The Gulls are Back

 According to this source, Weston-super-Mare is the nearest beach to Hereford at just over 50 miles. However, tidal waters are closer at around 25 miles away according to this source.

Figure 1: Hereford to Lydney (the harbour is a further mile away)

Originally, the gulls follow the water highway (River Wye) from the sea to Hereford and beyond. In the past, the gulls would have migrated to Southern Europe for winter but many have taken up permanent residence in Herefordshire. The gulls tend to overwinter in the countryside where they can often be seen in fields and on lakes and large ponds.

But in early Spring they return to the City to build their nests on rooftops and raise their young. The local authority used to take measures to discourage nesting in the City but seem to have given up on that. These gulls were filmed on 13th March this year ...

Video 1: Lesser Black-Backed Gulls Return for the 2024 Breeding Season

The noise will increase considerably once the young are born and the birds will also become more aggressive as they are very protective of their chicks. When Autumn comes around they will disappear from the City only to return the following Spring.

This part of Hereford seems especially attractive to the gulls due to a preponderance of terraced housing, providing ideal nesting sites, and plenty of local food sources (supermarkets, chip shops and takeaways, Heinekin/Bulmers brewery). I cannot say I've ever seen a gull catching fish on the many lakes around here but they are great scavengers who will eat a wide variety of foods even squirrels.

The lesser black-backed gull is the most prominent gull species in Herefordshire though other types are also seen. Herring gulls seem to be on the increase - such as this pair on our next-door neighbour's roof (Photo 1). 

Photo 1: Pair of Herring Gulls on Neighbour's Roof (3rd April 2024)

Gull numbers are in decline, so we should learn to appreciate how adaptive they are - substituting their fish/mollusc/insect/egg diet and coastal habitat for human takeaways (or should that be throwaways) and nesting on chimney pots.

Spuds, Murphys and Taters

 The humble potato has a long and rich history stretching back 7000 - 10,000 years to its origins in South America. In that time it has picked up a few nicknames: e.g. Spuds, Murphys and Taters. There seems to be some dispute regarding the etymology of the word 'spud' being variously described as the digging of a hole, or the tool used to dig the hole, to either sow the tuber or harvest it. Murphy is a reference to the popularity of the potato as a staple of the Irish diet. Taters is derived from Cockney rhyming slang where it means cold - as in taters in the mold - see here for an explanation.

All this potato waffle, or perhaps waffling about spuds/murphys/taters, leads me to the point of this blogpost - planting this year's potatoes. Trying a couple of different potatoes this year: I have grown Foremost before (a tasty and reliable first early potato) but not Nadine (second early). This year, I'm trialling a new (and quicker) way of planting the spuds.

Photo 1: This year's spud varieties

The first job was to remove the taters from their bags and put them in trays for chitting ...

Photo 2: Chitted Murphys

... which, fortunately, gave me another month to prepare the potato plot from last year's onion/garlic/carrot/ beetroot/parsnip plot (Photo 3) ...

Photo 3: Last Year's Onion/Garlic/Root Vegetable Plot

After transplanting the garlic that survived last year's harvest and clearing the various artefacts, the plot was lightly dug over (10-15 cm), to loosen compacted soil and get rid of any obvious weeds, before raking level (Photo 4). 

Photo 4: Prepared Murphy Plot

Each potato pack (Photo 2) had 10 potatoes that were laid out in their final planting positions ...

Photo 5: Allocation of Planting Positions (Foremost)
... giving a distance of about 26-28 cm (10-11 inches) between each potato (the raised bed is 3 metres long). Conical holes, about 20 cm (8 inches) deep, were created using an old hoe shaft and a circular hand motion ...

Photo 6: Potato Planting Holes

... sieved homemade compost was added to the bottom of the hole and the chitted spud (Foremost) inserted with the sprouted part pointing upwards. The holes were filled in with soil before repeating the process for the Nadine seed potatoes. Finally, a mound of unsieved compost was placed on top.

Photo 7: Job Done
The compost layer along each row attracted the local bird population who would root around looking for worms and other edibles. A few days later I added some recovered coir compost from the two Veg/Salad Planters (last year's celery and celeriac) you can see in the background (Photo 7).

This method of planting seed potatoes is very easy and quick. Apart from adding more soil/compost/recovered coir as the potato plants grow (earthing up) and the occasional watering, it is just a case of waiting until summer to start harvesting. Going early with the taters should avoid many of the pests that plague this tuber.

Winterbourne House & Gardens

Mary had a heart transplant in 2003 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. The 21st March was one of her biannual visits for the MOT checkup. One of the original surgeons (Mr Majid Mukadam), who operated on Mary twenty years ago, was there to tell her she was good to go.

As the journey time from Hereford to University is around 90 minutes by rail, we always try to include another activity either around the University of Birmingham itself or in Birmingham City Centre, only a short distance away by train.

Google Map Showing QE Hospital, University of Birmingham and Winterbourne House & Gardens

On previous trips we have visited the Lapworth Museum of Geology and The Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Both come highly recommended although the latter will only reopen this summer after refurbishment.

This time we paid a visit to Winterbourne House & Gardens, just a short walk from the university campus. With a limited amount of time available (2 to 2½ hours), we spent most of the time in the gardens and finished with a rushed tour of the house. On the next visit, we will do the house first and garden second. Some photos from the gardens (in no particular order as Blogger has decided to play silly buggars) ...

Bulbs in Pots (Crown Imperial)

Western Skunk Cabbage

Plant Pot Tiers Also Popular

Alpine Glasshouse

Western Skunk Cabbage (close up)

Flower Border near the Walled Garden

Cacti Glasshouse

Scented Glasshouse (formerly the Carnivores)

Banana Plant (Tropical Hothouse)

Bird of Paradise Flower

Orchid Greenhouse

Japanese Bridge and Pool

We also took the diversion to Edgbaston Pool (privately owned, permissive path) and saw a decent amount of water birds including heron, little egret, great crested grebe, little grebe (aka dabchick), Canada goose, various gulls, and tufted duck. Most of the birdlife was some distance away and we'd both forgotten our binoculars. Here is a rather fuzzy picture of a breeding pair of grey herons taken at 30x magnification on my Pixel 7 Pro.

We may revisit again in September when Mary has her next MOT as we already have the guidebook. Just need to remember the binoculars.

Almost forgot to mention, the tea shop sells a range of light snacks, cakes and drinks - so good we visited it twice; at the beginning for a warming cuppa and near the end for sustenance to last us on the train journey home. We whizzed through the gift shop as we were running late for the train.

Why the 25th of March 2024 Just Turned into a Special Day

 Well, apart from the fact that March 25th is Tolkien Reading Day! And, if you are lucky enough to live in the USA, you may get to see a lunar eclipse.

Closer to home, the first flower, ever, on any of my three plum trees ...

Photo 1: First Ever Plum Flower!!

... appeared on March 25th 2024. I planted three Supercolumn plum trees in the Autumn of 2018: Cox's Emperor, Jubilee, and Groves Late Victoria. Not having grown plum trees before, I made the basic (and unforgivable) mistake of treating them just like my apple and pear trees when it comes to pruning. So for five years, there were no flowers and, hence, no fruit. Plums need to be pruned in mid-summer which is what I finally did in 2023.

Photo 2: Plum Trees on 3rd July 2023 (before pruning)

Photo 3: Plum Trees on 7th July 2023 (after pruning)

Mary, the biologist, assures me there are more flower buds so we will, hopefully, get to taste some plums this summer/autumn.

March 25th 2024 was also the day when the first spear of asparagus appeared above ground ...

Photo 4: First Spear of Asparagus (2024)

...  which is the earliest we have seen - beating 2021 when the first spear broke ground on 31st March. Presumably, this year's very warm February has brought forward its emergence.

Also on this day, the first fully open flower was seen on the Concorde pear tree. The buds have been ready to burst for a few days ...

Photo 5: First Pear Blossom 2024

And, finally, after a hot composting run lasting more than 850 days with my HotBin composter, today I got to empty it completely, clean it out and prepare it for more hot composting adventures. More on this in a later article.

St Patrick's Day 2024

We visited the Festival of Artist Blacksmithing (Ferrous²⁴) on Sunday the 17th March (St Patrick's Day) as Mary had some spare time before the small folk band she is in (Hops & Hares) did a 2-hour gig at The Jam Factory.

Ferrous has become an annual event in Hereford. This year there were 14 venues displaying the Blacksmith's art with examples from the UK (including Hereford), USA, Scandinavia, Netherlands, Ukraine, Poland and probably a few other places.

In addition to admiring the artistic skill of the blacksmith, there was also an opportunity to have a bash at hammering a piece of hot metal yourself.

The displays and exhibitions were top notch. The following three photos, taken in Hereford Cathedral, were based, perhaps unsurprisingly, on the symbolism of the cross ...

Small and large items were on display ...

... but you would need a healthy wallet if you wanted to buy any of the items.

Hereford College of Arts runs an Artist Blacksmithing course  and there is also a National School of Blacksmithing at Holme Lacy, a few miles outside Hereford.

We've had a couple of blacksmiths lodging with us while they attended courses at Holme Lacy: Tom Robinson and Alex Rowe who are both now pursuing their passion. 

Wild Daffodils and the First Bluebell?

 From mid-March to the end of the month*, it is wild daffodil time in this part of England - aka the Golden Triangle.

Photo 1: Betty Dawes Wood (18/3/24)

* Note: Dates may change with global warming

On a lovely sunny day, we ventured to our neighbouring county, Gloucestershire, to see the displays of wild daffodils; just as we had the previous year. The weekend events at Kempley, Oxenhall, and Dymock, are great if you want guided walks, and village hall refreshments. By visiting  midweek, you can avoid the crowds and enjoy the peace and quiet.

While walking through Betty Dawes Wood, we spotted the our first bluebell of 2024 ...

Photo 2: First Bluebell of 2024 (18/3/24)

... exciting though that was, we had come to see the daffodils but first a spot of lunch surrounded bt daffodils on all sides ...

Photo 3: Lunchtime View in Every Direction

The paths were very muddy due to high rainfall and the many visitors at the Kempley Daffodil Weekend a few days earlier. So progress around Betty Dawes was rather slow with much of the time looking down to see where to put your feet. However, there were wonderful daffodil vistas every time you looked up from the ground.

Photo 4: Golden Daffodils as far as the eye can see

Wood anemones and primroses were dotted around the forest floor ...

Photo 5: Wood Anemone, Primrose and Daffodil (18/3/24)

But no sign of the violets and roe deer seen in 2023.

Photo 6: Wood Anemone (18/3/24) - Betty Dawes Wood

Photo 7: Wood Anemone, Betty Dawes Wood (18/3/24)

Photo 8: Wild Daffodil, Betty Dawes Wood (18/3/24)


Start of the Tulip Season??

"I must have flowers. always and always" - Claude Monet

Photo 1: Snowdrops by Mary

We often associate certain flowers with certain months of the year according to their flowering season. For instance, most people will think of snowdrops in January (Photo 1 & 2).

Photo 2: Snowdrops at The Weir Garden

The choice for February is wider; for example: primroses ...

Photo 3: Primroses at Home

... crocuses ...

Photo 4: Crocuses at Home

... and hyacinths ...

Photo 5: Hyacinth at Home

Photo 6: Hyacinths by Mary

Wild daffodils flower in March as a rule (Photo 7) though modern varieties exhibit their blooms from January to May.

Photo 7: Wild Daffodils in March 2024

From mid-March to mid-May, tulips are one of the main sources of colour in the garden. And the first tulips have started to appear in the garden ...

Photo 8: Tulip Turkestanica (14/3/24)

Photo 9: Tulip Elena (14/3/24)

Photo 10: Garden Tulip (14/3/24)

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