Sunday, 30 March 2014

Double Hobby Day

Saturday just about lived up to the hype the forecasters had given it. It was certainly milder than the last few days as the temperature managed 13.9°C but any sunshine was at a premium.

We set out late morning to watch 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley steaming down the East Coast Main Line with the Cathedrals Express from London Kings Cross to York.
It was our first photographic challenge of the day. The train was approaching out of a sort of mist or hazy sunshine it was difficult to decide which but it made for tricky photography. Unlike our railtour last week this train was on time with just a few miles left to go to York.

After seeing Sir Nigel with the Cathedrals Express we headed for Potteric Carr for an afternoon at the Nature Reserve. This is where we had our second photographic challenge of the day. We've seen a few flashes of orange and blue as a kingfisher has flown by us when we've visited reserves in the past but until today never had change to photograph one. Today we were lucky enough to see not one but two kingfishers perched by a possible nesting site and they were happy to pose for pictures for as long as we wanted.
The only problem was that they were about a mile away or that’s what it seemed like. They’d found a nest site well away from the paths around the reserve on a small island in the middle of a lake. Hence our second photographic challenge of the day. We spent a while with cameras clicking and video whirring away trying to capture some good shots. There’s now the long job of sorting out the best pictures and editing our video. More will follow I'm sure. 

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Poor Growing Weather

Friday saw the spell of cold and dull weather continuing after some overnight rain.

Last autumn we decided it was time to tidy up our old blackberry cane which must have been growing in the current spot for around the last 20 years.
So what looked like this at the beginning of November……
…....looked like this by the end of the month.

I dug as much of the old spreading blackberry roots and wick grass out as I could manage but left the main root system in the ground in one position to regrow. We didn't want to get rid of the blackberry altogether just do a major tidying up operation. 

Since then the bed has been covered with weed control fabric with a hole cut in it around the old blackberry root allowing it some light. As I suspected the blackberry is as tough as old boots and despite all the hacking about it received last autumn with  spade, fork and axe it’s decided now is the time for it to make a reappearance.
The first tiny shoots are starting to grow from the old stump left in the ground. I obviously didn't get all the wick grass out of the root as that’s starting to grow too. I’ll have to see if I can get some more grass out before the shoots develop their vicious thorns. I'm not expecting any blackberries this year but I am hoping that we (by ‘we’ I mean Sue), can keep this beast under a bit better control.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Sowing Broad Beans

Thursday wasn't a particularly brilliant day. The sun did make a few weak attempts to break through the cloud but it would be fair to say it failed. It was a cold day with the temperature managing just 8°C. It rained a bit now and again through the day. March’s weather has deteriorated after a promising start with the coldest and wettest conditions reserved for the end of the month. It seems a bit of a stuttering start to spring, as though it doesn't quite want to commit.
In a sunny moment I decided to get started sowing a few seeds. I always start our earliest broad beans Witkiem Manita off in pots in the greenhouse to germinate and grow on before they eventually get planted on the plot when large enough. I thought the little bit of sunshine might have warmed inside the greenhouse but I was wrong as, even in the greenhouse, the temperature didn't get above 12°C .
I managed to sow one set of 15 modules and decided I’d wait for a slightly warmer day to sow another tray. It’s about time I sowed some leeks too so I’ll probably try to get those done at the same time. A few days aren’t going to make a great deal of difference to when we have some lovely tender green beans ready to harvest

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Cutting Garden

Wednesday was a better day than forecast. We had a few sunny spells and the rain held off until late in the afternoon.

After our last visit to the plot I’d decided that the grass paths could do with a strim. They’d already got a bit too long and untidy to cut with the mower. My only intention was to do a tidying up job and to get the grass in a state so that it could be mowed properly at its next cutting.
The biggest challenge was to get the grass cut before the rain arrived. The grass was still a little damp so any rain would make strimming an even messier job. I normally finish up covered in strimmed grass even on a good day.
I do need to take a bit of care when strimming as it only takes one careless swish of the strimmer and wild flowers growing amongst the grass can be cut down in their prime.
When the strimming was finished I cut a few daffodils to take home and a few wallflowers just as a tester to see how they perform as a cut flower. By the time I was locking the allotment gate the first few spots of rain started to fall.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Brightest to Dullest

Monday was the sunniest day of the month and Tuesday turned out to be the dullest. Tuesday was dull all day with light rain or drizzle for most of the day but only amounting to 1.6mm of measurable rainfall.

Last year this week was cold and snowy with temperatures through the day just about staying above freezing so even Tuesday’s maximum temperature of 7.8°C was a big improvement on last year.
Oullins Gage 24 March 2014
On our visit to the plot on Monday we noticed that the blossom on our Oullins Gage plum tree was starting to open. We were both a little surprised as after last year’s bumper harvest we didn't expect many flowers this year but that doesn't look to be the case. Looking back at last year’s bitterly cold spring the first photos of our Oullins gage coming into flower were taken on 23 April.
Oullins Gage 23 April 2013
Of course there’s a long way to go yet before we before that bumper crop materialises. 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A First Look under the Fabric

After a cold and frosty start Monday was a beautiful sunny day. We didn't manage to resist the temptation to visit the plot in the afternoon.

Any regular followers will know that from the beginning of last year’s growing season we have been making maximum use of weed control fabric and that we've been very pleased with the results.
This is how our bed of brassicas on plot 42 looked after planting up last year. To be honest apart from harvesting some cabbages and cauliflowers this bed has had very little attention since. The weed control fabric did its job. The grass paths do creep into the beds but that’s to be expected.
This is how the bed looked on Monday afternoon after being left all winter without any attention. I was hoping that the bed wasn't going to need digging but when I actually saw the state it was in I wasn't too sure I was going to be that lucky. The canes, supports and netting were removed first. Then the tops cut off the cabbages and added to the compost heap. The brassica roots were put in a bucket to go in the council green recycling bin at home. Interestingly the roots didn't appear to have any signs of club root so I can only conclude that some parts of the plot are affected by this and not others. I’ll need to keep a note of the affected beds and make sure no brassicas are planted in them.
Once the fabric was removed and the grass path roughly edged the soil didn't look too bad. It certainly hadn't been battered into a hard solid surface  by winter rains as normally happens. I gave the soil a sprinkling of fish, blood and bone and lightly forked it into the top few inches of soil.
The final result looked pretty good. I've never been able to use a bed for a second year without digging it over in spring. The beds on this plot are part of a four year rotation. The weed control fabric on the bed on the left of the photo was lifted and placed over this bed. This will be used for peas this year and of course the fabric already has the correct cuts in it as it comes from last year’s pea growing bed.
The bed’s now ready for two rows of peas to be sown probably towards the end of April. This year we’re only sowing peas directly rather than in pots and transplanting. All I need to do now is wake my strimmer from its winter slumbers and cut the grass which is growing rather too quickly for my liking.

Having cleared another bed of its cover that too looked as though it would be fine without been dug over. If the other three beds are as easy to prepare as this one I’ll be very pleased. 

Monday, 24 March 2014

Hail and the Year’s Coldest Temperature

For the most part Sunday was a lovely sunny day but the easterly breeze meant it felt pretty cold especially when the showers arrived some with hail mixed in for good measure.
Then with clear sky's overnight into Monday morning we had our coldest temperature of the year -2.4°C It’s not unusually cold for late March but we've been spoilt by a mild winter and we could do without a cold spell now the growing season is about to get under way. For the record the previous coldest temperature for the year -2.1°C was on 12 January 2014.

Our brassica plug plants have arrived from Marshalls. These have been potted on to grow on in the greenhouse and cold frame for a while before they are planted out on the plot. I still can’t say I'm over impressed by the quality of the plants but I'm hoping with a bit of luck we’ll get some early cauliflowers, cabbages and calabrese.
These are our 16 calabrese “Marathon” plants potted up in the greenhouse where they will remain to establish some new roots before moving to the cold frame to harden off. I use the term harden off as it the standard jargon in any gardening magazine explaining how plants need to acclimatise to cooler outdoor conditions when moved out of the greenhouse. The temperature fell to -1.5°C in the greenhouse on Monday morning so I'm wondering just how cold it has to get to harden them off!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Topping and Tailing

Friday and Saturday were two ‘not bad’ March days. Cool with some sunny periods and scattered showers mixed in and night time temperatures down to round about frosty levels.

As this is a gardening and weather blog topping and tailing might conjure up visions of a very early crop of gooseberries. In fact this was topping and tailing of a very different sort, the sort done with steam locomotives. We’d booked a trip by charter train making a journey along the picturesque Esk Valley on the northern borders of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. The train began its journey in Carnforth heading via Skipton to Leeds where we joined the train then onto York, Middlesborough, Battersby and finally Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast. 
The railway term topping and tailing refers to the need to have a steam locomotive at the front and rear of the train with each one facing in opposite directions. Much of the line from Middlesborough through the Esk Valley is single track with trains only able to pass at some stations. 

There were plenty of onlookers watching and photographing what could be one of the last steam hauled journeys along this beautiful stretch of line as improvements to the normal service train network may leave no suitable space on the line for special charter trains. That would be a great pity. I noticed that our charter train was fully booked weeks ago. It certainly meant a busy day for the train staff as along with another one hundred or so others we’d decided to book a full meals’ service on the journey which comprised of breakfast, lunch and evening meal.

Between us we managed around 250 photographs so there’s plenty of editing and deleting to do. The two steam locomotives working the train were 61994, The Great Marquess which hauled the train from York to Battersby and 61264 which was attached to the rear of the train at Darlington and was in charge of the train from Batttersby to Whitby.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Danger in the Air

Thursday at 16:57 was the Spring Equinox and the official start of spring in the northern hemisphere. It wasn't however a very spring like day with strong winds from early morning getting even stronger in the afternoon. It did stay dry until the middle of the afternoon when we had some light rain. This didn't come to any great amount just 2.0mm.

I had an e-mail on Wednesday evening from Marshall seeds to confirm that my order of brassica plug plants had been dispatched. Clearly I wasn't the only one to receive this e-mail as our resident wood pigeon also got the message that they’re on the way.
In the afternoon rain he took up a vantage point on our newly “cedared” greenhouse awaiting delivery. Sadly for him they didn't arrive on Thursday and they may well spend their first week in the greenhouse recuperating from their journey before they are moved out into the cold frame where they will be protected by netting to keep Woody at bay.

Sue was a little concerned that Woody might be making a mess on our newly refurbished greenhouse.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

What a Mess!

Tuesday was a poor day weather wise. We did have a few sunny intervals but it was windy with plenty of short showers. Wednesday was much better with some sunny spells, a bit breezy but dry. It was time to repair our greenhouse windows.

All winter our home greenhouse has needed some replacement glass. Some glass was damaged by winter gales, some by last summer’s apples falling through the glass and some well it just sort of fell out through old age. That was the case with the glass in this window which has had a temporary piece of plywood over for many months now.
Once all the temporary pieces of timber had been removed it revealed areas of the greenhouse which had escaped last week’s “red cedaring” job. Touching up these areas was my first job but it didn't get off to a good start as I inadvertently touched up the greenhouse path.
Getting into an awkward position to reach a difficult to get to timber section I sent my pot of red cedar tumbling into the greenhouse. It made a bit of a mess. Fortunately most of it missed me but I do now have a nice jumper with red cedar staining down the front. A bit of tidying up was needed before any further progress could be made. At this stage I think it would be fair to say things weren't going according to plan. Still no windows replaced and the greenhouse path and dwarf walls stained cedar red for good. Well that’s what I thought.
Sue did a brilliant job of cleaning up the mess I left behind and the greenhouse isn't going to bare the scars for ever. At least it didn't go over our onion crop which was sitting close by. We could have had far more red onions than we bargained for.

Once all the mess was sorted it was back to fitting our new polycarbonate sheeting. As it’s tricky reaching parts of the greenhouse such as the window some careful thought has to go into  making sure things are done in a suitable order. That meant the opening vent had to be repaired first and a suitably sized piece of polycarbonate cut from one of the old broken pieces being replaced.

I always expect polycarbonate to crack or split when cutting. It’s not a hard material but I'm never too sure I'm going to make a successful cut until the job’s done. There were no more mishaps and the window vent soon had a new pane of polycarbonate and a coating of red cedar. That just left the two extremely large panels to be replaced.
Our greenhouse now has some extra glazing bars positioned inside and outside the greenhouse to hopefully stop the sheeting from flexing during stormy weather and making a bid for freedom. Only time will tell. It will cut down on the light inside the greenhouse but that will be a price worth paying if the new panels are prevented from blowing out in windy weather.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Blimey It’s Arrived

Monday was rather cool and cloudy but thankfully the gale force winds that had been blowing all weekend abated.

That long awaited polycarbonate sheeting that was ordered on 20 February was eventually delivered mid afternoon on Monday.
Inside this package are two seriously large pieces of polycarbonate each measuring 1800mm x 720mm. It’s bad enough handling polycarbonate sheeting this size but handling the pieces of glass this size needs to be done with extreme care. It will certainly be a tricky job getting the remaining pieces of broken glass out of the greenhouse roof. It’s a job I won’t consider tackling on anything but a calm day as hanging on to a piece of polycarbonate caught by a gust of wing is one thing but a sheet of glass this size is far too dangerous to contemplate.
The polycarbonate was well protected for its travels wrapped up in several layers of bubble wrap. I've checked it to make sure it wasn't damaged in transit and both pieces are intact.
I didn't want to waste all that bubble wrap as it will come in useful for providing plant protection during winter months. I was wondering how best to fold it up when I remember Sue had a long cardboard tube upstairs that some curtain material we had bought had been rolled on. It proved a really good method of rolling up the bubble film to be stored in the garage for later use.

Now I need a decent day to replace the broken glass with these new polycarbonate sheets and the greenhouse refurbishment will just about be completed - except for the door which needs attention so Sue can avoid becoming trapped inside. Unfortunately the weather seems to be heading into unsettled territory again with rain and strong winds forecast for the rest of the week. That might just put this bit of refurbishment on hold for a while until there’s a suitable break in the weather.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Planning to Cheat a Bit

Most of Sunday was sunny but a gale force wind blew all day and didn't ease until well into the evening.

I've decided to do a little bit of cheating in an attempt to get some early broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. Normally we raise our own brassica plants to grow on over winter and go on to produce an early season crop. For the second year in a row our plans have been ruined as two years ago pigeons devastated the crop and last year all our plants suffered from club root.
This is how our winter brassicas look now. The plants were left in the ground over winter hoping that might make a miraculous recovery. Obviously that hasn't happened and a few weeds, ever the opportunists, have decided to grow in the holes in the weed control fabric that should be occupied our brassica plants. 

On Sunday I noticed this on Marshalls web site. Now our last foray into plug plants wasn't too successful as the plants received were pretty poor and nothing like the quality of home produced seedlings. However, beggars can’t be chooses, and this collection hopefully will produce much earlier crops than I'm going to be able to produce from an early April sowing. So they’re ordered and according to the information delivery will be anytime soon.
These brassicas will be planted out into one of the beds cleared last autumn. For the last twenty or more years, neither of these beds have been used to grow any brassica plants so should be free of club root. Since this photo was taken, the beds have already been covered with weed control fabric so there’s not too much preparation work required. The new plants will need to be protected by netting to keep the wood pigeons off.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Naff Weather Forecasting!

Saturday was a stormy day with gale force winds all day long. The weather forecast for the weekend was hopeless. The chat was of high pressure dominating our weather with well spaced isobars and the only doubt seemed to be about how much sunshine we would get. In fact the sunshine is a bit of an irrelevance as it’s been blowing a gale now since Friday lunchtime.
The chart above shows the wind speeds from Friday through to 09:00 on Sunday morning and apart from a short respite on Saturday morning the winds have been consistently strong. Sunday morning has started off particularly windy with a highest gust speed of 32mph unusually high for our rather sheltered suburban location.
In comparison with other March’s this is now the windiest and we are only half way through the month. I’m not sure when our gale force winds will ease as they’re not actually forecast. The last few hours have been as windy as anything we had through the winter - bad news for the apricot blossom.
I can’t see a weather warning for strong winds on the forecast for today. Perhaps it isn't windy anywhere else? 

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Is That It?

Friday morning was nice and sunny and we were planning on some more work in the garden. Then over lunchtime the weather conditions changed rapidly as the sunshine was replaced by cloud and a gale force wind came from nowhere.
As you can see the yellow line representing sunshine took a sudden dip at lunchtime along with the temperature. The strong to gale force wind lasted well into the evening dying down in the early hours of Saturday morning.

So far this month the weather forecaster’s would tell us it’s been a mild month which is true but in the greenhouse it gets cold during the night. This is why I resist the temptation to sow any tender seeds such as tomatoes which aren’t going to appreciate any cold nights. In our partly refurbished home greenhouse it’s been warm during the day and very pleasant for pottering about with temperatures into the mid twenties centigrade very tempting conditions to get seed sowing.
The temperature in the greenhouse, shown by the top yellow line, soars during the daytime especially on any sunny days but each evening the temperature drops as shown by the light blue line, to almost the same as the outside temperature with nearly every night this month below 5°C and some nights down to freezing. So if your more tender plants aren’t doing too well even in a cold greenhouse this might be one of the reasons.

Friday, 14 March 2014

More Maintenance on a Glorious Spring Day

We did well on Thursday avoiding any early morning mist and fog and were treated to sunshine all day long. The afternoon temperature made it up to a lovely mild 18.2°C.

As it was such a lovely afternoon we decided to start “red cedaring” our home greenhouse as part of its refurbishment plan. As it turned out we did well getting virtually all the outside of the greenhouse treated although it was rather touch and go as to whether or not some sort of floodlighting might be required to get the job done.
All the potted fruit trees that live around the outside of the greenhouse were moved to an area of safety so that they wouldn't accidentally get covered in red cedar staining. It was then pretty straight forward forward to stain the sides and some of the roof which could be reached using some steps. The greenhouse ridge and higher parts of the roof were a bit more tricky to reach. One option was to remove each pane of glass and use a step ladder from inside the greenhouse to reach those high up sections of roof. At one stage my plan was to use this method but taking out that many panes of glass would be a real pain so I decided to try Martyn’s extended paint brush technique first before going to all that trouble. 
With my paint brush securely screwed to piece of timber this method worked better than I expected. It occasionally got a bit messy transferring stain from pot to greenhouse and it was tricky controlling a paint brush with such a long handle but it was much better than removing all the glass.

These pictures are how the greenhouse looks on Friday morning in daylight. One window still needs staining with my extended brush. In the warm weather yesterday afternoon the window’s automated opener was in action and it was impossible to get a brush on the window frame. There’s also some staining to complete on the far side of the greenhouse once the window repairs are completed. Will our polycarbonate ever come from I just don’t know. The order was made and money taken from our credit account on 20 February. Their help line is absolutely useless. Excuses so far in chronological order. 
  • It will be delivered by Friday (7th March)
  • You should have received it my now it must have got lost in transit. New delivery date Thursday 13th March
  • It’s out for delivery (up to 17:30) for Thursday 13th
  • It’s not on the delivery for Thursday we’ll try for Friday.
  • We now know it’s not going to be delivered Friday and await their latest excuse. They say they will call back but I've heard this three times before and they haven’t.

My advise would be if you want to purchase any glass or polycarbonate online don’t use this company.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Getting Started

Wednesday’s weather didn't vary much from yesterday except that the sun came out a little earlier, it was a fraction milder and we escaped an overnight frost.

In the afternoon the grass got its first cut of the season. It was a bit on the wet side but it was long and was unlikely to get any drier by putting it off any longer. After trimming around the lawn edges I decided to do a bit of repair work to the greenhouse. For some reason last year the guttering fell off both sides of the greenhouse meaning the water butt didn't fill up and I had a bit of a traipse carrying water to the greenhouse.  I've had one or two traipses already this year and it’s convinced me that the guttering needs to be fixed to make watering so much more convenient.
I'm not too sure why the guttering fell off but it’s as if either the greenhouse has got longer or the guttering has shrunk. The result is that each piece of gutter no longer quite stretches between the fixing brackets and drops to the floor. Starting at the end in the forefront of the picture I've repositioned the brackets to allow for this. All was going well until I got to the last bracket and found it broken.
I don’t know how this has happened but I think the guttering is a fairly standard design and I should be able to buy the necessary bits and pieces from the local DIY shop.

I've just got to replace some of the glass, fix the guttering to the other side and help Sue re-stain the woodwork and the jobs a good one. The greenhouse should then be ready for another growing season.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Now It Gets Frosty

After the glorious day on Monday, Tuesday morning was a real let down. We've now had more frosts in March than February and Tuesday morning’s low of -1.4°C was the coldest night since 20 January 2014. The day’s average temperature was 4.0°C the coldest of the month and in the greenhouse it fell to -0.5°C. Not the place to be trying to grow any tender seeds just yet.
Tuesday morning remained cloudy and cold but the sun did manage to break through early in the afternoon making it feel much warmer outside even if it didn't do much to lift the temperature.

One of the tasks to get done over the next few weeks is the home greenhouse refurbishment. I'm still waiting for the replacement polycarbonate to be delivered. It was ordered on 20 February and still hasn't arrived. I've been told that it should arrive by Thursday but then again it should have arrived by last Friday and didn't. Not only is the greenhouse in need of some external refurbishment it needs sorting out inside to remove all last years pots of dead plants and all our over wintering plants need a good tidy up.
Once this part of the greenhouse was cleared of last year’s plant life I was able to get all our onions and shallots together and check that I actually had two modules of each variety planted up. They’d been scattered all over the greenhouse but now things are looking a little more organised. There is now some space at the other side of the greenhouse but there’s a lot of tiding up to do here too.
This is the side of the greenhouse I will need access to when our new polycarbonate sheets eventually arrive so I’ll be leaving this side until that job is completed.  In the pots I emptied that had been in the greenhouse over winter, I didn't find too much left that was worth keeping. My best find was some of last year’s dahlia tubers which looked to be in good condition having come through the winter unscathed.
Like our new dahlias I've put these old tubers in a tray of damp compost to encourage them into growth.