Pimp my balcony

After last week’s post on making a pond, I was challenged to make a balcony friendly activity. Of course, you could put a mini-pond on your balcony, but if you’re a few stories up, you’re only going to get a subset of nature (the flying sort) colonising it.

You can, at great expense, buy balcony planters. These clever little pots are either designed to sit on the top of a rail, or come with hooks to hold them on, but there are much cheaper ways of doing this. For the price of a single hooked pot, you can have an entire planting wall. All you need is a cloth shoe organiser or a “bed pocket” – storage designed to hang off the wooden edge of a bed. The cloth pockets in both of these are ideal for filling with compost. Both cost €5-10 and can be bought online (given we’re in lockdown!). Google took me to Argos and Ikea – no I’m not on commission – but much more awesome if you can support a local Irish retailer. Shoe organisers (left) contain more pockets, but bed pockets (right) tend to come in fancy colours.

All you need to do is hang your new cloth planter on the rail of your balcony, fill the pockets with compost, and then plant whatever you’d like to have on your balcony. Water your pockets and check that the excess water runs through. If the fabric is very close weave, you might need to stick a few holes through with a knitting needle. Remember that some plants have a preference for sun or shade, so think about exactly where you’re going to hang your cloth planter before you choose your plants. You might also like to choose plants that have strong smells – honeysuckle, freesias, or herbs like mint or rosemary – so that you get the smells of nature too. And think about size, and how the plant grows. If you opt for using bed pockets, you might like to plant them with trailing plants like lobelia or begonias.

Many plants can be grown really well from a small cutting: just put it in water and watch the roots develop and plant it in a bit of compost once it’s got a few roots. So if you see neighbouring balconies looking splendid, why not ask you neighbour for a cutting?

You might also to try a few of our previous nature activities too that could help pimp your balcony:

You could hang a Plastic Bottle Bird Feeder from a nail in the wall, from a window latch, or even a hat stand, as long as you’re not too many stories up (in which case the birds might struggle to find your feeder).

If you’ve space, why not grow sunflowers in pots. The colour is beautiful, and the birds will like the seeds in autumn.

Build a pond

You can build a pond at any time of the year, but, according to the Wildlife Trusts, autumn is a great time to build a pond because the pond gets established more quickly. What do I mean by established? That it becomes more than just a hole filled with water, and begins to turn into a thriving ecosystem.

You might think you don’t have space for a pond, but even really mini ponds can be awesome. I’m a shocker for not tidying my garden, and at various times old buckets and containers that have been left out and empty all winter have developed a thriving ecosystem by spring. But you can make a much more attractive mini pond by choosing a more suitable container and putting in a few starter plants. This video from the RSPB shows you how easily and quickly you can make a mini pond:

Ponds are great for wildlife. They provide somewhere for mammals and birds to drink, for amphibians to live and lay their eggs, and for beautiful insects like dragonflies. Dragonflies lay their eggs in water, and their young stages, called naiads, live in the pond before they eventually climb up a reed or other aquatic plant stem and morph into beautiful winged creatures. You might even get frog spawn in your pond, and then you’ll have the joy of watching tadpoles develop – slowly losing their tails and growing their legs.

So if you’ve more space, why not build something bigger. Of course, it’s essential that you make sure your pond is safe. If there are little people in your family, you need to take extra care, but a pond should be safe for wildlife too ensuring animals can easily clamber out.

The Wildlife Trusts have put together a great little booklet on making ponds which you can download below. It has information on what plants will help your pond establish, how to make your pond safe, and how to maintain your pond, and also caters for a range of pond sizes. Whether you make a tiny pond or a big pond, you can do so in the knowledge that you’re making a better place for nature.

Downloads:

Make your own Biodiversity Trail

Ah well, back in lock down… We had eased back on posting, with kids back at school, and the workload really ramping up here as semester started, but here we are, locked down during mid-term break.

Your mid-term challenge is to make your own biodiversity trail. Biodiversity is everywhere. If you’re lucky enough to live in the country you probably realise that. But there’s biodiversity in cities too, and hunting it out is fun.

Here at NUI Galway we have our own Biodiversity Trail through the campus:

If NUI Galway is within you 5 km radius, you can explore our Biodiversity Trail. You can download a guide, or even a podcast.

But for everyone elsewhere in the country, why don’t you make your own? What are the hidden gems of wildlife in your area? Do you have any special trees? Can you find any verges or even roundabouts managed for biodiversity if you’re in the city? Can you identify the trees (our game of Tree Bingo might help you)? How may different habitats can you find? All you need to do is find 5 or 6 interesting spots, take a photo of each, and design a walking route around them. Share your hidden gems by tweeting us on @NatureAtHomeIE.

Ladybird Lodge

We’ve been a bit quiet over the last few weeks with semester descending upon us, but nature hasn’t gone away. I’m sure that you’ve all noticed the sudden drop in temperature this week as the seasons change. Lots of animals will be changing their behaviour to get themselves safely through the winter months. One group of animals that we’re all familiar with that will be getting ready to hibernate is ladybirds. Here’s a lovely video from the Natural History Museum in London showing how to make a Ladybird Lodge to see them through the winter.

If you want more detailed instructions, or you want to know a bit more about ladybirds, you can go the NHM’s webpages.

You might also like to check out our previous blogpost on ladybirds.

Nature diary Aug-Sept

We’re really in late summer now. The mornings are cooler and we are starting to use lights in the evenings! There is still lots of insect life in the garden though and lots of wild flowers blooming. Do you have a regular walking route by a river or through a park where you can watch the seasons changing? Our nature diary shows you what to look out for this fortnight depending on where you are in the country. Check out the Nature Diary for 27th August – 9th September to find out what you might see, smell and hear over the next fortnight.

Nature Diary Late August

Although time is passing, and there is much change, there are many sights, and smells and sounds all around us. As we move into the latter half of August, we can start to spot seasonal changes, with elderberries ripening. There are still many insects about. While some are seldom seen, there are hints to their presence and activity. Sometimes we are struck by the colour or the pattern on a plant or animal. And sometimes it’s just about the amazing and unexpected appearance or shape of things in Nature. Check out the Nature Diary for 13th – 26th August to find out what you might see, smell and hear over the next fortnight.

Wildlife Art – Drawing Animals for children

Drawing animals for kids is a lot of fun but drawing animals together is also a powerful way to learn.

Taking some time to analyse a wildlife image first and you can learn a lot about the animals in your picture together before you even put pencil to paper!

Drawing animals for Kids & with Kids

Grab one of your animal photography books and let your child skim through its page until they find something they want to draw.

An important step to talk about the subject of your image before you start drawing. The best part about drawing is to take your time, and notice all the features closely and carefully to help you replicate it on paper.

Questions to ask before you start drawing

Here’s some more general questions you can ask your child before drawing from a wildlife image:

What animal is it?
What’s the animal doing? Why do you think that?
What body covering does the animal have?
What type of animal is it? E.g. bird? Mammal? Reptile?
Where could the animal be going?
Is the animal happy or sad? Why do you think that?
What’s in the background of the image or behind the animal?
Is there anything in front of the animal?
Why do you want to draw THIS animal?

Take your time drawing.

More ideas on mothernatured.com

Nature Diary Early August

Time is flying. Difficult to believe it’s time for another Nature Diary! At this time of the year, we can see young lizards and many insects on our walks. And we can hear grasshoppers. Our experiences, and connections to nature are enriched by the sights, smells, and sounds of nature, and how this makes us feel. Check out the Nature Diary for 30th July – 12th August to find out what you might see, smell and hear over the next fortnight.

Seven Simple Strategies to get your child outside

1. Build nature into your routine

This is one of the easiest ways to make sure your children continue to experience nature over and over, and it doesn’t have to be a big deal.

Can you pause between getting out of the car and stepping through the front door to see if you and your child can find any interesting shapes in the clouds today? Can you schedule in a short family stroll one day a week? Can you make a habit of taking a cup of juice outside and counting how many different sounds you hear while you sip your drink?

2. Try a simple scavenger hunt

Children love a scavenger hunt. Try the backgarden scavenger hunt posted earlier on this site.

3. Swap art supplies for nature

Encourage creative nature play and draw the outline of a picture. Just print them off and finish the designs using leaves, flowers, bark or anything else you find outdoors.

Face

4. Create a nature table

A nature table is a flat surface in your home where you can collect and display the treasures you find in nature, whether it’s seed pods, fallen leaves, an old bird’s nest that has fallen or something in between, just remember not to break trees or touch anything that has an animal living in it. Spend time outdoors looking for little treasures for your nature table. Use an old cupcake tray to store some of the objects you find.

5. Let them get bored

It might make you feel like a bad parent, but letting your kids find their own solutions to their boredom is one of the best things you can do for their creativity and resilience.

6. Get out with friends

When other kids come over for a play date, get everyone outside with this list of things to do. Or organise to meet friends at a park or for a child-friendly walk. Please ensure you follow all current public health advice and practice social distancing.

7. Create an inviting play space outside

Along with the traditional outdoor toys like a ball or skipping rope, you can also have baskets for collecting items from nature, and maybe even some old bowls, buckets or kitchen utensils that you’re prepared for them to use while making mud pies.

Trace metals in the environment: why they matter

Did you know that your food may contain toxic levels of trace metals or your drinking water may contaminate with toxic levels of trace metals? How can we ensure that trace metal levels stay within safe limits in our foods, in our water?

What are these trace metals? and how they enter into our environment?

Trace metals are elements such as iron (Fe), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), chromium (Cr), cobalt (Co), nickel (Ni), Manganese (Mn), vanadium (V), and molybdenum (Mo) that are normally occur at very low concentrations in the environment. Sources of trace metals in the environment can be natural (geogenic) or anthropogenic. Natural processes include breakdown of rocks, volcanic activities, and spreading of mid-ocean ridges. Human activities including mineral resource extraction, fossil fuel combustion, industrial manufacturing, and wastewater disposal release trace metals in to the environment. Most of the usual things we use in our day to day life like oil and lubricants, cosmetics and personal care products, medicines, and fertilizers and pesticides contain trace metals and we release them into the environment as waste.

Natural Copper Ore

Some trace metals are inorganic micronutrients that are required by living things, in very low concentrations, but ingestion of, or exposure to, excessive quantities can be toxic. For example, Fe is an essential element in human blood which transports oxygen around the body. However, if too much of Fe is consumed, it can be toxic to human body. The toxicity of trace metals depends not only on the concentration in the environment, but also where it is found in the environment (water, soil, air), chemical forms of the metals (species), acidity of the environment, source of the metal (natural or anthropogenic) etc.

Trace metal contamination in aquatic ecosystems

Human activities have resulted in widespread contamination of aquatic ecosystems by a wide range of inorganic substances, including numerous trace metals (including metalloids and non-metals with metal-like properties). Trace metal contamination in aquatic environments is a ubiquitous, persistent and complex problem, often with significant consequences for ecological and human health. Anthropogenic inputs from activities including mineral resource extraction, fossil fuel combustion, industrial manufacturing and other non-point sources are overwhelmingly the primary cause of most metal contamination in aquatic ecosystems and have made metals much more bioavailable. Unlike organic contaminants, inorganic trace metal contaminants do not decompose over time into less toxic substances, but accumulate and persist in a range of chemical forms (species) with varying biological availabilities and toxicities. While some trace metals have no positive biological role (e.g. Hg, Cd, Pb, As, U), many are essential micronutrients (e.g. Cu, Zn, Fe, Ni and Cr) with a significant role in metabolic pathways, are co-factors for many enzymes and have structural functions when associated with carbohydrates, nucleic acids and proteins. Aquatic organisms have therefore evolved to take up trace metals at typical background concentrations and many have developed complex biochemical pathways. However, at elevated metal concentrations or with high proportions of bioavailable species, many organisms find it difficult to adequately regulate their tissue levels and trace metals become toxic.

Therefore, how these metals dissolved and move around in water and what other chemicals they attach to are important. Metals in aquatic systems have the tendency to bind to organic matter, or suspended particles, and thus accumulate within fine-grained sediments. However, with changing oxygen concentrations, redox conditions or pH, metals can be remobilized into pore waters and the overlying water column, and/or accumulate within benthic organisms and the associated food webs. Therefore, sediments act as long-term sinks, but also as potential sources of metal contaminants in aquatic systems.

More sources of metal poisoning:

Mercury (Hg) poisoning; Minamata disease in Japan in 1956

Cadmium (Cd) poisoning; itai-itai disease in Japan

Arsenic (As) contamination in drinking water in Bangladesh

If you like to read more about the sources, sinks, and internal cycling of trace elements in ocean please visit international GEOTRACES website https://www.geotraces.org

Credit: Nadeeka Rathnayake