Get down and dirty this autumn!

This week, my hen pal, Julia, reports back on a recent willow hurdle making course as a guest blog and gives some interesting alternatives to your usual pruning… whether I have the strength and enthusiasm to follow suit I’m not sure but it makes interesting reading!

I‘ve been at it again – tackling willow that is! After my success at making willow sculptures I set off full, of confidence, on a course to make willow hurdles. I think they are lovely – so aesthetically pleasing and great as fences, screens or edges. I’ve always wanted some in my garden but was put off by the prices. “Easy, I’ll just make my own!” I thought… wrong!

To start – sturdy, straight hazel poles were stuck at 6” intervals into a sleeper, to give the uprights to then weave around. Despite having a very good tutor, the initial ’tie’ that makes the free-standing hurdle secure at its base is really complex and is an utterly exhausting process! Despite being shown twice, I’m not sure any of us actually ‘got it’.

The first few hours of the day were spent on my knees shuffling side to side across by 6ft hurdle’s length, weaving the willow. Then, as the hurdle grew in height I was able to stand but had to maintain a very uncomfortable bent stance and my hands and thumbs became increasingly sore and tired.

At the end of the day, I came home with a respectable looking hurdle. My other half did say ‘It looked like a proper one’, so it wasn’t a complete disaster – but wow, was I shattered! I now appreciate the work involved and why they are so expensive!

However, talking to the tutor, and others on the course, I realised that you don’t have to weave structures in such a structured way. You can ‘have a go’ with all sorts of off cuts and whippy bits of shrubs and trees. If you fancy weaving a little bit of fencing – perhaps to edge a flower bed, or to form a small retaining fence on a slope, you can simply stick some sturdy off-cuts of hazel, or a thick stemmed shrub (all leaves removed) into the ground where you want the structure to be – and start weaving. As your structure is fixed and isn’t free-standing, the initial ‘tie’ isn’t essential. You can weave with long whips cut from pretty much anything. Dogwood, for example, is lovely, as the stems are a wonderful red colour.

It just so happens that it’s a bit of a bumper year for growth – with all the rain we’ve had, I’ve got shrubs 12 to 15ft high in my garden. So, rather than trimming with hedge clippers as I would normally, I am going to get down and dirty and get in underneath the shrubs and prune some of the really long stems at the base so I end up with long whips that I can then use to weave my mini hurdles. Don’t get carried away though – make sure you prune things at the right time.

What have you got to lose? If it goes wrong, pull it out and have another go. It will cut down on the clippings that you’ll need to burn or shred, the leaves you strip off can all go into leaf mulch and, if it works, you’ll get some really pretty and useful structures in your garden. There’s lots of information on the internet – go on, have a go!

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No need to shell out!

I hate throwing things away, especially natural things, so I’m always interested in ideas for recycling. Egg shells are of course lovely things in their own right, and we’ve talked about blowing and painting them before… but what about the typical broken egg shells that we throw away every day after we’ve used the eggs?

My Hen Pal, Julia Wherrell obviously has lots of eggshells and has some interesting ideas on what to do with them, plus some ideas she’s been told by other hen enthusiasts… see what you make of these…

1. Sprinkle broken up eggshell around your garden to deter pests

Soft-bodied insects like slugs or snails don’t like crawling over sharp pieces of shell, I find it works really well.

2. Give your tomatoes a calcium boost

Blossom-end rot is a common tomato problem and it’s caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant. A very successful veg gardener friend of mine puts eggshells in the bottom of the hole when he plants out his tomatoes to help combat this problem. I’m definitely trying this next year as my tomatoes were rubbish this year!

3. Use them to start seedlings

I think this is a lovely idea, especially if you are short of space. Give your smaller seedlings a start in rinsed-out shells! An egg box fits perfectly on a small windowsill so use this to hold your eggshells. They need to be at least half shell in size, so try and remember that when you’re next cracking some eggs, rinse them clean and then plant up your seedlings as normal but obviously, best to stick to smaller things, like herbs. When you come to plant out, gently crush the shell as you plant it and it will decompose in the soil around your plant.

4. Compost them

Add calcium to your compost by adding shells to your compost bin.

5. Sow directly into the soil

If you don’t have time, energy or inclination to compost, simply dig crushed shells directly into your garden. It’s still better than just chucking them out!

 

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Don’t be too tidy… and help wildlife!

I really don’t want to admit it, but Autumn is here. It’s September and the days are getting noticeably shorter.

Even for those animals and creatures that don’t hibernate over the winter months autumn time is very much a time to stock up on supplies. You’ll see more birds gorging on autumn berries in the garden and fattening themselves up on whatever they can.

If I do any digging at the moment I find myself closely watched by a beady eyed but very tatty little bird… it’s a young robin. It still has the pretty gold speckling of youth and patchy bits of red breast just starting to show. It pounces on every worm and I watched it gobble up two enormous worms the other day. It had a third lined up, but kept pecking at it half-heartedly, I really think it was completely full, but couldn’t bear to leave it! He eventually gobbled that one down as well – a very full tummy!

They are such lovely little birds, but robins are renowned for their aggressive territorial nature. I hadn’t realised until I looked it up the other day that the juveniles don’t develop their red breast until they are mature because otherwise their parents would attack them and drive them away just as they do other robins!

If you want to encourage wildlife in your garden don’t be too tidy! Late butterflies will be tempted by fruit that’s fallen from trees in the garden and you may get more of an opportunity to see hedgehogs as they look for food to stock up on their reserves in preparation for hibernation.

There are still seeds to be found on the likes of sunflowers and thistles, so by allowing this kind of vegetation to die off it provides more food and shelter, for birds in particular as well as other wildlife.

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Rustic charm…

Isn’t this a pretty card? This image is from the Jane Shasky CD. I have lost count of how many times I have got this CD out of the case and felt sure there was going to be something that would suit a specific card or project I had in mind. There are so many lovely ideas on there. As you know I am very enthusiastic about herbs and so the images really do inspire me over and over again!

The printing has been done on a cream textured paper this time which adds a nice extra touch to the design. The cream card base is approximately 8” x 8” and the next layers are dark green and then some of the textured cream. Wrap some sage green ribbon around these and tie with a knot (makes a nice change from a bow) and then attach to the card blank with 2mm foam to give a bit of a lift.

The topper is constructed by using three same size toppers. One is the background, a second has the herbs cut out and then decoupaged onto the base. The third has a cream border left around it and the centre removed with a sharp craft knife and ruler. I often find a glass mat helps a craft knife cut more easily.

Layer the base image onto dark green and gold and attach to the card. Then using some string, knot a couple of pieces top right and bottom left across the frame and fix onto the card with foam tape.

This card is so pretty I am sure someone would tuck it away as a keepsake!

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Blackberry vinegar for coughs & colds

This week, it’s a guest blog from my writing pal and foraging guru Julia Horton-Powdrill. Julia’s website is full of useful tips, fascinating facts and lovely dollops of humour as is her Facebook page for her annual Really Wild Food & Countryside Festival.

“This recipe is here to coincide with the blackberry season so that you can stock up on this for the winter. Do use local honey if possible, and cider vinegar rather than any other kind.

You will need:

  • 1 pint of fresh, clean blackberries
  • 1 pint cider vinegar
  • 1lb local honey
  • ½ cup brown sugar

Put blackberries in a jar with the cider vinegar and soak for a week, shaking the jar every so often. Strain through cheesecloth collecting the juice in a pan. Add the honey & sugar and bring to the boil, stirring until dissolved. Allow to cool then bottle and close with a tight cork. Store in a refrigerator or cool place. When a cough, cold or sore throat arises, mix a tablespoon of the mixture with 1 cup of hot water and drink.

PS. This combination of ingredients is so versatile, you needn’t restrict yourself to using it just as a remedy. It makes a lovely warming drink even if you don’t have a cold! You can also use it as a marinade, and if you add olive oil it can be used for a salad dressing!”

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