Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Wildlife Wednesday: The hornet nest

No, no I'm not changing the name of the blog; it's just a post on this beautiful hornet’s nest we discovered in the wendy house!

We noticed the low hum of a hornet flying and watched one as it landed on the wendy house and crawled through a hole to the inside. Upon opening the doors we discovered the nest right up in the pitch of the roof at the back.

Naturally I was wary of the beasts and yelped a bit when the nest began to hum louder as we looked in. One flew around by head then somehow fell onto my hand, bounced off and flew away. I yelped again.

I snapped a quick couple of photos with the aid of a torch as the low light made it difficult to photograph. There seems to me some sort of excretion on the floor and on the box directly below the nest and there are several dead hornets on the floor of the wendy house.

After waiting a while it came apparent that the hornets are landing on the outside and make their way through the hole but they then continue to walk across the ridge board to the nest, rather than fly to it.

Knowing so little about these beasts that often find their way into the house and seeing their amazing nest drove me to do a little research on the internet. Apparently there is only one species of hornet in the UK known as the European Hornet or Giant Hornet. Its scientific name is Vespa crabro which I think sounds pretty cool. It is normally found in Southern parts of England but is spreading North according to the Natural History Museum website.  This quite surprised me as we are much further North than the hornet’s stronghold down in Exeter and the New Forest. I am also relieved to learn that our native hornet isn’t as aggressive as the notorious wasp and their sting is no more harmful.

The ecology of the hornet is quite interesting; mated queens hibernate throughout winter then start to build a nest once they emerge in spring. Their eggs hatch into sterile females that become ‘workers’.  They increase the size of the nest and collect food for the developing larvae. In late summer, males and fertile females hatch which mate and the females turn into queens. Sadly, the sterile female workers, males and old queen die in the Autumn. Strangely, fertilised (diploid) eggs become females but unfertilised (haploid) eggs become males!

This is a hornet but I didn't dare get close enough to one to take a close up shot so I have borrowed this one from Nigel Jones on Flickr.

Hornets build new nests each year meaning this one will be obsolete sometime towards the end of September. Fantastic news for me as I cant wait to get my mitts on the amazing papery formation!

So, if you come upon a huge humming hornet, don’t panic; it’s unlikely it will hurt you.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Our new ferret friend

Meet our new ferret friend. He was caught in a live trap by a couple who live locally and apparently he had been killing their chickens. The couple rang up to ask if we would like to take him and of course we said yes! We didn’t know anything about him at this stage so we were unsure whether we would be able to keep him.

He arrived on the pack of a pickup still in the trap and he was covered in large ticks and other mites. I carefully carried the trap into the small aviary and opened it up to allow him to get out. I worse thick gloves just in case he bit me and to prevent any of the nasty parasites crawling on my hands. He was slow, courteous and made quiet hissing to let me know he was scared.

We left him to settle in with a bowl of food and fresh water and a hutch with a warm old fleece for a bed. The next day I tackled the ticks and dosed him with spot on which worked wonders. He was in such a tatty state on arrival and looked so much better after a bit of a clean up.

He’s a hob (male ferret) and must have been living feral for quite some time due to the sheer number of parasites on him. He looks to be a healthy weight and is eating and drinking well.

Today, we introduced him to Bramble on the other side of the mesh and they were very curious of each other. Bramble chatted away and seemed quite happy.

The ferret will need to be neutered first then be given about 6 weeks for his hormones to settle before we can introduce him to Forest and Bramble for short periods of time. If they get one we hope they will all live together but they may not, so I’m trying to keep a balanced conscious in case we need to find him a new home.

He, as you may have guessed by now, doesn't yet have a name. I would like to stick with the botanical theme but most flowery names sound too feminine; Heather, Fern, Rose…all far too ladylike!

If you can think of a botanical name that would suit this handsome boy please let me know!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

We bought a wood!

Yep that’s right, we bought a wood! It isn’t just any wood though; it’s the wood my step dad has owned for over a decade and the one that I grew up in. There’s quite a complicated history to how this opportunity came about but it isn't something I won't go into. We have bought into the whole estate which is just under 7 acres of predominantly deciduous woodland. Situated within it is a log cabin, a workshop a work yard, a couple of aviaries and a shed which houses the wood burner with a back boiler.

We reached our savings goal in just 7 months rather than the 12 months we had originally forecasted which coincided with the opportunity to purchase the wood we now call home.

We took out a loan on top of our savings for the purchase so our budget will be changing. The downside to our relocation is the fact we now live very far from our places of work. It means the money we will be spending on petrol will go through the rough and it isn't exactly environmentally friendly to be using so much fuel. It’s a sacrifice we have taken though, and of course Ill be writing about this too. However, we plan to lead a more sustainable life at home by producing more of our own food which I am most excited about. We have space for some livestock so I’ll definitely be looking into which animals we can farm for food and produce. After this year’s veg garden success we plan to grow a wider range of food in the coming years.

Here are a few photos taken over the last couple of years. Since moving in, the place has been covered with boxes and belongings, so I haven’t taken any new photos yet. If you would like to see new photos then please follow me on Instagram as I regularly take snaps, and I promise cute photos of ferrets too :)

It’s been a little quiet here at The Thrifty Magpies Nest because there has been so much going on with the sale, the move and I have also been ill for a few days with a virus. But now we have settled in I will be back to regular posting. I’m very excited to have a whole new angle to write about that compliments the existing themes. Our whole way of life has changed but the core principles; money, nature and outdoors, remain the same.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Is the Supermoon disturbing your sleep?

The last three nights I haven’t slept well at all; tossing and turning, unable to get comfy and weird, vivid dreams. I have awoken in the night feeling like it’s time to get up, like my body clock has messed up.

Last night when I woke up in the early hours to go to the toilet D also stirred, “Look at the moon” he said. I squinted out the window (we don’t have a blind at the moment) and looked at the moon which was behind a tree. “It’s really bright and beautiful” D said, “ It was right in front of the window a while ago.” It was strange because D doesn’t usually wake in the night and he had been looking at the moon a while he said.  I didn’t think much of it and went back to my restless sleep. When the alarm went off, as like every other moring D asked whether I had slept well. I hadn't and neither had he.

This afternoon, while researching bloggers at work, I stumbled across the and read author Jane’s post about her recent anxiety and the moon. That was it! It’s the moon that has been causing me and D problems at night.

I asked my 6 colleagues in my office if they had experienced bad sleep the last few nights and 4 of them said they had and went onto describe their issues which also included vivid and horrible dreams. ‘It’s the Supermoon!’ I exclaimed and went on to say I have heard somewhere at some point that a full moon is the worst night for crime and that it can send people, and animals, a bit crazy.

I have looked at a few articles on the web and there are some studies that claim to prove the moon effect our sleep and others say it’s lunacy (haha). I’m convinced the moon does have some sort of effect on us.

Have you experienced any Supermoon symptoms in the last few days?


Wednesday, 6 August 2014

How I got 9 tents for free

I am very proud by the fact that we own 10 tents. Yes TEN.  We have pop ups, we have single berths, double berths and a huge 4 berth with a porch. And they were all FREE! (Well, apart from my original one which I purchased a few years ago).

How? I hear you cry. Well, we take them from festivals.

No, no we don’t steal them from unsuspecting punters while they are occupied by the entertainment; we wait until the end of the festival.

Most festival goers will leave the site on a Monday morning but we hang around and wait for the masses to leave, then we begin to look for tents that are clearly abandoned. It’s quite obvious which ones these are; ones that have half fallen down, ones with no other belongings around, ones with only rubbish sprawled all over the tent floor. After eyeing up the tents we ask anyone who is near the tent if they know whether the people have left. If we are confident that the tent has been abandoned, we take it down, collect the pegs, strap it to our sack barrow and move onto the next.

Each year, Glastonbury festival creates around 2000 tons of waste and in 2009 that pile included around 400 gazebos, 9,500 roll mats, 5,500 tents, 6,500 sleeping bags, 3,500 airbeds, and 2,200! Despite festivals bombarding punters with email and videos encouraging them to take their belongings home, it doesn't work.

We go to a lot of festivals and I can completely sympathise with how most people think and feel on the Monday morning when it’s time to leave. It’s horrid. Your hair is a mess, you are either too wet or too hot, you have a thumping headache, need the toilet and it’s time to leave. There’s a long journey in the car or on the bus ahead and the last thing you can be bothered to do is to dismantle a tent and attempt to get it into the ridiculously small bag it comes in. Then there’s the thought of dragging it across several fields then up and down endless rows of cars while you try to locate your own. I do get where these people are coming from but I think they are mad.

The biggest tent we claimed is a Coleman and is worth £200 and it came with the additional porch worth £40! It’s crazy what some people discard such valuable commodities because they simply can’t be bothered with the effort. 

Even more shocking is what one sometimes finds in tents. Poo. It must be because they get so drunk and haven’t time to reach a toilet or time to queue so they just go in their own tent-yuk! D found and amazing tent at the last festival we went to. He scouted around for signs to confirm it was abandoned and when he popped his head inside it had a large pile of slop in it! Even more disgusting, D spotted another guy packing that tent down a while later. D warned him about the tents contents and the guy said he had cleared it up! 

We have acquired many other items from scavenging at festivals including camping lanterns, gas cookers, a huge bean bag, cans of beer, tinned food and many camping chairs. A friend even gained 3 pairs of trainers a hoodie and a vest from the last festival we went to! As long as you can see past a bit of mud, then a festival field is your oyster.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Marrow madness

Back in March I wrote about my attempts and germinating seedlings and hopes for a fruitful veg patch in the summer. Well, I’m reporting back and the news is great! Check out these bad boys!

Followers of my Instagram will already know that we are over run with marrows, We grew courgettes but we just can’t eat them fast enough and they keep growing into stupidly big marrows within a couple of days.

I can’t get over how fast they grow. I go out to the patch to select an appropriately sized marrow for our dinner, find that most are far too big and take just a couple of smaller ones. Two days later I return and the bad boys have got even bigger. I just can’t win. We have eaten marrow every day for the last three weeks and we have both given away many to work mates.

I have concluded from my first courgette/marrow growing experience that one does not require 9 courgette plants. With each plant producing an average of 6 vegetables that means we are to expect a yield of around 54 individual vegetables. FIFTY FOUR MARROWS!

When I first planted the little seed in their pots I feared that some would die and some would be attacked by slugs so would naturally be left with the right about of plants. But the things kept growing and growing

I recently read that courgettes can be planted as late as July to guarantee an autumn crop. With this knowledge I plan to grow batches of courgettes next year to ensure a consistent and sufficient supply throughout the season.

We have mostly had stuffed marrow the garlic, feta or halloumi and tomato as its very easy, quick and versatile side dish.

The lettuces also did extremely well but they all matured at the same time meaning we had lettuce for lunch and dinner every day for a month before becoming sick of easting the stuff. The remaining lettuces have now sprouted their flower heads so Bluebell the bunny now has a ready supply.
I promised to report back on the Aldi compost I purchased for just £1.99 and used for our lettuces in May. I was sceptical of its rough and bitty constancy but it did he job brilliantly.

The runner bean crop began last week and we have enjoyed 4 batches of beans so far. The season didn’t start so well. 2 of the 4 plants had their storks nibbled through by pesky rabbits. Luckily, the plants grew new stems which saved the plants. 

Last night we ate our first beetroot- it was fantastic! It was served grated in a mackerel salad. The beetrrot also had their leaves nibbled by the rabbit quite easrly on but they grew back fine.

I am very happy with my little veg patch the yield it has produced. The seeds were so cheap from Lidl and the compost from Aldi was only £1.99 Other than some time and care the vegetables haven’t cost us anything else. We have definitely saved money by growing our own vegetables as we have bought less from the supermarkets over the last month. Cross-fingers this will reflect in the amount we have spent on food shopping in July which I will port about in the July Budget Roundup.

PS. Have you grown vegatables to save money this year?

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Thrifty wedding: Wedding flowers on a budget

The average spend on wedding flowers in the UK is between £300 and £500 and can be much higher if your wedding takes place over two venues such as a church and a reception hall.

My sister and brother-in-law married in June and had a beautiful wedding on a low budget. A few weeks ago I posted about the vintage style name cards I hand made for just 37p each. They also kept the cost of their wedding flowers low by making these practical choices:

Choose seasonal flowers

It sounds obvious but having flowers that are not in season will cost more to produce therefore they cost more for the flower arranger and for you. Keep the cost of your flowers down by choosing to get married when your favourite flowers are blooming. So, if you have your heart set on Lily of the Valley then you will need to get married in May. If dictating when you get married by the flowers you want isn’t practical, then look for alternatives that are similar to your ideal flower. For example, Waxflower are similar in colour and daintiness like Lily of the Valley, are available all year round and are considerably cheaper. has a really useful tool showing seasonal flowers by month. Visit the page here.

Arrange the flowers yourself

You can reduce the cost of your table flowers by arranging them yourself. The downside is that it’s another thing to do before your big day but we had great fun cutting and putting the flowers in to vases. You could always nominate a family member to help. If you want immaculate designs then this option probably isn’t best for you but if, like my sister, you prefer a more natural and irregular display then it’s really easy to achieve the look yourself. Sheryl purchased her seasonal flowers in bulk from the flower arranger for just £120 to arrange into 12 small to medium displays.

Use your flowers for both venues

Traditionally the church is decorated with flowers for the ceremony and the reception venue has different flowers. Why not use the same flowers for both venues? Just nominate a few people to grab the vases and put them into a box which can be transported to the reception. If it’s timed right, the flowers can reach the venue while the remaining congregation are having their photographs taken. We did exactly this for my sisters wedding. While the guests left their tables and made their way to there cars to get to the reception, we scooped up the flowers, popped them in the boot of the car and whipped them out as soon as we got to the reception. Yes it was a little faffy but if your funds are restricted then beggars can’t be choosers if you want stunning blooms!

Here are some photos of the flowers we arranged and how they were displayed on my sister's big day.

The flowers arrived a couple of days before the wedding in large tups. We covered the kitchen table with newspaper and got cutting

The next morning the light poured through the window and the flowers in their vases looked wonderfu. We decorated jars to use as vases; another budget yet beautiful idea. I will post about these soon!

The arrangements were carefully placed into a fruit box after half of their water was removed, then popped in the boot of the car to be transported to the venue the day before. 

China tea cups were presented with a rose head and decorated with a handmade name card. Stunning yet cheap as chips!

Each table was decorated with the arranged flowers in the hand decorated jars alongside our vintage china and my sister’s handmade hessian table runners.

I hope I have convinced you that you don't need to spend a fortune to decorate your wedding with beautiful flowers!

PS. Did you take steps to cut the cost of flowers
on your big day? I would love to read your tips.