Q&A

This is not a forum for profound questions like the cause of global warming, but questions which are nonetheless life enhancing, like how to lie in a hammock.


 

Bird food recipes

Bird food recipes

You can make your own garden bird food by pouring melted fat (suet or lard) onto a mixture of ingredients such as seeds, nuts, dried fruit, oatmeal, cheese and cake. Mild grated cheese is a favourite with robins, dunnocks, blackbirds and song thrushes.

Use about one-third fat to two-thirds mixture. Stir well in a bowl and allow it to set in a container of your choice. An empty coconut shell or plastic cup makes an ideal bird cake 'feeder'.

Food bars or fat hung up or rubbed into the bark of trees is a great help for treecreepers, goldcrests and many other species.

Fat, including suet, is particularly welcomed by tits, great spotted woodpeckers, thrushes and wrens. However, do not put out polyunsaturated fats, since they do not give the birds the high levels of energy they require in winter.

Pastry, cooked or uncooked is excellent especially if it has been made with real fats.  Roll it into a ball and place it into a fat ball bird feeder, which will make it more difficult for the squirrels. 

For blackbirds, song thrushes and other members of the thrush family, put out fruit, such as apples and pears.  These can be put on a bird table, or suspended in a fruit bird feeder.

Positioning a bird box

Positioning a bird box

Nest boxes  are needed most where natural nesting holes are scarce and food is plentiful.  This is true of most gardens, especially if you are providing extra bird food.

Your bird box should be positioned so that it is safe from predators (mainly cats) and the worst of the wind and the rain, but accessible enough so that you can enjoy the comings and goings of its inhabitants.   The box should also be positioned so that it avoids the full blast of the mid day sun otherwise the chicks may over heat.

The height off the ground is not critical, so you can select a height to suit you and not the local cat.  You should also bear in mind that an autumn clean is good. 

Blue tits generally approach their nest site from a distance and fly straight into the nest hole so try to keep the flight path clear.  This flying entry is amazing to watch and the reason why our boxes don’t have perches on the front.  Blue tits won’t use perches to enter but some predators will!

The wooden boxes are designed to be attached to a tree or wall with screws or nails.  If your tree is very precious and you would rather not nail into it, bicycle inner tubes make good straps and they will expand as the tree grows.

Birdballs  are best hung using the wire provided, as shown in the diagram.

Other general birdbox information is available at our favourite bird charity the RSPB. 

Making Mr Birdee

Making Mr Birdee

1. The first step is to thoroughly soak Mr Birdee in water to make the wood easier to bend.  It will bend without soaking, but it may split.


2. Once Mr Birdee is well soaked, carefully create the main body by twisting the two ends together and slide one end into the other.  You should then have a neat, symmetrical cylinder.


3. Carefully slide the top panel (labelled ‘top’) and bottom panel (labelled ‘bottom') into position.


4. Secure the structure by sliding the plywood pins along the join at the back of Mr Birdee.


5. Then you’re ready to go.  Mr Birdee should be positioned in a well protected spot, sheltered from wind, rain, strong sunlight and predators.  Mr Birdee will last longer if the outside is treated with an eco-friendly water-based wood preservative, but care should be taken to avoid getting any preservative inside the box.

Cleaning a bird box

Cleaning a bird box

If possible, bird boxes should be cleaned every autumn. Always wear a pair of rubber gloves as the nests can harbour parasites and sometimes fleas. 

If there are any unhatched eggs these can only legally be removed between October and January.

To clean a traditional birdbox, the box should be taken off the tree, the lid lifted and any nesting material removed.  It can be tempting to leave nesting material in place, but this is a mistake as it can harbour desease. Most birds prefer to make their own nest out of fresh material that they find locally.

For a birdball, you will need to make a hook (1) out of a coat hanger or tent peg. Use the hook to pull the nesting material through the entrance hole (2) and (3).

Finally rinse the birdball thoroughly with hot water (4)  and return to its hanging position.  Do not clean with bleach or detergent as this can be harmful to the young birds.
 

All bird boxes are best left in place throughout the winter even though they are not usually used until the spring.  This is so that the birds can familiarise themselves with the boxes for when the time comes to start nest building.

10 ways to help a hedgehog

10 ways to help a hedgehog

Ten things we can do to help revive the hedgehog population:

1. Don’t be too tidy in your garden.  The leaves and dead branches provide important habitats for the things hedgehogs like to eat.

2. Don’t try to kill off the slugs and snails, especially with chemicals and slug pellets.  Let the hedgehogs do it for you.

3. Try to leave an area of the garden undisturbed. Ask the kids to refrain from running through the leaves and kicking them into the air (hard to resist, I know).

4. Make it easy for hedgehogs to get into and out of your garden.  They like to forage over a wide area.

5. In the autumn build or buy a hedgehog house.  You can build one in a couple of hours from an overturned milk crate and some plywood, or you can buy one for around £40.

6. Position the hedgehog house in a quiet part of the garden against a bank or a hedge, with the entrance facing away from cold northerly or easterly winds

7. Don’t treat the inside of the hedgehog house with creosote or similar.  This can be harmful to the inhabitants, particularly any babies.

8. Don’t fill the hedgehog house with bedding.  Hedgehogs are very good at making their own nests.

9. In the early summer when any babies will be born leave out some nourishing snacks.  Cat food and a saucer of water is perfect.  Do not be tempted by Beatrix Potter’s suggestion of cows milk.  It can kill them.

10. In the early autumn, check there are no inhabitants by placing a straw across the entrance for a few days.  If it’s still there it should be empty.  Give it a good scrape out and repair any damage.

If you need more help, there is no better place than our local Tiggywinkles which knows everything there is to know about hedgehogs

Making a home for solitary bees

Making a home for solitary bees

If you already have solitary or mason bees in your garden you can consider yourself very fortunate.  They are invaluable for pollinating fruit and vegetables and go about their daily routine without any desire to sting.  If you don't yet have any of these modest creatures living locally it may well be that there is nowhere for them to nest.  To change that you can buy some elegant bee houses, a more rustic pollinating bee log or make something similar yourself:

Take any old piece of timber. An old fence post is ideal. It does not matter if it's old and battered. In fact this will look more like the natural, weather worn wood that many solitary bees nest in.  Avoid wood that has been treated with preservative.

Use an electric drill and a standard set of drill bits for wood. Drill a range of sizes up to 10mm diameter. Make sure that there is a good variety of hole sizes, particularly in the range 5-8mm diameter. Drill lots of holes.

Make sure the holes are drilled slightly upwards into the wood. This prevents rain water from collecting in the borings. Don't make the borings too steep though!

Dig the post into the ground, or attach it to a standing post with wire ties. If you are using blocks of wood just put them anywhere in a sunny position.

Other ways to make homes for solitary bees:
Any type of cavity is likely to prove attractive to solitary bees. Collect a bunch of old, dry, hollow stems of plants like bramble and hogweed. You can also use bamboo canes or even drinks straws.

Put them into an old baked bean can, or something similar. Melt some candle wax in the bottom of the can, then stuff it full of hollow stems, or straws. You'll know you've got bees when some of the ends are filled in.

Or go the whole hog and build an insect hotel.

For more information about solitary bees, try the RES 

How to hang a hammock

How to hang a hammock

Hammocks can be hung from just about anything.  All you need is enough space and strong supports.

Most of our garden hammocks don’t have spreader bars, which makes hanging easier.  They are designed to hang with a dip.  How much dip you have is a matter of taste.  As a rule of thumb, the minimum distance between the hanging points should be two thirds of the hammock’s length.  The maximum should be two thirds plus 50cm, although you can go to the full hammock length. It just makes the dip less steep.  Hamocks with spreader bars are designed not to have a dip, so should be hung taught.

Hammocks are most commonly attached to trees, walls, posts or a hammock stand.  Trees should be healthy and at least 30cm in diameter.  Posts should be a minimum of 4”x4” and ideally sunk to a depth of at least 30cm with a bag of post-fix concrete to act as a collar. 

hammock rope is a great way to attach a hammock to a tree or post as it is easy to adjust.  If the distance bewteen your supports is too great, you can use the rope to extend the hammock length.  Another easy alternative is a hammock fixing.  This has the advantage of working on supports you can't tie a rope around like a fence of wall.  For us, the combination of a hammock rope at one end and a hammock fixing at the other works best.


For most settings the middle of the hammock should be around 1m off the ground when it is empty.  This makes getting in and out relatively easy and allows space for it to sink a little with the body weight.  The fixings are typically at eye level or higher.  Baby hammocks clearly need to be hung with particular care to ensure that the baby won't fall out or be able to grasp anything dangerous.

For a demonstration of how simple it is to hang a hammock take a look at our video.

How to hang a hammock chair

How to hang a hammock chair

The beauty of a hammock chair is that you don’t need to search your garden for two trees that are the right distance apart.  It can be hung from just about anything, as long as it can take the weight and there is enough room to swing.

The important considerations are:

- Whatever you attach your hammock chair to must be able to take the weight of at least 120kg, the load capacity of the hammock

- The height of the fixing from the floor must be not less than 2.2m.  Anything less will have you scraping the floor.

- At least 1m space is needed behind and to the sides of the hammock to allow you to swing and spin. 

To attach your hammock chair to a branch or arbour loop a heavy rope over the limb and attach with an ‘S’ hook, making sure the ‘S’ hook and chain are strong enough.

To attached your hammock to a ceiling joist or beam use select the hammock chair plus fixing option which comes with a ball mounted hook, carabiner, chain and screws, that gives a drop of up to 78cm.

How to lie in a hammock

How to lie in a hammock

The most important thing about hanging hammocks without spreader bars is to arrange the hammock's suspension loops at head height, and not too far apart so that the hammock hangs down in a deep arc.  This then allows a diagonal lying position, like a real Brazilian.


This positions keeps the back straight and is the secret of being able to spend hours in a hammock.

For hammocks with spreader bars, the hammock is not intended to be hung with a dip and the best lying position is straight rather than diagonal.  If you intend to sleep in your hammock then a hammock without spreader bars is most comfortable as it offers the best upper back support.

The other tips we have received for lying in a hammock include:

- Let the hammock swing gently from side to side.  A light breeze should do this for you

- A cushion or pillow is a useful addition.  A vintage linen cushion goes well with the natural hammock.

- Silence, so you can hear the birds.  Leave your ipod in the house!

Choosing the right hat size

Choosing the right hat size

The simplest way to work out your hat size is to measure the circumference of your head at the widest part, usually just above the ears.  Most sun hats sold in the UK are sized in centimeters.  Some however will still come in the imperial sizing and you should be aware that for some strange historical reason, US imperial hat sizes are ¼” smaller than UK imperial sizes.

small sun hat would typically be size 58cm for a man and a size 54cm for a woman.  A large sun hat would typically be a size 60cm for a man and size 58cm for a woman.

Over time a hat may shrink very slightly so it is better for it to start off too big than too small.  That being said the change should only be slight and it is possible to stretch hats if they shrink.

The best sun hats for comfort are handmade in Ecuador and are known as panama straw hats.  The panama name comes from the building of the panama canal rather than Panama the country.  These hats are made of Paja Toquilla straw and can be crocheted or woven.  The crocheted hats are more informal and slightly heavier, but both can be worn all day without any discomfort.  If you want to buy a panama hat always make sure it is made entirely in Ecuador, not woven in Ecuador and finished in China.

How to roll a panama hat

How to roll a panama hat

Step 1. Hold the rollable panama hat in front of you with the ridged crown running from left to right.

Step 2. Carefully push out the indented crown taking special care around the 'pinch' at the front.

Step 3. Now you are able to carefully fold the hat in half so that one side curves into the other forming a bowl like shape ready to roll.

Step 4. The hat may now be gently rolled into itself with a finger placed on the inside of the crown to avoid the hat being rolled too tight.

Step 5. Ease the rolled hat into a panama hat box and close the lid.  Please note that panamas should only be rolled up while travelling.  They should not be left rolled for long periods.

If you would like to see a demonstration of how to roll a panama, take a look at our video clip.

Deck chair safety

Deck chair safety

Deckchairs are not unsafe.  They have been around for more than 100 years with few reported incidents.  But to avoid getting caught it is worth following a few basic deck chair safety tips:

1. The deckchair frame has a scissor action which makes it very painful if you happen to have your finger in it as it collapses.  At no stage should you put your fingers into the deck chair frame.

2. Never adjust the height of the deck chair when someone is sitting in it.  If you want to change the height get out of the chair first and adjust if from the back.

3. Avoid placing your deck chair on a surface which is likely to tip you out of the chair, like the edge of a terrace or a soggy lawn.  It might get a laugh, but it will not help the deck chair and could trap your fingers.

4. Regularly check the deck chair frame for wear and tear.  The frame is made of sustainable beech, which is a long lasting hardwood, but it is not as hardy as tropical hardwoods like teak.

5. Regularly check the deck chair fabric for wear and tear.  If the fabric is looking worn you can replace it.  Please call if you would like us to supply you with new fabric and nails. 

6. Keep the deck chair under cover when it is not being used.  Deckchairs can be left out for the odd night, but as the fabric and frame are both natural they will deteriorate if left out for long periods.  If properly looked after, a Hen and Hammock deckchair should last for many years.

Famous moments in a deckchair

Famous moments in a deckchair

When John Thomas Moore took out his patent for the  wooden deck chair  in 1886, he couldn’t possibly have imagined that his suspended canvas seat would play host to so may historic contemplations. Poets contemplating life’s rich tapestry, prime ministers contemplating war. No doubt he’d have tried to extend the patent if he had!

The most startling deck chair moment was in 1912 when the Titanic hit an iceberg. Despite the panic that ensued, stoical staff were seen rearranging the deckchairs as the sinking boat was beginning to tilt. Can you imagine? Sub zero temperatures, a gaping hole in the hull and you decide to straighten a row of deckchairs! Its one of those iconic images of the pre-war years.  I don't think any photos exist of deckchairs on the Titanic, but they must have looked something like the  deck chairs on the Queen Mary  35 years later.  Occasionally deckchairs from the Titanic appear at auction, but they are not cheap!

Another iconic image from the same period is of young twenty somethings enjoying a bohemian lifestyle of largess and lounging. Virginia Woolf, EM Forster, Bertrand Russell and others were often to be found slumped in a  garden deck chair  in rural Cambridgeshire, resting after bathing in the River Cam. This image was beautifully captured by one of the group, the poet Rupert Brooke , in his poem The Old Vicarage, Grantchester. It ends with the words, ‘Stands the church clock at ten to three, And is there still honey for tea?’. Sadly Brooke was killed in 1917 so wasn’t able to return to his deck chair after the war.

Contemplating a war of a very different kind took place in a deck chair half a century later, this time in the garden of 10 Downing Street. Harold Macmillan would retire to a Downing Street deck chair to reflect on the steady stream of threats and ultimatums coming from Khrushchev. He would entertain visitors in the garden too and liked the fact that his relaxed pose in a deck chair conveyed the impression of a man unflustered by the tempestuous Russian leader.

Wind the clock forward another 50 years and the  deck chair  is as popular as ever. They satisfy the new passion for eco friendly furniture (sustainable wood, 100% cotton) and they encourage a slower pace of life which many of us seek.

How to space your veg

How to space your veg

Deciding how much space to give your veg depends on what your priorities are.  For me, how my vegetable garden looks is just as important as how much it yields, so I’m inclined to push things together more.  That being said, trying to pack too much into too little space is counter productive. 

The best garden spacing guide I know is American so needs a bit of interpretation, but it is nevertheless well presented and comprehensive.  For a simpler guide you could look at our Seed Sowing Tips.

Alternatively you can use a seed and plant spacing ruler, which has most of the main vegetable types spaced on the ruler.  It also has holes at inch intervals which makes seed spacing easy.

My tips for the optimum spacing are:

1. Stagger the spacing so that the seeds of alternate rows line up.  This means you need less space between rows and it is visually more pleasing.

2. Sow more than one seed at each spot, but have the courage to remove all except the strongest seedling once they germinate.  If you can keep the roots intact they can be replanted elsewhere (if you water them for 3 days afterwards).  If not most seedling are delicious in salads.

3. If you have any seeds left, sow a few as spares to fill any gaps where seeds haven’t germinated or where a pigeon has had its breakfast.

4. Not all potatoes are born equal.  Maincrop need more space than earlies.

5. Most vegetables grow best in rows.  The exception is sweetcorn which grows best in blocks.

6. If space is at a premium grow up.  Climbing french beans will give you a higher yeild than dwarf french beans and look lovely scaling a trellis or wigwam.

What to do with surplus fruit and veg

What to do with surplus fruit and veg

If ever you have surplus fruit and veg, fear not, help is at hand!

My tips are:

• Eat as much as you can while its in season.  No fruit or vegetables improve with storage.

• Apples can be pressed to make your own apple juice.  Do this while the apples are still crisp.

• Store only produce that is in peak condition.  Produce that isn't should be cooked and eaten or frozen.

• Most produce likes cool, dark and dry conditions.  An apple rack in a garage is perfect.

• Handle produce carefully.  That one bad apple can cause havoc.

• Regularly check and remove anything which looks like it is about to rot (and is probably not worth eating anyway)

• Only store what you think you will want to eat.  If you have too much put it in a box by your garden gate with a note asking people to help themselves.  Remember to leave some bags too.

If you want to know more try Piers Warren’s wonderful guide How to Store Garden Produce.

Using your fire bowl and looking after it

Using your fire bowl and looking after it

fire bowl will look after itself with minimal maintenance as there are no moving parts and it is a simple sturdy design.  The bowl is made from recycled oil drums which have the benefit of being a high grade steel that lasts well in all weathers and can be left outside but we would recommend bringing it under cover for the winter to extend its life span.  It will take on a natural rust finish which requires no maintenance. 

The grills have been pre-coated with cooking oil that has been heated to cure them similar to a wok.  After use it is advisable to clean the grills with a wire brush and hot soapy water, dry with a cloth and store in a dry place.

Instructions for use
To avoid the fire bowls filling up with rain water when not in use we have fitted a removable gauze filter to the base.  Cover this with 5cm to 10cm of coarse sand evenly spread out over the bottom.  This will not only help retain heat for improved cooking but will also separate the water from the ash so that only near clean water comes out the bottom.

When the ash bed has built up or if it is damp and you want to light your fire bowl scoop out the ash and any dirty sand and replace with fresh dry sand. Place you charcoal on the sand and light in the normal way.  The grills are supplied in two parts for ease of cleaning and should be crossed over each other and placed in the bowl.

When you have finished barbequing lift out the grills with the tongs provided and add small pieces of wood to get the fire going.  It might smoke a little until the flames take hold then add more wood and enjoy!

Additional Hints
- Regular vegetable oiling of the grills & engine oil for the bowl will keep them in good condition. Please burn off the engine oil before barbequing next time
- The grills can become sticky from the vegetable oil but this will burn off on their first use
- The amount of sharp sand at the base can be varied according to numbers eating, to reduce the amount of charcoal required
- Use natural firelighters to get the charcoal or wood going
- The centre of the grill is the hottest area and the outside edge is perfect for keeping food warm
- After barbequing add the wood as soon as possible to convert to a fire bowl
- Only burn very dry wood to avoid excessive smoke
- Periodically wire wool the bowl, stand and tongs to remove any loose rust   
- The handles should remain cool enough to move the Fire Bowl to a different location after barbequing.

How eco is your garden lighting?

How eco is your garden lighting?

We all love to wander round our gardens in the evenings, to admire the fruits of our labours and to smell the sweetness of the roses and orange blossom.  For many gardeners this is the best time of the day.

But as the sun sets so does the natural light. Unless you live north of the arctic circle, by 10pm on a summer's evening most of us have to reach for a torch. So if we want something a bit more illuminating which will show off our garden without adding to our carbon footprint what are the options?

garden candle can create a lovely atmosphere and can add fragrance if your garden doesn’t have enough of its own. But to avoid burning fossil fuels garden candles should be made from natural wax rather than paraffin. Natural wax burns in much the same way as paraffin wax, but without damaging the planet.  Ideally the natural wax would be made with palm oil that is certified as sustainable.

For many people though a light summer breeze will put an end to hopes of a candle lit garden. The only way that candles can cope with the wind and still give off the same light is with the help of a garden lantern. If you have plenty of jam jars or small flower pots, these will do fine. If not then you may want to buy some storm lantnerns made from recycled glass. These are available in a range of sizes and can sit on a table, nestle in a rockery or hang from a branch or arbour. They can also look stunning indoors.

If you need something a bit more dramatic then outdoor pine torches are an option. These are logs that have been carefully sawn to make outdoor torches.  You light a small wick which sits inside the log then stand back and watch it burn for 2 to 3 hours depending on the wind. They make a wonderful stirring flame, but they do need to be placed on a hard fireproof base such as a brick or tile as they burn down completely and will scorch grass or decking. They make a great dramatic entrance to a party.

For easy maintenance lighting of pathways, solar powered lighting is the best bet. These can be inserted into the ground without any wiring and can be set to automatically switch on at dusk. The downside is that they can make your garden look like a two star hotel with a runway. You want to enhance the beauty of your garden not attract local aircraft!  A much more attractive option is to line a path with garden party lanterns (if you want height) or paper bag lanterns (if you you need lots) 

So how much lighting should you have in the garden? A few years ago we were fortunate to spend some time on Chole Island, an eco retreat off the Tanzanian coast. There is no electricity on the island, so after dark the only light comes from candles, oil lamps and the moon. What it made us realise is that when it comes to outdoor lighting, less is more. A few carefully placed natural wax candles or recycled glass lanterns will show your garden at its best without destroying the planet. And there is less chance of having a 747 landing on your lawn.

Making a window bird feeder

Making a window bird feeder

These window bird feeders are made from a flexible eco-friendly polypropylene which makes them easy to assmble and maintain. 

The feeders are delivered flat packed.  All you have to do to assemble them is join together the clips at either end of the polypropylene strip.  To make a dome leave the clips on the inside.  To make a teepee shape, leave the clips on the outside.  The wooden perch can then be inserted into the holes on either wall of the dome.

To prevent the food falling to the floor, the front lip of the bottom tray must be turned upwards. 

The feeder should be positioned out of reach of squirrels and cats.  To attached the feeder to a window, lightly press each of the suckers against the glass.  To detach it from the window, pull the little loop on the edge of each sucker. 

Bird seed and scraps can be left on the tray, an apple can be skewered with the wooden perch and bird seed suet balls can be suspended from the roof clips.  If possible, you should continue to feed the birds all year, not just during the winter months.

As the feeder is made of polypropylene it can be left outdoors in all weathers and can be easily wiped clean with a damp cloth.  This should tray should be regularly cleaned to prevent desease passing between birds.

 

 

Why are panama hats not made in panama?

Why are panama hats not made in panama?

Panama hat history is not all it seems.  At least not as far as Ecuador is concerned.   Panama hats  have long been an important part of Ecuador’s craft industry and an invaluable source of US dollars, but panama hats are not part of Ecuadorean culture in the way that champagne is for the French or chocolate is for the Swiss.  Both France and Switzerland export more champagne and chocolate than they consume, but their local consumption is impressive and it is this passion for their own produce that underpins their export success.

For panama hats and Ecuador the story is very different. It all started in the 16th century when the  Spanish conquistadors  landed on the cost of Ecuador and immediately began coveting the straw hats worn by locals.  However, these straw hats bore little resemblance to today’s panama hats.  The hats covered the ears and necks, more like the hats worn by nuns at the time in Europe. Shortly after their arrival the Spanish colonialists set about redesigning the hats for the European market, creating what we now know as the panama hat.

In the mid-1800s panama hats were popular with people heading to the gold rush through Panama (one reason for calling them panamas) and with visitors to the World Fair in Paris in 1855, which were exhibited by a Frenchman who had visited Panama (another reason for calling them panamas).  Thousands of panama hats were used to protect workers who built the  Panama canal  in the early 1900s (yet another reason why they were known as panamas) and by the mid 1900s they were a firm favourite with the increasingly affluent and style conscious Americans and Europeans, who were seeing the hats featuring in many of their favourite movies (Casablanca, Gone with the Wind etc).

And all this time Ecuadoreans continued to make, but seldom wear, panama hats.  This is despite the fact that Ecuadoreans are big hat wearers.  They have to be as the sun is so strong.  So what hats do Ecuadoreans wear?  As you can see, they mainly favour the felt trilby, but from time to time they have to make do with whatever comes to hand.

 

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