Saturday, 25 April 2015

a home fit for holly

There's a local butterfly I've never seen - the Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus).

The Butterfly Conservation East Midlands tells us that 'spring generation females lay their eggs on Holly buds, whilst the summer brood lay mainly on Ivy'

We've got holly. And ivy...

But I need you to suspend your disbelief for a mo'....

Brooding figures rise from a boiling green sea: one mysteriously cloaked in gold. Glowering, 'The Mesters' (for that is their name) guard a challenging stepping stone path that weaves through the breaking waves. 

Ok. You've had enough.

When we first came to Cordwood, we discovered a patch of native ivy growing beneath one of the towering Atlas Blue Cedars giving a distinctive character to this part of the garden. A visit to Biddulph Grange in Staffs showed us just how effective a ground cover ivy can be. Which is fortunate as it's great for wildlife and even better if allowed to grow vertically when, in what is called its arboreal state, it flowers and produces berries. The ivy flowers are amongst the last of the nectar sources for insects as they prepare for winter and so are especially prized.

But its value does not stop there. 

The Northumberland moths site tells us that some of our prettiest moths need ivy for their larval stage (caterpillars):
the stepping stone path
  • Yellow-barred Brindle (Acasis viretata) 
  • Willow Beauty (Peribatodes rhomboid aria) 
  • Swallow-tailed Moth (Ourapteryx sambucaria) 
  • Old Lady (Mormo maura) 
  • Dot Moth (Melanchra persicariae) 
  • Double-striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata). 
So our native ivy packs a real punch for wildlife and I'm keen to do all I can to help it.

Pat and I had a great session clearing ground and sinking sawn pine logs vertically into the soil during the autumn. I named them 'The Mesters'. The ivy will grow vertically and flower. I must say that I thought we had a great time - haven't seen him since!

Since then we have encouraged the ivy patch to grow and have  worked to remove brambles, nettles and elder that have punctured the vista. When our pal Jan was with us we set too to remove these thuggish intruders. It's amazing just how one extra pair of hands can make such a difference. Jan inspired me to transplant rooted ivy cuttings into bare patches and to create the stepping stone path from sawn logs.

Our pals Pete and Jan chipped in with the gift of a golden ivy which I planted up one of the vertical logs.

In coming months the ivy will be encouraged to cover more ground so that this part of the Cedar Walk path is surrounded on all sides by the 'Ivy Sea'. I have some more hefty logs that will need erecting to extend 'The Mesters'. And the native holly that has grown around the area will be planted in this area and shaped into spheres to contrast with the vertical sawn logs..

And then there'll be a fluttering of blue butterfly wings.....

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Progress report for March 2015!!

March 2015 at Cordwood

A summary by a compulsive list-maker!

A few days of spring weather now make this account seem like ancient history!

Rain fall was slightly above average over the month for Nottingham but the early part of March was dry with most of the rain falling after 27th. The dry spell was made worse by a desiccating wind.

45mm month Cordwood total - above average rainfall (average for Nottingham in March is 37.6mm).

This information reinforced how ‘dry’ we are in the east of England: nationally rainfall averages 65mm in March. 

No records but the persistent cold wind made the month feel chilly and slowed the arrival of spring.

Freezing temperatures made it the UK's joint second coldest March since records began more than 100 years ago, the Met Office has said.

Trapping began in earnest this month with eleven species recorded. Yellow-horned and oak beauty (pictured) were highlights.

Linda spotted a Brimstone on the 7th but no other positive identifications. ‘Dark’  butterflies (possibly peacocks emerged from diapause) were seen briefly on a couple of occasions but not identified.

The first tree bumblebee (bombus hypnorum) was seen on the 6th and the first early bumblebee (bombus pratorum) (pictured) was seen on 17th.

Toads were regularly seen around the garden and four lots of frogspawn were recorded with first three in the pond on the 16th. Our first ever at Cordwood!

Grey squirrel, mole, wood mouse and hedgehog were recorded on site. Lots of evidence of hedgehogs on the lawn from the middle of the month. A hedgehog feeding station was set up on 24th with food taken daily thereafter: our first siting was the 31st. We followed a badger up Lamins Lane late on the evening of the 14th.

40 species were recorded at Cordwood during March with two lists containing 32 species. Three complete lists were uploaded to BTO Birdtrack.
The high numbers of goldfinch (70), chaffinch around feeder (14) and wood pigeon on lawn (71) recorded in February are now behind us. Watching 19 redwing on the lawn was a highlight; with 19 also the highest count of fieldfare overhead. We have maintained our share of the 55 million pheasants that are released in the UK for shooting each year with a male on permanent walkabout and up to eight hen pheasants being attracted to the seed cast from the bird feeders.
Tree sparrows were seen prospecting for nest sites at two of our nesting boxes. 
My birthday bird feeder (positioned by the privet hedge facing our front door) attracted greenfinches in increasing numbers. A growing number of stock doves are now seen beneath the sweet chestnut bird feeders and at at each of the large open fronted bird boxes. This reflects the higher numbers recorded nationally by the BTO.
Judith and Rogers bird feeders were busy too.

1. Development
Woodland garden edge ‘Green Lane’ perennial planting largely complete in February, plants were labelled and watered due to dry conditions.

The ‘thug border’ between the log wall and the flower meadow was dug over, composted, planted and mulched with ‘thugs’ that will thrive in the challenging conditions there:
  • shasta daisy
  • golden rod
  • aster calliope
  • g. Macrrorhizum ‘Bevans'
  • g. Phaeum

Our first ‘prairie bed’ at the edge of the lawn (approx. 82m2) was dug over and dressed with compost and manure during the month. 
In the first phase of planting 56m2 was planted with:
  • Ice Plant (Sedum spectabile)
  • Yarrow (Achillea filipendulina 'Gold Plate') 
  • Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Globe Thistle (Echinops Vitro)
  • Michaelmas Daisy (Aster laevis 'Calliope')
  • Daylily (Hemerocallis)
  • Korean Mint (Agastache rugosa 'Liquorice Blue')
  • Inula magnifica
  • Astrantia major
  • Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum 'Broadway Lights')
  • Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker')
  • Globe Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus)
  • Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing')
  • Bergamot (Monarda 'Cambridge Scarlet'
And ornamental grasses:
  • Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
  • Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa)
  • Golden Oats (Stipa gigantea) 

The final 16m2 which lie beneath the sycamores will be planted in April.

A curved, gravel board edged path (pictured) was completed to separate prairies beds 1 and 2.

Jill’s 60th birthday magnolia grandiflora (a present from Trev and Linda) was finally planted in ground cleared in ‘the birthday border’.

The entrance was cleared, levelled, gravelled and planted. Grass seed was sown and sandstone blocks positioned.
  • Rosa Kiftsgate 
  • rosa Dortmund
  • Clematis Montana against entrance sycamore
  • Clematis jackmanii & white macropetala
  • Honeysuckle on one of entrance posts

The ground by the container was cleared with rubbish taken to the tip.

2. Maintenance

Lamins boundary in the woodland garden - hollies and berberis darwinii were transplanted to create a better screen and cotoneasters were cut back. Barrowing of chippings to Woodland Garden paths was completed. Beech planted where plants had been lost in screen by Wizard tree. Snowdrops were fed with a little pelletised chicken manure.

Arisings from perennials in vegetable garden were shredded.

Poo Pete delivered two loads of horse muck and Nathan added to our chippings pile on the road to our annex in readiness for mulching Jills mounding and completing the Himalayan birch mounding.

All buddleias were pruned.
Crimea boundary hedge was nipped back to chest height and removal of brambles competing with hedge plants begun. 

Hay that should have been taken from the orchard after Mike and I scythed it in the  summer was finally removed!

March saw the drive finished. The gates remained an issue as one fell off! The access control allows those with a keyed or fob in, but only those blessed with a fob can leave. Not ideal! 

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

a beautiful bumblebee border

Not single plants, but drifts of them. All bearing simple flowers, providing seeds or shelter. For invertebrates, birds, mammals and reptiles. Natural and beautiful.

That's the vision: a skilful mix of annuals, perennials and ornamental grasses.

Piet Oudolph is the Dutch master who is responsible for this style of planting and we have visited many of his UK gardens.

What is striking is the informality of the planting combined with a very contemporary 'feel'. But behind the informality, considerable precision is hidden in making exactly the right choice and combination of perennials and grasses.

Exploring and trying to understand Piet's work has consumed much of our spare time for the past four years. We have visited his gardens and studied them; taken photos and collected copies of his planting plans. Jill has drifted around the plants, fingers playing with the inflorescences and seeding heads of the grasses.

Since 2011 she has selected, sown, cultivated and propagated her favourites in readiness for this year.

statuesque Inula magnifica
For my part, I have turned soil to create the first south-facing 56m2 bed on heavy Brackenhurst soil playing the game of stoop-to-hunt-the-couchgrass-rhizomes-embedded-in-the-clay. This game has much to commend it for families, believe me. I have about 100m2 still to go. You'll have a whale of a time. And what's so great about walking upright anyway? Over-rated. I have also barrowed well-rotted compost from my 2012 vintage until my back has refused to bend. Backs are generally over-hyped.

And finally this week we have planted:
Ice Plant (Sedum spectabile)
Yarrow (Achillea filipendulina 'Gold Plate')
Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea)
Globe Thistle (Echinops Vitro)
Michaelmas Daisy (Aster laevis 'Calliope')
Daylily (Hemerocallis)
Korean Mint (Agastache rugosa 'Liquorice Blue')
Inula magnifica
Astrantia major
Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum 'Broadway Lights')
Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker')
Globe Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus)
Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing')
Bergamot (Monarda 'Cambridge Scarlet')

We hope that the varied flowers will be helpful to a wide range of our bumblebees especially.

And ornamental grasses:
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa)
Golden Oats (Stipa gigantea)

We are still waiting to plant:
Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum)
Chinese Silver Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Silberfeder')

We have also left two areas for annuals that will include Bullwort (Ammi magus) and Cosmos.

The whole area will be given a light mulching of chipping after the next decent rain.

This part of the garden packs quite an emotional punch for us, including as it does some of our favourite plants - Joe-Pye weed reminds us of early visits to RHS Wisley; Inula magnifica was first seen on a visit to Bluebell Nursery and Arboretum in Smisby at the start of the Cordwood project - and cone flowers bring memories of Monarch butterflies gorging on these beautiful flowers in Maine.

This first year is very much a 'draft' or 'work in progress'. We will have to see how the plants combine and how well they do in this border, shaded as part of it is by mature trees. The ground is heavy and some plants (e.g. the Ice Plants) may put on too much fleshy growth and insufficient flower.

But the main judges won't be us. We are not the Paul Hollywood or Mary Berry of Cordwood. Ours is populist gardening and our public is our wildlife. If the flowers hum with bees and flutter with butterflies and moths: if hedgehogs snuffle for worms and finches fight over winter seed heads - then we will have succeeded.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

a helping hand for hedgehogs

We are developing lovely gardens here at Cordwood. And all lovely gardens have lovely plants. But, I am going to suggest that there's something just as important in any good garden: hedgehogs. The presence of hedgehogs indicates that a garden is healthy.

Beauty with biodiversity is our aim and so we've been managing the gardens to increase invertebrate numbers. No pesticides are used. Lots of mulching. And we leave piles of vegetation that can act as wildlife refuges.

hedgehog poo
In Britain hedgehog numbers have declined alarmingly in recent years. This decline is attributed to a range of different factors including changing land use, the increase in badger numbers and the compartmentalisation of our gardens so that hedgehogs can't wander freely. Roadkill too must be an issue.

We are in a perfect place to create a mini hedgehog reserve here. We are some way from busy roads, for the most part garden organically and have woodland nearby. Although we have foxes, we have no badgers on site.

When we came to Cordwood it was a big disappointment to find no evidence of hedgehogs - but we must be doing something right now. Last summer we saw different hedgehogs most nights. They particularly loved our compost bays that were chock full of tasty invertebrates. And the Woodland Garden was a happy hunting ground for them too.

Already this year we have much evidence of their presence on the lawn: they're leaving us lots of faeces! My photo shows a typical one. Full of the fibrous remains of insects, dark in colour and about 25mm (one inch) long.

So, they're here - and perhaps in encouraging numbers. How can we give the hedgehogs a further help? I'll show you....

Here's our hedgehog feeding station. An old plastic box turned upside down and weighted with a brick.
Two holes are cut to allow entry and exit in case two hedgehogs are in there at the same time. They fight so it makes sense to give a way out.
And dog food.

We've placed the feeding station in the area where there was hedgehog 'evidence'. We now wait with excitement to see if it works.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

simple spring flowers to help insects

The flush of snowdrop flowers (gallanthus nivalis) has finished in the Woodland Garden. But they have been succeeded by a wide range of exceptionally beautiful simple, insect friendly flowers.
native bullace (Prunus domestica subspecies insititia)
The bullace (a small wild plum) was here when we arrived. It is benefitting from the increased light now that some of the overcrowding from the sycamores and horse chestnuts has been reduced. The bullace has elegant white flowers and prominent yellow stamens.

cyclamen coum
native primrose (primula vulgaris)
Cyclamen seem to be springing up all over! They are distributed by ants and then form really large underground corms which store water and food -ideal for our dry sandy soil. The spring flowering coum are less vigorous than autumn flowering herderifolium. Each form has the tiny, characteristic cyclamen flowers and attractively marked waxy leaves.

My favourite flower is our wild primrose. Although there are many attractive cultivars, none has the star quality of the wild form. They create hummocks of lemon coloured flowers that stud the woodland floor. They can be propagated by seed - or by division in June. Each plant can yield five or more new little plants which will flower the following spring. It is my intention to see the whole of the woodland garden populated by these beauties before I'm done!
lungwort (pulmonaria 'Sissinghurst White')
Lungwort have spotty leaves and typically have pink and blue flowers in each cluster. We also have the gorgeous Sissinghurst White form. Its progeny revert to the original colour and so they must be propagated by division if more of the white form are wanted. As with all of the flowers, their form is very simple, making it easy for insects to enter and feed.

Early bumblebee (bombus pratorum) visits lungwort flower
Also flowering at the moment are our lamiums (flowering dead nettles) and hellebores. A few tiny Tete a tete daffodils have moved into the Woodland Garden as have a little group of crocus. There really is a developing banquet of insect food out there! And more to come!

And here's the vindication! We have the first Early Bumblebee queen (bombus pratorum) feasting in a lungwort flower. She is the reason we're going to all this trouble. As with almost all insects, bumblebee numbers have fallen over recent years. The reasons for this decline in bumblebees is not entirely clear but disease and changing land use are likely causes. They need a range of simple flowers to stock up with pollen and nectar to help them establish their nests and then a succession of flowers for as long a period as possible to see them through a successful breeding season and into hibernation (diapause).

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

woodland garden: encouraging saproxylic organisms

I told you we were getting closer to finishing our development work in the woodland garden. Well, the planting has happened. Or is happening - as you'd expect there's still lots to do.
.... before

Japanese acers and bamboos are in their new positions: they will give this area a distinctive feel as the growing season moves on. The acers should be sensational in fiery autumn leaf. Our commitment to wildlife is remembered as native birch, hollies and yews have been planted: these latter two are very much in the 'micro-plant' category as they've been collected as self-sown seedlings or grown as cuttings from local bushes. The holly 'hedge' I've planted consists of plants no taller than 2" and should make something around the same time I get my centenary birthday telegram.

'It's a hedge Jill, but not as we know it...'

The part of the Woodland Garden we've been planting leads through into (what will become) the green lane border of herbaceous perennials. Some pretty, tough perennials are called for to cope with shade and our sandy soil .... stachys byzantium; leucanthemum superbum (Shasta Dasies); Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’; anemone japonica 'September Charm' and veronica longifolia are planted in groups. Geraniums, as usual, play a part with phaeum variegatum, nodosum and cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ in there. All of these have the kind of simple flowers that insects will love - especially as the afternoon sun brings warmth and light to this area. And an ornamental grass - deschampsia cespitosa is planted in a drift.

The soil has been dressed with our own compost and a thin mulch of chippings finishes the bed off.

and after ... just wait till it's in flower

Our use of logs makes this a really distinctive part of the wider Cordwood gardens. The Tree Council tell us that 80% of woodland wildlife depends directly or indirectly upon rotting wood: saproxylic organisms (those that depend upon decaying wood) are our main focus. We already have wood pigeons, stock doves, great spotted woodpeckers, wrens, robins, song thrushes, coal, great and blue tits busily feeding on the woodland invertebrates. Wood mice, hedgehogs and moles thrive on the opportunities they find in the Woodland Garden. As well as grey squirrels. Grrrr.

And these become food for our visiting sparrow hawks and kestrels. A pair of kestrels has been lurking suspiciously around our large open fronted nest boxes.

Distinctively Carlyle I guess - especially as during the latter part of my former career I was considered dead wood. 
Also distinctive is the compulsive labelling and listing of all the plants.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Jill is great on the wacker .....

Pain and pleasure.

Begun in November, the long and winding road that is the completion of the drives to our bungalows is in view. The man with the chequered flag is about to give it a shake. And gosh, there's a palpable sense of achievement and relief as we approach the final straight. But  the voice in my headphones tells me we're not quite there. A bit of gravelling here. Fence panelling there. A bit of compaction. And the knotty technical problems that go with making the drive gates work...Then we can get on with the planting (always the best bit).
Drive gates drive Dave to tablets

The drive gates are proving a challenge to our friend Dave. So much so that I gave him paracetamol with his coffee and then had to discretely check the exhaust pipe to his van when he retired there in despair. He was ok. Just wrestling with a technical difficulty.

Jill using wacker........
But, we're almost there.

On Friday our Dave completed the tegula blockwork that separates the drive and the lane. Gravel board drive edging is almost done.

But there was pain with the pleasure. My back hurt so much last Sunday that I couldn't bend to dress myself after a bath. Oh, the indignity.

To take your mind away from that image, here's a few photos of us at work, before the big climax. 

Speaking of which, and ever wishing to be topical (as Fifty Shades of Grey plays to full houses around the country) here's a photo of my wife using a wacker*.

*Builders' term for a Compactor.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

finishing the woodland garden is so close I can almost taste it ...

I don't have to excuse my failure to write anything since the middle of January. But find myself doing so anyway...

Let's put to one side the never-ending work on the drive...

We were asked to talk to Papplewick Garden Club about our home and gardens. Well, one thing leads to another. Reorganisation of photo library for one thing. Wrestling with the spiteful Apple 'Keynote' presentation tool. Was another. Making the old iPad work through the Bestwood WI digital projector as well.
Hours of my life sucked away.
But our talk was well received and that was reward enough. We've invited the club's members to join us for a summer evening tour of Cordwood.

So, now time to get back to the job in hand - developing our lovely Woodland Garden. And I'm so close to finishing the job I can almost taste it ..... decaying wood with a hint of fungus and an aftertaste of conifer chippings.

The first and second phases of the Woodland Garden saw us create log-edged wood chip paths. Native and ornamental hazel and elder were added to cornus, cotoneaster, ornamental holly, rhododendron and camellias as a shrub layer with a gorgeous dusting of snowdrops at this time of year.

So how to prevent the final half of the Woodland Garden from being a predictable 'more of the same'?

hazel and Japanese maple
We decided to create a large clearing that could act as a bonfire area and be a meeting place with seats.  So, bring on screens of sawn logs and beech hedging. And to change the planting 'feel' we've used the Japanese Maples that have been growing on patiently these past years and will be adding bamboos too.

Lots of logs, ground cover, mulch, climbers - we're talking a great woodland habitat for the song thrushes, wrens, robins, coal tits, chaffinches and stock doves that I keep disturbing!!

More work to do, oh yes. And now want to get it ready for the good people of Papplewick...

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

man with arms like string attempts to dig own grave ...

A drive up-date has been requested by my reader...

as darkness descends, the yellow brick road extends ..
Gosh, we worked hard up to Christmas. It was the typical team effort for which I am massively grateful. But when the white stuff came down our holiday plans were snowed under.

But hey ho, the work continued after the snow cleared and I can proudly report that we are now fully gravelled. Well, not properly fully. Almost fully. You can still click your ruby slippers on the yellow brick road but not all the way.

We have stopped just before the entrance and now await Colin the bricklayer to join us at the weekend to build us couple of Ancaster stone walls before gates and fence panels can be erected.

team effort
The plan is to use the unused building stone left over from the building work in walls on either side of our drive gates. These walls require footings, so there's an opportunity for the man with arms of string to make a meal of a job that would take someone with the full male chromosone quotient very little time at all. Over three hours for the 1.5m long, 750mm wide and 600mm deep hole. Dave looked at the hole and said simply 'One hour tops'. I'm not in this for what our American cousins would call 'positive strokes'. Good job really. On her way to the shops, Jill (knowing too well my physical inadequacies) told me very firmly to 'Go in - you look tired' as I laboured. I told her that the beauty of this activity was that, should I keel over, she'd just need to kick the soil over me on her return. I carried on. And contemplated leaving my fluorescent jacket just visible in the bottom of the finished hole after I went in and before she returned. One of us thought that would have been funny.

Anyway, Roger and I finished the holes on Sunday and Jill and Judith continued their life of ease and high glamour by barrowing bricks, shovelling spoil and mattocking further holes.

And today, the concrete was poured into our footings and covered in case of frost.

Now, we await Colin.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

helping willow tits

Our Willow Tit (Poecile montana) in trouble. The RSPB tells us that it is our most rapidly declining resident bird.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) tells us: Willow Tits have been in decline since the mid 1970s, and have become locally extinct in an ever-growing number of former haunts. 

decline in Willow Tit population
Never common, its population has fallen to such an extent that all breeding records must now be sent to the Rare Breeding Birds Panel.

Nottinghamshire Birdwatchers Annual Report 2012 only recorded birds in 24 locations. The report goes on to say that if the rate of decline continues Willow Tits may become extinct in the county within ten years.

The reasons for the catastrophic decline are unclear, but the RSPB has identified that 'Woods that have retained breeding Willow tits have damp soils, lower tree canopy cover and higher cover in the mid shrub layer and have more species indicative of scrub and wet woodland e.g. hawthorn, elder, willow and alder'.

But in Wigan, Lancs, they have been able to halt the decline. BBC Countryfile featured the work of Lancashire Wildlife Trust and interviewed Mark Champion, 
LWT  Wigan Projects Manager.

In a nutshell, the success of the Wigan project was attributed to providing the correct habitat. And providing nest sites. 

The Willow Tit is unique amongst our native tits in being the only species that excavates its nest hole from decaying wood. Most other tits make use of existing holes for their nests.

'Hmmm' I thought as I walked in Nottinghamshire's Leen Valley over the Christmas period. 'Surely some of this damp woodland can support Willow Tits?'

So, I contacted Mark Champion. 'What can I do to help local Willow Tits, if any still survive?' Mark replied immediately.

He began by telling me that there are populations of willow tits associated with the Coalfield areas of the county especially those areas adjacent to the Derbyshire and Yorkshire post-industrial areas. 

'Post-industrial' or brownfield sites that have open water can be favoured by Willow Tits.

Mark suggested that I began by surveying the habitat looking for damp scrub woodlands, especially those containing crack and grey willow, this is the habitat used by the willow tit, then survey using a tape lure of willow tits. Play the tape twice and move on - in spring willow tits will answer immediately. 

Our friend Andy had told us before we watched the Countryfile programme of the technique of securing rotting birch logs vertically to trees and drilling a 25mm starter hole for birds to excavate. Mark expanded on this technique by suggesting use of 4ft log zip tied to the existing trees at a density of 1 per 100m2.

Mark told me that damp willow woodland adjacent to shallow standing water, with a complex understory is required as the birds feed low down and are specialists in this habitat, He said that bramble and hazel within the willow scrub seem to perform the role of producing adequate complexity.

In Marks report 'Willow Tit Woodland Creation Habitat project' he says: 'In Britain, the Willow Tit is resident and highly sedentary; of 114 ringing recoveries 89 were within 5km of the original ringing site and only 4 were from distances greater than 20km'. 
If we are lucky enough to find Willow Tits, they are likely to be birds resident in that area. In which case, we may be able to support their breeding...

So, here's the plan:
  1. On Monday, eight of us intend to meet up at our place and look at the local OS map for possible areas along the Leen valley, initially between the Mill Ponds and Papplewick.
  2. I hope that we can arm ourselves with 'tape lures' of Willow Tit calls. This will be tough as the calls must be heard 70m from the tape player.
  3. We will then survey our chosen sites.
  4. And then meet up for lunch to see whether we've located any local populations and/or found suitable habitat.
  5. And plan from there.
We may fall flat on our faces. But it will prove interesting trying - and may help our endangered Willow Tits.

Monday, 22 December 2014

the yellow brick road ....

Imagine a man sentenced to eternal community payback. Every waking day he's shovelling, barrowing, straining in some way. All he needs is a calico suit marked with arrows. And a ball and chain. Speaking of whom, Jill feels as tired as I do at the end of our second week of drive development. I know that Judith and Roger do too.

But blimey, some great people weighed in too.

Let me just hit you with a roll of honour here:
Pete and Jan (for cake)...

But, you've guessed it, my star of the week is son Dave. Bless him. I got a nice face full of diesel when pumping fuel into the digger thanks to him. Comedy gold moment - is the diesel pump still working? I'll look. Yes. Exfoliating face scrub. But apart from that, he's been great.

We had originally ordered our gravel from a local builders' merchants but after they'd taken my money I managed to winkle out of them the facts that:
  1. the quarry was currently closed
  2. they could not guarantee delivery within any foreseeable timescale.
But then Roger found more suppliers and the missus phoned around until she found one that would deliver before Christmas.

So now we are string lining between kerb edges and the boy is teasing out the ground levels with the digger bucket to accept 40mm of our gravel. We are using the road roller then raking and pushing the gravel into place.

One third of the drive is now covered but heaps of work ahead in the next days getting levels right before we wend our way down what will look like the yellow brick road to the end of the drive, where our journey will be complete.

And, in a real sense this part of the Cordwood journey will then be nearly complete. It started with four over-faced optimists and six acres of neglect and will reach the point where we've created two beautiful eco-homes serviced by a shared drive and with real gates. But that little part will have to wait until the New Year.

So, for now hurrah!! - the Great British Rake Off has begun. Join us on this lap of the journey. Volunteers welcome. No experience or ruby slippers necessary.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

phoebe's border - it's official

A vortex of activity. Roger, Linda, Judith and Jill laying gravel boards to edge the drive; Tony on roller; Trev on dumper; and Dave on digger. Spitting with rain and December dark.
Then a little eighteen month old ray of sunshine arrives with her granny: Phoebe has come to see us.

And she's brought us a present: a sign to name her border.

It will be lovely to record her progress and the progress of the border named in her honour.

Thanks Phoebe: thanks granny!

Monday, 15 December 2014

concrete progress

Last week was the end of a hectic week that saw all kerb edging concreted in. A great team effort!

But not without its wobbles. 

the final kerb edging goes in
We wished that Professor Brian Cox could have joined us on Thursday as we defied the laws of Newtonian science. We ensured that we had a gap of 250mm from the string to the roadstone base in our trenches (or tracks). We then compacted the roadstone with a 'wacker' ... and found that instead of compressing the roadstone down, we had somehow managed to elevate the levels. The gap was now 200mm. Our David looked on ruefully as it took four of us to accomplish in a morning what he then accomplished in half an hour.

Our concrete delivery arrived on Friday morning but after much effort to coax the concrete from the lorry we had to send it back. It transpired that there was a computer problem that had affected the concrete manufacture process. Hmmm. Those pesky North Korean hackers at it again?

completed kerb edging 
But a second 4 cubic metres was delivered and kerb edging was completed thanks to Becca and Judith joining the team. We have gravel board edging to look forward to over the weekend and following week.
But in spite of this progress, we had disappointing news. The gravel we had chosen for topping the surface of the drive was sourced from a closed quarry! No idea when it would be reopened. If the gravel comes, it comes in February. Not the news I wanted at the end of an exhausting week.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

drive: edging forward

Day three of our drive project completed.
Mum and dad make royal visit to point at Jill

And on target. By now expected to ache, be irritable and ready for bed as soon as the six o'clock news begins on Radio 4. All targets met! Wife too, is also ticking those targets off: after a day concreting she'd expected to be as stiff as a board - which she is but which is also convenient because I have thermal underclothing to iron. It's chilly out there.

Wooden gravelboard drive edging was put in yesterday by Trev, Jill and Linda. Hard, hard work! Poor Trev developed a new injury to medical science, that of 'hammer hand' after a day spent hammering wooden spikes into the ground to support the gravel boards. Dave operated the digger and I spent the afternoon shaking like a jelly as I operated the sit-on roller with it set to 'vibrate' to flatten out the rough roadstone. Whaaaat ffuunn.

And I find it all about as stressful as impending OFSTED inspection at times because I always seem to become the gopher. (Go for this, go for that). Example: Tuesday morning and we're changing buckets on the digger. I undo the large bucket with the ratchet spanner, we remove the bucket, replace it with the trenching bucket. And the ratchet spanner has vanished. How does that happen? Nowhere. After fruitless searching I remember that Jill had brought us tea. And after a 200 yard round trudge I discover that she has put the ratchet spanner in the utility room. Hmmm. And the day of searching for things begins with me flying about like a human pinball. Where's the tape? No, not the tape measure, the sticky tape. You stand there, I'll find it.

And, of course, the Carlyle's make life ten times more difficult for themselves by beginning a hectic day by making industrial quantities of squash soup, some of which is intended for the Notts Refugee Forum. Thanks to Pete and Jan for collecting it in a lightning visit to deliver cake. Bless you!!!
This photo demonstrates how much taller I am than my son

Three cubic metres of concrete were delivered this morning. Concrete kerb edgings have now been laid around all of the Goldcrest drive edges. And looking great!

But hard lessons learned too. I wrote down my son's assertion as we were planning the job. He said 'There will be no barrowing whatsoever'. I wrote it down.

The reality was somewhat different. Actually I spent all day pushing wheelbarrows full of concrete up a slope then shovelling it out. I'm not bitter.

Tomorrow we'll be prepping the ground for our Friday concrete delivery. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

The new drive work begins: and they're off!!

And they're off!!

Dave on digger with drive extending into the distance.
Work on our drive began this morning.

Last weekend we'd set out the drive with metal stakes and levelled them to ensure that the roadstone beneath the gravel would direct rainwater where we wanted it to go.

Over the coming two weeks we hope to put in concrete or wooden edging and then to gravel the drive.
Nephew Matt gets levels right
The second phase will be to construct the gates, wall and fencing that lead into the new drive. 

Materials and plant have been ordered.

And, shovelled, lump hammered, diggered and dumpered we began.

And it's a family affair. We couldn't afford the quote we'd been given and so we chose to do the work ourselves, led by son Dave.

Today and tomorrow we want to get the ground prepared to receive the concrete and wooden edging. Wednesday to Friday will be concrete edging days. The beginning of the following week will be given over to wooden gravel board edging. And then gravelling.

I was pretty tired after day one!