Thursday, 23 December 2010

Happy Christmas from Snowy Lancashire

Last Friday/Saturday we got a heavy fall of snow, as you can see from this bench and the wall behind. The temperature hasn't got above freezing since, so there's still plenty of snow around.
Here's a snowy Christmas tree.
For this one you will need to click on the photo and zoom in to the right of the telegraph pole. I have a little feeding station for the birds - some birdseed and fatballs. I've started taking the fatballs in at night as they freeze and the birds can't get their little beaks in. So I put them back out at first light and within half an hour the first visitors are there - the long tailed tits you can see in the photo. There are four here, the full group is around nine birds, and I use fatballs with insects specially for them as they won't take any other food.
I know everyone hates leylandii, but they also provide a good habitat for birds here and look rather nice in the snow too.
And this is the path to my vegetable plot. I've brushed the snow off my purple sprouting broccoli plants so if we get a thaw and a refreeze they don't get too damaged. I was hoping to be able to pick some sprouts on Christmas day, but the temperature is forecast to remain below freezing so think we'll be eating peas from the freezer instead!

Have a good Christmas and here's to a good gardening new year!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

December Occupations

The snow melted away at the weekend, so it was time to get out and do a bit of gardening. A bit of rough digging, tidying and excavating beckoned. The top of the soil was still a bit frozen but only about an inch deep, so it was easy to punch through. I decided to get all the parsnips up; with more snow and very low temperatures forecast for tomorrow, it would be the last chance to get them out, so here is a bucketful of parsnips, very delicious.
I also dug up some Jerusalem Artichokes (above) - the ones that had escaped their own bed and were growing in the bed next door. I like artichokes, but the downside is - ahem - they make you "windy", if you get my drift! For those unfamiliar with this vegetable, here's a link to the Wikipedia article on them. They're a true winter vegetable, I dig them up once they've stopped growing in December, through to January, eating some and replanting some for next year. I got them at a greengrocer in Suffolk a few years ago, brought them home and planted them up. It took a couple of years for them to settle in and grow on, but now they're prolific.

One other thing I did this week was to sow some Himalayan Poppy seeds - I've heard they need a cold spell to germinate, so I carefully sowed them in the pot with the parent plant as it is armour plated against snails and slugs.



All that's left to do now is hibernate with some gardening catalogues and my laptop: I did the bulk of my Christmas shopping during the thaw when I could get about, I have a 25 kilo bag of bread flour in the kitchen, along with some big bags of lentils; parsnips and artichokes in the fridge, brussel sprouts on the allotment waiting for Christmas day, so I'm all set for the snow. Hope you all enjoy the wintry weather (those of you in the cold part of the world, anyway!) and have a good Christmas.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Snow Pictures

By popular demand - well, one person actually - here are some pictures of snowy East Lancashire. This is the steam railway line which runs through the village, with a little station which you can see in the picture. It doesn't run during the week.
I love the crystals that the snow and frost makes on the vegetation but it's devilishly difficult getting a snap as the camera finds it hard to focus on white. So here are stems of the local marsh grass covered in frost. This grass grows in wet, shady spots so it holds the ice crystals well.
Looking down the valley to the south. We have a strange micro-climate in this valley, with a temperature difference of 3-5 degrees from the town 6 miles away. The UPS delivery man was cursing this yesterday when he arrived at my house at 10am to discover not only that we had a lot of snow, but the temperature was still 5 degrees below freezing! We get snow most winters as a result of our climate, and often more than surrounding areas.
There aren't many leaves left on the trees but these red beech leaves are still hanging on in a sheltered spot.
These black sheep arrived here in October and aren't too used to seeing people walk by yet. I think they are Black Welsh Mountain sheep, an old breed suitable for harsh conditions, but if anyone wants to correct me please feel free. In recent years local farmers have been experimenting with older breeds - the grazing round here is variable and in some places poor, so hardy sheep who are happy foraging in the snow and wet are most welcome.
Finally, if you still haven't sorted all your Christmas presents, here's an idea for you. I wanted to get a gardening calendar for my uncle, so had a look on Lulu.com. I couldn't see anything I liked, so decided to make one myself! I took some of my favourite pictures from this year, one for each month, and made them into a calendar using the easy tools on Lulu, it took 30 minutes. I made it and ordered copies on 28th November and they arrived today, so there's still time if you want to do the same. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the paper and binding, and there are lots of options for how it looks. I've made my calendar public, so you can look through it if you like. Just visit Lulu.com and shop for calendars.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Review of 2010 - Part 5, Marrows, Pumpkins and Courgettes



It was a good year for these vegetables, although I did lose a few seedlings to the late frosts in May. Above is one of the marrow plants. For those not familiar with this vegetable, a marrow is kind of like a very large courgette/zucchini. The only thing I did differently with these veggies this year was in the planting. Normally I prepare a patch of ground, manuring and composting it. This time while I did a general preparation, each plant got 2 trowels of horse manure and 1 of compost directly in its planting hole. Definitely a good plan - growth was quicker than ever before, so I will be repeating this planting method in 2011.
Marrows are curious vegetables; here is an early one and at this stage the skin is still soft enough to eat without peeling. I like them chopped whole (no need to remove the seed core) and baked in the oven with tomatoes and onions. When they get older (and bigger) the skin toughens rather like a pumpkin and you do need to remove the seeds. I have a nice recipe for marrow curry which is delicious for the mature vegetables.
The courgettes (zucchini) were magnificent this year, cropping for three months which is a record. Really huge fruit too. All of these plants were helped by the cold winter which killed my mortal enemy, the slug, in thousands.
This is a marrow plant with two fruits growing. I put a tile under each fruit (I also do this with pumpkins) to keep them off the wet soil. This helps prevent rot and in rainy conditions stops the fruit being splattered with soil.

The pumpkins did really well too, with a record 11 fruits, some of which are still waiting to be eaten. As a little postscript to this post, here's a story of what can happen with stored marrows and pumpkins.
I put two crates of marrows and pumpkins on top of the bookcase in the living room as there was no room in the kitchen. One day I came down and smelled a strange smell, couldn't figure what it was. I shrugged it off. Next day, the same, but a little stronger. Later that morning I found a pile of watery stuff on the floor. Regular readers of this blog may recall that last year I lost one of my cats to stomach cancer and the first sign of this was vomiting. So I got into full panic mode, thought my remaining cat was ill and worried myself to death but thought it was odd because I hadn't seen or heard her do it. I cleaned up the water and then took my parcels to the post. When I got back there was more and this time there was also a pool on part of the bookcase- very strange, so I cleaned it up again. Then I sat down to have a cup of tea, turned round 5 minutes later to find more water on the bookcase.

Then, and only then, I looked upward, to find a marrow had rotted and was oozing water out of the crate. Drip, drip, downwards, hence the bad smell and mysterious watery substance. The smell in the crate was not pleasant! So the moral of this story is to keep marrows and pumpkins where you can easily keep an eye on them.

Oh, and the cat's fine, by the way. She's spending the winter attached to the radiator under the window, can't prise her off it: