Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Mild but Nothing Special

Tuesday continued mild but very dull without a hint of sunshine all day. 

We made another one of those dangerous visits to the garden centre today to find some large pots for our newly arrived nectarine, to pot up our kiwi and for our yet to be delivered apricot. Of course we couldn’t resist the temptation of having a nose at the seeds. We’d watch Sarah Raven’s TV series trying to encourage everyone to sow wild flowers to attract beneficial insect. Some of the areas looked really pretty on TV and of course we couldn’t resist. 
We’d both been thinking the same thoughts that there must be somewhere on the plot that we could incorporate a wild flower mix to encourage all those pollinating insects we need to do their stuff on the plot. After a bit of deliberating we settled on a Mediterranean Mixture and Honey Bee Flowered Mixture.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Celery - Just!

Monday was mild and dull with some rain in the afternoon. It looks like February is going to turn out to be a dry month. I’ll have to check the condition of the soil on the plot and see if it’s dried out enough to start digging it over. It’s odd that over the last 12 months we've been really short of rain but that the soil on the plot is too wet to dig.

The crops we’re giving extra attention to this year are celery and celeriac. If we manage to get anything to eat off these crops it will be an improvement on our past efforts.
Our early experimental sowing has started to germinate under our indoor grow light. Now it’s all tricky decision making. How long can they remain under the light? Will they become leggy? Is it too cold for them in the greenhouse? And so on.

Monday, 27 February 2012

An Itsy Bitsy Spider

Sunday was a poor repeat of Saturday with a bright sunny start to the day soon disappearing to leave a dull late morning and afternoon. At least the wind had fallen light.

Mal’s blogposting about sowing broad beans reminded me it was time to get my first sowing underway. I think it’s fascinating how we all have our own tried and tested methods of doing things. Mal soaks his seeds for 24 hours, whereas for my early sowing I like to sow my seeds in cells or pots, both of us aiming to get our seeds off to the best possible start.

I’d sorted out my first tray of 15 cells ready to fill with compost when I spotted a large garden spider sitting in the bottom of one of the cells. I gave the tray a little shake expecting the spider to take fright and head for safety. This spider wasn’t that easily scared and stayed where she was.
I decided to leave her to her home comforts and use another tray. I carefully put the tray back under the staging where it had been all winter and hopefully she will take the hint and find a new home.
After that it was plain sailing, one broad bean seed to each cell before each tray was labelled. I’ve covered each tray with an old plastic cover as protection against any field mice taking a fancy to my seeds. Once they start to germinate the covers will be removed.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Doesn’t Live up to Expectation

Saturday got off to a pleasant enough start with some early morning sunshine. The forecast was for a good weekend, weather wise, so my plan was to winter wash our fruit trees down on the plot. I really should have done this already but as long as the trees haven’t start to bud I can still give them a spray.
By lunch time the sun became much more hazy and the wind got up to almost gale force making the task of spraying trees impossible. So the spraying was put off for a less windy day and any bugs live to fight another day.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Fantazia Arrives

After a dull morning and a few early showers Friday brightened up nicely in the afternoon. It was very pleasant in the greenhouse doing some tidying up before the growing season starts in earnest.

Our Nectarine Fantazia arrived from Thompson & Morgan.This was a freebie from them as they had previously supplied a peach tree rather than a nectarine that we had ordered. Unfortunately the tree didn’t arrive in the best of condition mainly down to the time it took to deliver. Dispatched on the 16th February it didn’t arrive until the 24th and after 8 days in transit the roots were very dry.
I’ve potted the tree into a tub of compost and given it a good soaking. If I keep the compost really wet. I’m hoping that the tree is not beyond saving. Only time will tell.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Warm for a Day

Thursday became the warmest day of the year with the temperature reaching 16.6°C (61.2°F). That’s pretty unusual for February but not a record breaker. Some locations in Yorkshire managed even higher with temperatures reaching 18°C.

The mild weather over the last few days has certainly helped with the germination of our leaf salad sown in the greenhouse. Sown on the 18th of the month the first few seeds have already germinated and pushed their first leaves through the vermiculite.  
Of course there’s still plenty of time for some cold nights yet so survival of these tender young shoots is by no means guaranteed. No risk - No gain

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Cloudy and Mild

The forecast promised rain but as so often seems to happen it never arrived here. Not that it didn't try with spots of rain in the air for most of the day. It was enough to wet the ground at times but in all it amounted to just 0.2mm.
Hot on the heels of our snowdrops coming into flower are these miniature daffodils Tete a Tete. My picture doesn’t really give a sense of size as this variety only grows about 6” tall.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

A Drought - Yes or No

What a contrast Monday was as the sun failed to make an appearance. It was dull and cold with a strong cold breeze blowing. Still milder weather is forecast for the end of the week. 

Tuesday on the other hand was much better. It was brighter and produced the mildest day of the year so far with 12.9°C. Our snowdrops are now in full bloom.
Over the last few days there seemed to be plenty of news items about drought conditions in certain parts of the country. This is how the BBC reported covered the story on their web site.
Click here to read full BBC News report
So how do we match up locally. Well I’m not sure winter has been dry as both December and January were wet with more than expected rainfall. February has so far been dry with hardly any rainfall. Over the 3 winter months our average rainfall would be 165mm and so far with just a week of February to go we are up to 150mm, not far short of what we might expect.
However the previous 9 months up to December were dry with every month producing less than average rainfall. So December and January’s rainfall hasn't gone anyway to making up for those 9 dry months and a dry February has put us back to square one again.

Our location is south of Leeds located in the 60-69% of long term rainfall and at moderate drought risk. By my calculations and rainfall measurements over the last 12 months we’ve received 59% of our long term average rainfall in close agreement with the Met Office.
Strange then that down on the plot it’s wet and the soil needs to dry out a little before it’s dug. The wet months obviously replenished the soil moisture and whilst February has been dry the soil spent the first two weeks of the month frozen solid. Some of that rainfall needs to dry out before the ground is suitable for digging.

My weather station does a calculation to evaluate how much moisture is lost from the soil due to temperature, humidity and wind. Very little moisture has been lost during the last 3 months but once March arrives then the amount of moisture lost increases quickly drying out the soil. Without additional rain this summer it might well be that the true effects of last year’s very dry summer will start to kick in.

Monday, 20 February 2012

It’s Just Testing

Sunday morning was sunny and frosty. The bird bath was once again frozen over although the temperature managed to remain fractionally above zero degrees. The 3.6 hours of sunshine I recorded made it the sunniest day since the 20th October last year. Obviously the weather was in the ‘know’, that I’d now moved all my seed potatoes into the greenhouse to chit and only yesterday planted some salad leaves. Having fallen to 0°C overnight the daytime temperature in the greenhouse managed 26°C in the sunshine.
As it was such a sunny day, we decided on an afternoon walk around Anglers Country Park. It was certainly a crisp afternoon as we wandered around the lake with lots of other visitors making the most of the beautiful day. In the shade the grass was still white from the overnight frost but out of the wind and in the sunshine it felt pleasantly mild.
It’s our first winter visit to the Country Park and our first visit on a weekend. It was difficult to find a spot in the car park. It was like the supermarket just before Christmas. Our future visits are more likely to be during the week but we wanted to make the best use of such a nice day.

I managed to finish editing my video of our visiting bullfinches before our afternoon out and uploaded the completed video to YouTube.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Salad Crops in the Greenhouse

Saturday started off cloudy and mild with some light rain. This soon passed and the sun came out and the temperature dropped.

As you can see Saturday was a real mixture of weather especially with the the afternoon showers falling as hail. It was windy too but I thought that was too much information for one chart.

The sunshine of the last few days encourage me to sow some salad crops in the greenhouse. On a sunny day greenhouse temperatures get up to around the 20°C mark plenty warm enough for some salad crops. The downside is with no heating temperatures below freezing can’t be ruled out so I wouldn’t want to be sowing anything too exotic or too expensive to loose on a cold night. So some salad leaves seemed a reasonable compromise. 

We are trying to grow celery and celeriac this year. Having tried unsuccessfully in the past we thought it was time to have another go. An early start and plenty of water are perhaps the things we got wrong last time. The watering bit comes later but with lots of seeds in each packet we thought we could try an early start with some seeds under our grow light with a back up of sowing later if our early sowing doesn’t come up to expectation.

In the morning rain the male and female bullfinches made a visit to the bird tables and I just couldn’t turn down the opportunity of attempting some better video. Well the video still needs some editing before posting to YouTube but I have managed to grab some still images from the video.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Almost Spring but Not Quite

A bright sunny start to Friday didn't last as by early afternoon once again dark clouds rolled in which were enough to give some very light drizzle. It continued mild but a bit breezy at times. As this recent mild spell of weather continues I keep expecting it to set a new mildest day of the year but it hasn't. That record is still the 3rd January at 07:20 when the temperature reached 12.3°C.

The morning sunshine brought these crocuses into flower hot on the heels of our snowdrops which also came into bloom earlier this week.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Green Manure Anyone

If you’re a keen follower of our blogs and web site you may well remember our contaminated manure problem. Now I can understand that if you've managed to avoid any issues with manuring your plot then you may not appreciate our apprehension regarding the application of farmyard manure or similar to our plot. Having had a year’s worth of crops ruined we vowed not to use farmyard manure again. 

However, I'm concerned that we do need to look after our soil, let’s face it rubbish soil is never going to produce good crops. I don’t think I can compost enough material to make up for not  buying in or obtaining supplies of manure. So I’ve been giving some thought about what to do.

The answer may well lie with green manure.

Construction Continues

Thursday was almost a repeat of yesterday with some morning sunshine and a cloudy afternoon. The temperature managed 10.0°C but it felt cold in the rather blustery wind.

We made the most of the weather getting some more construction work done on the plot. I’d acquired some old interwoven fence panels to use to improve my compost bins. So my sledge hammer was in use again knocking in some more posts for erecting the panels.
This was the composting area to be improved. It really is just an area for tipping our weeds on but surprisingly enough with enough care and time it does produce some pretty good compost. It was a bit tricky lining up the panels for fixing to the posts as in the breeze the panels took on a life of their own.
 This is the improved area taken from its best side with the new panelling erected. I'm going to use the remaining timber pallets to make a removable front to the compost bins for both easy emptying and that wonderful task of turning the compost. 

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Two fences done

Wednesday morning was sunny and felt mild as there was no wind. It clouded over in the afternoon and there were just a few spots of rain in the gentle breeze.

As it was nice in the morning I decided to make the most of the weather and buy some more timber posts for the fence required for supporting our autumn raspberries, new blackberry  and Japanese Wineberry. By the time I got down to the plot in the afternoon the weather had changed but I still managed to get the posts in and wires fastened.
I've still have to erect some old fencing panels to improve our composting area for the summer so I’m hoping to get that done in the next couple of weeks before the allotment season begins in earnest around the beginning of April. 

The sunny weather at last brought our snowdrops into flower. They aren’t fully open yet but if this weather persists they should be looking good for the weekend.
Last year they were fully out on the 8th February so they’re just a little later this year. Maybe that the cold start to February delayed them. I'm not sure why but I always find snowdrops one of the more difficult flowers to take photos of. No matter how many pictures I take I don’t seem to be able to get a really crisp image of the flowers. I'm never 100% happy with the end result. Maybe I’ll try again today once the flowers open up. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Some planting - but Indoors

Tuesday was cloudy and cool and a bit breezy at times.

I planted up our onion sets and shallots into pots in the greenhouse. Details of the varieties are listed here. The thinking is that left in their net bags the bulbs will begin to grow as a matter of course before I get chance to plant them out. At least in pots they have some compost to grow some roots into by the time I can get them planted out. 
It’s probably just as well I'm happy to do this as in the afternoon we made a visit down to the plot. Sue listed our exploits here but whilst we were there I harvested a few vegetables, parsnips, leeks and Brussels sprouts. The one thing I learnt from digging up the parsnips and leeks was that our heavy clayey soil was in no fit state for digging. A wet December and January followed by 2 weeks of below freezing weather in February have left the ground saturated. I know from bitter experience in this condition our soil is best left to dry out before digging. So all in all our shallots and onions are probably better off in their pots and trays rather than net bags for the next few weeks.
Our garlic is managing to survive in the cold and saturated soil and this is typical of our soil condition at the moment. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Chitting Part 2

Monday saw a continuation of our milder weather. It was a bright sunny morning but it clouded over in the afternoon with some dark clouds threatening rain which didn't materialise.

I thought it was time I moved my seed potatoes out of the garage and into the light of the greenhouse for some more chitting now the severe frosts have finished.
The potatoes appeared to have survived a couple of very cold weeks in the garage with no ill effects. They're now back in the greenhouse to continue chitting. Hopefully we haven’t any more -6°C to come otherwise they will end up in the garage again.

It also gave me chance to set our 3 new varieties out into a seed tray to chit. These were much smaller seed potatoes but hopefully in this case size wont matter too much. 
I decided whilst I was in the greenhouse to inspect some of our plants placed inside for a little winter protection. Our kiwi looks like it has managed to make it through the cold spell and already has the tiniest green shoots showing. 
It’s a reminder that we need to sort out improved growing conditions for it this year. I think it needs to be in a bigger pot and I might try some JI compost mixed with extra topsoil as compost. It needs some careful pruning too to form a basic network of branches. It was rather left to do its own thing last summer probably not the best of ideas.

I also did a little bit more tidying up in the greenhouse. I’ve now plenty of bags of spent growing bag compost to take down to the plot to help improve the soil down there. Once the old growing bags were removed and the debris swept up the greenhouse looked much tidier.
I’m not going to be able to hold out much longer, it’s that urge to start sowing seeds trying to convince me that spring is just around the corner.

Monday, 13 February 2012

All Thawed Out

Sunday was much milder than of late bringing to an end the bitterly cold start to the month. The daily average temperature was 4.7°C (40.5°F) making it the warmest day of the month. It’s the first time in days that the ice in the bird bath has thawed out and the final remnants of last weeks snow have disappeared too. 

All we need now is a little bit of sunshine and it would feel like spring is on its way. Unfortunately the Met Office forecast is for a cloudy  but much milder week, I don’t suppose we can have everything.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

February’s Peaked!

Saturday was a beautiful sunny but cold day and the frost didn't thaw out all day.

I think February’s cold weather has peaked as following on from the winter’s lowest temperature overnight Friday/Saturday we’ve just had our warmest overnight temperature this month of 3.0°C. The forecast for next week is for predominantly cloudy weather with temperatures around 7°C or 8°C during the day. Have we seen the last of this cold February cold snap or is there another spell still to come?

It certainly has been a cold start to February although despite our severe frosts the temperatures recorded in Ossett haven’t been down as low as those recorded in England in the winter of 1947 one of the coldest on record.
With no severe frosts forecasts next week I'm hoping it will be safe to move my seed potatoes back into the greenhouse so that they can form some good chits ready for planting out in April.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Another Cold Night

Friday was another cold grey winter’s day. We've had a few of them just recently and they’ve put any gardening activities on hold.

Overnight into Saturday the sky cleared producing another severe frost with the temperature down to -5.9°C (21.4°F) yet a further lowering of this winter’s coldest night. At least Saturday has dawned bright and clear but still well below zero. The pond had somehow managed to lose its covering of ice despite the temperature hardly rising above 0°C for the last couple of days, but it’s now frozen over once again.
Our snowdrops still remain frozen in time, just waiting for a rise in temperature before coming into flower. They’re now going to be later into flower this year than last so the mild start to winter certainly hasn't brought our snowdrops into early flowering mode.
Winter this year is the opposite way round to last year in that we started off mild in December and the first part of January and then the cold spell kicked in. Last year December was very cold with a milder January and February. Unless February remains very cold it looks like this winter will be milder than last year but may well turn out to be on the cold side of what we might expect. The chart below is updated to 10th February. 
Click to view full size image
Just where will this year’s brown trace finish. Moving towards the yellow line moves closer to an average winter but temperatures will need to warm up for this to happen or will it continue in its relentless downward trend towards last year’s winter value.

In the meantime whilst the weather remains this cold my seeds are staying cosy in their packets waiting for some milder weather.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Sparrows don’t seem to mind

Thursday was a horrible day even allowing for it being the middle of winter. No sunshine, it was a dull misty murky cold day with outbreaks of light rain or drizzle at times. At least we didn't get any snow.

From noon onwards we had some light rain. It might well have been this rather rare freezing rain but I didn’t venture out to check. Strange that it rained with the temperature almost at 0°C.

The weather didn’t stop our resident flock of sparrows tucking into their bird seed as soon as it went out onto the bird table. They were even prepared to share the space with one of our regular collared doves.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Coldest Day of Winter

Wednesday set the new record for this winter as with a high of 1.3°C and low of -5.6°C it turned in an average temperature for the day of minus 2.0°C.

The chart starts at midnight Tuesday. Wednesday managed a few hours just above zero around the middle of the day. Overnight the temperature fell to -5.6°C not quite the coldest of the month.

In the garden our snowdrops are in a state of frozen suspension waiting for the temperatures to rise a little before putting on their display. I can’t say I blame them. They were in full flower last year by the 8th February.

It’s a little bit easier to see the frost on these self sown cyclamen seedlings. They’re tough as old boots and the freezing temperatures wont do them any harm.

Our pond has frozen over again as a result of the length of the cold spell together with the well below freezing overnight temperatures.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Cold & Grey

Tuesday morning started off sunny but by lunchtime it had turned into another cold grey February day. It didn't get very warm all day (max 3.3°C) and by midnight Tuesday the temperature had fallen to -3.5°C. It continued to fall to -5.6° by 03:00 Wednesday morning before beginning to warm up slightly so that by day break it was only -2.6°C.

The sunshine on Monday tempted me outside, well into the greenhouse at least as the early afternoon sun lifted the greenhouse temperature up to a positively balmy 14°C. There’s plenty of tidying up to do to remove the remnants of last years crops. The old tomato grow bags need to be cleared out and taken down to the plot to be added as compost to this year’s potato beds.

Our grapevine always manages to get unruly despite my best efforts with the secateurs. The first essential job was to cut back the remaining old vines and tidy up all the dead fallen leaves to give the vine a good spring clean. There was a surprising amount of debris once the vine was cut back to the main stem and the leaves gathered together.
The old gnarled stem looked much better once it was trimmed back. I'm always amazed that this rather dead looking vine will be growing out of control come summer.
Once all the debris had been removed the greenhouse was already starting to take on a tidier look - well one side of the path - ready for some serious growing to get started when the weather begins to warm up. Next job sort out the rubbish on the left of the path, that’s the bit out of shot.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Like Clockwork

Monday wasn't too bad with some sunny spells and the temperature managed a high of 6.8°C. There was no frost overnight Sunday/Monday so I thought our light covering of snow would have melted but where the sun didn't shine the snow didn’t melt - or so it seems.

We’ve had another keen frost meaning Monday morning has started cold, sunny and frosty.
Unlike everybody else's snowdrops ours are just about to come into flower. It seems to me that they must be months late as snowdrops have been appearing in bloom on television and in newspapers for weeks now. Well not our snowdrops.

I’ve had a look back at last years snowdrop photographs and I was a little surprised by what I found. Last year we had a bitterly cold December one of the coldest on record although January and early February weren’t too bad. These are photographs from last year.
So it was the 8th February last year when our snowdrops managed to flower. Well this year’s buds are just about getting ready to break although I'm not convinced that they’re going to make it for Wednesday. We shall see.
Taken on the 6th February 2012 this year’s blooms are well on their way but are within a few days of last year’s flowering date. I’ll now see if our crocuses and daffodils flower around the same time. 

Monday, 6 February 2012

Thaws straight away

Sunday was nice and sunny and the mildest day for a week or more resulting in Saturday’s snow thawing. 

I’ve been having a go at checking some figures. I know that we’ve had some mild days this winter but we’ve now had a couple of pretty cold spells as well but it seems the description in the press and media regarding this winter is that it’s been a mild winter.

Well winter hasn’t finished yet and it’s true that in the middle of January “mild” was a fair description of winter at that stage. Since then things have changed quite a bit. I reckon that by 4th Feb an average winter temperature should be 5.28°C and our actual value is 5.26°C. So spot on average - so it’s now just a typical sort of winter that we’d expect to get more often than not. Cold days have come along and offset the mild ones.
Click on image for full size view
Out of interest in the cold winter of 1963 the average winter temperature at 4th Feb was -0.31°C and taking 1989 as one of the warmest winters the corresponding average temperature was 6.71°C.