Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Wednesday 14th March 07

Woke feeling just a little sad at last night's email from the Yorkshire Post, but glad I'd responded politely as I like to keep options open and not burn boats.

When I was offered my column I contacted my friend Kate who writes a column for the York Press and asked her if she'd give me some tips and advice. In return, she asked me to help her with her compost bin which she's had for just over a year, and needs some management. Of course I was happy to help with her composter, and even if she now no longer needs to give advice to this non-columnist. I dug out the bottom of the dalek, the material was mostly well rotted and will need a short while maturing before it is used in her garden. The plastic and unrotted bits were taken out and put in their respective places (dustbin and top of compost pile) and the semi mature stuff put in a polybag for revisiting soon, when I'll Rotaseive it, a hand-powered mechanical riddle which separates small particles from larger sticks, etc.

I didn't have time to sit and have a coffee or a chat about the gutter press, as I was due at Askham Bryan Agricultural College for a short course about trees, evaluating the amenity value of trees and evaluating the different calorific value and burning quality of different types of wood. This latter issue is close to my heart, as all these blogs are written in front of my 4.5kw Clearview smokefree woodstove, which heats the front room and the bedroom above. So I learnt less from the second worksshop, apart from some numerical stuff such as how many BTUs (British Thermal Units) are in different species of tree's wood, fresh cut, air dried and kiln dried. The amenity value evaluation was completely new to me, a rather complicated and not very precise set of calculations called the Helliwell Method. However we were novices and if done by someone who knew what they were doing, it is a reasonable way to calculate an objective value of a tree from factors which are mostly subjective. Different people value trees for different things... an artist will see the shape and form, a biologist will see the ecological value, a timber merchant or woodburner will see something else. The method also enables a value in pounds sterling to be made, for compensation claims perhaps. We went into the grounds and attempted some amenity evaluations, then retired to the classroom to ccompare notes and discuss. Very interesting.

Then bombed back into York and filled up the cycle trailer with compostables and got home in time to meet up with a zoologist/entomologist from the Yorkshire Museum, who had been very interested in my find of some Minor Stag Beetles in a partially rotten log which I'd split. Often I put obviously rotten logs under a hedge in the garden so that beasties get a chance to live and breed, but this log didn't appear that bad, as it was mostly sound and would be good for burning. However when it split, a load of juicy woodboring beetle larvae fell out, plus a couple of adults, easily identifiable and in my book, rare and not found north of Nottingham. Pip the bug lady told me that they had actually been found as far north as Edinburgh and were found in the York area. Still a nice record for them, and Pip enjoyed the stroll down the garden and was pleased to see our Goldcrests which love the trees above my fruit-fly infested composters, and feast on the little blighters. How nice it feels to take materials which would otherwise be landfilled and lost for ever, and turn them into Britain's smallest bird plus a material which traps carbon into the soil and helps us grow delicious squashes and sweetcorn.

Our garden also has good populations of blackbirds which enjoy turning over mulches and flicking them around, also pecking at unsold apples which I often deliberately throw onto the lawn for them, and robins which love it when I move bags of compost around and reveal worms and other invertebrates which they hop down and eat. When working in the garden I always have their company. I'm not good at identifying other birds, but Gill has identified Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, House Sparrows and Dunnocks, Blue/Great/Long Tailed/Coal Tits, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Starlings, Collared Dove and Wood Pigeons, Magpies, Wren, Treecreeper, Redwing, Blackcap Warbler, Fieldfare, a Kestrel (swooping towards the bird table) and Mallard Ducks visiting next door's pond.

It is very satisfying to have so much life enjoying our land, of which we are temporary stewards. The garden looks messy to people but is a haven for animals, plenty of nesting areas and ecological niches.

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