The beginning of June has finally brought some sunshine and dry weather in Oxfordshire, although the air and soil temperatures remain low.
The heat in the sun is putting further stress on already challenged plants, drying them out at a time when the soil temperature has not allowed many of them to make good supporting root systems. There is a clear difference in our plants between those directly sown into the ground compared to those raised in modules (rootrainers in our case) and then planted out with a more established root system.
This is further exacerbated by the temperature differential between day and night. In the last week thermometers placed on the soil have reached 25 degrees during the day and fallen to 4 degrees overnight. This huge swing makes it very difficult for the plants to get into a sustainable growth and germination pattern, so if your parsnips and carrots haven’t come up yet, you are not alone! And it isn’t too late to sow more now, the sowing times on the packet or in the books are only a guide and in such a late season the plants will do their best to catch up. If you can sow in modules, help the soil temperature to increase (add dark mulch, cover the soil prior to sowing or use cloches or fleece after sowing) or pre-germinate the seed you will give your plants the best chance to succeed.
The affect of this temperature fluctuation can clearly be seen in the difference in growth and maturity of a crop of peas and broad beans, all the same variety and planted out at the same time, one batch outside and one in a polytunnels. The peas in the polytunnel have been cropping for 3 weeks those outside are yet to produce any significant flowers.
Temperature fluctuations have also caused problems for the sweet peas, slowing growth and causing some bud drop (flower heads dropping off the stalk before the flower opens), but they are at last flowering, filling the warming air with their wonderful scent. We use a seep hose, fed from a rainwater collector, buried between the rows to keep the soil permanently moist, which is necessary on our sandy soil as sweet peas do not cope well with being dry at the roots, especially if the weather does get hot. As we also grow these for the blooms we pinch out all the side shoots and tendrils, ours are supported with split rings so they do not need to support themselves with their tendrils, so it is a waste of plant energy. Also, if plants become congested, especially with side shoots, their tendrils often wrap around the unopened flower stalks and distort their shape.
The first weekend in June saw Yvonne and I on the experts panel for a gardeners question time at the re-launched Hatfield House Garden Show, a magnificent setting for a quality show and at a time when the know garden, the west garden and woodland garden, which were free for show visitors to walk through, were magnificent, especially in the late afternoon sunshine when the light in the woodland garden was at its best. The late spring, coupled with last year’s cool, wet summer, seems to have generated the best bloom year I can remember. The woodland garden at Englefield House, near Reading (open to the public most days) is absolutely stunning at the moment, with the Davidia Involucrata (handkerchief tree, and this one is one of the most mature specimens I know) absolutely covered in blossom. Even the relatively young specimen at Hatfield has good blossom in a tree often shy to bloom when young.
Our honey bees continue to grow in numbers, one colony showing signs of preparing to swarm, enabling us to split the colony to increase our colonies to 3 (still a long way to go to build them back to the 2011 numbers!). There has also been a lot of solitary and bumblebee activity, particularly amongst the fruit, although I have been following a number of blogs from around the country, which state that their observations of bees are showing very low numbers, a worrying trend. Ours have been busy working on the new cordon apples put in earlier this year, which seem to have taken well and blossomed prolifically, with a good fruit set. Unfortunately we will probably have to remove most of the apples to make sure we do not stress the young trees too much before they become established.
We are making steady progress with the makeover of the garden to facilitate more courses and visitors, for those of you that would like to come and see how we are getting on, get more information on our courses and talks, see first hand some of our alternative growing techniques and join us for a cuppa and a piece of cake we are holding an open weekend from 10.30-4pm, Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th June. Entrance is free, but we would be grateful for any donations to help keep the project going and to complete the refurbishment, as we receive no public funding whatsoever. There will also be vegetable, house and perennial plants for sale.