29 March 2011

Country walk

One thing I do miss about living in England is the enormous number of public rights of way and country paths between towns and villages. Where we live in Canada there are lots of trails, but they haven't evolved over centuries in the same way that the paths in England have: they tend to be limited to parks and nature conservation areas.

One of our favourite activities when we lived in England was to go off on a country walk somewhere. And if the walk was circular and had a pub at some point, then all the better. We quite often used to get lost, but that was part of the fun.

I had a day without meetings today, so went off for a walk with my dad at lunchtime. We hiked along part of the Greensand Ridge Walk, ending up at the Globe Inn beside the Grand Union Canal.

A couple of swans were on patrol:

We got slightly lost a couple of times, as is traditional. On the way back, we came through Knolls Wood, which has an amazing avenue of Monkey Puzzle (Araucaria araucana trees. I'm not very fond of these trees, as a rule, but the sight of so many, all in one place, was quite striking.

21 March 2011

Hot stuff

I'm going to be away for a couple of weeks, so I've had to compress a lot of garden-related jobs into the last two weekends. On Saturday we tackled the chicken coop, carting out ten wheelbarrow-loads of litter and giving the floor and perches a good scrape and clean. Mike chipped some cedar branches to replace the old litter and it now smells a lot more fragrant in there!

This is a twice-yearly job, September and March. I was a bit more scientific about it this time, making sure that each barrowful got a good soaking of water before adding the next one. It's much more difficult to get the pile properly wet if you add the water at the end (as I found in September).

By this morning (two days later), the temperature inside the heap was reading 54°C/129°F, which is in just about the right range for killing pathogens. The outside temperature was just 3°C/37°F when I took this reading. Yes, that is a cooking thermometer. And no, I don't use it in the kitchen any more. ;-)

The heap will be a bit stinky for a while, as it cooks and then cures. But it's nowhere near the house and I'll miss the worst of it, as I'll be away. I'm no fool...

18 March 2011

On the line

First line-drying day of the year. Ten days later than in 2009, I notice. The horizontality of the clothes suggests that I might have been over-keen about achieving this particular Spring milestone. Below the line, the grass is still very brown-looking, but with promises of green showing through.

Rocket/arugula and lettuce seedlings are beginning to emerge in the greenhouse and I've got peppers and eggplants coming up indoors. I sowed the tomatoes on Tuesday and they're sitting under a plastic cover on a sunny windowsill, so I hope they'll germinate pretty quickly. I moved the onion seedlings into the greenhouse this week and also transplanted the first of the peas. I germinated them indoors to avoid the problem I had last year with the seeds being eaten by rodents. There's still a risk that the young plants might get gnawed by rabbits in the greenhouse (if they're still lurking around), but I've given them some basic protection. It's not a rabbit-proof fence, by any means, but it might make them think twice:

15 March 2011


A hard frost this morning turned clover into cactus

and the skeletons of last year's asters into columns of sparkling light.

14 March 2011


A sure sign of Spring:

08 March 2011

Ice at sunset

Look, I promise I'll stop taking pictures of bits of ice soon. Indeed, the weather will stop me taking pictures of bits of ice soon.

Although it doesn't look much like it, it is warming up quite fast out there. I was wading in the stream today, taking these photos: something that would have been impossible just a few weeks ago, when the surface of the stream itself was frozen solid.

The climate here seems to take the solstice and equinox dates quite seriously. The lake is generally frozen from 21 December to 21 March, for example, give or take a day or two. And July and August are reliably hot in a way that entirely makes up for the equally reliably cold January and February!

07 March 2011


If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know that I'm fascinated by ice formations. The first photo I took this morning was of one of the artefacts left behind by the weekend's freezing rain:

Come, let me clutch thee.

Much more interesting, though, were the live ice-pictures being created at the edge of the stream by air entering below the layer of ice. They were just mesmerising:

06 March 2011

Wet weekend

Saturday was very damp: two inches/50mm of rain. Not a day when you wanted to spend much time outside. We were beginning to see some patches of brown grass where the snow was starting to melt:

Overnight, the precipitation turned to freezing rain

and then to snow.

Ah well, only two weeks of winter left, so we're told...

03 March 2011

Sprouted sprouts

The last stage in sprouting the alfalfa seeds is to spread them out and let them sit in sunshine for 15 minutes. The weather today is obligingly clear.

Look good, don't they? I'd have done this sooner if I'd realised how easy it was...

01 March 2011

A cunning plan

Every year that I've grown members of the cabbage family, there's been some cock-up with the labelling and I've been left with a series of mighty similar-looking young plants which could be broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, sprouts or kale. Which means that I fail to give the cauliflower the loving attention it demands once it is transplanted into the soil, because I don't know which one of the mystery brassicas it is.

I was therefore feeling very pleased with myself today, when I sowed the seeds in rows in their greenhouse nursery bed and photographed the seed packets next to the corresponding row. Hah, I thought, this year I won't be fooled. I'll have proof of which is which!

But then I remembered that this year I'm not growing cauliflower. So it doesn't really matter. Sigh.

Year of the Rabbit

You might think that the depths of winter would be fairly quiet on the destructive-animal-pest front in the garden. There isn't anything growing at this time of year for them to eat, after all.

It was such a beautiful morning here that I decided it was time to bring the greenhouse out of its winter hibernation mode and sow some seeds in there. The soil was warm, dry, and teeming with centipedes. Mike reconnected the water supply and I got to work, sowing carrots, beets, rocket, spinach and some lettuce and pak choi seeds in one of the beds. The dead-looking leaves in the corners are last year's parsley plants, which don't look very lively at the moment, but should burst back into abundant growth soon.

We had some high winds last week which blew out one of the small panels in the corner of the greenhouse.

I hadn't really given it a lot of thought, apart from adding it to the mental 'tasks to be done' list. The panel is nowhere to be found, so it's going to be a case of finding something suitable to plug the gap.

What I hadn't considered is that this gives a handy entrance to the greenhouse for winter-starved creatures. When I started watering one of the other beds, evidence of their activity was all too clear:

They'd been feasting on the last of my over-wintered carrots:

So suddenly it's become quite a priority to get that entrance hole fixed. Otherwise word will spread that I'm running a nice little rabbit restaurant and the plants from all the seeds I sowed this morning will be feeding Flopsy, Mopsy, Peter and Cotton-tail instead of us.

Sometimes I think Mr McGregor got a bad rap.