12 Green tips and ideas to #bealittlegreenerathome.

With our passion for being green and most of us now staying at home, our super-potato Spud (Champion for all things green at Precision Towers) has pulled together some green project ideas to help you relax for an hour during your WFH (working from home) lunch break or to entertain the kids as part of their home schooling - we know many of you will be juggling both!

From building a bug hotel, creating a wildflower garden to kitchen scraps you can feed to the birds. There are many ways we can all #bealittlegreenerathome. Spud has found 12 green project ideas courtesy of RHS, the Woodland Trust and RSPB, for you to try out at home.

Wildflower

1. Start a wildflower garden.

We started our wildflower garden a couple of years ago. We created our wildflower garden on a strip of land behind our car park at Precision Towers. It’s a great space to retreat to for ½ hour during lunch.

It’s easy to create a wildflower garden patch and by doing so you’ll also be creating a feeding and nesting place for insects, birds and small animals. Here are some tips from the Woodland Trust on how to create an effective wildflower meadow.

 

Step 1: Choose a suitable spot.

Wildflowers grow best on unproductive soil, where the flowers can flourish amongst the grass, so you might want to turn a patch of your lawn into a new wildflower garden. You’ll need to pick an open, sunny spot for best results.

 

Step 2: Reducing the soil fertility.

Your soil is likely to be too rich as it’s likely to of had plenty of fertiliser added over the years. The best way to reduce the fertility is to remove the top three to six inches of topsoil, using a turf cutter, or a spade and you’ll need some serious muscle-power!

 

Step 3: Remove any weeds and prep the soil.

You want to create a fine breadcrumb like soil ready for seed sowing, as you would with a lawn. Once you have bare soil, lay a black plastic bin bag over it so that any weed seeds already in the soil germinate and die.

 

Step 4: Sow your wildflower seed mix.

Now the fun bit -  seed sowing, which the kids can help you with. You need about five grams of seed per square metre. Because the sowing is so thin it's best to mix the seed with dry silver sand (the type used for block paving). Do not use builders' sand as it is not fine enough and is usually too damp. The correct ratio is usually three-five parts sand to one of seed.

Scatter the seed as you walk across the ground. To try and get an even coverage. There's no need to rake the seed in or cover it with soil, but gently walk across it so that the seeds are in contact with the soil. You may need to net it from birds.

Keep it well watered until it has established.

 

Step 5: Don’t forget Aftercare.

In the first growing season, cut the growth in midsummer and remove all the dead, spent material (known as the arisings). In subsequent seasons, the main method for managing a meadow is to not mow from early April to late July, August or even early September. It's best to vary the time you cut each year or some plants may begin to dominate others. If you're cutting early (eg July), leave an uncut refuge for grasshoppers as their nymphs are most vulnerable then. Leave it lying on the ground for up to a week for the seeds to drop, and then clear it all away for compost.

make your own compost

2. Create your own compost.

A wildlife-friendly compost heap provides a feast for woodlice, worms and other crawling insects. It can also be a brilliant place for toads, slow-worms and even grass snakes. It is fairly easy to turn waste material from your kitchen and garden into a compost heap which you can then put back on your garden, providing your plants with nourishment.

Here are a few tips on how to create a good compost from the RSPB.

 

Step 1: Build a compost bin

You can either buy a ready-made compost bin or during this period of not going out other than for essentials you can build your own compost heap from pieces of wood or wooden pallets made from sustainable timber (with the FSC logo). Erect them in a square, either by fastening the corners together with strong string (known as lashing), or by nailing them together. At some stage you will want to access the contents of the heap, so it’s good to make one side removable - as you fill the compost heap, it will make it easier for getting material in and out.

 

Step 2: Filling your compost heap

The secret to making a great compost is a mix of green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials. The green materials include grass cuttings, weeds and uncooked vegetable peelings. Brown includes sticks and dried grass, wood chippings, shredded paper and cardboard. Remember the finer the material is shredded before it goes on the heap, the quicker it will rot. Get this right and your heap should build up quite a temperature, killing off any weed seeds.

Don't include meat, cooked food (bread, cooked rice, leftovers etc), dairy products or pet waste – these will attract rats.

 

Step 3: Maintaining your compost heap

Keep the heap moist but not sodden, water it with a watering can in dry weather. Think about putting a cover on your heap as this helps keep in the heat and moisture, and will stop it from getting too wet if it rains. You could use an old offcut of carpet or some wood for a lid.

Make sure you turn the contents with a fork can help speed up the decomposition.

Lift your carpet lid gently to look for woodlice, centipedes, and even slow-worms.

Wildflower

3. Build a bug hotel.

Create a multi-storey hotel that's full of all sorts of natural hidey-holes for bugs to explore. Your bug hotel could shelter anything from hedgehogs to toads, solitary bees to bumblebees, ladybirds and woodlice.

Here are the tips from the RSPB for building a successful bug hotel:

 

Step 1: Choose a suitable site.

It needs to be level and the ground firm. You’ll get different residents depending on where you place your hotel, as some like cool, damp conditions and others (such as solitary bees) prefer the sun.

 

Step 2: Build your bug hotel.

You will need a strong, stable framework that's no more than a metre high!

Old wooden pallets are perfect for a large hotel as they’re sturdy and come with ready-made gaps. Start by laying some bricks on the ground as sturdy corners. Leave some spaces in between the bricks – try creating an H-shape. Add three or four layers of wooden pallets on top of your bricks. If you leave larger ends, you’re more likely to attract hedgehogs. You can also make a smaller structure, depending on the wood and space you have.

 

Step 3: Fill the gaps.

The idea is to provide all sorts of different nooks and crannies, crevices, tunnels and cosy beds.

Include:

  • dead wood and loose bark for creepy crawlies like beetles, centipedes, spiders and woodlice
  • holes and small tubes (not plastic) for solitary bees made out of bamboo, reeds and drilled logs
  • larger holes with stones and tiles, which provide the cool, damp conditions frogs and toads like – if you put it in the centre you’ll give them a frost-free place to spend the winter (they’ll help eat slugs)
  • dry leaves, sticks or straw for ladybirds (they eat aphids) and other beetles and bugs
  • corrugated cardboard for lacewings (their larvae eat aphids, too)
  • dry leaves which mimic a natural forest floor
  • you can even put a hedgehog box into the base of the hotel.

 

Step 4: Add a 'roof'.

When you think you've gone high enough, making sure the stack remains stable, put a roof on to keep it relatively dry. Use old roof tiles or some old planks covered with roofing felt.

 

Step 5: Surround your hotel with nectar-rich flowers.

These flowers will provide essential food for butterflies, bees and other pollinating insects.

Your kids might want to give their new bug hotel a news and put up a little sign!

Wildflower

4. Grow veg from your discarded scraps.

Growing tasty, healthy produce from clean kitchen scraps can save money, cut down on food waste, and teach your kids about nature and sustainability.

It really isn’t that unusual to grow plants from "inedible" parts, as Gardeners routinely grow new crops from pieces of plants. You can grow garlic from a single clove, tomatoes and peppers can be started from salvaged seeds, and even new potatoes are grown from their sprouting "eyes", Precision Spud knows all about this!

Start with these simple-to-grow scraps:

 

Leafy vegetables that grow in heads, such as celery, lettuce and cabbage. These are probably the easiest to grow, just take the cut base when you’ve finished prepping your food – this is the bit you wouldn’t normally eat, so you have a piece about 1 inch tall. Place it cut side up in a shallow saucer, and then add 1/2 inch of water. Refresh the water regularly and it shouldn’t be long before you have harvestable greens.

 

Citrus fruits grow well from their discarded seeds. Instead of throwing the seeds away, clean them and keep them moist, then plant them 1/2 inch deep in a soil-filled container, and cover the planter with plastic to create a mini-greenhouse until the seeds sprout. Fruit trees can take several years to mature to bear fruit, but they make fragrant, flowering houseplants in the meantime.

 

Veggies with bulb bases such as onions, leeks, fennel and lemongrass, will root easily when following steps similar to those for leafy vegetables. Simply take the cut off end with the tiny roots that would normally be discarded, about 1 inch tall. Place it root end down in water 1/2 inch deep - make sure the water covers the roots, but not the top. Keep water fresh, and a supply of shoots will follow.

Wildflower

5. Build a bee b&b.

This is another great idea Spud found from the RSPB. Building a bee b&b to offer solitary bees five-star accommodation with an easy-to-make home.

Solitary bees aren’t like honeybees that live in hives, they make their nests on their own and lay their eggs in tunnels, such as in dead wood or hard soil so the aim of the home you build is to mimmick these conditions.

Now is the perfect time of year to build a bee b&b as Spring is when they are looking for a new home.

 

Step 1: Create a box of holes

You need to make a box or container stuffed full of different-sized hollow tubes, each having a 'dead end' and are 15 cm or so long. You can get really creative with your materials and designs; just make sure your masterpiece is robust enough to stay outdoors for several years.

The RSPB have a simple design for you to try. You will need a plank of timber (with the FSC logo, which means it comes from a sustainable source) about 1.5 cm thick and cut it and nailed together  to make a box with three compartments. Make sure it is 15 cm deep and the roof has a good overhang to keep off the rain.

 

Step 2: Create the nesting tubes.

You use the dead stems of hollow plants and reeds or create your own in wood blocks. The easiest way is to drill deep holes of varying sizes (between 2-6mm diameter) into blocks of wood and logs, again about 15cm deep (angle them slightly upward so the rain doesn't get in).

Fill your box up with your tubes and blocks of wood. Squeeze all the tubes in together so they stay put. You’ll find it’s easier to wedge things into a box divided into compartments than if it was one big box.

 

Step 3: Position your box.

Fix it firmly at about waist or chest height (bees don't want to wave around in the wind), maybe on a fence or wall. Very importantly, place it facing south in a sunny position, near your bee-friendly flowers and shrubs.

Now watch for adult female bees visiting the nestholes on sunny days in spring and summer. You’ll know they’re nesting if you see them flying in with pollen (some carry it on their bellies), with blobs of mud to create cell walls along the tube, or with bits of leaf (these are the leaf-cutter bees).

Wildflower

6. Kitchen scraps to feed the birds.

We all know that seeds are good to feed to birds, but did you know there are lots of kitchen leftovers you can leave out for birds? Here’s a list from the RSPB of some of the kitchen scraps you can use to feed to our feathered friends:

  • Stale bread, cakes and cookies – crumble them into small pieces and soak in water before placing outside. Although bread isn't harmful to birds, try not to offer it in large quantities, since its nutritional value is relatively low. A bird that is on a diet of predominantly, or only bread, can suffer from serious vitamin deficiencies, or starve
  • Hard cheeses like mild cheddar – the high fat is especially good for birds in winter months. Use a grater to give them small easy to eat pieces. Mild grated cheese is a favourite with robins, dunnocks, blackbirds and song thrushes. It will also help wrens if you place it under hedgerows and other areas in your garden where you've noticed them feeding.
  • Cooked plain pasta or rice, is a good source of carbs for birds – wash thoroughly to remove any oil or salt and cut into pieces.
  • Meat (not rotten or mouldy) – give them beef fat trimmings and meat bones as a valuable source of protein. Best to put this out of the way of other pests in a bird feeder. You can put out fat from unsalted cuts of meat in large pieces for the birds. Birds, such as tits, can remove morsels from them. Make sure they are well anchored to prevent large birds flying away with the whole piece! This kind of food can attract magpies and gulls, and also neighbourhood cats. If this is likely to be a problem, it's best avoided. There is a lot of debate about the suitability of bacon rind, since much of it is salted during the curing process. As long as you can be sure the bacon is not salty, you can put it on your bird table. Since bacon can be too tough for many birds to tackle, chopping it finely will allow a wider variety of birds to eat it.
  • Pet food – wet pet food for cats and dogs has essential nutrients for birds too.
  • Vegetables – baked potatoes (cold and opened up), as well as leftovers from canned soups are great for birds. If you mix in some sunflower seeds it makes the perfect meal.
  • Fruit - Dried fruits, such as raisins, sultanas and currants are particularly enjoyed by blackbirds, song thrushes and robins. Soak them during spring and summer.
  • Cereal – avoid those with artificial dyes, soak in water for a wholesome bird treat.
  • Cooked eggs – are a great source of essential nutrients for birds and the shell can be a great source of calcium
Wildflower

7. Create a wormery.

Courtesy of RHS campaign for school gardening, here’s a step-by-step guide to creating a wormery:

 

Step 1: Collect some worms from the garden. Look in the compost heap, under stones in damp places or dig a hole.

 

Step 2: Cut the top ¼ off the bottle, to make a lid. Make a slit in the side of the lid so that the top can close over the bottom part.

 

Step 3: Fill the bottle with alternating layers of sand, soil, sand, compost, sand etc. Spray each layer with water so that it is damp.

 

Step 4: Add a few worms to the top of the bottle and watch them burrow down. Then add the ‘food’ to the top. Wash hands well after handling worms and compost.

 

Step 5: Wrap the black cardboard around the bottle to make it dark. Worms do not like light and it will encourage them to burrow around the outside of the bottle so they can be observed.

 

Step 6: Place the wormery in a warm place. Remove the cardboard for observation periods and record findings. Check that the contents are damp and that there is food available for the worms.

 

Step 7: After 1 week, release the worms back into the garden.

Wildflower

8. Open a hedgehog café .

Hedgehogs might be small creatures but they have big appetites, especially this time of year as they come out of hibernation. Feed them at this time of year to help them build their energy to raise their hoglets and with the numbers of hedgehogs declining rapidly in the UK, it’s vital that we give our prickly friends a home in our gardens. 

The RSPB have detailed a few simple steps to build a feeding station in your garden with lots of hedgehog-friendly food and water!

 

Step 1: Find a safe place for your cafe.

It can be on your patio, or it can be hidden in a sheltered spot. Of course, hedgehogs need to be able to get in and out of your garden to start with, so if that isn't yet the case, start by creating nature's highways and byways.

 

Step 2: Get a sturdy box (wood or plastic) with a removable lid.

It needs to be big enough for a hedgehog to fit in - a plastic storage box is a popular choice. You can also install a tunnel to prevent cats or foxes stealing the food.

 

Step 3: Create a hedgehog-sized hole at the base of one of the sides of your box.

It should be about 13cm square so the hog can get in and out safely. If your box is wooden, you’ll need a saw. If your box is plastic, carefully use a sharp knife. Cover the edges of the hole with duct tape to make sure there are no sharp bits that could hurt your hedgehogs.

 

Step 4: Add your grub.

As the sun goes down lay shallow dishes of hedgehog-friendly food and water inside the box. Make sure you don’t put out too much food, as it’s not nice to have leftovers lying around, and just remember that what we provide is supplementary to their natural diet, so do not overfeed your ‘hogs. Never feed hedgehogs milk or bread as they can't digest them and it upsets their stomachs. Also, be aware that putting any food out will attract all sorts of wildlife, not just hedgehogs – this includes predators.

 

Step 5: Add your roof.

Put the lid on top of the box and place a brick or two on top of the lid. This will stop a fox tipping the box up or dragging it away. Clear away any leftovers in the morning and refill your dishes every evening, or for as long as the food is being eaten. Make sure to wash your hands and thoroughly wash the feeding dishes, as hedgehogs have been known to spread diseases.

Then sit back and watch, make sure you are quiet so as not to disturb them. They usually appear just as it is getting dusk.

mini pond

9. Create a mini pond.

Creating a very small pond out of something like an old washing up bowl, can provide a place for many creatures to live, such as pond skaters, water lice (like long-legged underwater woodlice), freshwater shrimps, and if you’re lucky, a few damselflies darting around the water. You might even see a bird having a bath.

Now is the perfect  time to create a mini-pond, because you'll see it quickly develop over the next few months. Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating your own mini pond from the RSPB.

 

Step 1:  Find or buy a large container.

It could be a half-barrel, an old Belfast butler sink, or even a large washing-up bowl. It needs to be strong to withstand the rigours of being outside, especially frosts. You could use something that isn't watertight but is strong, such as a large plant pot, but making sure that it doesn't leak can be challenging. If you do use a pot, you may want to consider lining it with pond liner.

 

Step 2: Put your container into your chosen place while it’s empty.

Once it’s full of water, it will be difficult to move! Ideally you’ll put it somewhere that gets a good amount of light, but isn't in full sunlight all day. You can sink it into the ground or leave it proud of the surface, but if the edges are level with the ground, more creatures can get in and out.

 

Step 3: Position it in a safe spot.

Even a mini-pond can be a hazard for small children, so position it where it will be safe.

 

Step 4: Make sure that wildlife can get in and out.

Use bricks, rocks or logs to create stepping stones in and out of the pond. It is vital that the pond is not a trap for creatures such as hedgehogs.

 

Step 5: Prepare your pond.

Seal any drainage holes. If you’re using an old sink, silicon a plug into the plughole. If using a large plant pot line it with butyl pond liner, although be aware that folding it around right-angle corners is challenging! Put a layer of clean gravel in the bottom if you wish. Don't use soil – it is too full of nutrients and it will prompt blooms of unsightly algae to form. Make sure that wildlife can get in and out, by using bricks, rocks or logs to create stepping stones in and out of the pond.

 

Step 6: Fill your pond.

Whenever possible, use rainwater. Tapwater contains too many chemicals to be good for a pond.

 

Step 7: Plant up your pond.

It is best to put in plants in special aquatic plant pots (which have mesh sides). Use a very low nutrient soil (you can buy special soil for ponds), mixed with grit. Submerged pondweed is vital to help the pond stay clear, Always use native plants in ponds – rigid hornwort and whorled water-milfoil are recommended. You can buy these from garden centres or specialist pond suppliers. Include native marginal plants around the edge, poking clear of the surface to give perches and cover to wildlife. Just be very careful to only use plants that won't grow too large for such a small space. Two or three plants is the maximum for a pond this size. Try plants such as water forget-me-not, lesser spearwort and marsh marigold.

 

Don’t forget Aftercare.

For the first few months, don’t worry if you get algae or blanket weed (which is like strings of green gloop), get children to remove it by winding it around a stick – it’s fun! As your mini-pond matures, all the pond creatures you’ve attracted will help keep the water clear. You may need to top the pond up in hot weather – try to use rainwater from a water butt.

Wildflower

10. Make a loo-roll bird feeder.

Courtesy of the Woodland Trust…this is a messy, fun one kids will love to get stuck into. It will help them learn about the birds in your neighbourhood and is really easy to make with items from your house.

 

Step 1: Smother a cardboard tube in peanut butter (no added salt and sugar versions are suitable for birds).

 

Step 2: Roll it in bird seed and thread some string through the hole.

 

Step 3: Tie it up in your garden where birds will feel safe eating.

bird bath

11. Make a bird bath.

According to the RSPB giving birds a safe and reliable way to find fresh water is essential in both cold and hot weather.

Here is their step-by-step guide to making a bird bath for your garden;

 

Step 1: Make your bird bath.

A bird bath should have shallow sloping sides with a maximum depth of 10cm and ideally 30cm wide.

Lay out four bricks on a piece of open lawn or border, where the birds will have a good view all around but can dart into the cover of bushes or trees nearby if they need to. If you have cats visit your garden, make sure there is nowhere they can hide within pouncing distance.

Then put an upturned old, galvanised dustbin lid on top of the bricks. Make sure it is stable.

Put some pebbles or rocks in the water to give them a better grip so that the sides aren’t too slippy for them.

 

Step 2: Fill with water

Tapwater is fine. Then sit back and watch! You’ll need to keep the bird bath well topped-up in summer and ice-free in winter. In frosty weather, you should never use salt or de-icer. Pour in warm (not hot) water, or gently knock the ice out and replace with fresh water from the tap.

What you'll see. Blackbirds, robins, sparrows and starlings love a quick dip, while woodpigeons may just sit in the water to cool off! You'll even see bumblebees coming for a drink! Bathing helps birds keep their feathers in tip-top condition.

Natural art

12. Make natural art from fallen leaves, twigs, and petals.

Art and crafts are a popular way to keep kids busy, for something a little different and fun, get them to put their crayons away and instead collect fallen leaves, petals and twigs and use them to make a picture or sculpture.

You could even use the objects as 'stampers' or paintbrushes - dipping them in paint and rolling, brushing or stamping them on paper to create interesting patterns and effects.

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