Tuesday, 10 March 2020

A biblical plague...?

'February fill-dyke'. 
Traditionally a soggy month, this one beat all records for rain. Farmers are struggling to get onto the land. Roads become flooded as streams and ditches overtop. Perhaps this dreadful state-of-affairs for the farming community may lead some to convert their unproductive land to wildlife? Says the cockeyed optimist in me. The same cockeyed optimist has been pursuing Prof Alistair Driver (national lead on rewilding) via twitter to persuade him to talk at a forthcoming conference. 

On our sandy soil and sitting on top of a low hill, we are suffering less than most from the weather. But it still feels that spring has been held in check by the persistent rain, the succession of cold nights and the storms.

Long-tailed tit
Bramblings, lesser redpolls, siskins and redwings are still here. A single butterfly siting (small tortoiseshell) for 2020 so far and few bumblebees despite aconites, primroses and snowdrops having benefitted from the damp conditions and flowering more abundantly than ever here. Around George's Pond, the simple beauty of native daffodils in their first flowering year. Honeybees from the apiary venture out but sit dazed and unproductive. Our moth light has been infrequently used and unattractive. The house sparrows that raised two broods in our kitchen gable colony box last year appear to have deserted us. In their place, an eccentric great tit has laid claim to one of the sections of the colony box and now uselessly expends energy chasing its' reflection up and down our windows and doors, its bill tap-tapping on the glass.
Frogspawn in George's Pond (photo Judith)

Following the national rise in their population, badgers have become evident in many parts of the garden and are presumably benefitting from increased invertebrate abundance in the damp soil. Snuffleholes and gouged earth are becoming commonplace.
And today, much thrashing in the shallows around George's Pond and around seventy plus clumps of frogspawn so far. An increase of over 200% on last year, itself our best-ever year here. Or a portent of a biblical plague to go with all the other calamities we currently face?
George's Pond began in 2016. The site had no ponds of any kind before we arrived. The frogs have colonised the pond themselves. Their increase here in the face of a national decline gives us hope for other species’ recovery in the future.

Speaking of things herpetological, last weekend Rich and I laid large pieces of black corrugated sheeting in the meadow in unlikely anticipation of a spontaneous eruption of grass snakes.

Long-tailed tits have begun nest building in a close-trimmed conifer in the Woodland Garden. They flutter about, collecting spiders webs to make their elastic-sided nests. I'm well-on-the-way with work here. The majority of the paths have been weeded and mulched with shreddings kindly donated by local arborists. I have a trail cam set capturing movement across one of the Woodland Garden paths and which I hope will eventually form a unique record of this perspective of the garden for the year.

Stored carrots
The mulching in our no-dig vegetable garden is almost finished. Shallots, garlic, spring onions, overwintering onions and broad beans are all putting on growth. Kale is being harvested and purple sprouting broccoli will soon be ready. Our leeks have almost finished but we are still using our stored carrots and beetroot. The greenhouse staging holds trays containing hundreds of Jills seedlings, all poised for the warmer weather... Charles Dowding turned our gardening lives upside down when he spoke to Nottingham Organic Gardeners in February of 2019. We are eternally grateful.

The Fragrant Garden, hot borders, foraging border and Rosa's border have all been tended and mulched. 
Jill is working through the beds at the front of the house. The earth-sheltered north side of the bungalow stretches on forever needing work. Our prairie beds remain so popular with finches, tits and thrushes that we have delayed doing necessary work here.

We have less time for our gardening work than ever due to family commitments. On our good days we see the improvement year-on-year and recognise what an immense achievement the development and maintenance of this three-acre wildlife garden is and take huge pride in it.

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