So it appears that pesky old jet stream is playing havoc with our weather again. Chilly nights, possible frosts and even the ‘s’ word has been mentioned for some parts of the country and yet it’s nearly the middle of May. I can empathise with the central character from the film Jean de Florette at the moment when he’s down on his knees looking up to the sky hoping that his prayers will be answered for the torrential, seemingly never-ending rain to stop. For me, and I’m sure all gardeners out there we’re hoping for some warmth to return.
My crab apple finally came into blossom last week, a whole five weeks later than last year. My dicentra, a plant that is normally one of the first herbaceous perennials to flower in late March is only just sending out its pendant-like blooms. But, more importantly, I have a serious blockage. Windowsills are now groaning under the volume of pots, the greenhouse is so full I can’t even stand in it and there’s no more space left in the cold frames. Plants should, at this point, be moving through – some going into the ground at the plot, some being hardened off and second batches being sown of others. The plants are growing at a pace in the more clement conditions of my greenhouse and home but knowing they will either sulk or die if planted out I’ve had to embark on some serious potting on. I would normally only pot on into 9cm pots and then once those had been filled it would be time to plant out. This year I’ve got plants in 1 litre pots and some in 2 litre pots. The logistics of it all are proving somewhat trying.
I’ve noticed recently on twitter the difference having a polytunnel seems to make. I read with envy the tweets about the crops that are already producing under cover and wonder whether climate change means that the only real way to grow in Britain in the future will be in polytunnels. I live in a part of the country where there has been quite considerable debate about the merits of covering vast swathes of land in plastic. There are parts of the Wye Valley and Herefordshire where field after field is under cover. Whether it’s to grow strawberries or asparagus, to produce early crops or simply to protect them from the weather, many argue they are a terrible blot on the landscape. The rolling hills and patchwork of fields are beautiful and it would be sad to see them swallowed up under polytunnels but the reality of what it must be like to earn your living from growing has really hit home since I took on my own allotment. For me it doesn’t matter if a crop fails. Don’t get me wrong it’s annoying, frustrating and disappointing but we won’t starve, I can simply pop along to the supermarket or farmers’ market and pick up something for dinner. But if your living depends on the crops you grow being a success then the British climate can be your downfall. And, how agriculture and horticulture deal with the weather should matter to us too if as consumers we want a ready supply of food. The idea that we could have another year like the last one makes me wonder how many businesses could cope and how many of us gardeners would lose the enthusiasm for growing our own.
Polytunnels, particularly when used on a large-scale bring their problems. Where does all that rainwater go that runs off the plastic? Some argue it causes flooding. Then there’s the glare created from sunlight, if we ever get any, bouncing off the plastic covering. There’s the manufacture of all that plastic, although a lot of it is now recycled once finished with. On the other hand growers say they use fewer fungicides and they have almost eliminated problems caused by wet weather on soft fruit crops. I know how many strawberries I lost last year to mould caused by too much rain. Whether you believe in man-made climate change or not it is hard to deny that our weather is becoming more unpredictable. In the nineties we were told a warmer climate would be of benefit to growers in the UK. We’d be basking in Mediterranean temperatures growing olives and all manner of exotics. It’s a complicated business predicting the weather let alone our future climate and so it seems those initial suggestions are fading away. Instead, the seasons are becoming quite muddled and when it rains it doesn’t seem to know when to stop. Parts of Wales had a month’s worth of rain yesterday. Growing under cover certainly seems to be one way of coping with whatever the weather may bring.
My small, unheated greenhouse even on a cold wet day feels quite warm, and protected from the wind and rain it’s no wonder my plants inside are growing quickly. The reality outside is somewhat different. Our growing season is short enough so at the moment I’m weighing up my options. Emigrating sounds appealing but for the time being unrealistic, putting up a walk-in polytunnel on my allotment is prohibited and getting a larger garden where I could erect said tunnel isn’t the cheapest of ideas. For the moment I think some cobbled together mini tunnels with the help of Wellyman this weekend is the only solution. Oh, and making an offering to the sun gods in the hope that Mother Nature will be kinder to us this year.
Profound, heart-felt feelings. it is almost impossible to remember that little over a year ago the drought warnings were dire and their were hose.pipe bans with gardeners terrified by the prospect of a summer without water. British weather has always been changeable but climate change has made things worse rather than better. I do feel for you; even here in Italy I planted out tomatoes, peppers and aubergines at least weeks later than last year, maybe even a bit longer. Our weather too in unseasonably cool (we’re not talking snow or frost), but farmers here are also wonderign what 2013 will bring. The first cut for hay is often at the end of April, it took place this week; this could mean one cut less, so what will the sheep and cows eat next winter? They need the same quantity as in any year. I hope the weather will improve for you but not be crazily hot suddenly which would cause its own problems. Christina
UK farmers are having a really tough time. The late snowfall caught them right in the middle of lambing and some have lost a third of their stock, the late spring means the grass isn’t growing so they’re having to feed with supplements. A lot of farmers struggled to get in any hay last year because of all the rain. I really feel for them all. It’ll be interesting to see what this year brings.
Have tools will travel….. 🙂
I have the same problem – plants every where in the grow house, on the windowsills. I’ve taken a chance an put my veggie seedlings, like cabbages that are growing well indoors – outside to free up some space until I get a chance to plant them. We seem to only have two types of weather in this country now – draught or floods!
The sun is shining today which is good at least. Hopefully by June things will start to improve. Think I might just about be able to hold out until then.
Esther Montgomery said:
My dicentra is flowering now. It’s so much later than I expected, I’d been thinking it was on its way out. But it’s healthy and pretty now so that’s ok. Of more concern are the tomato seedlings on my window sill. I started them late because the season has been so cold and I didn’t want them to grow straggly. But they aren’t doing well. It’s as if the quality of the sun coming through the glass isn’t up to it’s usual mark either.
I know what you mean. I think the fluctuating temperatures can’t be helping. Not much we can do I guess. It has to get warmer soon, doesn’t it?
Beautiful blossom. I only noticed my falstaff was in blossom when I caught the red splodges of bloom. For the first time, my concorde pear is also in bloom. Victoria plu, has only just developed some buds, but yet to blossom. Two out of the three are now fleeced as a frost in places has been forecast.
I fleeced my apple last year but it was so awkward to do it’ll have to fend for itself this year.
I was fascinated to see how the apple farmers of Sussex fleece their orchards during my recent drive to Dixter. I only had a quick glimpse but it seemed that wires supporting lengths of fleece were stretched between 2 tall Y shaped gibbets at either end of a row of trees; when bad weather threatened, the fleece could be run over the top of the trees and so limit the damage. Intriguing and ingenious stuff.
Stephen Studd Photography said:
Last time I was in southern Spain I was quite shocked to see a landscape so full of polytunnels blotting the landscape, they were so tightly packed together and parts of the hillside were cut into to make way for them. On closer inspection there was discarded plastic everywhere and containers of pesticides and chemicals floating in the rivers. All this so we can have out of season fruit and veg.
It’s a hard one. The huge areas of Spain covered in them is quite an extraordinary sight and must be creating all sorts of problems for the local environment. I don’t like the idea that a lot of them are supplying us with out of season food. As for our growers I can only sympathise with people who make their living from the land only for it to be damaged by the weather. Just trying to get plants ready for my photos this year has been enough of a trial. As our weather worsens there’ll be some difficult choices to make with regards food production and the countryside.
I can empathise = still night time frosts, snow on the hills and howling gales up here in sw scotland. Window-sills likewise overflowing, and tomatoes starting to set under the coldframe… more seedlings under a long plastic cloche that has taken off in the wind several times.. welcome to spring 🙂
Really wish I hadn’t sown some plants when I did. Squashes and courgettes are shooting away. Not sure what I’ll do with them all soon.
Funny, I was thinking along a similar vein today as I attempted to mow the lawn in the only 2 hour window of opportunity I had today, I was muttering to myself that they probably didn’t have the same weather (constant rain) problem today.
OH and I were just talking last night about where we’d move to but even parts of France have weather problems. New Zealand sounds good but they get earthquakes and it’s just too far.
I loved my two polytunnels at work. We had one for native tree seedlings and a veggie one. Fantastic work spaces to have if you have the room. And you can cobble together rainwater harvesting systems on them: just takes a bit of bodging! We had 3 rainbarrels collecting on each one. And the frogs liked hiding in the tunnels to eat all the beasties.
They do sound good. Love the idea of the frogs hiding inside. Maybe one day I’ll have the space for one.
Meant to finish, ‘today in France’!
David Marsden said:
I’m hiding my head in the soil, as I plant out my tropical border, refusing to contemplate another summer like last year. Perhaps I ought to cover it with a polythene roof? Or grow it in the greenhouse?
I just think we should all grow in big biomes like those at Eden. ;)I admire your optimism regarding the tropical border but as I gardener you’ve got to have hope. I think gardeners are very much like football fans. We can have had a dreadful season but as soon as the new one starts it’s a clean slate and we’re filled with enthusiasm again. Not sure how many seasons like the last one I can take though before I move my allegiances from my Welsh allotment to a more successful (warmer) plot in France. 😉
Snap – we have the same problems here in Switzerland, and my greenhouse is also groaning, well the shelves are, so I risked it and planted out my tomatoes and chillies yesterday – for tomorrow they have forecast 13°C!! Sigh. At least my Asian leafy greens like the cooler temps. Last week we spent 4 days in the southernmost part of Austria where they have field upon field of plastic-covered asparagus, it looks hideous and creates endless mono-culture areas of no use to any kind of wildlife, only to be able to sell the spears a week or two earlier. The problems you mention are, of course, totally different, whether farmers will be able to grow a crop or not of “normal” veg.
It’s so difficult isn’t it? As the weather becomes increasingly more unpredictable the need for polytunnels will only multiply. I’m still keeping my plants in the greenhouse for a little while longer but another week or so and they’ll have to go out regardless.
We had so much rain yesterday and it was really cold too. It’s brightened up again today and it’s much warmer so I hope the better weather is here to stay a while. My lilac tree hasn’t flowered yet this year, it’s so late, and my dicentra is only just flowering. I think it might be late harvests all round this year after the cold start we’ve had.
And after such a long winter and no summer last year I think we were all really hoping for a spell of decent weather.
Thank goodness for some sun today, my greenhouse too is bulging at the seams, I must get them all out soon, hopefully the temperatures will hold for a while now. Most plants, my meconopsis included are a good month behind, last year I was posting about them at the end of April, it will be June before they flower this time. But Peaony Molly the witch is flowering at exactly the same time – I just don’t understand it. Farmers are having a dreadful time of it, the field next to us hasn’t had a decent crop for 3 years now, so much rain, the farmer just ploughs it in each autumn, it must be costing him a fortune feeding his cows.
I’ve noticed some plants are on time and others are weeks late, strange. Really feel for farmers.
Reading through the comments, I feel vindicated in resisting the urge to sow at the usual time, although I had more than a few moments of panic during the warmer weather we’ve just had. I started sowing in early April and carries on when time permitted. Squash seeds have only just gone in. Once I’ve netted off my raised beds against the usual pests (cats, foxes) a lot of the plants on my balcony will be planted out (herbs and ornamentals). I think the difference is that it’s a lot warmer here in London but I also have a range of pop-bottle and tunnel cloches on standby, just in case! The precarious nature of the weather really makes me appreciate the amazing job that farmers and nursery folk do to keep the food and horticultural industry going – and long may they continue!
Well done on doing such a reasoned and thoughtful post. The comments also make interesting reading.
This is a subject that I’m sure will be discussed more frequently over the coming years by all who garden, be they amateurs or professionals. xx
Thanks Flighty, It’ll be June soon and it’s still so cold. *sighs* Maybe we should all have Eden project style biomes. 😉
Although it is a dilemma to find enough space for everything in the greenhouse I am pleased to be in that position as it is the first time I have sown enough for it to become an issue! Having just been away for 5 days my dilemma was whether to plant things out before I went, as it had been so dry up to that point and they would need the rain. Here in the UK Midlands we have now had rain after the very dry April and I am going to risk planting out my HHA at the w/e and let them fend for themselves. For commercial growers it is a much bigger risk, of course.
It’s such a dilemma knowing when to risk planting out. I’m still waiting. I just can’t afford to lose my plants this year. But they’ll have to go out soon. Surely June will bring some warm weather.
Your post raises much food for thought WW. Here it was so cold earlier in the week that I bought my tomato/pepper seedlings into the house for a couple of nights. I am full of admiration for anybody who makes a living out of growing. The planning and energy that they must put into sustaining their livelihoods is incredible.
Thanks Anna, I’ve still got so much indoors and undercover and a backlog of seeds that need sowing but I’ve nowhere to put them.