|Autumn 2010 part 4 - A
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November and a classic mixture of late Autumnal conditions has
variously manifested itself in beauty - foggy, frosty and dewy
mornings, indifference - driving spray-rain at 6pm when it is already
dark - yuk! - and terror - the major Atlantic storm of the year to
date, on November 11th-12th, and the severe flooding in Cornwall in the
early morning of the 17th. Due to financial limitations and the fact
that the Atlantic storm's most active period was after nightfall on the
11th, there are no photos of the storm itself but a look at what its
aftermath provided for the garden - hence the post title! More - in
which I sing the praises of seaweed - on that below. On to some of the prettier scenes.....
November 1st dawned with a foggy morning down in the valley so I nipped
a few miles up the mountain road to see if I could get clear of it, as
I was fairly sure it had formed under a low-level temperature
inversion, so that gaining a bit of altitude would get me looking down
on a white sea with the hills poking up out of it. The latter wasn't
quite the case but since I was there I got busy taking photos:
Zooming in got some interesting part-shrouded landscapes:
However, it wasn't quite what I had in mind, so I returned to the
I had better
results mid-morning on November 16th, when literally a 10-minute drive
from home rewarded me with this view, the fog having largely dispersed
but the remaining dew and frost still clinging to the trees in this
deep valley which the ascendant sun had only just illuminated. These
two images are the best of the batch and I think I prefer the first one
in terms of composition. The location is near Glaspwll, in the Llyfnant
In the veg-garden, it has been the time of year to tidy up a bit, which
involved giving hedges and brambles a serious cutting-back and some
weapons-grade bonfires. This was taken one Sunday afternoon, prior to
surrounding the hot core of the fire with pernicious weeds such as the
creeping buttercup - it cannot be composted under normal conditions, so
instead it is converted to ash, which can then be applied to beds
needing extra potash etc:
Again owing to austerity, fishing has been limited and on the beach
itself severely-constrained at times by the floating seaweed that has
plagued us shore-anglers all year. To give an idea of the problem, this
mass was pumped in (who needs a gym?) at Tywyn on the night of November
10th, 20 minutes after casting out! Non-anglers might enjoy some
details: the clear mainline has a 20-pound breaking strain and the
orange shock-leader (to take the pressure of power-casting safely) is
rated at 50 pounds. The weed tends to catch along the line like so much
washing, and when you retrieve the gear, it slides down the line until
it catches on the knot connecting the shock-leader to the mainline, at
which point you have to pump. Pumping involves raising the tip of the
rod slowly against the dead weight of the weed, then quickly lowering
it and winding in the slack. Each time, the weed moves in maybe 2-3
metres. As casts of 80-100 metres are typical, you can imagine what a
strenuous, time-consuming process this is! Much more weed than in the
photo and you would risk breaking the line due to the weight and the
force of the tide dragging the weed about. All in all, a pain in the
proverbial - but only in this context....
On November 11th-12th, as the GFS forecast chart below shows, an
unusually powerful and deep Atlantic depression moves across the UK.
The most violent winds across Wales occurred during the evening of
November 11th. For an hour during that evening, Aberdaron recorded a
steady 59 mph gusting 81mph - that's steady Storm Force 10 gusting
Hurricane Force 12 - and the shipping forecasts for much of the UK's
western seaboard warned of Violent Storm Force 11 winds. Fortunately,
the tides were on their way back down the cycle from Springs to Neaps -
a gale like this coupled with a Spring tide could pose a serious risk
of coastal flooding and wave-damage.
On the morning of Saturday 13th, I headed to Borth first thing, before
the tide came in, so see what flotsam and jetsam was washing ashore.
Sometimes after a big storm there are clams in abundance, but perhaps
on this occasion the tide was just too small. However, the seaweed was
coming ashore in huge clumps. These are all taken with my compact that
accompanies me on more "mucky" occasions:
Most of the weed was kelp (Laminaria),
with its long, broad fronds and holdfasts attached to pebbles. This had
obviously been torn from shingly patches below the low-water mark.....
In no time I had filled the buckets I had with me:
seaweed? Well, as the inhabitants of other western parts of the UK have
long known, it is one of Nature's best free fertilisers!
Vegetables have long been grown by ridging what thin topsoil was
available over heaped seaweed - occasionally mixed with manure - with
considerable success. As Wikipedia notes:
Lazy bed is a method of
arable cultivation. Rather like cord rig cultivation, parallel banks of
ridge and furrow are dug by spade although lazy beds have banks that
are bigger, up to 2.5m in width, with narrow drainage channels between
Although it is largely
extinct, it is still to be found in parts of the Hebrides where
lazybeds are known as feannagan in Scottish Gaelic, and the west of
Ireland. In these places, the method used is normally to lift up sods
of peat and apply seaweed fertiliser (desalinated) to improve the
ground. Potatoes were often grown in this way in these regions, until
the potato blight Phytophthora infestans caused the potato famine in
the Highlands and Ireland. It
was used in southern parts of Britain from the post-Roman period until
the post-medieval period, and across much of Ireland and Scotland until
the 19th century.
The weed holds moisture and as it rots it warms the bed and releases
minerals to the soil. All good useful things. So far in my case it has
been simply composted. Prior to dumping the collected weed, I lifted
the part-rotted top off the compost-heap, exposing the good stuff below
The resident robin, on seeing a free lunch, was straight on the case!
It is fairly used to me these days and just hangs around waiting for
The nicely-rotted stuff was spread on the beds, and carefully placed
around the chard....
compost away reveals its stratified nature. Seaweed, grass-clippings
from the beer garden at my local and harvested biomass ("weeds") have
all left their traces. Looks like I let things get a bit too dry on the
LHS where some seaweed has only partly rotted....
The heap almost dug-out. It provided a good 4-6 inch covering over all
of the beds, which the worms will take down over the winter months...
And the part-rotted stuff replaced in the space left and the new kelp
dumped over the top:
I've got going in earnest on Garden #2 as
well. This one's in town and is huge. However, with a surface of
couch-grass and brambles and a substrate shot-through with bindweed
roots and bracken rhizomes, it was never going to be straightforward.
This shot shows the roots poking out...
Whilst this one shows the typical contents of a single spadeful:
The roots have to be picked out by hand down to the smallest pieces, or
the bindweed will be straight back. This has two key implications -
firstly the digging can only be done in dry conditions so that the soil
crumbles enough and secondly each spadeful has to be carefully sorted.
This is not a quick process, but effort over the winter will spare
weed-control efforts in the following summer!
Because bindweed stays active for years, it
must simply be removed. The
heap of roots is gradually assuming Matterhorn-like proportions! "No-dig", whilst a good practice in other
situations, is simply not an option here.
Instead, over the winter, as time allows, I plan to excavate the patch,
heaping the soil in one corner after picking it clean, then I'll bring
in seaweed and manure and construct a series of "lazy-beds" as
described above, as an experiment. What I am interested in seeing here
is how long it takes to bring such a badly-infested, untended patch of
soil into production. Here's a view of the excavated area so far:
And from the other side. It's a big job but I have several months so
I'll just attend to it in dryer spells - a few hours here and a few
hours there. It's a great way to keep fit! I'll post the results next
Plenty has happened this year in the wider world, and it's the
anniversary of "climategate" - when those climate science emails
started appearing all over Cyberspace. This is a fine write-up:
Here, the charts are hinting at colder conditions as we head towards
the end of November: whatever happens I'll be adding my comments and
images here, as usual!
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