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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