Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Small but perfectly formed...

Here's my dwarf chilli plant, with its three fruits. This was an experiment; the plant sat on the sunny windowsill of my bedroom, the warmest place in the house. Given that this summer consisted of temperatures which rarely reached the dizzying heights of 19C (66F), it could have been warmer and then maybe it might have done a little better. Still, for a trial, this is a good result. To the right of it you can almost see the basil, which I bought as seedlings and potted up in a large bulb pot. This has also been very good, producing leaves over several months, so I think I'll be repeating these next year.
But here's another experiment which didn't do so well. This pot, and several others like it, contained Lobelia Cardinalis Queen Victoria. It now contains a dandelion as it turns out that snails and slugs are very, very fond of this plant and despite my best efforts, they gradually stripped every leaf and then stalk back to the ground. So this plant is a no-no for my climate, sadly.
But I still have some flowers - this is Rudbeckia Goldsturm, a little nibbled by the slugs and snails which have thrived in our cold, very cold summer.
And the nemesia and geraniums are still going strong. I can't recommend nemesia highly enough for being trouble-free, flowering for months and providing a good splash of colour around the house.

I lit my first coal fire in the house a couple of weeks ago, autumn is already here, so the plants are slowing down now and another cold winter beckons. Lots of jobs still to do in the garden, I have finally done the summer pruning of the fruit trees and cut down the old raspberry canes, but we still have some more raspberries to come yet, along with all the apples. I also did my first picking of plums this weekend, in the rain as it turned out! Hope to get out between the showers later in the week. I really don't fancy picking fruit and vegetables in the pouring rain again.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Musings on Weather and Climate

Regular readers of this blog will know that this year has been a difficult one because of the weather. But I don't think it's just this year - take these Desiree potatoes, for example. An early maincrop potato which we dug this weekend (actually my Other Half did 90% of the work). A good crop, but this is the size of crop we used to get from both first and second earlies too. Not in recent years. This set me thinking about weather and climate change. For years we have been told that the world is getting warmer, and that here in Britain it would get warmer and drier, though recently this has changed to warmer and wetter to cope with the actual facts! Since 2005 I have been keeping brief notes on the overall weather for each growing year, so I revisited them this weekend. Up to 2006 we had what I described as "average", gradual warming in springs, some hot and dry weather in the summer, a gentle cooling at the end of the year. In 2007 and 2008 we had warmer springs, but cool and wet summers. In 2009 the pattern switched to late, cool springs (with late frosts), wet and cool summers again, but with the added kicker of a cold winter. This year we had exceptionally warm weather in April followed by an exceptionally cool May and frosts, which confused the plants enormously. The general pattern is one of cooling, not warming, with a shrinking of our growing season.
While one year doesn't create a pattern, three certainly does in my book. These Cara potatoes, another maincrop which has done very well, are suggesting to me that I should forget early potatoes as our springs are now too late and cold for them. I've not had a decent crop of earlies in years. Our summer here is most definitely over, the Swifts headed back to Africa two weeks early, the swallows are already gathering and the starlings have returned from the hills earlier than normal. The long range forecast for September and October is suggesting colder than average temperatures, so it's looking like we're in for another cold winter.
So my 2012 planning will concentrate on adapting to our seemingly shorter growing season - planting things like these bush tomatoes, which crop early (50-60 days) and are now under a cloche to ripen. They started out under lights in a nursery so I think I will have to buy some ready grown plants like this to give myself the best chance of crops. I may have to forego purple sprouting broccoli, which does not survive prolonged freezes. I'll probably increase my autumn crops such as cabbage in compensation. More cloches may have to be purchased in order to give my plants the best growing conditions.
These are my peppers, again shop bought to fill the gaps left by the late frosts. They've done quite well but are definitely on the downhill slope now. They're under a cloche to keep them warm and ripen. It feels like early September here now, I lit a fire for the first time this week to keep me warm in the evening. Never done that in August before! Still, the challenge in gardening is the constant change, every year is different and that's what makes it interesting.
Finally, I was just about to remove a rotting courgette when I noticed something underneath it. Two toads were spending the day snoozing in this nice damp spot - you can just see one poking its head out! Toads are my friends, hoovering up the slugs, so I left them where they were. Not something you see every day!

Happy gardening!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Crime Scene Photo

Well, that got you interested didn't it? While the criminal classes were rioting 25 miles away, though happily many have already been locked up (the police "Shop a Looter" campaign is going well), I had my own crime to detect. I reached into the chest in my shed where I keep nets and potato sacks, as I had need of the said sacks. This is what I found. Despite there being only a tiny gap under the chest lid, apparently it was big enough for a woodmouse to hop in there and make its home in the winter, chewing up the hessian to make a cosy bed. I think I need some new sacks...
Once again, we have had monsoon rain. So bad, in fact, that for the first time ever I put my cucurbits under cloches in an attempt to prevent the flowers and thus the fruit rotting off in the wet, having already lost some courgettes and pumpkins. It was a good idea, the first pumpkin has now survived and the courgettes are looking good. So is the grass, as you can see from the photo.
The tomatoes are doing surprisingly well, despite the rain.
The plum tree needed a bit more support and many of the branches are bending in an alarming manner, but are holding firm. Not long now and the fruit will be ready.
The apples are also coming along, but later than normal, probably two weeks or so late.
The cabbages are loving the rain though.
Today I finally got my leeks transplanted, into the traditional deep holes. Many were unfortunately gobbled up by the slugs and snails, so survivors are few.
And with the appalling weather a number of them are ridiculously small, so these runts are planted as a group for early picking. They'll never get very big, just to spring onion size. Still, they will be useful anyway.
But we've also picked the first marrow, which is a welcome addition to our vegetable table. We have a few more dry days forecast, so I am hoping to get some gardening done this week, but really this year has been a major struggle with the weather. I've never had to cover plants in August, crazy. Hope it's going better where you are.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

A Quick Update

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post, but leaving aside the necessity to work for a living, the rest of my time has been spent weeding and picking fruit. I now have 4.5 bags of gooseberries in the freezer (and the scars on my arms to prove it!), which is probably arounds 15 pounds of fruit.

Now the rain has returned, another branch of my plum tree has suffered damage, though not as bad as last time, so this week will be spend dodging showers to get out in the vegetable plot. I'm hoping for a couple of dry days. Meanwhile my cat can continue to enjoy sitting on the doorstep among the flowers while I'm working hard.