Mere Sands Wood Nature Reserve

Still nursing a bit of a hangover from 30 Days Wild. Our forays into nature have continued.

Sunday dawned bright and cheerful. While David got up at 7.30am, I turned over to snooze for longer. However five minutes later David came charging back into the bedroom, ‘we’re going out, he said. We had been debating the previous evening whether to stay at home or visit a Wildlife Trust nature reserve. It all depended on the weather.

‘Shall I get up now?’ I mumbled sleepily. I guessed the weather was favourable.

‘No, later.’ So I snoozed until 8am when I got up for breakfast. We were out of the house by 9am! We drove for an hour to Ormskirk and Mere Sands Wood Nature Reserve and spent the next three hours walking along woodland paths and gazing over lakes.

On our bimble we saw many fluttering red admirals and a wonderful comma butterfly. Flashes of blue damselflies darted about and brambles were covered in hundreds of bees and hoverflies. The woodland scented air was filled with the hum of insects and the chatter of birds. Calls from great tits, wood pigeons and dunnocks graced the airwaves.

Thanks to a kind gentleman, we even spied a great crested grebe during a visit to one of the hides. I think David has captured the Grebe beautifully.

The great crested grebe is a conservation success after being nearly hunted to extinction for its plumage during the 19th Century. The grebe has adapted to the aquatic lifestyle and is cumbersome on land and in the air, preferring to dive under water to escape or hunt. During spring they have an elaborate courtship dance of fluffing their crests and mirroring each others’ head twists.

We walked a total of five miles around the three main paths of Mere Sands Wood, and visited a meadow with selfheal, where small white butterflies flittered over head. It was a peaceful way to spend a Sunday.

As the day progressed and the sun burned down the reserve and car park grew busy. There is a £2 charge to park all day with a licence plate recognition camera. There is also a visitor centre with literature and gifts.

Have you ever visited Mere Sands Wood? What is your favourite Wildlife Trusts nature reserve?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

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Micro – Actions!

This past week I have embarked on the You with Jamie Oliver app. It’s all about positive changes you can do, one little step at a time. You are set daily/weekly challenges. Previous one’s I have had were, ‘the best part of the day‘, ‘what makes you happy‘, and ‘think positive.‘ You take a picture to symbolise the topic. One was to show ‘beauty around you.’ So I took a picture of a Passion Flower.

Honey Bee and Passion Flower

Honey Bee and Passion Flower

This past week however I have found it rather difficult to be positive, what with the boiler being serviced and a leaking pump found! It made us £300 the poorer, though come the winter we will hopefully be toasty!

This weekend has been fun. We had planned on going to Chester Zoo before our membership ran out, but the weather was dodgy so we spent the weekend at home.

It was Saturday after 4.30pm which I really enjoyed. With the radio cranked up as Classic FM’s Saturday Night at the Movies, celebrated Hans Zimmer’s music. I embarked on chopping vegetables and cooking the evening dinner. I used and adapted Jools Oliver’s Wholesome Vegetable and Bean Soup. My volumes are to serve three people.

Ingredients:

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 1 large leek
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
  • olive oil
  • 1 x 400 g tin of borlotti or cannellini beans. (I used borlotti beans)
  • 1 litre low salt vegetable
  • Hand full of barley
  • 35 g baby spinach or kale (I used kale)
  • 150 g frozen peas/ green beans. (I just used a handful of peas and 75g of green beans)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

  • Start by preparing the base of your soup. Peel, roughly chop the carrot and potato, trim, wash and roughly chop the leek. Peel and very finely slice the garlic, chop the onion and then pick and finely chop the rosemary.
  • Heat a lug of oil in a large pan on a medium heat, then add the rosemary. Fry for a few minutes, then add the chopped carrot, leek, onion and garlic. Cook gently for around 15 minutes, or until soft, stirring regularly, with the lid on.
  • Add the beans (drained), chopped potato (small,) and a hand full of barley. Then finally add the stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes – add a little more stock or water if you think it needs it. (Leave the lid on.)
  • Finally, add the spinach or kale and chopped green beans/peas, and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until the greens are cooked but still vibrant green. (Keep the lid on.) Have a taste and season, if needed, then tuck in.
  • Serve with bread… I was requested to make Focaccia.
Wholesome Vegetable and Bean Soup

Wholesome Vegetable and Bean Soup

The recipe for Focaccia was taken from an Asda seasonal brochure.

Ingredients:

  • 250g of Strong White Bread Flour
  • 1 level tsp salt
  • 7g of easy bake yeast
  • 2tbsp of reduced fat olive oil
  • On red onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • Chopped sprigs of fresh oregano, (I used some from the garden!)

Method:

  • Mix the flour, salt and yeast in a bowl
  • Pour in the oil and used 15ml of tepid water, mix the ingredients together to form a soft dough
  • Turn the dough onto a floured surface and begin to need, adding more flour until the dough is of a smooth texture.
  • Place the dough in a bowl and put somewhere warm for 45 minutes, until doubled in size.
  • While the dough is proving, chop and fly the red onion and garlic. Leave to one side once cooked.
  • Chop some oregano and leave to one side
  • Once the dough has risen, knock back and then flatten into required shape.
  • With your finger press small indentations into the top of the dough and then sprinkle the onion, garlic and oregano on top.
  • Put in a pre warmed oven at gas mark 6/200° and cook for 30-35 minutes, until golden.
  • Remove from oven, and serve.
Focaccia

Focaccia

Sunday was a lovely early Autumn day. The sun shone and David and I spent over three hours in the garden, cleaning and pruning. I planted some of my bulbs, of Aliums and Snake Heads for the coming spring. Fingers crossed they grow!

Artie enjoyed spending time in the garden and in between terrorising the bumblebees and honey bees, he relaxed taking in the sun.

Artie

Artie

We still have many birds visiting the feeders, and not an hour goes by that numerous Goldfinches are seen feasting on the Sunflower/Nyger seeds.

How many Goldfinches can you See?

How many Goldfinches can you See?

Dinner this Sunday evening was a vegetarian roast. I boiled kale, peas, sweetcorn and green beans in a pan while in the oven Quorn Turkey style slices were cooking alongside Aunt Bessie’s Herb and Garlic roast potatoes. I made some sage and onion stuffing and mixed up some vegetarian gravy. Finally I microwaved some mushy peas for David!

Beautiful, tasty roast dinner

Beautiful, tasty roast dinner

Now I am nursing a headache before the working week ahead. How have you spent your weekend?

Christine xx

Autumn Light.

For the past few weeks now I have noticed a change in the light.

Afternoon autumn sun flooding the dining room

Afternoon autumn sun flooding the dining room

The shadows have become longer. The sunlight during the day has become more stark, almost piercing. The seasons are changing without us hardly knowing! Autumn is arriving, creeping silently into summer. The days are becoming shorter. Soon it will be night by 4pm! For now, I am valuing every minute of light. Savouring the last bloom of flowers and the remaining buzz of bees before nature slows down for winter.

Part of me wants to mourn the loss of the light, but autumn brings its own pleasures. Like the frenzied activity at the bird feeders and the Sedum finally flowering after budding for so long!

Bird feeder

Bird feeder

Sedum and Honey Bee

Sedum and Honey Bee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I have been making ready the house for autumn and the coming winter. The windows got a good clean and the voiles have all been washed. I have also changed the bedroom curtains from the sky blue to the teal in preparation for the darker evenings to come.

Picture from 2013

Picture taken 2013

Come the evening, I was busy in the kitchen making a, Peruvian Quinoa Stew(serves 3 people).

Ingredients:

  • 15og of quinoa, rinsed well
  • 200 – 250 ml of water
  • 1 onion (white) diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic sliced
  • Olive oil for frying (I use lower fat olive oil)
  • 1 celery rib chopped
  • 1 carrot sliced
  • 1 bell pepper (any colour)
  • Handful of green beans, chopped. You can use any variety of vegetables
  • 200ml of vegetable stock (I used reduced salt)
  • 400g of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of chilli powder (I used medium)
  • 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
  • half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper (put more in if you like heat)
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • Fresh, chopped coriander for garnish, if preferred. (I left out)

Method:

  1. I rinsed the quinoa. Placed it in a small pan with the 200ml – 250ml of water and cooked, over a medium heat, for about 15 minutes or until soft. Then I set aside with a lid on the pot to absorb the remaining water.
  2. While the quinoa cooked, I had a second pan on the hob. I chopped and sautéed the onions, then added the garlic in a little olive oil for about 5 minutes over a low to medium heat. It may have taken a little longer for me as I was busy chopping the other vegetables while the onion cooked.
  3. Then I peeled and sliced the carrot. Washed and chopped the celery. I added both to the cooking onion and garlic and cooked for a further 5 minutes, stirring often so nothing stuck or burnt to the pan. It took longer as I had the hob on a lower heat.
  4. After chopping the bell pepper and green beans, I added them to the pan with the other vegetables and then added the tin of tomatoes, along with the spices (cumin, chilli powder, coriander, cayenne and oregano). I let them blend together for just a few minutes and then poured in the stock. I covered the pan and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes, maybe longer, until the vegetables were tender
  5. After everything had cooked I stirred in the cooked quinoa, warmed it up again, and adjusted the salt to taste.
  6. Add chopped coriander if needed. (I left out)

While the quinoa had cooked and the vegetables were simmering in their covered pan. I stood by the sink and washed the knives and measuring jugs used in the preparation. I gazed out of the window and cherished the bird antics going on before my eyes.

I counted up to 17 Goldfinches at the sunflower and nyger seed feeders. Amongst them were still some babies flapping their wings, begging! Pigeons pecked at the off-casts the Goldfinches threw out and the visiting Dunnock hopped among the vines of the climbing Passion Flower snatching at insects!

I am happy to report that the Sparrows are still visiting in numbers. There were at least five on the feeders and I watched on as three Sparrows had discovered my ground cage feeder and were happily guzzling the dried meal-worms I had left out for the Dunnock. A Sparrow and Starling fought for the right to feast on the fat block sitting in the Laurel bush. The Sparrow won!

The meal finally came together. I must say the spices were rather muted, maybe some more or an added chilli could have helped? It was however a filling and healthy meal, though my mum disliked the quinoa ‘tails’!

Peruvian Quinoa Stew

Peruvian Quinoa Stew

And also:

I have done some more research on quinoa and its ‘tails.’ The seed is from South America and was the staple diet of the Incas. The tails are not tails at all, actually they are the endosperm of the seed. The nutrition or power house for the growing seed, much like the albumin of an egg. According to BBC Good Food, quinoa, is a complete protein, meaning it has all nine amino acids. It is a fantastic wheat free choice and is highly digestible. It has twice the protein content of rice and barley and is also a good source of calcium, magnesium, vitamin E and dietary fibre.

The health benefits speak for itself. I think I’ll be cooking with this little seed a lot more in the future! 🙂

Have you eaten any good meals with quinoa? I would love to know your thoughts on this super seed!

Christine xx

Update on the Garden… part three!

The garden 2015

The garden 2015

The news from the garden this weekend is that we DO have Honey Bees visiting the flowers!  I saw up to seven at one time enjoying the Salvia, the Borage and the Dahlia. This year I seem to have a greater variety of plants for the visiting bees to enjoy. The Bumblebees also enjoy visiting the Dahlia and Borage as well as the Passion Flower.

Honey bee

Honey bee

The bird feeders have well and truly been ‘attacked’ this weekend! We have many species of garden bird visiting as listed below.

  • House Sparrows, have continued to visit in numbers of up to eight if not more!
  • Goldfinch charms have visited numbering over 12, most are fledglings.
  • Starlings have made a noisy return. This years fledglings are now getting their adult coats and love the fat blocks on offer.
  • Pigeons are too many to count and follow the smaller birds into the garden as they know there will be many seeds dropped.
  • The Dunnock has made a welcome return, though not the same one as visited previously. This one seems to be very bold and stands his/her ground in relation to competition from the Pigeons! A most welcome visitor to the garden!
  • I can’t say I have seen the Blue Tits this week as it’s mainly Sparrows and Goldfinches that I see, but I hope they manage to visit the feeders.

Have a pleasant week!

Spring Promise.

Today I managed to venture out into the garden! It was warm enough that I could stay outside for over an hour without being frozen to the bone! The garden was in much need of attention. There was a lot of dead material to remove and I wanted to assess the toll winter had on the plants. Sadly the Phlox did not survive the mould blight and I had to dig that up!

I was pleased to find that the Cat Mint which I thought had died was in fact thriving. The Honey Bees will be happy! I cut away the dead branches and exposed the new growth. I also found that my Honeysuckle had lots of new leaves on and that the Hyacinth had flowered.

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I planted some bulbs while David tidied up the Passion Flower, which had grown wildly over winter. I planted Ornamental Lilies, Orchids and Gladioli. I just hope they flower. Talking of bulbs. The most successful of the ones I planted last year seem to be the Bluebells. I have counted 15 in total, though all there are at the moment are leaves.

Bluebells?

Bluebells?

There has been no sign of the snowdrops, maybe next year?

I was worried a little when designing the garden about the shaded side as it gets very little direct sunlight. I needn’t have worried as my Hellebore is blooming with some 10+ heads open/opening!! I also discovered that the Aubrieta was looking very green and the Aquilegia which I thought would not appear again is also sprouting through the soil!

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The plants in the garden still have a lot of growing to do, but I look forward to the lengthening and warmer days to come. I am positive my garden will soon be awash with colour, and that the bees and butterflies will once again enjoy my flowers!!

Fingers crossed!

Christine x

An Update on the Garden.

I’ve not written for a while as:

1) I don’t think anyone reads what I write, so why bother… and

2) I have started a new position in Knowsley, in a day centre for adults with learning difficulties, strokes and degenerative illnesses. It’s an admin job supporting a blind receptionist (she even has a guide dog!). So my days are now filled with travelling, (almost 3 hours in total daily), and working 3-5 hours a day, filing, taking phone calls, helping with general admin work. It doesn’t seem hard work, not as taxing as the work at the Royal was. The people all seem nice and it’s a job. It may only be 18 hours a week, but it’s better than the dole!

Every day I come home and wander around our small garden/yard. The Phlox that I have recently bought is starting to flower. The Sedum is ‘huge’ and is ready to ‘pop’ at any time and my Salvia is growing again! The Salvia was a prolific grower last year, it had flowers well into October!

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The biggest anticipation for me is the blooming of the Passion Flower. The plant has loads of buds on it and some have now turned purple. I keep looking daily to see if one has flowered but it is keeping me waiting! 😀

Passion Flower Bud

Passion Flower Bud

The Cat Mint is still choking up the garden and attracting Bees, but different Bees than the first influx of Bumblebees. I think the picture below shows a Honey Bee enjoying the flowers?

Honey Bee?

Honey Bee?

There have been new baby birds visiting the feeders too. There have been two baby Blue Tits, (that I could see). Baby Great Tits but I could not see how many, (they make quite a racket begging for food.) There have been up to three baby Sparrows who only come for the food and then once fledged they bugger off! And now the Goldfinch babies with their brown heads are visiting. There must have been about four the other day flying from the feeders with their parents!

It’s all About the Pheromones!

Recently, I have noticed that the insects have been enjoying the plants in the little ‘garden of Eden’ we have created for them.

Garden of Eden.... on a small scale

Garden of Eden…. on a small scale

When the sun burns down brightly, the visiting bees have a riot! Today I counted at least five bees in amongst the flowers, feeding at one time.

bee on honeysuckle

bee on honeysuckle

We visited Lady Green Garden Centre this May Bank Holiday Monday and I came away with a Phlox and Polemonium! Amongst the display of flowers for purchase there was a bee keeper attending to his hives! 🙂

Back at home, sunbathing in the sunshine before the clouds came. I spotted many bees on the Cat Mint. Amongst the visiting bees there was one I thought had become trapped in the mints foliage and then she popped out with a male on her back!! I was shocked! I did not know bees ‘mated’. I always thought they laid eggs and then the males fertilized them afterwards! What do I know!! You learn something new everyday! 😀 Anyway, the male clung to her for over half an hour. I was fascinated! I took some photos, (as you do!) and then left them to it. She was still foraging amongst the Cat Mint flowers while he was ‘doing his thing!’ lol 😀

Mating Bees!

Mating Bees!

I had my eyes closed enjoying the sunshine, while David was painting the yard floor! Then I opened my eyes and saw coming towards me, the female and her mate! She was buzzing at me and tried to land on my arm! I freaked out! I don’t mind buying plants to feed them, don’t mind them buzzing around the garden and merrily mating, but I do mind when they try to include me in their antics! lol. I am rather ashamed now, but I stood up, screaming as they tried to land on my back! Why come to me? I am no flower!! David came to the rescue and herded them away! I was left shaken and embarrassed for screaming like a girl! I did not want to become The Bee Dancer!

I later found out that the bees may have been Bumblebees. The female a Queen, (or a new Queen). I was sad to read from The British Bee-keepers Association, that the male, a drone, usually died after mating! Poor little chappy! He was far smaller than her!

Poor male and Queen Bumblebee

Poor male and Queen Bumblebee

The whole incident made me think of a poem by Sylvia Plath, about bee keeping. She and her husband Ted Hughes when they lived in Devon had attempted to keep bees. It doesn’t sound like she was that ‘fussed’ with the whole idea!

The Arrival of the Bee Box, by Sylvia Plath. 4th October 1962.

I ordered this, clean wood box

Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift.

I would say it was the coffin of a midget

Or a square baby

Were there not such a din in it.

 

The box is locked, it is dangerous.

I have to live with it overnight

And I can’t keep away from it.

There are no windows, so I can’t see what is in there.

There is only a little grid, no exit.

 

I put my eye to the grid.

It is dark, dark,

With the swarmy feeling of African hands

Minute and shrunk for export,

Black on black, angrily clambering.

 

How can I let them out?

It is the noise that appalls me most of all,

The unintelligible syllables.

It is like a Roman mob,

Small, taken one by one, but my god, together!

 

I lay my ear to furious Latin.

I am not a Caesar.

I have simply ordered a box of maniacs.

They can be sent back.

They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner.

 

I wonder how hungry they are.

I wonder if they would forget me

If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree.

There is the laburnum, its blond colonnades,

And the petticoats of the cherry.

 

They might ignore me immediately

In my moon suit and funeral veil.

I am no source of honey

So why should they turn on me?

Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free.

 

The box is only temporary.