I was pleased with myself at the start of December. At my allotment and in the 15 schools I work with in the south of England, I had ensured next year's early harvests by sowing Japanese onion sets ('Senshui Yellow'), peas ('Meteor' and 'Feltham First'), broad beans ('Aquadulce Claudia' and 'The Sutton') and garlic ('Solent Wight' and 'Marco'). I had even taken steps to avoid the mice at my allotment eating the seeds in the ground, as they did last year, by sowing the peas into gutters and the beans into coir pots and keeping them in a cold frame on my patio. These had grown so strongly in a mild autumn to have been planted out by the end of November.
Then it snowed.
Unusual in Brighton (February and December 2009 are the only times I can recall substantial snow here in 15 years) and very exciting. I had a days holiday and my children's school was closed so we made a huge snowman with the children from the close, made snow angels and had a 2 hour snowball fight. We enjoyed the stunning pictures of gardens around the country and chuckled over Christmas specials from the likes of Cleve West, Joe Swift and James Alexander Sinclair.
Walking around the allotment we could no longer see the beans, onions or garlic as they were covered by about 6 inches of snow, though we crossed our fingers for the peas hidden below the icy fleece tunnel.
Now, on 5th Jan, there's no snow but a really thick frost. My thermometer on the patio indicates it fell to about 3 degrees, (though it also suggests it has warmed to 7 degrees by 9 o'clock and I'm wondering if it's innacurate). So I've taken a walk around the allotments to see what has survived.
The garlic looks ok, but the onions look very sad, and the broad beans surely have no way back - perhaps they are suited to overwintering only through mild winters (though it doesn't say that on the packet).
The peas planted outside look just as poor, whilst those I covered with a fleece tunnel look to have faired a little, but not a lot, better (I am torn between the need to put in sticks to get them off the ground, and the need to keep them covered from further frosts and snow).
Looking around the allotment, crops that are happy in frost are clearly leeks, winter cabbages and sprouts (we don't encourage schools to grow brassicas if space is limited as too many pests attack them and they take up a large amount of space. Also, most children I know would rather eat peas, carrots and strawberries than sprouts, cabbages and swede) and I know the parsnips in the ground will not only be ok but will improve in flavour. And when I see the state of some brassicas that I know will recover, perhaps there is hope for the crops in schools.
I won't really know what has been lost until the weather improves. With a bit more warmth and longer days, even those beans may pick themselves up and start growing again. And if they haven't, then an early Feb sowing of all these crops, using varieties suited to a spring sowing, will provide lots to eat only a few weeks behind the autumn sowings.
How are your veg gardens doing in this weather? I'd be interested to know which varieties have or haven't made it through the snow and frost.
And can anyone tell me what my allotment neighbour is planning with this addition to their plot? I've heard that ice baths are good after physical exercise, but I think I'd prefer a hot tub!