Having slipped on some wet decking this morning and sliced my hand on the smashed pane of glass I was carrying (I know, text book idiotic injury), I’m now typing one-handed and nursing a tetanus booster shot in the unmentionables. Therefore not much chance of picking today (or mending tunnel doors either; I’m dreading seeing what these 40mph gusts have done tomorrow). So instead I’m happily organising my seeds which have all arrived now bar one or two packets; they look so lovely and full of potential. I’m most excited by the new things I’m planning on trying out: more summer salad leaves such as summer purslane (supposedly a cholesterol-lower) and salad burnet; black-rooted perennial scorzonera; exotic herby leaved mitsuba and stridolo to name a few.
I’ve got a wallplanner on which I’m trying to mark rough sowing and planting times (give or take a few weeks); but as ever it will all depend on the weather. I’m also looking forward to sowing some new varieties, such as Green Zebra sweet tomatoes – hopefully I might start sowing these in February. So maybe I should make the most of this enforced ‘office day’; since it will all kick off again before I know it.
Most of the salads in the tunnels have been covered with fleece over this cold spell (some had blown off already by this morning after the crazy winds yesterday, lots of fun fixing broken polytunnel doors again this morning, yay); but I had left a strip down the middle of the tunnel nearest the hedge, ‘Fivepenny tunnel.’ This was partly because the fleece on one side is quite narrow, so it left the middle of the tunnel exposed; and while I do have plenty to spare and could have put another piece over that row, I thought a) that row is the furthest away from the sides and should therefore need less protection from the feezing temperatures outside; b) all this constant damp weather has meant that some plants are now more susceptible to mildews and botrytis when under fleece and so not ventilated very well; and c) it seems that mice and some slugs also enjoy being cossetted in fleece. Plus I wasn’t sure exactly how much better off the salad plants would be under the fleece, so left that strip as a highly unscientific experiement.
Anyway, now I’m picking all the lovely leaves in Fivepenny tunnel, it’s pretty clear that the fleece has at least helped the claytonia: this could partly be because the leaves for these plants are very succulent so have a lot of stored water in and around them; so more susceptible to cell damage when the water in them freezes and explands (this is why delicate leaves outdoors go mushy in frosty). None of the leaves in the tunnel have gone mushy of course, because they’re protected by the microclimate in there, and they also hardy winter varieties. However, it’s clear that the claytonia under the fleece has grown a bit more than the plants right next to them, not under fleece. They are also standing up better, so easier for picking.
So fleece does seem to be good for these plants at least; but the mice have had a field day in the covered raddicchio, chicory and bulls blood beetroot. Where’s that fox when you need him?
I spent most of yesterday playing such games as Whack The Snow Off The Tunnel; Hunt The Animal; and Spot The Leek. These games are quite fun; fortunately there wasn’t enough snow on the tunnels to affect the plastic too badly, or warp the structure. My tunnels are pretty small compared to some of the larger growers who have super wide multi-span structures, which definitely do need extra supports inside to keep the roof up when heavy snow is forecast. Plus two of my tunnels are Clovis Lande, with the Gothic peak at the top, rather than a smooth round curve like my third tunnel. These peaked tunnels are popular with growers in places like Maine in the US where they get serious snow, because the pointed roof helps shed snow and prevent vast amounts collecting at the weakest place at the top of the curve.
It was great to bang the snow off from inside the tunnels, using a soft broom, and see the blue sky hove into view through the plastic; there wasn’t a huge amount of sun, but what there was seemed to come flooding into the tunnels, like I’d drawn the curtains in the morning. I could almost here the salad plants yawn and stretch, enjoying the light.
Snow cover is also a great way to see if any wildlife comes along and inspects your crops. A fox had obviously come the night before and had a good nose around the compost heaps; then pattered off to the module tunnel, where it presumably discovered that it’s a nice warmish sheltered spot and may have spent some time there; came out the other side, and carried on nosing around the other tunnels and herb beds. Do foxes eat mice and rats? Hope so; maybe the smell of naughty mice up to no good in the tunnels are what attracted it.
In the field, I’d recently seen a hint (dug mud) that the rabbits might have discovered that I no longer have a rabbit-proof gate (in fact no gate at all); and now I have proof. Fortunately there was only one set of prints, hopping into the field, messing about round the remnants of the fennel (probably munching them since the grass is completely covered with snow); lolloping towards the leeks, then back again out of the field and into the hedge. Hmm. It’s fine now, but I will have to make sure they’re not so welcome once the lettuce and carrots are in.
The last game of Spot The Leeks wasn’t actually too bad: weirdly the ground wasn’t very frozen at all under the snow, which has acted as a blanket to keep all the soil fauna warm. A week ago before the snow and following a hard frost, it took a lot of effort to get the fork in the ground and there was no sign of life; it was pretty easy yesterday, and a number of worms were busily doing their thing among the leek roots, and looked most put out to be brought up into the cold. I felt quite the despoiler though, ruining the pure white cover with mud, literally sullying it. Made me want tiramisu though.