Category Archives: Blog

Happy Birthday A Buzz & A Flutter!

8 Wildlife Habitats For Your Garden & Our First Year Anniversary!

In this blog we will walk through 8 types of habitat that you can create in your own gardens to get bees buzzing and butterflies fluttering! But first…..

We’re one today! How amazing! Not only did we survive what was an appalling start, but we’ve survived the first year of business! Hooray!

In a weird way, I suspect looking back that though our Establish date is 01/05/2018, our business ‘proper’ probably didn’t really start until it nearly failed and you all came to the rescue!

On that note, a big thank you to everyone who retweeted/shared our stuff on twitter, facebook and instagram, or purchased our peat free, plastic free, & pesticide free wildlife friendly plants, because we wouldn’t be here to celebrate our first year anniversary otherwise!

So, we fight on, and fight on we must! British garden wildlife is in trouble, but of course that’s just part of the trouble because it’s not just UK garden wildlife, but the world globally! It may not seem like much, but by going peat free, plastic free (we’ve all seen Blue Planet) & pesticide free, as well as providing you lovely gardeners with wildlife friendly plants, we may well make a difference. Okay, so it’s not on a global scale, but as I keep saying in these blogs, to make a difference you need to start with what responsibility you have and grow from there!

So, that’s the celebrations over with, but what about us as gardeners? What can we do?

As gardeners (gardens cover around 10 million acres) we have a wonderful opportunity to make a direct difference to wildlife and it needn’t involve buying from us, (Oh, go on!) you could do something as simple as letting some grass go long and sinking a bowl in the ground with some water in it! Honestly, it really can be as simple as that! Mind you, if you have the time/money/land, the best thing you can do is create a mosaic of wildlife friendly habitats.

So, with that in mind, here are 8 wildlife habitats you can create in your garden!

  • Hedges – Hedges are great for birds, providing hiding spaces from predators, nesting places, insects to feed off and seeds or berries. For owls they create a highway to travel by, with many choosing to hunt the small mammals, and birds, that come out from the cover of them. From a human point of view, they help massively in reducing the effects of wind (no, not as a digestive) turbulence, whilst also sucking up moisture that might result in water run-off and ultimately flash flooding. They can also be edible too!
  • Long grass – Yes, I mentioned it before, but don’t, as I did till last year, underestimate the importance of long grass! I think we’ve become so ingrained with the idea of keeping grass ‘bowls green short’ that we’ve forgotten how beautiful it can be with just a mowed path. Its benefits to insects in general is quite remarkable, but when you consider the life cycle of many caterpillars, it is then you realise just how valuable leaving long areas of grass is to the beautiful butterflies and moths (yes moths!) we have in the UK.
  • Water – A bowl of water sunken into the ground is helpful, and an up-turned terracotta pot topped with a saucer filled with pebbles and water is another help, but really, if you have the space, then a pond, quite literally the bigger the better, is a must. Everything living depends on water in one way or another and if you really want to see your garden come alive, then a pond is a must. We won’t go into it much now, as we’ve done a blog before, but here are some useful links. Washing Up Bowl. Fresh Water Habitats.
  • Trees & shrubs – We’ve listed these as two because really, when you look at one of the most valuable rich habitats in the UK, it would be the woodland verge, or glade, but what is it? A woodland glade is the open expanse to the sunny side of a woodland, with long grass and flowers; the verge is the woodland edge, the strip where sun can get in, that is rich with woodland flowers, shrubs and trees. Think of this area as a multi-tiered, three-dimensional space, with flowers for low flying pollinators, shrubs making up an under storey, whilst trees provide the canopy shelter. The wildlife this attracts would be too much to mention here.

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  • Flowers – Whether annual, (one year flowering) bi-annual, (every two) or our favourites here, perennials, (almost permanent) you can’t help but be cheered up for having them, they really do make a difference to what might otherwise be a green, or far worse still, grey place! It is right that we think of bees and butterflies, they’re in major decline, but of course there are the moths, beetles, hoverflies, flies, wasps (yes I know!) and all other creepy crawly things that depend on them, and actually, let’s not pretend we don’t depend on them! Without their pollinating heroics, our UK economy would £690m poorer, whilst we ourselves might even be extinct without them!
  • Decay – Yes, this is a habitat! Put the rake down, put away the bin bags and for goodness sake, do you really need that leaf blower? Once again, our obsession with tidying up (something I should have learned) is not actually very helpful, at least bot to wildlife. The loss of a tree can be a real loss, but with it comes an opportunity for life if you leave the stump. You might not think much, if anything of this decaying world, but the role it plays is vital. Imagine a world where nothing was broken down? Here the role of funghi, (see our blog) bacteria, worms, slugs and snails, woodlice, stag beetle larvae and much more could not be valued more. Without them we’d have a mess so bad, I doubt we’d even be able to walk the waste would be so high!
  • Rocks & Wood – Have you ever picked up a fallen piece of wood, or removed a large flat stone from the ground and paid attention to the life that was there? No? Well you should! It’s a fascinating world, where spiders, centipedes and millipedes, earwigs, slugs and snails, wood lice and so much more live out the equivalent of an African Savannah, albeit in a micro climate. Here, to live is a bonus, it really is ruthless, but a lot like the area of long grass, don’t underestimate this habitat, because everything needs to eat and by leaving places like this, you provide food for bigger birds and mammals, which of course, in-turn, provides food for bigger birds, reptiles and mammals still!
  • Sand & Mud – I once saw a gardeners world episode where a sheet of perforated steel was rounded into a tube, filled with sand, topped with flowers and became the most amazing place for solitary bees and parasitic hosts! It was buzzing! Don’t be put off though if your DIY skills are as bad as mine, because a pile of sand is enough to encourage nature to move in, after all, it already knows what it’s doing. Mud is great because it is used by bees for their nests, birds use it when dry to bathe in and wet to build with, so do think about leaving a small area bare, even if you can cram just one more plant in!

If you want help with creating a wildlife friendly garden then do please check out The Butterfly Brothers at hazelwood landscapes. This is not a paid promo, as I don’t know them personally, but I do admire their work!

Urgent Post!!!!

If you have come from twitter or facebook, in response to my post, then thank you! This post is a current, as things stand situation. The post below this ‘Adapting To Potential Problems’ is the one that will explain it all, so that you know why we’re in the position we are, despite having tried to already get round a pretty major set back!

In the last post I wrote about how we were going to adapt to the mist propagator we bought recently breaking, leaving us with no seedlings, or plug plants for early season sales. This was already a fairly big problem, as we knew we were going to miss out on early season sales and cash flow as a result.

Our solution was to use the refunded money to buy in some stock, to tie us over, but since then, a supplier has let us down. We were open and honest, saying we were an e-shop, selling wildlife friendly plants. The order was cancelled whilst being placed because they only sell to landscapers, professional gardeners and designers.

This has left us with a problem as the wholesale suppliers either want more money than we have to place a minimum order, or have too few of the plants we need to make a difference to wildlife. Imagine having to spend all your money on just 5 varieties of plants when you’ve spent money on stock photos for the website! 

Please help make a difference to wildlife and help “Create A Buzz!” Everything you need to know is in the piece below. Imagine if my business is saved now? I could do so much to help wildlife, and remember, you’ll be making a difference too, one purchase at a time!

Adam Young

A Buzz & A Flutter

Adapting To Potential Problems

 

I wrote a blog which was titled ‘Overcoming Obstacles To Present Opportunities,’ well, if that is true, then now is the time to test it, or rather, it test me!

Our mist propagator, which we just bought, doesn’t work, so its been sent back and a refund is in the waiting, but in the mean time, with me working full time, I will not be able to water the seeds we sowed as often as is needed (plug plants dry out quicker as they have less compost) and so no plug plants will be available this year.

I say ‘potential problems,’ as it sounds more positive, but believe me, it is a BIG PROBLEM!

As I mentioned at the start of this blog, if you read ‘Overcoming Obstacles To Present Opportunities,’ then you will see how crucial growing from seed was for us, not just this year, but next year as well.

So what’s the solution? Well, first, despite putting a positive spin on things by saying, ‘Potential Problem,’ we need to face up to reality. There’s no point being positive for positive sake, we need to look at the problem as it is and work out the possible ramifications going forwards, if at all!

Our plan was to grow wildlife friendly perennial plants from seed as plug plants. The thinking behind it was that apart from the initial cost of the mist propagation unit (video example here) which would be amortised and pay itself back, it would allow us to grow plants for a lot less than they would cost to buy, be produced at larger volumes and even provide an early cash flow boost by being able sell earlier in the season to grow on at home. The money made would have then funded future stocks of wildlife friendly plants.

The trade off is that space would be tied up for longer than ready grown, bought plants, and would result in more handling/labour costs, which though is not crucial at this stage of the business, is still an issue when you work full time, have a wife and two kids, and would certainly become an issue in the future when the business grows, so it’s good to be mindful of these things from the start, because they’d have to be worked towards as the business scales up. One other trade off is that not many well known, good reliable wildlife friendly perennial plants can be grown from seed, with some having plant breeders rights (PBR) protecting them from commercial propagation without a license.

Another issue not having a mist propagation unit presents us with is that not only does is our money tied up in it till we get a refund, it also prevents the potential for generating yet more money from sales of the plug plants we may/may not of got from our seeds.

One last issue, but not a major one, is the fact that if we had not sold all of the plug plants, then we would of potted them on into 9cm pots, either for sale at a higher price, (factoring in labour and time spent growing) or at the very least to use as stock plants for the following year, so that we weren’t as reliant on plant providers or cash flow.

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A summary of the problems then 

  • Money on seed is wasted
  • Early cash flow is hindered
  • Increasing stock levels for next year is potentially lost/reduced
  • Money is held in broken equipment till a refund is given
  • Money refunded will not buy as many plants
  • Variety of plants offered for sale is reduced considerably

The question now is  – how do we turn a BIG PROBLEM, into only a ‘potential problem?’

We will buy plants with the money to be refunded to offer some plants for immediate sale, use some plants as stock plants to propagate and make new plants from, which we hope will build up stock levels for next year, reducing the number of plants we need to buy, and use some of the money made to buy more wildlife friendly perennial plants.

If this sounds easy, it is not! It requires we sell the plants, so we’ll need you to help us and help nature, by buying our wildlife friendly perennial plants. We will also have to limit the variety of plants that we offer as most places have minimum orders on plant varieties and volume overall. So, for example, if we have to buy 24 Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradoona’ then that is more money used to purchase a single variety of plant. Thankfully this isn’t a problem with a plants as beautiful and useful as Salvia nemoros ‘Caradonna’ as you’re sure to want it in your garden, not only for adding height, with its stunning, vertical, rich purple flower spikes, but for its ability to attract both honey bees and bumble bees, as well as our beautiful butterflies. Was that a good enough a plug? 

Potentially we could still have a problem with stock and variety issues going into next year, but I hope, if nothing else, this shows the thinking involved in having a business? Hopefully this will be an encouragement to others, not at our expense, but by being honest and open about our situation you may at least not feel on your own with whatever issues you’re having/could have.

So, if this is you, take a step back, assess the situation and get the most out of a bad situation as possible and adapt to potential issues!

 

Adam Young

A Buzz & A Flutter

“Let’s Create A Buzz!”

The Wind Of Change & The Willows!

England, ‘a green & pleasant land.’ It sounds nice, doesn’t it? ‘UK, garden of the world!’ Amazing!! What about, “Since we met badger and friends, the UK has become one of the most nature depleted places on THE PLANET.” (Quote – Sir David Attenborough – The Wind in The Willows Trailer)

The title, ‘Wind of Change & The Willows,’ is a play on this trailer, and it is thanks to this trailer I feel inspired to do a blog! But you see, if all I do is write a blog, share a post, make a reply on #WilderFuture (do check it out!) then what have I done?

Plastic is rightfully seen as the ‘BIG PROBLEM’ at the moment, but what about our words? We may not see them littered everywhere, but where are they? What good have they done? Imagine if we could see all the empty promises we’ve made? Imagine if we could see the times we’ve got upset and replied in fury, smashing the letters on a keyboard, outraged over a recent tweet, or post, but then sat down and been distracted by entertainment? Who really cares about mole, ratty, badger and toad now? The soap opera is on and the other half is in the other room watching sports!

I would shudder to think the pile our empty words would create, yet so much of this modern age is full of them! I mean, how easy is it to type out a post in the moment, (I’m doing it now!) and sound concerned, only to do nothing in the end! We think plastic is a problem, now imagine the metaphorical pile of empty gestures and words we carelessly throw about!

‘Ah, but you’re doing the same here, just empty words.’ you say, but no, that isn’t the case. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, I wasn’t looking for a business, but one was born out of necessity. My care for wildlife outstripped what I didn’t have. I had no more room in the garden to plant for wildlife so I got an allotment, there was no room at the allotment to help pollinators, so I started a business! Why? Because I didn’t want the fact I had no more room to help wildlife stop me from helping others do the same! All of our plants are wildlife friendly. The categories make it easy – we have plants for bees, butterflies and birds There really is no excuse to not help wildlife these days, we have the internet and a wealth of information. Maybe though, that is the problem? Maybe we have too much information? Maybe we have too many concerns and entertainment is needed to take us away from these issues?

 

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I believe to not do something now would be an insult to our future generation. I get days where I feel so overwhelmed by the problems facing wildlife alone that I do think, ‘what is the point?’ Sometimes the information is so constant my brain seems to freeze! So, what do we do? We MUST take ourselves away from this constant chatter and reading of doom, even stop reading this blog if you have to, and contemplate what we are receiving.

If you do nothing else after this post, take a break! Play with loved ones, take a walk, do some gardening, volunteer, but DO NOT put on the telly, click on youtube, or any other social media site, as it is only when we stop that we can process and begin to figure out anything. Stopping is not always idleness, in fact, I would argue that much of what we do today is idleness! No, take some time. Let the brain settle, remove the junk and really think about what it is you can do!

I believe that everyone has a certain thing they can do, a bit of knowledge they can pass on or money they can give. Does that mean we can do all of those things? No! But the fact you can do one of those things is something, we can only work with what we have and I believe there is a responsibility to use what we have. You may not feel the call to help wildlife, the poor maybe your thing, perhaps the young or the old, the foreigner or your neighbour. But please, take some time, reflect on your heart and consider wisely your concerns, because where your concerns are, your care is, and where your care is, your action is needed! ‘The Wind of Change & The Willows.’ If only it were for good!

“Together we’re better; let’s create a buzz!”

Adam Young – a buzz & a flutter

Creating Wildlife Habitats – Water & Ponds

Do you want a sign post for wildlife that says “welcome here?” Then read on!

In my garden I get all sorts of insects, birds and small mammals, but if I had to pick one thing that has lifted my mood the most this month it would have to be the frogs and their spawn!

In this blog we don’t want to talk about building a pond, the digging, what material, depth, Etc, there’s plenty of info out there, but we do want to focus on what we think makes a good pond for wildlife.

That being said, if you do want some practical advice on building a pond then please do check out Dr. Jeremy Biggs, a director at Fresh Water Habitats, he really is a walking wealth of knowledge and I think you’ll find his counter-type ideas to the normal expert advice of dig deep, Etc. a welcome relief!

  • Water – Obvious right? Just get the hose out and fill it up! Well, not quite. The water we drink has a cocktail of chemicals in and if it is used to fill a pond up it can quickly lead to first year algae build up, or what is often referred to as pea soup. A better solution is to get as much rain water as possible, and to do that you’ll want some rain butts, both for the initial storage and the filling up if necessary. Rain water still can go green, but it has far less chemicals and is less likely to. Remember we said build a pond in September/October time? This is one of the reasons why. It will give plenty of time for the chemicals to dissipate and there is less aquatic activity towards the autumnal months.
  • Aspect – Look for sunshine when sighting a pond as it will attract a lot more life to it, will lead to clearer water, and from a purely selfish point of view, you’ll want to be able to see the wildlife from a warmer part of the garden, as will your children/grand children!
  • Oxygen – There are two ways to achieve this. One is by adding running water, which spills in and causes the water to become oxygenated, the second is to add plant based oxygenators, which apart from the obvious in that they produce oxygen, they are fantastic places for aquatic life to live and breed in, with Callitriche (Starwort) and Ceratophyllum demersum (Hornwort) being exceptionally good, with the starwort providing nesting sites for newts! If there is one word of caution though, please do not use invasive/foreign species, they have a devastating effect on our water ways and unlike garden plants, they are easily taken off and put into other water systems by visiting birds. Please check out the RHS’s website for more information on the ones to avoid!
  • Floaters – No, not those ones, that would be crass! Floaters are great plants for a larger pond as they help to provide cover (the equivalent of woodland shade) for the various pond life, as well as cooling the water and giving a signal to hover flies, damsel, darter and dragon flies, that this is a great spot to land and maybe even find a mate. As a rule of thumb you want about half of the ponds surface covered.
  • Marginals – These are for the pond what perennial plants are for the borders. Marginal plants are those that sit below the water, at varying depths, blurring the line between land and pond. From the wildlife point of view this is very important, as it gives them the cover they need to feed, mate and emerge in relative safety, whilst from an aesthetic point of view it is most pleasing. Marginals will allow flying insects, such as the pollinators, to gain some extra nectar/pollen, but also get them closer to the water without drowning. It can not be underestimated how much water bees need to cool their nests and in the case of honey bees, to produce their honey.
  • Boundaries – By boundary we mean the area around the pond, here it really depends on room, but I would consider above all else, if nothing else could be done, to go for a long grass edge. Quite honestly this is the best place for frogs, toads and newts, who spend most of their time on land. The long grass will provide a place for adult and emerging damsel, darter and dragon flies, plus many butterflies will start their lives off amongst the grass. If you can add some wildflowers then so much the better, the butterflies can both have a feed and lay their eggs. Other good ideas, space permitting, would be logs, stones and mud, all of which are very good for all sorts of insects and other beasties!

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Well, that just about wraps things up, but if you want as much wildlife as possible in your garden, then I can think of no better thing to complement the plants you buy from us than a pond, after all, all life on earth depends on water in some form or other. ‘But we haven’t any got room?’ Honestly, don’t worry, you’ll be amazed at what even a buried washing up bowl can attract! ‘Ponds are just not safe for children though, are they?’ What better way for a child to learn good pond safety rules than by having one? It may seem a bit lax, but I only ever let my boys go out when I’m with them, so if they do fall in (my oldest did once) I can just (and did) pull them out. If you’re really concerned though, you can always put a barrier around it, though preferably not over it, as it will keep the kids safe and allow the wildlife in.

One last thing, and I’m not normally one for native only, but I do have to say, that unlike pollinators who are not so fussy about where they get their nectar/pollen fix from, pond life is much more geared toward our native flora and will not lay their eggs in anything else, so if you want a quick list of plants to include, I’ve listed 5 good all round marginals below. I recently filled my pond up with various native pond plants from Lincs Pond Plants, (They don’t know I’m mentioning them) and I found them to be very helpful, delivering everything I wanted to a high quality – much like we do really!

Marginals

  • Myosotis scorpioides ‘forget me not’ (Newts, frogs, bees, butterflies, birds)
  • Menyanthes trifoliata ‘Bog bean’ (Newts, dragon flies)
  • Iris pseudacorus ‘Yellow flag’ (Newts, frogs, dragon flies & bees)
  • Sparganium erectum ‘Branched Bur Reed’ (Newts, dragon flies)
  • Mentha aquatica ‘Water Mint’ (Frogs, bees, butterflies, caterpillars)

Adam Young, a buzz & a flutter;

“Together we’re better; Let’s create a buzz!

Overcoming Obstacles To Present Opportunities!

It’s nearly time to trade again and we’re super excited, our first ever full growing season!

In this post we want to talk about what we’ll be doing and why, but first, we have to overcome some obstacles!

As those who have followed us know, we weren’t looking for a business, but one was born out of a concern to for nature. with limited space and money,

This presents some challenges, for example, how does a company with limited time, money and land go about its business, looking after living plants?

Well, read on and we’ll tell you how with our plans for the coming year, but first, let’s recap on last year.

We started operating on the first of May, with most of our plants being sold as 9cm potted plants. Plants at this size are excellent value if you have a large bed to fill as they can be planted straight away, but for us as a grower, they can quickly become pot bound if we don’t pot them on. Last year, with a late start, and therefore shorter growing window, that wasn’t an issue and we had plans to use unsold surplus stock at an allotment in a bid to help wildlife beyond our garden boundary. This year our growing window is longer, meaning we’ve had to think of a way to deal with this, especially as both garden and allotment are now full of lovely wildlife friendly plants. So, this year, our plan is as follows!

  • Plug Plants – Having invested in a mist propagation system with heat mats, we will be growing some plants from seed to sell as plug plants for sale. These will be very cheap due to having little expense and handling time, but they will have to be potted on into 9cm pots to grow on, before being able to plant out.
  • 9cm Potted Plants – Garden ready plants that should flower in the first year, looking great by the second. These are great value when large borders need to be filled.
  • 2/3 Litre Potted Plants – These will be at least a year old and will look great in an established border, being able to hold their own more in weedy plots and more able to resist an attack from pests. For instant impact you can’t beat these, and the birds, bees and butterflies will thank you too!

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So, we have limited space and money, but hopefully the above will give you an idea as to some of the things we’re doing to overcome the obstacles to present opportunities.

By growing from seed, we should be able reduce our costs and become less reliant on growers who set the market prices, whilst you, our customer, has the opportunity now to buy plug plants at a reduced cost, whilst getting all the pleasure of growing them on before planting them out. Hopefully, with plug plants being available earlier, we will generate the cash flow necessary to buy in extra stock of 9cm plants, getting round the plant breeders right issue, whilst also negating the lack of space to grow all of our own plants. Any left-over plug plants will go into 9cm pots to increase our range and be sold as a garden ready plant. Having the mist propagation system now means we’ll be in a position to take cuttings and raise divisions from mid-summer onwards. This is great news for us as it will mean we have plants ready the for following year.

9cm plants are a great size to us as we can overcome our space issue and offer a larger variety of plants at the same time, but again, as discussed, they will at some point need potting on, which is where space would then become an issue again, so basically, you must buy our plants!

Last year, providing a range of 2/3 litre this wasn’t an option, but this year we’ve made a nursery bed as it means that we can grow on our 9cm plants (some companies simply throw theirs away at the end of the year) and give you a more mature and established plant for the border, which is another way in which we are overcoming obstacles to present opportunities! One thing we are always concerned about is the environment, after all, we’re a wildlife friendly plant company, and part of our concern was to do with water. We have invested in a capillary style watering system. Plants will now have constant access to water, taking up only what they need and never going without, which results in a stronger, healthier plant!

Adam Young – a buzz & a flutter – “Together we’re better; Let’s create a buzz!

A Buzz & A Flutter Introduction

Hello, and welcome to a buzz & a flutter, the very best place for information and plants for attracting wildlife to your garden!

By now, it must be obvious to most people that wildlife is in trouble. Starlings, once seen murmurating in their tens of thousands are now down by about 66% since the 70’s; house sparrows, once so common in our gardens are down by 71% during that same time span; whilst  hedgehogs could be extinct within 10 years, meaning that sadly, neither of my boys, who are yet to see a hedgehog for real, are likely to see them past their teenage years. This is a huge problem and a real concern for me. It was because of this concern that I decided to start up a business, you see, my garden is already fully planted for wildlife and we do very well to attract a whole host of pollinators and birds in our built up Aldershot area, and whilst I have an allotment, that too is now fully planted up for pollinators as well, so I literally have no more space to make an impact myself, so the answer? Easy, start a business and sell you the plants so that you can do it for me! Yes, that’s right, every time you buy a plant from us we are contributing to wildlife in areas I may not ever visit, which means I am no longer limited by the amount of land I have. That is why I say that this business was born out of a’ cause for concern.’ I wasn’t looking for a business, but it became apparent that if I wanted to help nature beyond my own limitations and boundaries, then setting up a business that doesn’t just supply plants, but also provides a wealth of information, was the best way for me to not only help wildlife but educate and enthuse others to do so as well!

If there is one thing I really want to get across in this venture, it is that it is intended to be so much more than a business, the business is there to provide finances so that I can spend more time helping the wildlife I care so much about, that’s true, and is very important if something is to be sustainable, as nothing is free, but at the same time, we genuinely want people to feel like they have the knowledge and the confidence that comes from knowledge, to go out there and make a difference as well.

This started with the plight of Starlings, sparrows and the possibly soon to become extinct hedgehog, but the good news is, (and we need to hear good news if we are to have any hope) that we have seen some amazing comebacks with the help of countless volunteers and wildlife groups. Bitterns are booming, (yes that’s a pun!) great bustards are back on the Salisbury plains and perhaps the biggest success story of recent times, red kites are in their thousands, having only numbered about 100 birds. Now we might not have the plants here at a buzz and a flutter to help the bitterns and the kites, but we do have the information and the plants you need to help wildlife in your garden. So remember, “together we’re better; lets create a buzz!”

A Hidden World Revealed!

September comes, the first cold nights, in the day the sun is there, but something is different, a jumpers needed today, there’s a nip in the air, a dampness to the morning, if not an early frost, summer has slipped, autumn is here, you thought it would never come, but it has. The garden looks tired, a few flowers hang on, some even flower again, but you know deep down, the best is done, cold weather will make sure of that, but what joy for those who look, for there, in the undergrowth, a hidden world is being revealed. I say revealed, because it has always been there, we just weren’t aware of it, at least not till now, when suddenly, all around us, mushrooms appear!

Life Cycle of a Mushroom

Starting from spores which are dispersed from the gills of the mushroom, they find their way (hopefully) onto a substrate, or food source and begin to look for a mate. At this stage they are known as hypha, (singular) or hyphae (plural) and need to find a mate in order to reproduce, in much the same way a sperm and egg cell do, with both hypha containing 50% of the genetic code each.

It is after this stage, the finding and joining of a mate, that we get to the part we seldom see, the part that is in fact the main part, mycelium. Mycelium is an incredible structure, like roots of plants, or webs of silk, they branch out and seek after water and food. Some of these structures can be enormous, with the largest living organism being the mycelium of a honey fungus in Oregon, North America, and is suspected to be about 2.4m (3.8km) long! Mycelium is such an essential part of decomposition of waste/dead materials and it’s really only now we’re beginning to appreciate how effective and valuable they are, with potentially (more on this later) amazing uses for the future. Mycelium, once attached to the food source, begins to release enzymes that break down the matter so that it can be taken up as food. Once a food source has become depleted, or conditions such as humidity and temperature reach a certain level, the mycelium will begin to produce tiny pin heads known as primordia, from which will grow the vast array of mushrooms we see, where of course, the cycle repeats itself from the gills of the newly formed mushroom!

What is the Purpose of a Mushroom?

Well, not wanting to nit-pick, but as you can imagine, having read the above, the mushroom itself has only one goal, to reproduce, so it is almost a trick heading, but it is a truth that very few people know and is probably why so many people don’t know about the larger and longer mycelium stage, which is a bit unfair. Imagine being a human (you can do that can’t you?) that you were only known for your reproductive organ? Some say that I have such an organ on my head, but of course, we know that there is so much more to us than just a reproductive organ. So, what we need to do, is to look at the mycelium stage of which it spends most of its hidden life.

We know a little about worms, and a little about slugs and snails, but mycelium is actually even  more important in helping to break down waste than these. Imagine if you will again, a world where leaves and logs never broke down? Well, that would be the reality were it not for things like worms, bacteria, slugs, snails and mycelium. Mycelium is especially good at breaking down wood and things that the other living organisms can’t do, they are natures cleaners on a vast scale, taking out the dead, diseased and dying. But it is not all one way, it is not just funghi mafia, eating all that it wants with nothing given back in return, as there is an extraordinary, mutual for the most part, exchange that can go on between plants and funghi, through the form of mycorrhiza.

Mycorrhiza

Mycorrhiza as stated above, is when the fungus colonises the host plant, either through attaching or inserting itself to the plants roots, where it then begins a symbiotic relationship, with the plant giving sugars to the mycelium through mycorrhizal funghi, while the mycorrhizal funghi forms an almost secondary and extended root system for the plant, pulls nutrients and trace elements from much deeper down in the soil for the plant/tree to feed on. What is being discovered and is truly astounding, is that the relationship extends much further than simply exchanging sugars for nutrients, but actually forms a living line of communication between plants and trees! The mycorrhizal funghi, having attached itself, extends the area, and therefore the roots network to other parts of the soil, not just deep but wide, even into contact with other roots and mycelium, where information is exchanged on a chemical level via these networks, to warn of pest and disease threats, which then lead to the plant/tree (if able) to put in place the necessary measures to defend itself. So whilst we invented the world wide web, nature was already doing it through the mycelium web; truly astounding!! One other result of this network is that other trees and plants can exchange nutrients with each other as and when needed.

This sounds very good, but when the mycelium turns bad – the host gets it! It’s not yet fully understood what triggers the parasitising of a host, but when it does, the fungus literally eats its host alive, breaking it down using powerful enzymes to feed the mycelium that’s attached. This is probably one of the reasons why gardeners fear funghi, but quite honestly, the majority of funghi do not attack, but help our garden plants, whilst the chances are that not always, but almost certainly the case, the host has probably been weakened and in a state of three D’s, dead, diseased or dying. Like most things that are attacked, it is generally because they are under stress and therefore weak, hence the importance of right plant, right place.

One last note on mycorrhizal funghi is that there are two types, ECTOmycorrhizal and ENDOmycorrhzal, with ecto being typically formed from woody plants such as shrubs and trees. From a gardeners point of view, these are the most beneficial when it comes to growing fruit and veg, as they help extend their root system. The best way to look at it is as if the mycorrhizal funghi were a plug socket, which when connected to a plant root, supplies nearly all of its needs for nutrients and life. This is why having healthy, covered and un-dug soil, is the best thing for your garden, as every time you take a spade or fork to the garden, you risk breaking these untapped networks. Of course they will re-form and digging at times is necessary for planting out new plants, removing diseased ones, splitting up, Etc. but really, in terms of allotment style growing, where the veg is removed and the soil dug over to break its structure down, it is almost always unnecessary and more harmful, than applying a good few inches of mulch to protect the ground.

Interesting Facts About Mushrooms

  • Mushrooms produce vitamin D from sunlight.
  • They are closer in DNA to humans than plants.
  • Mycelium can eat harmful substances.
  • Funghi produces antibiotics (they’re single celled) to fight off harmful bacteria and protect its food source.
  • White mushrooms, button mushrooms and portobello mushrooms are the same species, but at varying cycles of their life.

What Are The Future Uses For Mushrooms?

Believe it or not, there won’t be anywhere near as much space as there is needed for this subject to be discussed here, such are the immense amount of uses for funghi, but one future use could be to make bricks, which has a structure more dense than wood, from straw and mycelium. Another use will be in making new antibiotics, with many medicines using mushrooms in various ways already. Two areas though, that are getting scientists very excited are around their uses with oil and radioactive waste. Believe it or not, they think they have found a funghi that eats oil and radioactive waste, that if harnessed, could be used for the clean up of some of the most damaging disasters the world faces today. Without going too scientific, funghi could be used (non-sporulating) to kill and prevent insect pests. Really, I could go on and on, but there are so many uses for them and the thought of having oil spills cleaned not with harmful chemicals, which are simply a lesser of the evil it’s cleaning, but with biological controls without trace is truly remarkable.