chase them off.  When she died, the cat took over responsibility and kept them away from the bird table.  Now we are dog-less and cat-less (very sad walking down the pet food aisle in the supermarket – I try to avoid going down that aisle if I can!).  So the squirrels are back.  My sister bought me a little dish for Christmas – and we had some chestnuts left over from bonfire night – so I thought I would try putting out some nuts for the squirrels in the hope that they would leave my bird feeders alone!

It seems to be working – the squirrel comes to the chestnuts first – he sits and eats one, then runs off and hides one, then eats one, then buries one.  And, so far, he’s left the bird feeders alone.

Today though he’s decided to bury the nuts in my rock garden – digging up the pansies in the process – so tomorrow I’ll put out a few less nuts and maybe he won’t bury so many….?

 

 

 

 

 

New Zealand White Rabbits – Lunar and Dandelion’s first litter

Lunar and Dandelion’s First Litter – pure New Zealand White rabbits

 

 

 

 

 

Lunar gave birth on 29th December – so her babies are now just 3 weeks old. I think there are nine of them but I haven’t counted them yet – it’s best not to disturb them too much when they are tiny – and mum always pops her head round to keep an eye on them!

When they are born I check as best I can that there are no dead babies – they are normally left away from the others so it’s easy to remove them.  Thankfully I rarely get babies born dead – but sometimes if it’s a big litter the tiniest might not survive.

I check them once or twice a day to make sure none have got separted – if they have I gently push them back to the others so they don’t get cold.

At ten days old their eyes open and at 3 weeks they start hopping around their pen – they are so cute – this is the best part of breeding rabbits – I can watch them for ages.

And these are all pure New Zealand Whites – no black noses and toes this time!

The Story of Keri and Lily – New Zealand White Rabbits

New Zealand White Rabbits – The Story of Keri and Lily

Last Spring I was contact by a lady via Facebook who had bought two rabbits at an auction and thought one of them might be pregnant.  I explained that when does reach maturity (around 6 months old) if they haven’t mated they may still think they are pregnant and make a nest – they pick up hay in their mouths and carry it to their chosen site – and sometimes they will even go as far as pulling out their fur to line the nest.

I explained that there was nothing she needed to do except ensure the doe was making her nest in a safe place – sheltered from the weather.   Both does had the run of her fairly small garden with a choice of several boxes to shelter in.

Does are generally very capable mothers and will just get on with it, have all their babies at one time, in one place and feed them until they are old enough to feed themselves.

So back to the story of Keri and Lily:  Shortly afterwards, the lady came back to me and asked if I knew anyone who wanted to buy her two rabbits.  I had lost both my does – I had been keeping them in runs outside in the summer – during the day – and something took both of them at different times – despite the fact that I was outside with them most of the time they were out.  I was devastated – and couldn’t find any NZWhites to replace them – so straight away I said I would have them.  She lived Devon way but we were visiting my sister who lives in Cornwall – so we arranged to collect them on the way back.

It was a boiling hot day – and we anticipated arriving around lunchtime – so I texted to ask if she had managed to catch both the does – she hadn’t!  So when we arrived both does were happily running around the garden – and were both quite grubby.   I ended up chasing them around the garden until I figured out a way to trap them.  Eventually we got them both into cat baskets and headed for home.

Both does settled in well but one of them had ear mites – so I had to treat both of them.  I mated Keri and she gave birth to 12 babies – although one of them died.  Dandelion (my buck) is 4 years old so he’s doing really well siring such a big litter.  It wasn’t until the babies were around three weeks old that I noticed some of them were getting black noses – and soon they had black ears, tails and toes – obviously Keri had some Californian blood in her.  I then noticed that she did have slightly grey ears – but of course I hadn’t noticed that when she was running around the garden all dusty!

By this time, I had mated Lily and she had a litter of 3 kits.  And I had mated Keri again because pure NZWhites are always in high demand – I’ve never had a problem selling them.  But I did now have a problem with selling rabbits that were not pure breeds – which is why I have so many rabbits available.  For breeding for meat these rabbits should be excellent, despite not being pure – they have enough NZW blood in them – and both breeds are large rabbits – and they are cheaper at £15 each than buying a pure breed.

Happily I have found new homes for both Keri and Lily but still have their babies to sell.

I have also found a pure NZWhite doe – Lunar – and she has just had a litter – so I will also have some pure NZWhites available around the middle of March.