Tag Archives: minibeasts

Snails, slippers and impromptu haircuts

Even grey mornings have their special charm when seen through the eyes of a three-year old with new wellies. Mab bless her for keeping the cheeriness quota up in the house.

The weather this year seems to have prompted a snail and slug population boom. Luckily my total lack of garden lovin’ ensures there is plenty of weedy greenery to go round.

This pleases Ida immensely and her garden investigating in between showers involves collecting the various hues and sizes of shelled molluscs. That and woodlouse herding, marigold petal picking and making secret paths in the grass which is nearly as high as her.

Other news from this place here include the successful antibiotic choice to see off the infection in my less bad hip (in that there’s still a socket) AND cortisone injections – very successful and welcome. Whoo hoo.

My mood is taking a while to bounce back up. I’m biding my time as experience tells me it’ll eventually get back on board. Until then my world has shrunk to the bare basics. I’m still spotting BT’s but the whole system feels a bit forced and creaky… still in action though.

Fathers day was  happy, Steve worked but opened cards and presents before he left and came home to a feast of jerk chicken, plantains, dirty rice, festivals and mango salsa.

It’s a pleasure cooking with Zeph now – he’s a genuine help, in fact he made the festivals and the mango salsa completely solo. Ida watches, stirs and chops herbs and a mushroom which didn’t really get used but occupied her for at least 30 mins. All we need now is a bigger kitchen…

We had a pleasurable couple of afternoons beforehand painting cards and sewing slippers; 


We bought the plain cheap slippers and decorated them ourselves with various beloved mini beasts including, of course:

Yesterday I did a hack job on my hair. Never a good idea – I just got incredibly cross when brushing out the dreadlocky knots I’d let build up and cut off my pony tail with the sewing scissors. Luckily Ida was elsewhere as this is NOT an example I should set her as I’m constantly finding little golden locks where she’s been unable to resist the swishing sounds she loves so much.

I did neaten it up but judging from the hair on the floor I reckon I cut off about two-thirds of the length and did anyone (including my nearest and dearest) notice?

Did they bleeding heck. Which leads me to conclude that no-one sees me.

Of course it could be because I mostly wear it scraped back and twisted up so no bugger has any idea what it looks like down anyway.

I suppose I should just be glad we don’t have any clippers in the house as it could have been so much worse.

Wild garden

 Well all this lying around and being sorry for myself has had quite serious garden consequences…

It’s hard to mind too much when it looks so very lovely and the jungliness makes the kids so very happy. Still I feel  there is a happier balance to be achieved though possibly I’ve missed the window this year…

I can’t get over how fecund the plum-tree is


Can you say fecund about trees? Bearing in mind last year we had ONE solitary plum. I realise they’ll be a drop but even so we should get into double figures at least.

My valiant little apple tree is covered in fruit as well. Ida and I spent half an hour crouched in the waist-high couch grass surrounding  it yesterday. The amount of humming, buzzing hoverfly and bee life was astounding.

I am particularly fond of the vividly striped hoverflies who vibrate pugnaciously just in front of your face then dart off, satisfied you’ve been suitably quelled. There are so many different kinds we try to count them and Zeph’s collins gem proves utterly inadequate.

Lying on our backs we see bumble bees with white and red bottoms as well as a huge yellow, black and gingery striped one. Watching it ponderously investigate the opening foxgloves I genuinely wonder how it is flying. This is exactly the kind of bee Arrietty dreamed about flying on with plenty of bristly fur to hold onto. Ida amuses herself mightily by saying “No teeth Mrs Tittlemouse, no teeth!” and making spitting sounds holding her sides as she dissolves into mirthful chuckles. She is in just knickers with grass seeds in her hair. We’re trying not to attract the attention of the nice Ukrainians in the churchyard next door who have spent more than the usual amount of time leaning between their immaculate manicured conifers and shaking their heads at the chaos over here. It’s taken me half an hour to persuade her to keep her knickers on and I have no strength for anything else.

When she heaves with laughter I can still see all her ribs but she has a definite tummy now and her legs don’t go out at the knees anymore so I feel better. Down here we have a perfect view of ants and ladybirds going about their business. A tiny yellow spotted beauty sits on the end of her finger for at least a minute before shaking out crumpled silk wings from under it’s spotty overcoat and circling up into the sky.

There are sparrows nesting in our eaves and their fledglings hop all over the rubbish stacked up in the courtyard. Brash and noisy they skim over our heads and tumble from fence to rosebush. I have triple belled the cat and she sits on a branch of the laurel tree pretending their high jinks are of no interest to her whatsoever. She punishes me with a taloned paw unexpectedly in my face as I run up the stairs at bedtime. Thrumming with malicious triumph from behind the banister she stalks off tail lashing meaningfully.  

When we venture down to the compost heap there are three gleaming slow worms twined lordlike on the top of the heap. Fat and gleaming their black unforked tongues taste the air and they blink placidly at us. None of them have tails. They are surviving victims of Mittens joyful tossing of them into the air. Here they are safe from her juggling endeavors and supplied by a never-ending all you can eat smorgasboard of insect delight.

They must be breeding as we constantly find little elver like baby ones, squirming their golden way over the path and through the grass. Bare foot and delighted Ida makes an early joke -” They should be called fast worms!” Delighted she chortles and repeats it  until it descends into a squabble with her exasperated brother.

There is a tiny frog in the washbowl pond. Smooth skinned and lightning fast he crouches under the watermint which has vastly outgrown the space. It needs thinning. I add it to the list.

Here is a bud on the peony. There were more but they rotted in the wet and neglect. This one is at the top of the bush and I feel hopeful.  My wisteria is not dead as I feared, just a little overwhelmed. I clear it some space and add some compost to the base. As well as some volcanic ash my mum assures me will make a big difference. I suspect her of muttering a desperate blessing over it. The plants need all the help they can get…

June garden wandering

Once again my garden is being swallowed by the implacable advance of bindweed. This year I feel surprisingly relaxed about that. My gardening vigour moves in cycles. I have periods of vigilance and enthusiasm which wanes and then waxes. I’m moving up into a wax now but have still enjoyed the recent waning.

What slow meandering with cups of tea in the brief dry moments has revealed is how much small busy wildlife there is among the weeds. We are very abundant in small glistening beetles, wolf spiders hefting around their eggsacks, ladybirds, grasshoppers, leaf beetles pretending to be vogon spaceships, ants casting out new trails and milking the aphids on the tips of my tree branches. There are plenty of toads and slow worms avoiding the cat and sheltering under the piece of corrugated metal we found in a skip down the road and rescued for them. Snails, grey ones and the fancy yellow kind weave silvery trails and hang like baubles from their daytime resting places. There is a pearly white crab spider on the poppies by the swing, we tease it with a blade of grass and it rears up and waves its front legs menacingly. The only thing I actively crunch are the red lily beetles. They’ve decimated my lily clumps. I took this picture of my only lily buds (I had about thirty flowers last year…)

 Look, I’ve missed two in the photo I took. They are cocking a snook for sure. Beautifully scarlet – they don’t have any natural predators in the garden, except for me and my heartless crushing foot. As you can see I’m actually pretty slack in the slaughter…

This fabulously alien lurker is a very welcome ladybird larvae. The bindweed at the end of the garden is covered in them. Another reason to appreciate it.The fleeting field poppies arch between and over all the garden debris. Even though the petals are whisked quickly away the seed heads are things of sculptural beauty.  

As well as the poppy seed heads Ida and I admire the foxglove seed whorls. Their purple spikes are pretty much over but my hollyhock clumps are gathering themselves for blooming;

Marigolds are on the brink of opening up their burning orange petals;

My unpromising patch of lambs ear is surprisingly pretty when it flowers;

 I’m going to do a bit of bindweed unsmothering tomorrow and plant the rest of the pumpkin seedlings. If I have the will after early morning swimming with the kids I’m going to try sawing down the ash sucker sapling growing out of the side of the conservatory. I’m pretty sure it’s bad for the house… although I do like the leaves… after all weeds are just plants in the wrong place.

Garden treasure

 The woodlice have competition. Ida has discovered caterpillars.

Today we found this beauty:

He did tickle but Ida was perfectly still, careful and gentle with him. (Don’t know why we’re so sure it’s a he, but we are…)

After a  certain amount of googling I think it’s one of these;  The Lackey.

This is him returned to his leaf after I finally convinced Ida he did NOT want a sausage, icecream or a gherkin or a piece of cherry pie. Eric Carle you have much to answer for – all of it good    🙂

I’ve done a certain amount of bindweed battling and we’ve dutifully peered at all the new flowers and righted a few overturned woodlice. My peonies are nearly over, a final bedraggled sepia-rose hue;

but more of the foxgloves are budding;

The rain hasn’t beaten them all down and the ground is gorgeously wet and soft and wormfilled. I’ve got another hazel sapling to transplant and a curry plant to put out. The beans getting leggy in the conservatory could do with being planted out as well.

Everything takes longer with an Ida helper but equally is rendered more interesting. I think maybe this is the key of managing long toddler days. I always felt I was missing this dreadfully when Z was in nursery and I was miserable at work. Now I have flashes of unbearable longing for work, lunch hours and autonomy. I guess the grass is always greener. As I replant the teasel seedling Ida has helpfully “weeded up” for me I consider my living in the moment resolutions.

This is my thyme and mint in the space made by prising up  a paving stone. Close enough to the back door so you don’t get that wet when procuring mint for tea in a downpour. 

Inside the house resembles a Life of Grime montage. I’m about to do some basic sorting and clearing tasks. I’ve made a bolognaise sauce for tea. Z has swimming tonight after school. He has his first school swimming lesson this morning and I’m hoping it went well. Must buy another towel as well to ease the pain of double kitbags… I did just cast my eyes over at my scrap mountain but think even I draw the line at fashioning a patchwork towel out of rags. Also can’t think it’ll help with the weirdo teasing at school.

Making a mini-pond

I would like to present, da-da da-da Daaaaa!, The Pond Project

(or, indeed as Zeph would like to point out, the watery habitat spot..it is just a washing up bowl so we’re not sure it can qualify as a pond.)

The small people consult the plans…

A certain amount of scavenging and a rain drenched trip to a garden centre today have furnished us with most of the necessary stuff;

Four bricks and some moss-covered, three-year old playsand…

Some donated logs from mum’s extensive pile. A couple of thyme plants, an oregano, a salvia. In the white bag is water mint, a very small bit of yellow flag, a bunch of pondweed, and a small oxygenating grassy plant. (Yes, yes – I have lost the tags. They’re all native – that much I remember from the exhausting 40 minutes poring over them.) Oh and a purple light saber. Vital.

Position your old washing up bowl on top of the bricks. There is talk here of getting one short side of the bowl facing south and the other north (obviously) but since we’re limited in space this just went where I put it.

There was quite a lot of discussion from the supervisor about this and some heated consulting of the plans.

 It was resolved with a “because I said so..”

Right, then we packed sand between the bricks for the bowl to sit on. We used the spirit level to try to keep it as straight as possible. Maybe we should have employed it more than once during the process as it did come out a little crooked. Fits in with everything else though.

You need to bank up a mix of sand and soil at the south end and pile logs with a bit of soil at the other. You need more soil than you might think. There are now a few craters around the rest of the garden. We used some of our bit-ier compost at the logpile end. We also kept back a promising branch to put into the bowl as a dragonfly (ha!) perch.

Then you plant some low aromatic bee friendly  plants on the sandy bank and intersperse them with flat stones for basking flies and bees. We used a golden and a common thyme and the oregano. In the soil at the foot of bank I planted the salvia and I plan to put some more nectar rich stuff in here. 

We scattered a mixed seed packet of butterfly friendly annuals as well.

Now we’re getting to the good bit : cover the bottom of the bowl with a generous layer of pond gravel. Leave some for the top of the pots.

Arrange your plants as you will. They should be at the sunny bank end to leave the logpile end free for all the hedgehogs etc that will be falling over themselves to drink at the pool of loveliness. You should also pile up some cobbles in the corner there for wildlife to get in and out. We don’t have any yet and I’ve reassured everyone that they will be able to scramble out via the basking stick and pot plants in the interim. (Wotan help me if they don’t.)

Ah, the VERY best bit, filling it up. I’ve let this can of water stand for a couple of days. The water should clear and settle over the next couple of days.

I think when it rains it’ll overflow which will make the log side nice and damp for toads etc and should just drain away through the sandy bank. We’ll see since it’s raining pretty heavily right now.

The result;

wetland wildlife habitat, and….

happy Zeph. Phew.

Actually this was a lot of fun and not much financial outlay. I think it looks great and I’m feel pretty confident it’s safe for Ida as well. They were both massively  engaged and involved and Zeph just spent an hour with Steve tonight looking up the kind of flies, bugs and beetles it might attract. I’d heartily  recommend it as a family project.

Zeph found it in his Bird life magazine that he gets as part of a young RSPB membership that was a very welcome birthday present from my Aunt. So all round, a brilliant day – I’d like to end it with a photo of the snail Ida found on the bag of sand;

We caught her later putting him into her dolls house. It took a lot of persuading to convince her he’d be happier in the garden. I love all my BT’s.

Woodlouse tipping

I’ve had a tiring day being on emergency services call for woodlice.

 Ida recently discovered woodlice. She’s not that keen on ants, centipedes, the millions of little wolf spiders who sun themselves on our walls but she loves woodlice. When she sees one she has to follow it peering at it very closely. I don’t know if you watch woodlice a lot but they’re pretty clumsy. Often they tip themselves up and lie with their many legs wiggling helplessly. This is Ida’s cue to sprint to wherever I am and insist I come to their aid. Often by the time we arrive, panting, one of us hysterical, (odds are even as to who, can a person no longer even pee in privacy?) it’s usually gone. Bloody sensible woodlouse. I wonder about a world inhabited by a blonde giant who likes to loom over you.

Although slightly exasperated at the twentieth call out I am secretly enchanted at her growing observation of her surroundings. She spent the afternoon mostly crouched in the classic Shirley Hughes toddler squat playing with moss and leaves, mixing mud sand and water with a stick and watching insects.

I have felt worried that we’ve been too skint to do many exciting things this holiday but reflection shows our backyard is a smorgas board of exciting experience when you’re two.

Some friends are coming for an egg hunt and barbecue tomorrow so we’ve done a bit of tidying (scraping rust off the battered old thing and unearthing the half bag of mouldy charcoal from last summer) We’ve also made some darling cakes decorated with mini eggs for the stand (internal whoop) the icing turned out a little greener than I planned, more grotbags than pistachio. Ah well.

I have flashes of light heartedness today in the sunshine, I try and note them all, storing them up for the early hours like an emotional solar panel.

I’ve even managed to wash up. Lawks a mercy.