2013 – The year in focus

In comparison to  the relentlessly wet weather throughout 2012, the relatively drier and warmer weather during 2013  had been considerably better for the Wildlife Garden Balcony and the creatures it supports.  You may recall from my previous blog entry that the extremely wet conditions during 2012  led to a population explosion of vine weevils who’s ravenous larvae devoured many of the balcony’s plants with my climbing hydrangea being one of the unfortunate (and largest) casualties to perish.  Nevertheless, the rest of the flora recovered sufficiently to provide a constant source of food and shelter for visiting wildlife. Here are a few “photographic highlights” captured on my balcony during 2013:

DSC01626My Dustbin Lid Meadow really came into its own during 2013 with wild clover (seen above) proving itself to be an irresistible source of nectar to visiting bumblebees

DSC01656I was really delighted to see this shield bug resting on a clover leaf which was growing on my Dustbin Lid Meadow. They take their name from their distinctive “shield shaped” bodies. It was  first time I’d ever seen one visiting my balcony and hopefully means there will be many more to make an appearance in the future.

DSC01622This profusely self-seeding toadflax with its long flowering period (from spring to early autumn ) was constantly visited by bees foraging for nectar. The plant is such a prolific self-seeder that it’s gradually colonising the other Bucket Planters on my balcony. Nevertheless, its such a great source of nectar for bees (as well as a food plant for several moths) , I don’t have the heart to curtail its rapid expansion.

DSC01734The warmer, drier weather this year helped to see an increase in the number of bumble bees visiting the balcony. No matter what sort of space you have, whether its a small balcony like mine or a tiny window box, its easy to attract these beautiful and threatened pollinators with the right combination of flowers. Click here and here to see my recommendations on what to plant in your tiny outdoor space.

DSC01698This St Johns Wort flower growing in my my Dustbin Lid Meadow not only provided a source of nectar for visiting insects , it also became a source of food for several caterpillars, including this one.

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Whilst providing a source of food for caterpillars, bumble bees also feasted on the St Johns Wort’s abundant supply of nectar

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It’s not just  the daylight hours when wildlife can be seen visiting the balcony.  This moth was captured  taking nectar from Red Campion  growing in my Dustbin Lid Meadow . The campion releases its scent at night specifically in order to attract pollinating moths.

WSBC0001 3A blue tit enjoying the fat ball I’d put out for it. The birdcam continues to capture some great images of visiting birds. In fact, its been such a great device for recording visiting wildlife that I’m giving some thought to getting another one just to record those “feathered friends” who visit the  balcony’s birdbath.

DSC01630Ichneumonid Wasp resting on a honeysuckle leaf. These wasps don’t have stings and are completely harmless to humans – and also help to keep down both aphids and caterpillars in the garden which their larvae feed upon.

DSC01774 A “daddy long legs”  or Harvestman discovered for the first time this year on my balcony and a great indicator of a burgeoning insect population which it needs to feed on.

DSC01663 Hoverflys were regular visitors to the balcony this year, attracted by umbelliferous flowers  including yarrow, angelica and fennel . Hoverflys  don’t sting and are completely harmless to people yet have the clever gimmick of disguising themselves as stinging wasps in order to deter potential predators such as birds. The Hoverflys’ larvae are also a great asset to the gardener as they feed, voraciously, on  aphids and is another very good reason why I never try to eradicate aphids using insecticides.

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Spiders, such as this one seen feeding on an aphid, are a great indicator of the Wildlife Garden Balcony’s increasing biodiversity  – as more and more insects make their home here and provide food for arachnids and other predators.

WSBC0007In addition to providing a great source of food for visiting blue tits, my balcony’s home made bird-table also attracted their slightly larger cousins , the  great tits too. This pair, who were regular visitors, were captured on my Birdcam during March to May and no doubt found the peanuts helped to boost up their energy levels whilst they were busy rearing their young back at the nest.

DSC01710 This Acanthus Spinosus or “Bears Breaches” had been planted a couple of years earlier and had never flowered until this year. After seeing the number of bumble bees it attracted, such as this one above,  it was well worth the wait.

DSC01632 This Buddleja Globosa or “orange ball” tree  originated from a small  cutting which I’d taken from another garden and introduced to the balcony earlier in the year. After witnessing the number of visiting bees hungry to feed on its abundant nectar, it turned out to be a very welcome introduction to the balcony.

DSC01763This colourful beauty is the larvae of the equally colourful harlequin ladybird  and can be seen here feeding on aphids.
DSC01712In addition to lending a fantastically unusual and architectural presence to the balcony, this Teasel  became a “nectar magnet” for bumble bees, hoverflys and butterflies alike. It’s seeds are also an important food source for goldfinches in the winter  – who’s conical beaks are  particularly adept at reaching the seeds usually inaccessible to other birds.

DSC01716No sooner had I planted this verbena on the balcony, it was swamped by nectar hungry bees such as this one.

DSC01722This Elecampane (also known as elfwort and horseheal) not only looked stunning with its large floppy leaves and big plates of ragged yellow flowers , it also attracted numerous pollinating insects, such as this small white butterfly.

DSC01791After opening my curtains one morning,  I was really pleased to see this moth on my balcony window. Looking at this photo later on, I was far less pleased to realise that my window was long overdue a good clean!

No matter what sort of space you have, whether its a small balcony like mine or a tiny window box, its easy to attract all sorts of wildlife with the right combination of flowers, food plants and shelter. To get started click here and check out how I went about creating a “Wildlife Garden Balcony”….and see how you can easily do the same!

 

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…..and then there were two

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In my last post I was really pleased to report that my balcony birdcam had finally captured some images of  a visiting bird (a solitary great tit) following a “drought” of photos during the previous 8 months. Well, it seems that birds visiting my balcony are a little like buses; you wait around for one for ages and then 2 turn up at once. These two great tits have been daily visitors to my balcony bird feeder table since the beginning of March, often visiting twice a day, to feed on the peanuts, fat ball and mealworms which I’d put out for them.

To see a short video clip of them feeding, taken by the birdcam, click here

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Hopefully, this pair might well take up residence in the bird box I’ve attached to the outside of my balcony.

It just goes to show that If you’ve got a tiny balcony its still entirely possible to attract birds to it as long as you put out the right food for them and remember to regularly replenish it,  and, of course,  dispose of any remaining food once it starts to go off.

For great advice and tips on attracting birds to your outdoor space, have a look at this RSPB page

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A great tit comes for brunch

Great Tit

This hungry great tit is helping itself to some dried meal worms which I’d put out earlier in the year. They will also eat peanuts and sunflower seeds.

As mentioned in my previous post, throughout April and May of 2012  my  bird cam recorded a fair few birds visiting the balcony feeder on an almost daily basis but didn’t record any visits from them whatsoever from June onwards. I assumed that their sudden absence tied in with their need for live food such as caterpillars and beetles ( instead of nuts) for their newly hatched chicks and so would make a welcome return to my feeder, once again, in the colder winter months when food was scarcer.   From October onwards I would eagerly check my bird cam, on a daily basis,  to see if it had snapped any visiting birds only to become increasingly disappointed that no photos had been taken whatsoever.  It was great then to come back from work the other evening and to discover that my bird cam,  for the first time since June last year, had actually captured 4 images.  I was even more delighted to see that the hungry visitor was a great tit – a bird which previously hadn’t been recorded visiting my balcony. Hopefully, it might well have noticed one of the bird boxes I’d attached to the outside of my balcony and decide to raise a family here in  the spring. Fingers crossed!  For more information about great tits, and to hear their songs and calls, check out this page

Great Tit feeding on peanuts

Great tits are renowned for their intelligence and for their agility on feeders, as can be seen on this bag of peanuts which is attached to my home made bird table

On a sadder note, great tits have become increasingly affected by a form of avian pox which is believed to have been introduced by european mosquitoes.It causes unsightly growths on the great tits body, which can then impede their ability to feed and makes them more obvious to potential predators.

This pox, which can’t  be caught by humans, can be fatal to great tits though research has also shown that individual birds can recover from it – which hopefully  means the bird population will eventually build up some degree of immunity to the disease. The most important thing we can do as gardeners is to ensure that we regularly clean out and disinfect our  bird feeders in order to minimize the chances of birds catching diseases from one another. For more information on cleaning feeders have a look at RSPB’s web page here

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2012. The year in focus.

I honestly can’t  remember such a long and relentlessly wet spring and summer as I have experienced this year. Unfortunately, the relentless rain meant that I spent considerably less time out on my balcony which resulted in me having far less opportunities to observe and photograph the wildlife there. At least that’s my excuse for not updating my blog on a regular, monthly basis (as I know I really ought to have done).  Although the incessant rain certainly had a significant impact on my “wildlife garden” balcony  that is not to say that it didn’t  support any wildlife at all – as it most certainly did, though with “interesting” results.

Vine Weevils loved the incessant wet weather, this year, which led to a population explosion on my balcony. The adults prefer damp soil into which to lay their eggs with the emerging grubs eating through the roots of many of my plants.

Vine Weevils certainly loved the incessantly wet weather this year and had a population explosion on my balcony. The adult beetles prefer damp soil into which to lay their eggs with the emerging grubs eating through the roots of many of my plants.

Whilst herbaceous plants can survive the adult beetles’ savage nibbling of their leaves ,  a number of my plants weren’t able to survive the voracious appetite of their grubs who eagerly munched their way through the plants entire root systems . Whilst weevils are often the bane of many  gardeners(especially those who garden in containers) the damage they have caused to a number of my plants raises some interesting  philosophical issues for me.

I introduced these lovely native cowslips to the balcony garden in the spring. Unfortunately, the weevils also thought they were lovely too. They did seem to survive the worst of their predations, however,  so hopefully will bloom again next spring .

The balcony’s main purpose, after all,  is to provide a wildlife habitat for a diverse range of plants and creatures.

The weevils were certainly able to make good use of the habitat I’d provided for them but their population boom also resulted in the severe stunting and/or death of a number of plants which could have provided much needed nectar to hoverflies, bees and butterflies.

However, the vine weevil’s population explosion also provided a potential source of food for any visiting birds and predatory ground beetles. Equally, the weevils premature destruction of herbaceous flowering plants helped to deprive seed eating birds of a source of winter food on my balcony.  Whilst I want to ensure that I achieve as much  biodiversity as possible on the balcony , if the weevils were to succeed in wiping out most of my plants then that would almost certainly  undermine what I wanted to achieve.  Though I would  never resort to using insecticides on the wildlife garden balcony, I am giving some thought to using an organic option which would involve introducing the weevils natural predators in the form of microscopic nematode worms. Their introduction would at least help provide a more “natural” solution to reducing the weevils population and  help to promote a bio-diverse habitat for a wider range of creatures on the balcony .

This year’s  relentless rain  not only encouraged an  explosion in the weevil population but also  brought about a dramatic decline in the number of bees, butterflies and hoverflies visiting my garden, with the balcony  effectively becoming a microcosm of what appeared to be happening in the wider natural world.

Of course, 2012 wasn’t entirely just one long heavy shower (even if it seemed like it!). In March, spring appeared to have well and truly arrived with unseasonaly high temperatures (sometimes reaching into the mid 20s) being recorded towards the end of the month.  The unusually warm weather at this time encouraged a population boom in aphids which in turn encouraged the arrival of their predators, ladybirds. After the end of the brief warm spell in March, however, I can’t recall seeing another ladybird on the balcony until September.

Can you see it ? During one of the rare sunny days this year, I managed to get a great shot of this caterpillar munching its way through my nasturtium plant (and flower!)  They disguise themselves to resemble the stalks of their host plants in order to avoid detection by predators such as birds. Amazing!

As expected, the warm weather didn’t last and as we entered April the temperatures plummeted and the bees and hoverfiies ,which had only just started to visit the balcony, became conspicuous by their absence.

Around the same time in April, I’d installed a motion activated “bird cam” on my balcony to try and capture images of birds visiting the bird feeder. I was very pleased with the results, particularity with so many great shots of the numerous  blue tits visiting the balcony.

 

 

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Interestingly, throughout April and May the birdcam recorded blue tits visiting the balcony feeder on an almost daily basis but didn’t record any visits from them whatsoever from June onwards. I guess this would tie in with the adult tits having established nests by then and so requiring  live food in the form of grubs and insects for their chicks rather than peanuts or seeds from my feeder.

Although many of my plants were badly affected by the incessant rain and weevil epidemic this year, this verbena (which I’d purchased from bud garden centre in burnage) was a “star performer” and has been providing hard-pressed bees with nectar from June right until late October.

 

Other birds seen on my balcony have included Robins and Blackbirds (both seen feeding on the honeysuckle berries) Dunnocks , Collared Doves and Magpies. I’m sure there are other types of birds which visit too, and which I’ve yet to see or capture on my birdcam.  Hopefully, now that the winter is virtually upon us,  visits to the balcony’s feeder will begin again and allow the “bird cam” to reveal even more about our feathered visitors . I’ve also put out a nest box and a few rattan nesting pouches on the more secluded, outside areas of the balcony which hopefully will provide  nesting sites (if not winter shelter) to some of our feathered friends.   

The garden spider (araneus diadematus) took up residence on my balcony this year with at least 8 of them stringing up separate webs amongst my plants.

 

The soggy weather this year certainly doesn’t t seem to have curtailed the presence of spiders on my balcony, who seem to have had something of a population explosion here. Last year I was lucky if I  saw one or two spiders, usually lurking around the shadowy, more inaccessible areas of the balcony floor.  This year I’ve seen at least 8 different Garden Spiders (araneus diadematus) with their individual webs strung out between my plants .

The tiny jumping spider (pseudeuophrys lanigera) making good use of a (rare)sunny day to sunbathe on one of the balcony’s planter buckets

I also noticed, for the first time, the presence of the jumping spider (pseudeuophrys lanigera) which is renowned for hunting down and pouncing on its prey instead of weaving a web to ensnare its victims.

 

 

 

Out to Lunch! I think this spider may well have attempted to bite off far more than it could ever have possibly chewed. Fortunately for the bee, it managed to wriggle out of the web just before the spider got to it.

The increase in the number of spiders here is a  good indicator, I hope, that the balcony is becoming increasingly bio-diverse,  attracting sufficient numbers of other insect prey to sustain and increase  their presence.

I really hope that our next summer will be a warmer(and drier) one which would certainly help our essential pollinators start to make a recovery of sorts. Nationally (and globally) our bees are in massive decline and there is emerging evidence that this is related to insecticide use, which will be compounded by loss of suitable habitat.

As can be seen in the above photo, there is (or was) a very large area of wild urban greenery known locally as birley fields  which is situated just across the road from my balcony garden. This  “brownfield site” undoubtedly provided a refuge and breeding area for bumble bees, butterflies, hoverflies , birds and countless other creatures. Now that it’s just been dug up and large trees felled to make way for a massive university campus, it will be interesting to see what effect this has, in the future,  on  the sort of wildlife which currently visits my balcony.

In the meantime, I will press on with trying to  support our local urban nature with  the  “Wildlife  Garden Balcony” as a tiny, aerial refuge.  Finally,  my (very early) new year’s resolution is that I will update this blog on at least a monthly basis from now on. Promise!

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Common Earwig (forficula auricularia)

Whilst it’s great to see a diverse range of bees, hoverflies and butterflies visiting my “wildlife garden balcony”, it’s also great to spot an insect visitor which I’ve never seen there before. This earwig was recently spotted on one of my plants during the daytime, which is unusual as they are usually nocturnal creatures.

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BBC Nature says of earwigs:

” Earwigs are 8-18mm long.

A small smooth elongated brown insect with a pairof pincer-like appendages at the end of its abdomen. They have a pair of fan-like hindwings that are normally folded away behind the thorax and hidden under their short leathery forewings.

Males and females can be distinguished by their tail pincers, which are more curved in males than females.

They are found all over Europe but have been introduced to many other parts of the world.

Earwigs can be found in damp crevices in houses, gardens and woodland.

They feed on decaying plant and animal matter and other insects.

Earwigs rest during the day inside damp crevices such as under bark or in hollow plant stems. They are scavengers and emerge at night.

Their pincers can give a small nip to a human but they are normally used to scare away predators and to help them tuck their wings away.

The female lays eggs under stones and in crevices and will stay with her eggs guarding them. From time to time she will gently clean the eggs with her mouthparts to prevent fungal infection. She will continue guarding her young, which look like miniature versions of their parents, until they have grown large enough to fend for themselves.

Conservation status
They are not listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.

click image to enlarge

The name earwig is derived from the old English ‘earwicga’ which means ‘ear beetle’. It was once commonly believed that earwigs would burrow into people’s ears at night and lay eggs in their brains. In fact the story still circulates as an urban myth. Earwigs are not parasitic and would rather lay their eggs under a stone. The human ear, though about the right size for an earwig, is not an ideal resting place. So if one were to crawl into someone’s ear it would not be typical behaviour but the actions of one very confused and lost earwig “

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The Dustbin Lid Meadow

What’s green, circular, covered in bees and “pings” if you flick it?

A dustbin lid meadow of course!

Wildflower Meadows are some of the best wildlife habitats we have , supporting countless bees, butterflies and many other insects, (not to mention mammals, reptiles and birds ) yet its estimated that we have lost over 95% of  our wildflower rich meadows  during the past 60 years or so. We rightly criticize the loss of ancient rainforests in far flung corners of the world yet we’ve somehow allowed our own vast “reservoirs of  biodiversity” to be virtually ploughed and poisoned out of existence by modern farming practices. Fortunately,  the last remaining remnants of our ancient meadows are now mostly protected and, in some instances, being extended, whilst new meadows are being created elsewhere. In our suburbs and towns, many ecologically aware gardeners have dug up their sterile , old lawns in order to create small meadows of their own. Others are simply allowing their existing lawns to grow a little longer and so enable the wildflowers( already in them) to rise up and blossom.

Whilst it wasn’t possible to reproduce large swathes of species rich grassland on my tiny little balcony (I wish!), I was certainly intrigued with the idea of creating a mixture of grass and nectar rich wildflowers which, at the very least, tried to capture something of the meadow’s colourful aesthetic as well as its ability to feed a range of invertebrates.

So, inspired by a redundant dustbin lid, ( leftover from a galvanised dustbin which I’d just converted into a planter), I set about creating a mini-meadow on my balcony.

The project was surprisingly straightforward and was achieved in a few simple steps:

Turning the lid upside down, I simply drilled a few small holes in to its centre, for drainage, which I then covered with a few bits of broken crockery to help prevent soil blocking up the newly drilled holes. I then sat the lid (still upside down of course) on top of a small galvanised metal plant-pot which I then sat on the balcony’s rail. Using strong galvanised wire, (obtainable  from most garden centres and DIY shops), I secured it to my balcony’s outer rail.  I then simply filled the lid with “peat free compost ” into which I’d mixed in some water retention granules (obtainable from most garden centres). Whilst I would usually add an organic fertiliser to my compost, in this instance I didn’t as meadows actually thrive on soil which has very poor fertility as this helps to prevent the grasses from out competing and smothering the wildflowers.  Once the compost was in place I sowed a mixture of colourful  cornfield annual seeds (for first year colour) as well as  some traditional perennial  wildflower seeds which I hoped would  establish themselves in the longer term.  I was very surprised  and delighted with the results!

Wildflower Meadow – in a dustbin lid!  During the  first summer after sowing , the cornfield annuals made a colourful instant splash and were a magnet for bees and hoverflies. The lovely blue annual cornflower can be seen in the foreground  with a vibrant red poppy in the background. These annuals would eventually be succeeded by the perennial meadow flowers which I’d also sowed at the same time.

Scentless Mayweed was another of the colourful annual wildflowers which helped to attract numerous pollinators, such as this hoverfly, to the “dustbin lid meadow”

As anticipated, the cornfield annuals  made a really colourful splash within a few months of being sown in to the dustbin lid. Blue cornflowers, crimson poppies ,yellow/white chamomiles, corn marigolds  and lanky, purple corncockles all vied for the attention of  foraging bees, hoverflies and beetles. These colourful annual wildflowers were once very common in our countryside, thanks to the age-old practice of  ploughing cornfields annually, but are now very scarce due to modern farming practices which includes the liberal use of weedkillers.

Mid Summer. After the colourful annual cornfield flowers had ceased flowering and started to die down, the perennial wildflowers which I’d also sown into the dustbin lid started to come through and flower. The lovely yellow flowers of birds-foot-trefoil can be seen here and positively hummed with an endless procession of visiting bees. The plant not only flowers over a long period but is also an important food plant for the caterpillars of the common blue butterfly

Even the leaves of the meadow’s corn marigolds provided food and shelter for microscopic “leaf miners” who’s tiny size allowed them to burrow in between the leave’s inner tissues – as can be seen here by their pale “track marks”.

Once the cornfield annuals had finished flowering and  had started to die down, it was possible to see the emerging perennial wildflowers which I’d also sown at the same time. These included birds-foot-trefoil(a magnet for bees) as well as white and red campion and self-heal which all helped the meadow to buzz with bees and helped to attract many other insects, too. Aphids certainly seemed to enjoy the meadow flowers’ sappy stems who’s subsequent population boom attracted predators in the form of ladybirds and hoverflies who’s larvae then preyed on the aphids.

A whole world in a dustbin lid! The meadow flowers not only provided nectar and pollen for pollinating insects but also attracted sap sucking aphids who’s presence then attracted predators, such as this ladybird larvae which can be seen hunting aphids on a birds-foot-trefoil flower

Although the dustbin lid meadow was created over 2 years ago, it’s still fascinating to see how it continues to develop and evolve over the seasons.

As expected, the cornfield annuals eventually stopped flowering as they need continually disturbed soil in order for their seeds to germinate. The perennial wildflowers, however, continued to thrive with  birds-foot-trefoil becoming the dominant species but with other species, like  ribwort plantain  , beginning to emerge and flower within the meadow, too.

Of course, as the dustbin lid meadow continues to develop and evolve I’ll be certain to blog about its ongoing progress and the amazing range of wildlife it continues  to attract and support.

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Watch the Birdie!

A visiting Blue Tit checking out the peanuts and mealworms on offer at the balcony. After setting it up yesterday, this is the very first bird photo taken by my wingscapes birdcam! I’m very excited with the results so far and with its other possible uses in capturing other wildlife activity on the balcony, such as which birds are using the birdbath and using its time-lapse option to record chrysalis metamorphosing in to adult butterflies, etc. Exciting stuff!

An important goal for me when originally setting up the Wildlife Garden Balcony was to try and attract and support some of our numerous  feathered friends  and knew that if I wanted to succeed  it was important to provide the right conditions for them, namely: sources of food and water, shelter and potential nesting sites – all of which are now in place on the balcony.

I already knew that some birds were visiting my balcony garden on a fairly regular basis having glimpsed them on quite a few occasions  – usually when opening my blinds or passing though the  living room. I also suspected that the variety and numbers of visiting birds was probably much greater than I would ever  get to see given that they would almost certainly be visiting when I was still tucked up in bed or out at work.  So, determined to get a better idea of  which particular feathered friends were actually  making use of the balcony garden, I’d been giving some serious thought to buying a specialist,  weatherproof,  motion-activated camera which I could set up on the balcony to capture their images.  After a bit of research,   and checking out other people’s reviews on the net,  I decided to buy the Birdcam from the RSPB  online shop; thereby helping me to establish which birds were visiting the balcony AND supporting a very worthwhile conservation charity at the same time. Win – Win!   Once the birdcam arrived it was pretty straightforward setting it up with the only slightly fidly bit being in trying to attach it to the outside of my frenchdoors in order that it directly faced the birdfeeder. After checking out the camera the very next morning,  I was very impressed with the very first picture it grabbed (of a blue tit) which can be seen above.  This will be the first of many, many more birdcam photos to feature on the blog, I’m sure, and I’m really excited with the possibilities it has in recording other wildlife activity on the balcony, too.

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A Spluttering Spring…..

In the autumn, last year, I’d introduced a number of spring flowering bulbs to the balcony to help provide nectar and pollen for insects emerging from their long winter slumbers. In February the Snowdrops I’d planted were the first flowers to bloom , quickly followed by the crocuses, and were a very welcome reminder of the imminent end of winter and the first tentative stirrings of spring.

Snowdrops were some of the first of the autumn planted bulbs to flower on my balcony(in February) heralding the first stirrings of spring. Also a good source of nectar for some of the the first bees emerging after winter

A snowdrop flanked on either side by purple-blue crocuses. Both flowers offering an important source of nectar to bees emerging from their winter slumbers

In March, after what had felt like an endless winter, spring appeared to have well and truly arrived with unseasonally high temperatures (sometimes reaching into the mid 20s) towards the end of that particular month.

Alas, it was too good to last and the balmy temperatures plummeted as we entered April!  At least the unusually warm weather in March helped to kick-start wildlife activity on the balcony, though, with the sudden appearance of large numbers of sap-sucking aphids. True to form, the boom in aphid numbers on the balcony was quickly followed by a corresponding emergence of their predators,  harlequin ladybirds.

The exceptionally warm weather during March encouraged a boom in the population of aphids, as can be seen to the right of this picture, sucking sap from the crocus leaves. When left to its own devices nature eventually establishes its own "checks and balances" as the explosion of aphids soon encouraged the emergence of their predators in the form of harlequin ladybirds. This is why I never use insecticides as they merely help to destroy the very predators which most gardeners want to encourage and disrupts nature's natural balance.

From late march and continuing through to late April, the tulips and miniature daffodils I'd planted were in full flower , helping to boost the supply of nectar to any visiting bees. Alas, the bees so far have been conspicuous by their scarcity(compared to last year) and a sign , I fear , of their declining numbers, both nationally and internationally. Yet another very good reason to avoid using pesticides given that there is now emerging evidence that they have played a significant role in the demise of our essential bees.

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Here’s a really nice article about my Wildlife Garden Balcony which was recently published on “The City Planter” website.

http://www.cityplanter.co.uk/inspiration/gardens/a-balcony-wildlife-garden

A street view of my Wildlife Garden Balcony


I’ve been a bit remiss with updating my blog , during the dormant winter months, but now that spring is finally here and the garden is starting to stir into life, once again, I’m going to start posting regular updates.

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Michaelmas Daisy (Aster)

This late flowering perennial is of great benefit to butterflies, bees and hoverflies in the late autumn – flowering at a time of year when many other sources of  nectar have come to an end. In addition to being a good source of nectar  for pollinating insects, the seeds offer winter food for birds, too. This means I’ll be leaving their seed-heads in situ over the winter and wont be “tidying them up” until  late spring when the birds should have had a chance to eat most of them.

My autumn flowering Asters attracted a steady stream of hoverlies to my balcony.

Whilst there are many garden varieties of Michaelmas Daisy which can  benefit wildlife there are also some  varieties which are less attractive to wildlife -  mainly due to the lack of nectar in some of  the overbred hybrids. With this is mind, I was careful to visit my local garden nursery  on a sunny day  and  study the amount of “insect activity” on the various Michaelmas Daisy’s for sale. Needless to say, I chose the one which had a steady flow of visiting bees and hoverflies and which now has pride of place on my balcony!

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