Wednesday, February 21

Just a load of rhubarb









Tuesday, February 20

Not much happening

I haven't been very active in blogland recently. The reason is that I have had very little to tell you. The past couple of months have been very inactive. The weather hasn't been very allotmenting or gardening friendly. Not only that but days out have been planned and cancelled so I haven't had any visits to share either.

Last year January and February were very different. By this time last year we had completed the mammoth task of clearing our overgrown flower bed and were feeling very pleased with ourselves.
At the end of last year, Martyn set to clearing another large overgrown patch with the intention of creating another growing area for this year. It all started off well but there has been slow progress over the last couple of months. This is shown in the photo on the bottom right below
I started clearing the ends of a couple of beds - a task that shouldn't take very long. The apple hedge bed was extended slightly  - top left. The other task was to sort out an overgrown clump of rhubarb at the end of another bed - top right. There was, and still is, lots of couch grass roots intermingled with the rhubarb. The wet drizzly conditions, that seem to have been a constant feature of the last couple of months or so, have produced very wet, soggy, claggy soil that sticks to everything and so progress is very slow. I had plans to start on another patch and replant the lavender hedges around a couple of fruit beds but so far haven't managed to start on either task.

When we have managed a plot visit, other than digging up some winter vegetables, we have had to be content to carry out non-soil related activities. 

Sweet pea frames and some annual flower debris have been cleared and work has been done on our trees.

Martyn applied a winter wash to the fruit trees to try and control some of the bugs especially the plum leaf curling aphid that in the past has devastated our plum trees.

He also cut back our row of buddleias - not only does this create a huge pile of 'prunings' but also reveals the need to tidy around the base of the shrubs. For a couple of years the buddleias have virtually been a butterfly free zone. I hope that this will prove to be the year the peacocks and tortoiseshell hoards of previous years return.
Martyn also cut back the large hawthorn tree growing by the greenhouse. This grew from a self sown seedling that I found growing there, pre-greenhouse days. I trained it into a tree which had rather overgrown the position and so a serious cut-back was required. This should have happened earlier but absence of the correct tools for the job meant that it didn't get done. It was quite a large job and resulted in a huge pile of debris. We have started sorting through, clipping off the ferocious thorns and preparing suitable twiggy bits to be used as peas stick and plant supports. The thicker boughs will be used to edge some of our beds and hold down weed control fabric.

For those of you who enjoy watching videos, Martyn has put together some films of some of our gardening activities on our vlog here.

At least the weather isn't holding back some of the plants. The cobnut is sporting female and male flowers ...
... and the blueberries and blackcurrants are in bud.

Towards the end of last year's growing season we seemed to be ahead of schedule as far as plot preparation went but now we really are falling behind. We just need some gardening weather to set the ball rolling again! No use fretting about it - it's just a case of Keep Calm and Carry On Buying Kindle Books.


Wednesday, February 14

Doing their best









Monday, February 12

Second attempt at growing clivias

We haven't been able to do much outdoor gardening at all this year but I have been carrying out a little indoor project. 

When I posted photos of our clivia, some eagle eyed visitors may I have noticed that there were some green bud like growths visible behind the flowers - I know Carrie did.
You may have thought that these were flower buds but they are in fact seed pods.

Very gradually the seed pods turn red. It takes quite a long time.
A few years ago I tried germinating some seeds, following instructions found online. It didn't work, and the seeds never developed. I wanted to try again and so researched more and found some YouTube videos describing a different method.
Apparently the seeds are ripe when the pods become soft, so I kept giving the red pods a little squeeze, but they never seemed to become what I would call soft. After a while the pods started to split so I eventually decided to open them.
I was surprised to find that two of the seeds had already germinated and had developed small roots.

The new instructions stated that the seeds, even if they had started to germinate, should be soaked in water for up to 24 hours.
The instructions also stated that I should spray the seeds with a fungicide before planting but I hadn't any so I didn't.

I needed a deep container preferably with a clear top in which to sow the seeds and we had some yoghurt cartons that seemed perfect for the job.
I filled about three quarters of tub with compost. It had to be made very soggy. so no drainage holes were made in the tub.
On top of this was placed a layer of vermiculite leaving space for any early growth.
The seeds were pushed half way into the vermiculite. It was easy to determine the correct way to plant for the two seeds that already had roots. The instructions stated that the dark side of the seed should be uppermost and so this helped when placing the third rootless seed.
The lid was placed on the carton and it was placed on our bedroom windowsill.
Quickly the seeds with roots seemed to lift up out from the surface of the vermiculite which I assumed meant that the roots were growing.
Then last week, just about a week after sowing the seeds, I noticed what looked to be a green shoot. The two pre-germinated seeds appear to have shoots. Let's look closer at one.
So what do you think? Do we have the beginnings of a clivia leaf? If so there is still a long way to go before I can chalk up a success.

If it doesn't work there are still a few green pods ripening on the plant so I'll just have to try again.


Wednesday, February 7

January picture diary








Monday, February 5

February Harvest

The gloom lifted for a while on Sunday, so wrapped in several layers of clothing we headed for the allotment.

We had wondered whether we would be faced with any damage as we hadn't managed to make a plot visit since before the period of stormy weather. Happily the worst casualty was one of the sweet pea frames which had developed a lean.
Clearing the dead sweet peas will be a job for another day.

Our cache of vegetables had run out so our first priority was to make sure we gathered plenty of vegetables to take home.

Martyn set to digging parsnips and carrots whilst I dug leeks, picked sprouts and managed to find a small amount of pak choy.
Some of the parsnips were huge but many were afflicted with canker. We grow Gladiator, reputed to be a canker resistant variety but this doesn't make them immune. Fortunately there is usually plenty of unaffected parsnip flesh but it does mean that our parsnips, just like the carrots, will never win any beauty competitions.

Our pak choy is always well nibbled but I managed to find enough to add to an egg fried rice dish for Monday.

Another job that was in urgent need of completion was spraying the fruit trees with a winter wash. We went through a period when plum tree aphids devastated our plum trees causing all the leaves to shrivel. The trees  looked as though they were dying and produced no fruit. Later in the year a new set of leaves grew but the damage to any potential crop was already done. Every year since we have treated the trees to a winter wash.
This can't be left too late as spraying has to be completed before any buds burst. Ideally the trees should be sprayed twice but more often than not they have to make do with just one dose.

A quick look round the plot shows that some fruit bushes are already primed for action.
I decided to try and tidy up some of the clumps of rhubarb. One of the largest clumps had formed a sort of fairy ring.
I guess this is a hint that it needs splitting.

This week I am linking to harvest Monday hosted on 
Dave's blog Our Happy Acres



Friday, February 2

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

Like many others, Martyn and I took part in this year's RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch.

Our garden isn't very large but it is impossible to cover the whole garden with just two pairs of eyes so we concentrate on the area to one side of our house. It's where the bird feeders and tables are and also the most popular bird bath. It's also an area that we often look out on after the feeders and tables have been topped up. That's Martyn's first job after breakfast and if he is late there is usually a queue of blackbirds positioned nearby waiting to swoop down the minute he returns to the house. They also often perch round the back of the house watching the kitchen door and following him round the house as he heads for their favourite bird table. The most vigilant bird has first pick of the food.

Two of our house windows overlook this area and so Martyn is on lookout at one.
I am stationed at the other.
At any one time the conversation goes:
"I've two blackbirds."
"I've three."
So that's five in total.

The birds tend to come in waves and so really once the first wave has passed we rarely beat the original numbers counted - that is until the next wave which is usually outside of the chosen hour. It's most frustrating when frequent visitors fail to make an appearance during the count.

On Saturday where were the almost ever present wood pigeons?
Then there were the three magpies that showed up on the wrong day.
Of course none of the more sporadic visitors deigned to call.

No long tailed tits turned up. A stray did however, pay us a fleeting visit on Tuesday.
If a coal tit turned up we missed it, as it tends to do quick dash and grab of a sunflower heart, this could easily be the case.
The greenfinches kept a low profile and no bullfinches graced us with their presence.
So which birds actually did turn up on Saturday morning?
The RSPB semi doughnut chart showed our results like this.
There were maybe more house sparrows than we counted as they were hopping around in the trees and flying to and from various feeding locations. The trouble is birds just don't sit still!  Going on regular observations I would have expected the goldfinch to come out as second highest visitor.

It's really difficult to image that only one great tit and two blue tits paid us a visit. Like the coal tit unless they fancy feeding from the peanut or suet, they tend to flit backwards and forwards so our one great tit could in fact have been several individuals.

Over the past few years I have kept the results of our bird count on a spreadsheet.
The above data is shown as a graph below.
We had intended to do a recount on Monday morning as a comparison but it was a very dull and wet morning and just like us the birds were not venturing out.

Another weather related issue is that on a dull day many birds can only be seen in silhouette which makes identification challenging. This is specially true of birds flitting about in the trees

It just further shows that the weather conditions can affect the results of the count so maybe we should make a note of that too.

Did you take part in the count and if so what were your observations?