Saturday, 24 January 2015

Birdwatching Weekend & Seedy Sunday reminder

If you are a gardener or allotment holder you might consider birds as annoying scavengers and even 'pests'. For instance, if you have soft fruit trees and bushes, you might have to use nets to prevent birds from 'stealing' your fruit. In times gone by, farmers used scarecrows in their fields to scare birds off crops - they now have very noisy contractions or use cages, nets and/or polytunnels.

Many birds are helpful allies, especially in organic gardening. The Royal Horticultural Society offers advice on how to attract birds into your garden. Click here to read the article. And who doesn't welcome a visit from a curious robin?

Birdwatching Weekend

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is asking bird lovers across the country to spend one hour over the weekend of 24-25 January and record the different species of birds that visit their gardens.

You can register for this year’s Big Garden Bird Watch and report back with the approximate number and variety of birds you spot. The RSPB has been collating numbers since 1979 to help better understand which birds are on the decline and how we can help to prevent it. Since then, over 7 million have been counted. The top 10 most common garden birds spotted in 2014 were:
  1. House sparrow
  2. Blue tit
  3. Starling
  4. Blackbird
  5. Woodpigeon
  6. Chaffinch
  7. Goldfinch
  8. Great tit
  9. Collared dove
  10. Robin

Although the house sparrow is still at number one, this cheerful chap has remained on the red list as their numbers were still down to 62% from the first Big Garden Bird Watch. As the RSPB and the RHS point out, there are lots we can do to encourage birds into the garden, particularly in winter when food is scarce. Providing plenty of good-quality food on bird tables, and hanging fat balls is an easy way to do this. We can also help wild birds by retaining some “untidy” areas over the winter months - which encourages insects, another important source of food.

Jordan Lee, from Birstall Garden Centre, says: “As gardeners, we understand that our native birds - and visitors of course – play as important a part in making our gardens beautiful, as our plants and flowers do. So why not take part in this worthwhile project?”

Don't forget that tomorrow is Seedy Sunday! You can find information about the event in our previous blog post. Click here to view it. Please pay us a visit, we have our own table at the event. If you have kids, they get in for free and there is an activity to keep them busy!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Seedy Sunday, here we come!

Isn't it remarkable how gardening swaps can look very similar?
 Seed swap in Urbana, USA. Photo: Ryan Griffis, Wikimedia 

This year, Empty Common Community Garden will have a stall at Seedy Sunday. If you don't know about this annual Cambridge seed swap, here is the event information from Transition Cambridge's website:

Trumpington Seedy Sunday
 25 January 2015, 13:30-16:00
 Village Hall, High Street, Trumpington CB2 9HZ

Swap seeds with other gardeners. If you don't have any spare seeds, don't worry, just take seeds in exchange for a small donation. As well as the seed swap, there will be a special preview of the new film 'Seeds of Justice' from the Gaia Foundation, and a talk from organic growing expert Valerie Muir of Valerie's Veggies, plus stalls, a children's activity, and tea and cakes from Trumpington W.I. Entry £2 adults (children free).

Many of us have been there before with packets of seeds harvested from our garden or extra packets we bought but didn't get round sowing. This year we will have a stall so aside our individual contributions, we are bringing in communal offerings. I hope it will also be a chance to meet up and 'put names to faces'!

Monday, 12 January 2015

2015 is the 'year of the Horse'

Horsetail alert: volunteers liming the beds
Happy New Year!

After a cold but sunny December (no snow for the Christmas holidays for us in Cambridge) we are preparing to grow this year's crops. Empty Common Community Garden is on a piece of land that was abandoned because of dampness and a very healthy horsetail population. The City Council have put in some drainage which will hopefully help. Bearing this in mind, here's what we are/will be doing this year:
  • Liming the soil to raise the pH a bit. Horsetail does better in lower pH soils.
  • Taking off the sporing heads as they emerge in spring. We then drown them in water for several weeks before dumping the sludge on a piece of waste land. We do not add them to the compost just in case the spores are still alive, besides the sporing heads are small so not a lot of organic matter is lost.
  • Mulching the land with cardboard and then woodchips or council green waste compost and when the horsetail emerges hoeing it. Just mulching doesn’t work,  in fact it makes the problem worse because horsetail likes the damp conditions created by mulching, it grows straight through the cardboard and finds there is no competition so takes off. Horsetail isn’t good at competing with tall plants.
  • Cutting plants at ground level and drowning these for several weeks. We then water the beds with the water used for drowning, add the sludge to the compost and so return it to the soil. This is to add the nutrients that the horsetail has accumulated back to the soil for other plants. Often some plants compete better than others because they are better at accumulating minerals. Horsetail is good at accumulating silicone from deep down and competes well against other plants in low silicon soils. Adding it to the surface makes it available to other plants, improving their competitive ability.
  • Next spring we may try planting lots of marigolds in a bed as an experiment as they are said to be good at deterring horsetail.
  • We are keeping a patch of silver leaf that arrived by itself and seems to have inhibited horsetail growth. It will be interesting to see what happens.
  • We are not attempting to dig out the horsetail roots as they are super long - spreading wide and deep. They also have nodes on their roots that are activated to produce lots of root growth when a root is broken.
If you have any horsetail control tip to share, please leave a comment. If you'd like to know when the next blog post is out, please subscribe using the box on the top right. We will not pass your address to anybody!