31 December 2011

Happy 2012 to all allotment holders!

Well it has been an eventful 12 month on the allotment - here are my top 10 allotment moments:
  1. Getting a bigger allotment, a full sized one 
  2. I got a proper shed
  3. Getting given a cedar wood greenhouse for free
  4. Getting a proper polycarbonate greenhouse for free
  5. Getting a bumper crop of tomatoes and cucumbers
  6. Getting an excellent sweetcorn harvest
  7. Extreme weather (annoying at times but interesting)
  8. Excellent potato harvest
  9. I got more fruit trees and 2 established ones (apples)
  10. I won several prizes at the annual show
Weather: A warm year, really?

After the very cold December of 2010 (thanks to the very negative Arctic Oscillation Index) we got an average Jan but then a very warm and very dry Spring (lots of drought problems). This was not so great for the crops and overall we got the 2nd warmest UK annual temp on record (since 1910), only 2006 was warmer.

Warm Spring and Autumn

This year's warmth was really confined to the Spring and Autumn months, in particular March, April and May (MAM) which was the warmest on record and September, October and November (SON) which was the 2nd warmest on record.

April was the warmest on record and November the 2nd warmest!

Cold Winter and Summer

We had a cold Winter in December, January and February (DJF) mainly thanks to the cold Dec 2010 which came in as the 2nd coldest on record . So overall the winter was112th out of 353 months.

The Summer months of June, July and August (JJA) stood out as the 102nd coldest summer on record, equalling 1986, 1963. 1948, 1851, 1810, 1802 and 1702. Only 1987 and 1988 were colder, coming in at 92nd and 93rd.

2012: the year ahead
  • Well this year I have 99 seed varieties to sow and grow, so my plot will be a lot of fun to manage and enjoy.
  • The Arctic Oscillation Index is currently very positive, so it looks like we will get a warm start to the year. Will this mean an early spring and a warm and wet summer?
  • I am using the crop rotation system this year - so let's see how productive I am next year!
Whatever happens, hope everyone has fun on the allotment in 2012!

Here are some photos that exemplify this year's fun:

De-constructing my old plot

Moving into my new plot - with a shed

Constructing a new greenhouse

Enjoying my new greenhouse

Getting loads of wildlife

Me surveying my new plot

A bumper potato harvest

My first cauliflower


Winning again!

Bumper squash harvest

The plot ready for 2012

Seeds catalogued and planning done!

Spent the last few days creating an interactive seed catalogue, it is fairly awesome IMHO.

In addition, have the planting scheme draw out in this PowerPoint document: Planting Plan 2012.

Amazingly, I will have to organise and grow 99 varieties of plants!!!

Let's see if this works...happy allotmenteering!

29 December 2011

Interactive GoogleDoc Planting Spreadsheet Table

Been making individual pages for the veg I am growing this year:


I have also been putting the planting details in an interactive planting spreadsheet:

Interactive Planting Spreadsheet Table

How geeky is that!!!???

Xmas presents for the allotment holder

Xmas is always a good time for allotment holders and I always get some great allotment presents.

This year I have got:
Not only is it great to get such cracking presents but we allotmenteers must be an easy bunch to buy presents for?

Happy allotmenteering in 2012!

25 December 2011

Happy Xmas 2011

Happy Xmas to all allotmenteers!!

Well it looks like being a record breaking Xmas this year as the temperatures are set to be above 10°C!!

The AO Index still keep us warm!

Source: NSIDC

10°C at 9 a.m.
This is all good for my winter Peas, Beans and Onions. It looks like the Arctic Oscillation (AO) index being positive (colder stratosphere) is having the classic effect of keeping our little island well above normal temps. We did have a wintry blast with snow a week back that was due to turbid air mixing over us giving us storms but the abnormal warmth looks set to continue into the new year. The AO index is not as positive as earlier in December, but it is still positive.

Snow blog post: http://vegetableben.blogspot.com/2011/12/snowy-december-plot.html

New Year's Veg Party!

Well all this unseasonal warmth may mean we get an early start to the growing season in the form of early germination in unheated greenhouses and cold tolerant outside plant growth (early signs of spring??). However, April/May is a long way off yet so good care and management is needed to make sure I don't have lots of seedling and young plants but nowhere to plant them. However, an early crop could be on the cards for 2012!!

New for 2012 on this blog

Along with trying to grow plants in specific soil types (pH), I am creating lots of individual pages for the plants I am growing. These pages will be dedicated to one type of plant, so what seeds I have used and their progress over the growing season will be documented on these pages. Hope they prove useful.

See: http://vegetableben.blogspot.com/p/vegetableben-seeds-2012.html

All the best and hope you have success in 2012!!


16 December 2011

I've Joined the RSPB

Great tit on my plot
Got a phone call from the RSPB today asking if I would like to become a member. I didn't want to do the membership enrolment over the phone, so instead did it online.


Allotment Wildlife

I always try to consider the wildlife on my plot and so make sure I do things that are of benefit to them, for example:

  • I don't use slug pellets
  • I put out wild bird food
  • I have weeds and plant some wildlife friendly plants (e.g. Buddleia, Nettles or Bramble)
  • I have some untidy areas with grass, old wood and rotting stuff
  • I have put a bird box
  • I have made a pond and a drinking area for birds
  • I have rats, ok I don't like them but don't poison them either and keep them restricted to the bottom of the plot through careful practices (e.g. shed protection and compost / seeds storage)
  • I have a fox and hedgehogs that visits regularly
  • I use barrier protect for crops, e.g. netting, polytunnels or don't mind a bit of damage

Wild birds

Siskin (source: RSPB)
Let's hope all this effort will pay off next year with more birds, bees and wildlife, especially:
  • Bluetit
  • Bullfinch
  • Goldfinch
  • Siskin

Snowy December Plot

Well the very windy weather that was predicted did not materialise as the low pressure went further south over France. Instead we did get some snow and sleet on the northern flanks. Here are some pretty lotty in the snow pics.

Not quite cold enough to stick at 1°C

Snow makes the bleakness less gloomy

Small poly-tunnels protecting beans / peas from snow

Snowy clear plot

Herbs in snow

Covered ground

Rainbow chard in snow

Greenhouse, and yes in snow!

Snowy lotty scene

11 December 2011

Chaotic weather, storms, drought and the AO index

What a difference a year makes - oh and we still have concerns over on-going drought conditions!

Icicle on bird feeder in Dec 2010
This time last year it was very cold and we had the 2nd coldest Decembers on record. This year we got the 2nd warmest autumn on record and December is turning into a very stormy, mild and chaotic weather month. Last week, exceptionally strong hurricane-like winds battered Scotland, some over 100MPH. Oh and we could still be in drought conditions.

See: Scotland battered by worst storm for 10 years
See: Drought warning for England

Early warning of big storms to hit Midlands next week..will post more in next blog if turns out correct! UPDATE: Not as severely windy but still windy.

Here is a long rang pressure map for next Friday over the UK. Tight isobars over Scotland, N. Ireland, North and N. Midlands, so strong winds likely from Northwest. Have read gusts of 50+MPH over Midlands and 70+MPH over Scotland.

Source: @StuOstro on Twitter

The Arctic Oscillation Index (AO)

If you are interested in forecasting UK weather patterns during winter, take a look at what the AO index is up to. See: AO Data / Graph

In the winter, UK weather patterns will be effected by the AO in the following ways:

  • When the AO is positive we get warmer air sucked up from Equator and Atlantic, so more likely to get low pressure storms sent our way. Although more warm and chaotic, we could get brief heavy snow / sleet showers where the warm air meets cold and even snow lighting!!
  • When AO is negative we get more blocking high pressure sitting over us and cold air dragged in from Arctic / northern Europe. Weather is sunnier but bitterly cold and dry.

See more: http://nsidc.org/arcticmet/patterns/arctic_oscillation.html

Source: @StuOstro on Twitter
StuOstro (twitter) has provided a useful graphic of the difference in AO for 2009/2010/2011.

Looking at the Dec average temps - you can perhaps see the effect of the AO:
  • 2009 = -1.5°C (below average, 99th coldest on record)
  • 2010 = -5.3°C (below average, 2nd coldest on record)
  • 2011 =  currently +1°C (above average, but off a record breaking Nov of +3°C above average)
Early crops

As you can see from previous posts, my early peas, broad beans and onions are up and growing. This isn't a big problem as long as the weather stays mild over the winter, and I have covered them. However, we did get some overnight lows of -2°C and sleet/snow on friday.

December photos

Winter plot

+1°C daytime temp during cold snap

Thin ice on water butts

Early Peas in greenhouse (+5°C inside)

Winter cabbage

Winter lettuce