Animals, Birds, Christmas, Megan, Wildlife

Welcome to our brand new blog series on garden birds! We start with robins, perhaps one of Britain’s favourite garden birds, especially at Christmas. In this post you will find everything you could possibly want to know about robins, as well as how to attract the angelic red breasted birds to your garden.

All About Garden Birds: Robins

Why Are Robins Associated With Christmas?

Especially at this time of year, you may wonder to yourself, why are robins a symbol of Christmas? The answer may date back to Victorian times in Britain. During this time postal workers were nicknamed robins because of their red uniforms. Robins on Christmas cards came to represent the postal workers who had delivered them.

All About Garden Birds: Robins

Others say the association dates back to the time of the bible. There is a fable that tells that when Jesus was born in the stable, there was a great fire that began to blaze out of control. A brown robin placed themselves between the fire and the manger and fluffed its feathers to protect baby Jesus, in turn setting his breast alight. The red breast of this robin was said to be passed down through generations of robins.

Are There Different Species of Robin?

There are ten different species of robin, but the European robin is the only one you will see in UK gardens. Juvenile European robins are brown in colour, and develop the robin’s signature red breast when they are around 6 months old.

All About Garden Birds: Robins
Juvenile Robin

Subspecies of the European robin migrate to the UK from scandinavia during the winter months to escape the harsh weather. These birds have a more dull red breast and are more grey in colour than your average UK robin. They are more likely to be seen in woodland areas than in your garden.

When is Robins Breeding Season?

Robin’s breeding season typically starts in march; however, if it has been a mild winter it can be as early as January. This is when you will start to hear bird song in the early morning – this is actually male birds ‘singing’ to attract a mate. Once partnered up, robins will stay together for the whole breeding season.

Nests can be found almost anywhere – in old plant pots, inside sheds, amongst bushes and even in teapots. The female will build the nest out of twigs, moss, leaves and grass, lining the nest with finer grass and feathers, ready for its first brood.

All About Garden Birds: Robins

Broods will usually be 5-7 eggs in size, and robins have several broods, often overlapping, during the breeding season. Whilst the female lays on its eggs to incubate them, the male will go off to find food and bring it back to the female. Eggs hatch after about 13 days, and fledge (develop wings for flying) 14 days after that. During this time the male and female will share parenting responsibilities; baby robins are completely reliant on their parents for food, shelter and warmth.

What Do Robins Eat?

Robins favourite foods are insects, especially beetles and worms. They are omnivorous birds and insects provide a good source of protein to aid muscle growth and fat for energy. Robins use all their senses to hunt for worms, and have a great vision for this reason. They can see the tiniest end of a worm poking out the soil, and spot the slightest disturbance which may be a sign of a worm wriggling underneath.

All About Garden Birds: Robins

You can help robins find their favourite treat by:

  • keeping your lawn tripped and of even length
  • watering your lawn early in the morning so worms are brought closer to the surface
  • leaving piles of leaves intact for robins to forage through

An alternative is to leave dried mealworms in open feeders out for robins. These can be soaked in water to help hydrate robins when water is scarce due to hot weather or frost.

Robins also feed on fruit, seeds, suet, crushed peanuts and sunflower hearts. Robins are natural ground feeders, so leaving straights or a robin seed mix out in a ground feeding tray is best. For an extra treat, you can mix in some grated mild cheese. Be sure to remove the food in ground feeders if it rains, as this will cause the food to grow mould and bacteria.

All About Garden Birds: Robins

You can also leave food out on bird tables. Covered bird tables will help keep food dry and protect feeding birds from any predators. Note that robins will only feed from hanging bird feeders if there is a perch, and even then they would prefer not to.

To find out more about the ins and outs of different bird food, take a look at our garden bird feeding guide.

Are Robins Endangered?

Robins are not endangered species, however they have a high mortality rate and just over half of young robins will survive the winter. Robins make up for this population loss by having multiple broods during breeding season.

All About Garden Birds: Robins

The greatest threats to robins is during the colder seasons. The birds will use around 10% of their body weight during one cold and icy night. This is why it is especially important to help out during the winter by leaving out high energy and fresh water to help them survive.

How Do I Attract Robins To My Garden?

It is pretty straightforward to attract robins to your garden. If not present in your garden already, leave out some food suited to robins, as we have mentioned previously. In the new year, pop up an open front nest box to encourage robins to nest in your garden. Provide fresh and clean water in a bird bath. As robins also enjoy feeding on fruits and berries in the wintertime, you could also consider planting a crabapple or rowan tree in your garden.

All About Garden Birds: Robins

We hope you enjoyed our deep dive into the most widely recognised garden bird in Britain. Keep and eye out for the next part of our garden bird series. The next bird we will take a look at is the blue tit.

Megan at PrimroseMegan works in the Primrose marketing team. When she is not at her desk you will find her half way up a hill in the Chilterns
or enjoying the latest thriller series on Netflix. Megan also enjoys cooking vegetarian feasts with veggies from her auntie’s vegetable garden.

See all of Megan’s posts.

Celebrations And Holidays, Decoration, Guest Posts, How To

With the festive season right around the corner, what better time to start planning your New Year’s Eve soiree than right now? Whether you’re looking to create a lighthearted, family-friendly atmosphere, or you’re wanting to welcome 2019 well into the early hours of the morning with your friends, pulling off a successful New Year’s Eve do is crucial for creating an unforgettable introduction to the year ahead.

To ensure the success of your evening celebrations, turn your summer garden into a party-ready winter wonderland and welcome in the new year in true seasonal style. Not only will an outdoor event help all your guests get in the festive mood, but it will save you the indoor cleanup duties the following day. From outdoor heaters to warm up your guests to festive decorations to place around your garden, in today’s post, we’re looking at the many ways you can transform your garden into a practical and pretty party destination this year.

new years eve party

Prepare in advance

When it comes to planning your New Year’s Eve party, preparation is key. Because of the time of year that you’ll be hosting your winter bash, it’s safe to expect a frosty bite to come hand in hand with your outdoor occasion. In your invites, prepare your friends and family to dress warmly and don’t be afraid to ask them to contribute a dish of food and a celebratory new year’s tipple to the friendly festivities – it’s a great way to get everybody involved and save money at the same time.

Once you’ve picked a time and sent over your invites, it’s time to let your neighbours know what to expect on the night – unless, of course, you’ve chosen to invite them to celebrate with you. Also, consider preserving your carpeted floor during your mid-winter soiree by providing everyone with a cheap and cheerful pair of flip-flops or sliders on entry to your home to ensure your floor remains clean no matter how messy your party gets.

Create your space

When hosting a winter garden do, it’s crucial to make your cold outdoor space as inviting as possible in spite of the elements. A practical way to protect guests from snow and rain is to prop up a pop-up gazebo under which they can dance and chat comfortably beneath an array of decorative fairy lights.

Additionally, for those unfazed by any light rain that may fall on the night, it’s probably worth opting for outdoors heaters that your guests can gather around – but why stop there? While you can’t always accurately predict the weather on the day, you can assume that there’ll be a wintery chill. Therefore, a great idea to keep your friends and family cosy is to keep blankets at hand for the various seating areas around your garden. Top it all off by handing out festive mulled wine to help your guests stay both merry and warm.

Set a theme

Arguably the most entertaining part of the night occurs as a result of a party theme and equivalent dress code. For those who are likely to quiver in their boots at the prospect of a themed party, why not pick a broad idea that provides a plethora of possible party outfits? An ‘out with the old and in with the new (year)’ theme, for example, will get your guests into the party mood and allow you to decorate your home and garden accordingly while giving them a wide variety of playful outfit choices to choose from.

A fun way to incorporate an old-to-new decorative theme into your space is a simple, cheap and easy upcycling technique. Let your creative juices flow and take pleasure in decorating your garden with upcycled antique items – which you can find easily at an auction house in the UK – or by reinventing your own dusty items by turning them into new, contemporary pieces. Not only is this beautiful styling technique perfect for getting the family involved, but you’ll be left with gorgeous garden pieces that will last you well into the new year.

celebrating in garden

While initially a chilly night huddled around in a back garden might fill your friends and family with apprehension, when planned and executed properly it has the potential to be an unforgettable experience for everyone. Make use of your outdoor space and decorate your garden with fairy lights, outdoor heating systems and warm blankets – and watch as you and your guests welcome in the new year with fits of laughter and a bag full of memories.

Alex Jones is a content creator at Featonby’s, a specialist antiques and collectibles auctioneers based in North Tyneside, England.

Conservation, Current Issues, Dakota Murphey, Grow Your Own, How To

living off grid

If you hanker after a simple, sustainable life, you will love the idea of living the off-grid dream. Living without household utilities, the internet, fast food and all of the trappings of modern living may seem unimaginable to some, but to others it is a vision of the ideal lifestyle.

Going off-grid is a growing trend. Are you ready to take the leap? Read on to find out more.

What exactly is living off-grid?

The term off-grid actually means disconnected from the main national transmission grid of electricity. For some, off-grid living simply means disconnected from the electrical grid, for others the concept extends to a completely self-sufficient existence without reliance on any public utilities, including gas and water supply.

Why live off-grid?

There are many reasons people choose to live off-grid. Here are some of them:

  • Freedom from utility bills
  • A desire to live more in tune with the environment
  • A desire to be more environmentally responsible
  • Location (remote and beautiful)
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Healthier lifestyle
  • Educating future generations
  • To opt out of consumerism
  • To achieve complete independence

How to live off-grid

If you have pondered the idea of a more sustainable lifestyle, but don’t know where to start, here are 7 steps to get you living the off-grid dream. Just how far off the grid you go is up to you.

1. Land

Off-grid means different things to different people. If you are serious about going off-grid completely, you may be considering the purchase of a piece of land on which to start your smallholding and/or new eco-friendly life. Finding suitable, affordable land is one of the biggest hurdles to people looking to go completely off-grid in the UK.

However, while living completely off-grid in the UK is actually quite difficult, it’s not impossible. There are ways to live legally on cheap land in the UK, but you will have to negotiate local planning restrictions before constructing any dwelling.

forest

2. Power

There are many homeowners in the UK who have taken their first step to off-grid living simply by installing solar panels. Wind and water power are also being used to generate electricity for some homes. One of the biggest commitments required when going off-grid is to cut down and minimise the use of power as a resource.

There are many options on the market for home owners interested in self-sufficient renewable energy sources. Examples are biomass boilers, ground source heat pumps, and solar water heating.

Renewable electricity generated by acceptable installations, including off-grid systems, is currently eligible for payments under the Feed-in Tariffs (FIT) scheme. This is a government programme designed to promote the uptake of renewable and low-carbon electricity generation. However, the government have announced plans to axe the scheme from April next year.

3. Heating

Heat pumps are the most efficient way to heat an off-grid home and are currently considered one of the best off-grid heating options. Ground source heat pumps harvest heat from below the ground. Air source heat pumps absorb heat from the outside air.

Other options are biomass (burning wood and other organic matter) and solar thermal collectors.

4. Water

Truly living off-grid requires you to harness the invaluable resource that is water. Rainwater and borewater are clean sources of water, but may be contaminated and will therefore require sterilisation through a filter system before consumption.

Rainwater can be harvested, but realistically will need an underground tank that collects water from the guttering on your house, as well as a filter system. This can be costly (over £10,000). A borehole will require a geological survey. There are companies in the UK that can arrange the survey and drill the borehole for you. Find out more about the process here.

There is even the option of an off-grid box!

5. Food

You’re not truly off-grid until you grow your own food. Here are several good reasons why you should grow your own grub. For more tips on growing your own food, see here.

basket of food

6. Drainage

A simple soakaway is required to drain shower, washing machine and sink water (known as grey water) away. A soakaway is a hole dug in the ground approximately 1 metre deep. The hole is 80 per cent filled with broken bricks and rubble.

7. Sewage

Sewage wastewater from toilets and dishwashers is known as blackwater. When you live off-grid and you disconnect yourself from the municipal sewage system you’ll need to consider how you manage your wastewater and sewage.
The main options are a septic tank system or a more sophisticated miniaturised sewage treatment plant system. With a septic tank, you will need the tank de-sludged regularly. You may want to consider a composting toilet. See more information about off mains drainage here.

If you are looking for a challenge, a different pace of life and care about the planet, then off-grid living is worth considering. With battery storage and other eco-friendly technologies developing, living off-grid is likely to become easier and more popular in the future.

Dakota Murphey

Dakota Murphey is an independent content writer who regularly contributes to the horticulture industry. She enjoys nothing more than pottering around her gardening in the sunshine. Find out what else Dakota has been up to on Twitter, @Dakota_Murphey.

Jorge, Plants, Trees

Unlike apples, there are no extreme dwarfing plum rootstocks. The smallest rootstock available will produce a 3m tall tree with a 3.5m spread, while the largest will produce a 4m tall tree with a 4m spread. They are thus equivalent to M26 and MM106 apple rootstocks respectively.

What Are Rootstocks?

A scion grafted onto a rootstock.

Rootstocks are varieties, often of the same species, on which the variety you buy is grafted. In this case, grafting involves attaching the wood of one variety to another’s roots. Trees are propagated this way for two reasons. Firstly, trees grown on their own roots will not be the same variety as the parent. This is because seeds within the fruit is a mix of two varieties or in the case of self-fertilised trees the variety’s genes rearranged. Thus, the offspring of a Victoria plum will not be a Victoria plum, but something different. And secondly, by using rootstocks nurseries can produce smaller trees better suited to the average size garden.

Rootstocks don’t just control a tree’s vigour, but also affect its precociousness (time to fruit), disease resistance and hardiness. Rootstocks produce smaller trees than one grown on its own roots, an effect which is known as dwarfing. This is because rootstocks’ roots absorb less water and nutrients from the soil. This may sound like a huge drawback, but it is actually a huge benefit. Such trees put more resources into fruiting at the expense of vegetative growth and fruit earlier in their life. Their branches are at a more manageable height and the fruit is therefore easier to harvest.

The downside to some dwarfing rootstocks is they require permanent staking as their shallow roots are liable to uprooting in strong winds.

Testing Rootstocks

Before any large outlay, it is always worth testing multiple rootstocks as you can never know how well a variety or rootstock will perform in local conditions. Any listed eventual size should always be taken as an estimate. Don’t be surprised if your tree ends up smaller or larger than stated.

Plum Tree Rootstocks A-Z

Note: standard refers to a tree grown on its own roots. Thus a rootstock that produces a tree 30% of standard will produce a tree 70% smaller than if it was grown on its own roots.

Pixy

Pixy will produce a tree 42-53% of standard (about 2.5-3m tall) and is somewhat precocious, producing fruit up to a year earlier than St Julien. Pixy requires staking.

Pixy was developed by East Malling and introduced in the 1970s.

St. Julien A

St. Julien A will produce a tree 64-72% of standard (about 3.5-4m tall) and does not require staking. It is the most widely used rootstock in the UK.

VVA-1

VVA-1 will produce a tree 42-53% of standard (about 2.5-3m tall) and requires staking. Compared to Pixy, the rootstock produces larger fruits and crops at an earlier age. Although launched as a more dwarfing rootstock than Pixy, trials have shown great variability in vigour.

VVA-1 was launched in Russia in 2004.

Wavit

Wavit will produce a tree 53-65% of standard (about 3-3.5m tall) and does not require staking. It is slightly more precocious than St. Julien and is free of suckers.

Rootstock Spacing

Pixy and VVA-1 require 3.5m between trees, while St. Julien and Wavit require 4m.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.