Snakes On A Compost

Ok, so it should be ‘in’ a compost. I couldn’t resist the movie nod however Samuel L Jackson’s tough guy is not required here.

Mr T was digging out the first compost bay and turning it in to the second whilst I was doing the day job. If something interesting crops up then he will always text me  a ‘look what I found’…’did you know’…’look what I made’… message.  You get the idea.

Mid July a few photos appeared. Something reptilian was lurking in the compost. Mr T had noticed lots of burrowed holes networking the bays which made sense when a beautiful  snake  was unearthed and quickly made a swift exit out of one bay and in to another.

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He had seen them last year but only briefly before they slithered away to their hiding places. Never enough time to shout for me so I could see them for myself. Was this one a grass snake or a slow worm?  (Oh, no need to help me out here. I know a slow worm is a lizard. I’m on it dear reader ; )

I’m not squeamish about snakes or reptiles in general. My 70s childhood is full of memories toddling after one tan and one black tortoise that patrolled our little garden drawing in the neighbours to giggle at their shell bashing shenanigans. When Leslie died and then Esme was stolen (grrr!) we purchased Marigold from the local pet shop. A handsome girl with a hot temper. She was one of the last spur tortoises imported for the British pet market. Of course, I am so glad they no longer do this but she has had a great life and continues to create mayhem and carnage in my parents garden. Toes must be protected from her determined nips on a hot day when she comes stealthily under the garden table. All visitors are duly warned.

My point to this walk down memory lane, is that I am rather at home with creatures of a scaly nature. Despite risking the neighbours whispering ‘that weird woman is staring at her compost again’ I do spend time down there in the sad hope I might cop a glance of old Natrix Natirx.

Another photo popped up.

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Last year I recall The Anxious Garden blogging about grass snake eggs in the compost. We didn’t find any in ours but this year has been altogether different. Mr T luckily uncovered these by a well placed dig of the spade which caused the compost to gently drop away exposing the clutch. No broken eggs, phew! Perhaps the snake that sped away was mum? Mr T made note of the position of the eggs in the bay and carefully moved them in to the same position in the next bay. There is, of course, a risk that exposing them to air temperatures and moving them will cause the eggs to fail but we can hope. Marigold laid eggs the summer she came to live with us. Perfectly round ping pong balls in her straw nest in the garden. With research we moved them to a sand box in the airing cupboard and with eagerness an eleven year old Miss T inspected them daily for a glimmer of baby tortoise that might arrive. A tiny shell could be seen developing inside one egg but sadly it wasn’t to be. No mini Marigolds appeared. I do hope this won’t be the outcome for our snakelets (neolate is just too sciency don’t you think?) and that they hatch to help the population continue since they are in a worrying decline.

Another photo arrived.

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What a beauty. I know many of you will have seen them too but I do find it thrilling to know that something so exotic is slithering around in our little patch.

The end note to this blog is how this snake sighting did bring about a little nervousness in the household of The Trug. Last year Mr T came across a snake in the compost which we guessed was a grass snake.  This year’s identification has made us certain that last year’s visitor was definitely an Adder. Sadly he wasn’t able to snap a shot of it before it disappeared but from now on a healthy dose of respect will be exercised when moving logs and various bits and bobs down there in the copse if Adders are making it their home.

Take care through that long grass. Who knows what you might come across…

Missss Trug

 

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Compost Under Construction

The new old house came with its own compost bays. Two massive bays actually brim full of black gold! The previous owners must have worked hard to fill it as there was plenty of good compost ready to go and you can tell, when digging the flower borders, that over the years a great deal has been added to break up the heavy soil.

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As you can see Mr Trug emptied the left hand bay barrow by barrow for me to mulch around the garden with the gorgeous, dark, sweet smelling stuff. The borders under the house front windows looked velvety and well-tended instantly. Great for suppressing the weeds and it perked up the plants there no end. What I didn’t want to use for the time being was bagged up for now and set aside for autumn mulching. However, another bay was still full.

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You can see that these bays were pretty much cobbled together from bits of this and that. It didn’t look very attractive and although hidden behind some carefully placed Mahonia and Holly bushes when viewed from the top of the orchard it wasn’t pleasant to come across when following the path round in to the copse. This was our chance to change the location of the compost. After some discussions it made sense to move it up to to the top right hand corner of the copse. It’s very shady and wooded there so hard to dig and I am sure and I am guessing equally hard to cultivate in terms of attractive planting.

After some swotting up in books and online we decided on four smaller bays where the collected debris could be placed and shredded in one and then move from bay to bay as it degrades with the final bay being the oldest.

Over to Mr Trug to construct. Digging out the ivy was hard work and we are sure not all of it has gone. Something we are going to have to keep dealing with we know.

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Decking boards were the cheapest and hardiest to use. Routed posts allow the boards to be slid in and out easily to make bigger bays, or leave air gaps between each board.

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Nearly there.

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Nearly there.

Bays complete, he then dug out the old full bay and filled one new one straight away turning the compost ready for it to brew a little longer. We weren’t too concerned about disturbing any little Tiggy Winkles as the old bays were made of sheet metal and pretty impenetrable but a pile of leaves and lawn cuttings have been left alone until the spring just in case any have snuggled down in there for the winter.

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At the moment the boards are open. An experiment by Mr T to see how this cultivates the compost (or not).

New material already gathered that isn’t too thick is mown before heading in to the bay. We’ve been borrowing my parents shredder but had to give it back. One is on the Christmas list for Santa.

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Good for the compost, maybe not so good for the mower.

We inherited a massive fallen Ash which is currently perched awkwardly in the ‘v’ of another neighbouring Ash in Witchy Woods behind the new compost bays (you can just see it leaning in the corner of one of the photos below). We’ve been clearing the huge swags of ivy that look suspiciously part of the reason the tree came down, ready to eventually take the tree out for firewood, and in our clearing found some buried pieces of old fencing.

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Maybe once it bordered the whole property but there were only a few left, two being curved, abandoned and half buried. They’ve even got some pretty twists attached for decoration. I’m guessing Victorian as only they would have gone to such effort to embellish stock fencing!

I’d asked Mr T to make me a leaf bay after hearing so much about the magic of leaf compost and we felt these old pieces of fencing might be ideal. We are completely surrounded by trees, plus the copse of our own so we might as well make something out of them.

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The fleece is off. Hot work building leaf bays.

Lined with chicken wire it should allow the air and rain in to help the leaves degrade quickly.

Lovely job honey!

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Don’t feel too sorry for Mr Trug doing all the building while I stand around supervising proceedings. Since this photo the leaf bay is full to the brim. As chief leaf collector I’ve been busy and with achy raking muscles to boot. I’m looking forward to autumn next year when it will yield its magical elixir. Lovely.