Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Review of 2010 - Part 1, The Weather

As gardeners, we're always at the mercy of the weather and this year has been memorable for that, at least. While we always get some winter snow in my part of the world, last year's was, well, exceptional in its depth and duration. Along with others in my village, I trekked out to buy food since the car was useless, and my winter vegetables did suffer.

The leeks were buried under snow for weeks and never really recovered, while the broccoli (above) seemed to have survived with its head above the snow. However, in time what I realised was that the prolonged cold with intermittent thaw had damaged them, with ice crystals getting in and once the weather warmed up, some of the plants rotted away. The moral of this story is that should we have similar weather, I should brush as much of the snow off the plant as I can straight away to limit the amount of meltwater later.

If you would like to see pretty pictures to remind you of what it was like here last winter, you can do so here and here

But it was not all doom and gloom - the prolonged cold decimated my nemesis, the slug population and we didn't see any for a few months. Most of the slug eggs were killed by the frost, though the snails didn't seem to do too badly.

We had a dry October and since I knew the forecast for the winter was bad, I made sure we got as much of the soil cleared and prepared as we could, which saved a lot of time in the spring. I've done the same this year, to be on the safe side!
The spring was consequently delayed, with plantings around 3 weeks behind a normal year. Just as things were getting going, we had a late, hard frost - see the potatoes above. I also lost a few marrow and pumpkin seedlings which were growing on in the shed. I've never seen this kind of frost damage before, but the potatoes recovered surprisingly quickly. So a late start, some frost damage and then...
The Drought. We had several weeks with no rain at all, not even a drop. You can see the effect on these broad beans, which were doing the bulk of their growing at the time. A very poor crop, despite my best efforts to water them. This is highly unusual weather for East Lancashire, which is a wet area due to those Atlantic westerlies and the proximity of the Pennines, which force the rain out of the clouds. Rotation watering helped to keep things like the lettuces going, but it did slow down some of our crops.

This dry spell coincided with the longest days of the year, when we have around 19 hours of light each day, and some plants positively thrived on it. Above is a picture of the cabbages, but all the brassicas did well this year, even the sprouts which I always struggle to grow. The lack of slugs, the dryness also slowing down the advance of those that did survive, meant that these plants were able to get away quickly and put on masses of growth in the permanent sunshine.
But the potatoes really suffered as there was nowhere near enough water for them. A poor crop, consisting of either really big or really small potatoes, about one third of a normal crop. The onions likewise had a bad time, with a slow start because of the cold, followed by dry, followed by the traditional monsoon which arrives as soon as the water company declares an Official Drought.
The onions didn't grow well due to the erratic weather conditions, and then they suffered from rot as the rain came. A bad year, and I probably won't grow them again as we never seem to get a really good crop. The wet weather also rotted a lot of the summer raspberries,which was a shame.

Once the monsoon was over in early August, everything came on well. Some yields were down (apples, onions, potatoes, broad beans), others did well (strawberries, peas, pumpkins, marrows, cabbages). Most years you have things which do badly, and others which perform better than expected, but this year was one of extremes.

So, what were the lessons of the weather this year?
  1. prepare beds well in autumn in case I can't get to the soil until later February
  2. get my winter pruning done before Christmas
  3. brush snow off the broccoli and dig out the leeks if the snow is around for a prolonged period
  4. give up on onions as east lancashire isn't the place for them
  5. don't be afraid to plant late in cold spring - everything catches up quickly once conditions are right
Next week I'll start cogitating on what I'm going to grow in 2011 based on this year's experiments.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Heading Towards Winter

After the unseasonably warm weather recently, temperatures have taken a downward dip over the last week, with trees turning orange and leaves falling. So in the garden it is time to gather the remaining crops and then tidy up the beds ready for next year.
This feverfew has just started to flower, rooted in a patch of tarmac by the kitchen sink drain. I grew this in a pot some years ago, it seeded and since then it turns up each year wherever it fancies.
The autumn raspberries are delicious...

Next week I'll start a review of the year, successes and failures with thoughts on what to plant in 2011.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Autumn Doings (and Stone Coffins)

At last, some dry weather, which should last for a couple of weeks. The autumn raspberries are now producing well.
Removing the pumpkins has given these parsnips more space. I don't start picking them until after the first frost, so they have more growing to do yet.
Runner beans on 10th October - not very common so late in the year, but a welcome addition to our vegetable hoard this year.
Still lots of chard and spinach to come too.
These broad beans seeded themselves, growing from beans which were in a pod I missed a few months ago. They started to root themselves in the soil, so I've removed them and put them in pots for the winter. I'll pop them out in the spring, for a few early plants - with two small beans in there too, there are five in total. In this part of the world we don't do autumn sowings of beans - the soil here is cold, wet and we often get snow.
As vegetables finish we're clearing the beds - this is the former marrow bed. I've spread my "cat compost" and lightly worked it in. This compost is made from wood-based cat litter + cat wee, composted for a year. It will now have another 4-6 months in this bed to break down further. It's a good soil conditioner and has really helped to lighten my heavy soil.
Here are the last two courgettes for 2010 (sniff!) - tiny really but still good eating. No more until next year, let's hope they're as good then as they have been this year.
I caught this green/black bug sitting on my green shed - do have a close up look as it is really rather interesting. After a bit of hunting around on the internet, I think I have identified it as a Green Shieldbug in its final stage before moulting into its adult appearance. Amazing how many different stages there are for this insect.
So, where do the stone coffins in the title to this blog post come from? Yesterday we went to the seaside for some birdwatching and on the way back decided to call in here - St Patrick's Chapel in Heysham. This is all there's left of it (the wall on the right is more modern). It was built in the 8th century, and it's famous for these:
Coffins carved out of stone. They're certainly pre-Norman Conquest, some people think they were for bones rather than bodies, and there are several.
Next door is another church, St Peter's, now the Parish Church and also thought to be 8th century. It's mentioned in the Domesday book, and also has the distinction of having a Viking hogsback gravestone which we were unable to see as there was a wedding on. It's funny, when I was a student I lived a few miles from here and never came to see the site, glad I finally made it!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Rain Stops Play

Torrential rain again today, so no chance to get out. Instead, here's what I've been doing during this week. First, I split the Rudbeckia (shown split above), taking it out of its pot and cutting it down the middle. Each half has a pot to itself now and I hope to have lots of flowers next year.
Then I brought in my white pelargoniums, taking them out of the large outdoor pots and putting them into smaller indoor pots, taking care to ensure there were no slugs or worms in the compost! Here are two of them - I have four plants which are now adorning my windowsills.
I also split an outdoor geranium - Russel Pritchard. I bought this plant years ago, put it in my garden and then gave a bit to my Mum. A year later, my plant gave up the ghost. So now I've taken a bit back!
And here's a picture from what we did yesterday - went to see the birds at Marshside RSPB reserve in Southport. A flock of hundreds of pink-footed geese flew over our heads, travelling the short distance from the saltmarsh to the pools and safety of the reserve. Last year we were lucky enough to catch a skein of these geese flying in from Iceland; there are many thousands of these pretty birds here in Lancashire every winter. When they're on the saltmarsh, all you can see is a few heads poking out of the vegetation, like submarine periscopes, on the watch for predators. Very amusing, but an impressive sight as they fly over your head in huge flocks.

We also caught a glimpse of what we think was a visitor from America - a pectoral sandpiper which got blown across the Atlantic and turned up at Southport a couple of weeks ago. Let's hope that after a diet of Lancashire worms, he can find his way home in the spring!