Thursday, 30 January 2014

Another Rainy Day

We didn't spot any exciting birds in the garden today as Wednesday turned out to be yet another wet and miserable day. Once again it wasn't that we had a large amount of rain but it was cold and damp all day. The day’s rainfall amounted to 2.8mm bringing our monthly total to 73.8mm approaching double the long term average rainfall.
So far this month we've had measurable rainfall every day apart from the 10th and 17th. The forecast for Thursday is for a cold, dry, and cloudy day so perhaps this might be our third dry day of the year. The forecast for Friday is more rain. Perhaps February might be a bit drier.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Breakfast at Ossett

Tuesday was a miserable day with rain on and off throughout the day.

We did have a surprise in the morning though as we spotted a sparrowhawk sitting in the crab apple tree just finishing off its breakfast. We don’t know who it had for breakfast and perhaps it’s better we don’t.
Once spotted it was a case of grabbing a camera as quickly as possible. The expectation is as soon as the camera is trained on the quarry it will take off. I was first to get my camera to hand but it wouldn't play ball or rather the last thing it wanted to focus on was the sparrowhawk. The branches nearby came into focus as clear as a bell but no amount of zooming in and out would focus on the bird. Even with the sparrowhawk filling the entire view finder the image remained frustratingly blurry.
Fortunately she (we think it’s a female) wasn't in a rush to depart on a full stomach and Sue had chance to fire off a few shots as she does, well a barrage of shots in this case. She picked out a few shots for her Wordless Wednesday post here. Amazingly she (the sparrowhawk) seemed to be quite settled and I had time to move windows and try my luck again. This time with more success as my camera suddenly decided to focus on the object in the middle of the screen.

Finally I thought I’d see if I could zoom in a little more. As you can see from the tree branches it was raining and the light wasn't too good at all so zooming in might result in a rather grainy shot. In the end it didn't turn out too badly.
With that she decided enough was enough, if we hadn't got any decent photographs by now we never would have, and off she went. I must admit she did have a very comfortable air about her as she perched in our crab apple tree. I don’t think it’s the first time she’s found a meal in our garden.

Shortly after this episode we suddenly thought about our one legged blackbird “Hoppy”. Had he become an easy meal? The answer was no as a few minutes later he appeared on our bird table and happily began tucking into buggy nibbles.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Down by the Canal

Monday was better than forecast or we just did well at avoiding any showers that were around. 

As we are looking after Tivvy for a couple of days we took her for a walk by the canal (Aire and Calder Navigation) in Woodlesford.

Walking along the canal towpath and it’s hard to image that it’s just a couple of miles away from Leeds City Centre. The canal is used by a small amount of commercial traffic and plenty of leisure craft. This is one of the areas that will be affected by the proposed High Speed Rail link to Leeds.
This area won’t be quite the same with a high speed railway running along the river and canal corridor into Leeds. See HS2 Preferred Route to Leeds. At this point the new line runs between the river and canal through the area to the left of the timber fence.
With the rain we've had over the last couple of months the river Aire itself was certainly running fairly full and it’s likely that the weekend rainfall which fell high up in the river’s catchment area has still to arrive and top up the flow. In another life I've had a few dealings with bridges over the river Aire and know first hand just what problems high river levels bring. 
This family of swans were a bit put out that we hadn't taken any food along for them. They’re obviously used to been fed by the regular walkers and the owners of the pleasure crafts moored close by.

Monday, 27 January 2014

RSPB Garden Birdwatch Weekend

It was a pretty wet weekend for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch with rain on Saturday morning and most of Sunday. Of course as usual the birds did their disappearing act and stayed away. Our usual flocks of house sparrows, starlings and goldfinches didn't show up.
Even our resident robin wished to remain incognito with his back to the camera and face hidden by a tree branch.

This January has now become the wettest of the five I've had my weather station but so far we haven’t had an exceptional amount of rainfall in the month with 68.6mm and well short of our wettest month of June 2012 with 131.5mm of rainfall.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Decorator’s Weekly

It’s been a week of decorating so far and it’s not finished yet. The weekend should see us completing the job though. I've not ventured outside too much this week but we've had a bit of a mixed bag. Unusually for this year we had a couple of cold frosty mornings, some sunny periods and some more rain.

We had a quick shopping trip at lunchtime Friday, after all you still need to eat when decorating, and Sue spotted this iris ‘Kathleen Hodgkin’ almost on flower in a sheltered spot in the front garden. I took its photo and thought about a quick blog to say, due to the mild winter so far, how early into flower it was going to be.
Since having had a look at last year’s pictures of ‘Kathleen Hodgkin’ I'm now not sure there’s going to be that much difference in the flowering dates.
I haven’t any pictures of her in bud last year but I doubt it will be 10 days before she’s fully into flower. So perhaps a little earlier than last year but not by much. Strange how the mind can play funny tricks. I didn't think it would take so long to decorate the lounge and study either!

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Something Different

After a cold and frosty start Monday was a lovely winter’s day.
We’d decided on something different though for this week and have started redecorating the dining room and study. Today was wallpaper removal day. After lots of steaming and scraping most but not all the wallpaper has been removed. 
We've got the trickiest bits left to do in the study. I say tricky because we have to remove the wallpaper from behind both our computer desks. In my case that means the live transfer of weather data and computer will have to be put on hold whilst all the electrics are turned off, wiring moved out of the way and computer moved so the wallpaper can be steamed off. 

We had one little mishap today when the web cam that captures my weather station view up the path towards the greenhouse fell of its windowsill. I don’t know whether or not it showed a strange image on my live weather data stream or not last night. When it is dark outside the camera picks up reflections in the window and at the moment there are no curtains to draw to prevent this.

Fortunately my weather station will still hold all the weather data in its memory until it is reconnected to my computer so the stored data can be downloaded to keep my records as accurate as possible.

Computing will be a bit hit and miss this week.

Monday, 20 January 2014

A Bit of Plotting

Sunday afternoon turned out to be quite nice after a drop of overnight rain had left us with a dull and damp morning. We made the most of the good weather to do a little bit of plotting.
This is one of the beds cleared and dug in autumn which had been planted up with our mini annual flower area last summer. My plan was to cover this bed with weed control fabric and then use it for growing brassicas this year. I can’t remember this patch of land growing any brassicas, as for many years it was part of our perennial dahlia bed where the tubers were left in the ground to overwinter, so I'm hoping that this patch will be club root free and our brassicas will grow unchecked.

In the picture above the soil doesn't look in too bad a condition but in this case the picture doesn't tell the whole story. January has been a wet month to date and the ground is very wet. Fortunately I'm able to cover the bed without having to stand on the soil itself working from the paths around the bed.
By the time the sun was setting I’d managed to get more bare ground covered than I’d planned. Barrowing the manure from the allotment stockpile to the plot was a bit of a chore. The stockpile of manure had soaked up all the recent rain and had turned into a proper squelchy heap sticking to boots, fork and wheelbarrow tyre and weighing about twice what you might expect. 

I just had some time to dig a few carrot, parsnips and leeks to finish off a fairly productive Sunday afternoon especially as Sue had given our Tayberry its winter trim.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

First Arrivals

Saturday was dull and mild again. It seemed rather damp and drizzly for most of the day but our actual rainfall only amounted to 1.0mm.

After finishing off our seed order last week the first package from Plants of Distinction arrived in the post on Saturday.
All I've got to do now is to resist the temptation to sow any seeds until the end of March or beginning of April. I’ll see lots of comments on blogs, twitter, Facebook as well in gardening magazines about sowing seeds much earlier. For me I've found it doesn't work. I've no issue with sowing seeds indoors and getting them to germinate and most seeds given a nice warm indoor temperature will germinate in a few days. What then? How do I stop those little seedlings becoming weak, straggly long legged seedlings. Anything remotely tender doesn't want to be moved to our cold greenhouse before the end of March or early April. So any early seedlings get off to a poor start by being sown too early and becoming leggy.
These young tomato seedlings that germinated under our indoor growlight were sown on 30 March and had grown into tall leggy seedlings by 12 April. I don’t know where I would grow them on if they were sown in January or February. 

Just so I feel I've made a start I might sow some “Bistro Mixed” salad leaves under the indoor growlight where they can grow on to crop before the space is required for starting off tomato and pepper sowings.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Wow! - Hope This Doesn't Catch On.

Another couple of decent days for the middle of January with around average temperatures. Friday was fairly sunny and it finished up as being only our second day of the month without any measurable rainfall.

As you might know our allotments are in Wakefield (provided by Wakefield District Council) and rather worryingly I happened to come across this page on the Internet offering allotments for rent in Wakefield.

If Wakefield District Housing are charging £167.96 a year for a plot how long will it be before the Council decides to start charging similar prices? It doesn't say how large the plots are but for that outlay on plot 18 you've got to clear the plot first. For that price it ought to come ready dug, planted and with a nice new shed. 

Who knows perhaps they won’t get any takers at that price. I can see why it’s a rare opportunity!

If you read Sue’s blog you’ll know that we spotted a female blackcap in the garden for the first time on Thursday afternoon. It’s more than likely that she’s a migrant and on her way to some other final destination but we wondered if she might stick around in the garden for another day and we weren't disappointed. 

I also managed to get a little bit of video before the light faded too much.

It would be nice if she could attract a male blackcap into the garden before she heads off for her next destination.

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

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Mid Winter Report

I'm sure readers in other parts of Britain will have had much worse weather in the first half of winter than we've had in Ossett.

For us the most significant aspect of the winter as we arrive at the midpoint has been how mild it’s been. So far frosts have been very infrequent and we certainly haven’t had any harsh frosts.
These geraniums are growing in our neighbour’s front garden, I hope he won’t mind me taking this picture of them, but as you can see they are still in flower almost in a state where they need dead heading in the middle of January. They are protected by a bay window which prevents them from becoming waterlogged.
Now it’s hasn't all been wonderful as we had some very windy weather, especially in December and you can see from the chart above we've had rain on lots of days but no above average amounts. December itself produced less rainfall than we might expect but we've already had 81% of January’s rainfall with just one dry day recorded so it might turn out to be a wetter than average month. 

The chart shows that so far we've only had three occasions where the temperature has fallen beneath the thick blue line representing 0°C.

In our front garden not far away from the still in flower geraniums our winter jasmine is in flower and beneath the carpet of dead leaves spring bulbs are pushing their way up through the soil.
In another part of the garden our banana plant (musa basjoo) is decidedly worse for wear but I've seen it looking an awful lot worse in the middle of winter. 
Finally the above chart shows just how mild the winter’s been to date. I wonder what the second half has in store for us. Our local weatherman suggested tonight that the weather would more than likely continue in the same vein to the end of the month. Will that purple line on the chart fall below or stay above the red line for the winter of 2007 which was one of the mildest on record?

From the Met Office figures for the Central England Temperature database I think the top five mildest winters are as shown in the table below. The current average winter temperature for Ossett is 6.57°C so at the moment anything is possible.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Camera Shoot Out!

Tuesday was another lovely January day but after a good day out yesterday it was a case of getting on with a few other jobs today.

I managed to sort out our seed orders with Thompson and Morgan and Plants of Distinction to complete our main seed orders. I'm sure we’ll add a few more items on our various visits to garden centres. The seed list has been added to our web site and can be viewed here.

On our last visit to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s nature reserve at Potteric Carr we had a bit of a shoot out between our two cameras with them set on maximum zoom settings. There’s quite a bit involved in getting a good 1200mm zoom shot not least of which is holding the camera steady but for the record all these shots were hand held and didn't involve using a tripod.
 Just to set the scene there wasn't a lot to see from this hide but at the far side of the lake is a marker post to give an indication of the water level. I've circled it in red. The challenge, who could get the best close up shot of the marker. At least it wouldn't fly away so an easier first test.

We moved on further around the reserve and watching from another hide we spotted what we thought might be a little egret. It needs a zoom lens or telescope to even identify the bird correctly.
This is the standard wide angle lens shot from the hide looking over to one of the small island in the lake where the little egret was preening. 

None of the above photographs have been digitally edited they are as downloaded from the camera apart from the red marker added in Adobe Photoshop Elements. They have been resized from the large 5.76Mb original zoomed image to a more manageable web image of 80kB.

The images could be “tweaked” to improve them further in a suitable photo editing package.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

A Visit to Potteric Carr

The forecast for Monday was good so we decided on a visit to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s nature reserve at Potteric Carr. It’s somewhere we haven’t visited before but it’s been on our list of places to visit for a while now.
It was a lovely sunny day but a little bit on the chilly side but not feeling too cold in the sunshine. However, as nice as the sunshine was it did make taking photographs a bit of a challenge. All the best shots seemed to be directly into the sun putting the subject of the photograph in dark shade. 
No problems capturing this grey squirrel enjoying a nut whilst sitting on felled branch of silver birch.

All the usual suspects were about helping themselves to seed on the feeders a short distance away from the Kingfisher Tearooms. 
There are plenty of different trails to follow around the reserve. We chose one of the longer routes, “the Wetland Walk” around some of the marshy areas of the reserve.

We did manage to spot one bird we hadn't seen before, a little egret, but it was a very distant view but we did just about manage a photograph with cameras at maximum zoom.
We both enjoyed our walk around the reserve and decided that it would probably be worth our while to become members of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust as well as supporting the trust we’re both looking forward to some return visits.
We also took the opportunity to do a little more camera comparisons but I’ll save those pictures for another post.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Coldest Day of Winter

After Sunday morning’s frost and the temperature falling to -2.1°, Sunday finished the coldest day of winter so far with an average temperature of 1.4°C.
With the cost of renting allotments on the up I thought it might be interesting to add some costs to my harvesting list for this year. I for one don’t grow my own because I think I can make a great deal of money from it, it’s far more about the enjoyment of growing my own. I wouldn't change what I grow from one crop than another to make more profit.  I consider allotmenting to be one of my main hobbies and as such it doesn't have to make a profit at the end of the year.
My early guess is that soft fruit will be where most money is made rather than vegetables but I wouldn't want to go without that first harvest of new potatoes which just cannot be bought in the shops.

If I can manage to keep up with the task it might be interesting to see the results at the end of the year.
Based on Saturday’s first harvest of the year the record table starts off looking like this. I've now got to decide how I might keep a record of the costs as there’s not only the allotment rent to take into account but the costs of seeds, compost and fertilisers to take into account.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

First Harvest of 2014

The forecast for Saturday was for a nice sunny but rather cool day which it turned out to be, although the sunshine was rather limited. We’d decided on a visit to the plot if the forecast was anything like correct as we needed to pick some vegetables.

As the weather was pretty good I decided I would winter wash the fruit trees. It’s a job that needs doing in the winter months when there are no leaves on the trees, ideally in January and again in February. The idea is to attempt to kill of any over wintering bugs.
Winter wash mixed, I began spraying but the job didn't go very smoothly and after about 10 minutes a blockage in the sprayer stopped it working altogether. My hands were getting a little bit cold by this time and I didn't fancy having to clean out the nozzle of the sprayer under freezing cold water so I decided to put the job on hold and get on harvesting some vegetables.

It wasn't a bad harvest for the beginning of January with carrots, parsnips, beetroot, leeks, cabbage and Brussels sprouts completing our first harvest of the year. Full details of our harvest are can be found here and these pages will be updated through the growing and harvesting season.

Overnight Saturday into Sunday morning produced the coldest night of 2014 and the lowest temperature of winter so far with a low of minus 2.1°C.