Ice and Fire

icy river
Frozen river

This has been the coldest spell we’ve had in several years.  Freezing temperatures both night and day, for several weeks.  The sky’s have been clear; Blue cloudless days and stunning starry nights.  I’m hoping that I haven’t lost many plants, I think the minimum we reached was about -8 degrees Celsius.  Everything looks really dessicated, although it’s not been windy, everything is freeze dried. Despite the time of year there have been several wild fires on Skye and the outer isles, leading to road closures in the middle of Skye last week.  I don’t know whether they were deliberate (muirburn to regenerate grazing) or accidental fires.

My wasabi has died back, and the luma apiculata’s leaves have dried up.  I forgot to wrap the unknown citrus in the polytunnel and that has shrivelled leaves too.  Hopefully these will all sprout back in spring, I do hope so.  There was a little snow but most of it melted before it froze again.  There is snow on the tops of the hills still, which look like Mt. Fuji.

ice crystals
Ice crystals in grass

As the ground is frozen, I can’t really get on with planting anything, but I’ve made some progress with coppicing.  I’ve cleared a little of the alder copse at the top by the cut through.  I cut those between the windbreak and the cut through, so the regrowth should have a bit of shelter.

alder coppice
Alder coppice at cut through

Some of the birch are getting pretty big now.  I have taken out some of the lower branches; singling the stems so they will make straighter logs in time perhaps.

felling birch
Singling birch

Further down again I singled out more alder along the top of the river bank and in the pond area, also taking out completely one multistemmed tree.  I think that’s all I’ll do for this year.  I don’t want to overdo things, especially until I know how well the regrowth will do.  We won’t have enough to be self sufficient in wood I don’t think, however it’s nice to feel like we’re making a step in that direction, especially with it having been so cold recently.

A bit breezy

Once you have lived on Skye a little while, your body calibrates to a different scale of wind and temperature.  Anything above 18 degrees Celsius is “bikini weather” and the wind reaches 40 or 50 mph before we count it as “a bit breezy”.  In the last two weeks we have had two spells of “really quite windy” (= gusting to 80mph) with a few chicken houses blown over (more experienced people have them strapped down to the rock) an old tree down over the road, a tile or two blown off and an old shed exploded into bits.

We’ve got away quite lightly here: one or two holly trees rocking a bit, due to the ground being a bit damp and the normal die off of fine roots in winter, a lost tile that had been loose for ages, and few more splits in the polytunnel.

The big split originated from where the Apricot had stuck a branch through, so again it was mainly my fault for not mending the hole sooner.  The funny thing was the way it propagated straight down one of the creases from where the plastic had been originally folded.  It is interesting how that still acts as a stress concentration feature.

new tears
Split extension

Initially the split extended over one polytunnel bay and after the first winds last week I managed to stitch it together with my polytunnel tape.  This time I could reach by standing on a step stool on the outside.  Unfortunately I didn’t mend it well enough to prevent it from extending again in a second, slightier gustier wind last Tuesday.  That was a little tricky, since the adjacent bay went over the pond in the tunnel which made it a bit more exciting reaching it on the inside.  However with more stitching from the outside and fully covering on the inside with the last of my tape, the cover is reasonably ept again.

inside tunnel
Inside tunnel with previous repair

What I am pretty pleased about, is that the repair I did on the top of the tunnel last autumn does seem to have held well.  Although the cover is starting to resemble a patchwork quilt now, I am hopeful that it will be a little while yet before I have to replace it completely again.

Inside the tunnel most things have died back now, so when the weather is poorer I can look to tidy it up, harvest the Yacon (watch this space!), and evict the Kiwi.  Astoundingly my asparagus is still growing!  I’m not sure what to do about this.  Should I harvest the shoots now, or wait till later in the spring?  The shoots don’t seem to mature, they just get mildewed and die off….

asparagus shoots in Jan
Asparagus in early January