Congenial it was; and complaisant, almost to a fault, winter 2018-’19 cut itself plenty of slack and although we’ll not venture so far as to say it was derelict in its duty, in its coming and going this past winter bequeathed us one of the mildest, driest winter seasons in many decades.
Temperatures were 2 degrees above average from mid January and all the way through February, with seasonal rainfall amounts along the east coast 50% down on long term comparisons. Temperature and rainfall only returning to normal expectancy with the arrival of many weathered March. Snowdrops and daffodils, hyacinths and squills have all put out fabulous displays; cherry blossoms are in full flower, and plum and apple blossom are on show well before equinox. The Kerria Japonica Plentiflora has certainly lived up to its name with masses of bright yellow bachelor buttons since mid February and the hydrangeas were in full open leaf a fortnight before St. Patrick’s Day. There has however, been a lot of rain the last two-three weeks, but with soil moisture levels quite tolerable for early March whatever spot flooding occurs dissipates rapidly and the open beds are trafficable a few short days later.
Our first full visit of the year to the monster’s measure saw us plant out the red and white onion sets and sow some trays of cosmos, zinnia and pheasant eye seed. We planted out some kale and Dutchman cabbage seedlings and we potted on the cayenne pepper and the Moneymaker tomatoes. We tidied border edging, scattered potash and phosphate granules around the fruit trees and bushes, and broadcast a good many handfuls of chicken manure pellets where we will be planting and sowing in the coming weeks. We have plum blossom and apple blossom, and the gooseberry bushes are leafing up. The blackcurrant buds are tight yet, but the redcurrant has burst bud, and there is bright new red growth on all the rose bushes. Close inspection of our raised beds has betrayed some remedial work we need to undertake in the short term; we will re-seal the shed exterior as soon as we get a dry and mild run of weather and there is still have a run of fencing that needs to be righted. As with every other allotmenteer and gardener we are about to move up and into top gear, and it is rewarding to be able to say that here, right at the beginning of the growing season we have already benefitted from the monster’s measure having enjoyed a couple of weekend pickings of Timperley Early rhubarb before March is out.
This afternoon’s temperature hit 16 degrees with moderate westerly wind which is more than pleasant for this time of year. There shall be cooler and colder days a while yet, and we’ll certainly have frost after dark for a good month still, but winter has set its sights northward. The new lambs are coming and the Brent geese are going, and the monster – just as with the Celtic spirit we celebrate this week– is greening up in style…
February arrives, and as has become our way of doing things here at monsterinthecorner, the advent of Lá Fhéile Bríde saw us sow our first seeds of the year. The days are just a little longer; and whatever sunshine there is now seems a little more luminous than January’s weak offering.
This year’s early February temperature is as expected for time of year, and the 5-7 day forecast suggests much the same in the short term, with westerly air flow and rain. We sowed some pots of basil and popped them onto the bright windowsill. We sowed trays of onion seed, summer cabbage, kale, spinach and both Cayenne and Californian Wonder peppers.
Mrs. Dirtdigger planted up some pots of Spraxis corms. She set some late garlic into terra firma, and we also set a new rose bush in-situ; and with that simple half-hour’s activity the monster’s annual cycle is set in motion for 2019.
We have a plan; and without a plan there is nothing to adapt. The monster’s plan is always simple and hopefully productive. We use a practical approach to all interference with the monster’s measure fully aware that perhaps not everything we have sown this week will germinate, just as there will be no guarantee that anything we plant in the coming weeks may actually flourish or grow.
And so we’ve begun this year’s sowing diary , now active on the menu above
We shall contend with and deal with all those challenges the coming seasons send our way. We’ll protect against hail and late frosts, just as we’ll cope with the slugs, beetles, sawflies and other winged pests as they present themselves, for although some consider gardening/allotmenteering the gentle pastime, it is not so tame an undertaking; where would the challenge be if it were so? And so we’re off; off again for another year, with mitts and caps and fleecy gear; winter- washing plums and pears; preparing to move up a gear as better days are drawing near; Preparing for expected success, but mostly preparing to persevere.
It’s been cold and grey, and it’s been frosty and sleety and occasionally wet-snowy. It is late January and winter has finally shown its face. All the surprising early unseasonal growth is stopped dead in its tracks, and the precarious plans we had been toying with for attempting some groundwork on the monster’s measure have been consigned to winter’s reality box. After a very mild early winter, normal service is resumed and with that the most that can be hoped for is that we do not get a late winter cycle of weather events the likes of those experienced last year.
So, we’ve been busying ourselves otherwise; updating and tweaking the Monster’s log, giving it a new look to carry us into the New Year and seasons ahead. As part of this design we’ve now incorporated a new drop-down recipes menu into which we will post those recipes we have developed for the dishes we prepare using all of the fabulous bounty the monster affords us each year. We began by populating the menu with some of those culinary compliments more accessible this time of year i.e. the sauces and chutneys and salsas currently stocked in the Monster’s larder, and as the seasons progress we shall update with seasonal recipes using the monster’s own fresh seasonal fare as it becomes available and in doing so expand the scope and remit of the Monster’s Log to a more fully rounded Sow–Grow-Cook-Eat experience, a little something to further whet the appetite if you will, of all those who land here! We emptied the seed drawers and storage boxes, and we have had to be ruthless in our dissemination of the stock therein: any and all seed stock more than one season past sow-by has been composted. We always use 100% fresh seed for certain sowings of parsnips and carrots and celery; and where some seeds may still possess a certain degree of viability the following year or years even,- especially floral stock– with fruit and vegetable seed we generally opt for the greater germination success rate by using fresh seed to begin with. We were still surprised by the number of opened and half-used packets of seed that we had put into storage during the previous year or so, and we determine not to be so cavalier in discarding future seed stocks opting perhaps to put them the way of some local seed swap before the seasons pass and drift into each other.
We plan a venture into one of our favourite retailers next weekend to purchase what we need, and Mrs. Dirt-digger is reminding ourselves that this year we need to cultivate more in the way of leafy-greens: so lettuces and rocket, cabbages, spinach and kale are top of the list, with a promised new rose bush (if we can source the particular variety we desire, Irish Hope), and not forgetting some of the usual suspects for the poly-tunnel, the tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and cucumbers to start-off in the next week or so. We’ll sow some onion seed this weekend, and we’ll purchase the red and white sets to pop in small pots the following weekend, and before you’d progress to shake a rake sure the whole bloomin’ process will be under way for another year. Last night we had snow and ice and wintry showers across the country. It’s a cold water morning and Mother Nature is still quite some time off from donning her springtime boots. The temperature levelled at -5 Celsius this morning making it the coldest night/morning so far this winter season. The forecasts point to at least ten days to two weeks of similar conditions yet, but at least today’s bright winter sunshine is a bonus. And it’s cold, too cold to sow; too cold for anything to bother to grow, too cold to consider anything other than the seed catalogues and the holiday brochures, and as such we’ll simply continue to hatch our plans…