Monday, 25 February 2013

Has Spring Sprung?

Print by Alyssa Nassner at Small Talk Studio
No Matter How Long the Winter, Spring is Sure to Follow by Alyssa Nassner

I thought that Spring had sprung last Tuesday. After a frosty start the sun came out and the birds were tweeting away. I went for a long walk and the air had started to smell of Spring, and we even heard a woodpecker in the woods. What's more, in the afternoon it was so warm that I was able to sit outdoors without a coat for the first time this year! Unfortunately it all went a bit downhill after that, with a couple of hard frosts, an Arctic wind, and snow showers over the weekend. It's at about this point of the year that I get a little bit desperate for some sunshine. On the plus side, it is now nearly light when my alarm goes off at 6:50 am, and the increasing light has woken me up on a couple of mornings - this is a yearly breakthrough for me as I really struggle to drag myself out of bed when it is still dark.

I blogged about the illustration above by Alyssa Nassner (Small Talk Studio) last year. I think its lovely and just looking at it cheers me up and reminds me that Spring really isn't too far away (22 days to be precise). Sadly, this print is no longer available to buy :(

The primula's have been out for a couple of weeks now. I particularly like the colours of this one. This week  I have lots of work to do, however I am hoping to get time to prune the autumn raspberries and keep an eye on the seeds that I sowed the other week. 

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Asparagus Update

Asparagus spear

So far, so good. It appears that my asparagus gamble is paying off. Yesterday I decided to take a look inside the cloches I had placed on top of the asparagus crowns that I planted earlier on in the month, and I was pleasantly surprised to find spears poking through the soil in 2 of the 3 cloches. Anyway, off the cloches came, and I lovingly buried the spears under some more soil, which I think is what you are supposed to do. Then I replaced the cloches in an attempt to protect my baby asparagus from the horribly cold weather we have been having.

Lupin (Lupinus perennis) seedling

A quick look in the greenhouse revealed nothing much. All the lupin (Lupinus perennis) seeds we had planted  a week or so ago appear to have germinated and were proudly poking through the soil. Unfortunately there is no signs of life in anything else I sowed last week. I have a feeling that my sowings of aubergine, chill, and sweet pepper are not going to be successful. They are covered and insulated, but they are not in a heated propagator (I don't have one). I think the temperature in the greenhouse by day is warm enough but it is still getting very cold in there at night. I will give it another week or so and if there are no signs of life then I will have to rethink my plans. 

Finally, I planted a row of radishes (Sparkler). It may well be a little early, but I NEEDED to plant something!

Monday, 18 February 2013

Sowing Seeds

Mixed aubergine seeds

I finally got my aubergine seeds sown. Well, 3 of them anyway - there isn't going to be enough space in the greenhouse for anymore sadly. This is a shame as the seeds above are from a packet of mixed aubergine, so it will be interesting to see what appears (hopefully). 

The temperature is rising

As you can see the daytime temperature in the greenhouse is quite impressive. Oh, how I wish that it was as warm outside. All the time!

Sowing seeds

I got a bit carried away and planted some California sweet pepper, Hungarian Hot Wax chilli, Cayenne chilli, dahlia, sweet William, and mesembryanthemum (Livingstone daisy). My Dad sowed some broad beans (Bunyard's Exhibition) and peas (Meteor). Now, like an expectant parent, I am excitedly anticipating their arrival.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Arrival of the Seed Potatoes

The seed potatoes I ordered arrived on Saturday. They look okay. A couple are on the small side, but hey ho. They are now destined for chitting. These are Belana, one of the three varieties of first earlies that we are growing this year....

Belana (first early) seed potatoes

Below are the Shetland Black. At first glance these appear not to have the vivid purple-black colour I was expecting from the picture on the website, however if you look very closely you can see that they are quite dark underneath the covering of soil . Hopefully I will be in for a pleasant surprise when I dig them up.

Shetland Black (second early) seed potatoes

Finally, here are my maincrop potatoes for this year. These are Sarpo Mira. I only bought these because of their blight-resisting properties. Some people seem to like them, some don't. I've never tasted them, so I'll find out which camp I'm in later on this year.

Sarpo Mira (maincrop) seed potatoes

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Snowdrops, Daffodils, and an Orange Ladybird

No allotment visit for me so far this week as a) it's half-term, and b) the weather up until today (when I am stuck at home awaiting a delivery) has been somewhat snowy. On Monday I took the children on a lovely local walk around Conishead Priory. We went with the intention of finding some snowdrops, which we did!

Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno' commonly known as the double snowdrop

Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno' commonly known as the double snowdrop

All of the snowdrops we spotted were of the same variety, which I believe is Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno', or more commonly, the double snowdrop. However, I am not certain, as these have yellow markings which is quite rare according to the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. We also spotted lots of daffodils, which were close to flowering. I would guess that the spring-like temperatures forecast for the next few days may help them along.


I also spotted this little fella hibernating in the knot of a tree. He is an orange ladybird (Halyzia 16-guttata). This species of ladybird used to be quite rare and was considered to be an indicator of ancient woodland until 1987. However it has now become quite established across Britain.  I have to admit that I had never seen one before.

Orange ladybird (Halyzia 16-guttata)

Below left is Conishead Priory. A beautiful building built in the gothic revival style. Conishead has a really interesting history dating back to the twelfth century. Since 1976 it has been home to the Manjushri Kadampa Buddhist community. In the late 1990's they built Kadampa World Peace Temple (below right) in the grounds of the priory. 

Conishead Priory
Kadampa World Peace Temple at Conishead Priory

Yesterday it snowed a lot. I took my eldest boy sledging. It was very beautiful, but by mid-afternoon had turned to a very unpleasant slush! Roll on Spring :)

Winter February 2013, Gill Banks from Flan, Ulverston, Cumbria

Winter February 2013, Gill Banks, Ulverston, Cumbria

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Asparagus Gamble

In the spring of 2011 I bought 10 crowns of asparagus (if I remember rightly Connover's Colossal) from a well-known mail order company. They went into a weed-free and well-prepared bed and I was very much looking forward to eating lots of asparagus in a couple of years. Unfortunately, only six of the plants produced any growth in 2011. Anyway, we left them to get on with their business, hoping that they may do a little better in 2012. Come mid-April last year I visited my asparagus bed on a daily basis, peering closely at the ground hoping to see a beautiful green spear poking its head through the soil. Eventually, a couple did. In total just 3 plants produced some growth this time, throwing up just 1 or 2 spears each. I was a bit fed up.

I went shopping last week and paid a visit to Wilkinson's. They were selling asparagus crowns for £2.30 - much cheaper than the ones I bought by mail order. What's more, I could actually see that they were alive, as you can see below.

So, I decided to buy a packet, and much against the advice of everyone I spoke to, I have planted them. I know it's too early, and yes the frost will probably get them. But I thought it was worth a shot. I don't have too much to lose, and if they still have some healthy looking crowns in store come mid-March I will probably buy some more then. Anyway, in the ground they have gone. 

I have used a cloche to try and warm the soil around the crowns up a little and protect them from frost. If you look closely you can see the spears sticking out. After planting I read that this growth should be covered so now each is covered with soil. Will my gamble pay off? My Dad is pretty convinced that they are all going to die. I am trying to be hopeful!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Cutworm Prevention and Management

I wrote a post last weekend entitled Vine Weevil Larvae? featuring a rather unpleasant discovery on my plot. I had concerns that it was a vine weevil larvae, however I wasn't entirely convinced as I thought it was too big, not quite the right colour, and that it appeared to have legs as you can see below (vine weevil larvae apparently don't have legs).

However, thanks to Trevor over at UK Veg Gardeners, who has identified my rather unattractive and unwanted visitor as a cutworm, a rather confusing name since they are not worms but are actually larvae of night-flying moths. It appears that they hide under soil (I found them just under the surface of the soil) and venture out in the dark to eat. They tend to attack the first part of the plant they encounter, i.e. the tender stem of your precious seedlings, subsequently cutting it down. So, quite a clever name really :) The larvae have a fondness for asparagus, bean, cabbage and other crucifers, carrot, celery, corn, lettuce, pea, pepper, potato, and tomato plants.  However, the adult moths do not cause plant damage.

This picture below (courtesy of Neil Phillips) is of a cutworm larva of the Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba). The ones I found did not have the same colouring, however they curled up in exactly the same way and look to be of a very similar size.

File:Neil Phillips - Large Yellow Underwing caterpiller

As I have discovered, cutworms over-winter under the soil. So, what can you do to prevent cutworm? Furthermore, what can you do to get rid of them? There are a number of strategies to try and stop them from eating your carefully-nurtured seedlings:

  1. Dig over your plot in the autumn. This helps destroy or expose overwintering larvae or pupae;
  2. Keep your plot weed-free in autumn and winter. This removes potential egg-laying sites and a food source for young cutworms.
  3. Regular dig-over soil in winter to expose the larvae to predators;
  4. Lightly dig-over soil a couple of weeks before planting, again to expose larvae to predators;
  5. If you know that an area is infected, dig it over to a depth of about 2 inches and manually remove and destroy the cutworm - the removing bit I coped with, the destroying bit I did not;
  6. Encourage insectivorous birds by hanging feeders;
  7. Avoid using green manure as it will encourage egg-laying;
  8. Avoid planting in areas that you know are infested with cutworm;
  9. Place aluminium foil or cardboard collars around seedlings. Make sure one end is pushed a few inches into the soil, and the other end extends several inches above ground.  This should prevent most species of cutworms from getting to your plants.  The collar can be removed when the stem of the seedling grows to about the thickness of a pencil;
  10. Push 3 toothpicks into the soil around and close to each stem. The cutworm has to curl its body around the base of the plant at soil level to eat, the toothpicks prevent it from doing so. 
Tomorrow, I will be having fun doing more of number 5 :(

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Bargain Insect Hotel!

Look what I bought today. I had to do the food shopping today and was really pleased to spot this insect hotel in Morrisons. I've wanted one of these for ages, however was always put off by the silly prices. I had also thought about making one myself but was put off by my rubbish DIY skills and the virtually guaranteed trip to A&E. Anyway, now my insect hotel dreams have come true at the bargain price of just £3.00! Now it just needs installing on the shed wall. I'm looking forward to see if it gets any visitors.

The weather today has been really quite horrible, however the forecast for the rest of the week is good (aside from the temperature). If the forecast allows I'm hoping to make it up to the allotment to finish some tidying up jobs and to make a start on sowing my broad beans, aubergines, and radishes. 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Vine Weevil Larvae?

Although a little chilly it was a lovely, sunny day yesterday. There are quite a few tidying up jobs that need doing so I thought I would try and strike a few off the list. I decided to weed last years runner bean/sweet pea plot, which the brassica's are going in this year. I dug up several of these rather unpleasant creatures, which I suspect are the larva of the black vine weevil (Otiorynchus sulcatus). However, I did read somewhere that they do not have legs and as you can see in my photo above this one did, so I am not certain. Anyone got any ideas?

While digging up the old runner bean plot I also dug up a 7-spotted ladybird (Coccinella 7-punctata), which I initially thought must be dead. However I moved him/her into the greenhouse and placed it on a strawberry plant we have in there. Ater a couple of minutes it started moving about as you can see below. I knew that ladybirds hibernated but I didn't think they hibernated underground.

After messing around for quite a while attempting to take these pictures (I am struggling a little with my new camera) I did finally manage to get some of my jobs done. I was hoping to sow some broad beans and aubergines, but was beaten by the clock :( I can't wait for the summer nights where it is still light at 10 pm!