Winter Wildlife – A little help goes a long way.

Winter Wildlife

winter wildlife
Bird Feed

There’s no doubt about it there’s a nip in the air, and the media are scaring us with tales that the winter could be much worse than 2010. This means only one thing, time to tuck the plot in for the winter while trying to make it a haven for our wild animals this winter. That snug feeling of being tucked up in your superman onesie in front of an open fire (chestnuts roasting ob.), can feel even more content knowing you have done your bit for winter wildlife. If your cold and hungry imaging how that little robin at the end of your garden feels.

There are many activities you can undertake from the very simplest through to some that will take time and some expense. One of the simplest and most rewarding you can do is simply put feed out for birds. Whether you keep leftover bits of fat from bacon rinds, bread crumbs or go to the expense of purchasing seeds or mealworms you will greatly help out our feathered friends when food sources are scarce. It is also important to remember this much over looked fact, birds drink water ! And when there is snow on the ground or temperatures are below zero then this is not always easily accessible to them.

winter wildlife
Bird Feeders

As the days started to gradually get colder and the growing season started to run out, we started to think about bugs and small animals. There is a great abundance of wildlife up at out allotment (with most of it living in my shed), we are blessed to have seen hares, grey squirrels, all of your common uk birds, frogs and we even arrived one day to chase a small flock of grey lag geese from our neighbours salad patch. We had planted some asian vegetables late end of summer and were unable to harvest it all. Our Choy sum had started to flower and was covered in bees and hover flies. As we weren’t going to have time to gain another crop from this space we decided that it would do the bees a world of good to have that extra source of food so we left it in the ground.

 

With little to no growing on our plot the focus has mainly turned into maintenaince and improving our structures. We gave the plot a good tidy 2 weeks ago and removed some of the rubbish that was accumulating in one of the corners. There was some offcuts of wood and various logs that were sodden and probbly no good for the fire but we didnt want to disturb them as it was probbly providing home to many wonderful beasts. It can happily sit there until next year when the weather starts to pick up and nature is back to its most energetic.

The simplest things we can do can mean the difference of survival or not for our winter wildlife.

Protecting Vegetables from Frost – Our methods

Protecting Vegetables from Frost

Protecting Vegetables from Frost
Strawberries

 

Here are a few methods we employ for Protecting Vegetables from Frost. A few people over the holidays said to me “I see the daffodils have sprung early this year, when can I expect my first box of veg” or “you must be loving all this warm weather, up the allotment”, and the simple fact of the matter is that were not loving it at all.

When the temperature drops below zero degrees, the water molecules which make up a vast majority of the structure of a lot of vegetables, with some types of lettuce known to contain up to 96 % water molecules, tomatoes up to 94% and cabbages up to 93%, freeze which will cause damage to and eventually kill the plants. Its not hard to tell when a plant is suffering from frost damage, the plants often go limp and have blackening leaves and will eventually wither and die. When you have vegetables in the ground and the temperature is dropping, this could could do some serious damage to your produce. But if like us, at the moment the only thing we have in the ground as I type, are broad beans (Aquadulce Claudia) which is highly regarded as being the premier over wintering broad bean, and our strawberries which are a mixture of variety’s all pretty hardy when it comes to bad weather, then the frost can be one of your greatest weed killing allies. If you have ever dug over an allotment by hand you will know that it is lots and lots of fun. My knees never feel better than when they are bent next to a raised bed for hours, as I sting the hands of myself trying to work out what is a weed and what is not. Over winter the frost does all this for you, by freezing the water molecules and slowly killing of the plants and root system.
This is not the only reason why allotmenteers love a good long hardy frost, it also does wonders keeping the pest problem under control. Every wondered where all the insects go in the winter, well it really is fascinating some create their own antifreeze, some go into a state of suspended animation and hibernate the winter, but in truth a lot of them die, and this is important for keeping pest numbers down. So there u have it, two of us growers favorite things to complain about, weeds and insects and the frost is taking them on, for free, while were all lying in our beds.

If you have got plants in the ground that are susceptible to damage from frost and you think they might need a helping hand through the winter then there are a few ways of preventing the plants from seeing the worst of the cold.

Mulch – Mulch is a term that describes any layer of material that is placed on top of soil, many people believe that mulch is purely and organic material but the same term can be applied to any material (e.g plastic sheeting, PVC) that provides the following benefits. Mulch provides a lay of material between the sun and the soil. If the soil cannot receive sunlight then anything will find it difficult to grow in those circumstances, so it is a good method of reducing weed growth. As with light the mulch also traps heat and moisture allowing the soil to stay warmer and might allow for early germination and improved soil nutrient quality. Common examples of mulch often include tree bark, hay, grass clippings which will decay over time and help top improve the soil quality, through to PVC sheeting or recycles rubber pellets from old tyres which will not improve the soil.

Protecting Vegetables from Frost
Covered Beds

Horticultural Fleece –One of the most modern and now common ways of protecting vegetables from frost is the use of horticultural fleece. This doesn’t take much explaining, its basically a vegetables way of putting on a jumper or wrapping itself in a duvet. The fleece can be applied directly over the vegetables and weighted down, or it can be applied the same way as you would put bird netting or chicken wire over a frame.

Covering –This is probably the simplest way of protecting vegetables from frost. Some plants can simply be protected by placing a vessel over them e.g. a plastic bottle which will act as a mini greenhouse or a flower pot, anything that will increase the temperature and keep the frost off.

It may be worth experimenting with different methods of Protecting Vegetables from Frost, to find the best that work for you in your position.

Whilst we have been fairly lucky with the rain here in Belfast other parts of Northern Ireland and the rest of the Uk have been totally destroyed with the torrential rain, many people lost their homes, businesses, farms and livestock. Our sympathy and good wishes go out to anyone whose lives have been affected by any of the floods, and we hope that this is the year that the World tackles global warming and realizes that we just cant keep going on living the way we are.