Bottle Bank Recycled; Why Do I Do it? Spring Song Symphony – with Warbler.

Sublime songs have serenaded us over the last 10 days, whenever we’ve ventured into the lower parts of the garden. Initially I’d thought it was a swallow, without paying it too much attention, and then realised that the mellifluous, clear song was coming from low down – not overhead, nor the typical high vantage points chosen by the fewer swallows around this year- weather vane, telegraph wire, ridge tiles.SDIM2045 (2)

Eventually I’d tracked it down to a birch planted in the hedge below our apple trees, which are just about to burst into blossom in another very late year, as in 2013. But in spite of the thin dressing of bright green leaves on the birch’s twiggy frame, it took ages for me to spot the songster – a small robin sized bird. A few sessions with the camcorder had me capturing decent sequences of its wonderfully long, lyrical phrases, but having hopeless bird knowledge, I emailed a fellow gardener who is also an experienced ornithologist. So, many thanks to Colin, who nailed it in one from my simple descriptions of the bird’s habits of flitting from bush to bush – usually quite low down, and singing its heart out.

The Garden warbler, Sylvia borin.

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Whilst not particularly rare, I’m convinced that we’ve never heard this before, so in future years we shall look forward to this migrant’s arrival at the beginning of May with great anticipation. As you can see, Colin’s description that its main distinguishing feature, is that it doesn’t have any, is appropriate.

It’s a dull, small, grey brown bird.

But when it opens its beak and sings. . Joy unbounded. Click here for a recording of the wonderful song.

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For once, sound seems the dominant sensory awareness in the garden, even trumping the scents from the Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Anne Russell’, and first opening stems of lily of the valley, and the visual impact from the Camassia and crab apple flowers.

In between such experiences, life in the wider world, and the UK has ploughed on.SDIM2049 (2)

A pervading despondency affected me leading up to last Thursday’s much predicted likely political impasse in the general election. The only glimmer of hope seemed to be an online article I’d read before the event, suggesting that from previous analysis, the activity of the betting fraternity correlates much more accurately with final election results, than all the efforts of the pollsters and the incessant media chattering beforehand. And with this in mind, the placing of a £30,000 bet in person, in crisp £50 notes in a Glasgow branch of Ladbrokes by a retired Scottish accountant just 10 days before election day at odds of 8 to 1 on an outright overall Conservative majority, seemed the ultimate in contrarian ‘investments’.

Was this sane?

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An SNP/Labour coalition was, we were told, the most popular pundit and pollster predicted outcome.

As we now know, it was a very shrewd punt.

The winnings have yet to be collected, the punter presumably waiting for all the fuss to die down, before strolling back into the shop with a suitcase for a cool quarter of a million, but with musings on this, and the customary election news blackout on voting day, I decided that Thursday May 7th was a good time for me to do a bit of muck raking.SDIM1950 (2)

A benefit of our livestock build-up over the last 3 years, is that we now have access to reasonable quantities of both poultry and sheep manure. Within our revamped lambing area, we have a significant quantity of sheep dung, soiled hay bedding. Obviously laden with grass seed, I decided the best use of this was to rework our hot bed idea for squash and courgette growing. We’re now well on the way, though it’s still far too cold to contemplate planting anything out yet.SDIM1958 (2)

But my bottle bank idea (which I wrote about last year, click here for more on the possible benefits), has also been rejigged. Out have gone all the opaque 1 litre milk bottles, to be replaced entirely with 2 litre clear polycarbonate (Fizzy drink/water) bottles. (Parsnip seedlings on 27/04/2015 below – and yes, I do currently use slug pellets, very sparingly, around vegetable seedlings, until they’re established).SDIM1773 (2)These polycarbonate bottles are much more durable – you can stand on one without it breaking, and put all your weight on one if leaning across the bag as above; and being twice the volume, they retain more heat. In this very cold spring, it’s enabled most of my early sowings to germinate really well outside, with the added use of old windows early on, now replaced with enviromesh. (Minus 6 degrees C in late April below, and notice how the frost has melted, or perhaps not even formed, above the bottles).SDIM1823 (2)

We managed our first meal of the leaves of thinnings of the excellent, quick growing Albino beetroot (from Real Seeds – click here), on May 10th, which is way ahead of what I normally manage with any new season vegetables, grown outside 800 feet up. And in this very cold dry spring, I should add that regular watering of seed beds with a watering can and rose is necessary until the glass gets removed, to achieve good germination. SDIM2028 (2)SDIM2029 (2) Of course most sane people would erect a poly tunnel, and escape the weather, but I’ve never found them particularly attractive landscape features, or easy to shield on an upland site like ours.

And anyway, I like the challenge of developing a system using low cost alternatives available to all.SDIM1959 (2)

A job for next year is to join the big bags together, by cutting and folding back side edges, which will eliminate quite a bit of redundant space between bags, and reduce slug and snail hideouts. At least we’ve managed to use landscape fabric covered with some of the recently generated spruce chippings to tidy up the paths between bags. I’m planning to use my current default path weed treatment (of 0.5kg salt, a dash of cheap wash powder into a watering can of hot water, and watered on with a fine rose) on these paths as well, to see if firstly this delays breakdown of the mulch, but also to see if the paths can then help to act as a cordon sanitaire against slugs and snails. It’s so frustrating to get such good germination results, only to have tiny seedlings snuffed out before they have developed a critical 2 or 3 mature leaves. Carrots seem a particular delicacy – in spite of dusk time slug snipping, and judicious use of slug pellets. A constant battle for me when the bags are so close to our hay meadow margin.

The final modifications for this year’s growing technique have been to sow seeds directly onto the soil surface, and then cover with an appropriately thin layer of sterile seed compost, as well as dusting with dried seaweed powder, (and cayenne pepper in the case of pre-germinated peas to deter rodents – also the only crop I don’t use the bottles for, to maximise planting density for a crop of pea shoots).SDIM1769 (2)SDIM1770 (2) I shall write more in due course about potential trace mineral leaching from soils in high rainfall areas, but I reckon it’ll be interesting to see if this technique produces any growth, or flavour benefits in the final crop.SDIM1762 (2)

From the above trials, serious vegetable growers may scoff and deduce that I’m trying to ditch a lot of conventional vegetable growing wisdom. To which I can only agree, and add that my ideal would be to be able to grow most of our vegetables, from a small area, with no digging. Simply sowing, then perhaps one or two weeding sessions early on, probably thinning of a crop, and then much later on, a simple harvest.SDIM2010 (2)

I’ll never get there, but I guess my problem is that I’d rather spend time, say, watching how quickly the stamens on the Camassia quamash split length ways, to reveal their gorgeous yellow pollen, rather than worrying too much about getting a perfect crop. These were some of the latest new bulbs added to the eclectic mix in the multicultural magic terrace garden, last autumn, and their flowering dovetails perfectly with the mossy Saxifrage, and purple bugle, and is just tall enough to float above these lower flowers.

Will they return next year?SDIM2025 (2)SDIM2032 (2)

You might even be tempted to ask, with reference to my poor attempts at vegetable gardening:

“Why Do I Do it?”

after which, from the nether regions of my brain (and coincidentally, also Fiona’s when I asked her if she remembered a childhood association), came the follow-on lines of:

What can it be?

There’s naughtiness in everyone,

But twice as much in me.

I’d give the world, if only I could,

Once in a while, be good.”

Comments please from anyone else, of a certain age, whose parents bought a record of Beatrix Potter nursery rhymes set to music. Both of ours obviously did, and what a permanent impression it clearly made on us.

The lyrics above accompany The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Who, you will recall, unlike his well-behaved siblings Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, ignored parental warnings about ending up in a pie, and regularly took delight in venturing into Mr. Mcgregor’s vegetable garden. (Such a simple benign upbringing compared to today’s gaming crazes? Or maybe not?)

This year has seen a surge in rabbit numbers. Their preferred relish is our lovely white honesty, Lunaria annua var. alba, seedlings, and their combined efforts regularly wreck our planned displays of white flowers at this time of the year. I’ve tolerated this in the past, but when they turn their attention to vegetables, even sneaking underneath the enviromesh, then I become Mr. Mcgregor-like in my grumpiness.SDIM1187 (2a) (2)

Traps were bought. And baited. (Many thanks to Keith, from Cilgwyn Lodge – click here for news from his fabulous garden – on practical advice on using these).

Within 10 days the 4 youngsters had succumbed to the cabbage and carrot offerings, along with a cousin. But sadly, as in Beatrix’s story, the older rabbits have so far proved more wary. I’m now even suspicious that some of the damage to perennials might be due to voles, rather than their lagomorph cousins.

Spot the pretty Anemonella thalictroides flowers and leaves below. Or rather where they were.

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The opening two lines of the song, which you can listen to by clicking below, also seemed apt to describe the antics of ‘Ellie’ and ‘Egard’, a pair of our lambs who delight in going AWOL at roll call times.

Usually, they’re to be found munching bramble leaves, which are clearly a delicacy, in thickets on the far side of the stream. In most years this area is inaccessible, but 2015’s very low rainfall has meant that the stream is now an easy to cross natural barrier for any with an adventurous spring in their step.S1000001 (2)

And just how much of a spring they have, was demonstrated nearly 3 weeks ago, when one discovered a chink in the perimeter fence and ended up in our neighbour, Adrian’s field, behind our wood beyond the frosty wet meadow above.

Persistently noisy sheep usually signals a problem at this time of year, and continued lamb bleating eventually brought us to the culprit, running up and down the fence having long forgotten how he ever got through in the first place.S1000016 (2)

Our sheep management strategy relies on carrots, not sticks – (or dogs). But young lambs aren’t yet groomed in coming for treats, so for 15 minutes we vainly attempted to corner the escapee, or direct him towards a chink in the fence at the field’s corner. ‘Poached(aka ‘Egard’) was having none of it. What seemed a complete impasse had us nearly calling off our efforts, to retreat, regroup, rethink, and have a cup of tea. At just that moment, as we closed in, ‘Poached’ took off, literally in an amazing leap, reaching chest height as he attempted to show Fiona what a clean pair of heels really means.

As a distant helpless onlooker, and clearly to ‘Poached’s’ astonishment, Fiona reflexly leaped to one side with outstretched arms, and the lamb discovered that he’d unintentionally jumped directly, and safely, into a vice like hug.

And stuck.


Game over.

Once I’d stopped laughing at the image, he was unceremoniously dumped back over the fence. Sadly, he has not reformed his inquisitive nature since then.S1000014 (2)

The next day, as shiny new stock netting was unfurled to prevent a recurrence, the military flew low overhead to investigate the scene in one of those throbbing Hercules which seems to defy gravity, and very briefly drone out all other sounds, just skimming the tree tops.SDIM1852 (2a) As we packed up, job done, the avian equivalent in the form of a heron who’d been staking out the top pond, followed a similar course, with equal incongruity.SDIM1854 (2)

Yesterday morning the top quilt of 5 (we abandoned duvets years ago for the delights of vintage artisans’ handiwork) had slipped to one side. Fiona overheated. I awoke at 4.30 am, decidedly chilly.

What to do. I knew it was going to be a cloudy morning, but dry. Then I heard the blackbird singing, and crept outside with the camcorder. Not a breath of wind, and cool moisture laden cloud draped the hill tops in the dawn’s low, grey light.

The bird song was extraordinary, flooding the valley’s contours from all directions.SDIM1934 (2)

I stood dressing gowned, and long johned, trying hard not to move, or breath loudly, so that the clarity was captured. The midges kept their peace in the chill air.

As I wrote this, it was playing back on the bedroom speakers so that Fiona could appreciate what she misses in these early morning garden sojourns. No cuckoo, though he performed brilliantly yesterday evening from the tall ash to the North of the hay meadow, but a veritable multi layered spring song symphony.

Another day of hard graft followed, in anticipation of an important garden visitor, but today there was change in the air.SDIM2083 (2) The song was subdued, and at dawn the clouds boiled ominously as a front advanced Eastwards. Rain, gales and cold await us.SDIM2081.ajpg (2)Finally, I should record that the daffodil laggards have nearly finished flowering, but the last 6 below are hugely valuable in leading us into the next wave of spring flowering perennials. Narcissus ‘Oryx’ (top), and Narcissus ‘Pipit’ (below), are both stunningly scented. ‘Oryx’ is a great tall flower as well, so stays well above rapidly growing foliage at this time of the year.SDIM1967 (2) Narcissus ‘Portrush’ (top), and Narcissus ‘Dallas’ (below).SDIM1972 (2)And Narcissus ‘Nelsonii’ (top) and the very last to flower with us are the delightful Narcissus poeticus recurvus (below). Sadly these don’t seem the easiest to get to flower reliably after year one in the ground, but patience does reward you with some returning blooms by year 4!SDIM1978 (2)

May gallops onwards.SDIM2002 (2)SDIM2055 (2)SDIM1931 (2)SDIM2060 (2)SDIM2046 (2)SDIM2004 (2)SDIM2057 (2)

7 thoughts on “Bottle Bank Recycled; Why Do I Do it? Spring Song Symphony – with Warbler.

  1. I love the images (written) of Poached the leaping lamb! Have you ever tried wood ash as slug and snail protection? We use it because everybody swears by it over here but I am not convinced. Your Camassia look beautiful. I only discovered it last year and you have masses. I started one off in a pot. It had become two when I changed the pot but I had nowhere to put it but I put it in the wooded area where it has grown and flowered this year. Anyone who coddles their veggies with warm water bottles really deserves some good returns. I hope the garden slugs, snails, voles etc. leave you some to try. Amelia

    • Hello Amelia,
      I shall carry the image of the lamb ‘catch by Fiona for ever. A real star turn. I’m afraid you have to live in our high rainfall conditions in the middle of fields to appreciate the scale of the slug issues we experience. I’ve use all our scattered wood ash throughout the garden, and I have to say it’s never seemed to keep the slugs at bay here. I don’t know why I didn’t try Camassias before, but they’re absoulutely stunning flowers for their fairly brief flowering period, the bees love them, and they seem to associate so well with other flowers – and the rabbits and slugs don’t seem to like them – which is a bonus. I seem to go overboard on any new idea I have – like the water bottles, but I really think that in our high up location they’re the only way we’d get meaningful crops of some veg, in many years. And it adds to my well appreciated aura of eccentricity…
      Best wishes

  2. Very envious of your manure supply and hot beds. And great work with the recycled bottles, a very interesting idea.

    • Hello Julie,
      Thanks for the comment. Having this manure is indeed a bonus. But it’ll take me a while to work out how best to use it – never having gone in for nitrogen rich additions before. It’s amazing in this very cool windy spring up here, just how warm the bottles get on most days, and they also limit wind effects a bit as well as concentrating rainfall on the seedlings,
      Best wishes

  3. The garden looks stunning. I’m becoming a gardening voyeur because we seem to be later than ever this year and the garden still looks desolate.
    I admire your ingenuity but I think my polytunnel is a safer bet than your hot water bottles – I have nightmares about anything not set in tons of concrete becoming airborne.
    The camassias are impressive. Mine are shy to flower and look very chlorotic, so I think a change of bed and a rich bed of manure and seaweed compost is called for. So thank you for the inspiration.

    • Hello C,
      Thanks for the comment. I entirely agree about your polytunnel and spring being later – and can appreciate it must be much more tardy where you are. I can’t square this with the Met Office blogs constantly telling me how warm the earlier months have been – as far as growing plants go, they’re simply not confirming this – I think cold winds have been a big influence, which the dry temp. figures don’t take into account.
      Re airborne material, I agree about the risks of wind damage – particularly with your gales. That your poly survives them is hugely impressive. I’m sure I underestimate the adverse effects of strong winds on plant growth here. I think I remember Joy Larkom writing that the Chinese had worked out decades ago that regular strong winds will limit veg, productivity by about 40%.
      I absolutely love the Camassias, and we saw some spectacular ones at Aberglasney recently, so I think we must have the right mix of soil, rainfall and drainage to be able to grow them well. Worth persevering with, and I’ve always liked the idea of seaweed as a trace element boost, and finally tracked down a decent sized sack of fine meal on ebay, for a not too horrendous price,
      Best wishes

  4. Pingback: National Meadows Day; Well, Wells, Wales; Big Bag Bottle Bank Update, and Gelli Uchaf Plant Palettes (Late June, Early July) | thegardenimpressionists

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