Monthly Archives: February 2015

Primroses, badgers and frogs

Spring is definitely here though the weather is still cold and wet. But the flowers are opening and warming the heart. My favourites are primroses. They grow in the banks of our hedgerows. The first ones we saw were on the 14th February, but these were a bit battered by the hail showers we’ve been having. The ones below were photographed on the 19th February and are in a bank below some lovely old, wizened hawthorns on the edge of our hill field.

Primrose

Primrose

In the garden, the crocuses are opening and today our first daffodil opened fully.

Crocus

Crocus

In the polytunnel, we have planted our early potato crop – the variety is Charlotte and we can usually harvest them in May. They will be small but delicious! The second lot of broad beans I sowed (the first ones were eaten by a mouse!) have germinate and are just starting to grow. I’ve leave them in pots for a couple of more weeks before planting into the tunnel. In the greenhouse, I’ve sown some radish and early lettuce, a few kohlrabi and early cabbages in seed trays. We’ll see how they all go.

 

In the wood things are moving too. I spotted these badger prints a couple of weeks ago. Badgers don’t live in the wood but every so often we will find footprints on the muddy bits of the track, where they have been passing through.

Badger prints

Badger prints

And a sure sign of spring – the frogs have returned to spawn in the drain below the chicken field. It is always the first place they spawn. They will return to the pond in the next few days. It will be interesting to see if they will use the new pond, which lies between the drain and the existing garden pond. The photo isn’t great. I haven’t been able to sneak up on the frogs yet – without them all diasppearing under the surface of the water – but the picture will give you an idea of the amout of spawn. Each clump of spawn represents what one female has produced. There are about 50 clumps – that is 50 female frogs. And for every female frog there will be a male mating with her – that is 100 frogs in this little bit of drain. It’s pretty impressive!

Frog Spawn

Frog Spawn

 

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Newts in the garden

Earlier in the week, while transplanting a small tree, my husband found a little newt. In winter, newts will find frost-free corners of the garden to rest up in, only coming out in milder weather to forage for food. They will often use compost heaps to hide in so it’s a great reason to have a compost heap.

Smooth Newt

Smooth Newt

Now with spring on its way, they will be thinking of heading back to the pond to breed. We often see them swimming in the pond during the spring and summer (see previous post https://murtaghsmeadow.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/newts/). They look quite graceful in the water. On land they seem almost prehistoric.

Smooth Newt

Smooth Newt

In Ireland, we only have one species of newt (Smooth – Lissotriton vulgaris), but in the UK there are three – smooth, palmate and great crested. Newts will eat slugs and snails as well as earthworms. In water, they will eat tadpoles and water insects.

Smooth newt

Smooth newt

I love seeing these little amphibians in the garden. We’re still waiting for the frogs to return to the pond to spawn. It’s usually about now we start to see them, so it shouldn’t be long. If you find newts in your garden you can record your sightings at www.biology.ie

Smooth newt

Smooth newt

Hedge Laying

Hedge laying is an ancient craft of hedgerow management that is sadly in decline. We planted this hedgerow about five years ago. It has a mix of species, oak, ash, chestnut and birch. We decided to lay the hedge, to make it thicker. Some of the species we’ve planted may not lay well (e.g. birch), so it’s a bit of an experiment. Traditionally in Ireland, farm hedgerows are composed mainly of hawthorn, blackthorn and ash, all of which are ideal for laying.

I know this may look a bit drastic. But by laying the trees horizontal you create a good thick base. The stems of the trees are cut, but not all the way through. The idea is that the tree will grow again from the stump.

Uprights are cut and placed to keep the now horizontal stems in place.

Uprights

Uprights

Hopefully by the summer, this will be a mass of new leaves.

Both hedge laying and hedge coppicing are excellent ways of rejuvenating a traditional farm hedgerow that has become gappy or over-grown. More information about hedge-laying in Ireland can be found at http://www.hedgelaying.ie/index.php. In the UK there are a number of different ‘styles’ of hedge laying. Photographs can be seen on http://www.hedgelaying.org.uk/styles.htm

 

The Forest

The recent winter storms have left their mark in the conifer plantation that lies to the east of our house.

Storm damage Storm damage The trees are about 35 years old, mainly pine with some larch and birch. I remember planting them with my father and sister one winter when we were young. They are planted in what was once a bog local people used for cutting turf. The turf was used to heat their houses. When useable turf has been removed from a bog it becomes know as cut-away bog. My parents had bought the individual strips from the locals and tried to reclaim into grassland, but the fields had always been wet and full of rushes. I barely remember it as open fields. Though sometimes I get flashes of memory as to how it once was. At some point my parents decided to plant with trees as forestry grants were available through the government. This year, the majority of the trees, will be clear felled and replanted.

Storm damage Storm damageI have been using my camera to try and capture the ‘forest’ – for that is the grand term we give it. Parts of it are dark and lifeless, but other corners are full of character. And I will miss them. The kids will too. When we told them the trees would be cut down their first questions was – “where will we play hide and seek?”

For the storm photographs I have either used the black and white setting on my camera or used the programme picasa to change colour shots into black and white. I’ve also fiddle a bit with cropping and saturation.

February

Sunday, the first of February, was Ireland’s Saint Brigit’s day and seen by many in Ireland, as the first day of spring. Outside it is cold with wintery showers of hail and sleet, but the sun is shining in between. In the garden, there are signs of life. A beautiful Hellebore I got from my sister, is in flower; daffodils almost ready to open; my Brigid’s cross made from rushes; bluebell shoots from seeds I planted two years ago; hazel catkins opening and elder catkins looking nice again the blue sky.