Posts Tagged ‘weather’

Snow Moon: Pause for Reflection?

I’m learning such a lot from social media (though I realise it may not all be correct, know what I mean fellow conspiracy theorists?).

For example every full moon, apparently has a name, so last night’s February’s full moon is known as the Snow Moon*. According to a U.S. almanac web-site this tradition dates back to the native American tribes during colonial times, but has an element of prediction:

“And the Native Americans were right. On average, February is the USA’s snowiest month, according to data from the National Weather Service.”

N.B. I am living in central England, and the names of the full moons have graduated across the Pond. Last night this coincided with a penumbral eclipse. However both were invisible as flat grey clouds blanketed the skies.

And, sure enough Cochise, snow was falling gently this morning when I raised my head. First thoughts were about whether the football game at Bolton (I am a long-standing Walsall fan) would still be on and what travel arrangements did we need to make?


But then logic and wonder (not usual bed fellows) took over. Stock up the bird feeders. Spend a calming few minutes watching from the back bedroom window. Grateful visitors swarm in: chaffinch, goldfinch, long tailed tits, a single robin, blackbirds that spend more time squabbling than eating, a pair of crows, their would be neighbours the magpies, a house sparrow looking brightly coloured against the snow.

A whole blizzard of starlings drop in; their ability to feed from every single piece of equipment becoming obvious. There is a wood peckerish quality about these garrulous birds: their bills, their ability grasp a vertical surface, the fact that they will nest in tree trunk holes. Blue tits, the same pair I speculate that are working on the entrance to the new nest box high in the lime tree have ceased their courting and visit the table: eager and greedy.

Over the eight foot fence a cat that has been sneakily sheltering beneath a no-longer-used trampoline, slinks away between broken fence panels.

There is a sense of déjà vu here. Facebook has reminded me of a photo I took in 2013. Scarily similar.


The crow versus magpie saga continues as I watch their WWF tag-wrestler-style behaviour on the lawn. The smaller magpies trying to exert some kind of dominance repeatedly fail to do so. The crows are wary, but not even slightly intimidated. This magpie pair have conceded the existing nest site to their larger cousins, but still visit it regularly, while also starting to build –from scratch – a new platform nest. On two separate occasions the crows have popped in and, literally picked it apart and dropped it from a great height. It is, after all, no more than thirty feet from their own nest-to-be. The mags cannot take the hint and, to date, have re-built it twice.

I am reminded of the Spy v Spy cartoons that appeared in Mad magazine.

Image result for spy v spy mad images

But, doesn’t this behaviour also mirror the “boundary dispute” in progress up at the allotment. No malice between ourselves and the house owner, but dispute between official parties (of course it is not quite so simple) that is going on and on. Most recently the house owner has removed his front hedge and intentionally or not the contractors doing the job have also taken out some of the hedge between the allotments and the Wolverhampton Road. Again we have a case of watch-this space as arbitration/discussion/resolution are at least as far away as they were before.

I am brought to mind of a “small talk” conversation with one of The stewards at Walsall Football Club last Saturday. We were discussing the weather (usual topic for English people – we have so much of it after all – and I said we needed a sustained cold spell to get rid of snails and slugs. Wise chap, humouring ing the paying customer, nodded sagely. Is today the beginning of a cold snap?

By the time I am setting out for the traffic marmalade that passes for roads between here and Bolton, the snow has turned to rain.

*Other web sites are available and one such talks of the green comet which should, cloud permitting be visible from earth for a couple of nights. Green Comet? My mind is racing; surely a DC super hero? Whose alter-ego is a mild mannered allotmenteer?

Super-powers ?

Hmmm …

Any suggestions ?


Twitcher’s Temptations

How the weather can alter, catching you out at every turn if you’re not prepared. And how blasé were we, getting used to easily-above-freezing overnight temperatures in January?

On the very days we have front windows and the patio doors that lead out to the back garden replaced the Midlands experiences a blast of Arctic wind and overnight frosts of some severity. All credit to the two cheerful guys sorting out the glazing, listening to Radio Two and joking about wearing shorts (surely only postal delivery workers do that in winter?) going about their business – great job by the way. (Sealed units in the previous windows had leaked and for two years (or more) we’ve been trying to see through layers of condensation as well as the leaded lights.)


Water in the wheelbarrow, stupidly left in the right way up (usually I stand it up against the allotment shed door) didn’t thaw for three days straight. Giving me an idea:

We have been trying, unsuccessfully of course to get rid of the pondweed (“duckweed”) in our back garden pond. Ever since, in fact, a well-meaning fool (I see him every morning in the mirror) had the idea that it would encourage wildlife to visit the pond and cut out the process of eutrophication. But, by golly its persistent! But during these freezes its all trapped in a surface layer of ice so, using a handle less shovel I simply slid the panels of frozen water out of the pond and onto the lawn. Where they sat, un melted for a couple of days. Nothing is simple, needless to say and about a handful of the fast-multiplying plants evaded capture, but for a while at least I can pretend I’m winning.


The cold weather had a dramatic effect on bird visitors too. And the amount of time they spent in the garden. Greenfinches came (absent for so long), a trio of waxwings, a single (male) reed bunting, a very speedy coal tit joined the regulars at the “service station”. There was a high flying flock of lapwings (one of my favourite birds as a youngster) and the return to our skies of buzzards.

Then it’s the first official day of the RSPB Great Garden Birdwatch – and it is warm and raining!

Ridiculously, when you consider it, in reality it doesn’t matter. But I was psyching myself up to record a bumper list of visitors. Instead in the time I planned to do the observation – between nine and ten in the morning (this following the time when I add feed to the range of feeders about the garden – and birds being creatures of habit as well as opportunists it seemed to make strategic sense) – I sit in the upstairs bedroom (better view of the whole garden) and ponder. There was a guy on breakfast TV from the RSPB who broadcast some statistics/comparisons.

The Big Garden Birdwatch has been going for more than thirty years now (last year half a million people sent in their records). But the time-to-observe has been extended, its over three days now. I get it: it gives more people the chance to take part and, importantly organisations like schools (where grounds can be key to wildlife) but it also makes me wonder how valid comparisons can be. I’m not thinking this in a negative way: indeed I love the idea of the rise of “people’s science”.

Also the instruction are not simply tally mark every time you spot a species, and, rather harshly, I am not certain every participant will understand exactly what is needed to make the results credible. This swill, if I am correct mean dubious results.

But – and this is extremely snobbish of me – how accurate will observations be? How well do others (it’s always others isn’t it, because we all know that what we are recording is a hundred per cent accurate don’t we? Editor’s note.) There is what we know as the “pterodactyl factor” where gullible people have been convinced that here was a rare species in the vicinity. How does the RSPB deal with this?

I suddenly realise that there are wood pigeons feeding from the table –and I dash outside (very unscientifically) to rebuild the woven-from-canes roof I have put there to prevent the ungainly monsters snacking on the precious food. I have to confess my partiality here: wood pigeons are not popular with allotmenteers – and they gobble up the food so rapidly that other species must starve. Wood pigeons indeed remind me of Hercules cargo planes: big, grey, safe and heavy … and I prefer the helicopter antics of the tit family or the marauding style of the Spitfire-like starlings.

And then, I must confess I am sorely tempted to add some of the birds that have been here over the past forty eight hours (the waxwings: surely it won’t make a big difference – and they were definitely here ironically in the top of the rowan tree that was stripped of the looked-for red berries well before Christmas by redwings!). But I resist. Because this is the twitcher in me trying to take over, to show off, to have better results (because nobody is watching right? Nobody checking?) It would be pointless. I know that these other species have visited the garden and that should be enough. I smile; just a few moments ago I was casting aspersions on the integrity of others and look what just happened!

The whole bonus might just be, of course, the increase in the number of people joining in and being interested in what is going on in their own gardens! This should lead to engagement in the wider environment. It is well served by the number of people, I guess, feeding birds and the range and quality of bird feeds available – from almost every shop in the high street.

It is also fed by the wonderful RSPB website which promises additional tasks monthly that people can undertake at home to increase wildlife habitats/provision. And not all just about birds. Gotta be a good thing!

One Job leads to …

The Plantation Owner’s Wife, training at OSP Fitness noticed a skip outside, with pallets leaning against the fence. She asked the workmen if they minded if she came and collected them. They were delighted. Even more so when she told them that they would be used to make raised beds, compost heaps and allotment structures rather than just be fuel for a wood burner.

So we put the back seats of the trusty Vectra down, packed the saw and set about reducing said pallets to a size we could get into the car. Now ordinary pallets are little more than a lifting challenge, but these were the larger sized beasts that plaster board is packed onto. So ingenuity, including using a discarded electrical cable as a measuring device, came into play. We sawed, man handled and took each and every one of them away: three journeys since you ask; but enough timber to build a decent edge around the wildflower area/beetle bank – and some left over for other jobs (still to be decided*).

Up at the plot we manage to get the timber surround erected amazingly rapidly: good teamwork. It has the effect of making the wilder section look defined, so more official – and, hopefully acceptable.

Then we set to making and drinking tea. Which creates a “medical emergency”. No panic, we have a straw filled bucket for just such eventualities. Then in a sequence reminiscent of “there’s a hole in my bucket dear Liza” we realise it needs re-strawing. That the straw store is a little damp. That the straw store could do with tidying out.

Hmmm. This entails emptying the whole container (alongside our two compost bays). Chain, timber, plastic bags, water bottles, and the soggy straw (which goes straight onto the compost).

Unfortunately there is a small, embryonic ball of the nest of a bumble bee in the straw. But it all has to be shifted – or none.

There is also a wasp’s nest – exactly where one was last year. Interesting, I wonder is this normal?

Some of the timber is waterlogged, but not rotten. We heave it all out to dry off. Some is consigned to the vicinity of the brazier (to wait for a dry Friday), some will go to my mom’s for kindling.

The bean canes are up and ready, hops in place to hold the netting that’ll keep pigeons off the brassicas. But the weather witch is predicting low temperatures, so we decide to hold off planting these out – for the moment.

Meanwhile the peas are up, but at a height of less than ten centimetres are subject –as usual – to some little critter (a flea beetle maybe) taking bites from the foliage. They usually manage to hang on, get taller and produce pods.



Lettuce are settling in, broad beans forming and we have added the spring set onions to those started last autumn.

OK, the paths need strimming, but it is all taking shape quite nicely: apple, pear and strawberry blossom adding their magic.

Just need a little more warmth.

Anybody listening?

*I do have this idea, however that it has to be possible to build a half decent garden bench from pallets: I just have to get my head around the technology and enough nine inch nails (my preferred method of joinery!).








Weather: Changeable!

Parsnips for Canada ?

Just back from a second day of actual work up on the plot.

Yeah, yeah, yeah we’ve been delivering kitchen scraps and some fortuitously collected horse muck to the compost heap on a fairly regular basis, but work …?

So, at long last, days off and a warm, dry spell coincide and we can get to setting things up.

And the first job is to prune the autumn fruiting raspberries, dig them out wholesale and untangle the nets of bindweed roots that are invading the patch. This is a truly pernicious weed, and amazingly tenacious and alien-like tricksy. If the smallest portion of root survives a whole new plant is created.

Image result for bindweed roots Image result for bindweed roots

The soil is still heavy, a little waterlogged and frosted and my fingers get cold.

But the work is satisfying. There are others up there too. Hard at work, preparing ground that has been too wet and heavy to work. It has not been a cold winter, but unusually heavy rains have dogged traditional winter digging.

People are taking up the last sprouts, cabbage, leeks and. Of course parsnips, which always taste better, traditional wisdom says after those roots have been frosted.

Parsnips there remind me of a discussion on the train to Crewe on Saturday. A farmer somewhere couldn’t make enough money from his potato crops, so he diversified into using the potatoes for crisps: he set up the equipment at home and started. It was extremely successful: the birth of Tyrrel’s crisps based in Leominster, Herefordshire. Their web-site – – is unashamedly nostalgic, but fiercely designer-label and, no doubt based on the latest psychology.

Image result for tyrrells chips

But … he was still growing more potatoes than he could actually use for crisps, so wondered what else he could do; that involved growing potatoes (at which he was clearly very successful).

Some Polish workers, apparently mentioned vodka, and that was that.

Product duly completed he set about marketing it: going to the best of London hotels, to local independent shops, to other prestige outlets, telling the buyers that this was the finest English vodka; that it would sell at £30 per bottle.

A fine, self-assured style of marketing:  it worked. After Tyrell’s Crisps came Chase vodka.

Love a success story!

But then in the local paper (Express and Star) was the story of Little Hay (near Lichfield) farmers, the Bartletts, who are shipping parsnips to the U.S. of A. to be made into crisps as there is the paper says a shortage of parsnips in North America this year.

“The business,” the paper details, “was established in the 1950s … when, at that time, it was on a site of just 50 acres. Today the father and son partnership … own 600 acres of Staffordshire and rent several hundred more …”

They also have a web-site – – and, brilliantly the parsnips they grow are Staffordshire Gold.

marketing  packing

Getting this little “creative county” of mine on the maps eh?

But, speaking of crisps: there is a brief discussion in my house – the night before the bins go out or collection: can Walker’s Crisp bags be recycled. me? I am absolutely sure that they can be – until I check. The silver inside them is not actual metal foil (of course it isn’t, how could it be, I realise now) and the bags have to be put into household waste. There is, however a charity that’ll ship ’em out from Southampton to the Philippines where they will be made into household items. However unlikely this sounds it was definitely on the internet, er somewhere.

Generally Mild …

It’s not necessary to be surprised by the weather. It is what it is and it does what it does. Of course … but winter so far has been mild. Very few frosts in this middle-of-England part of the world. Frosts that are supposed to come along, weather down the roughly winter-dug soil and kill off any germinating weed seeds.

But we have had – generally – wet and mild conditions since October. So far.

Burning day today and I had built up a pile of debris to be burned. Split plant pots, one-too-many seasons pea-sticks, tangled string, weeds that I rooted out over the past four weeks and raspberry canes. I was determined to have a go at burning them today, after an unintentional lie in.

Took some timber from home, firelighters and a box of extra long matches. It’s an allotment right, so there was an hour or so putting the new-year world to rights with other plot holders; inevitably perhaps. But the skies remained clear blue and a drying wind rode across the plots.

Perfect for burning: once the fire was going. A lot of smoke while I was digging around the burning mass, loving that fizz and crackle of burning raspberry canes and the orange flames that suddenly leap across the face of the pile.

Cut a couple of cabbages, a bit of general  tidying up; realising I am going to have to dig over again my earliest digging: healthy coloured soil simply covered with freshly germinated weed seedlings like groundsel and chickweed. No worries, it’ll be easier this time round.

But then the clouds closed in and it started to rain. I forked the remaining, smoking pieces of fire into the pick-punctured oil drum, put a metal cover, salvaged from a lawn mower over the top of it and, locking the shed (which also needs tidying up) headed for home.

Quite a few gardening programmes on TV at the moment: Great British Garden Revival and a second series of the Allotment Challenge. Like the first one, good magazine format, but don’t recognise the second as “allotment”. I imagine that there will be people watching on TV who might be inspired to take on an allotment, but are not prepared for the challenges that will face them if, or when they take the plunge.

Allotments need new members, need the interest generated by such programmes in order to continue to evolve. But that programme makes it seem far less labour intensive than it really is.

It’ll be what is traditionally called “rent collection” here soon (last two weeks of February) and by then we should have collected the seeds we ordered (bulk buying means we make savings), including potatoes and onions.

On the plot the over wintering onions are shooting green and tall already. So are the broad beans. A last few carrots, grown in an old metal dustbin remain to be harvested: they were tasty with our Christmas dinner and surprised us by how long they have kept in the ground.

Later, I’m sitting upstairs in what was one of our daughter’s bedrooms (both still known fondly as so-and-so’s room). I’m reading. Away from a TV programme downstairs and the small room with the computer in it. The book? His for hawk by Helen MacDonald. Bought it with a Christmas gift book token (along with two others: Station Eleven ( by Emily St John Mantel) and the Bees ( Laline Paull)). I am disturbed, then reassured by the tiny plopping sounds of the demi-johns of wine brewing on the window ledge. They have been dormant for some time – no fermentation, but in the warmth, seem to have revived. The strawberry we bottled and have been consuming over Christmas was delicious.

Now, it’s only January, so plenty of time for cold weather to wipe out the slugs and weeds. Because it surely can’t be this mild until spring, surely?



“Are you mad?”

It’s been raining since early December. Harsh gales and high tides have flooded regions of the country and he’s standing there with a wheelbarrow at eight thirty one February morning. Moving manure in a low-pressure tyred wheelbarrow rescued from a building site skip.


It’s a fair question, the madness one. His hands are cold and one of his knuckles is blooded. But the passionate guy last night had stressed the importance of getting animal manure into your compost. And top soil for the bacteria and microbial input. That and listening to the worms … Continue reading

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