by Chris Dolley
Weatherwise, the last twelve months have been far from average. An exceptionally cold and snowy November/December was followed by the warmest and driest spring on record and then a cold and wet summer. It was a gardener’s nightmare.
The early warm spring encouraged the garden into life and then a day or so of late, sharp frosts killed off the unwary. As usual we spent thirty minutes or so each evening covering our potatoes with flowerpots and fleece and wrapping up our kiwis. We saved the potatoes but not the kiwi blossom. Last week we harvested 14 kiwis from a line of plants that two years ago had given us 55 kilos.
Back in May things looked dire for the gardener. It hadn’t rained for months and all the talk was of a 1976-style drought with crops wilting in the fields. We had a hosepipe ban and, by law, could only water the garden at night. Which we did – every night – hoping to keep things ticking over until the rains eventually came. Which they did – with a vengeance.
Like all canny gardeners, we’re used to the vagaries of the weather and plant accordingly. Always plant more than you need because you never know what will eat/wilt/blight your crop. And plant a wide variety of crops because, whatever the weather, something will do well.
And sometimes they do too well. This year it was apples. I don’t know if it was the sunny spring, the cool, wet summer, or our hive of bees, but this year’s crop was massive. So massive that by late June the branches of our trees were bending under the weight … then snapping. We cut props from the hedge to poke under the branches to support them. We thinned the apples we could reach. But still they continued to grow and bend. By August our orchard looked like rows of weeping willows. The props were snapping, the branches were snapping. I’ve never seen anything like it. Looking at the orchard now, the trees look terrible. Hopefully they’ll recover their shape with time. And the apple crop has been amazing.
As for pests, this was a good year for the gardener. The early dry spring kept blight at bay until August. It kept the slugs at bay. And it brought the wasps out early – too early as there just wasn’t the food to keep them alive.
It was also, for the same reason, a bad year for the bees. An ideal spring had brought them out in force then, in June, the drought dried the nectar up and food was scarce. Luckily for the bees they had pet humans to feed them sugar through June and July.
So, all in all, an interesting year in the garden. Kiwis have been the only disaster. Everything else has coped with the weird extremes of drought and flood, hot and cold. Well, maybe not our nerves.
The other item of note is seed quality. For the last couple of years I’ve noticed the occasional packet of seed where germination was extremely low to non-existent. It seems to be getting worse. I’m not sure if it’s cheap seed or someone mislabelling old seed as new, but it’s becoming a problem. I’ve talked to a few gardeners and have heard the same. Anyone else?
Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
An Unsafe Pair of Hands – a quirky murder mystery set in rural England charting the descent and rise of a detective on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Which will break first? The case, or DCI Shand?
Medium Dead – a fun urban fantasy chronicling the crime fighting adventures of Brenda – a reluctant medium – and Brian – a Vigilante Demon with an impish sense of humour. Think Stephanie Plum with magic and a dash of Carl Hiaasen.