Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Lockdown Day 64 - Gales and No Rain A Bad Combination

Generally, the weather has been pretty good for most of May. However, for gardeners, there have been one or two issues that have made the month a bit of a gardening challenge. Firstly there was a very late frost, the latest I've recorded in May. It was well forecast allowing us to give some plants protection but others had their new leaves nipped by the frost. A frosty night does nothing to help young seedlings get established.
Grape vine caught by frost
Following up on the frosty night we've just had three days of gale force winds. Fortunately after visiting the plot today (Bank Holiday Monday) we've discovered that not too much damage was done. On our last trip we had repositioned our cold frame ready for planting up with tomato plants this year.

Above shows how we left the cold frame thinking it might give our newly planted out dahlias some protection from the strong winds that were forecast. However, when we returned on Monday the gales had kindly repositioned our cold frame.
Our dahlias were carefully wrapped up in environmesh with our cold frame upside down on the path. It didn't take long to reposition the cold frame and luckily there was no damage to our dahlias.

However, our main problem at the minute is a lack of rainfall. We haven't had anything approaching a good rain since the middle of March.
Temperature & Rainfall Records 2020
Now it's important to note that in March nearly all that rainfall fell in the first two weeks of the month. This meant that by the middle of March we'd had 229.4mm or 9.03 in of rainfall. After a very wet February when it never seemed to stop raining the allotment was well and truly waterlogged with standing water on some parts of the allotment site.
Allotment 01 March 2020
Then in the middle of March someone turned off the tap and the incessant rain of winter stopped in an instant. It's hardly rained since. From the middle of March onwards, we've had a mere 14.8mm or 0.58 in of rainfall and most of that has come in very small amounts made up of very light showers. The result is that the allotment has gone from waterlogged to bone dry ground in the space of about 10 weeks.
I did manage to dig over these three beds with the cultivator on Monday but it was very hard going. At first, I thought the ground was too hard and dry and the cultivator just wanted to bounce along the top of the hard ground. After a bit of persistence I managed to get the tines to dig into the soil and eventually managed to dig over the beds. Normally I'd expect freshly cultivated soil to be dark and moist but this was completely lacking in any moisture.
GFS Rainfall Forecast to Thursday, 04 June 2020
There's nothing more than fractions of a millimetre forecast over the next ten days. Hence, the reason I thought I might as well try and dig over some of the beds. I had been hanging on waiting for some rain to soften up the soil but it appears that's unlikely to happen over the next week or so. We are still going to be very busy watering.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Lockdown Day 62 - Have A look Around Our Plot

Visits to the allotment have been on hold over the last couple of days due to the gale force winds on Friday and Saturday. Sunday morning has brought a bit of a lull in the windy weather. It has started off dull, cool and cloudy so allotmenting might be on hold for another day.

Here's a look around our plot last week before the windy weather arrived.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Lockdown Day 61 - Winter Gales Return

The weather this May just gets dafter. It's only a week or so ago that we had a cold frosty night with the lowest May temperature I've recorded so far into May. Then within a week, we had the hottest day of the year and the hottest May day I've recorded. That seems a while ago now but it was only a couple of days ago on Wednesday. The temperature cooled down on Thursday but it turned out to be a very pleasant May day. It was enough to tempt us to plant out our dahlias which are growing quickly now.
I'm not so sure it was a good idea as yesterday, Friday has seen the strongest winds I've recorded during May over the last 10 years.
Temperature & Wind Speed Records 16-22 May 2020
Hopefully, the dahlias might have got a little bit of protection from the gale force winds by the cold frame providing the cold frame hasn't become a casualty of the winds.

Yesterday's highest gust speed of 29 mph is circled in red above. The previous highest in May was 28mph way back on 09 May 2014.

Within a couple of weeks, we've had the latest coldest night in May, the hottest May day and the highest wind speed in May to contend with. The one thing we haven't had this May is any rain and we are in need of that very badly but more of that in another post.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Lockdown Day 59 - Crazy Days for Plants

It was only six days ago that the weather forecasts were correct and we had a frost with the early morning temperature falling to -0.4°C or 31.3°F. Now, only six days on and the forecasts were correct again as we had our hottest day of the year with the temperature hitting 29.3°C (84.7°F) late on Wednesday afternoon.
Temperature Records 14 - 20 May 2020
I can't remember having such a week before with a frost and then such an extremely hot day so close together. Wednesday was just 0.3°C (0.5°F) from making it into my list of the top twenty hottest days. That list doesn't include any days in May. The previous highest temperature I've recorded in May was  28.8°C (83.8°F) on 07 May 2018.
Last Wednesday I was deciding if I should water plants in the greenhouse or keep them on the dry side with a frost forecast. This Wednesday, in the greenhouse it was more of a challenge to stop plants drying out in the hot sunshine.
If the forecasts are correct though it is just one hot day with temperatures reverting to more normal May temperatures on Thursday. What is in doubt from the weather models is if the breakdown of the hot weather will result in any thunderstorms. Some rain would be very welcome.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

After The Frosts

We should now have seen the last of any frost for this spring. The forecast is for a couple of very warm days next Wednesday and Thursday before cooling down again to the average for late May. Up to date, it's not been a particularly warm May with the average temperature 1.7°C below our 10 year average.
Annual Weather Records for 2020
It’s been a difficult start to the gardening season with the lockdown due to Covid 19, exceptionally late spring frosts together with an almost complete lack of rain. At times it’s difficult to know if plants want a drink or they’re suffering from the cold weather. 
The poor broad beans pictured above are an example. When the cold weather first arrived the beans were ready for planting out but they were kept at home until the first spell of cold weather was over. By that time they were a little bit on the leggy side and needed some supports to hold the plants upright. Since they were planted out they've had some warm days, frosty night, cold easterly winds and no rain. I'm almost tempted to pull them up and replant but I've nothing ready to take their place so I'll leave them and see what happens. We do have some more broad beans to go in this bed but they are only just starting to germinate.
Anyhow, I’ve started moving plants around in an attempt to get more seeds sown. The growlight inside used for starting off more tender seeds like cucumbers, squashes and courgettes was crammed with seedlings waiting to be moved to the greenhouse once the danger of frost had passed. 

The greenhouse was also full of plants like dahlias waiting for milder nights before they could be moved outside.
Hopefully, all these plants aren't going to have to put up with the same poor growing conditions that those early broad beans had to contend with. To me, it seems like the growing season is only just starting to get underway.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Lockdown Day 53 - Our Latest Late Frost Ever?

We've had a series of very cold nights for the second week of May. The coldest early morning occurred on Thursday when the temperature fell to -0.4°C or 31.3°F.
Weather Records May 2020
As you can see from the values in the red box we've had a run of 4 frosty nights in a row. It's the first time I've recorded a below 0°C (32°F) temperature beyond the first week of May. The previous record was -1.0°C (30.2°F) recorded on 06 May 2012 so Thursday extended that record by a week.

We had already taken the precaution of protecting as much as possible at the allotment. All our potatoes were covered with soil or compost and our strawberry flowers were protected with a covering of fleece and environmesh. Unfortunately, there are a few things that we don't protect and in varying degrees these have been caught by the frost.

Our kiwis are susceptible to frost catching their young shoots.
This is our large fruited kiwi, although it has never fruited, and as expected the young leaves have been knocked back by the cold temperatures.
Our other kiwi is called Issai and has produced small fruits when it grew in our garden at home. It's not off to a good start this year with the young shoots caught by the frost.

Finally, our grapevine growing around two sides of the shed has also suffered some damage.
Once again it's the tender young shoots that have been nipped by the frost.

However, it's not all bad news as in the perennial bed our irises are beginning to flower.
Hopefully, the nights will be warming up from now on and we can start to think about getting more tender vegetables like cucumbers, courgettes, sweet corn and Runner beans started.

I have seen some reports that parts of the UK had their coldest night for 40 years.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Lockdown Day 50 - “Ne'er cast a clout 'til May be out!

There’s a very old English proverb “Ne'er cast a clout 'til May be out! The proverb can be traced as far back as 1732. Clout is an old English word for clothing and I’ve always understood the saying to mean never cast aside any items of winter clothing until the May blossom is out.

Well, the May blossom or hawthorn blossom is certainly out but you certainly don’t want to be casting any clouts. Now the thing is there’s always been some doubt about whether the proverb refers to May blossom or the month of May. Perhaps this year has proved the point that the proverb really does refer to the month and not May blossom as this year with the blossom in full flower you certainly needed all your winter clouts.
Through Sunday the temperature gradually fell from around 14°C at midnight on Saturday to 3°C by midnight on Sunday. There was a cool north easterly wind blowing too.  The lowest temperature in the early hours of Monday morning was 1.6°C and on Tuesday morning was 1.3°C. These are the lowest temperatures for so late into May in the last 10 years.
Climatological Summary for May 2020

The forecast is for the temperatures to recover slowly as the week progresses although there are some forecasts for the temperature to fall below 0°C (32°F) on Thursday morning.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Lockdown Day 48 - Warmest Day of the Year and Frost Preparations

It all seemed to be a bit silly at the allotment on Saturday afternoon. As it turned out Saturday became our warmest day of the year with the late afternoon temperature reaching 25.6°C or 78.1°F. 
Temperature & Rainfall Records 08-10 May 2020
What were we doing during the lovely warm afternoon, getting our potatoes and strawberries protected against the possibility of some frosty mornings next week.

The strawberries have been covered with a layer of fleece and the fleece covered with environmesh which we hope will prevent damage to the fleece. This is all held down with an assortment of old timbers and bricks.

The warm weather has certainly got our potatoes growing quickly. I covered the shoots of our early potatoes, Casablanca and International Kidney, a couple of days ago but more shoots were beginning to emerge. These were covered with more soil from the compost heap. Hopefully, our potatoes will be sensible enough to keep their heads down for a few nights until the forecast late frosts have finished.
Early Potatoes - Casablanca & International Kidney
It was an easy enough job to earth up our early potatoes as we don't grow them through weed control fabric. This makes digging up individual roots of potatoes a simpler process as the potatoes mature. Our other potatoes are grown through weed control fabric so simply earthing them up to provide some frost protection isn't an option. These have all been covered with some soil from the compost heap.
Trial Potatoes - Gemson, Maris Piper, Mayan Rose, Pentland Javelin, Sarpo Una & Ulster Prince
It seemed very strange leaving the allotment, when it was still lovely and warm, with the strawberries under their duvet to keep them snug for a while.

Late into Saturday night, we had a short lived thunderstorm. It brought with it a drop of rain. For a short time, the rain was pretty heavy but it didn’t last long enough to be of any great benefit to our garden or allotment. The rainfall for this month has now reached 4.4mm or 0.17in.