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Week 1
Week 2
Garden birds

Click here
for December 2009 diary entry  

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For December 2010 weather summary

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

December 2010 Diary
5 December
The nearest we have come to gardening this week has been to look out of the window and wonder whether our plants are surviving under a thick white blanket of snow. The plants have just had to fend for themselves.
Despite the lack of any sort of gardening activity we have been kept busy making sure that the birds are being well catered for. Bird tables and feeders are being well-stocked and as much as possible the water in the bird baths is being kept partially thawed. The later is a bit of a losing battle as it seems to freeze again almost as soon as we come back into the house. Fortunately an area of our garden pond has been kept ice free and so the birds can always resort to tiptoeing across the ice for a drink.
We bought a new super-duper bird feeder but at the moment the birds prefer to browse the bird table for the more easily accessible food. We have kept these well stocked so that the birds don’t have to use up too much energy when feeding. If you like the look of our feeder we bought it from the RSPB here.
The medlars that we set aside seemed to have bletted. Last year we used the fruits to make apple and medlar jelly but not really being ones to eat much jam or jelly we decided to taste them raw and maybe use them to flavour yoghurt. Medlars are supposed to taste like a dry cinnamon flavoured apple sauce but when we had a taste the tasted very yeasty. Needless to say they were kept well away from the yoghurt so it looks as though they may be added to the bird table supplies. Maybe I picked the fruits too soon as I should have waited for the first frosts, or maybe I left them bletting too long, or maybe they are just an acquired taste. I’ll try again next year! This page has lots more information about our medlars.
I have tried to project my mind into next season and have started to browse the    
seed catalogues. My first attempt will be a short list of the things that I would like to grow and then realism will need to kick in and the list will need trimming to more achievable proportions.
Looking outside the next growing season seems to be a long way off but on the bright side (for us at least) maybe the freezing cold temperatures are killing off lots of the nasty bugs and turning the slugs to ice. Just hope the friendly bugs are tucked up somewhere.
12 December
We actually made it to the plot this week albeit for a flying visit. Everything seems to have survived the cold and snow although the canes supporting some of the netting covering the small brassicas has developed a lean. Generally though the scene was dreary and miserable – a gloom had descended!
The main purpose of our visit – other than to see whether the plot was still there or not – was to gather a few vegetables as our stores were running out. The ground was very muddy so it was just as well that we had no intention of doing any digging or clearing up.
We harvested carrots and beetroot which seemed to have survived well under their straw blanket although the enviromesh covering the carrots had been weighed down by the snow. Due to the thaw the parsnips were easily lifted although all the roots were wearing mud overcoats. We don’t wash root vegetables until we need to use them as they seem to keep in better condition this way but some mud did need removing.
Although the row of cabbages looked a little sorry for itself the cabbages were fine just lacking a few outer leaves – we managed to harvest both red and green.
As the snow has disappeared from the garden that too has taken on a dreary look; the fronds of the tree fern have turned brown and the hardy cyclamen look very soggy. The leaves have survived but the flowers and buds have certainly seen better days. The one flower that seems to have emerged from the snow unscathed is the plucky little pansy!
Being one of the coldest weeks on record for many a year it was just like us to choose this week to have all our heating replaced. Then to add to our problems one evening we had a power cut that took out our electricity supply for an hour and a half. Fortunately our installation team minimised the disruption as much as possible and we managed to keep warm in a least one part of the house each day. This provided an ideal opportunity for a first trawl through the seed catalogues. After much humming and arring I have now just about decided on which flower seeds I want to order so we only now have the vegetables and herbs to consider. More detail about which flowers I have chosen can be read here on my blog.
Harvested from the plot:

Carrots - Early Nantes

Parsnip - Gladiator

Beetroot - Boltardy (red) & Burpee Golden (yellow)

Cabbage - Huzaro (red) & Kilaton (green)

19 December
This week has excelled itself by breaking all the sorts of records that you would rather it didn’t. With temperatures at record lows we have only managed to pop into the garden for a brief look around and haven’t ventured to the plot at all.
If the cyclamens ever recover from the hammering that they have received it will be something of a miracle. At the beginning of the week the pansies looked as though they had survived but after several nights of record breaking low temperatures since then maybe they will have also succumbed and decided that to try and struggle on just isn’t worth the effort.
The pond has almost completely frozen over; where the water flows back in from the filter there is a semi permanent ice sculpture. It is just about impossible to keep even a section of the bird bath stocked with liquid water; the birds have resorted to ‘drinking’ snow but this won’t help them to keep their feathers in good condition.
Weather conditions have meant that we have had a constant stream of birds visiting out feeders and bird tables so I have taken the opportunity to take some photos but I do really worry about the poor little things trying to survive the harsh conditions – hopefully the food we are providing will give them a fighting chance!
26 December
The new heating system managed to break down twice this week so it was a challenge to keep warm although not as difficult as it has been for the poor birds. We have kept them well stocked with food but providing a water supply has been more of a challenge; as soon as the ice in the bird bath has thawed it freezes up again. The birds have taken to drinking snow and no doubt bathing in it too. There is also access to the shrinking area of water provided by running water pouring from the filter pipe although this has been in serious danger of disappearing completely.
Last year at least a quarter of the ponds surface remained ice free. Ice on the pond surface is very thick too so it is fortunate that our pond is over 5 feet (just over one and a half metres deep) otherwise the fish would be frozen in ice blocks. From time to time they can be seen drifting below the surface but they must be really cold – I hope that they survive. One problem when ponds ice over is that poisonous gases given off by decaying plants and animals are trapped beneath the surface and can poison fish. So far the hole by the filter pipe should allow these an escape route but if this freezes over we will have to try to thaw an area.
We haven’t had any more snow this week and during the day from time to time there has been a slow – very slow- thaw so much of the garden is now revealed in all its soggy, gloomy ‘glory’. Plants look really sorry for themselves and only time will tell whether they have survived the conditions or not.
We haven’t yet checked on the potatoes stored in the garage or the root vegetables still in the ground on the plot. I’m not really hopeful that things will still be edible but we will just have to wait and see.
2 January
As 2011 makes its entrance – I’d like to think that the awful weather of 2010 has finally left us but somehow I doubt it.
This week we decided to take stock or our stored produce to find out what is still useable and what needs to be consigned to the compost heap or wheelie bin.
I ventured into the garden greenhouse to check how the onions were keeping and found that the garlic planted what seems like an age ago had at long last started to sprout so maybe I won’t now need to plant any more cloves. I rather overdid things last year and have loads of cloves left. The pots in which the garlic is planted needed a little water but when I tried to fill the watering can from the water butts outside the greenhouse I found that they has frozen to solid ice not even a drop of liquid water remained.
The onions had suffered a few casualties not so much because of the low temperatures but more down to the high levels of humidity which provided ideal conditions for mould to grow. Amazing how mould can grow even a well below freezing. The onions had been spread out on the wooden slatted benches, the idea being to allow good air circulation but unfortunately the air that may or may not have circulated was just far too moist. I sorted through the onions and all those that were still firm have been transferred to the house pantry or porch where at least it will be drier! I’ll have to keep a watchful eye on them as no doubt some lurking mould spores will manage to spoil more of the bulbs.
We have stored potatoes successfully in cardboard boxes stacked in our garage for several years but the cold weather this year has managed to reach in. Some tubers have been obviously frosted which has turned them soft and some others although hard have become slightly sweet as the frost has turned some of the starch to sugar. As we sort through the soft tubers will be discarded hopefully leaving enough firm tubers to see us through ‘til new potato season.
Some of the Crown Prince squash which were stored in the greenhouse under a pile of straw have also been frosted. This is a good storing variety which has been successfully stored outside protected only by an open porch roof in past years. It just shows how exceptional this winter is being.
We have yet to pay a visit to the plot to check on our carrots, parsnips, leeks and cabbages but hopefully we will have been left with something edible.
There are still remnants of the big freeze, although the snow has now completely disappeared where the ice was at its thickest remnants still remain. Pansies are showing just how tough they are by managing to produce an odd flower albeit a nibbled one so it seems that the freezing weather hasn’t stopped the slugs or snails from popping out for a bite to eat. Tips of bulbs are also still green and healthy although no taller     
than when they were first hidden under the snow. Hellebores are beginning to spruce up after being completely flattened but will they produce any flowers.
I just wonder how many of our garden plants will manage to struggle through to spring. We can only watch and wait and hope.