January 2015


Coping with winter and a look back at the weather of 2014

Weather

I just did the sums and there is no getting away from the fact that its been a year of great weather for growing

RAINFALL was average, but if you take out the horrendous totals of last January and February (344mm or nearly 14in), the annual total of 999mm becomes just 655mm (22in) in ten months. In cloudy Britain, that is good because of how it affects the other weather figures, namely….

SUNSHINE was 1640 hours, the highest since 1998. Compare that total with the 1284 hours of 1998, it means an hour of extra sunshine every day! Plants like it as much as we do. And more sun means more warmth so…

TEMPERATURES were off the scale. I add all the minima and maxima to give a daily mean temperature over 365 days. In the previous sixteen years it has ranged between 9.1C in 2010 and 11.0C in 2006. The low figure had a bit to do with the glacial month of December 2010. Then this year the daily mean is 11.3C! There has been not even one month of cooler-than average weather, and a mere 29 frosts (12 of them in December just past) – incidentally 2002 had less frosts with 26.
So we can count our blessings for the weather in 2014, and I apologise to readers in other countries where it has been worse: we nicked your sunshine!

 

Just before Christmas, many beds mulched with compost

Just before Christmas, many beds mulched with compost

 

As for the year ahead, who knows? Nobody can be sure, be prepared for all possibilities. I shall be surprised if we have a third fine summer, and suggest that we shall need to accept some rainy periods. Growing plants without digging is a good start as I find undug, wet soil to be less sticky than dug, wet soil.

Just before new year in a frost of -6C (21F), good for creating a tilth on beds

Just before new year in a frost of -6C (21F), good for creating a tilth on beds

 

New growth?

January sees little growth, usually. Last year was an exception, when the lack of frost meant salads undercover grew more than they are supposed to, in levels of low light. I was impressed! However last winter’s outdoor salads struggled because of all the wind and rain, even though it was mild. For me that is the advantage of a polytunnel, keeping the weather off. It does not keep frost out and nor does the greenhouse, where it was recently -4C compared with -7C outside. The salad plants can tolerate that amount of freezing and they thaw by day, when the greenhouse has reached 10-12C in sunshine.

Outside, leeks may or may not survive hard frost, depending on variety. For example Autumn Mammoth, as its name suggests, is designed for eating by Christmas, because hard frosts below about -8C can damage its long stems. Whereas winter leeks such as Bandit, Husky, Apollo and Mussselburgh are shorter-stemmed and better able to handle frost. Then they do some serious growing in any mild weather from about mid February, until flowering at the end of April. So if you have some of those leeks, I would leave them to grow and look forward to harvests in early spring.

Pests

They are always with us and cold weather increases the problem because animals’ other food sources diminish. Until yesterday I had seen no pigeon damage on any brassicas, since last March in fact. Suddenly since the frosts they are pecking the tops of purple sprouting and I need to net them. Interesting they chose broccoli rather than the perennial kale. 

Also I am seeing rabbits again. In terms of damage, the last few hearts of radicchio were gnawed, then some baby broad bean plants were eaten and pulled. Rooks may be involved too. Either way, a net cover is usually effective and I drape it over cloche hoops, with a few stones to hold its edges in place. The black netting looks alright too, nicer than white mesh which is another option.

 

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