Ecology… again

I have spent the past few days teaching; this time is was an introduction to ecology. This is a course that I have been running for   years now, so I’m anxious that I don’t become bored with it beciase I’m sure the participants would notice. As a result, every time, I try to incorporate something different, whilst still retaining the activities that seem to work best. Even after all these years, we are still playing the predator-prey game that involves sandpaper and blindfolds (you’ll have to come on the course if you want to find out more)! And learners always enjoy going out and looking at habitats in the field – thinking about why they are there and what might influence them. However, there were two new aspects to this offering of the course.

First, I made use of my recently purchased pH metre. We measured the acidity of soil from three habitats – two different woodland areas and two different grassland areas. Trying to work out how the pH values might differ and why turned out to be a really engaging exercise. Next time, I think we’ll dig soil pits too.

Second, I had a new prop: the Loch Ness Monster. I knitted her specially for the course. Again, though, if you want to find out why she appears on an ecology course, you’ll have to come along!

Nessie making her debut on my Introduction to Ecology course

Cat chat

We used to have a cat… she was the most unlucky cat you can imagine . She got her tail damaged and had to have it amputated; she developed pyometra after a bungled spay at the rescue centre we got her from; she disappeared for weeks and came back like a skeleton; she got entangled with her collar and ended up with a huge wound under her front leg (twice), which got infected; she had all the skin scraped off one side of her legs (goodness only knows how – strimmer?), she got an abscess on her neck… the list could go on. We finally lost her when she (at the age of about 12) got hit by a car. She was very expensive to run and when she died we made a conscious decision not to replace her.

Muffin the cat – taking a rest from rodent control and warming the soil up

But I do miss her – I don’t miss her bad temper, nor the fact that we didn’t dare feed the birds or put up a nest box in the garden for fear of the carnage that might ensue. I don’t miss the vets’ bills or the fur balls expelled noisily in the night. But I do miss her ability to keep the shed and greenhouse free of mice. We now keep the chicken feed in a metal bin and the bird seed in the house so that we are not feeding the local rodent population, but this season I have had a variety of seeds and seedlings excavated, eaten and simply chewed up. The first evidence was the jumping bean incident, but more recently I started finding holes dug into the large pots in which I had planted mangetout and the newly emerged shoots chewed to pieces but not consumed; in addition several sweetcorn seedlings were uprooted and chewed and then several more had disappeared completely over the next night and there were holes dug in the compost. Some plants seem to be ignored – melons, squashes, tomatoes and sweet or hot peppers – but how long they will be ignored I don’t know. The mangetout have now been moved to the no-longer-waste-of-space, the sweetcorn are on the ladder allotment and the beans are happily climbing their poles in their place in the raised beds so perhaps other things will have to serve as mouse food.

You would have thought that owning two terriers would keep the rodent population down, but I think that a mouse could walk over Max and he’d probably ignore it and, whilst Sam is great at alerting us to the presence of other animals, catching them seems to be beyond her. SIGH. So, surely the neighbourhood moggies should do the job? Perhaps the presence of the dogs and chickens puts them off (chickens give them a severe talking to if they come in the garden), but whatever the reason they have not caught our mice.

Another cat is definitely not something I want, so I guess that from now on I will have to start looking for mouse-proof covers for my seeds… some sort of fine metal mesh seems like the best option. Or perhaps there’s something that repels mice… pepper perhaps or chilli…?

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