Friday, 29 July 2016

Those Pesky Carrot Crunchers

24th July 2016
Warfare in the Polytunnel
There is warfare in the polytunnel. Everything is growing brilliantly. Tomatoes and cucumbers are now cropping, the Uchiki Kuri and Butternut squashes are rampant and the sweetcorn is reaching for the skies. The peppers and aubergines are forming fruits and the courgette plants are reaching epic proportions.
But in one hidden corner I noticed today one of the melon plants looking very sickly indeed, showing all the tell tale signs of Red Spider Mite infestation. These tiny little creatures live on the underside of the leaves, sucking the life out of the plant. Despite their name, they can be many colours. In reality, they are so small that my 50 year old eyes can only just pick them up.
Red Spider Mite prefers hot, dry conditions. It has its favourite victim plants. Melons and cucumbers are a favourite, along with aubergines and beans, but it can get on almost anything in the polytunnel. After heavy damage for the last two years, I took as many precautions as possible this year. The main deterrent is to keep the soil moist and the air humid. The mites don't like this. So I was a little surprised and disappointed to find that it has established a foothold again this year. I mixed up a lethal concoction of soap, lemon eucalyptus oil, chilli and garlic and sprayed the plants thoroughly making sure to drench the underside of every leaf. However, those pesky little mites are resilient. They weave fine meshes of silk which, along with the hairy underside of the leaves, affords them quite a bit of protection. I could buy in some biological control, a predator to control them, but it is not cheap and not guaranteed to work.
I did, however, discover the possible reason for the mite invasion into that corner of the polytunnel. I had wondered at how dry the soil was, little colonies of ants being a sure sign of dry conditions. When I turned on the sprinkler system I noticed from the outside of the polytunnel that the walls at that end were not getting wet. On further investigation I found that the overhead sprinklers at that end of the tunnel were blocked by spiderweb silk, not from the mites - that would be ridiculously clever! But the effect was to neutralise my main deterrent of not letting things become too dry.

Carrot Crunchers Not Welcome
There are larger pests at work too, for the Carrot Crunchers have moved back in. I'm growing lots of carrots in the tunnel this year as it affords them a good level of protection, but when I was harvesting the baby sweetcorn I  noticed that some of the carrots underneath had been nibbled, sure signs of vole attack. In fact one carrot was even nibbled while I left the tunnel for half an hour!
So I set the traps and within an hour I heard one snap shut. There will be more than one vole, but as long as I keep on top of checking the traps I should be able to nip this little problem in the bud before I start losing all my carrots.

25th July 2016
We have a rather useless porch adjoining the side of the garage. One of the supporting posts was never put in properly and the whole thing has dropped on one side. I discussed with Sue the possibility of removing it and she came up with the brilliant idea of moving it and turning it into a log shelter.
With the weather still holding dry, today seemed a good time to paint the end of the garage before the log store is constructed. As ever, this took longer than I thought but it looks good now.
What a Smoothie!
The paint dried quickly in the sun and it was thirsty work climbing up and down the ladder. In the winter I would be refuelling with soup, a great way of eating vegetables. I have now discovered the equivalent for a hot summer day. Smoothies. The freezers are already rapidly filling with fruit, so much so that it's hard to see where the forthcoming vegetable harvest and the late autumn meat will go. Today I whizzed up some yogurt, apple juice, a couple of mushy bananas and a handful of frozen raspberries. Delicious! And disgracefully healthy!

A Major Hair Cut for Outside
After lunch I did something I had been avoiding for quite some time. After two days the mower battery had finally charged up and it was time to start it up. I was not optimistic. I pumped up the tyres and then tentatively put the key in the ignition and turned it.
The good thing about being a pessimist is that sometimes you get a pleasant surprise. The ride-on started straight away and I got straight to work.
Four hours later I'd mowed the veg patch, the orchard, the top paddock, the central walkway, the back lawn, the front lawn, the pond area and the borders round the spare veg patch. A very, very good day's work.
While the going was good I hardly stopped for a break, but I did stop to take a quick snap of the sun bursting through the clouds in the evening sky.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The summer time of my life

20th July 2016
50! How did that happen? I am 50 years old!
I used to say I still felt 20 in my mind and about 70 in my body but I think that's changed a little now. I think I think a little more old these days, so maybe 30 in my mind, though some would say more like 6! And that's partially true too, which is why I am such a brilliant teacher. I am also starting to benefit from the confidence of age.
As for the 70 in body, to be fair there are days when I feel I can do anything and days when every single inch of my body seems to ache and groan.
I have done a lot in my 50 years on this planet (not that I spent any time before that on another planet, though again some would disagree). I don't intend to do quite so much in the next 50 years, but I do intend to savour and enjoy most of it.
I don't really do birthdays, or any celebrations for that matter, but especially not birthdays. My preference would have been that it pass by largely unnoticed. I got as close to this as was probably possible and celebrated with a quiet meal out with Sue in the evening. I splashed out and went for almost the most expensive thing on the menu but there was no way I was paying an extra £2 for a sauce to go with my fillet steak! That would be too wild a celebration!

There was a better reason for celebration today, for I finished work at midday and I'm not due back in till 1st September.

21st July 2016
Back to normal today.
One of the young chicks in the broody box was clearly not well today. I tried gently holding its beak to the water trough, I placed it under the electric hen to warm up, but as usual when a bird is ill it did not respond. After a couple of hours I decided to end it quickly. Better for the chick and better to remove it from the others too. Five years ago I would have struggled to do this and put it off, but I have hardened up now. I still quietly say sorry and I still have a sad feeling in my heart. Compassion sometimes means being decisive.
The turkey family picking through the cut grass
With the protracted spell of summer proper, I took advantage and started mowing the lawns. They've got out of control again and the mower needs a new blade so it was slow work. I just mowed paths through the sward to allow the air in and the grass to dry a little.
This year's lambs in the foreground
Next job on such a fine day was another chemical attack on those nasty nettles and thistles. I've left a few patches for the wildlife, but any others that spring up need to be dealt with harshly, particularly since I seem to have become very reactive to nettle stings, an almost daily occurrence which needs nipping in the bud. I resprayed the electric fence line too. This tactic seems to be working well. I'd rather not use any spray but needs must. Physically controlling the weeds and the growth under the fence are not possible on this scale. I use minimum sprays and just about everything else I do on the smallholding is pretty much for the benefit of wildlife.

That's shallot of shallots!
Last year's stored onions have come to an end now and this year's are not quite ready. It's not looking like a great crop coming so thank goodness for the shallots, which were ready to harvest today after a few sunny days to dry them out.

Lady Penelope, Single Parent
There was still time to lop some of the trees along the boundary. The branches go to the sheep who love stripping off the leaves and the bark. Nothing goes to waste here. It was while I was doing this that I spotted Lady Penelope Peacock and she was accompanied by a single poult, now large enough to be showing a clear crest. I had not seen her for a couple of weeks and was fearing for her.

The days are long now so I can get stacks done when I'm off work. But darkness still comes in the end and todays dusk brought with it a calling Little Owl in the old ash trees and a calling Barn Owl, a nice combo.

22nd July 2016
Chicken in a basket box
Every day now I move the Ixworth chicks outside into a large dog cage on the lawn and every night they go back into the garage under the heat lamp. The accommodation en route is cosy!

Bad service
I finally managed to get through to someone to order a spare rotavator belt and mower blade. It's taken three phone calls and two ignored emails to finally get someone who didn't pass the problem on to an empty phone extension. It took 18 minutes on the phone and I'm not confident I've moved much further forwards despite the promises. It's a shame as Abbey Garden Sales have provided me with good service in the past but I am now starting to see the reasons for other people's bad reviews.

Harvest news
The first tomatoes are ready in the polytunnel and they are looking good! These are Black Cherry, Gardener's Delight, Golden Sunrise and Honybee.

There were more raspberries to be had today too. It really is a good crop this year. Delving a little deeper in the polytunnel, I came across a couple of yellow courgettes I'd missed. Here they are dwarfing the first cucumber of the year!

Some crops are already over though. Sue went out to do one final pick of the yellow mangetout plants but they were going over so the geese got a few. We've got  loads in the freezer already along with the green ones from the tunnel. Fortunately I managed to stop Sue in time to leave a few plants still standing. These are a heritage variety and I want to save the seed.

You know those jobs you keep putting off because you just know something's going to go wrong and you wish you'd never started? Well today I plugged the ride-on mower into the charger. If the battery charges up then I've just got to persuade it to start for the first time this year and to keep going. Reliability has never been my Mountfield mower's strongest point. If it had a name it would be called Flimsy!

And finally my nature note for today.
There have been strange calls coming from the ash trees for the last couple of days. In the past these calls have had me stumped, but now I recognise them as the calls of young Green Woodpeckers. Today I was lucky enough to see one of them perched out in the open on a branch next to its parent. They have timed it incredibly well, for today was also the day the ants came out. Every year they find their way into the house and swarm all over the windows. The delights of countryside living.

23rd July 2016
Harvest speeds up
Some of the sweetcorn in the polytunnel is going absolutely bananas. In fact it actually resembles a banana plantation in there. The outdoor crop isn't far behind either.
Surprisingly the biggest plants belong to the variety Minipop. This is a corn grown for its baby cobs. You don't get a huge harvest but it adds variety and is a high value crop.
It is ready to pick as soon as the tassles appear. No need to wait for them to be pollinated. In the polytunnel I am also growing normal sweetcorn, so I actually removed the male flowers from the top of the minipop plants today so they wouldn't cross-pollinate the other variety. Hopefully this won't stem the flow of min cobs.
A word of caution here. Parts of the plant would appear to be razor sharp! A couple of slashes across my fingers are testament to this.

Anyway, after much dehusking (great material for the compost heap) I ended up with 26 baby corns to go in the freezer. There are a lot more to come too.
Gooseberry gazumped!
I moved on to harvesting the last of the gooseberries ... except they were all gone! Something had got to them first. Oh well. Not to worry. Next year I'll pick them all when they are harder and sharper. That's the best quality about gooseberries anyway.
I moved on again, this time to the peas. I've not grown conventional peas for a few years now because of the pea moth which has a nasty habit of depositing maggots inside the pods. But this year I am trialling an old-fashioned tall pea, Champion of England. I sowed it late, at the end of April, in an attempt to avoid the period when the moth lays its eggs. Today the first plump pods were ready for picking. As ever with fresh peas they tasted amazing, little globes of summer sweetness. As this is a climbing variety they should crop over a longer period which means I can graze them rather than harvesting the whole lot at once.

Saving the Tomatoes
Another of the outdoor crops is under serious threat though. For it was only a matter of time before the potato blight spread to the tomatoes. A couple of the leaves were showing the first signs of attack today. It was time for another major prune of the toms anyway, so I removed all of the lower leaves and any sideshoots. I weeded thoroughly around the plants and tied them to their supports. The whole idea is to reduce the amount of foliage through which the blight spores can attack the plant while at the same time maximising air flow around the plants. I then mixed up a bicarbonate spray and thoroughly soaked every plant. I will repeat this once weekly for a while and with a bit of luck I might just save my outdoor tomato crop.
Outdoor tomatoes are always a huge risk and more often than not they fail. It doesn't matter too much as there are plenty coming from the greenhouse, but a bumper crop once in a while is good for stocking up the freezers with tomato sauce.

With daylight still left I started painting the garage, beginning with a first applicaton of creosote to the wood. Proper creosote is wonderful. I love the smell. It is not as nasty as people make out. In fact, one of the main reasons it's use was severely limited by the EU was to do with a very low cancer risk under specific circumstances. I get the feeling this is more about protecting large corporations rather than for any environmental reasons.

Today's nature notes
The swallow's nest in the chicken feed shed is wonderful, for it is at head level. I can raise the phone above my head and get a great view of the inside. It has been empy for a while now, but today I noticed two eggs inside. It seems they are going for another brood. Wonderful news! I counted another four active nests inside the stables today too.

Dark Daggers
Down in the chicken pen I found a small group of rather splendid caterpillars on a plum tree today. I took photos and then scoured the internet to identify them. I eventually identified them as belonging to the Dark Dagger moth. It has a great name but is actually very drab, unlike its glamorous larvae.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Scorched by Blight

15th June
New Chicks On The Block
Bang on time the first three chicks hatched out in the incubator. Tomorrow morning they'll be needing the electric hen to keep them warm. This means that the previous batch of chicks, now nearly four weeks old, need to move out.
With this in mind, much of today was spent cleaning out and reorganising the stables. The turkeys have a new perch which they have instantly taken to.
For the Ixworth chicks I've set up a broody ring - basically a long piece of very expensive Correx formed into a circle and held together with some very expensive cheap bulldog clips. I've constructed a lid out of spare bits of wood and mesh, this to deter vermin. Heat will be supplied from a heat lamp suspended from the joists, though at the moment I rather suspect the chicks would be absolutely fine without this. They've been going outside during the day for a while now.

16th June
New Accommodation for All
At the last count we were up to 13 chicks. Most of them have dried and fluffed up now. They can survive about the first 24 hours on goodness supplied from their egg, but after that they need to come out of the incubator and into controlled housing with heat, food and water.
There was a big change this evening for the previous generation of chicks too, who found themselves in a rather cosy stable under a heat lamp.

They have much more space there, but more importantly they won't be stinking out the entrance hall to the house any more. So far everything seems to be going very well.

In fact it was all change for everyone today. The sheep have moved paddocks to fresh grass and are revelling in finding new patches of clover and young sowthistle leaves. They will stay in this section for a week or more before moving on. This method of strip grazing keeps the grass fresher and helps with worm control.

Final job of the day was a somewhat depressing one. Despite there being no Smith period or near miss in the last two weeks, blight has swept through the potatoes in the last couple of days. There is no choice but to cut off the tops to try to prevent it getting into the tubers. Of course, some of the later variety may not have had enough time to develop any decent size tubers, so last year's bumper crop of Pink Fir Apples will definitely not be repeated. The First and Second Earlies seem to have swelled nicely though. I guess the rain is a double-edged sword.

17th July
Chilly chicks, cold eggs and thawing freezers
Woken up at 6 o'clock to be told by Sue that half the house had no electricity. If she had said that all the electricity had failed I would not have been concerned for power cuts are pretty much the norm here. But this was different. We still had lights downstairs but not upstairs. Anything plugged in wasn't working either - the freezers, the incubator, the electric broody.
On investigation the switched had tripped, but it just wouldn't flick back on. Fortunately the electrics in the garage were still working so I moved the incubator and the electric broody out there. The electric in the stables was working too, but the heat lamp had gone off. It seemed a huge coincidence, but I couldn't really understand how this could affect the house electrics as it had 2 RCD protectors before the trail got anywhere near the house.
It was early Sunday morning. There was no-one we could call at this time and the house had virtually no electricity. We decided to go back to sleep and ring around later on. With no home phone, no internet and poor mobile reception, I was not looking forward to this.

I woke up again at 9.30am! Had it all been a dream?
I headed downstairs and the circuit breaker switch was still in the down position. I tried once more to flick it back up... and it stayed! The kettle came on, the phone beeped back into life, the printer aligned itself and some of the lights came on.
Out in the stable, I unplugged the heat lamp and tried it in another socket, without the extension lead. It worked. I don't really understand what went on overnight, but I've just got my fingers crossed everything stays working. I'm not risking anything though. The chicks are on the move again into the garage where the heat lamp can reach them without needing the extension lead.

The youngest batch of chicks are staying out in the garage too. It's a good set up that we have accidentally hit upon.

After a hectic morning I headed off to a friend's smallholding where the Grow-Your Own group which I coordinate was gathering today. On the menu today were Discussion Subject: My favourite tool/most useless tool. Plant Doctors: Mosaic Virus. Trial Crop: Spanish Black Round Radish. Growing and Cooking with: Berries and Currants.
Sue had kindly made a frozen blackcurrant yogurt and a whitecurrant sorbet for me to take along. The sorbet especially went down a storm on such a hot sunny day.

Here's what blight looks like
One thing I did find out today was that I am just about the last person to have been hit by blight, so I guess I should count my blessings. I was hoping not to have to chop the haulms off the last bed of potatoes, the Desiree and Pink Fir Apple, as there would be little chance these would have developed any decent size tubers yet. But when I inspected closely, blight was taking hold of these too so reluctantly they got the chop.
Potato blight taking hold

Sometimes it is not totally clear whether plants have blight or if it is just that the plants are dying down naturally. However, this year the symptoms are classic and unmistakeable, so I took a few snaps today for you to compare if you ever need.
Once all the growth above ground has been removed, it needs to be moved away since it holds spores which can easily contaminate the soil and are very likely to spread to the tomatoes. Ideally it is burned, but that's easier said than done when it is still green. I put mine into a closed system compost bin and it never sees the light of day again!
As for the potatoes under the soil, they are best left for a couple of weeks, for if they are dug up immediately they will get contaminated by the spores on the soil surface and will rot in storage.

The turkey hen investigates the Ixworth chicks
18th July
Thirsty work
The thermometer hit 30 degrees today. I love the hot weather. Unfortunately I had to be in work to make up for the time lost when my car was broken down last week.
I spent the evening piping water to all the animals and poultry and watering the young plants in pots outside the polytunnel. Everything is thirsty on days like this.
I then mixed up a spray of sodium bicarbonate, just a couple of tablespoons mixed with a gallon of water, a tablespoon of oil and a few drops of soap. This spray was for the tomatoes in the polytunnel as well as anything else which might be affected by fungi, such as the courgette leaves and aubergines. The main reason for this spray is to prevent the tomatoes getting blight and the other plants getting powdery mildew.

19th July
El Scorchio
I woke up late for work after Arthini had twice escaped from his overnight basket, the second time by busting through the wall! A hot night obviously had the dogs sleepless as they woke us up at regular intervals.
The day was definitely el scorchio.
In the evening we finally got to the Thai restaurant in Holbeach. We love Thai food and have been living here almost six years now, but it has inexplicably taken someone's leaving do to get us there. The food was gorgeous and it certainly won't be another six years before we are back.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Frozen Frog Spawn

12th July
Elvis did not come out with her ducklings this morning. As I suspected, she is stepping back and letting them get on with growing up... which they are dong very fast indeed. They are a pretty bunch and it will be a shame to eat them later in the year.

Today's main job was a dangerous one, summer pruning and harvesting gooseberries. We've not got a bumper harvest this year, but I'm not complaining. Every year is different. The red gooseberries all needed picking. They are small but very sweet. The standard green Invicta gooseberries were well swollen. Some were ripe enough to eat raw, the rest I left on the bushes.

The whitecurrants were easier to deal with. Their summer prune just involves cutting back the sideshoots. In previous years the ducks had enjoyed more of the currants than us, but this year they showed no interest. To look at the bushes from outside you would think there was hardly any fruit to be had, but the currants hang on short stems hidden by the leaves.Delve a little deeper and there they are.

In fact I managed to harvest about 3kg of whitecurrants. I just need to decide what to do with them now.
Picking the whitecurrants took an age as I patiently worked along each branch. But there was still time to prune the redcurrants. These are just starting to colour up and there are absolutely mountains of them hanging on the bushes. It won't be long before a redcurrant bonanza. I might try using the steam juicer to make a cordial this year.
The birds find redcurrants easier to spot than their white cousins and last year we lost them all just about the night before I was intending to pick them. So today they were netted, using the net which has just come off one of the cherry trees which Sue picked.

23 eggs have been in the incubator for 18 days now at a temperature of precisely 37.5 degrees Celsius. We tried to keep the humidity at 45% but with the ambient air at over 60% most of the time this proved impossible. (Hence 23 eggs. We started with 24 but one was replaced with a sock full of rice in an attempt to reduce the humidity. It worked a little, for a while!) Humidity is important since it dictates how much liquid evaporates through the shell of the egg and therefore how big the air sac is for the chick to breath when it comes to hatching time.
So today was Day 19. Time for the eggs to come off the roller and to increase the humidity further.
If all goes well they will start hatching in a couple of days.

13th July
I open froze the currants and berries in trays. Today I scraped them off the trays to go into freezer bags. The whitecurrants, to my evil eye at least, look like frozen frog spawn. There could be a marketing idea here for a healthy Halloween treat. I also discovered by accident that it may be an awful lot easier to remove the stems when the currants are frozen. I'll bear this in mind next time.

A surprising proportion of the rest of the day was spent picking blackcurrants and raspberries, especially given that I was supposed to be at work for the afternoon.
But for the second week in a row my car refused to start. After replacing the starter motor last week, it looks as if it was the battery after all. I won't ever be going back to Whizzywheels in Wisbech again. It's the second time they've taken the proverbial in the last few weeks.
On the bright side, it did spur me into finding a more local mechanic.

So engrossing myself in the fiddly task of picking and de-stemming blackcurrants was a welcome distraction from my thoughts. The raspberries have enjoyed the wet weather too and are starting to produce a bumper crop. I've finally worked out that I've pretty much got all summer-fruiting canes and that all the healthy canes which came up and didn't fruit last year were in fact what would bear this year's fruit. I hadn't expected them to come up so early and so made the mistake of thinking they were autumn-fruiting canes which failed to crop. Doh!  I know now.

14th July
Car fixed. New battery installed.
While the mechanic was here, this arrived. Care to guess what it is?

It's a chicken plucker. You scold the chicken, attach this contraption to a drill and the spinning rubber fingers take (most of) the feathers off the bird. I imagine these end up literally everywhere. Anyway, if it works even half as well as I hope then it will save a lot of time when it comes to processing a dozen chickens at a time.

I did actually make it to work today, though I owe them quite a bit of time now and will try to make most of it up next week before the summer holidays start.
After work I hitched up the trailer and drove to a field in the middle of nowhere where a smallholder acquaintance (who just happens to be one and the same mechanic as fixed my car this morning) was baling his hay field. What a lovely activity on a fine day under the endless fenland skies.

I slalomed between the bales on the field before pulling up and loading fifteen bales into my trailer. Back to the farm to unload, then back again for another fifteen.

This winter was so mild that the Shetland sheep got by without any hay whatsoever. Buying thirty bales now is probably a good way to guarantee another mild winter.

As I was stacking the hay in the turkey stable I discovered yet another secret hoard of eggs furtively tucked away. I'm reorganising the stables in a couple of days, but I'll try to move the nest so that hopefully the hen keeps laying in it. That way I know where they are when I want to steal the eggs. I'll mark a couple which I'll leave so she keeps coming back.
One final job for the day.
I abandoned the coriander crop in the polytunnel - it just hasn't grown leafy enough this year - and sowed another few rows of carrots which so far have been doing very well under cover. Hopefully the carrot flies won't discover that the polytunnel has doors.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Harvesting - A Mixed Bag

9th July
Rainwater harvesting for the polytunnel
Heavy rain when I woke up, so I hastily hooked up a hosepipe to the overflowing water butts, channelling the rain into a couple of watering cans in the polytunnel. While I wait for each watering can to fill in turn I weed, harvest and thin foliage. The rain water is much appreciated by the plants.

It can get very sticky in the polytunnel so it is important to  remove foliage from ground level. To reduce humidity the courgettes got heavily trimmed and the rampant squash plants cut back.

I harvested and thinned out the kohl rabi and turnips. I've only left a few. They are very susceptible to rot once the other plants get going and temperatures warm up. Turnip fly becomes a problem too. The Purple Top Milans seem to have a harder flesh and to be more resistant to rot and fly than the Snowball and Goldenball. Next year I'll reserve the latter two for outside. Straight into the newly available space went peppers and aubergines.
Where I removed the kohl rabi plants, the sweetcorn growing in amongst them is about a foot tall. The plants growing without any competition are up to the polytunnel roof - what a difference! It's planned though. Now I've removed the kohl rabi the sweetcorn will prosper and will come ready later than the rest.
Once the rain stopped I harvested more beetroots to be processed.

Beetroots laid out ready for baking
Not going round the bend
A walk along the roadside revealed the extent of the damage to next door's field gate caused by yet another car coming off at the bend. The car must have been in quite a state as that wooden gate post has lifted a massive lump of concrete from the ground.

10th July
A lay in, a Wimbledon final and a European Cup final in which Ronaldo got floored by a Silver-Y moth
Young swallows and tree sparrows
In between all this the swallows fledged. I opened the chicken feed shed to find one fluttering against the window so I caught it and placed it back on its nest but there was only one other. They both promptly flew off the nest, one again fluttering against the window, so I caught it and released it for its first flight. A very special moment. Fortunately the hobby's daily speculative fly through the garden had already happened today.

More excitement on the wild birds front. I've planted a branch of twisted willow in the border near the bird feeding station in the hope that birds will use it as a perch coming to and from the feeders. Well, the first birds to do this were the tree sparrow family, two fledged young and their parents. Excellent.

Squishy strawberries
A much anticipated strawberry harvest was very disappointing indeed - virtually all of them had rotted before they even ripened properly. Those that had escaped this had mostly been munched by something. I'm not sure how much the straw has helped.

I checked the weather forecast before pruning the plum trees. Dry all day. Ten minutes of pruning soon changed that, precipitating a cloudburst!
I gave up.

This was also the cue to get the Ixworth chicks back inside before they caught a chill. They've been going outside for a couple of days to get them ready for a move into the stables. It means they leave their mess and smells outside too. They also get to eat grass, scratch around and peck at insects. They seem to find the outside world quite scary at the moment.

11th July
Failed Wurzels and an Injury to Mr Rotavator
I spent the morning trying to track down a spare belt for Mr Rotavator who had a rather unfortunate mishap yesterday. Hopefully he'll be back to his wonderful best soon.
In readiness for his return to good health, I got out the slasher and hacked back all the fat hen which has grown up in what was supposed to be the mangel wurzel patch. The slugs and/or rabbits did for this crop before it ever got going. Next year I'll be growing each plant in modules before planting out. This has worked brilliantly over in the main veg patch where I'm growing the mangels which will, I'm sure, help me retain the Jeff Yates Mangel Wurzel Trophy!

Poor Honey
After all the work I'd put into the strawberry beds, yesterday's failed harvest was a big let down. Today it was Sue's turn. This has been a testing year so far for the honey bees and for beekeepers. But Sue had at least managed to take off enough frames of honey to fill about 16 jars. But when she came to spin it, some wasn't yet ready to be spun and the rest surprisingly contained rape honey that had set in the combs. All Sue's hard work for just three jars of honey and if this year continues in the same vein that could be it for honey for the year.

First Broad Beans
Fortunately my harvesting today was more productive. The broad beans have survived a bit of a bashing from the weather and today I was able to gather the first few. You can tell when they are ready when the pod hang downwards. There were carrots from the polytunnel along with more mangetout and the first Swiss chard leaves of the year, which came from self-seeded plants rather than those I've planted.
Sue worked her magic in the kitchen combining these with some pork mince from the freezer. Just a little of everything always seems to make so much lovely food!

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we head into the gooseberry patch.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Post-Brexit Growth

Post-Brexit and we are experiencing rapid growth - the chicks, the ducklings, the sweetcorn, the grass, the tomatoes, the swallow babies - all are growing at an amazing rate.

1st July
Where is the summer?
Last year 1st July saw record temperatures in the mid 30s. What a contrast today!
There has been a honey bee starvation warning issued as they've not been able to get out and forage. In the polytunnel, the courgette plants are failing to produce viable fruits as they are not getting pollinated. Instead the developing fruits just rot off. I may have to start hand pollinating.

On the plus side, the peas and potatoes are enjoying the rain. Swings and roundabouts.

2nd July
Dramatic skies today
A day of clearing, weeding, transplanting and general pottering, aka gentle general maintenance.
The polytunnel is rapidly turning into a jungle. It's amazing how even a little summer heat gets the plants growing so fast. Air flow becomes very important, so lower leaves are regularly removed along with anything wilting or yellowing.

Tomatoes are remarkably resilient. Apart from the Romas, which are a bush-type, all the others need the side shoots pinching out on a regular basis so that all the plant's efforts can go into producing trusses of fruit from the main stem. Once the tomatoes start developing on a truss, I like to remove the leaves lower down. This allows the light in to ripen the tomatoes as well as letting air flow through the tunnel at ground level.

Underneath the tomatoes I am growing basil. They make good companions growing together and good companions in the kitchen. Today I took the first basil harvest, cutting the tops off the plants so they bush up.

3rd July
Nasty but necessary
I've been waiting for a dry, calm day to do the spraying. In an ideal world I'd be able to rely on physical methods to remove weeds, but this is impossible sometimes. Today I was using two chemicals. Glyphosate (aka Roudup) kills everything and is what I have to use on the driveway to prevent it turning into a lawn. I have also used this around the perimeter of the electric fence to keep the grass from growing up through the fence. The other chemical I use is Grazon. This is a selective weedkiller which is hugely effective against nettles, docks and thistles which are my main problems. All of these plants are good to have for wildlife, but it is not possible to maintain small patches of them and let them flower without them spreading uncontrollably. The only way I can do this is by minimal use of spray when I have to.
Besides this, I may have become hyper allergic to nettles. A couple of harmless stings on my ankles recently have turned very nasty and necessitated a visit to the pharmacy.

Today's other major job was to convert the electric fence in the top paddock from battery to mains. It needs to be strong enough and reliable enough to train new sheep and lambs for when they go down to the bottom. Also I have learned this year that it can be dangerous for the sheep if they are able to ignore it and become entangled.
Everything was going very well until I turned it on and it tripped the RCD in the garage! After lots of testing and elimination, I established that it seems to be the earth cable causing the problem. I've got a feeling that I just need to move the earth stake further away from the building, but I've left it for the moment. It's not an urgent job and I want to come to it at the beginning of a day, just in case it needs more time to sort out.

Honey bees struggling
Sue was on the last session of her intermediate beekeeping course today. She returned with tales of everybody having troubles with the rainy weather we've had. Sue has two hives without queens, the one that swarmed and the one with the swarm she collected. Most of the other beekeepers had experienced problems with swarms and lost queens too.
For the moment Sue has united these two colonies.

Strawberry harvest
My new strawberry beds are starting to produce. It doesn't look like a great year, with late ripening and at least half the fruits rotting off before ripening. Still there were plenty of fruits to be picked. Sue has performed her magic and turned them into strawberry & honey icecream, strawberry & banana fruit leather, strawberry and honey fruit leather and dried strawberries. The first of the raspberries were ready too. Dried raspberries are like tiny packages of flavour explosion.

4th July
Could it be that summer has at last arrived? I think that may be a little over-optimistic. In fact, I'm not sure that summers will ever again be what we imagine them to be. Were they ever?
Anyway, I made the most of it to mow the lawns. A hobby swooped low through the veg plot today. It is making daily appearances at the moment. The adult swallows usually see it coming way before I do. In fact it is their alarm calls which prompt me to look up.
The swallow chicks in the chicken shed are growing at an amazing pace now. It won't be long before I find the nest empty.

What Have I Raised?
Elvis's ten ducklings are also growing at an amazing rate. They suddenly have feathers instead of down and look like proper ducks. They still stick with Elvis mostly, but are becoming more independent. It won't be long before Elvis moves away from them. If I know her, she'll soon be broody again!
I won't be giving the ducks names as they are destined for the table later this year.

High Rise Chicks
Also growing up fast are the Ixworth chicks which are now two weeks old. I redesigned their broody box today, as they were constantly kicking their bedding into the drinker and kicking their feed everywhere. My solution is to make their accommodation two storey, as they are now capable of finding their way up the stairs to their food and drink or even hopping straight up there.

5th July
The garlic has grown incredibly quickly this year. It has obviously enjoyed the wet conditions since I planted the cloves back in January. I sowed parsnips in between the rows. The two seem to do very well together and look after each other. By the time the parsnips are becoming robust plants, the garlic is starting to die back. Every year it gets rust, but this doesn't seem to affect it at all. I had been waiting for some sunny weather as it needs to dry, particularly the bases of the stems where rot is most likely to set in.
The bulbs had split and swollen very nicely. I didn't remember planting quite so many cloves, but 133 bulbs should be enough to last another year.

Garlic bulbs set to dry.

Yellow Mangetout
I've tried a new variety of Mangetout this year, a yellow one to make it easier to pick. It has grown well, though I'm not sure it tastes quite so sweet as the green one I grew in the polytunnel. It's a close thing though and the pink and purple flowers and yellow pods may keep this on the list for next year.
It is cropping very well too.

Final job of the day was to dig some potatoes for dinner. The Dunluces have completely died down and this was the first time I was harvesting them. I got a really good amount from just one plant and they certainly are tasty.

6th July
Today I did none of the jobs on my list! Instead...
Beetroot bounty
I harvested a whole load of beetroots. I grow purple ones (Boltardy), Golden ones and stripy ones (Chioggia). Quite notable the outdoor ones had caught up with the early ones I planted in the polytunnel and done at least as well. Maybe next year I'll save the polytunnel space for something else.
Later on Sue roasted the beets ready to be peeled and vacuum packed.

Continuing the theme of doing jobs not on the list, I decided to plant the last thirty willow whips which had been sitting in the water butt developing roots. I'll be very surprised if they all take, but hopefully some will.

Captain Peacock lives on
It was while I was doing this job that I heard Lady Peacock calling. I'd not heard her for a while so went to investigate. She was strutting around in the middle of the road, but them I spotted the reason why as two chicks ran across the road behind her.

7th July
A complete non starter of a day
A but of a disastrous day really. I got in my car to go to work and it absolutely refused to start. It had no life in it whatsoever. So I had to stay in and wait for someone to come and help me start it, then get it to a garage without turning the engine back off. Turns out it was the starter motor. This is the second time this has happened. The car is seven years old and I have calculated it is costing me almost £2 per week just for the starter motor. Not very impressive Ford.

But the day was to get worse. For late afternoon my arms started itching and were covered in rather ugly and angry blisters. It looked a little like shingles, but not quite. The doctor didn't think it was either. So all I can think is that I have become very allergic to nettles as I really can't think of anything else that could have caused it. I am always getting stung by nettles so it is hard to remember if the blisters matched where I had been stung.
I guess we'll find out more next time I get stung. For the moment though I'm on anti-histamines which make me incredibly tired and antibiotics.

8th July
The only good thing if it had been shingles would have been being signed off from work for a couple of weeks, which would have taken me nicely up to the summer holidays!
As it was, I was back at work today. In the evening I had to take Boris, dressed in his bow tie, on school dog duties, meet and greet at the Year 6 prom. We didn't have that in my day. Mind you, it wasn't called Year 6 either, it was fourth year juniors.

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