Sunday, 20 October 2013

October Gardens

Collecting leaves....

Just because the evenings are drawing in and the temperature is dropping doesn't mean that you can abandon your garden that has worked so hard for you during the year. There are many things to keep you occupied if you want to be outside and, let's be honest, being outdoors in whatever sun autumn has to offer can only be a healthy thing. Vitamin D is in short supply through the winter months, so grab it while you can.  

Leaves are a wonderful compost composite, turning rapidly into a fine, airy loam that can be mixed in with general purpose compost to promote good drainage and lightness in your soil. Don't discard them, round them up using a lawn mower if you can, because then they will be partly shredded from the start. Store them in sacks or mix into your own compost heap. I used to have a spare wheelie bin that I put mine into, jumping on them initially, to get them all in, but to be honest a separate, covered pile will do the job, just turn them over every now and again. These days I mix all my leaves with my chicken poo which produces a rich, light but awfully pungent pile of unctuous goodness which is wonderful for vegetables but not necessarily for neighbourly relationships. 

Sweet peas can be planted now in deep pots (I'm using toilet roll holders) in a greenhouse or cold frame to ensure early spring flowers. Assuming we get an early spring next year. 

Saving Cardboard.....for sweet peas, peas and beans...

Clearing up this year's vegetable beds and mulching them or covering them for next year will keep the weeds down and will also help keep some warmth in the ground. Use an old piece of carpet or some plastic compost sacks, black side up so they're not too dazzling to the eye. 

Bean poles, bamboo canes and hazel rods can all be stored upright and kept in a dry place if possible. They'll last a couple of years if looked after. 

Lawns can be raked now to remove moss and other detritus. I also like to keep fallen leaves off as much as possible to prevent those ugly, bald patches that are a sure sign of wet, cloggy leaves lying in one spot too long. Buy a leaf blower, electric ones aren't too expensive and they'll keep a lawn leaf free. I also use a strimmer to cut the grass if it's too wet to use a mower. You can always run the mower over it when it's drier to tidy it up if necessary. A nice lawn makes a garden look so much better. Don't forget to keep the leaves! 

Shrubs can be shaped before the really cold weather comes. Cut ends and frost don't go together very well and many hedges and shrubs are better cut when the leaves have all gone and before the sap rises in the early spring. 

There are many vegetables than can be sown now and planted out. Early broccoli, cabbages, winter salads in a greenhouse or polytunnel, broad beans - and you can also pot up some herbs to be kept indoors. Just remember that cold windowsills and most herbs don't mix. Try and keep them in a warm but sunny spot. Over a radiator - but not too hot - or a warm bathroom shelf. 

Don't forget too that on the milder sunny days throughout winter much preparation for spring can be achieved, but generally, just keeping things tidy and clear will give you a good, fresh start next year. 

It's all about keeping your enthusiasm going through the darker, colder months, when the days are short and nights are long. You quickly forget the summer and can easily slip into a kind of semi hibernation when you think it's too cold to be outside. But some warm clothes and a bit of activity will soon get you warm, the hardest part is getting started. 

Try and get out if you can. It can only do good. 

Watch out for some of the windfalls - they're very tasty...

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Woeful Wierwood - The PAC Day

Mike and Harry Fishing Again...?

Yesterday, the rain came down by the bucketload; the M25, M40, M4 and M11 all had problems throughout the afternoon and evening, water ran as rivers down country roads and cascaded into reservoirs and lakes all over the south-east.

Yes, as you can probably tell, I am laying substantial foundations in an attempt to excuse the fact that we blanked today on out first Pike Fishing trip of the season. Whether the rain caused the lack of Esox action or the high water temperatures (53F) or the bright sunshine I have no idea but only a couple of fish were caught all day on a water that certainly holds a few decent fish including some very nice perch. 

Harry and I neither saw a fish, felt a fish or smelled a fish - all day - and we tried just about everything. 

Dead baiting didn't produce, neither did trolled or drifted lures. We tried the deeper dam end, the shallower sanctuary end and most points in between, hunting high and low for features that might hold fish - even jacks. 

It is a sad fact that fills me with dismay, disdain and self-loathing, but not much of any of those really,  that I was pleased to hear that almost everybody else had also blanked. No, I'm not really that self centred -  it was just one of those days that for whatever reason know only to themselves - the fish decided to stay away. 

Not much else to do....

It happens, for what it's worth I think it was the large influx of dirty water into the reservoir yesterday that affected the pike and stopped them feeding. But we'll never know will we? I suppose that's part of the fun. 

Fun. Yes, I remember that. 

Dave Mutton drove a long way in the rain to facilitate this event, my thanks to him and his daughter for their efforts and for an opportunity for an early season attempt at the fish. 

Belgian Buns and Bewl Boredom

This was supposed to include a whole know...

It was the Annual Harry and Mikes' Birthday Bash, but it was just into the second week of October - the vicissitudes of working life have kept us apart - but the weather was wonderful! Blue skies, late teens temperatures, and a light corduroy breeze rippling the lake and gently rocking the boat as we ate Belgian Buns. Yep, I know - shock, horror - Belgian! 

No, really - it was a beautiful Indian Summer Day and it was such a pleasure to be outside. It's been a fantastic summer, long and warm but for the mild temperatures and sunshine to cascade into October is a real blessing. 

Just as well really - because the fishing was a disappointment - apart from the first half hour. 

Expectation was as high as the weather front, although the latter was due to change within 24 - 48 hours and the former before tea time. Fish had been caught all week, trout love the back end of the year as the fry are feeding and if the weather is warm, insect life can be abundant - thick even -  and trout are eminently catchable. Naturally, something went wrong today - but that's OK, the company was as welcome as the weather.

As I mentioned, it started well. We edged out into the bowl and I had a Daddy Longlegs on the point with a black peacock hurl Diawl Bach kind of pattern on the dropper. After about 20 minutes I had a hard fighting rainbow of about a pound and three quarters on, which had taken the Daddy on a slowish retrieve. I sorted that out and bagged the fish, re-cast and immediately had another on the Daddy again. I suppose we could have been forgiven for thinking that we were going to need a bigger boat for all these fish, but alas, the breeze died, the temperature dropped as the forecast low made its presence felt and neither Harry nor I had another fish - or even a touch until late in the afternoon when Harry had a tug, on a damsel, I think.

A Rainbow shining in the sun...

It's like that sometimes - the fish had dropped deeper, moved away or stopped feeding altogether - who knows, but my Birthday gift of a fishing trip and our get together certainly turned an odd afternoon into a pleasant event, and we didn't stop trying, although at one stage Harry said it was almost a thoughtless process - a robotic method of cast and retrieve, cast and retrieve - we had to remember to think - to consider what we were actually trying to achieve, to dispel the boredom and put some effort into our machinations to fool, the trout.

And of course the Belgian Buns were lovely....for something Belgian...thanks Harry.

Indian Summer...?

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Autumn Mist

...and stare with wonder...

The mist rolls across the meadow to the outer edges of the wood and as it moves, it covers, it blankets and it chills. Rabbits busy feeding on the wooded fringes flick their fur before hurrying down into the warm burrows, the sudden cold driving away all thoughts of food - warmth is all they seek now - warmth and comfort.

Overhead the mist swirls at the trees before shifting and slithering into the woods sending tendrils forth like an armed vanguard that touches and envelopes as it pushes forward. The badger that had been snuffling around the fallen horse chestnuts - sniffing for earthworms drawn to the surface by the aroma of decaying husks - feels the cold as it flows over him. His head lifts and his snout twitches at the air as he endeavours to detect any threat. Discerning none, he turns around and shuffles heavily back into the woods, away from the flowing chill, to his sett. 

Onward the fog flows, over the dying nettle beds, the sprawling brambles, their runners reaching and clawing, and on towards the largest chestnut tree in the woods. Here, in its topmost branches an old, wood-wise Tawny Owl blinks down at the wood mice as they busy themselves among the fallen conkers. Later, young boys will pick up these large kernels and stare with wonder at the deep, chestnut sheen of the freshly freed fruit, their pockets will bulge as they run back home to find fathers with bradawls and string and the talk will be of vinegar and heat and other tricks to promote longevity. But for now, the owl looks down benignly at the scurrying mice, having earlier eaten his fill and so he calls to his mate, his 'twoo' and her responsive 'tvit' deadened by the encroaching mist.

Dawn is now spreading her light through the canopy, the unveiling glow at war with the heavy damp air as they battle to claim the day, but for now the mist continues, pushing back the brightness of morning and gliding further into the wood. The dampness spreads and the wrens roosting deep in the bramble are not protected from its embrace and they fluff up their feathers, shifting slightly towards each other as they seek further warmth. The fallow deer reaching for the last leaves of birch as autumn tinges the edges of them with sienna and umber, lowers her head checking on her fawn, this year's baby but now well grown, and her nostrils twitch as the vapours of Autumn lap around her legs, she can now barely see the sulphur tuft mushrooms that kept her olfactory interest for a while before she started on the birch. The mist doesn't concern her, she has fantastic hearing and a wonderful sense of smell and she has heard already the clumping footsteps of the Gamekeeper  at the outer edge of the woods towards the farm.

He is up early to check his coverts and pheasant runs, he knows that a vixen has been checking around the birds for he has found her markings and he can smell her. He's not too concerned, she no longer has young to feed, but he never-the-less wants to be there to make sure she has no way in and no time to try.

...the Gamekeeper at the outer edge of the woods...

He lights a cigarette, leans on his stick and stands listening, waiting for the birds to increase their song into the first light crescendo he has come to know well. First the Robins fast trill, always ending with a sad note; then he hears a blackbird away overhead and closer by the loud tumbling warble of the wren - the smallest of birds with the largest of songs. He has already heard the Tawny Owls - old friends now - and he hears the badger snuffling back to his set, but the deer walk by within 25 feet of him, their soundless passage unmarked by the man.

...lifting wraith-like from the grass...

Then the mist swirls as if disturbed by some interloper, some unseen spirit pushing and shoving its way towards the seething dampness. This trespasser is the breeze and it's instigator, the sun. Rising above the distant trees, the October sunlight has brought warmth and with this rise in temperature has come the pressure that pushes the air inexorably backwards, back into the woods and beyond; back across the fields, the mist lifting wraith-like from the warming grass to dissolve into the early morning sunlight as if it had never been, until finally, the last vestiges of the early morning mist have disappeared entirely and sunlight dominates the morning, the battle is over, today the sun has won.

The Gamekeeper extinguishes his cigarette between thumb and forefinger, placing the butt in his jacket pocket, he takes one more look across the fields into the sun, squinting his eyes from the low glare before turning his back on it and melting into the wood.

...the sun has won...