Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Spring in the Frozen North

 Yesterday I looked at the weather forecast and saw that Accuweather handily puts next to the day's forecast what the temperature was on the same day the previous year: in this case, yesterday's temp was 12C, while the same day in 2012 was 25C!  What a difference!  At present we seem to be getting a few days of warmer temps (note: not really warm by my standards) followed by a few cold days.  At the weekend we did manage to get out while it was warmer, and make some progress in grass cutting, path clearance and digging.  Anyway, following my recent post about the deadwood appearing in the currants, I pruned it all away with my trusty saw.  It affected the redcurrants and whitecurrants, and all the branches I took out had already been partly pruned back due to dieback, so the moral of this story is that in future, take out the whole branch.  My pruning regime has been a little light in the last couple of years, due to the weather, so I think I need to revisit this later this year and have a good sort out of these bushes.  As you can see from the photo above, there was quite a bit of dead wood.
This was a bit of a surprise - a wasp nest had appeared in the shed since my last visit.  I've never had this before in any shed, so it was new to me.  No wasps around, just a grub or two inside so I swiftly removed it before it got any bigger.  I really don't want to encourage wasps to linger with all the fruit I grow.
The potatoes have come up - I have given up on earlies due to our increasingly wet and cold springs, so these are maincrop and went in a few weeks ago.  If you look carefully you can see some signs of frost damage - our night time temps are a bit low, though they don't quite get to zero, and this part of the allotment is prone to patchy frosts.  But nothing serious and it shouldn't cause too much of a problem.
 Last week I opened up the cloche protecting the lettuce and cabbage to harden them off, these plants aren't particularly sensitive and they now need some rain after several weeks under the cloche.  One peculiar thing I have noticed before is that the red salad bowl lettuce is hardier than the green variety, germinating better and growing more quickly in low temperatures.
 You can see the difference here, smaller plants with lots of gaps in the row compared to  the red variety.  I have resown in the gaps and with the gentle rain of the last two days, should have more plants soon.
Behind the lettuce are the summer cabbages which are doing well.  Later this week I plan to relocate some of the overcrowded ones to the gaps in the row and thin out the weakest plants.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Spring 2013: Two steps forward, one back...

 The topsy-turvy weather continues, with a few warm days followed by cold ones, alternating over the week.  The only good thing, and an improvement on last year, is that we have not had frosts or very heavy rain which can do a lot of damage - we had both last year and it affected a lot of my crops.  This is the Katy apple tree, which has now started blooming.
 And here is the Katy tree in full flow, I will need to thin these fruits this year.  To the right of this tree you can just see my new Spartan apple, which is now entering its third summer and for the first time has a good covering of blossom - last year due to the weather and the youth of the tree it only produced one apple, should be more this year.
 I've managed to make good progress on the weeding before the weather turned nasty and cold again.  Here you can see the broad beans, with the garlic behind them.  These beans are very late this year, and growing slowly due to the low temperatures.
 The soft fruit is setting now, these are redcurrants.
 And here are some gooseberries.
 But this doesn't look too good, this is the other side of the redcurrant bush.  When I pruned it this spring I noticed some deadwood, so cut it out, but the die-back has continued.  These branches started to grow leaves and flowers but have now given up.  So I will have to take these branches out.  This part of the bush is quite old, so it may just be a natural thing but I will keep a close eye on the redcurrant this year.
 Elsewhere, the Victoria plum has set a lot of fruit, which is pleasing as the tree has been damaged two summers in a row by the weather, losing entire branches, so I'm crossing fingers for this tree now.  The risk is that disease gets into damaged wood in wet weather.  Once the leaves are out, I should be able to see how healthy it is, but this is a good sign.
 This was the first cloche planted up this year.  There are a lot of weeds in here, but the taller plants centre to right are summer cabbage, while on the left you can just see the first sowing of lettuce, both green and red (at the back).  I've opened up both ends of this cloche now to harden  off the seedlings.
 This week I also did my first beetroot sowing.  I've learned from bitter experience that beetroot seed likes to be warm and dry.  The soil in this bed has less clay than some others, as light as soil can be in north western climes, so it's a good choice for beetroot. I planted them earlier in the week when the soil had dried out a bit and before the temperatures dropped again, so I'm hoping they will germinate well.
 We still have some of last year's crops left - the purple sprouting broccoli is phenomenally late but should be ready to eat next week.  I can honestly say I have never had any plants producing in the last week in May before!
 These are the last of the lees, not a great crop but edible and tasty.
Finally, just for fun, a picture of four chickens not crossing the road but walking along it instead!
Have a great holiday weekend!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The New Strawberry Bed

 It was time to replace the strawberry plants and I decided to move them to a new location which would be sunnier and a bit dryer, given the appalling summer weather we have had in recent years.  I decided on this bed, which was actually very poor soil when I took on this patch ten years ago.  Since then, annual composting and some manure have improved the quality and quantity of soil in the bed, which is now quite full.  Last year's monsoons actually shifted a lot of this soil downhill, as the bed slopes in two directions, so I had to expend a good bit of energy moving the soil from the bottom to the top!
 As you can see from the photos, I also decide to mound the soil with a slope either side and the plants put in along the highest point.  This is really an attempt to ensure good drainage, and is a old technique developed in the past when our climate was similarly challenged.  The idea is the rain will run into the sides of the bed and not drown the plants - in addition, the plants should get more sun and better ventilation, both of which were an increasing problem in the old strawberry bed.

I left it late to get the plants, there were only a few unnamed plants left at the garden centre, but I have also put in some plants I grew from runners on the old plants, so I'm hoping I will get a small crop this year.
 While the temperatures are still a little below par, the increasing sun is having a positive effect, with the rhubarb here coming on very well now.  Behind it you can just see the Jerusalem Artichoke bed - I had to go and find the artichokes which had escaped from this bed into neighbouring ones!   I expect I have missed a couple, but most of them are now safely back where they started a few years ago.

My summer cabbages and first lettuce sowing are now germinating, and the broad beans are finally showing a bit of life, very late this year.  I have just put in the first pea crop as well, so things are moving along now.
 Things are looking up - the plum tree seems to have a lot of blossom as you can see from this photo.
 And at the house, the primroses are in full flow.
These grape hyacinths are simply delightful, with a lovely scent as you walk by.  I've put them at the front door so I can admire the look and smell.  The red shoots belong to a peony which is in the middle of the large pot, the grape hyacinths around the edge, to provide a few months of flowers.