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Frogs

Community Gardens, Lifestyle

Spring into Action

February 23, 2016

Springing into action

A strange thing happened recently. After 6 years of blogging I lost my ‘voice’. One minute it was there, then it was gone. I’ve countless drafts sitting in my google docs, but none made it here and I was beginning to wonder if my blogging voice would ever come back. Perhaps it was something to do with the flu bug I’m now sharing my fourth week with, but gone it was and it’s only as a result of taking these photos that I’m tentatively easing my way back in.

Springing into actionUntil this week outdoor activities have been at a minimum. Yesterday that began to change as Mr G and I managed to take advantage of the spring sunshine and we headed out for a walk. It was an amazing experience as the reintroduction into the wild was bursting with spring sights and sounds and I’m really thankful we took the time to do so.

Spring

We walked at a steady pace for fun and not exercise. Because of this, we were able to hear and watch the various birds twittering with one another and just caught the sound of twigs snapping, alerting us to a fox running for cover in the distance. We listened to streams trickling through the undergrowth as they headed down to the river. When we stopped for a few moments and were really quiet, we were able to hear the soft, deep sound of male frogs calling for mates throughout the woodland.

We are in awe of the amount of frog spawn that’s been laid in the puddles and ponds in the forestry. After the big machines and lorries departed, they left behind deep tracks all around the clearings which the frogs have taken full advantage of. There isn’t a single track that we could see that wasn’t full of the gelatinous spawn. We could hear the adults all around us but could barely get a glimpse. Whether they heard our tracks or could feel our vibrations on the pathways I’m not sure, but it was nye on impossible catching a glimpse of a frog, bar this one that we rescued before our young dog was tempted to play with it too enthusiastically.

Hopefully, I’m now turning a corner on the energy front as I’ve so many plans and ideas in the pipeline it’s starting to get frustrating. I’ve also been blessed with the help of an amazingly enthusiastic and upbeat work experience woman, Frances of Healing by Franc, who’s enjoying learning about the intricacies of running a small, social enterprise as she studies for her own Fetac 5 in Horticulture.

Having the responsibility of a trainee has allowed me to really focus on the weeks ahead and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in. Here’s some of the plans.

Community Gardens Ireland (CGI)

After a week of day time TV, I couldn’t stand it any longer so sat down and wrote down my goals for the year, both personal and professional. My enthusiasm for community gardens hasn’t diminished at all and in fact, the more I see and hear, the more I’m convinced we need an active community garden network to support and help one another.

I took the opportunity of some quiet time to spruce up the new cgireland.org website and as a result, feel that it’s finally starting to take shape. We’ve begun mapping the community gardens, something we were unable to do on our forum site. We now have over 165 community gardens mapped, with the majority of Northern Ireland still to go. I’ve also begun to add In Focus posts on the CGI blog written by various community gardens; an idea I started on the Greenside Up blog but feel the real home of such posts should be on the CGI blog.

A section that’s been proving popular on the CGN website is the newly created Training and Education initiatives, as well as Synergies with other agencies and organisations. These are both tucked under the Resources section which apart from giving tips on how to set up a community garden, also include information on setting up food co-ops, community cafés and buying clubs, an idea Frances and I are about to start exploring with neighbours.

As a result of spending a few hours dedicated to this project, plans for the community network have fought to get out of my head and as a result, we now have a draft strategy document in place for the coordinators to work towards and we are actively looking for funding avenues to help us continue our work.

Creating Local Community Garden Networks

Talking of funding, at the end of last year I heard I’d been awarded a small amount of Local Agenda 21 funding to create a Carlow Community Garden Network and explore the possibility of community gardens becoming Eco hubs, or places of adult environmental learning. I’m in the process of planning a workshop in Carlow in April and am very much looking forward to helping representatives of the dozen or so gardens in Carlow sit down in one place and introduce one another.

Working with Community Gardens

Last year I was funded by Carlow Kilkenny ETB to work with a small community garden in Glenn na Bearu, Bagenalstown and I’m thrilled that more funding has been granted to this wonderful group to enable me to head back to them in April. Last year we ran a session on garden design and as a result, they helped design a bigger and better community garden, adding several more raised beds. If you’re local and reading this we’d love to see you in the garden on Wednesdays for the practical workshops, tea and cake. All are welcome.

More community garden projects will be coming on stream after Easter; if you’re interested in hearing more about them sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss out.

Glenn na Bearu Workshops 2016

Working with Individuals

In a couple of weeks I’ll be welcoming budding gardeners into our own kitchen garden and sharing the basics of propagating with them. From seeds to cuttings, layering and bulb division, we’ll be looking at several ways we can start growing food, shrubs and flowers without it costing a bomb. To accommodate the workshop the polytunnel has been repaired and tidied, the willow fedge and autumn fruiting raspberry canes have been pruned, and the garden in general is getting a good tidy up. Now if only the lawn would dry out I’d even be tempted to cut the grass.

There’s still a couple of places left on the first workshop in March so if you’d like to join us, you can read more about the course details here.

Synchronicity

Synchronicity is a wonderful word and within hours of writing down my goals, ‘coincidences’ began to happen, one of which, was an email landing in my inbox about a facilitation workshop that will be taking place in Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary. As the opportunity to facilitate conversations about community gardens and the environment begin to happen, so too does my wish to learn more about guiding them. I can’t wait to learn more about the art of facilitating from a couple of men I greatly admire in this respect, Davie Philip and Chris Chapman who worked with us in the very early days of the Community Garden Network.

The Art of Facilitation Poster

Building Communities

Once we begin to look, there’s so much going on in communities that can engage us and give us the opportunity to meet like-minded people. Community gardens in particular have a massive potential to become outdoor education centres for adults, giving us the opportunity to step away from our screens or work, busy or lonely lives for a couple of hours and learn about nature, wildlife, food and the environment with others.

They are ideal places to go if you’d like to start gardening but don’t know how, if you live in a flat with no garden or live on your own with too much garden. Community gardens give us the opportunity to make friends, sharing the work and sharing the harvest.

Are you tempted? If so, take a look at the map above and see if there’s a community garden near you.

Vegetable Garden

12 Beneficial Creatures We Want To See In Our Gardens

April 22, 2014

Gardening for Beginners

When we began growing our own food in the Greenside Up garden, one of the early problems we encountered happened when we were trying to identify the ‘good’ wildlife from the ‘bad’. This was before the days of Google and we had no idea whether we were looking at friends or foe scampering across the plants and soil. It’s much easier to check today, but to help you encourage beneficial insects and other creatures into your garden, I’ve compiled a list of a dozen that might help you to ditch the chemicals for good and garden more sustainably.

List of 12 Friendly Creatures in Our Gardens

Ten facts about earthworms1. Worms

The hardworking invertebrate of the soil, worms are one of our number one friends. A lack of worms indicates a poor soil but adding lots of home-made compost or well-rotted organic matter will soon encourage them back. Here’s ten facts about earthworms you may not know. I was particularly surprised to learn that light paralyses them.

photo credit: bleu.geo via photopin cc

photo credit: bleu.geo via photopin cc

 

2. Solitary Wasps

Not all wasps are bad guys intent on stinging us. Solitary wasps tunnel out nests in rotten wood and sandy soil. They fill their nests with aphids, flies, weevils or other insects to feed their young.

 

photo credit: Derek.P. via photopin cc

Song Thrush: photo credit: Derek.P. via photopin cc

3. Birds

Song Thrushes like to eat slugs and snails and Blue Tits eat caterpillars. Buying bird feed that specifically encourages these species into your gardens will help to keep a check on the pests activities.

 

 

photo credit: Dluogs via photopin cc

photo credit: Dluogs via photopin cc

 

4. Beetles

Carabid Beetles (or ground beetles) live mainly on the soil surface and are mostly black, brown or metallic green. The larvae prey on many insects, including slugs and pest eggs. If you’re laying beer traps to attract slugs and snails, always make sure the traps are positioned just above the soil line so that the beetles don’t accidentally fall in.

The majestic Devil’s Coach Horse Beetles are often found under stones, logs or pots. They eat slugs, cutworms and leatherjackets among other things.

photo credit: sankax via photopin cc

photo credit: sankax via photopin cc

5. Wolf spiders

Have you ever spotted spiders scampering around as you weed? I’m slightly nervous of spiders but always leave these guys alone as they eat many insects.

 

 

photo credit: Gilles San Martin via photopin cc

photo credit: Gilles San Martin via photopin cc

6. Ladybirds

Newcomers to gardening may be forgiven for thinking that ladybird larva look like something that will cause damage. If you do kill them, you’re ridding yourself of an
insect that can eat between 200-400 aphids before it pupates into the more familiar ladybird we’re accustomed to.

 

 

7. Hoverflies

photo credit: mausboam via photopin cc

photo credit: mausboam via photopin cc

Only the larvae of hoverfly eat aphids but planting flowers such as limnanthes (poached egg flower) or any other yellow or white flowers that happen to be particularly attractive to them, will encourage hoverflies into your gardens and help to keep the aphid population down.

I know I’ve mistaken these for caterpillars in the past, a pest we don’t want on our veggies, so do look closely before you automatically rid your plants of all insects.

 

photo credit: nutmeg66 via photopin cc

photo credit: nutmeg66 via photopin cc

8. Lacewings

Again, ferocious eaters of aphids, the delicate lacewings can be attracted into your garden by careful  planting. The female lacewings can lay up to 400 eggs. As they hatch and the larvae grow they can eat up to 600 aphids before they become adults, about a month later.

If you have an aphid infestation, try spraying a plant or two with a sugar-water solution (1 tablespoon sugar per 200ml water) which may help to attract lacewings.

Garden centres often sell lacewing attracting pheromones and bug houses too.

photo credit: Mick E. Talbot via photopin cc

photo credit: Mick E. Talbot via photopin cc

9. Centipedes

I often have to check twice whether centipedes are friend are foe as they don’t look especially appealing! However, if you do spot them in your garden, leave them be.

Centipedes live in the surface of the soil and shelter in pots, logs and under stones. They prey on several different small soil animals as well as their eggs.

 

Beneficial Bee10. Bees

Hopefully by now everyone is aware just how beneficial bees are to our very existence. It’s been said that if the bees die out, the human population will only survive for another four years. Here’s a post I wrote recently that suggests five ways we can help bees survive. Number six on the list would be to become a beekeeper, a hobby many are taking up to protect and help them.

 

Permission: British Hedgehog Preservation Society

Permission: British Hedgehog Preservation Society

11. Hedgehogs

One of the most viewed posts on this blog is about getting rid of slugs organically. Hedgehogs love to eat slugs so if you can find a way of encouraging them into your garden you’re on to a winner. They do however, like to eat worms so perhaps encourage them away from your compost heap!

 

froggy12. Frogs and Toads

Adding a pond has been on our list of garden improvements for a long time and hopefully we might manage it this year because frogs and toads just love to eat slugs and snails. Whether you have the space for a pond or just a small water feature, by it into your garden you are likely to attract more beneficial wildlife into your garden.

Stop using chemicals

If you’ve used chemicals of any description in your garden in the past, it may take a while for the natural balance to restore itself. However, by planting a broad range of insect attracting flowers, native hedgerows, adding organic matter on a regular basis or leaving out specific feeds to attract different creatures, you’ll begin to encourage all the beneficial creatures to return to your garden, helping to keep the bad guys at bay.

There are many other gardeners friends, from bats and ducks to parasitic wasps, did any in the list above surprise you? You might not like the idea of sharing the outdoors with a few of these but it’s unlikely you’ll come across too many of them as most are tiny and they like to keep themselves to themselves. Have you come across any creatures that could be added to the list? I’d love to hear about them.

 

Green

Keep a Look Out for Hedgehogs and Wildlife

October 21, 2010

Keep an eye out for hedgehogs and wildlife in the garden

We were delighted to find a hedgehog in our garden last year.  We’ve never seen one this high up before and often wondered how we could encourage them to our veggie plot.

Hedgehogs are meat eaters that like to snack on slugs, caterpillars, beatles and earthworms and we certainly have a supply of those little critters as organic gardeners.

We’d sadly seen dead hedgehogs at the side of the main road down below, but not a hint of one up here, dead, injured or alive.  Then out of the blue, as we were locking up the chickens one evening towards the end of last summer, we spotted a one eyed fellow tucking into the chicken pellets.  I can’t begin to tell you how excited we all were.  Every evening for about a month we caught sight of him somewhere near the hen house and were careful not to alarm him.  Ian nicknamed him ‘One Eyed Jack’ and we encouraged the children to stay up (not difficult) and watch him snuffle around the pen at the back of the house at the weekends.

As the nights were drawing in we dug out an old guinea pig hutch, and half buried it in the undergrowth close to the hens in the hope that ‘one eye’ would find it and hibernate. Sadly, when we took a peek a few weeks later, it was still empty.

And then one evening this summer as we were putting the hens to bed, underneath the hedgerow we spotted a hedgehog.  We’re not sure if it was ‘one eye’ – we couldn’t get close enough to tell as she/he was under the prickly Rosa rugosa. It was definitely a hedgehog though and not an old broom.

So hopefully this little fellow will find his/her own place to settle for the winter months and we’ll get another peek next year.

Look out for wildlifeI like the idea that wild creatures are able to live around us, and we’re barely aware they’re there.  We’ve seen a couple of badgers within a mile of us but wouldn’t have a clue where their set was.

We often see signs of foxes in the garden and one day whilst I was working at the computer, I looked up to see two young ones frolicking in the field opposite.

One of our favourite discoveries this year was when we were clearing the main crop potatoes and unearthed this little fellow. I was surprised to read that most amphibians here (apart from newts) only need water for breeding, leaving it to spend most of the year on land. There they feed on flies, worms and other invertebrates in the shelter of nettle beds (so another great reason for not having gardens that are too tidy!). That would explains why we sometimes see them here even though we don’t have a pond, just a natural spring down the lane.

If you’d like more information on hedgehogs, with interesting facts and diagrams on building your own hibernating shelters, check out the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. Hedgehogs hibernate around October/November time, often in compost heaps or wood piles, so bear them in mind when you’re tidying up the garden before the winter.

photo credit: via photopin (license)