Monday, February 18

Working in sunshine

Last week the sun shone so we made the most of it by spending more time on the allotment and in the garden. 

Not only did the sunshine spur us into action, but it also sent a signal to the bulbs to get on with flowering.
We didn't spend all our time last week gardening though, we also had a day out at Yorkshire Wildlife Park where it seemed that the animals were enjoying the sunshine too.
Back to the gardening, where we were mostly in destructive mode. We have two hazel bushes on the allotment, and every couple of years one of the bushes is coppiced. This year it was the turn of the bush on the left.
Martyn used a small chain saw to cut the thicker branches and the loppers to cut out the smaller ones. Having the right tools for the job makes the task far easier. In earlier times, all the power had to be supplied by human muscle and a pruning saw meaning the job took far longer.
The 'prunings' created a very large pile of what will become poles and twiggy supports for lots of our plants. The twiggy pieces are also good for laying on newly sown seeds to try and prevent animals from walking on the beds or birds using the area for dust bathing.

The chain saw massacre didn't stop there, as next for the chop was a row of buddleia. Each year the bushes are cut down close to the ground and each year they quickly spring up to their original height. The flowers are much loved by bees, butterflies and other friendly minibeasts. I have noticed though, for the past couple of years we have had far fewer butterfly visitors, other than the ubiquitous whites.
As it was fairly warm working in the sun, I took the opportunity to tidy up a few of our fruit beds. We don't use weed control fabric on all our fruit beds. Partly due to the fact that the bushes and trees were planted before we started to use the fabric but it also allows the opportunity to grow annuals in the same bed. I imply we grow these plants when in actual fact they self seed and grow themselves.

When I weed these beds I have to take care not to remove the seedlings that I want to keep, so the beds have to be hand weeded rather than hoed and weed seedlings need to be pulled out before they take a hold. It's important to be able to distinguish weed seedlings from the seedlings of plants that you want to keep
We also tidied up what we refer to as the allotment perennial bed. It's a misnomer really as the bed also houses shrub roses, a couple of black elders and, over summer, some annuals too. The roses and elders have been cut back and the debris from dead plants removed. I did intend to weed the bed too but didn't get round to that. It doesn't actually have many weeds yet. The soil is quite damp in this bed due to shade cast by a huge leylandii hedge planted in a neighboring garden.
Before above and after below
All the beds that had lumpy soil have had the lumps knocked back but we have cleared another overgrown bed that has needed to be tackled for quite a while. Also, Martyn has dug in the green manure, so we are not completely free of lumpy beds.
As well as working on the allotment we managed some work in the garden. Martyn cleared more of the area under the crab apple tree where the bluebells and snowdrops will be planted and also started tidying behind the garden greenhouse.

Whilst he was busy at the back of the house, I tidied the bed in front of the house.
We had plenty of vegetables stored at home but we did also manage to squeeze in a mini harvest.
I hope that qualifies me for taking part in Harvest Monday over at

Wednesday, February 13

Promise of spring

Monday, February 11

Planting and harvesting

Last week, we managed a day of gardening on Monday and an afternoon at the plot on Sunday. 

Monday morning started at home in the garden greenhouse.

I decided to plant the soft neck garlic - Solent Whyte - in a large pot. The pot had previously housed some bush tomatoes and so was still filled with compost. I removed  about a third of the depth of old compost and replenished with fresh. The garlic roots will have plenty of depth in the new compost and it would have been a waste to refill the pot completely.
Once planted the pot was placed outside where it could experience the frosts that are no doubt still to come. Garlic needs to be subjected to a cold spell in order for cloves to form, otherwise each clove planted will just form a solid bulb. To be honest we'd given up growing garlic as we seemed to have little success but this year I've decided to try again. We also have some hard neck garlic - White Casablanca - which was planted on the allotment in September.
We have started a small garden project. As happens parts of our garden are in need of a bit of renovation. We've started to clear one area under one of our crab apple trees.
Although at this time of year the area looks fairly open, once the tree starts to leaf up the ground around the tree will be shaded, so we decided woodland type planting would be appropriate. We'd decided to plant snowdrops, English bluebells and native primroses as a starting point. Snowdrops were making an appearance in local garden centres but, at over £4 for a pot of about four bulbs of common snowdrops, it was going to be quite an expensive way of making a splash. I decided instead to order some snowdrops and bluebells in the green from an online supplier. As these arrived before the garden area was ready for planting, we decided to divide the plants into small groups and pot them up to be planted out later.
Once planted the pots were placed on the patio, where we can keep an eye on them and a few days on they look to be doing just fine. I posted a video here.

The primroses will be gathered from the allotment once they are growing well. They self seed readily there.

The above kept us busy Monday morning and in the afternoon we headed for the plot. We needed to harvest more vegetables, as stocks at home were getting low. As it was a reasonably pleasant day, we managed a couple of jobs there too.

One of the beds of green manure had been more or less killed by frost and so, Martyn dug that in.
Another bed that we had cleared earlier was beginning to sprout couch grass and the area was in danger of being reclaimed by the weeds. When the bed was initially turned over the ground was fairly hard and it was impossible to remove grass roots from the solid lumps of earth. The weather, since then, had done its job and softened the soil and so we set to and removed as many of the couch grass roots as we could.
The pile on the bed, on the right of the above photo, is made up of the roots that we have removed from this and another recently cleared bed. The plan is to burn these when we can. With this in mind on Sunday we moved the pile off the bed and into a position where the roots can't suddenly gain a foothold and regrow and if the weather co-operates they may dry off enough to burn.
On Sunday whilst, Martyn moved the pile of weed roots, I decided to knock down the clods of soil on some of the 'lumpy' beds Usually at this time of year the soil would be too wet and claggy to make this possible, so I wanted to take advantage of the drier than usual conditions. A few days of constant rain would soon turn the soil into unworkable mud.
There are still some beds where the soil is still lumpy as shown in the photo on the bottom right above. Hopefully I can tackle these on our next plot visit.

Of course the aim was to gather a few vegetables to see us through the week, so each day before we came home we harvested some supplies.
4 February
Amongst our regular 'pickings' was our first red cabbage. Although the cabbage doesn't look very big it was solid and we cooked five double helpings of braised red cabbage. As the recipe freezes well, four batches have been frozen and we enjoyed the other lot freshly cooked. The recipe used is basically this one  but I added some raisins and cinnamon to the mix.
10 February
Before you wonder how we managed to use up all the carrots and leeks harvested on Monday, we did share some with my sister.

This week I am linking to Harvest Monday hosted on 

Dave's blog Our Happy Acres

Wednesday, February 6

January in pictures

Monday, February 4

Google+ Shutdown

You may be aware that Google are shutting down their Google+ service for consumers. They rather poetically describe this as having decided 'to sunset the consumer version of Google+'. I've never heard this term before.

To be honest we only found out about this last week so either Google have been a bit quiet on the subject or we don't read the relevant techie publications.

I received an email from Google on Saturday telling me about the shutdown and stating that some services would shutdown on Monday - how's that for short notice? If you have a Google+ account then maybe you too will have had a letter. (If you haven't seen an email the contents are published here). I thought that I had better look into how this would affect our blogs and Google photos. 

For those of you who are unaware Google photos is where the photos uploaded to a Blogger blog are stored.
Fortunately the hundreds of photos that I have stored here will be unaffected - I hope. If that service was shutdown then all the photos on my blog would disappear.

Google have also published a list of FAQs here so if you use Google+ and haven't already visited this page, it may be worth a look.

As far as I can see the only ways Blogger blogs will be affected is if Google+ comments have been activated which fortunately I haven't done and Google+ followers will be disconnected.

The latter will affect my blog as 249 of my visitors use Google+ to follow my blog and I would hate to suddenly lose them all. I know that some of these followers may also follow me through other routes, but I thought that it may be a good idea to explain these other ways of following so that if anyone would like to use a different route they can.

On the sidebar to my blog there are various ways of following:
You can use the Blogger followers widget. Just click on the Follow button - it says unfollow on the photo which is how it will look if you become a follower. This way you will receive updates to a Blogger reading list.

You can use Bloglovin for which you would need to create an account. Posts will then appear in a Bloglovin reading list.

You can also follow by Email, Twitter or subscribing to the blog feed.

I post links to my posts on Twitter and also on my Facebook page - you should be able to access a follow option from the Friends button. I don't usually accept Friends requests from people that I don't actually know but if you have commented on my blog regularly for a while I sometimes make exceptions.

One way that I follow blogs that I am really interested in is to create a bloglist on the sidebar of my blog.

I have two lists, one for UK blogs, and the other for outside of the UK. As a blogger publishes a new post, that blog appears at the top of the list.

If you have any different favourite ways of following let me know in the comments. Whichever way you chose I hope that you stick with me. The trouble with the Internet is that we are at the mercy of developers pulling the plug. I've had to redo a website at least three times due to this happening. I do hope Google leave Blogger alone.

Update: At Jessica's suggestion I have added a follow using Feedly option

Friday, February 1

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2019

We've taken part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch for some years now and I've kept records of our results since 2012. It's interesting to see how the bird population in our garden compares over previous years.

We chose an hour on Saturday morning just after our feeding stations had been replenished for our count. The birds usually seem to be lurking in bushes and trees waiting for their favourite food to make an appearance. The blackbirds in particular are at the ready and make their displeasure known if the food delivery is delayed. From various vantage points they will stare into our windows willing us to come out and serve them. They are particularly partial to suet pellets and queue up for a turn on the table as soon as the pellets hit it. Orderly queuing often gives way to out and out feathered warfare when someone loses patience and tries to barge in whilst someone else is feeding. The blackbirds didn't let us down this year and our normal numbers arrived on cue.
Click on image for a larger version
I'm sure over the course of the day we have more starling visitors but each morning two individuals land on the bird table together. They perch in exactly the same position side by side on the same corner of the bird  table.

We definitely had more house sparrows than we counted but even with, Martyn and I stationed a different windows we can't see the whole of the garden and the sparrows that we could see were flitting and flying around so much it was impossible to count them; nine was the number that we were sure of.
Click on chart for a larger version

Of course the goldfinches let us down again. Instead of the usual numbers all that we managed was four. To add insult to injury on Tuesday morning - the day after the count period - there were six already browsing as we drew back the curtains.

The RSPB website generates a semi doughnut chart to show the top ten birds  that you counted. The great tit which shared equal numbers to the blue tit was dropped from the chart.
Click on chart for a larger version
It also produces a similar chart to show the top ten birds nationwide. Our top ten are very similar to those counted nationwide but the spread and positioning on the charts varies. Although we do see chaffinches in our garden none turned up during our count whereas collared doves made it into our top ten.
Results as of Friday 1 February - Click for a larger version

The dunnock didn't make it into the top ten nationwide. I often wonder how many dunnock are counted in with house sparrows - little brown job syndrome.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post I have kept records of our counts since 2012 as it's interesting to compare results,
Click on chart for a larger version

The overall numbers counted this year are one of our lowest but had we been able more accurately to count our house sparrow population I am sure that number would have been higher
Click to view a larger chart
From the chart above it would appear that our house sparrow, starling and goldfinch populations fluctuate most from year to year. We probably haven't seen many starlings in our count this year but I would say the sparrow and goldfinches are about the same as always. Goldfinches are just very fickle and will dessert us for periods of time only to return in force some time later. I think the weather and availability of food elsewhere can play a part in the fluctuations. The time of day can affect the numbers seen too.

I do often wonder whether the constant stream of blackbirds that we see are the same individuals that keep returning (a day or two after our count at one point there were nine) or whether we actually have far more of them visiting than we think. Maybe we need to try and devise a mini survey and try and spot some differences. At least we can separate the male and females.

So that's it for this year. If you take part in the count, how was it for you?