Friday, 30 December 2016

An Afternoon in the Freezer

After an incredible cold start to the day on Thursday (-5.6°C or 21.9°F) I expected it to finish up with the lowest average temperature of the year. However, the coldness relented a little in the evening and Wednesday's -1.1°C (30.0°F) remained the coldest and the lowest average daily temperature since 17 January 2013 with -1.9°C or 28.6°F. Thursday’s low was the coldest December temperature since 22 December 2010 when it fell to -5.8°C or 21.6°F.
The freezing cold weather has brought with it some lovely sunny days. We decided to wrap up well and make an afternoon visit to RSPB Fairburn Ings.
In the afternoon sunshine it didn't feel too cold even though most of the ground was covered with the day's frost. Out of the sunshine it was very different with most of the water still frozen over in the middle of the afternoon.
Part of our walk took us along the banks of the River Aire where mist still hung over some lengths of the river.
It was as we walked along the path by the river that someone asked us if we'd seen the deer. It took a while to spot them as they were in the distance on the opposite side of one of the large lakes on the reserve. Cameras trained and lenses at full reach it was a job to see the deer clearly.
It certainly merged in with the background very well. It was the first time we had seen any deer on one of the nature reserves that we visit. There are always reported sighting of deer and occasionally a photo will be posted on Facebook but I certainly didn't expect to see one on a freezing cold December afternoon. It's easy to forget that Fairburn Ings was once a mining area and isn't far away from major cities like Leeds and Wakefield. Parts of the reserve still have signs of that industrial past.
As we headed for the visitor centre in the late afternoon the sun was already setting on what had been a very cold day.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Colder Than Forecast!

It's suddenly got really cold and frosty. It comes as a shock to the system, after a reasonably mild December, when the temperature falls below freezing.
Temperature Record for 28 December 2016
It was the first time this year that the average daily temperature was below freezing finishing at -1.1°C or 30.0°F. I can't remember recording another day where the minimum daily temperature number was equal to the maximum temperature number. The only difference was the minimum number had a minus sign in front of it. The low temperature was -3.7°C and the maximum 3.7°C. It obviously doesn't work in Fahrenheit where the equivalent temperatures are 25.3°F and 38.7°F.
Monthly Records for December 2016
Now I'm not going to go on about how cold Wednesday was as it looks like it will be easily beaten  by Thursday. If you examine the records for the 29 December 2016, shown above, you can see that it has started off even colder with the temperature falling to -5.6°C or 21.9°F around dawn. It's our coldest start to the day since the 16 January 2013 when the temperature was -5.8°C or 21.6°F. Thursday looks likely to be our coldest day of 2016.
It moves into 13 place in my top twenty coldest days listing.

When it's as cold as this on a morning we have a sparrow tree as they wait in the crab apple tree for their turn to eat at the seed feeder.
However, this morning it wasn't possible to fill up the feeder as the top was frozen to the rest of the feeder making it impossible to refill with seed.
There was some seed in the feeder so once it warms up a bit I'll top it up. I put plenty of seed on the bird table so the sparrows shouldn't go hungry. The bird bath was filled up with hot water to thaw out the frozen water left over from yesterday. There's some ice formed on the pond which doesn't happen very often.
I don't think that we'll be visiting the plot as the ground at home is well and truly frozen.
It's now 10:30 on Thursday morning and it's warmed up to -3.3°C (26.1°F) so maybe I'll pop outside and see if I can fill up the feeder for the sparrows.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Equal Coldest

The weather has certainly turned colder after a mild Christmas Day. Wednesday morning's temperature is the equal coldest of the year at -3.7°C or 25.3°F. It equals the same low temperature set on 16 February and 15 November this year.
Wednesday has started bright and sunny and the early morning sun is doing its best to melt the frost on the greenhouse roof but isn't doing too well.
There were some rather good ice formations growing on the greenhouse timber's. This was the best I could manage before my fingers became numb.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Nothing Out of the Ordinary

The storms Barbara and Conor have been and gone over Christmas without too much of a fuss for us. It's been windy with a few showers too but nothing out of the ordinary for the end of December.
Hi Wind Speeds and Rainfall Records for 20-26 December 2016
It was the mildest Christmas day of the last six years with a high of 14.2°C (57.6°C) although that's not the mildest day of the month which was 07 December with 15.6°C or 60.1°C.
Temperature and Rainfall Records for December 2016
It might turn out to be the driest December of the last six years despite the rainfall over the last couple of days. With Boxing Day's rainfall included the monthly total stands at 22.0mm (0.87 in) and the previous record is 27.6mm (1.09 in) back in 2010. The forecast is for colder but more settled weather as we head towards the New Year so it's possible it may remain dry up to the end of this year.

I'm wondering if the strong winds have blown the last few quinces off the tree on the allotment. On our last visit there were only a few sorry looking quinces left hanging on the tree looking a bit like very sparse Christmas decorations. I need to pick up all the fallen fruits that have fallen around the base of the tree.
Quince - Meeches Prolific
I'll have to have a look to see if the resident blackbirds make any use of the fallen fruits as they make a good job of finishing up our windfall apples. Maybe their not into quinces!

Friday, 23 December 2016

Battening Down the Hatches

For a few weeks now high pressure systems have been in charge of our weather giving some settled conditions. All that is about to change as a low pressure system, named Barbara, moves in from the Atlantic bringing wet and windy weather.

We visited the plot to top up out supply of fresh vegetables and I wanted to make our cold frame a little bit more secure so it has a better chance of surviving the windy weather intact.
The cold frame moved to the allotment a few years ago, when we upgraded to newer wooden cold frames at home. It was in a much more sheltered spot at home and survived many gales without any damage. On the plot it is far more exposed to the elements and constant battering from the wind gradually loosens the fixings which hold the glass in place. Eventually this results in the glass panes falling out and breaking. In an attempt to stop this happening I’ve taken to cocooning the cold frame in environmesh to lessen the effect of the wind. The environmesh isn’t used for anything else over winter.

We have been storing our onions in the shed at the allotment. Conditions in the shed aren’t ideal as it gets too damp during winter and some of the onions had started to go mouldy. We decided to bring all the remaining good quality onions home and store them in the summerhouse. I’m not that convinced it will be much better for them in there but at least we will be able to inspect them more often removing any that start to deteriorate.
Onions - Sturon, Stuttgart and Red Karmen
It’s good to know that the hours of daylight are now starting to lengthen even if it only by a few seconds a day to start with. On Thursday, we left the plot at 15:00 and the sun had already disappeared below the level of the conifers that form one of the boundaries to the allotments.
I'm hoping that we don't get too much rain, in the wet and windy weather that's forecast, to make it too wet to work on jobs at the allotment.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Winter's First Milestone

The last few days haven't been too bad for the middle of December. Wednesday marked the winter solstice so now we are past the shortest day of the year. I somehow think of this as been the first milestone of winter whereas it really only marks the official start of winter.
Temperature & Solar radiation Records for Wednesday 21 December 2016
You can see the approximate time my weather station picks up and looses solar radiation readings for the winter solstice. Ossett's official sunrise was 08:21 with sunset at 15:47 giving us 7 hours and 26 minutes of daylight. The daylight hours will now continue to increase up to the summer solstice on 21 June 2017 when sunrise will be at 04:36 and sunset at 21:40 giving us 17 hours and 4 minutes of daylight.

We had a little trip out on Wednesday to see the last of the Christmas steam charter trains running to York.
LMS Coronation Class 8P 4-6-2 no 46233 Duchess of Sutherland with The Christmas White Rose to York
There was a stiff breeze, with spots of rain mixed in, so the conditions certainly weren't ideal especially as smoke from the locomotive obscured the view of the carriages.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Heaps of the Stuff

It wasn't too bad a weekend. Saturday was the better of the two days with a little bit more sunshine. Temperatures were about average for the time of year and it stayed dry.
Temperature and Solar Radiation Records for 17-19 December 2016
On Friday I finished emptying one of the compost bins on the plot. Well, I call it a bin, it's really a large heap contained by pallets and old fencing panels. After been left for a year or so it's produced some good quality compost.
There's still some material around the edges of the emptied bay but I intend to spread the remainder over the bottom of the bay to start a new heap. The material around the edges needs to break down a little bit more before being spread on the plot.
The compost has been spread around the pear trees, (trying to avoid most of the candytuft seedlings), rhubarb roots, raspberry and blackberry canes, and gooseberry bushes.

My plan was to empty the contents of the adjacent compost bay into the newly emptied one. This would be a way of turning the heap for a final time. However, to my surprise when the compost material was uncovered the compost was ready to be used.
I've already managed to dig out five barrow loads of good compost and started to spread the material over empty beds before digging it into the ground in spring. I'm going to be fairly busy empting out this bay over the next few weeks. Then, once this bay is emptied, the adjacent heap which is full of what I'll call "weeds" can be turned into this bay. It's not easy this composting lark is it?

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Action Camera - DJI Osmo

If you use a camera you know how important it is to keep the camera perfectly still when you take a picture to avoid a blurry image. Camera manufacturers have come up with optical stabilisation systems to help you keep your camera steady so that you can take the perfect shot. Now of course the same is true if you are shooting video rather than still images but in the case of video you may want to move the camera to keep following a moving subject. This puts extra strain on any stabilisation system when trying to shoot video with a moving camera.
LNER Class A4 60009 Union of South Africa speeds towards York with a Charter Train
Stabilisation systems don't work so well if you start to walk around with your camera. I know because I tried it out on the allotment to see if I could walk around the plot and take some video with my Panasonic GH4. It didn't work and the resulting video tended to make me feel a bit seasick watching it and I gave up on the idea. 

Then, as I said before, there was a new kid on the block. Not to replace what my existing Panasonic camera was capable of but to add a new dimension to my videos. The new kid was the DJI Osmo. Simply put the Osmo consists of the same tiny camera that's used in a drone and the technological wizardry to keep the camera perfectly steady when hand held rather than being mounted beneath an air born drone. It captures 4k video and can capture still images too.

DJI Osmo Camera
I've added a few accessories as the built in microphone is useless. The Osmo doesn't have any sort of viewfinder to enable you to see what you are filming but connects to a mobile phone using a WiFi connection. With the aid of a free app it's possible to  see what the camera lens sees as well as operating the camera and gimbal all from your mobile phone screen.

View on mobile phone with Osmo looking out of window
Of course you can do much more on screen too like setting up the Osmo to take video or still images as well as operating the camera shutter.

Basic DJI Osmo set up
The main advantage of the DJI Osmo is that it really does keep its camera remarkable stable even when walking around with it. Check out the following video taken on our allotment comparing a little walk with my Panasonic GH4 and DJI Osmo.

I'm right handed and gave the GH4 the benefit of being held in my right hand and the Osmo in my left hand. The pictures below indicate how I held each camera except I swapped hands to make the video using what I consider to be my steadier hand for the Panasonic GH4.

My only reservation with the DJI Osmo is the time it takes to get set up. There's the WiFi connection to set up and the app to load up on my phone and usually a rather lengthy delay before an image of what the Osmo is seeing appears on my phone. When it goes wrong it's very frustrating but when it goes right the results are brilliant. I've included the clip below which turned out pretty well. To get the full benefit of 4k you'll need to watch it on YouTube with the HD setting on 2160p 4k.

Of course with no zoom features on the camera it in no way replaces my Panasonic GH4. The video below of the polar bears playing in the water at Yorkshire Wildlife Park is only possible because of the zoom lens on the camera. Considering that the camera was hand held on its maximum zoom for this video it shows how good the stabilisation system is on my Panasonic GH4 providing you make an effort to hold the camera steady and don't walk about with it.

Of course you have to have some idea of where I was in relation to the polar bears to understand why a telephoto lens was essential.

On this wide angle view you can see the small island constructed out of stone in the middle of the lake. A good zoom lens is required to capture some good images of the polar bears.

With all its accessories added my DJI Osmo looks like this:

As you can imagine it's not that easy to carry around assembled but I'm still experimenting with how to transport it about and put it to its best use. I'll save that for another post.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Parsnip Heaven

After a bit of a dull start it cleared up nicely on Friday and we decided on a visit to the plot for some fresh veggies. I posted a week or so ago that we thought our parsnip harvest was doomed this year due to poor germination back in spring. However, the parsnips that did germinate have gone on to do very well indeed - well the ones we've harvested so far.
These were dug up on Friday and weighed in at around 3kg or 6.5lbs. The parsnips I'd lifted over the last few weeks were all free of canker. Now I'd like to say that was the same for those lifted on Friday but rather oddly one root lifted had succumbed to a bad attack.
It's not a pretty sight is it? I almost forgot to take its picture as once I realised how badly affected it was I immediately consigned it to the compost heap. After all we had plenty of good parsnips without resorting to sorting out this canker ridden specimen. I had to rummage around amongst the newly added compost to retrieve the discarded root. Thinking a little bit more about it perhaps it shouldn't go on the compost heap at all in order to prevent the spread of the disease.
All the other parsnips were clear of canker apart from one with a blemish around the crown which will not be much more than skin deep. I think we'll be sticking with Gladiator for next year.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Planning For Next Year

Well Thursday was back to normal for this December as Wednesday's sunshine disappeared to be replaced by dull, damp and murky conditions. The temperature is generally remaining above average and at the moment it looks like December might finish up milder than November. However, there's still plenty of time for things to change before the end of the year.

We've already started to think about our seed order for next year. I brought in a bucketful of potatoes from the garage for use over the next few weeks. They've been stored in potato sacks in the garage since some were lifted in the middle of August and the remainder towards the end of September.
Second Early Potato - Kestrel
This is one variety we will be growing again next year. It produced a good looking crop of decent sized potatoes which were almost free of slug damage. Slugs can devastate crops on our clayey soil. I've since read that Kestrel is considered to be one of the best varieties for slug resistance. What's more it tastes good too and we've found it good for both mash and chips but we've still to try some jacket potatoes.

Another decision is that we will be growing Casablanca as a first early. The remainder of the crop is to be decided.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

For One Day Only

Complaining about the lack of sunshine worked for once and Wednesday was a lovely day for December. With hardly any breeze and some lengthy spells of sunshine it felt very pleasant.
Temperature and Solar Radiation Records for 09-15 December 2016
It's difficult to measure how many hours of sunshine we get each day. My weather station does this my measuring the amount of solar radiation falling on a sensor. However, in December, with the sun almost at its lowest position in the sky even on a sunny day there's not a lot of difference between the values on a dull day (Tuesday) compared to a sunny day (Wednesday). I've added the yearly chart for solar radiation for 2016 to compare the values throughout the year.
High Solar Radiation Values for 2016
Thursday 15 December 2016 is the earliest sunset time of the year and from tomorrow it becomes later even though our hours of daylight continue to decrease until 21 December.
Sunrise & Sunset Times for Wakefield (
The above table shows the sunrise and sunset time for Wakefield. As you can see the differences in daylight hours each day are very small but the days will be lengthening from 21 December even if the worst of the winter weather in January and February maybe still to come.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Don't Like It!

Monday and Tuesday continued the mild spell of weather for December. There seems to me to be a tendency to judge the weather by the temperature only. Personally I don't like this sort of weather even though it's mild for early winter.
It stays cloudy and dull all day never getting properly light. We've had some light spells of rain over the last few days but not much. Even so the ground never dries up and last summer's leaves remain wet and soggy as they decay waiting to be removed to the compost heap .
Temperature & Rainfall Records 11-13 December 2016
I'd like some brighter weather now with a little bit of sunshine even if it turns a little bit colder. Mild to me doesn't necessarily mean nice weather.

Monday, 12 December 2016

It's Turned Colder

Sunday was another dull and mild day although it didn't feel that mild outside in a strong breeze.
Temperature Record 10-12 December 2016
Overnight Sunday into Monday has seen the mild December temperature take a bit of a nosedive down to more normal temperatures for the time of year.

I thought I'd post my only bird picture from our visit to Potteric Carr on Saturday. It's a Shoveller but even this was a long distance from where the photograph was taken.
My camera lens was on full zoom which is 300mm and the image of the duck has been cropped from the full size image as shown below.
Maybe next time something will be in better camera range.

If you are interested an album of photographs of our visit to Potteric Carr can be found here.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Good and Bad Subjects

Saturday continued the spell of mild and dull weather. We're still waiting for a decent sunny day this month.

We had a trip out to do a little bit of steam train chasing on Saturday morning. At my chosen location there should have been two steam hauled special charter trains, both heading for York, passing by within half an hour of one another. As it happened one of them was running over two hours late so once the first  had passed we headed for Potteric Carr nature reserve.
We seem to be having a bit of bad luck when we visit nature reserves as the birds have developed a habit of staying well out of reach of our camera lenses. It was no different on our visit to Potteric Carr. I took to photographing a couple of rats helping themselves to some easy food under the bird feeders.
The undoubted stars of our visit were the Highland cattle.
By the middle of the afternoon it was beginning to drizzle. It was also getting very dark making any more photography a bit tricky.