Weather. Ugh.

After a very mild and exceptionally dry April, we had a sudden cold snap in the last few days, including heavy hailstorms and that terror of the season, a frost. The kiwi vine got hit hard; it’s lost most of its leaves, though the flower buds look to be undamaged, and the strawberries came off pretty badly; on the 15th, they looked like this:

2017-04-15 12.21.53.jpg

Covered in flowers… which now all have frosted centres. So much for the early crop I was hoping for.

Luckily, I hadn’t yet succumbed to the temptation to plant out my tomatoes in the greenhouse, and even brought them back into the house overnight when I realised how chilly it was, and I don’t think anything else at the plot got damaged. Even the grape vine right next to the kiwi looked fine, I think it got just that bit more shelter from the shed.

I did have one nice surprise at the plot today; the legless lizards were out in force! I think I only saw one of them last year, and I was worried the slow worms had abandoned my plot, but I uncovered one (a bit camera shy) in an ant’s nest, under a bit of plastic.

2017-04-30 13.29.40

Then, when I’d repositioned the plastic to where I needed it (it really couldn’t stay there, however much I like slow worms), I picked up a stack of tiles to weight it down, only for another slow worm to suddenly fall out the pile into my hand. I think he was OK, but we both got a bit of a shock!

The bees are looking great at the moment; they’ve found some great nectar source, though I don’t know what. Loads o’ brood, quite a few drones hanging around, and they’re actually storing potentially harvestable honey for the first time! My plot neighbour has 2 out of 4 hives starting to swarm, so I’m keeping a careful eye on ’em, but no signs yet. I’ve got the second hive made up now in any case.

Now just fingers crossed for no more cold spells!

Changes are afoot…

Last blog post I mentioned that there was a possibility that I might have to quit the plot this year; well, it’s gonna happen. I’m going back to university (I dropped out after one semester from a degree course years ago) to study horticulture. I’m pretty excited about the whole thing, but it means moving away from Bristol to a totally new part of the country, and leaving my plot behind (and taking out huge loans, but I’m trying not to think about that bit).

I’m planning on trying to take the bees, though I have no clue where I’ll be staying as yet (it doesn’t come with student accommodation), so everything’s still all a bit in the air.

So, there’s going to be a whole lot less planning for the plot this year, there’s no point in growing the pumpkins that I usually dedicate half the allotment to, as I won’t be there to pick ’em. I’m going to just try and maximise what I can get before I go.

It’s all looking pretty good at the moment, we’ve had some unseasonably warm weather, and it’s been very dry, but stuff’s popping up and flowering like mad.

Even the kiwi vine’s giving it a go, after three years of doing nothing. There’s something like 4 flowers, but it’s trying!

kiwi.jpg

The garlic’s looking huge, I’ve never had it looking so advanced this early on. The stems are already the same size as the max they reached last year. I just hope the bulbs are equally impressive.

garlic

The blossom has been amazing, and we had glorious sunshine for almost a week, so the bees have been raking in the honey, and the fruit crop will be bumper to match.

Unfortunately, the bees seem to be trying to build comb and store honey in daft places, and they were not pleased with me at all yesterday when I discovered this and had to break it all down (it was basically making it impossible to get into the hive). I had to give up mid inspection as everything got covered in honey and angry bees. Luckily, they’d cleaned up and calmed down today, so I did get to check them properly. My plot neighbour’s bees are already starting to swarm, so I really did need to check!

One other thing I tried, to try and make sure I get the best from the plot before I go, is try pruning the raspberries differently; someone mentioned to me ages ago that you can make autumn raspberries fruit earlier by chopping the stems halfway down, rather than cutting old stems out completely. With nothing to lose, I gave it a go:

arasps

Yup, they’re autumn fruiting, but they’re all coming into flower at the same time as the summer ones! It may not normally be a useful trick (who wants a glut then no autumn fruit?) but it works!

March Mumbling

I’ve been taking a bit of a break from gardening lately, due in part to a very busy month (I went to Barcelona for a week, then pretty much spent the rest of February working), but also because there is a possibility that I may be moving away, and therefore having to quit the plot this year. It’s for a good reason, if it happens, but every silver lining has a cloud, or something along those lines.

So, I’m in that annoying limbo where I keep thinking it’s time to get some crop going, then wondering if there’s any point if it may just go to waste (the site is currently undersubscribed, so the plot could very well be left empty if I do go). I’m currently thinking I’ll prioritise stuff that’s early harvest (I should get most of the summer here either way) and stuff I can move to a pot, but also sowing the easy stuff like parsnips that don’t take up too much space or time, and not bothering with sprouting broccoli and the like. I don’t think I’d be missing out much on that, by the way, even if everything does fall through, as the blasted wood pigeons have successfully pulled the nets off my brassicas three years in a row now.

I have been starting the first few things off inside as well; tomatoes, peppers and sweet peas, and I have made it down the plot twice this week now it’s warming up a bit, and sown the first broad beans, planted onion and shallot sets and started prepping a few beds for planting, so the season is starting. I’m also trying to take cuttings of everything, in the hope that, if I do move, I can at least keep a few things going in pots.

I also went to a seed swap today, with the noble aim of thinning out my seed collection and giving some other people the chance to grow them. Hah. I did manage to come back with slightly fewer seeds than I went with, and I only bought shallot sets (and a rather nice slice of cake), which is perfectly acceptable, right?

January

I’ve barely been down the plot in the last month; it’s so dark, and for one reason or another I’ve wound up with very little free time during daylight hours. It doesn’t matter much though, there’s not a whole lot to do, except for digging out beds, which I’m probably going to leave until it’s warmer now. I really don’t enjoy digging in frosty ground.

I have managed a few short trips down though, just to check on things. The flying ratbags (aka wood pigeons) have yet again managed to remove the nets from the brassicas (or possibly it was just the wind, but they certainly took advantage), so I’ve not really been able to pick any of the kale, despite having a bed full. They even nearly stripped the perennial kale, which they ignored last year.

We even got the lightest possible dusting of snow:

2017-01-13-11-52-23

I’ve planted out a rhubarb plant I was given last year (last ditch attempt, all my other rhubarb plants are either dead or microscopic), and spread coffee grounds on a few beds, but basically, even when I have been there, I’ve done nothing much except watch the wildlife. Even saw a butterfly there today, with unmelted frost on the ground. Very odd. Some wildlife is less welcome than others though, I also found this hibernating in my shed:

2017-01-13-11-52-10

One queen wasp. I didn’t squish her (wasps do perform a vital function in the ecosystem), but I did evict her. Not In My Shed. It was warm enough that she may have managed to fly off, but I can’t let wasps move in if I hope to keep bees.

I’m not sure how the bees are doing, I saw none flying today, but it really was chilly, despite the butterfly’s opinion. I checked if they had food left, but I didn’t actually open the hive properly. Not a lot I can do either way right now.

There are a few overwintering crops the pests haven’t got, and I harvested a few today, some feeble leeks, and this parsnip:

2017-01-20-13-22-38

It weighed in at 900g, even bigger than it looks in this picture. About the same as the rest of the crop combined! Biggest I’ve ever grown by far. It’s turning into soup as I type.

I haven’t started anything inside yet, because I’m again trying to avoid spending February in England again, though the budget’s only stretching as far as Barcelona this year, and only for a week rather than the tropics for most of a month. I’m off on the 7th, and the sowing season shall begin when I get back!

Continue reading

Winter came. And apparently went.

We got hit by a proper mini cold spell a week or so back; -5c nights, frost that didn’t melt all day, and the plants that just squeaked through last winter all got hit hard (hopefully so did the slugs, at least). Even at the house, which is always more sheltered, I think my French tarragon’s a gonner, and the remaining tomato and pepper in the plot greenhouse got finished off.

The most annoying casualty, though, was the oca; it had already got the tops frosted, but my new variety wasn’t *quite* ready to harvest, so I’d just left it in for another week. I’ve always been fine doing that before, but not this time. This time the ground froze too deep, and the whole crop turned to mush. I did have a few that I’d collected when I decided to leave them, so I do have a few to try again with next year, but no oca dinners for me this year. It didn’t look like a great crop anyway, to be honest, certainly not as good as lat years, though the new variety definitely had bigger tubers and more of them than the one I have been growing, which was an utter flop this year.

Straight after having that cold snap, it’s warmed right up, and lots of things are thinking it’s spring- I saw a butterfly three days ago, and one of my foxgloves appears to be putting out a flower spike. I just nipped down to give the bees some food, so I didn’t have my camera, but I’ll try and get a pic.

I did have one other weird/interesting thing happen down there though; a mass of crows all starting assembling in a tree right next to the plot. They just kept on coming, there must have been a good 50-60 of them, making an incredible racket. Just as I was starting to really wonder what they were up to (no more quail, I hope!) a raven flew up and honked at them, and the whole lot just scattered. Really looked like they were Up To Something! I’ve not seen a raven on the allotment

before, but it definitely was one, in fact, its mate showed up too a little later. Maybe they’ve moved in, and the crows object.

Not quite the same number of birds as the starling murmuration I went to see at the fabulously named ‘Ham Wall’ reserve last week, but still quite impressive! I didn’t get great pictures of the starlings, just a small part of the huge flock, as they really started gathering a bit far away for my old camera, but it’s been years since I managed to actually be in the right place as the right time for them. I’ll have to go again this winter, on the next promising day!

starlings.JPG

Frost, and tuber time.

In the last week, the first of the winter frosts has arrived. I’m not 100% sure what date the first real one hit the plot, as I didn’t make it down there for a few days, and the house is always a little warmer but today’s visit confirmed that the cold had certainly arrived. All the outdoor tender plants were gone.

It’s always a bit bleak looking when the first frost hits, but there is a bright side; with the top growth all gone, it’s time to dig up almost all the roots, and finally see what the crop is like. I say almost all, because for the plants I grow, there is one exception; oca (Oxalis tuberosum) should always be left in the ground for a week or so after the top growth is killed, as they keep on growing for a while. So, I’ve left them for next week, but I did dig up the yacon, mashua and the first batch of good ‘ol Jerusalem artichokes. I’ve not grown yacon or mashua before,so I was very curious…

roots
Ta daa!

The left side of the trug (under the secateurs) is all Jerusalem artichokes, the middle is the yacon crown and the right is the mashua. I was a little disappointed with the mashua, as it looked really great, big scrambley plants, but there really wasn’t a whole lot of tubers, and half of them are unusable due to either being far too thin or are already sprouting. It’s all in the taste, however, which I’m informed is.. um.. horrible. I’ll give them a go though!

I was much happier with the yacon; the crop is far smaller than that others have had, but the plant was tiny (I was told to expect it to get to nearly my height, but it stopped growing at about 40cm), so I wasn’t expecting anything at all, but I actually got several good size tubers. Apparently the taste changes a lot in storage, so I’m going to try one soon and keep the others. Looks like there are plenty of growing points for next year as well! Enough to grow and share.

The Jerusalem artichokes, as always, look really good. They’re honestly such a easy crop to grow that I almost feel like they’re cheating. Shame they give me terrible wind… I’ve still got two more plants worth to harvest (this was the crop from two), but as they normally keep better in the ground, there’s no point digging up more than I can use. I do need to replant some for next year, but I haven’t decided where yet. I’m still in the middle of planning it all out.

There should have been two more tuber crops to harvest today; the ulluco I bought back in January annoyingly seemed to be the absolute favourite food of something or other at the plot, I never found out what, so it just got eaten down to stumps instantly, despite all attempts to protect it. I also grew Chinese artichokes (aka crosnes), which grew, and put on growth, and looked OK, but don’t seem to have managed a single tuber between the lot of them. There are still a few plants to investigate (it started chucking it down), but I’m not holding my breath.

 

Unexpected wildlife!

Was at a loose end this afternoon, and thought I’d head down to the plot, as there’s always something to do, even in the gloomy weather we’re having. Drove in (it’s a huge site), and noticed a big group of magpies and crows on a neighbouring abandoned plot. Normally they fly off when I drive in, but few of them didn’t. Even when I opened the door, and got out. They looked like they were up to something… Walked a few steps towards them, and they finally took off, but one was carrying something. Something that looked like a dead bird, but I couldn’t work out what… It couldn’t quite manage it though, and dropped it.

Turned out to be this little one:quail

 

She’s (currently at least) not dead, just a thoroughly shaken up and pecked at little quail.

I think she’s a colour variety of Japanese quail, and besides, it’s the middle of the city, so she must be someone’s pet. Couldn’t leave her there, she was in such shock I could just pick her up, so grabbed an old cardboard box out of the shed and came straight back home with her. Hopefully she’ll be OK, and with any luck I can find where she came from soon!

Luckily there’s nothing urgent to do at the plot right now!