An almost endless summer

This summer was a challenge for two reasons. Firstly: it started in mid April with temperatures rising to 30 degrees and lastet well into October. And even though November has seen the odd morning with white frost it is still too mild for the season. Secondly: there was hardly any rain.

 

Since we moved here in 2016 we have planted more than 30 trees and well over 40 shrubs and bushes. Most of them had been in the soil for less than or not much over one year, so the ongoing lack of rain was putting them at considerable risk. Starting from April until well into October watering the bushes and young trees was a main concern.

During spring and early summer there was a wealth of poppies and cornflowers and bees and bumblebees were feasting. I desperately tried to keep the crimson clover alive and it started flowering in early autumn. We had a large plot of buckwheat which the bees enjoyed and once the seeds appeared the plot got invaded by sparrows.

We had a patch with rye which mostly succumbed to the drought. But the crown-of-the-field was going strong. The patches with flax were doing well. Some of the rhododendrons kept struggling and some even did not manage to open their flowers due to lack of water.

After last year’s failure to bear fruit due to a spell of rather late frost, this year the fruit trees went bonkers with blooming and making apples and pears. Unfortunately the latter became gradually more difficult due to the lack of rain. Most of our young apples got infestated by insect larvae. Some just stopped growing and ended up as miniature apples eventhough they were meant to grow into propper edible fruit. But we got a fair share of pears and a few apples.

Our sunflowers were thriving. At first they were full with bumble bees and once they started building seeds they got raided by the birds. They all came to feed: blue tits and great tits, goldfinches and greenfinches, sparrows and willow tits. The goldfinches came as a family with three youngsters. Later in summer they all were joined by chaffinches and the little wren came back – no idea where it had spent summer, but it had been there in early spring already. In November a cheeky robin appeared feasting on the left over elder berries.

The climbing beans waited out summer and started flowering and producing beans once the days got shorter and the worst heat had gone around September. We did have a bumper crop of beet root and black currants and a fair share of sweet corn. And pumpkins. This year it was Hokkaidos, Sweet Dumpling and White Acorn.

In late May Lotta came to complete the team. Back then she was around half a year of age and we picked her up at an animal shelter. As far as we know she had not been living with people so far, and a lot of pretty ordinary things were completely unknown to her. On a first encounter she decides to sit down and think about it.

She chewed up a couple of things but luckily she learned pretty quickly to keep her teeth off cables and she did not ruin any of our shoes. She has grown into a friendly funny little mate and we love her to bits. There is still a lot she needs to learn but she is young enough so there is still time. We have started attending dog school in summer and she is making good progress.

With having the dog we now get out and about much more. This is lovely because we do live in a beautiful spot and in autumn the cranes come to rest and you can see them feed in the fields – which is not to every farmers liking. Nevertheless they are impressive birds.

Our house garden was getting along fairly well in the dry weather, apart from the hydrangeas. They are thirsty plants and wish for a fair share of rain. I kept watering them but they did not manage to grow to their usual size. The roses, though, and the grasses could take advantage of the dry weather, mainly because we did have no strong winds or gusts. So the grasses still stand in their beauty as they did not get torn to pieces by gales.

We almost lost one of our medlar trees to root voles. The roots had gone alltogether. I put the young tree in a pot with good compost soil and kept it in a sheltered place on the patio. It dropped all its buds, but kept its leaves that were far too tiny. At some point in summer it started growing new leaves of normal size. Now its leaves are golden and it prepares for winter. Next spring we will plant it out again. From our second medlar tree we got a nice first harvest which made for three jars of medlar jelly. We had our first three walnuts but their size does not seem right.

By the time I write this it has gone dark outside. Not all of the resting cranes have left by now. Autumn has coloured the foliage of the trees bright yellow and golden. They days have gone short and rain is falling every now and then. We could do with a couple of weeks of ongoing rain to moisten the dried out soils.

On the Brink of Summer

Lady od Shalott

It is only late May and it is still some time to go until we’ll have summer proper. But the light and the atmosphere feel like summer already. The huge oak trees have put on their full green coats. The tulips and daffodils are long gone. Now is the time for the poppies, the wild ones and the garden varieties. The first roses have started to bloom just recently. A dark blue larkspur shines next to the huge white oriental poppy.

Oriental poppy with visitor (white tailed bumblebee)

Bumblebee feeders

We have a large population of dead nettles alongside the old stables and in the odd far corner. Presumably, they have been dwelling here for a very long time. They are our bumblebee feeders. They start flowering early in the year and will feed the white tailed bumblebees (who are the earlybirds amongst the bumblebees at the very start of the season) while temperatures are still rather low. The abundant white flowers keep feeding them and their cousins including honey bees and solitary bees for months. All the bees and bumblebees here have done a fabulous job: One of our apple trees is determined to deliver fresh apples in its first year with us. The others have tried but were too early and their flowers got caught in a late spell of severe frost. But this one tree waited out the frost period before opening its buds. There is still a long way to go before we can pick our first apples. Fingers crossed.

Gooseberry youngsters – they are supposed to turn red at some point

We have put up the netting over the berry bushes these days. There are red and black and white currants and red and green gooseberries. There was good reason to do so, because our meadow welcomes a great variety of diners as regulars. We like our little helpers that come day after day and browse our meadow for grubs and wireworms and whatever they can find to fend for themselves or feed their chicks. Our guests are rooks and starlings, magpies and fieldfares. There are wagtails and black redstarts on the ground and martins and swallows in the air, there are sparrows and tits and a pair of goldfinches was checking things out the other day. However, we’d rather they stick to browsing the meadow than picking the berries off the bushes.

A very young ladybird on garden sage

Some of our little helpers are even smaller. These are ladybirds and hoverflies and all sorts of butterflies. So far I’ve seen peacock butterfly, small tortoiseshell, brimstone butterfly, a small emperor moth and many others.

Slightly longer ago we put up little fences around our fruit trees. At the foot of the tree we keep a circular patch free of weeds and grass. It is here where we decided to sow crimson clover. The sandy soil is poor in nutrients and the clover’s rhizobia will improve soil quality over time by fixing nitrogen straight out of the air. The clover is not hardy and come winter will wither and leave its roots in the soil and thus share all the fixed nitrogen with the roots of the trees. We needed the fences because apart from the feathered diners we als have hares coming in at dusk feeding on the green stuff on our meadow. They even had a go at the broom bushes which I cannot appreciate. The books say broom is poisonous to hares and other wildlife. But those hares might not have read the books yet. We also put nasturtiums in with the clover. They are said to attract black lice and also they have nice flowers. The hares are welcome to munch the dandelions and daisies and sheperd’s purses in our meadow, but we wanted to make sure they leave the clover and nasturtiums and lupines alone.

Flax

Bryony

The pumpkins are going strong on top of the compost heap. I put them out much earlier than last year so I’m hopeful we’ll have a nice harvest. I had an experimental go at what is called The Three Sisters, that are maize plus climbing beans plus pumpkins. As we have strong winds pretty often and I wanted to grow climbing beans I felt it was a nice solution to have the maize as posts for the beans (with the pumpkins growing elsewhere). However, the beans are outgrowing the maize so I had to put up bamboo poles nonetheless. I’ve had to water this bed on a daily basis and it still looks like a bit of an adventure. But the broad beans nextdoor are doing well, and I had some old seeds of purple Mangetouts which are growing surprisingly strong.

We had a furious storm on Monday night. Tuesday morning the rain gauge revealed that just under 16 litres of water had fallen on to each square metre of ground. The pinks looked somewhat bedraggled. Some of the climbing beans succumbed to the strong winds, still not having attached themselves in time to either the maize plants or the bamboo poles. There were gaping holes in the soil where the water had hollowed the burrows of root voles and moles.

Iris

But most of the garden is fine despite the very strong winds and violent gusts dashing the hail against the window panes. We live on sandy soils and the large amount of water was welcome after what had been a rather hot and slightly windy weekend. We only just missed out on 30°C and it started getting humid.

As I write this dusk is closing in. It is after 10pm – the days are long, the sun rises early. The rooks that sleep in the oak trees wake up around 5.30am and straight away start telling each other the dreams they had last night. Soon the foxgloves will open their flowers, and the large bush of oxeye chamomille, too. And there will be more roses.

Patio rose Yorkshire Princess