Thursday, December 5, 2013

Transplanting and growing leeks

After a slow start to their growing season in the cold spring of 2013, the leeks never caught up with the growth rate we wanted and produced little of any size.

But while they may not have won a beauty contest the certainly tasted just as good. Normally, I transplant leeks in mid-June but this year it was mid-July, and they were barely ready then.

I usually use a variety called Longbow which is good for the wetter than average conditions we get in the South Wales Valleys. I sow continuous rows of seeds and let them grow to about eight inches high or as thick as a pencil. Then they’re about ready to transplant.

The ground needs preparing. It should be good rich soil, perhaps limed if it's acidic or had manure on it recently and perhaps with a general fertiliser top dressing if it's likely to be light in nutrients.

You’re going to make holes in the soil about five to six inches deep and about an inch and a half in diameter. So it helps to soak the ground the night before so the soil is damp and firm and the sides of the holes won’t crumble in.

You can buy or make a special dibber for this job. They're usually a torpedo shaped piece of wood, often made out of an old spade or fork handle.

Make the holes about 12ins apart. Then gently tease up the leeks you’re going to transplant with a hand fork. I always take the biggest or thickest seedlings to plant individually. The rest can either stay in the ground or be put for a week or more in a pot of water to keep them fresh. They’re great for stir fries and even salads.

“The chosen ones” are simply dropped into the holes. It doesn’t matter if they have a bit of soil on the roots as long as they go to the bottom of the hole. Twisting them gently as they go down helps the fine roots in. The more stem that goes into the hole, the longer the blanched, white shaft of the leek will be, which is supposed to be the best tasting part (though I eat as much green as I can too, as long as it is tender).

Then water in gently – trying not to wash the sides of the holes in. And keep watered every day for a week or two until the roots are really established.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Making pears last for a few months

Just like the apples, the pear harvest was also mixed. We’ve only three trees in the orchard and another two on dwarf root stock coming on in the fruit cage, but not ready for producing fruit yet. So it fell to three trees to produce our crop.

The earliest of them is a lovely soft, round pear called Beth, which I normally harvest in mid-September. The tree itself is very small and suffers from being under the canopy – and competing with the roots - of a small copse of oak, ash and beech, with a few holly hawthorn and brambles thrown in. I’ll have to cut them back this winter.

But it wasn’t competition for light or nutrients that did for the crop this year but, once again, the cold spring. I don’t think the blossom suffered from frost as the benefit of it being so close to the copse is that it shelters it from frosts and cold south-easterly winds that we are vulnerable to.

However, the lack of pollinating insects was very noticeable at the time of the pear blossom and that looks to have done for virtually the entire crop. We had about three small fruit ripen – just enough to remind us of what we were missing.

The other two trees are later into blossom and faired better. Concorde was the best crop with plenty of good quality pears in the second week of October. And Conference, ripe a couple week later, also did okay with good quality fruit though not so many of them.

I also noticed there were far more pears on the sunnier, south and west facing sides on both of these trees.

We ate a few pears, the rest I’ve tried to process in various ways to keep them as they won’t store for long if left as whole fruit. To this end I’ve made:

• Pickled pears
• Pear, hazelnut and chocolate cake
• Sticky ginger and pear pudding
• Pear and cardamom tart
• Anjou pear cake

I’ll add the recipes or links to them on later articles, along with further links.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Making cider

I managed to press the bulk of the apples into about four gallons (17.5 litres) of apple juice. I didn’t bother keeping the varieties separate, just let them blend.

It takes around 20lb of apples to make a gallon of cider – no water added, of course. Those who buy a bag of apples from the shops and think they’re going to have a go may do better making an apple wine with plenty of water to bulk it out.

I used my brother’s apple press which takes about 9 litres of chopped fruit at a time. To start with you roughly chop the apples and then put them through a fruit mincer held over the open press.

The press itself is lined with muslin and then squashed. It’s a surprisingly long process and some would question whether or not it’s worth it. But there’s nothing like home-made cider ... no really, there is nothing like home-made cider!

Perhaps the fact that it all gets consumed reflects the effort that has gone into making it rather than the quality. Here, I’m speaking about my own, of course.

My brother, on the other hand, who makes loads of cider every year and bottles it with crown tops, makes some really decent stuff that I quite happily swig of an evening.

The last of mine tends to get used in cooking – pot roasts and casseroles – and here it works really well.

But this time I'm trying a new recipe and making a real effort to produce a decent drink. The recipe I’ve used is here and I've gone with the wild yeast rather than adding my own. I’ll report the results later.

When that will be – who knows? The mysterious art of cider making is a law unto itself! In the past cider makers used all kinds of techniques to determine when their brew was ready. One method was to add a one-cubic-inch nugget of pig iron to the fermentation. When this had completely dissolved the brew was ready.

And if pig iron was in short supply they turned to sheep – that’s a sheep, not sheep iron. They’d add a half a sheep to the fermentation vat and when the carcass was removed and no meat remained on the bones then the cider was ready.

Since I’m using demijohns, neither method holds much promise so I’ll stick to waiting until it is cleared (which hopefully it will).

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Making apple cakes

I’ve already started putting the apple harvest to good use. The Bramley's make excellent Apple Cakes using a simple recipe:

1¾ cups plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ cup butter
½ cup sugar, plus 2 tbsp
1 egg, beaten
½ cup milk
1 large cooking apple (12oz or more)
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.
2. Butter a 10-inch pie tin or a Pyrex plate (great for shallow pies too).
3. Mix the flour and baking powder. Rub in the butter to produce a texture like breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, beaten egg and milk to form a soft dough. Pat out half of the very wet dough in the greased pie tin.
4. Peel, core and chop the apple into 2cm cubes. Cover the dough with the apples and sprinkle with 1 tbsp sugar and the cinnamon.
5. Gently spoon out the remaining dough on top of the apples to cover them completely. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tbsp. sugar and cut a slit through the middle of the top dough.
6. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until golden on the outside.

The Bramley's do equally well in apple pies and, thanks to a very late and bountiful blackberry harvest (I picked what will probably be the last of them today), my favourite - blackberry and apple pie.

We’ve been eating the Sunset apples as whole fruit since mid-September and I’ve put a few dozen and a similar weight of Bramley's into storage to use over the next couple of months.

On Thursday I should be pressing the remaining fruit to make cider.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Successful apple trees

Two of the Katy trees produced good apple crops. The third and newest Katy, a four-year-old planted just two years ago on M11 rootstock and destined to become a full sized tree, didn’t. But I wasn’t disappointed as it needs to concentrate its energy on growing good strong roots at this stage.

The successes, as ever, were the Bramley's Seedling and the Sunset trees. I thinned the apples on all the trees in July but still the Sunset produced a massive crop of small but very tasty apples. I harvested the last of them today.

Some will be eaten, some cooked and the rest turned into cider. They are really a dessert apple and not generally used for cider making or cooking but they do okay.

The Bramleys, however, are out-and-out cookers. Huge, lumpy fruit, they retain their excellent flavour and soften quickly when cooked. 

Katy apples are quoted as being ready in the first week of September but for us it is usually the end of August. However, this year it was mid-September because of the very cold, long spring.

The fruit were picked and eaten straight from the trees to start with but then, as the volume overwhelmed us, I left them in a tray on the patio in full sun and the skins completely reddened (the Sunsets also take on far more colour once picked and stored in trays in the sun).

However, Katy apples don’t store well so whatever is left will go for cider – which is not a bad thing as they are commercially grown as both a dessert apple and a cider apple.

The apples that start to rot or are too badly damaged to bother with make a tasty and interesting diversion for the chickens.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Mixed apples, mixed fortunes

The apple harvest has apparently been good everywhere in the UK this year … everywhere, that is, except in our orchard.

Our fortunes were mixed with a couple of successes but a couple of total failures too.

Apple failures

One of our regular trees, a Cox’s Orange Pippin, suffered badly from the cold south-easterly winds that whipped up the Rhymney Valley last spring and froze and desiccated even some hardy plants.

It recovered but a lot of the new growth from last year perished and died. The rest of the tree suffered too. While everything was delayed by the unusually cold spring, this tree was much later coming into bud than the other apple trees.

When it did, those branches that had leaves had fewer than usual and those that had perished were just brittle sticks.

And there was very little blossom on it. I think by late June there were about four or five formative apples and all of these were lost before they could be harvested from what is usually a productive tree

Another apple tree suffered similarly with last year’s growth dying back and no fruit at all. But this tree – an Elliston’s Gold variety, has struggled to blossom at all since it was planted to replace a different variety that was removed five years ago because it was suffering from a canker.

I’m not sure what the problem is but there’s been very little blossom each year and the tree also suffers from a fungal infection each summer. I’ll watch it closely over the next 12 months and may have to resort to radical action.

Friday, September 13, 2013

New pullets from New Forest

I've tried sourcing Silver-laced Wyandotte hens around South Wales and failed to find any at a reasonable price.

It emerged fewer were bred this year, a couple of breeders telling me people were switching from large fowl to bantams in response to rising corn prices because they were cheaper to feed.

But demand for the large fowl birds was higher than expected and so "the few" were snapped up quickly.

As a result, I've had to drive more than 100 miles to the New Forest to get a couple of pullets - I reckon about 15 weeks old - for £13 each.

He left the birds in a cage on his doorstep - I put the money through the letterbox. Nice way to do business. Must visit the New Forest again too.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mushroom season brings a bumper crop

It's Field Mushroom season here in South Wales but it seems I may have been missing out.

I expect to see them first on our hillside in South Wales around the middle of August but some of my wife's patients in the Vale of Glamorgan mentioned they were already enjoying a bumper harvest in the first week of the month.

They may be a little later up here than in the coastal plains which are warmer being closer to the sea and at a lower altitude than our 550 feet (175m). But there are certainly plenty around now.

I try picking them between 9 and 10am and twice a week, though judging by the spoiled ones around I could be there every other day and still get plenty.

This morning I picked about 4lbs - all either of them had either sprouted out of the ground this morning or later yesterday. Any damaged or a bit manky looking get left.

Once picked, you need to use them quickly as they go soggy if left out.

I tried this recipe for Mushroom and Tarragon Pate on BBC Goodfood website and it was delicious. I simply used 200g of wild Field Mushrooms instead of shiitake and chestnut mushrooms and although the recipe called for fresh tarragon I used freeze-dried as I haven't any of the fresh stuff.

The taste is really quite strong but it went superbly on toast. I left one batch in the fridge for three days and it was still fine.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Back to the Stone Age

The small wood in our garden is relatively new having grown out of a pile of large stones which were dumped here in the 1950s.

These had been blasted out of the ground to produce the reservoir on the other side of the lane from us and probably served a second purpose of filling an old quarry which the boundary of our garden straddles.

The stones are up to eight feet long and three feet wide and being Pennant Sandstone are flat, layered strata, the biggest being a foot or so deep.

When we first moved in I soon earmarked the largest visible rock to become a standing stone - or monolith or menhir - at some stage in the garden.

The logistics of erecting it remained blurred and unformed in my mind until I asked Richard, the farmer next door, if he could drag it from the wood with his tractor. He thought about it and suggested that he could take the fence between our garden and his field down – but a better alternative was to take a similar sized stone that he had on his land instead.

He’d hit it with a plough several years earlier and, after much mud, sweat and tractoring, had unearthed it and dragged it to the side of his field on the hillside a quarter of a mile up the hill from us.

The stone - he estimated it at 1.4 tonnes - was delivered and dumped next to our garden pond. I dug a hole by hand – in places more than three feet deep and up to eight feet wide and six across.

With a chain around the stone, Richard winched it carefully upright and, with a bit of brute force, we turned it to face the gate at the end of the drive. He held it in place with the tractor's bucket.

I then mixed a couple of tonnes of quick-drying concrete with some rubble and steel reinforcement to set it hard in the hole.

Two hours later the concrete had set – though still green – but  it was clear the stone wasn’t going to budge and we took the tractor away. I’ve since covered the concrete with a few inches of soil and turf.

It’s not quite Stonehenge - it now stands up to five-foot six-inches proud of the ground and two-and-a-half feet wide - but it is quite imposing and in proportion with the rest of the garden.

And it's going nowhere.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Planting for the Sun Terrace

While the Sun Terrace is designed to blend in with the garden it is also intended to have a Mediterranean theme inside.

On that basis, it provides a sunny and sheltered spot for a fig tree (Brown Turkey variety) and a dwarf Apricot (Goldcot) which flowers later so hopefully will avoid any frosts. It's not planted in a frost trap though, with a south facing wall behind it and a gentle south sloping terrace ahead of it.

There are also three diamond shaped gaps in the paving for me to plant low, clump forming plants - I'm not sure what they'll be yet though.

There is also a border between the terrace and the lawn with a couple of thyme plants, loads of lavender (Hidcote), rosemary and space for nasturtiums to come.

I also - against some advice - planted a Sumach tree (Rhus typhina). Though not from the Mediterranean but North America, it will provide an exotic architectural element and great autumn colour. I will doubtless have to contend with roots rising up around it in the border and lawn. Regular weeding and the mower ought to take care of them.

Around it I planted three "dwarf fuchsias" with tiny pink flowers. The nurseryman at Gardeners' World Live told me they were Mrs Popple but in fact they have turned out to be Lottie Hobby and have performed brilliantly - more about them in a later post.

Building the Sun Terrace and lawn

Building the Sun Terrace was a laborious job. With the footings dug in April 2012, the ground had not even been levelled before it started to rain. And then it rained some more, and some more and finally, in October, it stopped.

So nothing really happened that first six months except that we trampled mud around the place and got far too used to living on a building site.

But then I managed to get the building materials delivered – not to where I wanted them but as close as we could get them up a slippery slope.

I got the retaining wall – built of concrete blocks in place before the winter arrived and, as the weather allowed, I levelled the ground surprisingly quickly for the new lawn.

The winter was very long and cold and building the stone wall that would cover the concrete blocks was a long, slow task. I was, however, pleased with the finished result.

While I waited for spring to arrive before sowing the lawn, I started on the Sun Terrace, building a concrete block wall - not a retaining wall but a shelter - up to four-and-a-half feet high.

I sourced the natural sandstone paving very cheaply from off-cuts of circular stone patios. And I laid them on mortar on a hardcore surface I’d hammered with a whacker plate.

The shelter block wall was rendered on the side facing the sun terrace with a coloured one-coat render (Weber) and another stone wall was built to cover the outside of the concrete wall.

It only took me about a third of the time to build the second wall, with longer, warmer days and more experience under my belt.

And, again, I’m pleased with the results. With all the stone for the wall coming out of the ground that had been levelled, it still looks like a genuine rustic construction, just like the old stone walls in and around the garden and the dry stone walls that boundary the fields above us.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Our hens keep laying double yolkers

We're now getting around 20 or more eggs a week from the two Light Sussex and two Cuckoo Maran hens and but once or twice a week we get a double-yolker.

They simply have two yolks in the one shell and they're obvious by being around one-and-a-half times the size. The largest to date was 106g.

It's not been possible to tell which bird is laying them but I'm trying to narrow it down and suspect one of the Marans.

Not sure why this is happening but any thoughts welcome!

Yolks being the fat content of the egg as opposed to the albumen or white which is largely protein, this means cooking with double-yolkers can have it's advantages.

It seems they make much richer omelettes and scrambled eggs - and as for soft boiled eggs, there's more to dip your soldiers into, of course!

I guess there are repercussions too when baking but I'll leave that to the experts to comments on.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Joining the Flat Earth Society with a lawn

Progress with the new lawn over the winter has been slow but at last the hard graft is done.

The walls are built and the ground levelled to back-fill them where needed. And in answer to that famous question "did the earth move for you?" No, I had to shift most of it myself.

After the digger driver's departure I was left to shape and level the ground properly. It took me around 30 hours - and that was just the lawn area.

The spring was too cold to sow grass seed until the second week in May, so it is just starting to grow now.

I used a lawn seed mixture designed to be hard-wearing for family use. That's aimed mainly to combat my eight-year-old daughter and the dog running, jumping, chasing, wrestling and scuffing up my turf!

So far, however, it looks a bit patchy so I think I need to add a bit of top soil or some nitrogen-rich manure to the bare bits. That'll be where the impoverished sub-soil, compacted, dry and seriously lacking organic matter, is still on the surface.

I'll wait for the grass to establish so I can see it clearly and then add pelleted chicken manure. Then, when the coast is clear and dog and daughter are otherwise engaged, I'll add a 50:50 mixture of top soil and sand to create a more permanent, water-retentive and life-giving layer. The hard sub-soil beneath it will need breaking up a bit too, but not until the turf is more robust.

From now on, we'll be able to play football without the ball ending up in the same corner all the time, ride bikes without running out of steam within two yards and go camping in the garden without the whole family waking up on top of me in the morning.

Looking forward to it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Eggs aplenty but from which birds?

At least three hens are now laying - obviously, since after couple of weeks of one or two eggs a day, we had three layed in one morning.

However, they were all the same size and colour - medium to large and mid-brown. I'd previously thought this was from a Maran as the Light Sussex eggs I used to get were much lighter. Now I'll have to scrap that theory.

Among the eggs layed in the first few weeks were one tiny egg, slightly darker in colour and about the size of a wood pigeon egg, and one huge egg - similar in every way to the others except that it was half as big again, weighing in at 96g (the others are around 60 - 65g).

Sunday, May 5, 2013

First egg

Our hens layed their first egg today. I'm guessing it's from one of the Marans as it is a mid-brown, medium to large egg and much browner than the pale eggs we were used to getting from the previous Light Sussex hens.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What's been eating my broccoli?

We've had numerous pest problems in the fruit and veg garden in the past, including mice, rabbits, squirrels and magpies - and we even had an issue with brown hares a few years ago.

But what has been eating my brassicas?

It started in mid-March when the only green vegetables in the garden were the purple sprouting broccoli - possibly my favourite veg - and some leeks. Something started eating the leaves of the broccoli, including the thick leaf stalks. Since then it has proceded at a pace and, until this weekend, I had no idea what it was.

It spoiled the florets with a bit of mechanical damage rather than eating them but really went for the leaves, leaving sharp, jagged edges and maybe about 80% loss of leaf surface. And it didn't even start with the tender new growth but seemed to go for the biggest leaves, initially those a good 18 inches off the ground.

Those first stems attacked seemed too thick for mice. Even a rabbit would have had to reach up for them and why would it do that when there were other leaves in easy reach? Given the usual rabbit approach of starting with newer, tender growth, it seemed unlikely to be one. And, having a "shoot first, ask questions later" policy with squirrels, I hadn't seen one in the garden for several weeks.

So we set up a trail camera to see if we could catch the culprit digitally. It worked a treat and now we can add wood pigeons (Columba palumbus) to our list of garden pests.

Fat wood pigeon, soon to be an endangered species, feasting on my prized purple sprouting broccoli

I've never had a problem with them in the past so I've left them alone, gladly watching them as they arrived routinely in early evening at the bird feeding stations outside our kitchen window, pecking up some of the fallen food left on the steps by other smaller garden birds.

But I had noticed their numbers rising in recent in months. Flocks of up to two dozen roost in the trees around our yard., We used to have peregrine falcons - widely condemned by pigeon racers - nesting nearby but I've not seen any for a while. Perhaps the rise in one population is linked to the demise in the other on a local level.

So now it is time for me to take action and, since a much needed and fancied fresh food has been removed from our table at this time of garden famine, can anyone recommend a good recipe for pigeon pie?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Welcome to young Barney

Enter Barney, a fine looking Silver-laced Wyandotte cockerel, around 10 months old.

He's a Swansea boy - or Gower at least - and quite tame. he let the children of his previous owners pick him up and bring him to me to put in a box.

And by getting him from all of 60 miles away we stand a good chance of making sure he's not related to any of the Silver-laced Wyandotte hens we're planning to get locally, should we decide to breed them.

He was free to a good home and went straight in with the hens. He was a bit cautious at first, as were they, but he soon decided to show them who was boss and few pecks and chases around the hen pen put that straight. One of the Marans actually pecked back but quickly gave her ground.

He's not started mating yet - I think he may be too young still and as they're not laying there's a fair bit of naivety all round. But he's a fine looking bird and well mannered so I'm sure the hens will be charmed by him soon enough.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hens cautiously apporove their new home

Our new brood is settling in safely ... but slowly.

To start with they were understandably nervous in their new environment and stood in a corner in a tight huddle.

They gradually started to inch around their pen. They looked small and lost in it. They aren't yet fully grown but still were surprisingy tentative. In the first day of their arrival they only managed to explore perhaps half the pen which is 30 feet by 30 feet.

And they didn't take to their food either. I'd started them on a mixture of Layers Pellets and Chick Pellets, with the idea of gradually easing them on to just the Layers Pellets. But they didn't seem to fancy either. And didn't even get as far as finding the food trough on that first day. They did however, do a little scratching in the soil and leaf litter and found plenty to eat there.

I had to lift them up and put them into the hen house that firs night and they didn't really want to go. The next morning I took a peep before letting them out and they hadn't used either the roosting bars or the nesting boxes but just huddled together in a corner. It took them around 10 minutes to come out that morning.

But later that day I saw some of the food in the trough had been eaten and they'd managed to get to the other side of the pen. Again, I had to lift them into their henhouse that evening.

The next day, however, they went straight to the food trough and an hour or so later I saw them on the branches my daughter had turned into an obstacle course for the previous brood to play on.

They seem to stay out later than their predecessors, waiting until it is dark to go into the hen house. And I had a shock last night when I went to shut them up at half-time in the France-Wales match  - about 5.45pm when it was just dark.

Three were huddled in a nesting box but one of the Marans was roosting on top of the door frame to the hen pen. I'll have to look into clipping their wings or put some loose wire across the top to stop them sitting there.

Monday, February 4, 2013

New chickens arrive after fox attack

We collected four new hens the other day from a supplier in Neath; two Light Sussex and two Cuckoo Marans, all large fowl. They're around 17 weeks and so probably won't be laying for a month or two.

They look to be nice birds, still with some growing to do and some settling in to their new home. And I'm looking for two or three more, including a cockerel.

They've come to replace the birds we lost to the fox last autumn. It was a sad end for them and initially down to human error on my part. We often let them out into the garden if we were around and they usually made their own way back to their pen in the evening before dusk and we'd lock them up again.

But one fateful day I forgot that they'd been out and so didn't go to lock them up and, as it did most nights, the fox came through our garden ... just on the off chance...

And this time it's luck was in and our's and our chickens' was not.

It took three and left two more for dead, including Harry the cockerel who I had to finish off to spare him his suffering. But one very traumatised hen survived unscathed.

We were just about to go away for a few days and I didn't want to leave the hen on her own as she was really missing the company of the others. So, as the hen pen and hen house still seemed to be safe, I decided to pick up another hen to keep her company before we went away.

I found a very pretty Silver-Laced Wyandotte just about at point-of-lay and brought her back to join our lucky survivor. Then we travelled to Ipswich for a few days, leaving our willing neighbours to feed them.

I also had a cockerel lined up to collect on the way home - a Gold-Laced Wyandotte in need of e good home and was trawling the internet to find replacement birds to rebuild our small brood. But it was not to be.

While away the fox returned. This time it delivered a frenzied attack on my chicken pen. The scratching at the wooden hen house was reminiscent of a Hammer Horror werewolf film but it stood firm. There was also sign of it trying to dig under but rocks and roots made that impossible.

Undeterred, however, the fox that it finally chewed its way through the chicken wire - proper 19 gauge 1.5 inch galvanised wire specifically for chicken pens. And it then chewed another hole to get out with both hens.

So I've reinforced the hen house, looked for weak spots and attended to them and put 16 gauge welded mesh around the existing wire to keep the fox out. And with our new arrivals we've returned to the practice of actually shutting them up in the hen house every night.

So far so good ... but watch this space.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Swings and roundabouts (and slides) in the snow

It was fun while it lasted - well, perhaps for the first couple of days anyway - but now the rain is washing away the snow and revealing the damage it's done.

The worst casualty appears to be a beautiful large red Camellia japonica (probably 'Grand Prix') which stood about five feet high and just as wide. But the weight of snow that fell on it on January 17th and 18th - probably no more than 4-5 inches in this sheltered spot - split half of it off at just above ground level.

Elsewhere, where we had up to 10 inches of snow that night, we've also lost the tops off at least one cherry which was about 9 feet tall, two plums - formerly 6 feet tall and a load of summer-fruiting raspberries.

The brassicas may take a while to recover as they've been flattened. The sprouts harvest was almost finished as we quickly got through the small crop from short plants. The purple sprouting broccoli was perhaps 10-12 weeks from being ready though, so only time will tell how they recover.

And the leeks will probably be okay and the garlic and onions were will be fine based on past experience.

I gave up sowing broad beans in late autumn or early winter having had my plants flattened a couple of times in recent years. They grow and flower and fruit just as readily as usual, albeit with bent stems. But the beans being so close to the ground just feed the mice which is a tad frustrating.

On the plus side, great snowman, snowwoman and snowgirl; great snowball fights; fun with the dog trying to catch every snowball as if it was a tennis ball (it was the first time she'd seen snow); and perhaps top of the list should be fun with the sledge on our new route.

It went from the top of the garden by the greenhouse, through the orchard and past the "soon-to-be" new lawn to the bottom of the yew hedge. It was a run of about 200 feet with twists and turns like the Cresta Run and a fall of about 30 feet - one of the benefits of living on the side of a valley. And it lasted well but the second sizable fall of snow this week - another 4-5 inches - slowed it down.

So we finished off by making a snow slide on the patio instead, dubbed "Snowmageddon" by my daughter.  And, as she said, it was "awesome".

Swings and roundabouts then from the snow.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Big Garden Bird Watch - our results

Bird life around here is fantastic both in numbers and varieties and we variously feed, water and shelter our local populations. So I  happily spent an hour or so this morning keeping a look out at different birds in the garden and this is a bit about what I spotted:
  • Robins - 5
  • Blackbirds - 4 (and all male)
  • Thrush - 1
  • Long-tailed tits - 9
  • Coal tits - 2
  • Great tits - 4
  • Blue tits - 3
  • Chaffinches - approximately 7
  • Dunnocks - 3
  • Tree sparrows - approximately 16
  • Collar doves - 3
  • Wood pigeons - 2
  • Greater spotted woodpecker - 1 (male)
  • Magpies - 3
  • Jays - 3
  • Sparrow hawk - 1 (male)
The birds I spotted in the garden were concentrated around two feeding stations in the garden and the hedges next to them.

In addition flying over us I saw crows (at least five), rooks (countless, in a flock), more wood pigeons and numerous smaller unidentified birds.

We've had no thrushes for the last year until earlier this week. The one we have here looks like a young bird.

Conspicuous by their absence were:
  • Nut hatches (we have two every day throughout the day at the feeding stations on peanuts and fat balls),
  • Yellowhammers (we have one now, who was around all day yesterday. We had two last summer for the first time in 12 years)...
... and, most sadly of all, no Wrens. We have a wren nest in a large juniper tree next to the patio but our cat caught and brought one in last night. I found it dead on the patio this morning.

Also surprisingly absent were the Buzzards. They usually wheel over us throughout the day on sunny days like today. Perhaps the snow which was still widespread for most of the day limited the thermals they go for. I didn't see or hear any all day. Nor were there any ravens which are sometimes around at the same time as the buzzards.

I'll get some pics of these birds up over the next few weeks. And I'll see if I can find last year's results we submitted to see what's changed.

Anyone wanting to do the Big Garden Bird Watch can still do it - it's supposed to be today and tomorrow (January 26th and 27th 2013). Here's a link to the details on the RSPB's site.