Owl pellets

Owl perch and entrance

Careful observers will notice where our visiting owl(s) have been perching. Not too difficult to see where they’ve been getting in.

Signs of birds perching on my Pole Lathe.

Signs of birds perching on my Pole Lathe.

There have been signs of a frequent visitor to our polytunnel over the Autumn.


A lot of bird droppings.

The question was what kind of bird?

A similar thing happened a couple of years ago when we were lucky enough to have a barn owl stay in a barn for the winter months.

I’ve been so tempted to think that we could have another owl. Certainly a Tawny owl has been waking me up at night recently. Very close by. Calling.

Tawny’s are the ones that go Twit Twoooo.

Could it be that a Tawny Owl has found a good place to hunt for food in our polytunnel? I’ve no doubt there are mice and other small rodents in there.

This morning, I couldn’t believe my luck, I found evidence that it is an owl! On the plastic under the hammock stand not one but five owl pellets!

Close up of owl pellet number 4. Is that a tail or spine mixed in with the fur?

Close up of owl pellet number 4. Is that a tail or spine mixed in with the fur?

Owl Pellet number 5. More small bones.

Owl Pellet number 5. More small bones.

One of the pellets, the largest, was still wet!

It’s like a dream come true!

I walked around for the rest of the day with a huge smile on my face. I’d had owl saliva on my hands! How totally cool was that?

The questions are…

How do I find out for sure what kind of owl(s) without camping out in the polytunnel? I have no motion capture camera equipment.

Will dissecting the pellets give me a clue as to which owl(s)? I have no microscope or small animal skeletal knowledge.

What about the different sized pellets? Does that indicate two different types of owls or just different sized meals?

What should I do with my tender plants? It’s kind of getting to the time of year when I should close up the polytunnel ventilation at night.

Hanging Strawberry Planter – how to guide

Our polytunnel in June

Ginger keeping a close eye on the polytunnel

Our polytunnel in June

Our polytunnel in June

A week or so a go I posted some photos to our facebook page that received a few comments and questions.

Can you guess what caused all the feedback?

The hanging strawberry planters made from old guttering :). Yes they are slug free! and yes picking them head height is easy!

I can’t claim to be the originator of this idea. I had many a summer job when at high school picking fruit for commercial soft-fruit farmers, one of the easiest and best was picking strawberries on hanging planters in giant polytunnels. Although their solutions were a lot more expensive than mine.

Hanging strawberry gutter planter how-to guide

Hanging strawberry gutter planter how-to guide. Click image for larger version

It’s a pretty easy thing to set up if you have horizontal crop-bars in your polytunnel (if you don’t have crop-bars? I don’t know. Hopefully this will be a starting point for you). Just to stress the importance of crop-bars – they are designed to take weight hanging from them. Gutters full of strawberries, soil and water are heavy, so please take care and make sure you know your polytunnel (or other growing space) isn’t going to collapse with the extra weight before you try anything like this.

I just wanted to say a few things, things we learnt so that you can go straight to strawberry heaven in your polytunnel.

Firstly, these gutters swing in the wind, even with doors shut. So do make sure you use a good strength string to hold them up with and a really tight knot to tie the ends of the string together. Fingers crossed and touch wood ours haven’t tipped over. We have doubled up on the string, just in case one breaks. I say string, but it’s actually some old electric fencing wire.

Secondly, we drilled some drainage holes in some of the gutters and not in others. There hasn’t been any difference that I can see between the plants. So as long as the gutters are not absolutely horizontal – ie the water can drain, I wouldn’t bother drilling holes in the plastic if I did this again.

Thirdly, unless you set up a sophisticated overhead watering system you’ll be watering with a watering can. Therefore work out your optimum height for lifting a full watering can and picking fruit and aim for that when tying the strings. Oh and don’t forget the plants underneath – how high are they going to grow?

Strawberries, heaven in a bowl

Strawberries, heaven in a bowl

Good luck! Let me know if you try this and how you get on.

PS We’ve been eating strawberries from the polytunnel for two weeks now. The strawberry plants outside are only just starting to set fruit. Whether the ones outside will get eaten by slugs or not only time will tell, but the strawberries hanging inside will always be slug free.

PPS A special thanks to the team from the south-west Wales permaculture group who, after our foraging walk, helped divide, plant up and put up the planters. xx

Pretty perfect polytunnel

It is almost a year to the day that we started on this polytunnel episode. I am so pleased with the result.

Meet our first indoor growing space:

Polytunnel with raised beds in early Spring (April) 2013

Polytunnel with raised beds in early Spring (April) 2013

We knew from the start that for this polytunnel – the closest to our home – we wanted to include raised beds. It’s a growing space for home grown veg and herbs (rather than trees) and for sitting in on rainy days. We’ve worked in spaces like this before and by just raising the growing space a little it makes it so much easier on the back and knees for sowing and harvesting. The beds are sized so that every bit can be reached from the aisles. The double depth middle bed is two arms lengths deep. It’s also double the height of the side beds.

Breakfast in the polytunnel

Breakfast in the polytunnel. Note the eggs from our chooks!

We had a plentiful supply of well rotted horse manure so these beds are extra fertile! I just can’t wait to get those heavy feeding veggies like squashes planted out (they are in the propagator at the moment).

Before we had finished all of the beds we gave it a trial run as a breakfast space. It’s so warm in there. The perfect start to the day.

You can’t see it in this picture, but in the middle bed we have dug down about 30cm below the soil level and added sticks and new manure as a kind of low hugelkultur (Sepp Holzer) to add long-term fertility to the bed. Then layered well rotted manure and soil on top. We didn’t build a full height hugelkultur because of the shadow it would create in this east-west aligned tunnel, especially in the winter months.

Polytunnel raised bed building team

Polytunnel raised bed building team: Me, Craig, Holly and Wilkie.

We’ve finished creating the raised beds!! Meet the raised bed building team. Thanks guys!

Let’s get growing.

Recovering the polytunnel

(in more steps than I ever thought possible …)

Polytunnel before (shade-tunnel)

Polytunnel before (shade-tunnel)

My camera doesn’t lie, so it must have been back in March (2012) that we first began to think that it would be a really good idea to turn the shade-tunnel into a polytunnel. I can only think that the previous owners kept animals in there over winter or perhaps to keep a close eye on new born lambs and their mothers. We however are keener on growing plants so it was a dark and flappy waste of space for us. Taking one cover off and replacing it with another would be a quick and easy task.

Polytunnel partially covered

Polytunnel after-ish (partially covered)

On a bright sunny morning in March we decided to take the layers of covers off to get a better look at the frame.

Then one sunny afternoon in October (2012) we were putting the replacement cover back on.

Obviously I’ve cut a very long story short!

Many thanks to Dunja, Steve, Sue and Mac for all your help. Only the doors to put on now before the winter and we can start growing.