Thursday 18 February 2021

Hazel tree trim


This is the hazel tree in the allotment. It was there before we took on the allotment although at one point was a lot bigger until a chunk was cut off it when the adjacent allotment was cleared between rentals. For the past three or four years it has been giving us a reasonable number of hazelnuts although it does seem that a local mouse has been helping itself to a few as when we moved a compost bin a while ago we found a large number of hazelnut shells with small holes in them!

As you can see there are a lot of catkins on the tree this year, so I had to take a bit of care when doing the annual pruning of top growth and a bit of thinning out. 

I have some Darlac telescopic pruners which are one of the best tool buys I have ever made! Extending over three metres, I can stand safely on the ground whilst chopping branches way above my head simple by lining up the cutters and pulling a cord. The cutter can be used to grap branches to bring them safely down to the ground. 

Hazel is a very strong wood and often very straight so the offcuts are going to be used for bean poles and for propping other things up as they grow. I have sorted the branches into lengths with the longest poles nearest the camera and trimmings suitable for supporting peas behind them. In the photo there is the old swing frame that we use for growing beans up although poles in between the metal uprights are useful to support more beans around the edge. 

I didn't realise until yesterday that cobnuts are actually a type of hazelnut! Ours are just standard hazelnuts, but cobnuts are a variety that was first bred by a Mr Lambert at Goudhurst in Kent. Kentish cobnuts are in decline as a cultivated crop and only 250 acres are still grown. I must admit that I hope that, albeit through necessity due to Brexit, more of our orchards and local production of fruit and nuts is restored over the next few years. That being said, the labour to cultivate and harvest this produce is also a problem due to Brexit. 

Wednesday 10 February 2021

Winter in the Allotment

There's been quite a bit of snow this winter and it has been frequently cold. Whilst it can be inconvenient at times, and the ground is frozen, I do believe that the allotment and indeed the nature of these isles needs the cold in winter in order to keep the natural world in balance. A warm winter leads to an explosion in the more destructive insect life, too wet a winter leads to crop failure and delayed start to planting in the Spring and unexpected warmth can confuse hibernating animals and insect life leading to them being vulnerable without sufficient food or reserves or when the weather changes back. 

Leeks are winter hardy and these ones will put on a bit of growth when the weather warms up a little bit. We usually grow the variety Musselburgh but these ones were gifted from another allotment owner and so I am not sure what variety they are!

Poking through the snow, these are overwintering onions and garlic. Sometimes called Japanese Onions, we have grown these winter onions for many years and we find that we have onions ready to pick and use at the end of June. Garlic is also winter hardy. 

Despite the cold, the blueberry bushes are looking happy. I have had to dig a trench to put the pots in as the plants themselves are getting too big for the metal cage we have them in, otherwise the local blackbirds and thrushes will eat all the berries. Ultimately, I may have to prune the plants back but we'll see how things go this season. 

At the back of the allotment is the hazel tree. As you can see in the picture it has a lot of catkins on at the moment. I will need to trim the top growth above the catkins soon, I have read that late February is the best time to do this, as it is with the Hawthorn tree in the garden. In the background is one of the frequent snow showers that we have experienced over the past few days! 

Finally for today, down at the bottom of the allotment are several purple sprouting broccoli plants. Hopefully these should come into production in a month or so, although looking closely at some of the the leaves I can see beak marks from the local sparrow population! I suppose they need vegetable matter to go with the fat balls we leave out for them! 

Saturday 6 February 2021

Cycle ride, lichen and an old way marker

With the forecast for the weekend being for rain and then snow and the weather over the past few days not having been great, I decided to take the chance with a little bit of sunshine yesterday afternoon to go for a short cycle ride into the countryside. 

I've been reading up on lichen recently and it is amazing how many different species there are here in the UK! Looks like there's a lot to learn and some close up photography required

Right now I am not sure what the lichen on the left hand side of this branch is but I think on the right is another example of Xanthoria polycarpa. The tree that it was on I think was a larch looking at the few remaining cones on it. 

This tree was in a small patch on ancient woodland where Catterton Lane crosses the old Roman Road from Tadcaster to York, now marked as part of the Ebor Way footpath. I am looking forward to the bluebells and wild garlic that carpet these woods in Spring! 

On the opposite side of the road, being taken over by brambles and moss is what looks like a boundary stone or maybe even an milepost from the old road. The old route will probably have been in use until the building of the turnpike road which follows the more modern route of the A64. Walking along the old Roman road, I am always very conscious of the way in which the track has been worn into the earth by centuries of pedestrians, horses and carts. Maybe even the army of the Earl of Newcastle in 1642 during the Civil War

Once through Catterton and up the long hill towards Bilbrough, there's a junction and turning left this will lead past Normans Farm to the road between Askham Richard and Healaugh. From this road on a clear day you can see not only back towards Tadcaster and the breweries in the distance, but also looking north west, Armscliffe Crag in the far distance. 

With the sun quite low in the sky by mid-afternoon at this time of year I took the opportunity to experiment with the "Sunset" setting on the camera (though of course you could achieve this by changing the aperture, exposure and iso settings manually). I noticed this dead tree with a lonely crow on it and lining up this with the sun behind the clouds I created what I have entitled "Post-Apocalyptic Crow"!

Friday 5 February 2021



This winter has been often very wet with flooding in places but there has also been some frost and snow. Snow isn't to everyone's liking and here in the UK our transportation networks are - despite what I assume is decades of experience - hopeless at dealing with it. However, I am very much in favour of the seasons happening in the correct place and time, two years ago the temperature reached 20 degrees celsius on one day in February which really isn't normal! The study of phenology has a long history here in the UK with records going back centuries in some cases, observations such as the first appearance of flowers, of blossom, of the first swallow among many other things. Spring has been getting earlier due to climate change and in general the weather has been getting more chaotic, and milder winters are often the norm nowadays.

So, to me, having a "proper" winter is reassuring. Knowing that the frost breaks up the soil into a tilth, that it sweetens the parsnips, that the many plants and bulbs that need the cold as part of their life cycle get what they need. Too harsh a winter can of course reduce populations of birds and other species but we humans can help with that by supplementary feeding and land management such that food is available for them when they need it. 

Tuesday 2 February 2021

Not yet Spring!

 I've not been writing much on the main part of the blog just recently as I have been concentrating on the list of Markets in Yorkshire and Lancashire which you can find here. However, despite the cold, snow, frost and rain, we've managed to get to the allotment a few times to dig over and tidy, although the ground has been either too frozen or too mushy to get much done on many occasions. 

Likewise, getting out for exercise in this latest lockdown has often been difficult due to the weather and the River Wharfe and Ouse and various feeder streams have been flooding into field and over roads. The edge of a bridge on the road near Bolton Percy (from Tadcaster) looks like it had collapsed into the water when I cycled down there last Friday. 

Further down the same stream, in Bolton Percy itself, you can see above how far the water has been , with the houses to the left of the photo only just above the water line. The road would normally take you round the back of the village or to some farms and cottages. After I took this photo I was watching Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus) in the trees and then had the surprise of a female Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) on a nearby bird feeder, some of the latter now overwinter in England although most do still migrate to Africa. 

Coming back, I paused at a gate to examine the lichens on it. This is an area of nature I want to learn more about and although the cost of the field guides is quite high, there are some internet resources too. 

Whilst I wouldn't be that confident in my identification, the light coloured leafy one in the foreground may be Physcia tenella and the yellow one behind it may be Xanthoria polycarpa. These are common lichens throughout England. I am not sure what the leafy moss/liverwort is nor the other lichens as yet. 

Behind this gate is the tree I like returning to, which I mentioned in this blog last year near the start of the first lockdown. Bare just now, like other deciduous trees, it is domant awaiting the arrival of longer days and warmer weather. 

A lot of fields are flooded around us right now, and with the cold weather these often turn to ice. However, on the way back from Bolton Percy these Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) had found a patch of unfrozen water on a field and were enjoying the experience! The drakes seem to have very glossy plumage at the moment, no doubt in preparation for the breeding season to come. 

Finally, a hint of Spring (though no one has told the weather that, as there's snow on the ground today!)