LITTLE CRITTERS: Lend a helping hand to your garden visitors
YOUR GARDEN IS FILLED WITH HELPFUL LITTLE CRITTERS THAT COULD USE A HELPING HAND AT THIS TIME OF YEAR – THEY’LL PAY YOU BACK IN THE SPRINGTIME
THE name for ‘hedgehog’ comes from ‘hedge’, because of their foraging habits, and ‘hog’, because of its snout – and the fact they eat like pigs and have a voracious appetite.
Hedgehogs eat oodles of slugs and caterpillars in a season but at this time of year their natural food sources can become scarce.
Since they really need to stock up on food before they hibernate for the winter, putting food out for hedgehogs at this time of year really helps these beneficial creatures to build up the fat stores they need to keep warm while hibernating.
A lot has been said about what to feed hedgehogs over the years but the British Hedgehog Preservation Society – of which I am a patron – says that there’s only a handful of things that are really suitable.
Choose meaty cat or dog food in white meat flavours, such as turkey or chicken, and ensure it’s in jelly instead of gravy (the latter can be overly salty).
Put this out in a shallow dish and – if you’re worried about cats and foxes clearing the plate, cover it with an upturned under-bed storage box with a 13cm2 entrance cut into the side. This allows only hedgehogs to get at the grub.
You can also put out specialist hedgehog food which is available from most garden centres.
A shallow saucer of fresh water is the perfect hedgehog drink for
washing down the chow.
Please never feed hedgehogs milk or bread as these can make them sick and dehydrate them – exactly the opposite of what they need. weather and look good, and it’s light enough to move easily.
Once hedgehogs are suitably fed, it’s time for them to find a cosy dwelling for the winter months. You can buy a hedgehog house or, if you’re in the mood for a little DIY with the kids, you can make your own relatively easily. I normally head down to the wine merchant and pick up some large (30-40cm) wooden wine crates to transform into a home.
An upturned wine crate with a 13cm2 doorway nestled among old log piles, straw and leaves makes the ideal hedgehog home.
Leave the bedding materials outside, mind, as these creatures like to do their own interior design.
My website (daviddomoney.com) has a free, step-by-step guide on building hedgehog homes. Of course, you’ll need to make sure hedgehogs have access to your garden first by cutting hedgehog highways into the bottom of fence panels or installing hedges as boundaries, which allow free movement between gardens. Most importantly, if you’re planning a bonfire for dry garden waste be sure to check that no hedgehogs have crawled into the pile thinking it’s a great spot for hibernation before you light it.
It’s worth lighting bonfires from one side only just in case, so that any hidden hedgehogs can escape from the other side.
OTHER helpful hibernators include amphibians like newts, frogs and toads, which also eat buckets of crop-munching insects. If you have a pond nearby, they’ll be planning on going into hibernation shortly. They love to hide under rocks as they go into their long winter sleep.
I normally turn a terracotta pot on its side and bury half of it, side-on, into the ground like an openmouthed hut. Cram in twigs and leaves and it makes a great sheltered spot for these creatures over winter.
Please never feed hedgehogs milk or bread as these can make them sick and dehydrate them – exactly the opposite of what they need
Newts, left, and frogs, right, need your help too