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  • Long-tailed tits tapping at windows

    Miranda Hodgson on 30 Mar 2010 at 12:32 PM

    I had an interesting email from my father the other day. He said, ‘For the past few days flocks of long-tailed tits have been coming to the fat balls (more primly known as ‘suet treats’) hanging in our garden. From time to time one or two will leave the group and start tapping on the windows, upsetting the cat no end. Why do you think they do this? My theory is that they catch sight of their reflection in the glass and think it's another tit, but it's never happened in past years. But then again, there are far more LTTs this year than before, perhaps because we've never had fat balls (or suet treats) before.’



  • Beware of the mouse – if you’re sowing peas and beans, that is

    Miranda Hodgson on 21 Mar 2010 at 11:31 AM

    Packets of peas and beans generally come with instructions to sow them in the ground where they are to grow. It sounds good enough, but it puzzles me because the instructions don’t take into account a certain small mammal, the mouse - Apodemus sylvaticus.

    Field mouse, wood mouse, call them what you will, but they love peas and beans and can sniff them out as fast as you sow them. They love sweet corn, too, and will neatly lift every carefully sown kernel, leaving barely a trace of their foraging. For this reason, I prefer to sow into trays and then keep them on metal racks that mice can’t climb up, until they have put out at least one set of leaves and can be safely put outside. I could, of course, trap and kill them, and many gardeners do, but I choose not to.

    Mice are mostly nocturnal, so you don’t often see them, but they leave signs of their presence. If you have seed or berry producing trees nearby, like cherry or holly, it’s likely that a mouse will gather the seed and store it somewhere, to be eaten later; the corner of a dry garage is a favourite spot. The inside of a wood pile is a good storage area too – in ours we find many cherry stones. Once, I even found a disused bird’s nest piled high with holly berries


  • Frogs returning to garden ponds herald the start of spring

    Miranda Hodgson on 16 Mar 2010 at 11:58 AM

    Now that the long winter is finally coming to an end, frogs (Rana temporaria) are making their way to garden ponds to mate. They’re late this year, only just gathering for their annual frolic. In 2005, on March the 17th, they had already spawned and could be seen floating protectively over the clumps of gelatinous eggs but, this year, on Sunday the 14th of March, they hadn’t yet entered the state known as amplexus, when the males clasp the females and the frenzy of breeding begins.

    One of the 2005 frog


  • Finding treasure in the compost heap, spring ladybirds and early bees

    Miranda Hodgson on 05 Mar 2010 at 12:55 PM

    With the key to the garden door now in my possession, I made my first proper foray into the garden this week. For some time before taking on this garden, I’d had my eye on the big compost heap against the north facing wall. Whilst it is hidden from the big house, I can see it from the kitchen window and have wondered for many months what it contains, so it was with a sense of both satisfaction and anticipation that I approached it, fork at the ready. The top layer was made up of grass cuttings and I dreaded finding a heap of smelly, anaerobic sludge, but underneath this top layer was a mix of grass cuttings and the prunings of perennial border plants and, much to my pleasure, a great many worms.

    These are compost worms, of the Eisenia species, and they are busy breaking down the heap into usable compost, so their presence is very welcome; I hope to find some ready to use compost further down. On putting my fork to soil in the borders, I have my fingers crossed that I’ll find plenty of worms there too (these will be Lumbricus rubellus, which prefer to live in soil rather than compost heaps, pulling plant debris beneath the soil). There is certainly enough organic matter on the surface to keep them happy!

    Walking along the long border and looking at the rather bedraggled remains of last year’s perennials, I spotted the first ladybirds of spring, warming themselves in the sun; they are very welcome too as they and their larvae will help to keep the garden clear of aphids.