January Miscellany – Gusting Gertie and Hebridean Homilies

Peters PortAs my neighbour Seamus observed, after a long account about a difficult calving and a tirade about the weather, “it’s January, it rains and it’s windy”. A timely reminder that if you choose to live on an island in the North Atlantic you can’t demand Mediterranean weather. So as Gertie gathers strength to go and torment our northern neighbours, Howling Howard and a chain of nameless tempests are racing across to Atlantic to harass us into February and beyond.  It is January but we were warned that if you wreck the planet it may turn round and bite you. In this part of the world we can cope with the succession of gales and heavy rain, but I have real sympathy for everyone who has been so cruelly damaged by the wind and rain this winter.
I have had an usually himalayan mountain to paperwork to keep me chained to the desk this winter, so while we were plague-stricken I sent my muse on holiday with instructions not to return until Easter. However, I got bored with government forms and computer manuals and summoned her back. So bulletins from the Croft Garden will resume, if only to keep me amused.
Winter bird countingFine days, or brief intervals when the sun appeared, have been few and far between. It has been a struggle to get out and do the regular counts of our wintering wading birds on the beach and the all island goose count next week might be an interesting exercise! However, those tantalising glimpses of magic, when the grey blanket of cloud lifts and a little light infuses the landscape with gold, are the gifts of the weather gods. As much as I love watching the ever changing kaleidescope of light as the squalls come rushing over the horizon and the waves batter the reef, I begin to fidget if confined for too long. It is frustrating when the daily walk is limited to a dash to the shed to fill the log basket or an expedition to dig a few carrots or collect some kale from the polytunnel.

Winter kale and Cavolo Nero

Winter kale and Cavolo Nero

Our supplies of root vegetables and winter greens are rapidly diminishing and it will be a few weeks before the light levels are sufficient to think about starting the early spring crops. The hungry gap is rapidly approaching and the sad array of “fresh” vegetables in the local shops is not inspiring. So I will bank the food miles and we will have to use our culinary skills to eke out the stores. I might even invest in some gro-lights and try some micro-herbs.
Fortunately the Seville oranges arrived last week, so the kitchen has been perfuming the house with the delicious aroma of oranges. Himself has taken over making marmalade, as I always seem to be beset by paperwork in January. I have been musing about marmalade and wondering what influences our choice of flavour and texture. When I make marmalade it is dark, chunky and has bitter under-tones cutting through the sweetness; Himself produces a light golden preserve, with very fine shreds of peel, not sweet but intensely orangey. You may draw your own conclusions. I’m not sure if it works with other citrus flavours, as we don’t see enough to even consider making marmalade. If you are a marmalade maker or just a consumer, you might like to ponder the marmalade mystery.
The garden has been ravaged by the weather, but there are a few shoots emerging, and I hope at least some of them will survive until spring arrives. Unfortunately the mild winters encourage the bulbs to shoot to early and the herbaceous plants never achieve full dormancy. The combination of mild temperatures and a very wet atmosphere is not ideal for the over-wintering plants in the polytunnel or the greenhouse either. It has been too windy to open the vents and so the conditions are optimum for the growth of mildew and sooty moulds. Not great for the plants, but identifying the fungi has kept Himself happy with his microscopes.

My inner Pollyanna is fighting to get out, and although the February will arrive with a fanfare of storms, the first of the early bulbs are beginning to flower in the greenhouse. When Katharine Hodgkin arrives, I know that the days are lengthening and I can start gardening again.

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18 thoughts on “January Miscellany – Gusting Gertie and Hebridean Homilies

  1. Great that you found time to blog again. I love the top photo – so peaceful in all this wind. We were bad last night and early this morning but no damage apart from a rather old bird table which got blown over causing its roof to be torn off. Things have quietened down for now. Hope you get out from under your mountain of papers soon.

  2. It is never ending this winter. I think I should take a leaf out of your book and grow more bulbs in the greenhouse. We may be at the opposite end of the country to you but it’s the wet they don’t like and we have no shortage of that.

    • It’s a good way to use the space if your greenhouse is under-used in the winter. Most of the bulbs sit outside during the summer and autumn and unless they are vert susceptible to the wet, only come inside they they start to shoot. They can then be fed and the flowers enjoyed. They go back outside in the early spring (when I need the space) and according to thier requires either sit outside in a sunny spot, get baked in a cold frame or sit in a cool shadt corner. During the summer they are re-potted as required and any surplus goes into the garden.Not too much trouble and it means I get to enjoy bulbs in the winter/early spring and can species which wouldn’t withstand our conditions, e.g. dwarf iris and crocus. It’s amazing when a pot of flowering iris can do for the morale on a cold wet day.

    • You are right Charlie. As much as I try to enjoy all of the season at the end of a long wet winter it is time to look forward to the spring, eventhough it might not arrive until May!

  3. Your life still sounds idyllic despite the storms and winter battering, I hope there is less damage than last year. Living so in tune with the natural world as you do up there must be deeply rewarding, albeit at times a tad frustrating waiting to get back out and explore again.

    • I’m very happy here, but it doesn’t suit everyone. So far (although it’s too windy today for me to tour the estate) I think we have escaped any damage. I enjoy the winters here and try to enjoy what I do on the long dark, wet days (except government paperwork), but it would be nice to have a couple of days respite to get out and about between the big storms. Being an exponent of hygge helps pass the winter – who would not enjoy a cosy afternoon by the fire with a good book.

  4. Good to hear you are surviving the wind and weather. I, too loved the first photo, beautiful landscape. I must say your vegetables look great, they would put ours to shame…almost everything here being eaten by one bug or another…perhaps a polytunnel in Australia would be a fine idea. Hope you survive and thrive in February.

    • IO have no lived here long enough to learn how to survive and listen to the nuggets of advice hidden in my neighbours’ homilies. The kale is looking a bit skeletal now, but soon the light levels will stimulate some growth. You probably don’t need a polytunnel, but a mesh tunnel might help. It’s too cold for us to have a big bug problem here, but I use a enviromesh in the garden to protect my plants from things like cabbage rootfly.

  5. Wonderful to have another blog. I wondered where you’d gone.Never miss your area when watching the weather forecast & wishing we were there. We have been to the Lakes recently & enjoyed 8 days of snow – so beautiful.

    • Thanks Liz. I’m never far away, just busy. Retirement can be hard work. A day of respite before Horrid Henry arrives, so time for a quick tour of the estate before the rain returns.
      Snow sounds lovely from a distance, probably because we rarely see much; although there’s been plenty of hail chucked our way this winter.

  6. Oh, paperwork, paperwork… But in some ways this is the best time of year for it, when the days are short and grey and full of rain. Glad you’re back!

    (Started some bulbs in the greenhouse for the first time this year – very successful. And amazingly they didn’t rot away to nothing, either.)

  7. Ahah – your paperwork mountain must have been reduced enough for your nose to poke over it and let us know you are still about – just think, if you had a dry and sunny and windfree winter it might never get done… Hope you didn’t get marmalade over any of it, either dark and chunky or light and golden 🙂 Good to hear from you and your muse and know that you are not quite at the point of requiring the emergency food parcels that are always on standby from this rambling gardener.

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