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December 2009 Diary

Click here
for December 2008 diary entry  

Archive for previous years' diaries dating from 2007 can be accessed by  clicking here

Click here
For December 2009 weather summary

6 December
December announced its arrival with the first real frost of the year. For the past couple of years this wintry event has followed very close on from bonfire night and has ended our alpine strawberry season. Frost kills the reproductive parts of the strawberry flower meaning that no more berries will be produced. This year, however, our picking season ended once the berries began to spoil courtesy of the damp weather.

Other flowers that were valiantly managing to keep flowering later than usual this year  have also been cut down by the frost but other more hardy individuals are still providing a sprinkling of flower power. Among these are roses which will soon no doubt give up. One plant that is at the start of its flowering season is the wild primrose. A whole row of these have been planted out in a temporary bed on the plot and are now beginning to produce an occasional flower. The foxglove plants are also thriving in the damp conditions and growing well.

In spite of the really cold weather the birds are keeping us entertained by their antics in the bird baths which we keep ice free for them.

Last month was very wet as our November weather diary entry confirms and our ground is still far too wet to enable any work on the plot so we are still confined to the weekly visit to obtain supplies of fresh vegetables and flowers. The root vegetables are being used for some hearty stews and soups – just the thing for this time of year.

Three new pear trees – Delsanne, Red Williams & Invincible - arrived this week. These are due to take over the bed vacated by the worn out blackcurrant bushes which at the moment is very lumpy. It has been left in the hope that the winter weather will set to work and break it down and so the pears have been potted up and placed in the garden greenhouse as a temporary measure.

The dipladena and stephanotis have finally been moved into their winter quarters in the house.

A bud is now peeping through from one of my amaryllis/hippeastrum bulbs. However, my sister’s bulb is still in the lead as it now has two buds both of which are shooting up at great speed. Apparently a gardening expert on the radio told a caller that these bulbs wouldn’t produce a flower if they had started to grow leaves – well our bulbs have produced leaves first and now have buds so if yours is doing the same don’t worry!

Harvested this week:

Vegetables:

Flowers:

Used from store

13 December
The onset of the cold weather meant it was essential that all necessary frost protection was in place this week.

In the garden all but one of the banana plants had already been given a protective straw overcoat. The one remaining plant has been left uncovered as a test case to see how much cold and frost it will withstand. At the moment some leaves are brown and tatty but it still sports some greenness too. Last year the less hardy variety of banana that is currently in the greenhouse spent winter in the house. It’s now too large to bring inside so it has been covered with a fleece bag stuffed with straw to give it some protection from the cold and a better chance of survival.

Outside the bay tree – at the moment more of a small bush – is draped with a couple of layers of fleece and the crown of the tree fern has been stuffed with a ball of fleece too. In the past this has been enough so we will just have to hope that this year isn’t the exception.

The vine in the garden greenhouse has been cut back severely – it’s always amazing how much growth it makes each year.

At the allotment the ground is still very wet and squelchy. During our visit this week I did manage to do a little weeding but it was reminiscent of playing in mud. At first glance everywhere looked bleak and uninviting but happily on closer inspection we still have plenty to keep us supplied with fresh vegetables.

The garlic is still growing well in the greenhouse but the supply of chrysanthemums has come to an end.

My amaryllis bulbs are also progressing albeit at a much slower pace than my sister’s bulb. One of my bulbs now has two developing buds and the other just one. My sister’s plant has two long stalks now each topped by a fat bud.

After much agonising over seed catalogues we have now completed the lists of seeds that we wish to order - now just need to send them off. Each year the choice is made more difficult but who’d have it any other way?

Harvested this week:

Vegetables:

Used from store

20 December
Definitely not a week for being out and about in the garden or on the plot. A wet beginning to the week was followed by our first snow of the season. In terms of inches of snow we haven’t really suffered as badly as most – a few flurries and a light covering. (Click here for our weather blog). Enough to mean that any gardening work would do more harm than good. Tramping on frozen ground can damage the soil structure and also wear away grass from lawned areas.

Although any snow disappeared fairly quickly in the weak sunshine the temperature throughout the week barely managed to reach above freezing. Our major garden task has been ensuring that our visiting birds have a supply of water and food to support them during what is a really hard time for them. Each time we have had a hot drink warm water has been used to thaw the water in the bird bath. I’m sure some of the birds come for a paddle to warm their frozen feet. Watching the birds splashing about in the near frozen water is enough to make me shudder. I know this is necessary to keep their feathers in good condition but how they don’t freeze to death is amazing. I’ve also been busy making enough fat cake to keep them well fed for a while and we have stocked up on our supplies of various types of bird food for the feeders and bird tables.

Hopefully the freezing conditions are being just as tough on the garden pests – especially the whitefly.

In anticipation of even more hearty soups I’m considering buying a hand held blender.  At the moment I use a food processor to blitz to a soup like consistency but I’m sure a hand held blender will make this easier and less messy.  The only problem is deciding which of the many brands to buy.

My amarylis are growing well. I now have two buds on each of my bulbs but despite this my sister’s bulb is still better. She now amazingly has a third bud developing from her bulb and the two earlier buds have developed into tall flower stalks with swelling buds almost ready to burst open.

Harvested this week:

For the first time this year – other than when we were on holiday – no visit was made to the plot this week.

Used from store

Used from freezer

31 December
As the snow lay crisply on the ground we paid a visit to the plot to gather our Christmas vegetables. In fact a more apt description of the laying snow would be crunchy but crispy seems a more seasonal word. Although there wasn’t any significant depth the freezing conditions ensured that snow stayed on the ground throughout the Christmas period.

In spite of enviromesh being weighted down by snow, carrots snug under their straw duvet were easily dug and free from carrot fly or frost damage.

Parsnips and leeks being more open to the elements were a little more difficult to coax from the ground. Having failed, this year, to thin out the parsnip seedlings at an appropriate time, the roots are quite small and chunky but regardless of this are providing us with useable roots and should be all the more tasty after being subjected to freezing conditions. Must remember to thin them out next year. We seem to be getting through the leeks fairly quickly so need to plant a few more next year. We had plenty of seedlings but thought we had planted sufficient so gave half of them away!

 

After a cardoon was flattened by strong winds during summer I planted a few red cabbage plants in the area vacated by the huge leaves. These were surplus to requirements and due to be composted so there was nothing to be lost and everything to be gained by using them up in this way. Cardoons are very vigorous plants and as expected they soon regrew which was bad news for the red cabbage plants, however despite this, some still appear to have formed hearts. During this week’s expedition we cut one which provided six ample helpings of braised red cabbage.

My sister’s amaryllis is now flowering – two of the flower stalks are sporting fully open flowers – mine are now progressing well but I have to concede defeat.  

Keeping the birds stocked up with food and water is still almost a full time occupation. On a morning they seem to be waiting for us to renew supplies and then blackbird wars begin. It’s amusing to watch the less dominant birds trying to sneak up behind the victor’s backs to grab beakfuls of food. Dunnocks and robins are being infected by the mood and sparring with one another.

Even though food stations are dotted around the garden the birds just can’t leave one another alone to feed in peace. One really welcome sighting has been of a song thrush visiting the bird table. After a long absence song thrushes seem to be trying to make a comeback – I really hope they are successful  and re-establish themselves as regular visitors.

Harvested this week:

Used from store

Used from freezer