The year of 2019 has come to an end on the land and we wish to summarise it like we usually do, with a photo from each month. It is a huge privilege to live in close proximity with the natural word and we would like to celebrate that here with a photographic journey through the year from the small patch of earth that we are guardians of.
A sanctuary is a holy and sacred place. The more time we spend in nature, the more we realize that our sanctuary is all around us. Since starting the work on the land about six years ago we have been working towards creating a place for us, but equally a place where plants and animals can thrive and coexist on fair terms.
Usually we write about our collective endeavours here on the Greener Dream but recently I decided to do something just for myself. So what follows is an account of a solo adventure that proves it is not always necessary to travel far to behold the world from a different perspective.
You need an organic garden to attract a wide range of wildlife. But you also need wildlife to create an organic garden. We do not think one can exist without the other.
We have been living on our plot of land for almost three years now. When we first moved in we only made the house liveable, and concentrated most of our efforts on the garden. Our land was encircled by a huge thick laylandii hedge that blocked out all light and did nothing to support wildlife. We cut it down and replaced it with espaliered apple trees, oak and beech hedging and a lot of mixed trees and shrubs. It was a very important first step in attracting wildlife and we used the trunks for structures in the garden and all the smaller branches for mulch on paths and planting areas.
One of the first things we did was create a big wildlife friendly pond. We are very happy this year as at least one hundred young newts are living in it now, along with dragonfly-nymphs, water-beetles, frogs, toads and whirligig-beetles. On one side the pond has a pebbled beach, for easy access in and out of the water and on the other side it has a bog-garden filled with moisture loving flowers and plants where frogs and toads like to hop around. The pond has been dug right next to an old stone wall and it is a great place for many creatures to hide or hibernate.
As every gardener knows, to successfully grow vegetables and flowers or just about anything, you need to avoid too many slugs, snails, greenfly and red spider mites, to name but a few. We do not wish to use any chemicals in our garden so the natural way to deal with these so called pests, is to attract as much beneficial wildlife as possible. We grow a lot of flowers and shrubs that pollinating insects like and when they are drawn to our garden because of the flowers, they also pollinate our crops. We encourage bats and birds by putting up nest boxes and feeding them all year around.
Perennial fennel is lovely for culinary purposes and our plant is so big that there is more than enough for us as well as the birds who eat the seeds all through winter. We also grow teasels, a plant much loved by gold and bull finches. This year we had a big area that had been covered by old thatch from a roof so nothing was growing there. In the spring we threw out a lot of flax seed from the health food shop along with some phacelia seeds across the space and a few months later we had a beautiful haven for pollinating insects.
We cannot imagine our garden without wildlife, there are all the practical benefits but also so much beauty to admire and enjoy. We love looking at newts and beetles swimming in the pond and birds nesting and eating in the garden. Not to mention the very special time our bats scooped over the pond in total silent one summers night and the only proof they were drinking, were the slight ripples in the moonlit surface of the pond.
When we moved into our home, in late January 2013, there were not a lot of birds to be seen around the place. Since then things have changed dramatically. We now have a thriving population of many different species of wild birds. In part this can be put down to us putting nesting-boxes up, creating two wildlife friendly ponds and growing thousands of flowers and vegetables in a place that up until then was just a field of creeping buttercups. But the biggest contributing factor must be providing food for the birds. We have planted a lot of shrubs and trees with berries, like the native Hawthorn, Rowan, Holly and Elder along with Teasels, Fennel and Sunflowers. We leave the berries and seed-heads in place all winter and they are proving very popular with the birds.
We also wanted the enjoyment of seeing the birds close up so we created some birdtables close to the kitchen window. All that was needed was two old round cheese-boards, some chopsticks and a couple of cheap old cymbals from a drum kit. We tried without the roofs for a while and just stuck the cheese-boards to the top of the branches, but we have some very hungry jackdaws about that came and hacked the food to pieces very quickly so something had to be done. The cymbal roofs also keep the rain away, something that is quite important in the West of Ireland.
Because buying fat and suet balls can be expensive, we wanted to come up with an alternative. Now we make our own economical round feeding blocks that fits nicely on the feeding tables, and last a very long time. If you would like to give them a go all you need is some cheap baking or pastry fat from the supermarket or some lard from your butcher’s shop. Melt it in a saucepan and as soon as it is liquid, remove from the heat and mix in some seeds for wild birds, (we like to buy a big bag as it is cheaper), some oats, breadcrumbs, left over porridge or rice or any other suitable ingredients. We made to much cranberry sauce for Christmas, and our birds were happy to feast on some slightly pink blocks for weeks… Once you have a fairly solid mix, pour it into some old plastic plant pots, lined with plastic bags so the mixture does not escape through the holes. Press down slightly, we like to stand the pots inside each other, and the bottom of one pot flattens the mixture underneath it. Let set for a few hours or overnight, pop on your table and enjoy watching your feathered friends. We have two hanging peanut-feeders as well and most birds like alternating between the feeders and the table.
It might take a while before your population picks up, but be patient and you will be greatly rewarded. It has sometime been suggested that you should not feed your birds all year around, but more recent studies have shown that if you continue to feed your bird, not just in the Winter, they have bigger broods and more chicks survive. It is lovely to look at all the different birds and they will be your organic pest control, eating a lot of unwanted creatures before they get a chance to eat your vegetables.