Friday, 28 February 2014

Shooting the Bishop

After some overnight rain, which carried through into the morning as showers, the day brightened up nicely to give us a sunny late morning and afternoon. It was a little breezy at times but it was mild again as the temperature almost made it into double figures reaching 9.8°C.

On our last visit to the garden centre we bought some shallots and dahlias. The shallots have been planted up into modules to get an early start before been transplanted out on the plot. I thought it was about time I put our dahlias into some compost to get them started too.
The Bishop of Llandaff, Mary Eveline, Edge of Joy and Sunshine were all put into large seed trays and covered with compost. If I'm lucky and they shoot quickly I may even have time to take some cuttings and gain a few extra plants.

I also managed to add to our onions sets by planting up a tray each of Rumba and an impressively named “Red” variety.
Of course now I've done this the forecast is for cold frosty weather which we seem to have avoided all winter but now planting time is here so is the frost. As a precaution I covered all our chitting seed potatoes and newly planted dahlias with a couple of layers of fleece. The onions are pretty tough and should be able to survive a cold night or two.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Loads of Promise

Wednesday was another mild day with some morning sunshine before it clouded over around lunchtime resulting in a couple of afternoon showers.

Our potted apricot tree which stands outside our home greenhouse is full of promise of things to come.
It’s covered in flower buds just waiting to break open in a spell of nice weather. Of course there’s a long way to go from flowers to fruit with all sorts of pitfalls before we get our first ripe apricots. Last year, along with the peach and nectarine, the tree suffered badly from peach leaf curl and needed all its infected leaves removing. This meant in the case of the peach and nectarine, all their leaves. They did grow back a healthy set of fresh leaves through the summer. In an attempt to prevent the peach leaf curl this year our peach, nectarine and apricot trees were sprayed with a Bordeaux mixture today. It’s left a bit of a blue tinge on the bark of the tree which is just about visible in the photo.

Once the flowers open pollination will be the next hurdle as there aren’t many pollinating insects about this early in the year. I guess Sue will be out with her paint brush trying to make up for that lack of insects.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Starting by Default

The “dry” spell didn't last into Tuesday as we had some early morning rain and a couple of light showers as it got dark. Only amounting to 0.8mm it didn't add much to our monthly total.

I don’t really consider our gardening season to have started yet but by default it has. We've got onions and shallots planted into modules to give them an early start and our newly arrived potatoes are chitting away merrily in the home greenhouse despite it still missing a couple of very large panes of glass. Sue sowed her cyclamen Latinia - she got the name wrong on the label - and they've become the first seeds of the season to go under the indoor growlight. It might be some time before they germinate if indeed they do at all. Fingers crossed.
Last week Sue and I were discussing what must be the trigger to let spring bulbs know it’s the time of year for them to begin pushing their leaves and flowers through the ground and provide us with those first welcoming signs of spring. We couldn't really come up with any real ideas although we did notice that despite us thinking that our snowdrops were early this year they were more or less the same time as previous years.
I was starting to put together some of the weather charts for this winter which meteorologically speaking ends on Friday. Below is the chart for solar energy or sunshine record for the three winter months. 
As the daylight increases gradually it very easy to underestimate the changes taking place. Looking at the chart its just about possible to tell that the amount of energy increase a little bit in January compared to December but once we hit February the changes are much greater. Perhaps nature is just much better at detecting these little changes than we are.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Hat Trick

Following on from a rainless Saturday and Sunday, Monday too turned out to be precipitation free. The sun came out in the morning and the promise of spring was showing as our miniature Tête-à-tête daffodils and crocuses almost made it into flower.

As we are looking after our part time dog Tivvy we decided to make the most of a lovely sunny day and have a walk around Roundhay Park in Leeds.
Lots of other visitors had decided to make the most of a fine day. Lots were walking their dogs, others were feeding the masses of gulls and ducks on the lake.
The gulls were great viewing as they took off from the water only to land again in a great squabbling mass where food was thrown for them. The geese had a far more tranquil attitude in trying to secure their food supply from their personal supermarket by the lakeside.
We spent the afternoon watching the bird life feeding and having a walk around the lakes. By the time we decided to head for home and miss the rush hour traffic around Leeds the sun had disappeared and the wind made it suddenly feel much cooler.

Copyright: Original post from A Gardener's Weather Diary author M Garrett

Monday, 24 February 2014

Two Dry Days in a Row!!

Sunday was dull, mild and for the second day in a row we didn't have any rain. That wasn't at all in line with the weather forecast which was for rain for most of the day. Amazingly it’s the first time we've had two dry days in a row since 10th and 11th December last year.

After setting our potatoes to chit in the greenhouse I made the most of the warm afternoon to get some more onion sets into modules for growing on before they are set out on the plot. I managed to find space for a couple of modules of Stuttgarter but I'm now a bit stuck until I can finish the repairs to the greenhouse roof. I've no more greenhouse space left guaranteed not to get wet when it rains.
We've now got two modules planted up with Stuttgarter together with a module each of Red Karmen, Rumba and Sturon. My aim is to plant two modules of each variety. These will hopefully produce our main onion crop with the remainder of the sets closely planted out to produce a crop of smaller onions. 

Sunday, 23 February 2014

New for Old!

Plenty of sunshine on Saturday and according to the thermometer it was mild but it didn't feel it on an afternoon walk around the grounds of Temple Newsam Estate in Leeds.

It was only a short walk as lots of maintenance work is being carried out to dredge the lake and the surrounding footpaths are closed until the work is completed.
Obviously this large tree didn't make it through the last storm. This is coppicing on a grand scale by natural forces. In other parts of the estate spring bulbs are starting to put on a pretty display.
The rain held off all day it was just a shame the wind was so strong. Sheltered from the strong gusty wind it was possible to think that spring might be on its way.

Copyright: Original post from A Gardener's Weather Diary author M Garrett

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Seed Potatoes Delivered

Friday had some sunny periods and it was mild again with the rain holding off until teatime.

Our seed potatoes arrived on Tuesday from JBA Seed Potatoes. The potatoes were ordered last December and I requested that delivery should be in the last week of February. The seed potatoes arrived in excellent condition and I'm setting them out to chit in the greenhouse protected with some fleece just in case of any overnight frosts.
There much debate on social media web sites about the need to chit potatoes. I've always chitted mine as, left in the bags they’re supplied in .the tubers will sprout long, weak, spindly shoots which aren’t any good.
I use seed trays to chit them setting the part of the potato with the most “eyes” pointing upwards. These are Winston a first early variety. The other varieties we are growing this year are Casablanca, Charlotte, Harmony, Marfona, Nadine, Nicola and Rocket. The potatoes will be left covered with fleece until planting time in April. I might start a few first early roots of Rocket and Winston in potato bags to grow initially in the greenhouse before been moved outside to produce a tasty early crop.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Spring Like - But?

Thursday was almost spring like with the warmest day of the year reaching 12.3°C with some sunny spells thrown in. It was spoilt by lots of showers throughout the afternoon.
I'm not sure the frequency of the showers shows up on the chart, they seemed to be every few minutes but very light and very short just enough to wet the ground.

As it wasn't too bad outside I made a start on tidying the inside of the greenhouse ready for the start of the sowing and planting season. Lurking under pots, were a few guests that needed to be removed before they had chance to do any damage.
At least I managed to remove all last seasons old tomato growing compost and spread it onto the garden as a mulch. Left in the greenhouse, the compost had dried out over winter but I'm assuming, now it’s outside, it will soon be damp enough and that the worms will do a decent job of incorporating it into the border.
In the afternoon sunshine our snowdrops were in full flower.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Queuing for a Museum

Wednesday wasn't a bad day although any sunshine was at a premium. To ram home the point the temperature managed double figures again although we did have a shower mid morning and again late into the evening adding another 0.4mm of rain to our monthly total.

We decided on a visit to the National Railway’s sister museum at Shildon in County Durham. For this week only, the six surviving A4 steam locomotives designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, and sister locomotives to Mallard the world’s fastest ever steam locomotive, are together at the museum. More than likely this is the last time all six locomotives will be seen together as 4496 Dwight D Eisenhower will be heading back to Wisconsin, America and Dominion of Canada back to Montreal. They were repatriated especially for the 75th anniversary of Mallard setting this world record.
Although the six steam locomotives are on display all week that didn’t stop thousands visiting the museum on Wednesday to see them.
It was almost impossible to photograph the locomotives with so many visitors milling around. The picture above shows 4489 Dominion of Canada which has been “cosmetically” restored for the event sandwiched between two locomotives still capable of hauling passenger trains on main line excursions. Indeed 4464 Bittern on the right has recently been hauling charter trains at speeds of up to 90mph. On the left is 60009 Union of South Africa also a regular main line performer.
As nice as it is to see these six famous locomotives together this is how I prefer to see them in steam and working rather than displayed as just a hunk of preserved metal. The picture above shows 60009 Union of South Africa with a main line charter train crossing Dent Head Viaduct on the Settle to Carlisle Railway in March 2013. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

A Very Convenient “Act of God”

I should have known that by actually writing a blog post saying that the temperature hadn't reached double figures this month would result in a temperature of 11.4°C on Tuesday. After a nice sunny morning it turned dull and cloudy in the afternoon but the rain held off too to give us our third dry day of the month.
You may remember that after last week’s storm part of our neighbours roof finished up on my car. Mine and my neighbours response was that the cost of repairing the damage to my car would be covered under his house insurance policy. What neither of us appreciated at the time was that this was an “Act of God” and not covered by insurance. Don’t you just love insurance companies they have a get out clause for everything. I'm not entirely clear what constitutes the “Act of God”. Is it the gale force winds alone? Does it mean if the wind blows the roof off your house this isn't covered by insurance? Is it the pure mischief that the damaged roof was blown onto my car? Why is wind damage an “Act of God” yet apparently “biblical” amounts of rainfall aren't? Any explanations?

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Mild but Not Mild?

Monday was a dull, dreary and cloudy day. The rain just about held off all day but just couldn’t help itself and we had shower late into the evening amounting to 0.4mm. So we just missed out on a third dry day for the month.
This winter’s certainly hit the headlines with the amount of rainfall there’s been in some parts of the country. Thankfully the worst of that has missed us but along with the wet weather it will go down as a mild winter. So far very few frosts but what about the day time temperatures? Seventeen days into February and we haven’t managed to reach 10°C yet. We've been close at 9.6°C on the 08 February but we haven’t managed to hit that double digit temperature yet.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Not Up to Expectation

Sunday didn't live up to its forecast of lots of sunshine and clear blue skies. It got off to a poor start with some rain at breakfast time followed by a sky full of dark looking clouds amongst which were some small patches of blue.

Based on the forecast for a lovely sunny dry day, we’d planned for a visit to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s reserve at Potteric Carr. The wet start to the day set us umming and ahhing about whether to go or not. We hadn't had any more rain by lunchtime and although we still had some dark clouds around we decided we’d risk a visit.
When we arrived at Potteric Carr there was just a few spots of rain. We decided to hope for the best that the rain would hold off. We managed our walk around the reserve without getting wet. As far as the wildlife went it was a little disappointing with all the birds seemingly as far away from the hides as possible. We did though manage to spot a couple of ducks that we hadn't seen before, a shoveler and a pochard. I didn't manage a decent picture of either as they were just specks on the water.
This was my best effort at the pochard and I didn't get anything of the shoveler at all.
The weather certainly did improve through the afternoon. This was a the scene from the first hide we visited with not much sign of any sunshine at all. Later in the afternoon the cloud was much more broken with some decent sunny intervals.
In the end we were glad we decided to visit as we had an enjoyable wander around the reserve even if the bird life didn't want to play ball. At least we hadn't got wet.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Some Greenhouse Repairs

Saturday was another miserable day with rain on and off all day and it was still quite breezy.

During a little break in the weather I headed up to our home greenhouse to measure up for some new polycarbonate sheeting to replaced that damaged in this weeks storm.
This is where one of the sheets had blown out. It measures 1.660m x 0.730m which would be an enormous pane of glass and not easy to deal with. The only sensible replacement is to use another sheet of polycarbonate which is much lighter and safer than glass. I noticed when I first inspected the damage that all the sheeting had blown outwards from the greenhouse and that the wind had lifted it upwards. The problem with the sheeting is that it is very flexible. I have added the two wooden laths across the window opening to support the polycarbonate and stop it flexing downwards and falling into the greenhouse when we have any snowfalls. I obviously need to add some additional strengthening material to stop any upward flexing taking place.
On first inspection, I hadn't noticed that this large sheet of polycarbonate remained in one piece down the side of the greenhouse. The smaller piece at the far end of the path is broken and will need replacing. By this time it was raining again but I thought it worthwhile to try to replace this undamaged sheet to keep some of the rainfall out of the greenhouse. I could only make a temporary repair as I still need to think up a way of stopping any upward flexing.
It didn't take too long before the panel was slid back inside its grooves in the old greenhouse timbers and the end batten refixed to stop it sliding back down. The problem is how to fix a new timber batten to the old greenhouse timbers as it’s a long reach. Perhaps an alternative is to actually glue a timber batten to the polycarbonate to stiffen it and to stop it flexing completely. A similar technique seems to have worked on a much smaller pane in our plot greenhouse so this could be a way forward. Whilst I'm refurbishing the polycarbonate sheeting it’s probably a good time to give the remaining glass panels a good clean too.

You may have noticed that the greenhouse guttering is in need of some attention too and that the path at the back of the path leads to what is now “The Coldframe Courtyard ”. Some decent weather is needed before a serious start can be made on either the greenhouse refurbishment or our new “Coldframe Courtyard”.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Another Wet and Windy Afternoon

Friday morning wasn't too bad, well at least in was dry, but that only lasted to around lunchtime when it began to rain again. Another 8.4mm of rain today took us up to 53.8mm, above 47.8mm our expected rainfall for the month, and and we’re only just over half way through the month.
As you can see from the table it’s rained most days but without any excessive daily amounts. None of these days gets into the Ossett top 30 wettest days in the last four years. To get into 30th position more than 13.0mm is required and to get to top spot it has to beat 06 July 2012 with 39.2mm.

The real problems have been caused by the gale force winds which seem to have battered us nearly every day. I think that damage can be caused by continuously strong winds as well as one off extreme gusts.
This is my own little chart for keeping track of windy weather. It tracks how many gusts have been recorded by my anemometer. With a couple of weeks still to go this month it is already the windiest February I've recorded. The forecast does seem to be suggesting more settled weather is on the way so perhaps the January 2012 record may not be broken.

On a brighter note my quest to capture some decent images of our female blackbirds goes on in our brighter spells of weather.
This one was just having a bath sprucing herself up for Valentines Day. Out of interest I saw Hoppy and a female blackbird sitting close up on a branch and they weren't squabbling so I wonder if Hoppy has managed to pull.

Copyright: Original post from A Gardener's Weather Diary author M Garrett

Friday, 14 February 2014

Checking for Damage

Thursday was a lovely sunny if cold February day, a complete contrast to the horrendous weather we had on Wednesday. In truth the wind hadn't died down completely and it was a bit blustery at times. It clouded over in the middle of the afternoon just enough to produce a light shower.

After finding a small part of our neighbour’s roof had fallen onto our car I thought I’d better have a look and see if there was any other damage from yesterday’s gales. I could tell before I got to the garden greenhouse that some of the roof had been blown out. There was no way the glass could be that clean. Sure enough three large roofing panels had been lifted out and deposited in pieces on the path behind the greenhouse. There’s not much I can do as a temporary repair and I need to give a bit of thought to a longer term repair. I’ll just have to hope that the forecast storms don’t do too much extra damage.
It was a nice afternoon and,  as we hadn't visited the plot since the middle of January, we were in need of some fresh vegetables so we decided to check out the plot and also recce all the potential storm damage. We were pleasantly surprised that both our shed and plot greenhouse had survived the gales intact.

The plot’s very wet with even our grass paths making a squelchy sound under our wellies. The vegetables have stood up to the battering and rain pretty well. First on the list for lifting “Chantenay Royal” carrots. Having lifted part of our final row I decided to go for broke and finish lifting all of this variety left in the ground and freeze some for using before our summer crop is ready.
They were certainly large but their condition was unknown as they were lifted from their rather muddy winter home. After a wash a few needed to be added to the compost heap but they were mostly in a decent condition for using in the kitchen.

They weighed in at 4.94kg once sorted and still taste good, as we gave them a taste test at dinner time. I think I've now lifted all our “Chantenay Royals”. That means with our summer and autumn harvest this variety has produced 17.6kg of carrots. Decent organic carrots in the local supermarket are around £1.20/kg giving us a crop worth £21.08. Not bad from a £0.60 packet of seed. I know I've got the investment in time, some environmesh and weed to control fabric to take into account but I reckon with a bit of care they’ll last a good 10 years each. The environmesh is probably in need of a jet wash this spring but it will then be as good as new.

We also managed to harvest some sprouts, red and green cabbage together with a few leeks to keep us supplied with fresh vegetables for a few days. By then it would be nice to think that the worst of this lousy wet and windy weather would be over and that some drier settled weather will have arrived. If only!

Thursday, 13 February 2014


Wednesday turned out to be wet and stormy as after a day of rain we were battered by storm force winds for much of the evening and into the early hours of Thursday morning.
In all we had 9.6mm of rain bringing the monthly total up to 45.2mm which is about what we’d expect in the whole month. The wind was certainly the worst feature with storm force winds from around 17:00 Wednesday evening through to 03:00 on Thursday morning. This time we weren't so lucky at avoiding any damage.
A large junk of mortar was dislodged from our neighbours roof and finished up on our car’s bonnet. 
It’s made a couple of pretty large dents where it hit and then broke into several pieces. So it’s a trip to the garage this morning for an estimate for repairing the damage.

As for the greenhouse at home that’s another story. I'm rather dreading a visit to the plot to see what havoc it wreaked there. 

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Bittern Spotted

Tuesday was a horrible wet and cold morning but it brightened up a little bit in the afternoon before more showers spread in after dark.

We were lucky enough to see a Bittern today but it wasn't the difficult to spot birding variety. This was a big blue steam locomotive. Easy to spot if you know a time and a place.
Now as everyone knows we've all had lots of rain and its caused some severe flooding in some parts of the country. The talk on TV and in newspapers is as though it’s always like this and it will never end. Hard to image then that back in the summer months it wouldn't have been possible to see a steam locomotive operating under its own steam like this in Yorkshire. It was considered so dry that the sparks emitted in the smoke would set off line side fires. This did happen before the ban came into place.
This is a steam locomotive operating over the same stretch of line at the end of August 2013. Note that there’s no smoke and that diesel engine tucked in behind is doing all the work. But now all that has changed and we've more water than we know what to do with.

Once we were back home the sun came out and I thought it would be a good chance to try for a photograph of one of our female blackbirds. For some reason they seem rather more elusive than the 4 or 5 males we see regularly chasing one another around the garden.
I didn't manage to capture a female as you can see. This is one of “Hoppy’s” rivals as they fight for rights to food on the bird table and a suitable female for mating. As for the females they seemed to be in short supply today so someone may be unlucky.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Missed Out

We were busy decorating last week and I must admit to keeping only a cursory eye over my weather records. It was only over the weekend that I spotted that I’d almost missed an all time low for my weather station. At 18:30 on Saturday 8th February the barometric pressure fell to 963.1Mb taking over from 967.7Mb set on 8th November 2010 as the lowest its recorded.
At the time the weather didn't do anything very spectacular, it didn't pour down with rain and the wind wasn't particularly strong.

Monday morning was a bit unusual for this winter as we had a proper frost with the temperature below freezing down to -1.1°C.
It was at its coldest at 08:00 and I should have managed a photograph of the frost on the grass or ice on the bird bath but our plan was to get the decorating at my sister in laws finished today so it was a quick get away on Monday morning.

As it happens Monday turned out a lovely sunny February day with some sunshine and very light winds. It felt pleasant in the afternoon sunshine as we visited the recycling centre with our decorating rubbish.

Pity the forecast for the rest of the week isn't for more of the same. Instead more wind and rain on the way with the possibility of some light snow showers.