Category Archives: nature

Seaton Hiking Trail

My British blood means that there is a very specific range of temperatures between which I am comfortable and willing to leave the house. That range falls between one-degree with several jumpers and about room temperature with slightly less jumpers. Anything outside of this range and I would rather be hibernating like an angry bear. However, autumn is soon upon us, and so revives my hiking.

ASeaton Trail Maplthough I would like to get back to my self-imposed springtime challenge of walking the length of The Don (read about that here), over the last couple of days, I have been walking The Seaton Trail.

The trail is located north-west of Toronto. It is about 13km (8 miles) long. There is a logistical issue with this trail that will make it more difficult than The Don.  There is no public transport. I will have to park my car, walk some trail, but then walk back to my car, thus doubling the length of the trail. At the time of writing, I have walked about half of the trail in two short days.

Day One

The Northern end of the trail begins just off Highway 7, east of York Durham Line (for Brits, this is the road that splits York “county” and Durham “county”). It’s about 30 minutes drive from where I live and there is a small parking area which was about three-quarters full when I arrived around 2pm.

jewelweedAs I began making my through the dirt trail, I rounded a marshy area with a small creek which was lined with Spotted Jewelweed, a yellow./orange flower speckled with darker spots. I was thinking to myself that they reminded me somewhat of the Snapdragon plant that is familiar to me from England, when I spotted a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird drink from one of the conical flowers, as silent and elusive as a wisp. It quickly zipped away, followed by a second hummingbird.

stairsI marched onwards. The terrain is easy, but there are occasional wooden steps to navigate as the trail rises up the valley walls, carved by the West Duffins Creek and the retreat of the Glacial Lake Iroquois which formed the water systems throughout Ontario around 13,000 years ago.

whitevalewaterfallThe weather was a little damp with occasional spitting rain, and so animal life was sparse, beyond a few brave Chickadees and an obstinate Crow. The trail ended at Whitevale Road due to bridge construction, but my GPS unit, with the trail marked on my map, showed that the trail had a loop. I took the other loop back to the start of the trail and eventually came to Whitevale Pond and a waterfall. A re-visit to this area during the spring of 2016 is called for, as I have since heard that Salmon make their return journey along this waterway, attempting to jump the waterfall. I disturbed a beautiful, prehistoric looking Great Blue Heron as I made my way around the pond. He flapped lackadaisically away towards some distant perch.

whitevalepond

Day Two

I returned from where I had left off, near to Whitevale Road, about a week later. I was apprehensive at first. It was a whopping 26 degrees out, way above my usual threshold, but the day turned out to be a perfect for a walk in the woods.

I walked through the dew covered grass of Whitevale Park towards the trail, which was beautifully sun-dappled, thanks to the Maple and Fir. Each time a range of denser Fir began, the sound of scalding chickadees fluttered through the forest and the squealing, squeaking alarm of chipmunks as they would dash impulsively to the nearest tree. From their vantage point on the offside of a tree trunk, they would freeze, staring at you, almost certain that they were invisible to your threat.

fernforest

Into the denser woodland, the floor coated in pine needles and fern, a distant, gentle “queedle” of two Blue Jays, a bird now considering its southward migration before the arrival of the unrelenting snow. Off the trail, the trees mostly left to their devices, some felled birch trees, their silver bark like wallpaper for the ground. Somewhere close by, a nuthatch, his unmistakable nasal report.

Several American Red Squirrels were fighting over the right to acorns and territories, all the better to store their horde for the harsher times ahead. No time to waste. As the trees thinned out, banks coated with Bur-Marigold were enjoyed by the community of bees, a species we now love but maligned for so long. And then, on top of a ridge, a vista of the creek.

vistacreek

The trail turned towards some open fields. Lined to the right by expired maize, to the left, apple trees whose deposited fruit sweetly perfumed the air. The trickling sound of the river, like a babbling brook, its sound emanating from the shallow riverbed of stones, rounded from decades of erosion.

daisyBeside the trail, some areas overtaken by white, yellow and purple weeds, Daisy Fleabane, Aster and Goldenrod, beloved by the insects that made this their home. Cabbage White Butterflies flew excitedly around, battling gentle breezes. A pale-yellow bodied dragonfly with neon blue wings.

I turned back once I reached Whites Road. There is parking here, so I will continue on at a later date. On my way back along the trail, back up in to the open fields, a pair of Turkey Vultures soared the hillside thermals in search of, perhaps, an unlucky squealing chipmunk. Some time later, back towards my car, a flash of yellow and a streak of black. A warbler, but my binoculars were in the car. A Blackburnian Warbler, I fancied. One of my favourites.

Parts 3 and 4? to follow.

Day One GPS Tracks: http://alltrails.com/tracks/sun-13-sep-2015-13-18
Day Two GPS Tracks: http://alltrails.com/tracks/fri-18-sep-2015-15-37

The Don River East Part One

20150416_100457So far, I have chronicled my walk along Taylor-Massey Creek, a tributary of The Don River (see here). Following on from this, I then walked south from the confluence of the creek and The Don River, to where the river empties into Lake Ontario (see here).

On Wednesday 15th April, I started from the same spot from where I had begun in my last post: where Taylor-Massey Creek enters The Don. This time, however, I would head up-river, to the north.

The Don River is formed from two branches, imaginatively named The East Don River and The West Don River. The split is actually just a few hundred yards away from where Taylor-Massey joins the East branch, and where I finished my first hike.

This hike was all a bit last minute, really. I had the day off work, but had a couple of errands. One of them involved a visit to the passport office at Scarborough Town Centre, and anyone that has had the misfortune to face this particular strain of torture knows that the time taken to have an application form transcribed by a stern and yet somehow glaze-eyed operator, can take anywhere between 45 minutes and 45 hours. I didn’t really plan ahead, and when it only took an hour or so to wade through the treacle that is City of Toronto corporate entropy, I just drove straight to the river.

First problem: There was no marked trail
Second problem: There was no marked trail
I know that this is technically the same problem written twice, but I feel that it was such a issue, that it deserved repeating.

20150416_101539When I parked my car, I took a look at Google Maps on my useless Samsung S4 and its freezing issue that takes hold at the most infuriating moments, and I immediately noticed the lack of the tell-tale little grey pathway that I assumed would be beside the river. I double checked the maps on my Garmin GPS, and my fate was sealed.

Oh well. I got out of the car and walked up to the river bank and pointed my face on a northerly course. While there was no marked trail, people had trod a path in this direction, and so I followed it. At least, I did for about ten minutes. And then the path died. The river was a ‘proper’ river. It meandered. I had walked further south along The Don a week or so earlier, and most of the banks were man-made slabs of concrete meant to prevent erosion, but not very pleasant to look at. Here, the environment was commanded by The East Don and so was the trail.

20150416_102801It didn’t help that railway tracks ran through the area. These damn tracks would continue to haunt me throughout this trek, starting now. I didn’t like the tracks. I didn’t know what they were used for, and as a Brit, the very last thing I wanted was for a Go Train to appear from nowhere, with its thunderous air-horn blaring into my skull announcing to everyone in the greater Don Valley area that I was the biggest prick in the locale. It’s telling that looking like a prick is a bigger concern than being hit by a train.

As mentioned, this trip was not planned. As such, my cellphone/mobile was only half-charged and whatever energy that remained would be pissed away by my phone’s insistence on heating up like a cinder block in my pocket. So it was with fleetness that I looked at various map sources to figure out the exact purpose of the tracks I was walking along thus which train it would be that filled my final moments. I was left unilluminated, so at least the type and colour of the train would be a surprise. I traversed the tracks a few more times, become more keenly aware that I hadn’t seen a train for almost an hour and so one must careen through at any moment.

deer

A couple of white-tailed deer on the opposite side of the river

A couple of times, the trail just completely disappeared. I was left almost literally bush-whacking. I lost sight of the river on two occasions and suddenly became aware of how easy it is to lose your orientation when you are surrounded by trees. This was only a small area, but I still needed to pull out my Garmin in compass mode to figure out where the hell north had gone. Without a compass, I would likely have given up thinking that I had reached a dead end. In reality, I was facing east without realising it. What I actually needed to do was to cross those damn tracks again.

The trail had started at just north of Don Mills Road and St. Clare Avenue, and it continued in this vein until just south of Eglinton Avenue…. at which point, my ability to follow the river became even harder. This was the first example of private enterprise ruining my plans, and it wouldn’t be the last. Something that annoys the hell out of me is that in Canada, it’s actually not that easy to point at a geographically interesting feature on a map and then just make your way to it and walk around it. Most of the time, the land is private and there is no access. To UK readers, this probably sounds crazy and Canadian readers are likely thinking, “Yes, and?”. In The UK, there are a collection of lawful acts, which essential boil down to the fact that you pretty much have the right to roam.

bmxDonalda Golf Club greedily monopolises the land surrounding The East Don River, starting just south of Eglinton. This was not too much of a problem to begin with, as I stuck to the east, and the golf course was to the west. Although it did require navigating a rickety, elevated BMX stunt course. (Twice, because it just led to a swamp). I had to return and follow the lethal train tracks, again, this time under the bridge carrying Eglinton Avenue, where there were no places to escape a train. I closed my eyes and ran.

North of Eglinton, there was a more obvious (but still unmaked) trail, which I think was probably made by BMXers. This was the most awesome part of the trail where I almost felt like Stu the Don Valley Pioneer. I didn’t see or hear a single person until I hit Lawrence. The terrain was varied, the river was always close by, and this is exactly the kind of hike I love. The river continued to meander, and there were some great views. To celebrate, I took the opportunity to eat my Oatmeal Raisin cookie from Tim Hortons.

Don East

A little south of Lawrence, the unmarked trail I was walking, joins a tarmac’d trail that runs through the Charles Sauriol Conservation Area. This is a park area owned by the city with a variety of habitats and a few posted information signs about the fauna.This was a pleasant area and a work in progress, but considerably less profitable than a golf course, I can imagine.

North of Lawrence, everything started to go wrong. There was no obvious trail to follow. Donalda Golf Club swallowed the entire river. “No Trespassing” signs were posted liberally and without shame. I was forced to walk along Lawrence Avenue and then north on Don Mills. Multiple times, I tried to re-join the river, but each time I was greeted by “THOU SHALT NOT PASS” signs, God forbid that a retired member of the gentry should pause his drive. But where is the money in allowing the hoi polloi the walk through the course? As I approached York Mills Road, traversing the residential streets of the area, it was clear that the one thing that wasn’t in short supply, was money.

My hike petered out at this point. I was stuck on road filled with cars and a beating sun. I didn’t have a bus token or the correct fare in my pocket and I, quite exhausted, dragged myself to Fairview Mall at Don Mills and Sheppard so that I could break a $10 bill. I took the bus back to my car.

Below is a video showing my route. You can see me double back a couple of times where I either lost my way or reached a dead end. The GPS turns off near highway 401, which is where I will leave off from in part two.
Note: Some browsers prevent the video from showing. If you can’t see it, click here.

Total distance covered was 22km/13 miles. Around 27,000 steps.

Part two to follow.

Bluffer’s Park

Bluffer’s Park is on the coastline of Lake Ontario. The Scarborough Bluffs (cliffs – kinda) are named after those in Scarborough, Yorkshire by Elizabeth Simcoe.Bluffer's park

I took a quick walk along the trail that heads east from the main ‘beach’ parking lot/car park, onto the beach. The trail continues west from the same parking area, but I was performing a flying visit to try out my new GPS unit I recently splurged on. You can see a 3D video of my walk using the data from my GPS unit.

I’ve been to Bluffer’s Park dozens of times, as it’s just down the road from where I live, and the erosion is pretty startling. I’m sure in the 7 years I have lived here, there is a visible difference. The houses built on top appear increasingly precarious. Some of the erosion is from rainwater, running down towards the lake (and causing a few muddy areas).

April is fairly early in the year, so the park was quiet when I visited. There were a few of the usual boy-racers who seem to think that this is an appropriate place to share their music with the people least interested in hearing it (which is the point and source of their pleasure – that and the in-car sex that happens in the evenings). I imagine that coming here earlier in the day avoids these people who are unable to prise themselves out of bed.

In grassy areas at this time of year, you’ll see dozens of robins. Near the parking area, the bluffs are covered in little pock-marks, but on closer inspection, these are actually the nests of a migrating colony of cliff swallows that can be seen closer to summer. The beach is usually covered in ring-billed gulls, and you can sometimes see ducks like mallards, buffleheads etc… and double-crested Cormorant regularly pass The Bluffs on their way to a huge colony, nearby. Other backyard/garden birds are common. From late spring to early fall, warblers can be seen. Also, many raptors pass by. Especially during migration.

My walk was soured slightly by an incident with a middle-aged pair of women who could not control their dogs. Dogs are not allowed off-leash (off the lead? off-collar?) on city property, except in designated areas, and it is exactly because of people like this that everyone else has to leash/collar their dogs. I was walking along the beach near to the cliffs, when I heard rustling. I thought it was running water, but then I saw movement coming from overgrown bushes with a gap under them that looked like some kind of den. A dog came running out and for a second, I honestly thought it was a coyote (jackal-like), until another fat black dog came trundling from behind. The dogs bothered a few people while their owners yelled at the unconvincingly. At one point, they bounded up to me. The smaller coyote looking dog bit me on the back of the leg. The owners were too far away, too disengaged. There’s no point complaining. The dogs will be put down instead of the owners 😉

Couple of older pictures from Bluffer’s Park:

Marina 2008

Bluffer’s Park marina, 2008

White-tailed Deer 2012

White-tailed Deer 2012

Lower Don Mills

Lower Don mapThe Don River empties into Lake Ontario where The Don Valley Parkway joins The Gardiner Expressway and Lakeshore Boulevard. Or if you’re from England – a few miles east of downtown/the city centre. Around 9km (5.6 miles) upstream, The Taylor-Massey Creek joins The Don River. I walked much of the Taylor-Massey Creek a couple of weeks ago, and you can read about that here. North of confluence, The Don River splits into East and West branches. Those branches eventually lead to The Oak Ridges Moraine (a system formed during the previous ice age that I’ll maybe write about another time). This particular hike covers the area where I last finished off – where The Taylor-Massey Creek joins The Don, heading south to Lake Ontario. The blue dotted line in the map opposite.

Don River 1I decided to make the trek along the Don River on April 1st, which may indeed have been foolish, as according to the forecast the previous day, rain showers were forecast for around 2pm. I figured I could manage it by setting off at 8am, but the day turned grey pretty quickly.

The weather is my excuse for all the photos turning out kinda grey and miserable looking, but honestly, the Lower Don Trail is nothing like as nice as the one running through Taylor Creek Park. It is more urban and the trees seem to have sustained more damage from the Toronto Ice Storm of 2013. You’re also never too far from The Don Valley Parkway on this trail.

The Don River was named by Lt. Gov. Simcoe because it reminded him of The River Don in Yorkshire (he also named Scarborough under the same reasoning). In the late 19th Century, the river was heavily polluted by the industry that had built up along its banks, including a paper mill at Todmordon Mills and The Don Valley Brickworks, at one time both operated by the Taylor Family mentioned in my earlier post. The mill at Todmordon Mills was restored into a museum and arts centre and The Don Valley Brickworks is a park and community and cultural centre.

Lower Don River 2

Many trees remain damaged from The 2014 Ice Storm

There have been efforts to restore the quality of The Don River, and in areas where wetland habitat has been created, there were signs of life. A few Red-winged Blackbirds cheeped their territorial calls, and a couple of pairs of Northern Cardinals were engaged in a quarrel. I also heard the verse of several Song Sparrow. Although I didn’t have time to explore Crothers Woods, it is a designated sensitive natural area.

20150325_092508North Toronto Wastewater Treatment Plant (i.e. Sewarage works) releases water into The Don River as shown opposite. They must be doing a good job of filtering the water. A group of Mallards and a lonely Bufflehead seemed to enjoy swimming through it.

I began to speed up my walk as I passed the halfway mark and the time was approaching noon. A more recent weather prediction was calling for rain… anytime now. I didn’t really have a plan to escape the trail in the event of a downpour, and I didn’t really want to quit now.

Lover Don River 4The Prince Edward Viaduct System (a.k.a The Bloor Viaduct) is named after King Edward VIII (Price Edward at the time of naming). It carries traffic on top and the Bloor-Danforth subway line below that. It was another messy construction area as I passed, but just beyond it was a grass pasture filled with dozens of American Robins, scuttling around like children playing Grandmother’s Footsteps/Red Light, Green Light, (What Time is it Mr Wolf/What’s the Time, Mr Wolf). I then immediately entered a dank tunnel plastered in graffiti.

Lower Don River 5Progressing, as the rain began to spit down, the trail became increasingly urban. Foot and road bridges began spanning the river, including the arteries of Gerrard, Dundas and Queen, followed by Eastern Avenue. Due to the tidal effect on Lake Ontario, The Don appeared to be running in the opposite direction at this point. A pair of Mute Swans took advantage, ambling upstream. The CN Tower was never too far out of sight, now. I crossed some freight rail tracks/train tracks in increasingly heavy rain before the trail detoured due to, you guessed it, more construction.

Mouth of The Don River

For the last few hundred yards, I was forced on to the sidewalk/pavement and under the crumbling Gardiner Express, the rusty iron that once lived inside the concrete structure ominously visible. Finding my way back to the river, I saw (as Wikipedia aptly describes the scene) The Don River unceremoniously dumping itself into Lake Ontario, still a little frozen in places.

I took the TTC/bus back to the car… Looking for a brighter adventure next time!

Taylor-Massey Creek Trail

Spring is here and so my hiking escapades have begun. Last Wednesday, I took a walk along part of The Taylor Massey Creek. I used to live beside this creek when I first moved to Canada and lived with my Grandmother-in-law. The creek (stream) runs behind her house (and was excellent at helping to attract birds to the garden).

Taylor Massey MapThe Taylor-Massey Creek starts at Pharmacy, just south of the 401 where storm water run-off enters a couple of ponds. While still narrow, it runs mostly south along a hydro-corridor (government land that over-ground power-lines run through) before, unfortunately, disappearing through private land and then underground until it reappears around Eglinton Avenue, through Pine Hills Cemetery (good birding!) and then through Warden Woods Park. It becomes inaccessible for a stretch through a golf course, before entering Taylor-Massey Park. Eventually it joins The Don River.

The Creek is named after the Taylor family, who emigrated to Upper Canada from Uttoxeter, Staffordshire. Originally living in Vaughan, they moved to what is now Toronto in 1834, ran a paper mill on the Don River and helped pioneer the use of wood pulp, instead of rags, as a paper source.

Daniel Massey, whose parents were from Cheshire before they emigrated to Massachusetts and later Upper Canada, was a blacksmith in Newcastle, Ontario. He founded the Newcastle Foundry and Machine Manufactory company in 1847. His son, Hart Massey, moved the annamassey_davidjasoncompany to Toronto. It has merged or been bought several times, but farming equipment bearing the name Ferguson-Massey is still made today by AGCO. Hart Massey was a philanthropist whose will helped to create the Massey Foundation in 1918. The Ferguson-Massey company funded the building of Massey Hall, which was later renovated using Massey Foundation funds. Hart’s grandson, Vincent Massey, was Governor General of Canada between 1952-1959. He founded Massey College and The Massey Lectures. Some of the descendants for the family have been actors in The UK (Anna Massey – Darling Buds of May, Daniel Massey – The Devil’s Advocate) and Canada (Walter Massey).

I have walked most of the length of the Taylor-Massey Creek before, where possible.,This time I walked from the golf course to where the creek enters the Don River. It was pretty quiet with just a few dog walkers and not much bird activity. Male Red-winged Blackbirds have begun to appear (they claim territory early in the mating season before the females also return from their southern migration). There were lots of active Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, a few nuthatches and a plethora of Black-Capped Chickadees.

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My next plan is to walk the length of the Don River to where it enters Lake Ontario. Stay tuned….!

Bestview Park

leafpathTook a ride/trip over to Bestview Park after hearing reports of a Pileated Woodpecker in the area. The park is located at the northern edge of The Greater Toronto Area at Bayview Drive, south of Steeles. I walked south through the park, through woodland, along a trail that follows The Don River. I spotted a couple more salmon, though they were about as active as a pair of bricks. Probably a good spot for next year, as there was a dam that would require jumping.

No joy finding the Pileated Woodpecker, but did see a few Downy Woodpeckers and possibly a Hairy Woodpecker – couldn’t be sure. Although the end of Fall/Autumn is in sight, the colours are still beautiful.

At one point, a hawk (a red-tailed hawk, I believe) swooped overhead.

hawk

autumntree

 

Salmon Hunting

I’m a little late, but I decided to try to spot me some salmon heading up-stream before Toronto descends into her winter slumber. Next year, I’ll go a little earlier, to try to catch them jumping. As it is, I spotted a few Chinook Salmon lazily circling near Bluffer’s Park, Scarborough.This ugly fellow, black because it’s male and in his up-stream hopped out the water a bit to get a better look at me.

salmon

trumpeterswanThere was also a bevy of Trumpeter Swans (what a great collective noun), which aren’t found in The UK. (Note the black bill, with no knob on the bill like the Mute Swan). I’ve seen these before, they’re not particularly rare, but hadn’t seen them in a while. These ones were tagged in the area and the same female has also been spotted in the Toronto Islands area in the past.

bluffs

England Trip 2014

I just enjoyed 10 days in England and, while there, I was told a few times that I need to post more pictures of my day-to-day shenanigans. In turn, I began to think that I really ought to blog a little more. This is about the 5th reprise of this site. Hello, again.

Last time I visited my home-country was in 2012 and that was for my brother’s wedding. This time I was going to visit my new-born niece, Aliya, but there would also be a little more time to be a tourist. And I do feel like a bit of a tourist in England now. I’ve been in Canada for seven years. Time flies.

Landing in Birmingham was a little hairier than I was previously used to, as Hurricane Gonzalo was dissipating, but still making its presence felt. The plane was banking from side-to-side in gusting winds just feet from the runway. I’m usually pretty comfortable flying, but I did grip the arm rest a little extra hard. The touchdown ended up being incredibly gentle, and there was a little muted applause from other passengers.

My first day back in England was mostly relaxed. I popped into my old home-town of Kidderminster to buy a UK simcard for my phone, mostly so that I had data without paying through the nose for roaming. I got a simcard for about half the price I pay in Canada and got more features – just sayin’. Later that day, I got to meet my new niece, Aliya. She is tiny, at 6 weeks premature, and looks startlingly like by brother.

Day two was a visit to Merry Hill. Shopping in England is generally done on the high street, but there are shopping malls and Merry Hill is one of them – though it is affectionately known as Merry Hell to many. My Mum was terrified of buying any clothes for my upcoming birthday, so she patiently followed me around dozens of shops, many revisited, while we searched high and low for the perfect jacket. I didn’t even know what I wanted. I think I drove her and my wife completely nuts by the time we were done. We stopped off at an ASDA Cafe (Walmart type store which often includes a cafe) and had some pretty dire food. I had a burger for £4.50 ($8) which is cheap, but the patty was so dry, I think it may have been found on the floor. But then, ASDA Cafes aren’t aimed at me. They are aimed at old people who have lost their sense of taste and like to sit together at table and reminisce about the good old days of rationing.

imageDay three consisted of a long walk from my Mum’s house, along the River Severn, to my step-grand parents and then back again, via Stourport town centre. The River Severn is the longest river in England and it’s a great place to spot birds… though maybe less so at this time of year. We did see a Kingfisher, though. The River Stour and The Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal also both run through Stourport, so there are lots of canal boats/narrow boats. Interconnected canals and rivers mean you can get pretty much anywhere in the country in one of these, and some people even live in them.

imageDay four was spent with my Dad in Worcester, the county town of Worcestershire, as you may well intuit. It is home to an impressive cathedral (which we didn’t visit this time) and Worcester Guildhall, the local government building (which we popped into). The walls are lined with paintings of Worcester’s past mayors. The weather wasn’t so kind, so after grabbing a few bits and pieces, we were on our way.

image

imageOn day five, we attempted to go for a quick walk behind my Dad’s house. He has long garden that stretches back, descends several levels and eventually comes out, via a wire gate, into some woods. It reminds me of The Secret Garden by Frances Burnett. There are fresh water springs in the woods, wooded areas, ponds and openfields – but it had been raining and has become a little overgrown, so we didn’t have much look. Later, we went in to Birmingham City Centre, had a greasy breakfast, did some shopping, visited the new Birmingham Library and stood around like tourists taking pictures of Birmingham City Hall.

On day seven, we took a trip from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth on the Severn Valley Railway, a heritage steam railway line still decorated in a Victorian style. We enjoyed a market in Bridgnorth, but the point is the train experience which is, of course, a peculiarly British thing to enjoy.

Day eight was my birthday. It began with another walk along the river and then another through Wyre Forest, one of the largest ancient woodlands in Britain. Not the best time of year for animal/bird spotting, be mostly saw a variety of tits (relatives of the chickadee and titmouse). We went to a local pub for my birthday.

Day nine, we travelled into Wales to go Red Kite spotting. We took a scenic route that would take us through the Clee Hills in Shropshire, near the Worcestershire border. Sheep roam freely and there are good views of patchwork green, even in the drizzly rain we had.

image

Red Kites almost became extinct in The UK because of poisoning, nest destruction and egg theft, but have made a comeback thanks to conservation efforts. We went to a farm where these birds have been fed meat for a number of years. It was pretty startling to see so many, though we missed the bulk of the action due to a cock-up based on daylight savings time changing a couple of days earlier!  Note: not my photo.

Our remaining full day in England was spent re-visiting Kidderminster and Worcester to try to pick up a few bargains on clothes, which are generally cheaper in England… at least at value end of the market 😉
I spent a bit too much, I expect… based on having to mess around with my case at the airport, to get it down to the correct weight.

 

Balcony Gardening Update 3

Killer BeansThere has been a lot of progress in the last few days, especially with my killer beans!  There is one bean plant in particular, the main one in this image, that sprouted and grew in no time at all. In the left third of this planter, I had lettuce. I figured that it must have failed and so I replanted it (less deep) on April 6th. The lettuce is just starting to sprout. I must have dropped a seed as there is one shoot poking up right beside a bean, so I may have to transplant.

I have rotated the planter 180 degrees for the above photo, but you can see how they would all be leaning towards the bright window guzzling up the sun. Not that there has been much sun in the last few days. A large tree branch was felled in the storm during the early hours of Thursday. The weather needs to improve soon….

Parsley 2

My parsley is looking better than in the last post where I think I was close to losing it. I am watering more regularly. Maybe 20 or more water bottle sprays, 10 or so in the morning and 10 in the evening. Trying to remember the mantra my brother gave me, “Moist but not soaked”. My oregano completely failed, but again, I think I planted too deep in the soil. I have replanted them and will keep an eye out. I’m not sure about my basil. It looks like it is doing okay, but a couple of shoots are struggling. I’m going to try watering in their vicinity a little more to see if that revives them. Their growth seems to have slowed down, too.

cherry tomatoes

My cherry tomatoes are going well and the stronger plants are on their way to growing their second pair of leaves. I worry about the weather because it’s still awful and these plants will outgrow their peat pellets soon. Incidentally, I did grow a few beans in these pellets which I have had to transport already, as the roots were growing out through the fabric and even into neighbouring plants.

peas

I started these peas in peat pellets, too. I’m not sure how I feel about the peat pellets. The peppers I planted are showing no signs of life and about a third of the peas I planted failed. The tomatoes are doing well in peat pellets, but some of the beans, which are supposed to be easy, also failed in them… but maybe it’s down to the apartment being cold. On the rare occasions I put the heat on for an extended time, the plants that are doing well seem to do even better.

spring onionMy spring onions have had a growth spurt over the last week and so have my carrots. I have two carrot containers. One is a large pot I was given and the other is a random paint bucket that was filled with filthy water. The pot is doing better, but both are coming on fairly well. Pretty much 100% of the spring onions have sprouted. I try not to be too much of a brand fanboy, but I am bearing in mind that everything that I planted first time around (except peat pellets) was planted in Miracle-Gro soil and later stuff, which has been less successful so far, was planted in “Selection” branded “black earth” for about half the price.

Coming up:
I’m going to plant more peas as only 4 seeds have made it so far.
In 2-4 weeks from now, I am going to plant radishes.
Hoping to see life in peppers very soon else I will plant more
Hoping to see more from my lettuce and the snapdragon flowers (replanted after failure)

Also the “whack load” more peas and beans that I mentioned planting in my last post are doing very little… What happen?!

First Sprouts

First bean sprouting

Following on from my first balcony gardening post, Adventures in Balcony Gardening, here is a progress update! This image to the left is of one of my beans sprouting. This is in a planter containing 6 beans in total and a few lettuce seeds (which will take longer to show signs of life.. though I’m not sure exactly how long!)

Basil sproutingMy herbs are also beginning to show, now. This green pot plant is from the dollarstore! It’s a kit for newbs like me. It contains the seeds, soil and pot with brief instructions. There’s a green pot (basil), blue (parsley) and red (oregano). I’m watering these with a spray bottle – 20-30 sprays per day, depending on how much the sun dries it out. As I mentioned, everything is currently indoors and sat on my windowsill.

It will need to grow more and warm up outside before I put them out on the balcony. The temperature is still flirting close to 0 degrees during the night.

Parsley sprouts

The parsley is looking pretty feeble. I’m resisting the temptation to over water it, though.

I have gathered together a whole load more pots over the last few days and was off work today… so I have now planted a whack load more beans and peas. I have around 30 beans planted now!

Will need to look up some bean recipes 😀