Hibernate or migrate?

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As autumn progresses and we head towards winter, many animals are now tucked up safely away in hibernation or torpor, and others have travelled great distances for warmer weather and more plentiful food supplies.

At the beginning of November I visited WWT Welney for the first time (I’ve now visited all the WWT centres!) to see the whooper swans that had started to arrive from Iceland, where they breed. By the time it got dark about 500 swans had come in to roost on the reserve.

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It was only towards the end of my week in Welney that I saw what I’d been hoping to find all week – a whooper swan with a leg ring on…

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And inside the observatory I used the “iSwan” touchscreen to find out more about her:

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The database revealed that Bjork had travelled 33,000 miles in her life on her back-and-fore migrations to Iceland! But not everything survives the winter by undertaking a great migration like the swans do. If you want to help out the smaller creatures that are looking for a safe place to hibernate in your garden, there are lots of things you can do to help out.

In the garden – hibernation homes

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Firstly, don’t tidy up everything in your garden, leave piles of leaves and the stems of plants that have finished flowering, as insects can hide inside the hollow tubes. You can also construct a special insect home like the one above that I made at WWT Llanelli, or make something really simple using natural and recycled materials, like the one below.

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Cut a 2 litre plastic bottle in half, then stuff full of pine cones, twigs, straw, leaves and anything else you think invertebrates might like to snuggle up in for the winter! Place it somewhere safe in the garden, preferably under cover, and at an angle so that rainwater won’t get into it.

Or if you’d like to provide a home for something a bit bigger, find out more about how to make and put up a bat box from the Bat Conservation Trust, and how to build a hedgehog house from the RSPB. 🙂

 

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O Come All Ye Frightful (2)

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Last October I began to think about crafts and activities and I could do for Halloween that I would normally do for Christmas. This year, I decided to try to come up with an idea for each day of October, and I’ve been sharing one a day on Twitter (@pamelastyles). Here they all are! Happy Halloween everyone!

1. Halloween countdown calendar

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2. Halloween tree

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3. Jack Skellington spider snowflake from the Nightmare Before Christmas (tutorial)

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4. Pine cone decorations – I made a spider and a bat, but owls are easy too!

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5. Homemade Halloween cards

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6. Felt tree decorations

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7. Salt dough ornaments

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8. Cute pom poms – I’d normally be making robins and snowmen, but here’s a cute pumpkin!

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9. Halloween crackers

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10. Lollipop stick crafts – a spider’s web rather than a Christmas tree, star or reindeer!

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11. Seasonal socks – I have lots of Christmas socks, and managed to find these spooky Halloween ones!

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12. Jingle bells – a spider to hang on the Halloween tree!

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13. Candle – an artificial tealight glued into a toilet roll tube, “wax” effect created with a hot glue gun, then painted black with acrylic paint.

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14. Seasonal mugs

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15. Popcorn garland – food colouring gives it a Halloween twist!

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16. Glass jar lanterns

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17. Ice cream cone treats – witches’ hats shown alongside their Christmas tree counterparts!

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18. Gingerbread haunted house

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19. Gingerbread mummies (skeletons are another option!)

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20. Halloween wreath

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21. Homemade Halloween soaps

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22. Pom pom garland

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23. Halloween stocking – easy to fill with little spooky treats

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24. Homemade “Vampire’s kiss” bath bomb – rather than sparkly snowballs or scents of cinnamon and nutmeg, this homemade bath bomb turns the water blood red and contains sparkly red body glitter.

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25. Spider cake – there are lots of homemade Halloween cake options, it’s easy to make a spider one with chocolate buttons or mini eggs like this (a little bit of Halloween meets Easter!)

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26. Halloween gift wrapping – goodbye to red, gold and green and hello purple and black shredded paper, ribbons and bows!

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27. Halloween body care gift sets – these cauldrons contain dead sea salt body scrub, pumpkin spice orange and purple bath salts, spooky soaps, and even a Halloween-coloured rubber duck!

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28. Halloween jumper – I have lots of Christmas jumpers, but for the first time this year I got a Halloween one too!

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29. Placeholders – Ready for my Halloween dinner party!

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30. Centrepiece – with spooky objects and orange and purple flowers

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31. Egg hunt –  My real number 31 will be the Halloween dinner I’m making tonight, with  pumpkin soup, mozzarella ball eyes and witches’ finger breadsticks! But here’s a bonus activity – rather than Christmas, Easter meets Halloween in this spooky monster egg hunt! Put an artificial candle inside with some goodies and hide them in the garden after dark!

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Happy Halloween everyone! 

Foraging

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Now is the perfect time of year for foraging! The hedgerows are full of fruits, nuts, rosehips and berries waiting to be picked. The blackberries seem to have done much better this year, probably because of the better weather in spring. Sloe berries are on the blackthorn bushes, but will taste better if left until after the first frosts. Be inspired by the season with these creations using foraged finds!

In the bathroom – blackberry face mask

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The high levels of vitamins and antioxidants in blackberries make them a fantastic ingredient for a fresh, seasonal homemade face mask. Crush the berries with a pestle and mortar and then mix with kaolin clay, which will help to draw impurities out of the skin. Then mix with a little water to form a paste, apply to skin, and wash off after about 10 minutes, or when the mask hardens.

In the craft room – pine cone autumn trees and dried apples

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Pick up some pine cones on your autumn walks through the woodlands and turn them into these cute seasonal decorations. Simply push mini red, orange and yellow pom poms into the spaces on the cone. If you don’t have pom poms, small balls of scrunched up tissue paper work too.

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The first apples are now ready for picking, but you might be looking for something to do with the apples that have fallen but aren’t really good enough quality to eat. Dried apple slices are as easy to make as dried orange and lemon slices, and make a nice addition to seasonal crafts such as autumn wreaths, as an embellishment for natural gift wrapping and homemade body care gifts. Find out how to make them here.

In the kitchen – apple shrunken heads and apple and blackberry crumble

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Because Halloween is coming up next month, instead of apple slices at the moment I’m making these apple shrunken heads! You can find the full tutorial from Tesco. If you use good quality apples they can be used to make a spooky addition to a cup of apple juice!

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And use the best apples and blackberries you find to make this delicious blackberry and apple crumble. BBC Good Food has a quick and easy recipe!

In the garden – homegrown hazelnuts and sunflower seeds

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Last year I planted two hazel trees. They’re not supposed to fruit until they’re about four years old, but one of them has managed to produce two (!) hazelnuts this year! I’m not holding out much hope that I will get them before the squirrels do, but you never know, since there’s only two maybe they won’t notice them! If you’d like to have a go at growing your own hazelnuts, Grow Veg has lots of useful information.

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As I’ve shared before, this year I’ve attempted growing Russian Giant sunflowers for the first time. The two survivors are now setting seed. After taking this photo, I wrapped a bag around the head of the sunflower to catch any seeds that ripen and fall. If you do this, just make sure it’s watertight.

 

 

Rainbow

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The theme of rainbow is appropriate for this month, as although there’s lots of summer colour, there’s also been lots of rain! On Twitter, Very British Problems (@SoVeryBritish) even referred to the month as “Rainuary”… so here’s some colourful projects to brighten up summer!

 

In the bathroom – Rainbow Soaps

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I wanted to make a gift set of multicoloured soaps, so I used chocolate moulds so I could make miniature soaps in different shapes. For each one, I just melted a small amount of melt-and-pour soap and added a drop of colour, then poured them into the moulds. As they’re so small it’s easy to make several gift sets at once.

 

In the craft room – “The Philosopher’s Stone” Watercolour

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To celebrate the publishing this month of my new novel, Love Magic, which is all about magic, alchemy and spiritualism, I’ve created this rainbow coloured version of the symbol for the philosopher’s stone. I laid a template loosely over the paper and dabbed watercolours over the top, blending in between colours and following rainbow order. Some of the watercolour has seeped through so it doesn’t look like a rigid template, which I think adds nicely to the effect.

 

In the kitchen – Rainbow Salad

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I’ve been growing purple carrots for the first time this year. I grew them in a container in the greenhouse so I could control how much water they got – we had so much rain last year my carrots rotted in the ground! These are one of many brightly coloured foods you can include to make a rainbow salad.

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Red – Tomatoes and radishes

Orange – carrots and peppers

Yellow – peppers

Green – lettuce, cucumber and grapes

Purple – red cabbage, purple carrots

 

In the garden – Rainbow Flowers

Multicoloured flowers in the garden in late summer!

Red – Rose (modelling the August rain nicely…)

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Orange – Marigold

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Yellow – Dahlia

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Green – Not a flower, but very exciting – a pumpkin on the way…..!

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Blue – Love in a Mist, coming to the end of their flowering now…

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Purple – Buddleja

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Pink – Zinnia

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Summer flowers

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In July, the garden is at its peak, and if you want to grow your own cut flowers this is the month when you’ll have the most choice about what to cut and bring inside. I always feel like I should leave the vast majority of the flowers outside for all the insects to enjoy, but quite a few snapped off in a recent storm, so I’ve put them in vases, including this Russian giant sunflower and Dahlia. Maybe one year I’ll grow so many flowers I won’t feel bad about cutting a few on purpose!

In the garden – an abundance of flowers!

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Last year I grew miniature sunflowers, and this time I tried giant ones. As you can see above they haven’t all been successful, but I’ve got two still standing at over 8ft tall! I’m hoping they’ll survive so that I can collect the edible seeds. You can see the casualty that ended up in the vase on the right in this picture… But a bit of bad luck not withstanding, they were actually pretty easy to grow from seed, and grew incredibly quickly. I had to invest in some taller bamboo canes!

I’ve also successfully grown lots of smaller favourites from seed in containers this year, including cosmos, zinnia and poppy.

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Some of the flowers have finished, but some, like poppy and love-in-a-mist, leave behind their attractive seed pods, which add a different decorative effect to the garden (or cut flower arrangements). On this photo, you can see both the flowers and seed pods of love-in-a-mist.

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I have six surviving pumpkin plants this year – I’m trying to grow the Jack O’Lantern variety for the first time. I’ve only had two female flowers so far, so they’re definitely nowhere near as easy and reliable as the miniature pumpkins I tried last year. The first female flower wasn’t pollinated, but I have high hopes for the second one as its opening coincided with the opening of many of the male flowers. Fingers crossed!

In the craft room – paper and pom pom flowers

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As well as enjoying all the real flowers, you can create some of your own to brighten up inside the house, if like me you prefer to leave the real ones in the garden!

To make these pom pom flowers, fold a piece of craft foam in half and draw out half of a flower template, then cut round it.

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Then just make an X-shaped incision in the middle of the foam flower and push a pom pom inside.

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Paper flowers are also fun to make, and you can even make your own vase to put them in. For the vase, find a recycled glass bottle, and gradually pour acrylic paint into it, swirling it around so that it sticks to the edges of the bottle. One colour is easiest, but you can use different colours and swirl them together for a nice effect. Centsational Girl has a great tutorial.

The paper flowers look pretty effective given how simple they are to make! Instructables has a full tutorial. The great thing about these is that you can make them in whatever combination of colours you like to match the room or occasion. And no guilt about depriving the bees of their pollen! 🙂

 

 

Lavender

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Lavender is one of my favourite plants to grow in the garden, because it ticks so many boxes! It’s very easy to grow from seed (although you have to be patient!), it seems able to withstand a lot of neglect, it grows well in containers, bees love it, it smells amazing, and the flowers can be harvested, dried and used for all sorts of crafty creations!

To dry lavender for crafts, harvest when the buds have formed but have not fully opened. This way they’ll retain their colour and fragrance for longer. Find out more from Garden Therapy.

In the bathroom – homemade lavender body care gift set

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The calming fragrance of lavender makes it an excellent choice for homemade body care. For this gift set, I made lavender sugar scrub, lavender bath salts and a lavender bath melt, which is hidden away inside the homemade miniature box! I then put them all into a basket with some purple shredded paper and a few sprigs of dried lavender.

Sugar scrub: White sugar, sweet almond oil, lavender essential oil

Bath salts: epsom salts, dried lavender buds, lavender essential oil

Bath melt: 2:1 ratio of cocoa/shea butter and sweet almond oil (the ratio very much depends on your climate – go for a higher proportion of cocoa butter if it’s warm!), lavender essential oil and dried lavender buds

Lavender is also an excellent choice for the herbal bath teas and soaps I shared last month.

In the craft room – reed diffuser

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This is a perfect craft project for me! It uses natural and recycled materials, is exceptionally cheap to make, and yet looks really effective and would make a nice handmade gift. Find a nice, colourless recycled glass bottle and fill part way with a carrier oil – I used sweet almond oil as above – with lavender essential oil mixed into it. Adding a little rubbing alcohol can also help the oil to travel up the reeds. Push some dried lavender sprigs into the bottle, and then add the reeds (I harvested mine from our local wetlands). If you don’t have access to reeds, apparently bamboo skewers work too.

To give as a gift, leave the reeds out and put the lid back on the bottle to keep the oil from leaking! You could give the gift with the reeds tied around the bottle with a pretty purple bow.

Herbs

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The meteorological summer is about to begin, and the garden is looking amazing! Flower buds are bursting open and there are butterflies and bees everywhere! It’s amazing how green everything looks compared with a few months ago. In this month’s creations, I’m focusing on herbs.

In the garden – growing herbs

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Herbs are among the easiest plants to grow from seed, and as well as being useful for cooking and natural medicine, when they flower the bees love them! Herbs are so cheap and easy to grow, they are definite money savers compared to buying them fresh. They grow well in containers so don’t need to take up a lot of space, and can be easily dried for use all year round. The Royal Horticultural Society has plenty of information on growing your own herbs.

Below are some ideas on how to use some of your homegrown dried and fresh herbs.

In the bathroom – herbal and floral soaps and bath tea

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Normally I make soaps in interesting shapes using silicone moulds, but for this project I wanted something simpler and more traditional, and made them in a muffin tin. Into each soap I’ve incorporated some dried plant material and essential oils. You can find out how to dry herbs here. I used melt and pour soap base containing aloe vera, and the following combinations:

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Dried orange slice + sweet orange oil

Dried lemon slice + lemon oil

Dried lavender buds + lavender oil

Dried jasmine flowers + ylang ylang

Dried Calendula petals + patchouli oil

Dried rose bud + rose oil

Getting soaps out of a muffin tin is definitely harder than getting them out of a silicone mould, but I followed a tip that worked well. Place the tin in the freezer for at least half an hour before you try to remove them – they come out much easier!

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Infuse your bath water with herbs without having to clean up lots of little bits of plants after by placing a bath tea bag under the running water. You may have seen herbal bath tea bags for sale, but it’s easy to make your own and that way you can save money and create whatever blends you like. You can buy the bags, or if you’re better than me at sewing you can make your own using muslin.

You Grow Girl has a great tutorial on how to make them and also suggests some blends. My own favourite blend is lavender, chamomile, rolled oats and epsom salt, which is a great nighttime blend for relaxation. Lavender and chamomile are easy to grow yourself from seed, and are also easy to dry.

In the craft room – mini herb tins

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This is such a simple and cheap craft but really effective. Wash out three recycled tins and fill with compost. Plant a seed in each or transfer a small herb plant from a seed germinated elsewhere. I’ve only just transferred in these plants, they should grow quite a lot bigger. I wrapped each tin with burlap to make them more attractive, and wrote the name of each herb on a lollipop stick to identify them. These would make a great gift, or just put them on your kitchen windowsill for easy access to small quantities of fresh herbs.

In the kitchen – herb roast vegetables

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And of course, no post about herbs would be complete without using them for cooking, and for this you can choose whatever herbs and vegetables you like best or whatever’s in season. I used red onion, bell pepper, carrot and potato. Rosemary and thyme work really well with vegetables, with a little oil and salt and pepper. Mix everything together and roast in the oven for about 30-40 minutes. Delicious!