Sunday, 1 March 2015

Catching a fox on camera in the wood


This photo may not look like much but I am super happy about it.  That's a fox's blurry back end in the left of the photo!

Last Monday I set the camera up overlooking a ground hole in the wood that had recently been excavated by an animal. The smell around the hole indicted that it was a fox that had been digging in the area.

We raked the soft sand that had been dug from the hole so that any new footprints would be visible and indicate an animal had returned.

I left the camera for 5 nights and retrieved it this afternoon. We were excited to find fresh prints in the soft sand. They are definitely that of a fox.



The hole is at the bottom of the photo in the centre. The orange sand that has been excavated has several paw prints from a fox.



Impressions from the claws are clearly visible on the left side of this print.


Excitedly I removed the camera quickly and retreated away from the hole so as not to disturb the fox if it is down the hole, and so that as little of our scent as possible is left lingering around the area.

Hurrah! Two photos and one video of a fox!

 The fox is just left of the orange coloured sand.









The fox tail is easily identifiable and the entrance to the hole is the dark area just to the right of the tail.



The fox appears to stop, look directly at the camera and tilt its head inquisitively. Maybe the fox could smell my scent on the camera.

The camera was set up to take a photo followed by a 60 second video. Annoyingly, it looks like the fox has come out of the hole and taken several steps before the camera has snapped the photos.

The photos are blurry but the video is clear. Still a fantastic result for my first time catching foxes on camera.

I shall recharge the batteries and place the camera back by the hole but try a different position. If the camera looks towards the entrance as though it is looking inside, then maybe it will have a better chance of capturing the fox coming out of, or going into, the hole.

It will be amazing if the fox has a mate and they plan to have their cubs in the earth. Foxes mate between January and March and cubs are born 58 weeks later. Cubs will venture out of the earth at around four to five weeks of age. So hopefully we may see some cubs around April or May time. This gives me plenty of time to get the camera settings and location perfect for capturing them on camera.





Thursday, 26 February 2015

Forest gardens and the future of sustainable farming


source: shikigami2011

We’ve spent the best part of 5 weekends preparing an area of the wood to become a forest garden. It’s taken a lot of work and it still isn't ready for all the plants quite yet.
The fruit trees are in but the black current and redcurrant bushes need relocating to the area along with the raspberry canes. Vegetables will be sown next month, as will the herbs.

Until I had seen an awesome documentary called ‘Farm for the Future’ while studying Countryside Management’, I didn’t fully understand the purpose and role of forest gardens. However, seeing real case studies and interviews with people who run forest gardens inspired me, as did the motive for a more sustainable way of farming. If you haven’t seen it, you can see it here. I recommend it to anyone.



The documentary tackles the issue of intensive farming and their practices that are ultimately leading to a monoculture environment that is killing biodiversity, and our future. It’s a subject close to my heart and their solution is forest gardening. Ironically, forests are also close to my heart and I am lucky to be in a position to be able to grow one.

Our long-term aim is to become more self-sufficient; growing as much of our own food as possible, keeping livestock and ultimately living off the land.  However, we are both career focused people who enjoy working in offices and the money we make. We love travelling, visiting friends and the finer things in life such as eating out and staying away.  This may be contradictory to the typical ethos of self-sufficiency living, but we aren’t the type of people to conform to expectations.  We just do what we feel is right for us. We aim to find a balance between enjoying our corporate careers while living a bit more sustainably than the average Joe.


What is a forest garden?

A forest garden is a sustainable food production system based on woodland ecosystems. Plants with yields beneficial to humans such as fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs and vegetable plants are grown alongside each other in a way that they can benefit each other in terms of pest control, pollination, maximising space and providing habitats for beneficial creatures. A layering system ensures vertical space is utilised.  The aim is to create a low-maintenance; sustainable plantation that produces food for humans, that also benefits wildlife.


Beautiful example of a forest garden
Source: London Permaculture

What will we grow?

We are still learning about and planning our forest garden so we only have initial plans. So far we have several fruit trees including pear, cherry, damson and plumb. We already have a redcurrant bush, a blackcurrant bush and have just bought several gooseberry brushes.  The raspberry canes are quite established already but we will move them to the forest garden area. There’s a good ground covering of wild strawberries next to the house that produces the tiniest fruit. Their produce can’t be classed as a yield but the plants may help other plants (need to look into this). I will take some from this area and move them to the forest garden. We may also introduce some domestic varieties of strawberry.  I would love to have a large area dedicated to a variety of herbs that will be great for cooking but also be aesthetically pleasing. The greenhouse is located in front of the forest garden and will be used to house tomatoes and peppers. As for the vegetable area, well, we will grow as many vegetable as possible!

Plants should be intermixed in a forest garden and a layering system applied (see image below). This is the bit I need to research further to ensure plants are put in the right places.  I also need to understand which plants to grow. At the moment I’m planning to throw everything in.



There are several forest gardens around the UK that have open days and work days and some even run course. I would love to visit one and learn directly from the people that take care of them.

I will be posting on the progress of the forest garden area and will be snapping pictures along the way. If you are interested in following our journey then follow this blog on Bloglovin’ here and Instagram here

Stay tuned!

Monday, 23 February 2015

More hens. More money?



Look who’s arrived at the wood! 6 new hens!

Last September I bought 6 point of lay hens in an effort to be a bit more self-sufficient and also because I absolutely love keeping chickens.

I worked out the cost of keeping the hens and the income I could generate from the surplus eggs to prove they are worth keeping.

All six hens were laying by November (it can take a while for young ladies to start laying and the winter weather can slow them down) and we were overflowing with eggs throughout December. We ate boiled eggs for breakfast, scrambled eggs for lunch, huge Victoria sponges and bread and butter puddings to the point we were almost egged-out!



Quite handily (and planned), I work in a city-based office with over 100 employees and they were the target for new eggy business. At the start of the New Year, a group email to everyone in the building was extremely well received and within the same day all unlaid eggs were accounted for, for a full two weeks! I was so eggcited (I’m so funny) about bringing in boxes full of eggs and delivering them to my customers’ desks. It did mean that our household were on an egg-eating ban for around a month as I put the customers first during the initial rush.

The initial influx of orders tailed off and now I have 4 steady customers who I supply to. These customers take a total of 24 eggs per week, generating a net profit of £4 per week.

Considering the chickens eat about £10 worth of food a month, the £16 made from selling eggs is working out nicely. I’m not actually making a profit yet as the initial cost of purchasing the hens (£60) hasn’t been covered but over time I will get there.

For the last couple of weeks, I have only been getting 5 eggs per day, meaning one hen isn’t laying. It’s quite normal for hens to stop laying in winter so I’m not worried. However, it does impact how many eggs we have to sell, and how may we have to eat ourselves.

So, I made a slight drastic decision to ‘invest’ back into the business and increase my flock by 100%!

This is what the balance sheet looks like to date:

Costs to date:
Chickens £96
Food £80 (enough left for another month)

Income to date:
Sales £44

Balance:
-£132



Now, I have one little, tiny-weeny issue; I am starting a new job in a month’s time and therefore will lose my current customer base. By this time the new hens should have started to lay so there is a possibility we will, once again, be overrun with eggs. However, I am crossing my fingers that there will be lots of potential customers at my new office! I also plan to start selling eggs by the roadside, with an honesty box, but fear the lack of passers-by due to it been a back road will mean I don’t sell many.

Either way, even if they don’t balance on the books, I still love keeping hens and it will always be worth my time and effort :)



Thursday, 19 February 2015

Websites to help save money on your car






Many of my friends have their cars on hire purchase schemes or pay for their autos monthly. But for a thrifty (tight) couple like us, buying a new car isn’t cost effective. As soon as a new car is driven out of the garage forecourt it depreciates massively. I also prefer to own my car outright and wouldn’t borrow money for one.

Buying a used car can be daunting, especially if you don’t know much about cars. But armed with the wonders of the internet, along with a determined approach, you can save lots of money throughout the lifecycle of car ownership.

Here are my favourite websites I have used for every stage of buying and owning a car:


Choosing 


Parkers
Do you scrutinise hotels and restaurants on Trip Advisor before booking? If so, you will love the Parkers website.  You can look at reviews for pretty much any car form real people who have owned them. It shows a whole host of other useful information such as the model’s tax price, luggage capacity and engine size, and also has a tool to compare different models side by side.




Buying


eBay
Finding a used car is made so easy with the internet. One can view cars for sale from all corners of the UK, from the comfort of the sofa. Using sites like eBay not only show pretty much all cars for sale (because pretty much every seller uses it) it also helps you benchmark the value of a car based on factors such as its age, condition and mileage. If you are able to pay for the car through PayPal (most sellers ask for cash) you will also have that little bit of extra protection/piece of mind in case the item isn’t as described.

Autotrader 
Once a magazine, now also a very useful website where people can sell their cars.  Each listing provides specifications of the car on sale, making it simple to compare factors such as fuel efficiency.


Insuring


Comparison websites
There are so many comparison sites that pretty much all do the same thing. I was told that all the insurance comparison sites use the same back end system which may be the reason prices go up each time you check a difference comparison site. My advice is to choose one site and don’t keep re-running your application for the same car. I also recommend phoning up your chosen dealer to confirm all your details and go direct through them to haggle a better price.


Fixing


Haynes manual
As soon as you buy a car, buy the Haynes manual for your model on Amazon. It will cost you around £20 and will provide easy to understand, step by step details on how to fix your car. Somethings you may want to leave to a mechanic, but it will save you money if you do the easier things, such as replacing a light bulb or fuse, yourself.

YouTube
From how to fix your hair to how to fix your car- YouTube is amazing. Real people providing real step by step guides that anyone can watch. Last week, my left indicator failed, and Dave watched a YouTube tutorial to see how to remove the airbag from the steering column. And, the best bit; it’s free!



Forums
There are hundreds off car related forums on the internet. Just type in your car issue into Google and it is highly likely you will get loads of result. It can be time consuming to trawl through forums, reading conversations, but the time is well spent as it can help you diagnose an issue, or at least, rule out causes. When you take your car to the garage, the mechanic will charge you for looking for the causes of an issue. Sometimes it is a case of trial and error, resulting in a hefty bill. If you can test a few things yourself first, then you could save yourself lots of money. Simple things such as changing the fuel filter can relieve many symptoms and is often the first thing a garage will do, and charge you for.


Parts


Point S
This site is great for finding car tyres at the best price. Just enter the size of your tyre and your postcode and it will list the best prices from businesses in your local area. The size is displayed on the side of your car tyres or you can just Google to find it out.



eBay
Genuine and copy car parts are easy to buy from eBay, and are often a lot cheaper than what your garage will charge you. Small parts which you can easily change yourself, such as window wipers, fuses and lightbulbs can be posted direct to your door.

Sellers often ‘brake’ cars and sell the parts on eBay. If you are looking for a very specific part such as a silver electric wing mirror for a Peurgeot 206, chances are someone will be selling one from an old car on eBay.  Sellers often just list the whole car for ‘spares’ so contact them through eBay and ask them how much they will sell the part you need, for. Buying a second hand part is 99% of the time cheaper and equally as good as buying a brand new part.

Yellowpages
Scrap yards also sell parts of cars so get on the Yellowpages website and search for your local scrap yard to call. Some scrap yards will remove the car part from the original car to hand to you, whereas others expect you to remove the part yourself. Paddy the pooch has chewed through a total of 6 seat belts in Ian’s car now, and each time he has got a new one from the scrap yard for £5 apiece.

Euro Car Parts
Sometimes a brand new part is better, or even necessary, over a second hand part. Things such as brake pads and calipers (I write form experience) need to be new. Europarts are located in most major towns and items can be reserved over the phone or over the internet and collected from the counter or posted out.



I've used all these websites to help save me money on my cars over the years. I've learnt new skills, such as replacing brake pads, too.

I love telling my friends about them, so they can also save money. A few years back, a friend had her wing mirror kicked off by a vandal and it was going to cost a lot of money to buy a brand new one. I recommended she called the local scrap yard and they had one in stock for a fraction of the cost.

If you are normally the type of person to take your car to the garage for things such as changing bulbs, wipers and filters, then why not have a go at doing it yourself, learn a new skill and save a few bob all at the same time?








PS. What websites do you use to save money on your car?




Thursday, 12 February 2015

Oh, rats!


Since getting hens and feeding the birds in the garden we have had a big problem: Rats!

Rats tend to leave fields after harvest in search of cosier place to live with a good supply of food and safe places to breed.  We knew it would happen and as wildlife lovers the odd rat doesn’t bother us. However, when they started gnawing at the wooden parts of the underside of the house (it’s on stilts) and digging the ground to create extensive networks of runs, the sound kept us awake at night and the damage was unforgivable. Within a couple of weeks there were holes everywhere and I would catch the blighters in the chicken enclosure stuffing their bellies with layers pellets. The pile of food waste in the compost bin had disappeared and had definitely not turned into compost.

Sadly, we needed to take action as the situation was just worsening. Rats are prolific breeders and can have babies from just 12 weeks old. As long as there is a good food supply, they can breed continuously, all year round.  If a single rat has 5 litters a year of up to 11 young, that’s 55 rats enjoying all the food we are indirectly feeding them. Then if each of those rats can produce another 11 rats each after just three months, then, well…..that’s a hell of a lot of rats!



As well as being fantastic breeders, they are also highly intelligent, fast to react and fast to learn. This makes exterminating them very difficult. We have, and only ever will, opt for either trapping them in live traps, in traps that kill them instantly or shooting them with the rifle. Being as humane as possible is important to us. 

The first action was to remove the bird feeders and stop putting vegetable waste in the compost bin. Instead, I now put the waste in the council brown bin, for now.  The dog is fed in the house, rather than outside, as we frequently found a rat sitting in the dog bowl, happy as pie. Although it didn’t make much of a difference, I started to put the layers pellets for the hens into a dish, rather than onto the ground. The idea being the chickens would devour the food before rats could get to it, and to reduce the amount of food getting trampled into the ground which could be missed by the hens, but found by the rats. It hasn’t worked. The hens still leave some food and I have seen the rats munching away at the food in the dish. 


To begin with, we were catching at least one rat per night and successfully did so for a couple of months. However, the little so-and-sos learnt our tactics and avoided the traps. One evening we spotted 5 young rats on the deck feeding on the seed that falls from the bird feeders. Any movement caused them to scarper; they were very cautious. We ran out and set a baited trap up right in the middle if the bird sees spillage and returned to the living room, hoping to get at least one of them. We watched while the rats returned to the deck and nibbled away at the seed. But they didn’t go near the trap. They didn’t look at it; sniff it; nothing. 

The other trap-related problem is mice and voles. They are too light to set off the traps but this allows them to clear the traps of all the bait, thus making them less appealing to rats. This meant that the positioning of traps would be the only attack we would have. Rats tend to run along the side of boundaries such as fences and walls. Positioning the traps in such a way that the rats would accidentally run across one would prove to be the most effective tactic.Between September and December of last year we've caught 33 rats! 

The situation does seem to be better now. There’s less ratty evidence and the house-gnawing has all but stopped. I’m feeding the birds again, but only when it’s frosty and very cold. I still see the odd flash of brown when I close the hens for the night, but like I said; the odd one is OK. We just need to keep them under control.

Have you had trouble with rats? If so, how did you get on top of the situation?







Image sources:

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Giveaway: Nest box from Feed The Birds


The emergence of snow drops is a sure sign that spring is on its way, yet the recent snow and icy mornings is a reminder that we still have several more weeks until we start seeing true signs of the season change. We may still be in winter mode; spending our days huddled by the radiator, yet many of our feathered friends are already seeking nesting spots with their mates!

According to the British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) our garden birds have suffered a decline in nesting sites as we have an increasing tendency to tidy up gardens and renovate houses, leaving less nooks and crannies for birds such as robins, starlings, great tits, blue tits and marsh tits to nest.


The lovely people at Living With Birds sent me one of these amazing boxes to put up in the wood. The box has a pre-drilled hole meaning it can be hung within minutes.








I chose to put it on a tree close by the bedroom windows so we can, hopefully, get a great view of the future occupiers raising their chicks from the house. Of course, I shall be posting updates in the coming months and, fingers crossed, will manage to snap some pictures of chicks being fed.





To celebrate National Nest Box week which takes place between 14th and 21st February, Living With Birds and The Thrifty Magpies Nest have collaborated to give one lucky winner of the giveaway below, an official cedar wood National Nest Box Week nest box. The box is worth £22.95 and is constructed of hard wearing cedar wood that will last for years.

The giveaway is open to UK mainland residents only. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway







Advertised on:

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

8 things in the UK my eyes want to see

Fingal’s Cave



Image source


The stunning hexagonal-shaped columns in the cave of Staffa looke carved, like a cathedral, yet they are naturally formed basalt rock created from cooling lava. I’m a sucker for rock formations and I would love to see the scale of the cave in real life.  Staffa, in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, can only be reached by boat and is uninhabited- perfect.


Giant’s Causeway



Formed in the same way as Fingal’s Cave, and by the same lava flow, The Giant’s Causeway is located on the coast of Northern Ireland. Legend has it that both the Giant’s Causeway and Fingal’s Cave are the end sections of a bridge built by the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (a.k.a. Finn McCool) to Scotland, so he could reach and fight Benandonner, his gigantic Scottish rival.


White-tailed sea eagles on Mull





I would love to see a white-tailed sea eagle and the Isle of Mull off the coast of Scotland provides the best opportunity to see one. This majestic bird is the largest bird of prey in the UK and became extinct in the early 1900’s. Thanks to several reintroduction programmes between 1985 and 2012, the bird has a stronghold in Scotland. This fab site has lots of info on the beautiful eagle

The Isle of Mull is known for its diversity of wildlife and I still haven’t been. I’m trying to persuade Dave that we should go to Mull this spring, but he wants to visit the Cairngorms as he hasn’t been and we went toured the West Coast of Scotland a couple of years ago.


Whales in the Hebrides 





Did you know that we get Killer Whales in our UK seas? How cool is that?! And I want to see them. And dolphins. And other whales. They can be seen around the Hebridean Islands and, conveniently, boat tours operate from the Island of Mull to Fingal’s Cave with whale watching on the way, meaning I could tick three sights off my list in one day!


The bird migration on the Norfolk coast




Every Autumn, especially in the month of October, thousands of birds arrive from Scandinavia via the shores of Norfolk while others pass by on their way to warmer climates, leaving the UK behind. Hundreds of species pass Norfolk on their travels including different species of thrush, owl, warbler, shearwater, skua, and goose. Holme Bird Observatory, The Wash and the RSPB Titchwel reserve are ideal places to observe flocks of birds build up their fat reserves for their long journey ahead.  For any birdwatcher the migration spectacle is a must, and one I haven’t seen.



Thatched house villages in Cotswold




Image source

My eyes have witnessed the postcard-perfect thatched cottages of the Cotswolds, fronted with flowering Wisteria set against perfect clear skies, only on Television programmes such as Location Location Location and Escape to the Country. I dream of walking down their quaint village streets and chatting to locals over their stone walls. My normal UK destinations of choice are ‘up North’ so venturing south for a week would feel like a foreign holiday in the sun.


Stars and planets at Kielder Observatory





Set in the darkest skies in England, the Kielder Observatory hosts night events to spectate the wonders of our universe through inspiring lectures and star-gazing workshops. Northumberland International Dark Sky Park is the largest Dark Sky Park area of protected night sky in Europe, so what better place to go than here? We plan to spend a weekend camping in the Northumberland Nation Park and spend the Saturday night at one of the observatory events. Looking at their website, the events book up very quickly, with some events sold out for the rest of the year!



The Aurora Borealis 



Image source

The Northern Lights have been witnessed right here in Yorkshire, but not by my eyes. Like something out of a dream, this phenomenon is more likely to be witnessed the further North you are. The Kielder Observatory has specific Aurora Borealis events throughout the year but there is no guarantee they will be visible on the night. I follow @aurorawatchuk on Twitter who posts alerts when visibility is likely. 

What would your eyes like to see?