Saturday, 31 January 2015

Brrr, Wind Chills but Signs of Spring

Look! The first flower on the plot! It seems very early; the other grape hyacinths haven't even got buds that I could see. Lovely to see signs of spring on their way.
Brrr, it's been chilly though the thermometer only shows it's been down to 0° in the last week, the wind chill has made it horrible. Plus having another cold - Jamie and I are taking it in turns this year, so just a quick visit to the plot to feed the birds. It was 5° while we were there so really didn't want to stay long!
Mrs B waiting for her tea
We were pleased to see a little (tiny) weasel - or possibly stoat, the jury's still out - frolicking on the site. It really looked like one of those toys they sell on invisible string - very sweet, but from what I've read, not if you're a mouse or baby rabbit!
More pics on my wildlife blog
The mole has also been very busy over the last week! Not sure if it's going to or from the manure, but it certainly leaves its mark. Moles aren't bad for allotments; they show your soil is well dug and has plenty of worms, but I know some of the plotholders get upset when they emerge amongst their beans and salad veg!
Molehills marking the route

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Counting Birds and Planting Garlic (again)

The temperature over the last week has been a bit up and down, but the coldest of the very frosty nights sank to -5°. It felt chillier than the reported 7° today, especially when the wind blew, but we spent a couple of hours on the plot. I wanted to get the counting done for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and started counting for an hour from about 1:10 with the following results:
  • 2 x Robins
  • 1 x Blackbird (Mrs B)
  • 2 x Long-tailed tits (such pretty little birds!)
  • 6 x Terns (they were flying around from across the canal)
  • 2 x Pigeons (surprisingly low numbers)
  • 1 x Blue Tit
  • 2 x Mallard Ducks (flying across from the canal)
  • 2 x Chaffinch
  • 2 x Magpies
  • 3 x Crows
  • 1 x Pheasant (just the one female showed herself today)
Of course, at about 2:30, when the sun shone for about 20 minutes a whole host of birds arrived - several long-tailed tits, a pair of blue tits, a great tit and at least one wren.

I tried to photograph a lot of the birds but didn't do too well. 
So, apart from Mrs B and Robson I only managed to snap the blue tit - they are very nippy and rather shy of us at the moment, so didn't pose or let me get close enough for a good shot.
Jamie dug an area to put some broad beans in - we didn't get any last year as the pheasants took a fancy to them. This year we'll protect them with a surround of sturdy mesh. We're hoping to warm the ground a bit before the beans go in - in early February.
Apart from counting and chasing birds with my camera I put some more garlic in. The cloves I planted haven't sprouted and I only found the remains of one when I furtled around in the raised bed.
I bought a packet of 2 Germidour bulbs from Wilkos - I've seen contradictory reports of how good their veg is, but the packet only cost £2 so figure it is worth a go... I planted the cloves quite close together. It's a softneck variety.
Then Jamie found this in last year's garlic bed! A clove had grown into a bulb and now each clove on that has sprouted! I stuck that in the raised bed - as a clump, so will see what happens to that - it's meant to produce smaller bulbs quickly. We'll see...
Here come the chives! They're on their way - roll on Springtime :-)
Now we're going to have a haggis (vegetarian of course) for dinner - first time ever - with a few carrots and shop-bought tatties. We're going Scottish for Burn's Night...

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Mostly About Birds

It was another cold day but lovely and bright so we took some more compost up to the plot and picked a cabbage and couple of carrots. The carrots have a few smal holes, but look more like slug damage than carrot fly. We've still got a few more cabbages to eat. They're not very big, but perfect for the two of us once all the outer leaves are removed. These should be even tastier now we've had a frost too (apparently..).
We did a spot of bird watching while we were at the site. One of the little egrets circled round then flew back to the marsh, but we were mainly watching a female blackbird and a robin. We had taken some mealworms with us and put them on the fenceposts. Mrs B was there within minutes (yes, same name as last year's female blackbird - must be a relation :-})
Good camouflage against the bare hedgerow
We're hoping to get them tame like we did a couple of years ago. Though Jamie is worried that the robin is too at risk of becoming kestrel bait as may have happened previously :-(
I thought this looked quite arty, filmed into the sun and with a little bit of  'studio engineering'
We left as the sun was sinking but there were still some plotholders working - good to see!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Talking of... This January Weather ...

We woke to a very frosty Hungerford today and even saw some gentle snowflakes falling but not enough to settle. Early afternoon we took some compost up to the plot. It was cold but mostly sunny so we stayed for an hour or so. There was torrential wind and rain last Thursday, and all the rain-collectors were topped with ice.

Coldest night of the winter, I think -5°

We noticed that one of our metal frameworks had collapsed (easy enough to re-construct) THEN we noticed that our enviromesh cage had disappeared completely! Well. It was over on Neal's plot and had attached itself to one of his tent poles! 
It had flown the way of the arrow! Not sure if it blew straight over or did a few twists and turns - but it wasn't at all damaged, weird. And it had captured one of Neal's leeks :-)
This is after we've finished
We cleared all the dead leaves and runners from the strawberries and put them in the compost. This will be their last year. They've got huge crowns so hope they produce lots of lovely strawbs again this year.
This is rhubarb
Talking of crowns ... There are life signs on the rhubarb, if you look really close!
A closer look...
Talking of life signs ... Not sure I'm going to get any garlic from the bulbs I put in the raised bed... That's a bit of lichen you've spotted, not garlic!
It started feeling colder so we wandered home. As we got to the top of site we saw two egrets flying over. It looked like one egret was chasing another off and then returned to his mate on the marsh - which is when I snapped this as the couple took off. I know it's out of focus, but I quite like it anyway.
Talking of birds... Don't forget the Big Garden Bird Watch on 24th-25th January.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Last mention of Christmas..?

It's been so windy recently but no damage on our plot, just a few pots and netting re-arranged. One plot on site looks like a tornado hit; with cloches and cages topsy-turvy.
We had a quick visit to add some vegetable peelings and Christmas tree cuttings to the compost bin. Apparently once rotted (which may take a good long while) the Christmas tree compost shouldn't be much more acidic than 'normal' compost. It'll probably stay in the Dalek for at least a year.

While on the site we dealt with a tree that had fallen onto the fence between our Marsh Lane site and the private allotments next door. It was mostly a dead trunk covered in heavy ivy, so didn't take too much work - but I had to be photographed because of my amazing sawing-action :-)
There, that's better!

Friday, 2 January 2015

Burning New Year Wishes

We had a lovely couple of hours on the allotment this afternoon; quite surprised to be the only ones there as it was so sunny and pleasant, but I know some people had to go back to work this week.
We were joined by many different birds: a robin, blackbirds, long-tailed tits, blue tits, terns and even the little egret flew over a couple of times - none was willing to pose for a photo though!
So I've sneakily added this photo of a kingfisher which I saw the other side of the hedge, on Freeman's marsh, on Monday (well, it's probably the one that we saw on the allotments last year {poetic licence!})
Jamie and I got on with our chosen jobs. Jamie cleared and dug manure into the sprout bed for next year's Christmas meal! (We missed them this year) The patch is covered in weed suppressant now and we'll weigh it down so the earth is nice and firm, just how the sprouts like it. That quarter will mostly for brassicas and root crops. There's a row of beets still in the ground but they're probably destined for the compost - I think the mice have started enjoying them already!
Before Christmas I went to a Chinese supermarket and bought, what I thought, were some paper hanging lantern kits (not the pretty set-fire-to-wildlife floataway type). I asked a Chinese girl at work for some advice and, after speaking with her mum, she said the paper wasn't for displaying (it would bring bad luck) and that I should write wishes on it, then burn them and put the ashes in a mountain stream (tricky, in Hungerford) or in a tree. Well, I figure on an allotment is probably acceptable so that's what I did. I burned all my wishes and some dried cuttings, but not as much as intended as the smoke was blowing straight along the hedge towards the nearby house and we don't want to cause problems for our neighbours. The ashes were watered into the ground, so my wishes can grow (I think that's the general idea).
It's rather a dull pic so I edited it a bit
I spent the rest of the time moving the compost bins to their new position. It's back-breaking after not doing much for a few weeks! It was a good opportunity to give the compost a turn - I'm pleased I didn't find any mice in there. I added some vegetable scraps, brown cardboard waste (and the remaining Chinese paper) to it. It's looking good; masses of fresh pink worms - lovely!
We left as the sun had gone and the moon was shining. A happy start to the new year - let's hope those wishes work :-)

Thursday, 1 January 2015

ByeBye 2014!

Looking back it wasn't such a bad year, but with just 32 blogposts clearly much of it wasn't on the allotment - 2015 will be more productive!
HAHA Committee Christmas Meal
I'm happy to say that our Christmas meal included home-grown: carrots, cabbage and parsnips and we've enjoyed 2013 chutneys and pickles over the Christmas break too. I was very pleased with the New Years Eve meal that I cooked: parsnip, chestnut, carrot & potato gratin, with a cheesy nutty topping - Mmm, so tasty, but I had to buy a big parsnip for that. Ours were ugly-looking with so much canker there was little left to work with, but they taste lovely.
Yum yum!
So, we visited the plot on the last day of 2014 and it's looking quite reasonable. The ground was frosted solid, so hopefully lots of unwanted beasties have been killed off the natural way.
2015 has begun with mild, wet weather and I can smell stew cooking in our new slow cooker, with the last of the parsnips in it.
The best-looking of our parsnips
We've got our new poly-greenhouse to play with and as a result we're having to re-organise the plots a bit - still need to do some planning. Is it a good idea to put the compost bins right next to the greenhouse? Apart from the mice who clearly love our Dalek composters, surely we'll be inviting pests in to infect our seedlings..? Advice would be appreciated.
Happy New Year everyone!