Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Bats in the Garden

                                            There's probably a spider on you right now.

According to the radio show NightVale there’s a spider on you at all times, especially now. I wouldn’t worry about it too much as research has shown we eat a lot of them at night as we sleep so it’ll be gone in the morning.

If you haven’t stopped reading, you might be pleased to know that none of the spiders in Ireland are poisonous apart from the false widow and giant house spider (the one that’s on your back) which can cause a bit of swelling.  

Another creature instilling a feeling of unease is the bat. We see a lot of them silently flying around at dusk. It’s actually a really good sign as they can eat up to 3000 insects a day (and pollinate flowers), so if you have them around the house, it’s an indication of a diverse web of life in the garden.
Bat Conservation Ireland and the Centre for Irish Bat Research completed a study of ‘Landscape Conservation for Bats in Ireland’ a few years ago and this information is on their website and the DCC web pages. The study highlights the key types of bat habitats, and nine species of bat that appear regularly in Ireland. All are protected by national and European Union legislation.

The study showed that broadleaf woodland, mixed forest and riparian (waterway) habitats were favourable to bat species in Ireland however bog, marsh and heath were generally not attractive as bat habitats. Throughout the year, bats may use a variety of roosts of different types depending on changing metabolic and social requirements. In Ireland, the majority of bat roosts are in buildings.
The study found that all species except the rarely recorded Nathusius’ Pipistrelle and the Lesser Horseshoe Bat are found across County Donegal. 

Some found in County Donegal were:
Soprano Pipistrelle: may be the most common bat found throughout the county but its areas of greatest occurrence are likely to be found in the north.
Daubenton’s Bat: most likely to be found around the margins of the county and around low-lying rivers.
Natterer’s Bat: is most abundant in the east and south of the county.
Leisler’s Bat: prime areas are mostly in the east and northeast from Dunfanaghy to Portsalon and south to Castlefinn and in the extreme south of the county around Donegal Town and Bundoran.
Common Pipistrelle: areas most suitable for the common for this bat include the east of the county, the northern coast and the south of the county.
Brown Long-eared Bat: is found in coastal areas around the county as well as the area between Ramelton, Kilmacrennan and Letterkenny.
Whiskered Bat: has limited areas of suitability and these are in the Kilmacrennan-Letterkenny area.
On the whole, County Donegal, is not particularly suitable for Nathusius’ Pipistrelle bats but some areas of suitability exist along the east of the Inishowen peninsula. Along the River Foyle and in the extreme south of the county near the Donegal-Sligo border.

Threats to bats
Remedial timber treatment is probably the greatest threat to bats. Many buildings are treated annually with chemicals that are lethal to bats and poisonous to mammals generally.  Even if bats are not present during treatment, they can pick up poison by inhalation of vapour, or contact with treated surfaces, for many years afterwards.

Where ongoing repair to bridges is required, unsympathetic maintenance can threaten the bats utilising a bridge.

Many underground roosting sites such as caves, mines and tunnels have become inaccessible to bats because entrances have been blocked, either for safety, or by rubbish tipping.
Disturbance of hedgerows and treelines can interfere with vital commuting routes for bats and lead to island bat populations.

Removal of damaged trees may cause loss of bat roosts.

Many bat species use trees as roosts for maternity, hibernation or mating.  Damaged trees are particularly suitable. The bats will roost in cracks and crevices, under ivy, or in dead trees.

Roost sites in buildings are reduced when access holes, such as ventilators, are blocked, and cavity  walls are filled for insulation. Retiling and underfelting of old buildings often result in the exclusion of colonies

Common concerns and the facts about living with bats

  • Bats are not rodents and will not nibble or gnaw at wood, wires or insulation.
  • Bats do not build nests and do not bring bedding material into the roost; nor do they bring their food into the roost.
  •  All bats in Ireland only eat insects and some eat thousands of these each night. So they are a great form of natural pest control!
  • Bat droppings are dry and crumble away to dust. As a result, there are no known health risks associated with them in Ireland.
  • Female bats have only one baby a year, so bat roosts do not become ‘infested’.
  • Most bats are seasonal visitors to buildings – they are unlikely to live (roost) in the same building all year round. Many bats are loyal to their roosts and so usually return to the same buildings year after year.
  • Bats are clean and sociable animals and spend many hours grooming themselves.
  • You are not at risk of rabies if you do not handle a bat.
  • Bats are not interested in sharing your living space. They may roost in an attic void or roof but the only time they come into the lived-in part of houses is by mistake.
  • Bats are protected.

They have been known to get caught in your hair though, and there might be one in there right now. You’d better check.

For more information, check out ‘Bat Conservation Ireland’,Virginia,Co. Cavan. On the web (not spiders) batconservationireland.org

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Veggie Plants to Sow and Pick in August

 Pick your crop when it's young and tender. not like these peas!

Did you know that Dutch scientists have grown radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes in soil similar that found on Mars? The scientists concluded the edibles were safe to eat and didn’t contain any dangerous levels of heavy metals.
I didn’t know that and I am not really sure why I find the fact so interesting. It must be something to do with the realization that we can grow edibles in even the harshest and uninhabitable of places in soil that you would think was dust. It reminds me of the islands were farmers grew their spuds in rock cracks filled with seaweed. 

It also highlights that healthy nutritious soil is the most important factor when starting a garden. It could be said that the best fertiliser for the soil is the gardener's shadow; I’s also add that plenty of mulching helps too. 

It might seem like the edible gardening year is about over. I do hope not as my luffa’s haven’t even formed yet. There are loads of crops to either sow or plant at this time of year though so we can be kept busy and distracted from grass cutting.

Plants to Sow

Herbs such as basil, coriander and rosemary can be started off in a greenhouse or on the windowsill.
Lettuce. Our lettuce is actually growing better in the cool damp (wet) weather than it was in the harsh sunlight. Winter varieties can be started under cover.
Pak choi. This is another plant that likes the cooler weather and loves the early autumn conditions.
Radishes. No one in our house eats radishes apart from the dog but they can be a fun crop and you can have them mature in less than eight weeks.
Spring cabbage. Sow now and these will give you early crops next year.
Spring onions. You can  pinch the leaves from these from now until spring.
Peas. If you just want the fresh pea tops then you can plant some under cover and pinch away.
Garlic and onions can be planted now too.

Picking Early
There are some instances where I leave the vegetables far too long before harvesting. The first plant that springs to mind is the sweet corn. Year after year I wait just that bit too long and the corn has gone woody. I sometimes leave my spinach and lettuce too long and these go to seed turning the leaves bitter.

Picking the veggies early is a luxury us growers have as we don’t need them to wait until “optimum selling size” like the shops do.  Because of this I would say that you could harvest tiny Brussels sprouts now for a few delicious stir fries. There are others that will bebefit from not leaving too long in the ground too.

Beetroot. You can thin out the rows to allow others to mature.
Broccoli. I usually leave the whole plant until spring and eat the florets but this year I am enjoying some of the young leaves. The same goes for kale.
Cabbage. Get them now before the slugs do.
Carrots. These can be thinned out too and put in the stir fry.
Caluiflower. These discolour quickly after maturing.
Celery. Pick before the stems turn yellow so pick them when they are tight and white.
Courgette. Pick when young as they seem to grow 3” a day and before you know it you have a marrow worthy of a prize in a giant vegetable competition.
Runner and French beans. These can get a bit stringy when too old.
Onions. Get them when the stems start to wild for a crisper bulb.
Peas. Get them young too. When the peas have filled the pods I think they get a bit dry and flavourless as the sugars turn to starch.
Radishes. My dog doesn’t mind the old ones but I wouldn’t entertain them.
Tomatoes. These get a bit mushy when left too long so pick as they turn red for the optimum sweetness.
Turnips. These get really woody if left in the ground too long, especially the small golf ball types. Get these too before the grubs do.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Rosebay Willow Herb

 Rosebay Willow Herb

At the beginning of the growing season I planted up containers for myself and my sister in law. This has turned out to be a bit of an experiment in plant car over the last two months.  As hers flourished and gave colour to her patio, ours have more or less withered and died back. I’d like to say that this is because I gave her all of my best annual bedding plants but there’s probably more to it than that. Her pots are watered regularly. She deadheads them often and gives them a bit of a feed now and again. I do none of the aforementioned as mine are more than three feet from the back door.

I have noticed a bit of an imbalance with how my vegetables are growing this year and it’s all down to feeding the soil and mulching. In areas close to the compost bins where the broccoli and beans are planted, things are doing really well. Further away from the compost bins it’s not the same story though as the luffas and kale struggle for nutrition. I think I have the reason. It is because when I emptied the compost bins in spring I just tipped them over and spread out the contents over the areas very close to the bins. 

It was very lazy on my part I admit, but my excuse is that the air came out of my wheelbarrow tyre so I couldn’t move the compost around the garden as easily. I could give a list of other excuses too but they are all as implausible, I was just lazy and like in most things in life, you get back what you put in. I’ll be mulching everywhere next year with manure, seaweed and compost to get things back on track.

Rosebay Willow Herb
When I was a lad I spent a lot of time in the back of cars with a bottle of pop and bag of crisps in car parks. I know teenagers do this voluntarily but I did it because my parents were in the pub. Because of this there are three plants that I look back on with a bit of nostalgia, honeysuckle, and bindweed are two of them as I used to pick them for something to do before it got dark in the car park. The third plant was the rosebay willowherb. One of the car parks was next to waste ground where the plants love to grow.
Rosebay willowherb, Chamerion angustifolium (also known as Epilobium angustifolium) is a widespread perennial plant and loves embankments, rocky places, mountain scree and open woodland.
The tall plant with small pink flowers is also known as Fireweed, particularly in North America, this name reflects the plant’s appearance following forest fires and other events which leave the earth scorched.It’s also called Bombweed because the plant quickly populated derelict bomb sites in the World Wars.
Rosebay willowherb flowers from June to September. Long seed pods form containing masses of hairy/fluffy seeds which are carried on the wind. There can be around 80,000 seeds per plant and some of these have been known to travel 100km.
The plant likes cleared woodland and early stages of coppicing but growth and flowering become restricted as the tree canopy develops again. In reclaimed bogs in Ireland it is an important early colonizer but disappears as the vegetation matures.
Rosebay willowherb tolerates shade and a broad range of climatic conditions and seems to thrive in both acid and alkaline soils.

Rosebay Willowherb Uses

The plant has been used for a lot of things over the year, from entertaining me as a child to natural cordage to fire-lighting to clothing to edible roots, shoots, leaves and flowers as well as numerous medicinal applications, some of which are still being investigated.

One use which was familiar to North American First Nations as well as to Kamchatkan reindeer herders, was consuming the pith from inside the stems – raw, cooked or fermented.

The most popular part of the plant is the inner section of the mature stem, called the pith. The pith falls somewhere between cucumber and unripe cantaloupe both in terms of texture and taste. 

It has some sweetness to it but sometimes also a slightly hot, peppery aftertaste. When collected up, the pith becomes more gelatinous and slimy and browns quite quickly, so it’s best eaten fresh.
The collected pith can be added to soups and broths both to thicken them and add extra carbohydrate content. It can also add a little flavour to otherwise bland concoctions.

Taking the pith from Fireweed is something which is easy to do, just peel back the stem. 

Other parts can be used too. The young shoots in spring are absolutely delicious blanched the growing tips dried as green tea. 

The raw baby plants can be used raw in sandwiches too.

Rosebay willowherb is one of the more useful wilderness plants but as always test a small bit first before cooking it up for the family.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

WhiteOaks Organic Farm

The Whiteoaks Acorn Organic farm

Most summer bedding plants are looking fantastic at the moment.  

 I actually thought mine were doing really well until this afternoon when I visited my sister in law. Her back porch area if full of wonderful bedding plants, lobelia, petunias, geraniums and a host of others, all in containers.  

I was admiring them all with just a touch of jealousy until I realised that I actually supplied the flowers and planted the containers up for her. I made them up at the same time I put my own displays together. The soil was the same, the containers were the same, but there was one difference – deadheading. My sister in law would pop outside most days and just nip off the spent flowers. I, on the other hand will occasionally pull a dead flower head off as I am walking past the patio. You wouldn’t think such a simple and quick procedure would make so much difference to a display. Plants such as pansies will use a lot of energy producing seed heads and forget to flower. Petunias, well they just give up really quickly without a bit of clipping. 

I came straight home and started on mine with a vengeance, taking off any heads I could see, even the beautiful ballerina fuchsia flowers were pulled off if they had gone over their prime. It’ll be a week or two until I see the fruits (or flowers) of my efforts but I am sure it’ll be worth it. 

I’m not sure what to believe anymore and I mean that in the broadest sense. Every day I have a myth dispelled, from nitrogen deficiency in mulch, the actual benefits of eggshells in the garden, to whether organic honey can actually exist. The daily list is long and although it’s very tiring I do like the idea that we should “Question Everything” This comment is spray painted on walls and is usually accompanied by the word “Why” underneath. In this case though I am questing ragwort. It’s supposed to be really invasive, poisonous and generally not a nice thing to have in any garden or farm. All that I can say is we have had some on our local park for years now and it hasn’t taken over or (to my knowledge) killed anything. 

MYTH: Ragwort is "extremely toxic" to horses.
FALSE . This claim was made by the British Horse Society in a survey in 2014. It over estimates the toxicity of ragwort by around ten thousand times!
MYTH: Ragwort is an "invasive weed." A term scientist’s use for a problematic plant that has taken over land.
FALSE . Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris formerly called Senecio jacobaea) is a common native Plant. You It can be confused with Oxford Ragwort.
MYTH: Ragwort has increased in the country and is spreading across the country like a plague.
FALSE. Ragwort like all other wildflowers subject to regular surveys by botanists. The recent surveys show its distribution has not changed significantly since the 1960s. The 2007 UK Countryside Survey shows significant declines of ragwort
MYTH: Ragwort is a risk to the health of dogs.
FALSE. Dogs are not threatened by ragwort as it is not toxic enough and they do not eat it.
But please don’t take my word for it (or the ragwortfacts.com website the information came from) Like I said before, who really knows what the truth is and is that really the truth. My head hurts!

Acorn Project Organic Vegetables Home Delivery
I got a leaflet through the door today from the White Oaks Organic Farm based in Muff.  They have started up a box delivery of chemical free and organic herbs, fruit and vegetables around Muff, Buncrana, Culmore road and Burt areas to mention a few. They even sell directly from the farm.
The White Oaks Acorn Project is an organic produce scheme, which operates on the same complex as the IOSAS Centre and White Oaks Rehabilitation Centre. It runs alongside the latter in providing facilitating therapeutic work for residents as well as supplying us, local restaurants and shops with these fresh, chemical-free vegetables and herbs.

It will depend on the time of year for the contents of the boxes but you’ll get the all summer basics such as basics, lettuce,tomatoes,strawberries,scallions, potatos,cabbage and onions and then other vegetables will be added in season such as turnips, currants and kale

If you can’t collect then a large box of vegetables or a juice box (normally 7 items) can be delivered to your door for only €9. You can even phone in just before getting there and a box of fresh produce can be picked for when you arrive. You can even watch them pick things for you, you can’t get any fresher than that! 

You can ring them on 0749384866 (NI) 00353749384866 or visit their Facebook page ‘Whiteoaks acorn organic farm’

Here are some more images from the Whiteoaks farm:

More stories

Related Posts with Thumbnails