Monthly Archives: April 2011

Barrel pond – 23/04/2011

The barrel pond is now at the end of it’s second week of being planted. It’s progressing really well, probably partly due to the unseasonally warm weather we are currently having, which is making the whole garden burst into life. 


All the plants have now arrived at the surface, and the marginals are all through the water line and are progressing on their journey upwards. I can’t wait until they flower, it’s going to look lovely.















The other exciting thing is we now have a food source in the pond, so the start of the wildlife cycle had begun. We have wriggly things in there! So I’ve been busy taking photos and identifying what they are.


One of them is the midge larvae (chironomid), also sometimes known as a bloodworm, due to it’s colour. It’s really interesting to watch it move around the water as it coils into an S shape as it wriggles around in a figure of 8 movement. These larvae will turn into pupa at the bottom of the pond, and then when ready the pupa will make it’s way to the surface again and emerge as a midge. Thankfully a non biting type. The midge then lays it’s eggs in the pond in jelly strings and the whole cycle starts again. Initially I didn’t spot the eggs on the surface as I mistook them for debris but on closer inspection I discovered we have midge eggs in the barrel pond too.

Bloodworm
Midge eggs

Also in the barrel are some other creatures which looked similar to tiny tadpoles. This would have been very exciting but knowing it’s a new pond and with no frogs around yet that was not possible. On a closer look and managing to get a photo, I’ve now identified them as mosquito larvae. There are a large quantity of them, I’m hoping some predators move in soon, so they don’t all turn into biting mossies! 
Mosquito larvae
The sparrows visiting the garden have also started using the pond as a water source, and are using it to drink from. Not sure if they would eat the larvae from there as well? 

It takes a new pond a while to settle down, and all the critters and creatures need to find this new source of water, we want it to be a great wildlife pond, even though it’s small. It will balance out eventually in the same way our garden did last year. We had loads of greenfly, we patiently waited and along came the ladybirds, they reproduced, and got the whole thing into balance. Nature is a wonderful thing. 

Blue eggs

Today we unfortunately found some broken blue eggs lying outside. Looks like there were two eggs, as I’m pretty sure both parts wouldn’t fit together to make a whole. So some poor bird somewhere has lost it’s eggs. Guess it’s natural selection and all that, but I can’t help feeling a bit sad for the bird that has lost its babies.

The eggs are a very pretty pale blue colour, with no other patterns or markings on them. I wonder how it happened, another bird stole the eggs maybe?

From doing some research I think they are Starlings eggs? Anybody any idea?

Beach Walk

Today has been lovely and sunny, so we went for a walk on the beach. The children were delighted to find lots of treasure. I would have personally been happier to have found gold, or some rare gem stones, but what do I know? The children were happy with their lot of simpler finds!

So todays haul included

Whelk’s eggs

These always seem to have people stumped as to what they are. I’ve often heard them referred to as sponges, as I guess they do look quite like the natural sponges you can buy. The other reason may be because apparently early sailors did actually use them for washing. They are in fact whelk’s eggs. These capsules will often contain over a 1000 eggs. Whelks are sea snails with  pointed spiral shells.

Seaweed

We also found some seaweed today, this was quite high up the beach and was quite dry. The children love this seaweed with its pods, but I’m not sure what type it is, any suggestions?

Cuttlefish

We always see absolutely loads of these on the beach. The cuttlefish you find on the beach are actually an internal shell, here is a link to a you tube video of what the cuttlefish actually looks like. They look amazing, have lovely markings, and are very pretty for something living in UK waters.

We also found three different types of shells.

Slipper limpet
Oyster
Whelk













We had a lovely time exploring even though we have been to the beach so many times. There always seems to be something new to be fascinated with. It’s ever changing with the tides, and there are always new bits and pieces to discover. We also found some lovely small pieces of drift wood, and a stone that was sparkly.

Have you had any trips to the beach lately, what did you find that your children were interested in?

Barrel pond

We wanted to attract more wildlife into our small garden. The children are so interested in spotting the different bugs, and visitors to the garden and we all wanted a way to attract more.

The main thing missing from our garden was some sort of water. We had an old barrel in our back garden that we used for planting, but it was in a shady spot, so we decided to change it’s purpose in life! We have sawn the barrel in half, and one half is the home to a dwarf plum tree and the other half became our small pond.

We have sunk it in the ground, and lined it with pond liner, and its butted up on two sides to the gardening beds, which are a mix of flowers and vegetables. Obviously the beds are straight and the barrel is round so there are gaps which we have filled in with wood and large stones, although we need to find a few more. The nooks and cranies these provided got inhabited pretty much straight away by various bugs, spiders etc.

We filled the pond with collected rain water from the water butt, and it probably stood for a week as well while we decided on which plants to order and wait for them to arrive.

Once positioned and filled we had to plant it up. This took us a while to try and research which plants met our criteria of appealing to wildlife, attractive to look at, preferably a British native and suitable for a small pond.

We eventually found Puddleplants whose website was easy to use and it gave us all the information we wanted in one place. So we decided to order from them. The plants came quickly, despite it being a busy time for them, and they all looked in lovely condition.

I think we may have been a bit generous with our planting, as we picked 5 different plants, they all seemed lovely, and we had trouble deciding! We wanted an oxygenator, a coverer/deep water and a couple of marginals. We ended up getting Starwort for our oxygenator, Fringe lily for the deep water, and ended up with three marginals as we just couldn’t decide between them! Flowering rush, Marsh marigold and Purple loosestrife. We may not have met the suitable for a small pond criteria!

Some of these are prolific growers but I’m hoping the pond size may restrict their growth a little, and we can always redivide and make sure the individual plants don’t get too big year after year. If all else fails, plan B is required, the pond is dynamic and we can change it and adapt. This tends to be my gardening style anyway, and it’s worked so far, and I do love to cram as much as possible in!

I know in certain parts of the world the Purple Loosestrife is seen as invasive and it’s a prolific seeder. However we have chosen to grow it as it is a British native, it is attractive to various wildlife, and I think it looks pretty and it’s tall so will add height to the garden planting. Also a big bonus for me and this may sound shallow, is it’s colour I just love purple.

So all five plants have been planted up in special pond compost, and are in the pond. The Starwort, Fringe lily and Flowering rush are directly on the bottom at about 45cm depth, the other two are on a shelf (upturned pot with a tray on with their two pots in) at about a 10cm depth. Now we just have to watch and wait for them to spring into life.

I’m hugely excited, as is my way. I’m looking forward to see what it actually looks like once it’s all grown up, and to see what wildlife we can attract. The children would like some visiting frogs, and for them to spawn would be great, obviously next year now. There is something wonderful watching this cycle happening before your eyes, watching all the stages, and the children have an enthusiasm for this too. They are also keen to see damselflies visiting and some water insects too.

On my hunt for information I found this fantastic PDF document about dragon and damsel flies  We will definitely be referring back to this when any appear in our garden to see if we can identify them.

So for now all we can do is watch and wait, as the year goes on. The photo to the left is how it looks now, newly planted. I will be back with updates and more photos.

Fun with 2d shapes

We have been listening to the fantastic song, Nonagon, by They might be giants (TMBG). You might remember They might be giants from the 90s, when they were known for the song, Birdhouse in your soul. Now they are producing some great educational songs, just right for making all sorts of subjects interesting. We have found Nonagon a great aid for learning about 2d shapes, what they’re called and how many sides they have, all in a great catchy song.

Amazon.co.uk Widgets

We have also been making the 2d shapes out of magnets, to match the shapes in the song. Sometimes the shapes also end up performing to the song! If you have some Geomag, Magnetix, or any other brand of similar magnets why not give it a try.

A Nonagon, in honour of the song!

I know some people are cautious of having magnet type construction sets, due to the safety issues if they are swallowed. If you have younger children around, or an older child that still likes to mouth toys it may be better to avoid them. Otherwise personally the enjoyment outweighs the risk, and if you are at all worried they can be played with under supervision. A great family activity anyway, why not join in the shape making with the children.

If you don’t have any of these already and are looking to getting some, I would advise the Geomag, it is more expensive but it is also better quality, and stronger, which means you can make far better shapes and structures. Particularly useful when you are making 3d items. There are various sets to suit all budgets, with varying numbers of pieces in the set, but generally all the sets are compatible, so you can mix and match.

Here is a list to help you identify the 2d shapes you are making. They are all polygons, which basically means they are multi sided shapes with straight sides.

3 sides – triangle
4 sides – quadrilateral
5 sides – pentagon
6 sides – hexagon
7 sides – heptagon
8 sides – octagon
9 sides – nonagon
10 sides – decagon
11 sides – hendecagon
12 sides – dodecagon

Mining bees and a Bee-fly

Today whilst out gardening I noticed that in a corner of the garden there seemed to be lots of bees. They looked quite wasp like on first glance but on closer looking I realised they were bees. There were at least 20, probably more, flying around and they seemed to be enjoying the spring sunshine. As soon as the sun moved away from that section they disappeared again. I tried to find where they were coming from and discovered they were actually emerging from holes in the ground. I grabbed my camera and headed to try and get a photo, which I managed once one of them landed for long enough!

On further investigation I have worked out that these are mining bees, bees that nest in the ground, on there own, but all in close proximity forming a group. Although I’m not exactly sure what type of solitary mining bees they are, they belong to the genus Andrena, but I’m not sure which, jacobi, haemorrhoa? Can anybody identify it specifically for me?

Mining bees are common in spring, and as it’s early April that fits. Apparently these are very beneficial bees and aid pollination. They can sting but are unlikely to do so. Unfortunately I have nothing in flower at the moment, last year I’m sure my sage was in flower by now, which they seemed to like, but it seems a bit later to flower this year. Hopefully soon there will be some food for them in the garden.

While I was watching and waiting to get a photo I noticed that one of the bees looked a bit bigger, and then when I looked closer I realised it was actually a different bee, as it had a peculiar long ‘nose’, and darker almost moth like wings. Just as I was going to try and get a photo of that too it flew off. So I didn’t manage to get a photo today of that species but I’m hoping it will return. I have never seen this bee before, so had to do some searching to see what it was. It’s a bee-fly.

It’s just the right time of year for the bee-fly (Bombylius) they become active in March/April, their nose as I called it, is actually called a proboscis that is used for drinking nectar, it’s like a large drinking straw! Interestingly these bee-flies are parasitic to the ground nesting bees, which is exactly what I also have in my garden in the same area I spotted the bee-fly. As I didn’t get a photo today here is a link to a great website, Insectopia.co.uk  with a great photo of a bee-fly, so you can actually see what I’m trying to describe. Has  anyone else every seen one?

Come down into the forest and see the fairies dancing

There have been some lovely additions to the main site this morning, so come across and see what’s new. In the fairy theme section there are a couple of new pages

Come down into the forest and see the fairies dancing in our new colouring in page.

Also a fairies things to do page, with lots of reviews and recommendations.

Plus a couple more colouring in pictures, a beautiful owl, and a 3 headed monster.

The site is constantly being developed and we would love to hear from you, let us know what you would like to see more of? What printable resources, activities, advice and reviews do you want? Leave us a comment or email us