Spring 2019, warm then so cold

I am writing this in May, the coldest May for 178 years, which followed a very warm April and in Suffolk at least, pretty dry January and February.

All this  unexpected cold is very unfortunate as I was planning to do a lot in the garden over the early May bank holiday.  Still the cold has inspried me to look at my wild life cameras and to write about our veg, bees and Moorhen.

Fruit and Veg

No pretty pictures at the moment but I have weeded and planted the veg patch. I leave it to weed over during the winter so spring is always a bit back-breaking.  We have broad beans, rocket, red chicory and lettuces growing well (but slowly).  The winter cabbage has now sprouted and we have eaten much before it actually flowered. Now the hens have the luxury of finishing it off.

We have just started to get wonderful Asparagus and Globe Artichokes both my favorities and only worth eating fresh from the garden and in season (at least in my mind).  The strawberry bed is flowering up so I hope we will get a bumper crop this year. The orchard has had wonderful blossom on all the trees, I wonder if the cold will prevent much of it turning to fruit.

Bees

I am on a beekeepers register so if you have a swam and live nearby you can call me up and I will come and try to deal with it. The oil seed rape in the area and very warm April has caused the bees to get a bit cramped and some decided to decamp off to new accommodation. I caught my own swam and got a new hive ready, oddly be the evening the swam had largely gone. Having checked my hive, it would seem that they may have gone back home!  Both hives were full of bees, I now have two supers on and was hoping to take off the first lot of honey in early May ( that was before it went so cold). As luck would have it just as I was settling down after teh dissapointment of missing my swarm, the phone rang and someone in a nearby village wanted me to collect their swarm. They were keen I took it away immediately so I could not leave it in the skep until the late evening. Still I managed to get most of the bees into the Skep and wrapped it in a sheet then put it in the back of the car and drove it home. I let the bees have a small opening until around 7pm when I ‘walked’ them into the hive I had prepared ealier. See pictures one hour apart.

This is the first time I have successfully done this, the bees have stayed and I am feeding them with sugar solution until they build up the wax frames and can find and store enough of their own food ( probably once it warms up).

Deer

Fallow deer captured by wildlife cam

Fallow deer captured by wildlife cam

We are surrounded by field and woodland, their are Munjac and Fallow Deer about. Normally we don’t see them closeby and hardly ever in the garden although I do have the veg patch surrounded by a 6 foot chickenwire fences to stop the deer eating all the tasty produce.

This year must have been a particularily bumper year for deer, We have had  a couple of Fallow Deer munching on the hedge behind the kitchen and one in our small copse.

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The did trample the electric fence around the hens but have only done this once so I hope they learned to avoid it in future.

The wildlife cam has also shown night visits from a large male Fallow Deer,  a fox  and some Munjac. It is difficult to believe how busy the garden is at night.

Moorhen

Every year we have a Moorhen nest on our pond, some years she manages to raise her chicks and other years they are eaten by cats, foxes, rooks or magpies.

This year there are three chicks all fluffy pom-poms at the moment. Mother Moorhen has been leading them over the grass and feeding them as she goes- it is a lovely sight.

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Summer 2018- sun, sun, sun

After one of the wetest winters in Suffolk the sun came out and we have not really had any rain since April. The ground is now baked hard and the grass has stopped growing.

The combination of a wet winter and sping and then a warm late spring, early summer has given us a wonderful crop of blossom in the orchard. It looks as though we will get a bumper harvest of plums, apples, pears, quinces, mulberries and medlars. Only the cherries have had problems- the birds took them all before they could be harvested.

April blossom bee

 

The blossom has givent the bees a good start to the year, the one remaing hive filled with bees and honey. Three supers were added and two were capped with wax and after extraction have yielded 28 Lbs or 12.7 kg of flowers sweet honey. It is probably a combination of nectar from oil seed rape and fruit trees.

 

 

Hive with two supers full of honeyThe hive proved so strong that it stated making extra queen cells which could have resulted in a swarm. So the hive was split and we now have two hives back again with the newer one building up numbers and growing in strength. Thanks again to my mentor at Stowmarket Beekeepers for all the advice.

 

 

 

Our Jacob sheep had a couple of foot problems over the winter but we managed to trim and treat once we could catch the one that had the limp. In spite of daily bucket feeding they are still quite wild.  Snowdrop who is the most nervy was limping  for a week of so and we could not pen her up. The vet was canceled three times as she jumped over 1.5 meters out of the fenced area to escape any treatment. We decided that she could not be too bad and within a few days she was not showing any sign of problems.

Towards the end of May the sheep needed shearing, it was hot and rather humid, good weather for nasty flystrike. This is where blowflies lay eggs on mostly dirty or damp wool, the maggots hatch and then eat into the sheep. It can kill and must be very unpleasent. We spray to prevent this but the dangerous time is when they are in full fleece, somewhat dirty round the back and it is hot and humid.

The sheep were penned up first thing, thanks to my wife being able to close the gate when they were feeding and trap them. The sheep still did not trust me as I had had to to pen them for spraying.  After a bit of a tussle, all three were a lot thinner and cooler.

sheared sheep may 2018

We now have three sacks of lovely wool and need to find a hobby spinner who would like to wash and separate the browns and  blacks from the white wool.

The rescue chickens, continue to lay most days but Bettie and Hettie have started to bully the smallest one, Nettie, so we have had to give her a fenced off part of the enclosure and her own nesting box. They can all see each other, and cluck away together but pecking is not possible.

Hettie separated

The veg patch is going well, we have had a good crop of cabbage, broad beans, asparagus and have made three litres of blackcurrent juice which is unsweetened and good with tonic (and gin or vodka if you want some alcohol). The stawberries have suffered a bit from a lack of water as have the raspberries. We are looking forwad to a lots of salads in the weeks to come.

Winter catchup: rescue chickens, rain, snow, rain and snow

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Jacob sheep with frosty backs tuck into some fresh hay

 

Writing this in what has been one of the hottest summers in Suffolk for some time, it is hard to remember what a miserable winter we had.  There was rain then snow in December, then it warmed up and did not seem to stop raining until we hit another cold snap in February, then rain again and a final deluge of snow.

hives in snow feb 18

 

All this a played havoc with my bees. I went into the winter with two reasonably strong hives and diligently fed them throughout the winter. Unfortunately, sometime between the two spring cold weeks, one of the hives died. From the look of it, they must have gone out foraging and on their return failed to find the food stores. All very sad.

 

In October 2017 we finally got some chickens. Thanks to the British Hens Welfare Trust, we picked up three rather bald former cage birds.

I was really impressed by how well the BHWT organised the event with minimal upset for birds or their new owners.

The new hens needed some help finding their way into the coop  and up the gangplank but soon picked up the idea. By November they were running about as though they owned the place, laying regularly and feathered with bright combs.  The snow did not seem to faze them too much and they all seemed to get on well through the winter.

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Rescue hens settling into a free ranging life

Spring 2017, at last an update

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Snakes Head Fritillaries at Fox Meadow

Spring has got off to a difficult start. The initial warm weather in March has given way to sharp frost and cold wind in April and early May. This has caused problems in the veg patch and with our small orchard. Blossom, encouraged by the warmer weather has been scorched by the frosts and it remains to be seen if we will get many or the earlier flowering fruits such as plumbs and cherries.
The colder weather has enabled me to do more weeding and sort out our vegetable beds ready for some proper spring weather. Seeds are in the cold frames and I hope they will develop in time. The Asparagus was moved (against all advice) into a dedicated bed with plenty of manure and with the roots on raised soil to keep them well drained. Much to my surprise we have had 6 edible and sweet spears. Not much but I don’t want to over tax them this year. I have added some younger plants and hope that in two or more years we will have sufficient for our family use and some to sell at the gate.

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The forced rhubarb was excellent, a wonderful pink colour. It sold well at the gate and was given a lot of positive comments locally. I have invested in a second forcer thanks to some discount vouchers from Wyevale Garden Centre and hope we can generate even more rhubarb next year before the glut of garden gate sales.

We have been selling our spare fruit, flowers and vegetables since September, very modest but nice to see that it is appreciated.

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The booth

Unfortunately we have had quite a few things ‘ disappear’ without payment so have to set up a security camera, which is a great shame and dents our trust in people who are mostly very honest.

I have finally got some bees, last year I enrolled in an introductory course run by the Stowmarket Beekeepers and spend some time with a local beekeeper who kindly let me help catch a swam and extract honey. I was lucky enough to be selected as someone who could take over the bees of another local beekeeper who sadly passed away last year. So now I have three WBC hives (all freshly painted and cleaned) and one colony of very calm and busy bees. I am hoping to get a call about local swarms so I can build up to two or perhaps three working hives. The cold weather has not helped the bees but they do seem to have sufficient food for now. They are checked each week.

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The newly installed Apiary

It is hard to believe that the sheep have been with us for a year now, they are lovely Jacob Ewes, all very different in character. We had a few early foot problems but mostly they have been free of health issues. They are now very much part of the family, checked on twice a day.

A new start

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Spring 2015- a rare snowy day

Since late April 2015 we have stared on a new adventure. We moved from our modern house in Hertfordshire and gave up our allotments. Our new home is in the middle of the Suffolk countryside, in what is known as high Suffolk, there are clay hills and wonderful views. Our house was originally built in 1520 and has been modified over the years, mostly in the late 1500s and early 1600s with more in the 1950s.

We are lucky enough to have nearly 4 acres of land and our neighbours are over half a mile away. The house and garden needed a lot of TLC. When we moved in the grass was knee high, the trees growing through the electricity and phone wires, the hedges out of control  and the paddock fence had rotted into the ground. No boundaries were fenced and the bottom gate was missing. The house also needed a lot of repair.

We had trouble fining help but eventually though recommendation found a wonderful landscape gardener and also some excellent builders.

The trees and grass have been tamed and the house water tight and dry. I have fenced most of the land so our Border Terrier has stopped escaping (we are very grateful to the nice ladies who picked him up when they found him by the road and brought home back to us safe and sound.)

The vegetable patch is now resurrected, with five beds, and surrounded by a rabbit and deer proof fence.  The paddock is now fenced in and has electric fencing separating the two halves. Three Jacob ewes are now keeping down the grass.  The bottom of the land is now accessed via a new gate.

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The Jacobs- Matilda, Lotty and in the distance Snowdrop

More rain, more cold, more winter

Winter veg

Winter veg, Leeks, Jerusalem Artichokes and Oca

Thankfully we are not near to any flood plains or bursting rivers. I really feel for those who have been inundated. Way back in 1968 my parents house was flooded with sewerage ridden river water. It took a long time to sort out and was very unpleasant for us and our neighbours. The allotment is on the side of a hill so relatively safe from the water. Even so the ground is very wet and I am trying to avoid walking on it as the structure will be ruined. We are still picking chard, lambs lettuce, cabbages and digging up Jerusalem artichokes and lovely turnips. I have found that peeling, par-boiling and roasting the artichokes seems to reduce the ‘windy’ effect of these wonderful tubers. Although it might just mean we are all getting used to them. In addition the Oca did well due to the long autumn with little frost and we still have some leeks growing.
I put onions sets and garlic corms into the ground in November and they seem to be shooting. I am a bit surprised that they have not rotted away. This month (February) I need to prune the raspberries as they are supposed to be autumn fruiting and do a general tidying up but I will have to wait until the gales and wet weather has abated a bit. I managed to re-wood chip the path but that has really been all since before Christmas.

Rain, Rain, Cold, Wind

March 2013-snow in the woods

I cannot really understand how the winter has been so miserable for so long. I like cold dry weather but incessant damp cold is miserable. The allotment has been blown about, rained on and frozen for so long that I am surprised anything is still growing. So far my winter planted onions and garlic are just showing. The overwintering leeks have just been harvested and the purple sprouting and other brassicas have been eaten by the pigeons as both the bird scarer and cage were blown over. My potatoes are starting to chit and I hope to get them in over Easter but with the ground so cold I may have to wait. Let’s hope we get some sun soon.

Slow veg in the wettest summer ever….ever

Verdant July in the allotment

I have been putting off posting about the trials and tribulations of my allotment this year as I was hoping that the rain would stop for long enough for me to do more than emergency weeding, slug killing and  a little harvesting.

The spring / summer growing period started well, a few dry sunny days and in with the onions and a second lot of broad beans to support winter planted ones. My bird of prey bird scarer made from a bin bag, some support sticks and wire has worked well and kept the pigeons away.  The rhubarb forcer  did its thing and we had some wonderful metallic red rhubarb for jam and for compot.

Then it rained and was cold and rained more on than off for the rest of the summer ( well so far to mid July). The  weeds, especially the comfry, went mad and grew overnight filling up all available space.

In the few dry spells potatoes ( Anya and Miro Sapho) were planted and seem to be doing well. More onions sets  were put  in spring to complement the winter planted ones  and these are also growing as are leeks from seed and garlic.

The broad beans did well , the early planted and later ones ( all Sutton) flowered together and I now have a couple of large freezer bags of beans after having eaten a lot stir fried with garlic and butter. Sweet and delicious.

The garlic has had to be harvested early due to rust but the bulbs seem fine and the bulbs not be eaten are  now drying out on chicken wire under the garden table. I hope the rust will not affect my onions or leeks.

The winter planted white onions all collapsed in early July and are now somewhat optimistically drying on the garden table until I have room to put them where the garlic currently is.

Onions ‘drying’

The strawberries looked very promising, lots of flowers and a good covering of leaves. unfortunately with all the rain, the slugs have got to the fruit quicker than I have and most of the crop has been eaten.  However, some fruit was saved together with some black, white and redcurrents. Enough for a small bowl for two.

The globe artichokes are also doing well and provide a bit of a barrier along the fence beyond which the Comfry is king. I have taken to havesting the the globes early when just larger than a golfball and smaller than a tennis ball. These can be steamed or boiled for about 4 – 5 minutes then the outer leaves striped off and if small the pointy end of ther remaining leaves cut off with scissors. The whole head is split in half and any fluffy choke gently removed with a teaspoon the rest can be eaten with melted butter or in a warm oil and vinagar dressing. Larger heads can have all leaves and choke removed after cooking leaving the rubber ring shaped heart which will freeze or can be used as above or in salads or in risotto.

Globe artichokes braving the weather

I hope that the weather improves over the coming month at least so I have enough time to get rid of the weeds!

The planting scheme 2012

A look back from a hot November

The allotment has been hard work this autumn. The combination of warmth and wet has really benefitted the weeds and the slugs. Other problems have included the dreaded Onion fly which caused my lovingly grown leeks to ‘melt’ . I managed to save the white tips and have stir -fried these and frozen for later use.

Leeks damaged by onion fly larvae

An onion fly larva about 8mm long

Mid October gave me a chance to plant my garlic,  sprouts and asian walking onions ( grown from seeds) into the allotment. It took until mid November for me to find the time to plant the onion sets ( by which time some had started to sprout). Does ‘chitting’ onions help or hinder the final crop?

Halloween brough the best crop of pumpkins and squash I have ever had , most are in store and being slowly used for soup. I like to roast them in segments with olive oil and dry chilli flakes  then scrape out the flesh into some softened onions, add stock or water and this year I am adding the borlotti and french beans that have been podded and boiled until tender.  Really hearty and tasty.

One of the many great pumpkins

Another wonderful squash - Turban squash

The beans – about 5kg were harvested from the last of the bean pods

Borlotti and french beans- for beefing up the soup

The largest pumpkin was selected by my son for Halloween creative carving  many visiting ghouls and witches were impressed!

Home grown Halloween pumpkin

While all this spooky work was going on my new sprout plants were devastated by slugs  and so we will have to have cabbage for Christmas.

Buckingham Nurseries have kindly replaced the Medlar tree which died last year so I have planted this out, carefully following the instructions and hope that it can establish itself as well as the quince tree has done.   Otter Farm has sent through my Szechuan pepper  tree. I am looking forward to seeing it seed over the next few years.

For reference here are the plans for the allotment in 2011 20a sits next to 20b to make a nice rectangular patch with a path down the middle.

Plot 20 A plan 2011

Plot 20B plan 2011

Now on with the weeding……

Whatever Happened to the Summer?

I cannot believe that it is now mid-September and I have not written up the trials and tribulations of cultivation since June. I can only claim that work on the allotment had to take priority over writing about it.

Although the weather from July onwards has been rather mixed with a lot of heavy rain and then warm days, it has been good for growing. The weeds in particular have loved the weather. I returned from a fortnights holiday in Normandy to find that the path had been completely buried in comfrey. It took over three hours to clear but at least generated a lot of mulch for the beans and courgettes.

The other problem with the weather was that the courgettes grew into marrows before your eyes. I took the precaution  of cutting all the small courgettes before my holiday  but on my return discovered some of the best ‘marrows’ I have ever seen. The plants took a long time to recover from this largess but are still producing sweet, small and tasty produce.

Courgettes doing well

From courgette to marrow in two wet weeks

The other debilitating effect of the damp and warm weather has been on the potatoes. Blight is almost inevitable and I had to take the foliage off the plants somewhat earlier than I would have liked. The potatoes are ridged up and appear undamaged. They are now sitting in jute sacks in the garage. I should have enough to last well into next spring if all goes well.

Onions  and garlic has  been very successful this year the earlier plantings were harvested in late june and the spring planting of onions in august. Both crops did well . The spring planted onions were put in groups of  five , something suggested by the Eden Project, and all five grew with a range of different final sizes. I have four big netting bags full or both red and white onions and hope to be able to use them well into next year.

Spring planted onions grown from sets in groups of five

Drying off the onions and shallots

Lettuces planted as ‘cut and come again’ have grown into full large plants and those we have not managed to eat are starting to bolt. I am already planting out winter lettuce so we will have something  of the autumn.

The mammoth bean run I put up has worked very well with a combination of borlotti and climbing french green and black ( blue) beans) the freezer is already full and I have experimented with pickling some of the glut.

Black beans - they go green when cooked!

Borlotti beans, great whole when small and podded beans when left to mature

 

Other notable successes were the artichokes both globe and Jerusalem. The globe have been planted down one fence with the intention of using the to suppress weeds and have something nice to eat. The Jerusalem have done very well and need cutting back so I can dig up the corms. I will leave some so we have a crop next year.

Globe Artichokes, even in the first year still have edible flower heads

Jerusalem Artichoke plants- I am looking forward to the corms or are they tubers?

 

I have been amazed that I managed ad few aubergines and lots of outdoor cucumbers  even though it has not been very warm or sunny.

Cucumbers growing up the bean arch

 

Aubergines still going strong if a bit damaged by wind and slugs

For the Autumn we aready have leeks and pumpkins growing on. I am looking forward to Halloween and using my own home grown pumpkin this year

Leeks on their way to give us a winter feast

 

Halloween is only a month away and the pumpkins are colouring up nicely

 

A final word should go to my companion plans- the nasturtiums have come on very well, lots of different flowers, all very tasty and they seemed to keep the cabbage whites of my cabbages ( together with the netting).

 

Nasturtiums brighten up the allotment, are very tasty ( you can eat the flower, leaves and seedpods. They also act as sacrificial plants to reduce pests on the veg.