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.
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