Sunday 31 May 2020

Lockdown Day 69 - strange find in the compost bin and the SpaceX mission

Another hot sunny day today, and a trip up to the allotment before it got too hot.

A few different jobs this morning. Watering needs doing every day, different parts of the allotment, even just the potato patch is taking around one hundred litres of water. Did some weeding of the onion patch, with the dry and hot weather a few of the overwintered onions have fallen over meaning that they are ready to pick and dry, this is a month ahead of normal.

About thirty borlotti bean plants were planted under an old swing frame today, and we hope to start a few more off too.

As we were digging out compost for the beans, we uncovered something really quite strange, we think it is, or was a bean, but it has grown to the size of a freshwater mussel! The shell is about four inches long and the bean - if it is that - is about two inches.

Over the past couple of days I have been watching the SpaceX/NASA mission to the International Space Station (ISS). In the 1980s I remember the first flight of the Space Shuttle and the Voyager missions to the outer planets and I enjoy watching live events such as this. We've seen the ISS a few times now coming over the house and on a clear night you can often see satellites coming across the sky. The last manned moon mission was just before I was born though, and I do wonder whether humans will ever make it back there during my lifetime. I took the above photo this teatime, Kodak bridge camera hand held, but you can see quite a lot of detail nevertheless, particularly the craters at the base of the moon and the Mare ("sea") plains further up.

Saturday 30 May 2020

Lockdown Day 68 - Bishop Wood

Another warm and sunny day, which is good news if you want to get out of doors in a socially distanced way but not good news if you are trying to grow anything, in fact the BBC Farming Today programme this morning was talking about the problems farmers are facing with the drought, having also faced floods earlier in the year and the impact on crop yields. In the allotment we are watering every couple of days and I think I have toasted a few cauliflower seedlings in the lean to greenhouse and I forgot to open the window this morning!

Anyway, another cycle ride today out on a similar route to last week though Cawood, Wistow and round through Bishop Wood north of Selby. This wood, managed by the Forestry Commission is perhaps the largest extent of woodland in this part of the world and is good to get lost (in a controlled manner) in! Whilst we didn't go into the wood today, the road cuts through it and it was nice to just rest for a few moments and listen to the bird song. Whilst we had stopped a Jay flew up into the canopy. (As an aside, whilst we were in the Franche-Comte area we saw flocks of jays behaving a bit like magpies which I don't think they get round there). Will perhaps choose a quiet time of day next week for a walk through the wood.

Friday 29 May 2020

Lockdown Day 67 Quick Allotment update 2

Today was another very hot day, which I do struggle with, so my visit to the allotment was this morning before it got too hot for me to be comfortable with.

The main job this morning was putting in some more calabrese plants that my mum gave me (of her excess) which have been put into what now is a very successful brassica patch in the fifth section of the allotment.

(photos taken earlier in the season as this fifth bed was starting to be filled up)

 The allotment is divided into five sections, four rotational beds and one permanent bed, with other permanent beds at one side too. In the top section this year are onions, garlic, parsnips and carrots (in tyre stacks). The second section has peas, beans, pumpkins and courgettes. The third section is fruit trees. The fourth area is potatoes and the last one, as I said is brassicas and salad vegetables with some mini sweetcorn too.

So, having put in about ten more calabrese plants, I then swapped the netting around as many of the peas no longer need it. More complicated than it sounds as they are big pieces of mesh netting that have tendency to roll up as they are being put over the plants!

Finally I watered the blackcurrants and raspberries, and it looks like some of the blackcurrants are starting to ripen.

Thursday 28 May 2020

Lockdown Day 66 - Quick Allotment Update

Just a quick update this evening. The first pea pods are forming on the pea plants along with the first broad beans. Plenty of strawberries picked this evening for tea to have with ice cream, which I topped up with some blackberries soaked in brandy stored from last year! First calabrese head has started to form, and the potatoes seem have recovered now fully from the frost. We have stopped picking asparagus to allow the plants to produce ferns and store the energy they need for next year's crop. The allotment is needing an awful lot of water at the moment including all the fruit bushes and minarette trees and indeed the garden and pots are too. Tomorrow's jobs will be putting in some more calabrese plants and digging over ready for the borlotti beans to go into the soil around the old swing frame we have for them to grow up.

Wednesday 27 May 2020

Lockdown Day 65 - Fractal Cauliflowers!

Although we haven't grown any Romanesco Cauliflowers this year, we have done so in the past.

As we both did degrees in Mathematics, we refer to them as "Fractal Cauliflowers". Now, for those of you that aren't familiar with the term "fractal" let me explain. A fractal is a design or shape or object that is "self similar" on every scale, in other words if you see an image of an object then zoom in, you see the same image repeated at smaller and smaller scales.

If you look at the picture above of the Romanesco Cauliflower we grew a few years ago, you will see that if you zoom in you will see little minature versions of the cauliflower making up the whole head.

Zoom in further and you see that these are in fact made up of ever smaller cauliflower shapes, repeating like this until you can't see any smaller.

At university I wrote a program based on generating the Koch Snowflake but expanded this program to include starting with 4 and 12 sided shapes. Starting with a 5 sided shape produced something like a fractal version of the Olympic Rings and a 12 sided shape produced a fractal version of a daisy chain necklace. In real life, a coastline is an example of a shape which, if you look at it in smaller and smaller chunks, increases its length continually, but where the total area enclosed is finite. One day I will have to try and program up a cauliflower shape on the computer!

Tuesday 26 May 2020

Lockdown Day 64 - Watering and allotment update

It is so dry! Whilst we have had a small amount of rain this month the ground is still incredibly dry and I have noticed that the hawthorn tree in our garden is suffering despite me giving it forty litres of water each week myself. I am having to water the allotment every couple of days at the moment, including the fruit trees though apart from one of the apple trees, they seem to be coping ok.

This table gives a good overview of the rainfall situation across various regions of the country

Some good news is that a couple of the borlotti bean plants that I thought had been killed by frost have started sprouting new leaves, they still look a bit sorry for themselves but hopefully they will catch up. The others are fine though and I have lots more growing in the porch at the moment.

There are plenty of blackcurrants forming on our bushes. We have had the bushes for most of the time we have had the allotment, at least fifteen years I think and they are still going well.

There are also plenty of damsons on our Merryweather damson tree and there will be plenty of raspberries too though I think the plants will need refreshing soon to be honest as there's not as many as there used to be.

The local bumble bees love our comfrey plant. I did read today that some bees are struggling with finding nectar due to the drought as it was said that plants do not put out as much nectar when they are not getting enough water. Though the ones in the allotment seem to be getting excited about the comfrey and the raspberries right now!

Three more strawberries this evening, the mesh I have laid across the plants does seem to be doing a good job of keeping the local blackbird from eating them! There's plenty of flowers on the later ones in pots in our back yard too.

Monday 25 May 2020

Lockdown Day 63 - cycle ride

Today, being a lovely sunny day and with lighter winds than the past few days, we decided to take a cycle ride out towards Cawood, Wistow and Bishopwood.

Out this way is very much a patchwork of flat agricultural fields with wheat, corn, barley and potatoes. Big skies too. (photo above taken on my old phone so not as good as usual!)

In the churchyard of All Saints Church at Cawood were these beautiful roses growing by the wall in the graveyard. The church of course was closed due to the coronavirus restrictions, I shall have to go back when all this is over and have a look inside. 

After the church, the lane wanders through fields around to Wistow, a former mining village in the Selby coalfield. Another All Saints church here too

After Wistow we cycled through Bishop Wood, a Forestry Commission woodland which we used to take the children to quite often for an explore and then back through Cawood to home. On the way back up to Cawood we had first a Cormorant and then an Oystercatcher fly over the road, which was quite unexpected although the Ouse at Cawood wasn't that far away. The Oystercatcher must have bred nearby though. So, a good long cycle ride this morning!

Sunday 24 May 2020

Lockdown Day 62 - Remembering the Egyptian Grasshopper

Another in my "Remembering" series today, mainly to escape the awfulness of the news and disgusting behaviour of the Government here in the UK over the past two days.

On our holiday to southern France in April 2016 we took a boat trip from Marseille to the Frioul Islands just off the south coast. Beautiful scenery, picture perfect Mediterranean island. The sea was a bit bouncy though, the wind in that part of the world in Spring can be extremely strong coming in from the sea.

On the islands we walked along the coast a little way, seeing our first Blue Rock Thrush and some Andouin's Gulls. There were also lots of Prickly Pear cactus plants which were quite unexpected, although these seem to be an invasive species.

However, we encountered this lovely creature, an Egyptian Grasshopper (Anacridium aegyptium) the the path we were walking.

These are quite a common species in the Mediterranean and are one of Europe's largest grasshopper species, growing up to between five and seven centimetres long. Later on in the holiday we found a few on the harbour front in Marseille.

This was actually my first visit to the Mediterranean, I don't do hot weather very well and our holidays previously and since have been in northern Europe but in April the weather was fine, the temperature around 20 deg C which is just right for me to be able to enjoy things and for outdoor exploration and nature watching. Obviously, any overseas trip will have to wait until the Covid-19 situation has cleared up, but we have a bucket list of destinations we would like to go to including to find tortoises and chameleons in Spain, the Hamsters in Vienna (featured on David Attenborough's Seven Worlds, One Planet wildlife documentary recently ) and the wildlife of Romanian and Estonia among many other places.

Saturday 23 May 2020

Lockdown Day 61 - allotment update

So, today it is blowing a gale! The original plan was for a cycle ride but looking at the forecast we decided that walking the two hundred yards or so to the allotment was far enough!

The calabrese and the cabbages are doing really well, protected under netting from the sparrows and woodpigeons. The latter are getting bolder and have taken to sitting on the carrot tyre stacks until we arrive and scare them off.

Also in this area, but out of shot are cauliflowers, and purple sprouting broccoli. I'll need to weed this area tomorrow.

Our peas have started flowering and are getting very tall so I have had to take the mesh off and hope the sparrows don't have a pea party! So far we have over 30 pea plants and ideally I would like some more to germinate but maybe it is too late now.

We've grown a small number of broad beans now and they have started to set bean pods. Soon I will need to pinch them out to avoid getting blackfly on them. They are secured to some stakes.

This is spinach (in the background) and some very small beetroot plants in the foreground. The beetroot got nibbled by sparrows and so mesh is over this ares as well although the spinach didn't look as if it had been touched. We have picked a few spinach leaves for use with tea as well as some radishes which are off the bottom of the photo.

These are the mini sweetcorn that have become established pretty well after planting out last week. we grow them in toilet roll tubes filled with compost and put the whole pot into the ground. The pot will decompose over time. Sweetcorn are planted in blocks so that they self pollinate easily. We freeze the mini sweetcorn for use with stir fries.

Here are some of today's pickings including four strawberries already! We planted a mixture of early and main crop strawberry plants about eighteen months ago and this year they have really quite matured and have plenty of fruit growing and ripening on the plants. The radishes are planted every week to give a good continuity of supply and are picked when quite small so as not to go woody. 

We have decided to leave the asparagus to grow into ferns now and regenerate itself after, I think, five pickings. I believe that five or six cuttings is the most you can have each year without weakening the plant. The carrots have germinated inside the tyre stacks and the rest of the strawberries have been protected from the beak of the local blackbird by a mesh net!

Friday 22 May 2020

Lockdown Day 60 - Yellow Wagtail

When I started this series of blog posts I never imagined that I would be up to day 60 and still in some form of lockdown due to COVID-19. There has been a slight relaxation of the rules, which to be honest, due to people taking undue risks and ignoring the advice, has been to the detriment of infection control and I fear that, far from being over, this crisis could get worse again. I would love to get back to work in the charity shop, but when that will be no one really knows at the moment.

However, after some welcome early morning rain, I decided to set off on my bike into the countryside for some exercise and a break from all the news. The pair of curlew were still around in a field near Catterton and I do wonder whether they are breeding there, I would have expected them to have moved up into the Pennines before now. The bluebells in woodland have nearly all finished now although the smell of wild garlic is still there - both seem to grow in the same woodland and I feel it is a sign of that woodland having being there a long time even if the actual trees are more recent.

Out of curiosity I decided to go up a lane near Healaugh which ultimately turns into a bridleway, although is tarmac for about half a mile. After pausing to admire some Zwartbles sheep, slightly further up I encountered a Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava flavissima) pottering on the lane and which was quite happy to let me watch it for a while. The Yellow Wagtail has a number of different sub species within Europe although in general we get the one that I saw, although I have seen a blue-headed one in Denmark and a small number of the other European ones migrate through the UK. Yellow Wagtails come to the UK for summer and winter in West Africa and some more information about their migration can be found here

Over the past three or so weeks, the hawthorn blossom has been out, and it is no wonder that it is also called May blossom. Most of the ones you see out in the countryside have white flowers but occasionally you see pink ones, like the one in our garden which is a cross breed, more ornamental variety.

One of the many things I love about the countryside near where I live is that it doesn't take long to get out into open spaces with few, if any people around. A little bit further on than where I saw the Yellow Wagtail I stopped for a few minutes just enjoying the peace and quiet and the sunshine, with no one around in any direction for at least half a mile or more. As well as the Yellow Wagtail, there were Linnets twittering and flying up from the edge of the path and a Meadow Pipit in characteristic bobbing flight over the field.

The lane turned into a bridleway and went up a small hill. (We don't have big hills around where I live!) The wind by now had got up and it was really difficult to face into the wind and cycle into it. I find the view of wide open spaces with miles of countryside (or better still moorland or true wilderness like in Iceland) incredible relaxing and I have tried in this picture (despite the wind!) to capture this and the "big sky" effect. Despite the overnight rain, the ground is still really dry. We have noticed that our own hawthorn tree in the garden is getting quite short of water and its leaves are turning paler than usual - I have put about forty litres of water down around its roots. I can imagine that the lack of rain will be feeding through into crop growth on farmer's fields too.

I am very glad I don't live in a city and feel very sorry for those who only have concrete and buildings for their view and limited opportunity, particularly at the present time, to get outside into countryside or even a park. I think I would have found this lockdown a lot harder if I didn't have the countryside, and open space on our doorstep.

Thursday 21 May 2020

Lockdown Day 59 - Remembering Puffins

Whilst a lot of visitors go to see Puffins (Fratercula arctica) at RSPB Bempton on the cliffs there, it is often the case that Puffins can be seen at Flamborough on the cliffs if the tide allows you to go along the sides of North Landing. However, I have not seen as many since as I did in 2010 when there was quite a large group of them on a ledge above my head. Puffins are quite curious creatures and will pop their heads on one side and look at you and make that funny croaky noise they have.

After breeding, Puffins will return far out to sea and not many of them are seen until the following Spring when they return to the cliffs. However, in winter they lose the colour on their beaks. Hundreds of these birds were in the water off Grímsey which I mentioned in this post , an island on the Arctic Circle north of the mainland of Iceland which we also visited in 2010, along with thousands of Guillemots and Razorbills and dozens of Eider Ducks. On our previous visit to Iceland in 2009 we took the short plane ride to Vestmannaeyjar off the south coast where, supposedly, there breed about 740000 pairs of puffins, but we went in early April which must have been just before they returned from sea and saw not a single one! (We did though get to fly in an 8-seater plane to the islands over the volcano that dominates Heimaey and I was seated next to the pilot!) 

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Lockdown Day 58 - Mayfly drop in

Yesterday evening, around 8.30pm, there was quite an unexpected visitor into the back yard. After managing to coax it out of a flowerpot, we identified this insect as a Mayfly - a species which ordinarily is found near lakes and ponds and rivers.

Although I now have a Kodak Pixpro bridge camera, it is sometimes quicker and easier to use my old Canon IXUS point and shoot camera which has a decent macro on it, in fact it is often easier to use than the Kodak for insects etc and I used it for this photograph.

Mayflies are known for only living a short time once they transition from larvae, with one sole purpose in mind, to mate and secure the next generation. This one we believe is a Medium Olive (Baetis vernus) although if anyone is expert on these species and is able to provide a definite identification please let me know via the comments below! To our knowledge was quite a long way from the nearest pond, and the river is around half a mile away too. After a few minutes it flew off, and to be honest, being a Mayfly, it hasn't got time to hang around!

This site - although the text for the various Mayflies is focused on angling, has some good information on Enthemeroptera

Tuesday 19 May 2020

Lockdown Day 57 - Edgeland Nature-Part 2

In my first part of my Edgelands blog here I looked at where nature has been given a helping hand in some unlikely places and in this post I offer a few notes and photos where nature is thriving in our human environment.

These are Firebugs (Pyrrocoris apterus) and this photo was taken at a bus stop in a suburb of Berlin, Germany in 2017. There was many dozens of these all pottering around some waste stones from some kind of construction. Bugs, beetles, insects and so on are able to live in so many different environments here on Earth and these bugs were obviously able to find food on what was once construction material. 

This is a picture taken in 2017 looking towards Kellingley Colliery as was, the pit having closed in 2015, with a solar farm in the middle of the shot, but more importantly for this blog an area of wild flowers by the roadside on what would have been, two or three years earlier, a polluted and heavily industrialised landscape. As with the photo of the site of Ledston Luck pit on my previous blog, it doesn't take long for nature to re-colonise our former industrial landscape. 

Finally, this rather cheeky grey squirrel was photographed in Leicester in the park at the rear of De Montfort University. We watched in go in and out of the dustbin and then perching on the edge eating chips! (I once saw a grey squirrel at a former workplace run off with a whole croissant!) 
Grey squirrels are something of a love/hate for me, I love watching them and they can be very tame and it is really good for children to see them in urban parks, but since they were introduced into this country they have not only out-competed the native red squirrels for food but also spread squirrel pox which the red ones are not immune to. If you look at a distribution map for even as recently as 1950 for the red squirrel you will see that they were in most parts of Yorkshire whereas now they are confined to a very small corner of the Yorkshire Dales National Park . There is evidence that pine martens - which are increasing in the UK and Republic of Ireland again, are helpful to Red Squirrels in that as both co-exist natively, red squirrels know to get out of the way quickly whereas grey ones do not recognise the threat as easily. 

Monday 18 May 2020

Lockdown Day 56 - Planting Out

Now that the risk of frost appears to have gone (though the way the weather is nowadays you can't say never!) the job in the allotment is to get all the vegetables that have been protected under cover out into the plot and into pots in the yard.

Yesterday, it was various cabbages, mini sweetcorn and more beetroot and these are all now protected against inquisitive sparrows and, more worryingly, a couple of woodpigeons that have taken to sitting on one of the carrot tyre stacks. Usually, the pigeons are afraid to come in as we have hedges around the plot and I think they like having good line of sight of any danger, but earlier in the year we gave the main hedge a good trim back and I think they are more bold just now.

For a couple of days now, a large flock of starlings - a mixture of adults and some very noisy youngsters - has been sitting in the trees around the allotments. The youngsters keep up a constant barrage of squawks as they beg the adults for food. This evening, they all took off suddenly in all directions, and I saw that a couple of crows, and later a jackdaw, were chasing them in the sky. Now, I knew that crows will predate nests of birds to grab eggs or the chicks but I didn't expect them to be going after fledgling birds like that. They were, as far as I could tell unsuccessful, and I am now wondering whether it was a young starling that the kestrel the other day was after although we do get mice and the occasional rat around the allotments. In fact we have discovered a cache of mouse-chewed hazelnuts underneath one of the compost bins! 

Some of the peas are now getting quite tall and I have had to take the netting off some of them, and hope that the local sparrows and pigeons don't decide to eat them. Hopefully there will be flowers soon on these. I have planted some borlotti beans in the house too. The two bean plants that got damaged by frost may be still alive, we will just have to wait and see, but the stalks do look as if there is growth there. The potatoes are recovering with some new growth appearing. 

All in all, things are progressing well. I am very conscious that later this year there may well be shortages of certain vegetables and maybe fruit here in the UK for several reasons. One, that due to the Covid-19 restrictions the usual supply of foreign labour that many farmers now rely on to harvest crops is not here, and it has not been sufficiently replaced by local labour. Secondly, the prolonged dry weather will start to have an impact on crop yields. At the end of the year, there is - due to absurd ideological reasons of the UK Government, the looming cliff edge of a no-deal Brexit. This will produce another dislocation in supply chains, both in terms of imports (and indeed in terms of exports of UK produce) which will mean that many food producers and processors here will lose a lot of income or be hit with extra costs at a time they are still recovering from this present crisis, and farmers, by the looks of things, will be undercut by sub-standard produce from overseas. 

So, we are preparing and trying to grow and subsequently store as much home grown food as we can. We have a couple of boxes of bought in provisions that we have kept topped up ever since the threat of a no deal Brexit was forewarned and this did help us a few weeks ago when panic buying cleared the shops of many staple foods. As being infected with Covid-19 would mean a fortnight in isolation for you and anyone you live with, having extra food in the house - whether dried, tinned or in the freezer etc - also acts as a resilience. 

Of course, unless you have a couple of acres of land and keep livestock, you can't be fully self-sufficient but anyone with access to an allotment or a reasonably sized garden can produce enough to avoid having to buy things like potatoes, apples, onions etc for several months of the year. Only once have I been able to store enough onions to last until just before the first new season ones were ready but that was due to an exceptionally cold Spring that stopped the last ones from sprouting! We do however have more than we need all year of jam and of chutney and I am, after a successful trial over the past year, going to be doing more fruit in sugar solution in Kilner jars, and indeed some blackberries in brandy or vodka! 

Sunday 17 May 2020

Lockdown Day 55 - Spiderlings

Here's something I haven't tried on the blog before and that is to post a video. This is one of two webs of young Garden Spiders (Araneus diadematus) that are in our yard just now. 

The young cluster together to start with in a tight ball and then gradually get bolder and explore, looking for food and then will, after a week or so, disperse and build their own webs elsewhere. 

In our back yard (which - to avoid confusion if you are reading this in the USA - is concrete rather than being a garden as you would describe it) we have quite a lot of garden spiders, they spin webs in between the iron bars of the big gates we have at the end of the yard or into the corners of the sheds. 

I need to try and identify some of the spiders we have in the allotment now!

Saturday 16 May 2020

Lockdown Day 54 - Edgeland Nature-Part 1

Ever since I read Edgelands by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts I have had a affinity for nature that can cling on in those spaces that sit between roads or are former site of buildings or industry or just simply places as yet untouched by the developer's digger on the edge of towns. You will have probably seen buddleia and ragweed take over a site where a building has been demolished, or bushes and small trees take over abandoned railway sidings. Nature clings on in the most unlikely of places if left undisturbed.

In this first part I look at spaces where nature has been given a little helping hand to flourish on sites where you would have thought that the pollution or disturbance from traffic would have prohibited it from being successful.

These are Six-spot Burnet Moths on orchids next to the junction of the slip road off the A64 into the centre of York. Yorkshire Wildlife Trust have looked after this site and when we visited a couple of years ago, this quite small triangle of land was full of orchids and other wild flowers and a hundred or more of these moths, feeding on the nectar of these flowers and happily engaging in producing the next generation!

Under the dual carriageway bridge and round the corner, in Spring cowslips, bluebells and gorse flower.

This is next to the junction of Derby Road/University Boulevard and Queens Road in Beeston, Nottingham. The area has been seeded with wild flowers and many bees and other insects were flying around and pollinating the flowers and feeding on the nectar.

This junction is incredibly busy with traffic and you also have the tram lines going across the junction too.

Until 1986 this was the site of Ledston Luck colliery. This pit was linked underground to the nearby Micklefield pit, which I remember going past many times on the train to York when a child. After mining finished part of the site was turned into an industrial estate and part into a nature reserve, now managed by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

Like so many sites around the country, unless you knew the history, it is now difficult to see what the site was previously, nature quickly returns and takes over where industry once ruled.

Friday 15 May 2020

Lockdown Day 53 - Minipop sweetcorn and a Kestrel dive

Now that the weather is climbing gradually back to normal temperatures after the frosty nights, it will be time to put out the Minipop Sweetcorn. All bar one of them have germinated and with usually two or three cobs per plant that is going to be mini sweetcorn to go in at least ten stir-fries! Plus there has been no need to air-freight them from the Far East, with the allotment being only two minutes walk from the house! 

These will get planted in a block in order to self pollinate and we put them into the brassica section of the allotment in the rotation. That particular plot is filling up nicely with some cauliflower, cabbages, calabrese, spinach, spinach beet, beetroot and radishes already in with more cauliflowers, purple broccoli and more cabbages still to go in. 

When watering the allotment this evening I noticed a hawk high up in the sky, maybe two or three hundred feet up, hovering. At that distance I wasn't sure whether it was a Kestrel or another bird of prey but suddenly it dived and the speed at which it plummeted it was quite phenomenal! As it reached the neighbouring allotment I could see it was a Kestrel, which are common round here, and it definitely landed on the ground but whether it actually got anything I couldn't see from where I was, although it didn't appear to take off again while I was watching. 
One evening a few years ago, I was walking back from the allotment along the path through the site and a Sparrowhawk was trying to hop along the path with something quite large in its talons, too big for the bird to take off with it. As I walked along it kept hopping down the path in front of me before finally retreating into an allotment. 
We get the Red Kite flying over very regularly, one over again this evening and we have had up to four fly around although two together is more common. I can often see Buzzards circling on thermals high up in the sky and have once had a Peregrine Falcon fly over. The allotments bird species list, not including flyovers, stands at thirty species of bird and if you include birds flying over it is fifty species. 

Thursday 14 May 2020

Lockdown Day 52 - Frost relief and wine bottling

After the predictions of a very cold night last night, I was a little concerned as I went up to the allotment in case, despite my protections, there was frost damage to vulnerable crops. However, apart from a few potato tops - still poking through the earthing up - there was no further damage. Lovely sunny morning too. The potatoes will recover although right now bits of the foliage look like a they have been hit with a flamethrower!

The asparagus I picked last night was very nice as part of a meat pie and vegetable tea. That's the fourth lot of asparagus this season and so two more croppings left before the plants are allowed to grow into ferns for regeneration. I gave the ferns last year at the end of the season to a local greengrocer that also does flower arranging.

Looking at the forecast, after the weekend the weather appears to be warming up quite nicely so that will give chance to put out the pumpkins, courgettes and other seedlings that are currently in the lean to greenhouse and the sweetcorn that is currently on the window ledge in the downstairs bathroom. All bar one of the sweetcorn have germinated!

Out in the yard, our little miniature cherry tree, given to us as a gift last year, has blossomed and there are at least two cherries forming. I have bought some more tight linked mesh to construct a cage for this and for the strawberries at the allotment, otherwise there will be some very satisfied birds come the summer!

Earlier in the week I decided to bottle some home brew parsnip wine that has been sitting in a demijohn in a bedroom for perhaps longer than necessary, although it won't spoil and to be honest benefits from ageing. I use J2O bottles as the wine is around 15-16% and one bottle of this is enough to feel quite happy with the world! I'll leave these for another 4-6 months then they will be drinkable, but not all at once!

Wednesday 13 May 2020

Lockdown Day 51 - Frost tonight again!

Looking at the forecast tonight, this will be the coldest night of the week with temperatures almost down to freezing point - yes - in May!!

So, I have been up to the allotment to protect anything I think will be at risk. The potatoes had a good earth up yesterday, and the lemon tree is already protected, as are the blueberries, and now I have put some plastic over the strawberries, the grape vine, the peas and beans and the seedlings in the brassica plot.

I have had to weight it all down with sticks as it is still quite windy right now. I will be back up there in the morning to see whether this has all worked!

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Lockdown Day 50 - Late frosts

Looking at the forecast last night, I thought that we would escape the frost that was expected in some parts of the country. 3 deg C is just warm enough to escape it, or so I thought. I did protect the Meyer Lemon tree with plastic and earthed up the potatoes to some extent just in case.

However, this morning I discovered the tell-tale scorch marks of frost on many of the potato leaves and a couple of the borlotti beans seemed rather droopy. Now, when we have had a late frost in the past, the potatoes have recovered soon enough but I am a bit worried that these two bean plants might not make it - two others, slightly taller, seemed to be ok! They are now protected by plastic sheeting.

I have earthed up the potatoes even more as two more nights with low temperatures are expected, looking at the app on my phone the worst night is likely to be Wednesday night into Thursday.

The strawberries are doing well at the moment and I think that with them being along the edge of the allotment with a fence and hedge behind them they should be ok as they are fairly hardy, the peas are early ones (Feltham First I think) and so they should stand a bit of cold.

I have not known such a late frost here, although we have had frosts in early May before now. The reason for this is a break up in the Polar Vortex which is a low pressure area near Earth's poles - disturbances in this can send cold air southwards which is what we, and indeed the north-eastern United States where they have had late snow, are experiencing. Climate change seems to be a factor in the shifts in these pressure systems and the jet stream high altitude winds that bring our weather systems. One particular weather event may not be able to be linked to climate change but trends can be.