© Our Plot on Green Lane Allotments -
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We have been full of good intentions for the start of the New Year but the weather has really meant that much of the time we have been confined to indoors dreaming of the things to come and also concentrating on cooking our stored produce rather than growing it. It’s been the month for hearty soups made from stored root vegetables and also delicious desserts made from stored soft fruit.
The month has been very cold and frosty. It’s been a while since our pond froze over
but the weather has been cold enough for this to happen this month. The greenhouse
has also developed ice patterns on the windows which is reminiscent of childhood
The birds have been struggling as the bird baths have kept freezing over in spite of us regularly thawing them with hot water. On one occasion a collared dove landed in the middle of the bird bath where the ice was very thin. As it stamped about with his feet the ice broke in the middle of the water. To start with the bird was standing in the water but trying to get a drink from around the sides of the bird bath where the water was still frozen. Eventually the penny dropped. A flock of sparrows soon noticed that there was water to be had and descended as they did every time we thawed out the ice.
One bird that was not welcome in the garden was the heron that paid us a visit. We still aren’t sure how many fish it had before we spotted it. Some fish refuse to come up from the bottom of the pond and are just shadowy moving forms. They say fish have short memories but it’s a week since the heron’s visit and still the fish are lying low. The pond is now totally netted to prevent a recurrence. Our pond is surrounded by a wall on top of which are large terracotta plant pots which we thought would prevent a heron from accessing the pond. The pond is also very deep. We were told that herons need to be able to walk into a pond and wade from the shallows but we have learned the hard way that this is not the case.
In the garden bulb shoots are continuing to emerge – the snowdrops are pushing up from amongst the carpet of dead magnolia leaves. In tubs and beds daffodil and hyacinth shoots are emerging along with the crocuses (or is it croci?).
We had some fairly sunny days last week, although the weather was still bitterly cold we have managed to carry out a little work on the plot. We made good use of the woolly hats and scarves knitted over Christmas. To keep warm we need plenty of layers which means that I end up looking like a dumpling but vanity has to come a poor second to keeping warm.
One major task has been trying to clear the huge pile of debris which accumulated as a result of the severe ‘pruning’ of the overgrown laurel that was threatening to take over part of the plot. We sorted through the cut down branches to retrieve any timber that can be used for pea sticks or other supports. Hopefully this will cut down on the number of bamboo canes that we use. The leaves and small twigs which are of little use will be left to provide homes and foraging areas for visiting birds, hedgehogs, frogs, toads and invertebrates. We have a couple of hazel bushes that have now produced some very stout branches. The intention is to cut out some of these to use as bean poles.
The plum and greengage trees have been treated to a winter wash to hopefully reduce the risk of aphid attack which has devastated the trees in the past. Last year’s plum crops was disappointing and the greengages haven’t really cropped well since being planted so we are keeping fingers crossed for better results this year.
The ground is still very wet and where we have trudged along the grass paths they are looking worse for wear. We just hope that they recover when the weather improves.
We are still managing to harvest a few vegetables and have a supply of stored potatoes, onions and squash. The squash are stored outside under a porch in the garden. Some have been spoiled by the frosts and become mushy and unusable, however the Crown Prince squash are still really firm. I doubt that we will manage to eat all of them as we did have rather a large harvest.
The garlic continues to grow in the allotment greenhouse – the second variety that seemed reluctant to sprout is now also pushing through. We are not really sure what the varieties are as the bulbs were just some that we bought at a supermarket in France. The garlic being used in the kitchen is beginning to sprout. More cloves – Solent White have been planted in pots in the greenhouse. Two bulbs were bought each producing 18 cloves so hopefully we should have enough garlic to keep any nearby vampires away. Garlic is supposed to benefit from a period of cold weather and so the conditions should be ideal. The pots have been covered with fleece but this is more to try and deter mouse attack rather than keep off the frost.
All our seed potatoes have now arrived. We have bought Charlotte, Juliette and Nicola all salad varieties which have done well in previous years. This year we have also bought salad varieties Anya and Belle de Fontenay and the reputedly blight resistant Sarpo Mira. We will see whether or not it lives up to its reputation. It seems that Sarpo Mira is also a very vigorous variety – the haulms can stretch to 2m and stay green until the first frosts. The tubers continue growing throughout the season so Sarpo Mira will need different treatment to its less vigorous cousins. All have been set out in the greenhouse to chit and covered with four layers of fleece. Whether or not chitting is beneficial is irrelevant. When potatoes arrive in January then there is no decision to make.
In the garden greenhouse it is now definite that the wild primrose seeds that I gathered last year (from plants in our garden) have germinated. I think primrose seeds are best sown fresh, the seeds sown from a packet of seeds bought from the garden centre have done absolutely nothing. We have had difficulty germinating cultivated primroses in the past but have noticed plenty of self sown seedling germinating around existing plant! An example of leaving it to nature – it knows what’s best!
In the garden the bulbs are continuing to shoot – in spite of the weather the whole process seems to be gathering momentum. The snowdrops are now in bud so it won’t be long before we are treated to a display – can’t wait! The hellebores are also now budding – this year I would like to try and find some different varieties to add to the colour range as most of ours are a dark plum colour. I also noticed that the cowslips have buds too.
A few perennials are also pushing through – the moist noticeable being the irises. The Sambucus Nigra has now produced rich deep purple buds and the garrya is dripping with catkins. They look great against the clear blue sky.
The mahonia is in flower although the display is toned down by the activities of the birds. They seem to find the flower buds really attractive and sit stripping them off the plant.
One bit of good news in a week where this has been sadly lacking has been that we think most of our fish survived the heron attack. They are just beginning to feel confident enough to show themselves again. If fish have such short memories then why did they stay hidden for so long after the visit of the heron.
Looking forward to next week no doubt the birds will go into hiding as it is the Big Garden Birdwatch next weekend and in our experience the birds seem only too aware of this and go into hiding. Maybe they think that if we count too many of them we will stop feeding them!
Some very varied weather this week. At the start of the week we had a flurry of large snowflakes but fortunately nothing that hung around – as the flakes fell to the ground they disappeared. We also had some bitterly cold frosty weather made even colder by the winds and then of course some rain. On some plots we now have standing water the rest are just soggy and muddy so no possibility of doing much digging. I think we may have to consider planting rice this year!
We have a bit of a field mouse problem in the garden greenhouse. They know when they’re onto a good thing – lovely dry and warm housing with plenty to nibble on! All the nooks and crannies have been cleared but still they keep coming. We have to cover most pots and trays where seeds are planted otherwise the mice have great fun digging everything up.
In spite of the weather if you take time to look carefully things are beginning to grow. In the garden the snowdrops continue to progress and buds are beginning to bend their heads – a sign that soon the flowers will be opening. Shoots and sprouts of bulbs and perennials are continuing their push.
On the plot the blackcurrant and blueberry bushes are now in bud and the hazel catkins are growing well.
The winter onions are still growing and now the winter shallots which seemed as though they were never going to sprout are at last making an effort.
We are still managing to harvest fresh vegetables – carrots, parsnips, sprouts and the occasional cabbage. There is also some cavolo nero kale on offer but this isn’t our first choice mainly due to the amount of whitefly that it houses.
The pile of debris from the laurel bushes which has now been cleared has provided us with plenty of sticks for peas etc.
We spent some time counting the birds in the garden for the Big Garden Birdwatch and as predicted we seemed to have far fewer visitors than usual. Hardly a blue tit in sight!
Another very mixed week weather wise, really cold most days but with sunny interludes. One sunny day tempted us to go out and get a bit of exercise. The allotment is still very wet so we went for a walk around one of the lakes at Pugney’s Country Park. The park was reclaimed from old quarries in the 1970's. There too it was really boggy and wet away from the path and the dogs that were enjoying being exercised looked as though they would be in need of a good bath when they got home!
Back in the garden we did manage a bit of tidying up – cutting back some dead perennials, the seed heads of which had been left over winter for the birds. We also tidied up the leaves that were shrouding the bulb shoots. The snowdrops still are not quite on flower in our garden but I have seen some fully open elsewhere. In the pond the fish venture out from their hiding places when there is the hint of a bit of sunshine. They love to just bask in the small amount of warmth and it has given us a chance to check how many have survived the heron attack. Fortunately most have!
Three potato Belle de Fontenay tubers were planted in a large pot in the greenhouse so hopefully we should have one or two helpings of early new potatoes.
The garlic that was slow to shoot in the allotment greenhouse is now growing more strongly so maybe it is a later variety. That’s good and should give us some succession.
The allotment visit was confined to harvesting, carrots which we leave in the ground over winter, parsnips, leeks and cavolo nero. The cavolo nero seems to have less whitefly so maybe the cold weather is having an effect on the population. Incidentally is this kale or cabbage? I always thought of it as kale but TV cooks seem to consider it to be cabbage.
Everything looks really bare in January but at least the daylight hours are on the increase. We just desperately need the soil to start drying out but with threats of snow next week this doesn’t look as though it will happen any time soon!