Thursday 29 September 2011

Feeling Organised

I am pleased to say that we are much more on top of the garden, than I am with this blog. With all the lovely warm weather we have had, we have been outside a lot and I have that rare feeling of being exactly where I should be with the garden. All the raised beds have been cleared and dug over, apart from where turnips and squash are still growing, and the entire garden is weed free, including the patio. The last of the tomatoes have been harvested and their pots are tidied away. I have also given all the herbs a hair cut and tidied the bed up for autumn. The strawberry bed is now looking tidy and the grass has been cut.

There is still more to do. There always is. But it feels managable and with the sun still shining the weekend promises more fun in the garden. I hope you are all manageing to make the most of the sunshine!

Monday 5 September 2011

An Angry Bee = A Tidy Greenhouse

This weekend we started tidying the garden up a bit. Autumn isn't quite here yet but the leaves are beginning to scatter the lawn and some of our crops have finished producing fruit. The broad beans which were so abundant earlier in the year had actually finished before we headed away on our camping trip but we hadn't got around to clearing them. I chopped them back, leaving about 5cm stem behind. Although broad beans are very easy to uproot it is beneficial to leave a short stem behind as they add valuable nitrogen to the soil.

While I chopped, Garden Lass ferried stems to Garden Girl, who piled them all into the green bin. Pirate Garden Boy, meanwhile, was helping Garden Dad dig for the last of the potato treasure. We then moved onto digging up carrots and the last of the spring onions. The idea had then been to dig over the soil and mulch it but we unearthed a Queen Bee while we were digging who didn't take very kindly to being disturbed. She flew in angry circles above the carrot patch for a very long time afterwards so we thought it better to stay away. We sat on the lawn and trimmed the greenery from the carrots and spring onions, then enjoyed an ice lolly while we waited for the bee to calm down, which she didn't.

Unable to continue with the digging, we decided to get to get to work on the greenhouse. We tidied up all the toys, buckets and kids gardening tools. Then we emptied out spent tomato plants and the cucumber plants that never did fruit this year (a real shame because they had been so successful in previous years.). We still have a few tomato plants that are fruiting but these now all sit neatly down one side of the greenhouse so we managed to stack some of the larger empty pots into the now tidy greenhouse.

Garden Dad, meanwhile dug up some swedes, giant by our previous growing standards, and cleared some of the french bean plants which are no longer producing beans. The runner beans and some other varieties of French beans are still producing though, so I think we will still have a supply of beans for a while yet.

Unfortunately on Sunday the weather was a little wet, but we diecided to keep going with work in the garden regardless. The edges of the lawn needed a trim and a tidy up which Garden Dad managed to finish before the worst of the rain. While he was busy with that, our Little Garden Helpers were helping me to repot the rosemary and lavender cuttings we took earlier in the year. All of them had developed good roots and once the tomato plants have finished I will move the cuttings into the greenhouse for the winter. By spring next year they should be healthy plants ready to be rehomed in the front garden and herb bed.

Then, as the rain started to fall we began to dig up strawberry plants. The strawberry patch had been taken over by small, white, wild strawberrries which are quite nice but do stifle the red berries which we all prefer. So we decided to dig them all up, cut away any unwanted runners from the other varieties and then spread out the best plants with a bit more room for growth between plants next year. There is now a note in the gardening diary reminding us to keep on top of the strawberry runners!

We didn't manage to finish this task however, as the rain started to fall in bucketfuls. We do feel like we have a good start on clearing the garden however and hopefully we still have some sunshine left to enjoy the garden a bit more before the wet weather becomes more frequent than the dry!

Sunday 28 August 2011

Teach Your Toddler: Frogs

Garden Boy was really eager to learn about frogs, In fact, if you will excuse the pun, he was literally hopping about with excitement at this topic. Before we started we took a trip to the library. Last year we did much of our research about Garden Bugs on the internet but I wanted our Little Garden Helpers to remember that books can provide the answers too, so we borrowed a couple of books about frogs ('Watch it Grow: Frog' by Barrie Watts and 'Wild Britain: Frog' by Louise and Richard Spilsbury, and this is what we discovered...

Things to Tell Your Toddler
  • Frogs live on land and in water. Animals that live on land and in water are amphibians (like Peppa Pig's camper van!).
  • Frogs have long, sticky tongues which they flick really quickly to catch their food.
  • They eat all sorts of insects including snails and slugs so they are good to have in the garden.
  • They do not chew their food. They just swallow it whole!
  • Frog's have eyes on the side of their heads, not the front like us. This means they can see all around them so they can see if an animal wants to eat them or if there is a tasty insect to eat itself.
  • Frogs move on land by jumping. They have long, zig-zaggy back legs to help them jump.
  • Frogs move in water by paddling. They have webbed feet, like ducks, to help them swim.
  • Frogs like to sleep in the day and hunt for food at night. This is because it is cooler and wetter at night and if their skin dries out in the sun they will not survive. They also sleep (hibernate) all through winter.
  • Frogs lay thousands of eggs in water, called frogspawn.
  • Tadpoles swim out of the eggs after a few weeks and over a few months gradually grow their legs and lungs which let them breathe and move on land.
  • Female frogs do no make sounds at all. Male frogs croak as loud as they can by puffing up their throat as big as they can.

Activities We Did
  • Pretend to be a frog. Puff up your face and croak as loud as you can. 'Erm... Garden Girl, are you a girl? Do girl frogs croak? Then why are you making a noise?' 'Thats not fair! Boys say silly things so why should they croak and not girls?'. Show me how a frog moves on land, and now in water. Now show me your tongue and catch some insects. And now its getting cold, winter is on its way, find somewhere safe and sheltered to sleep. 
  • Make origami jumping frogs. We followed the instructions here to make ours. We didn't have any green paper so we just coloured some white paper in before we started folding. Garden Boy needed a bit of help with the folds but Garden Girl managed all on her own. Once you have made them have frog races with them.

  • Make frog bread. I came across these on The Fresh Loaf website while I was browsing the internet and couldn't resist. They were also really delicious and all three Little Garden Helpers loved making them.

  • Make a frog mask. Garden Girl made hers at school but I think it was quite an effectve use of a paper plate and some green paint and is really simple to do. 

  • Draw frogs. Drawing pictures helped them remember the special features of a frog such as the round body, big eyes and zig zag legs.

It was a couple of weeks ago now that we were learning about frogs but all three of our Little Garden Helpers are still talking about frogs and jumping around pretending to be frogs. Garden Boy particularly enjoys trying to catch insects with his tongue while Garden Lass, at the mention of a frog jumps on her toes and giggles. She absolutely loves pretending to be a frog but not quite as much as she enjoyed with the bread dough. Garden Girl was the least impressed with frogs, expressing much disbelief that female frogs do not croak at all and consequently dubbing them 'silly' although she really enjoyed learning about how tadpoles change into frogs. The highlight for me was joining in with frog jumping on a wet day. Its hard to resist a giant puddle when wearing wellies!

Friday 12 August 2011

Teach Your Toddler: Garden Bugs

Last week we revisited the garden bugs we had learned about last year. We looked back over the blog posts I had written, talking about the activities we had done and it was amazing how much information our Little Garden Helpers had remembered and they were keen to learn more. Visiting Butterfly World was a brilliant way to spark their interest and we followed up on this by making cardboard butterflies to decorate our living room. I tried to keep it simple so that Garden Lass could join in, so they each chose some sparkly card or foam which I cut into a butterfly shape. They then cut shapes from scraps of material, foam, card and paper and used these to decorate the wings. Garden Girl took great care, trying to make each wing the same, while Garden Boy spread as much as glue as he could over the wings and then carefully placed a small but select collection of shapes on his wings. Garden Lass just enjoyed joining in and stuck shapes onto her butterfly until she ran out of room.

We did a bug hunt in the garden, finding butterflies, bees, moths, wasps, flies, spiders, ladybirds, snails, slugs, earwigs, black fly, a centipede, worms and ants. Garden Girl walked around with her clipboard and pencil and demanded I tell her how to write each bug we found. We talked about where we were finding each kind of insect and why. Garden Boy suggested that ladybirds liked the herb bed because 'they are my friends and they can see me there,' while Garden Girl said 'they are all on our vegetables because they are naughty and want to eat them'. As far as I can tell Garden Lass just thought they were there for her amusement and particularly enjoyed picking up ladybirds and watching them crawl up her arm.

I was a little disappointed to find that there were far fewer ladybirds in our garden than last year, although there was also far less black fly, so perhaps they had just gobbled them all up and moved on to a new food source. There were many more snails, but I disposed of these whenever we found them. I assume this is due to the heavy rain we have had, or perhaps the fact that I have moved pots around less this year. Having not been pestered too much by ants on the patio this year I thought perhaps we were getting away with it but we found ant nests in two of our potato bags which we tipped out and disturbed.

We also spent time drawing some of the bugs we had seen in the garden with Garden Boy favouring spiders, ladybirds and flies and Garden Girl favouring butterflies, bees and snails. We played the ladybird game we had made last year and which has been a popular choice on Sunday games mornings all year. By the end of the week we were all enthusiastic to learn about a new garden creature and we decided to start with frogs... 

PS. If you want to find out information or see the activities linked with garden bugs we did last summer click the 'Teach Your Toddler' link on the right.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

A Butterfly on my Bottom!

We jumped right into our garden bug lessons yesterday with a trip to Butterfly World Project. It is a fabulous resource and well worth a visit, even though it is yet to be completed. By the end of 2012 it is set to be the largest butterfly experience in the world, with a massive 100m biome housing thousands of tropical butterflies. Yet even without the biome the project was a massive hit with my three little garden helpers.

There is currently a small butterfly house, with some tropical butterflies, where on our last visit, Garden Girl managed to hold a butterfly in her hand, an experience she will never forget and which has solidified her interest in butterflies. On this visit, Garden Girl and Garden Boy patiently held out their hands and waited for a butterfly to land, without much success, but luckily for them they were rewarded instead by a butterfly landing on my bottom. They have continued to giggle about this today. They were also astounded to see a giant butterfly. It took quite a lot of persuasion before they believed it was real and not just a cardboard butterfly placed there for display. I'm just pleased it was a slightly smaller butterfly that chose to land on my skirt. Garden Boy was also thrilled to discover some eggs lying on a leaf. When I exclaimed 'Oh, you've found some butterfly eggs', he corrected me by saying, 'No Mummy. Don't be silly. They will be caterpillars first.' I was so proud, as other visitors looked impressed by his knowledge. 

Garden Lass was far more interested in smelling the flowers than catching butterflies, which was something of a relief as I had thought lots of fluttering around her face would panic her. She barely even noticed them, although they probably noticed her, as she pulled leaves and flowers from their plants to take deep sniffs of them. I must apologise to those who planted the entire gardens, as she spent much of the day breathing in the scent of the various flowers she had beheaded. I tried my hardest to keep her from pulling the heads away, I really did, but she had a determined interest which leads me to believe she might have a career in perfumery.

On this visit however, the highlight for me was the leafcutter ants. These are a new addition to the Project and offered a fantastic look at the lives of these highly intelligent creatures. It was amazing to watch the little ants carry pieces of leaf larger than themselves along ropes and branches into their tunnels. I could have remained in this building for much longer watching the busy leaf cutters, had it not been for the tarantala residing in a glass case and watching me the whole time. This forced us to move onto the other insects where we saw snails, crickets, locusts, stick insects and more ants. Garden Lass was delighted by the noise the crickets were making and excitedly quacked back at them, clapping at the same time. (Quacking is her standard response to all animals, except cows who get a mix of quacks and moo's.) Garden Girl and Garden Boy meanwhile were taking a detailed look at all the insects with the magnifying glasses provided.

And then there are the gardens, with treasures hidden around every corner, from walls made from junk, to a fairies bedroom, colourful flowers to jewels and spiders webs to giant plant pots.

The whole Project is engaging and fun and we will definitely become regular visitors, although if the landscape designers are reading this, please could you plant some trees. It was a very hot day and not even the giant ant sculpture was casting shade!

Monday 1 August 2011

A Bountiful Harvest

We are now a week into the summer holidays and it seems to have disappeared in a blink. Our new flooring took four days to lay, with the help of Grandad South and there are still skirting boards to refit, so the house has been upside down with furniture and toys in the wrong place. It will be a relief when everything returns to normal.

My task, whilst the floor was being laid, was to keep the children out of the way so we enjoyed trips to the libray, local park and zoo and then, with furniture not yet restored, we visited friends and a local Farm and Adventure Playground. So apart from one day which was spent catching up on washing, having been without the machine for nearly two weeks, yesterday was the first real opportunity to get stuck into the garden.

Having been left to its own devices for so long, the garden is showing signs of overgrowth, so I decided to systematically work around the raised beds, harvesting anything that looked ready and pulling out weeds on the way. By the end of the day, parts of the garden were looking tidier and our kitchen table was covered with lovely fresh vegetables. I spent the evening cleaning them up and tonight we will enjoy a lovely meal entirely from homegrown vegetables, with plenty going spare.

Whilst Garden Boy wanted to play Pirates, Garden Girl was a massive help in the garden yesterday. She was very eager to harvest vegetables with me and while Garden Lass sat contentedly podding broad beans (I think she would happily do this all day, she loves it so much), Garden Girl and I worked our way around the garden, enjoying the sun and a lovely chat. 'Wakey, wakey onions', she shouted, as she pulled them out of the bed. 'It's time to see the sun'; then 'These carrots are huge, Mummy. We will have to dig as far as Uncle M's world (Peru) to get these out.' She chattered excitedly about how we should cook all the lovely vegetables and what we should plant in the spaces left by the onions and shallots.

Then the conversation moved to the activities we did last summer about garden bugs and Garden Girl asked if we could do more this summer, so we thought about the best creatures to pick. Both Garden Girl and Garden Boy wanted to look again at all the creatures we learned about last summer so we will spend a week revisiting butterflies, ants, ladybirds, worms and snails. Then with the remaining four weeks they have chosen Dragonflies, frogs, birds and spiders. Its nice to have a plan for the summer which everyone is excited about.

And now, here are a few pics from the garden yesterday:

Monday 18 July 2011

Counting the Days

Over the last few weeks the garden, for the most part, has been looking after itself. This has been a good thing as, if I am honest, I have had very little time to devote to the vegetable patch. End of term madness seemed to start weeks ago with sports days, summer fairs, classroom changeover days, assemblies and meetings. We have also had more than the usual number of playdates as everyone tries to fit them in before they head away on holidays.

On top of all that, Garden Dad and I have been spending our evenings, which would normally have been spent pottering in the garden, preparing the house for our new wood floor, which will finally be fitted this coming weekend. Garden Dad is looking forward to trying out his new machinary and I am looking forward to heading our for a few day trips with out Little Garden Helpers while Grandad South gives him a hand laying the boards. The house will be transformed and I am excited to see what it looks like when it is finished but it will be something of a relief when the summer holidays finally arrive and things slow down. I am looking forward to spending full days with our Little Garden Helpers, visiting local attractions and parks, getting crafty and rediscovering the garden.

Getting on top of the weeding will have to be the first task. We haven't left them entirely to take over but there are areas which need some hard work and the lawn mower definately needs an outing. The great thing is though, that although we have left the garden to its own devices, everything is flourishing, thanks to the lovely hot, sunny days interspersed with lots of heavy rain. We have already had some lovelystrawberry, broad bean, runner bean and potato harvests, our Little Garden Helpers delighting in searching for potato treasure and Garden Lass particularly enjoying podding broad beans. It has made them excited about forthcoming harvests and I think they will be keen helpers during the holidays. I'm counting the days! 

Friday 17 June 2011

Pretty Pink Nails

Last night I swapped the dirt beneath my finger nails for pretty pink nails and a host of other lovely beauty treatments courtesy of local beauty salon Beautylase. I even had my eyebrows threaded which I was surprisingly quite impressed with. I have never been much of a beauty salon type girl. I'm much more comfortable in my jeans and wellies and a bare face, cheeks coloured by the sun, or more usually the chill! However it was really lovely to spend an hour being pampered by a team of lovely and laid back ladies and when I left I determined to treat myself once in a while.

And once we were all looking and feeling glamorous, a group of local bloggers, including Mediocre Mum, who organised the fabulous evening, enjoyed a drink and meal while chatting about blogging, kids and life. It was great to meet the people whose words I read but have never met, as well as meet some new bloggers whose blogs I am looking forward to visiting. I hope we get together again soon.

The only problem I have now is that I really don't want to do any gardening as it might ruin my nails!

Wednesday 15 June 2011

A Fun Holiday in a Beautiful Region

Garden Dad is once again outside in the rain, this time planting out our courgettes and squash. I have more sense though and decided to stay indoors and share with you all our camping pictures. I did promise you after all.

So having looked through hundreds of pictures, I have, with great difficulty, selected 25 photos which I hope will give you a sense of the fun we had, as well as the beautiful place we were staying. With day trips to historic Bath, Avebury stone circle and Bowood House (complete with adventure playground and Pirate Ship), we were not short of places to visit and it is not surprising that our Little Garden Helpers have been asking to return.