Frost damaged strawberries

Strawberry Flower Frost Damage

All was going pretty well in the strawberry patch… until the frosts hit. A bitter easterly wind knocked around Bedfordshire throughout the week, and after one particularly chilly night, we awoke to a significant ground frost.

Ground frosts have been few and far between over the last couple of winters, and although April also had some exceptionally warm days, I should have known better than to be lulled into a false sense of security. Despite my neighbours wrapping their espalier trees in yards and yards of cost fleece, I paid little attention to the sky, the wind, and the weather forecasts, and took absolutely no action in protecting my plants.

Needless to say, we’ve lost a number of strawberry flowers with their burgeoning fruits. The black centres in the image below showcases my disastrous start to the growing season. Where the blank, black eye sits, there should be a sunny yellow centre, which will ultimately bear the jewel-like red fruits as the days lengthen into the heady heat-filled haze of summer.

I’ve had to pinch out the damaged flowers, and luckily the undamaged blooms have started appearing. Fingers crossed that we’ll have a decent harvest for my little strawberry patch this year.

Strawberry flower black frost damage

My strawberries weren’t the only victims of the snap frost. Two nasturtiums and five bean plants that I’d hastily planted out under the blazing azure skies during an earlier mini heatwave were also reduced to limp, frost-burned specimens. Thankfully, I have plenty more of each plant waiting in the wings, protected in the greenhouse. Back-ups. Lesson: always have a contingency. (And keep an eye on the weather forecast).

By some stroke of luck, only one of my recently-planted Valentina raspberry canes seem to have endured any kind of frost damage. Whether the cane recovers, we’ll have to wait and see.

There’s an adage floating around that tender plants shouldn’t be planted out until after the Chelsea Flower Show. I suppose this is generally when most gardens in the UK are safe from frosts, but after a sunny weekend, and whilst bombarded with images on social media of what everyone else has potted up and planted out, it’s all too easy to be swept up in this non-existent race to grow, grow, grow. I should know by now that slow and steady is the way to go.

Of course, it’s also worth adding that had I got my rear end in gear and got my polytunnel up in the last three years, I might have been writing about a completely different picture entirely. Slowly, slowly… ?


Greenhouse of shame

Ah, spring. What a temptress… one minute, it’s all bright sunshine, blue skies and a burst of colour, the next it’s grey-clouded drudgery, and north-easterly arctic winds blowing a gale through your house. I have just come to the end of a week off work, and for the most part the weather was crap. So as always I didn’t get out nearly as much as needed, and didn’t get as many jobs done as I wanted to.

The greys, browns and sludge-greens of late winter are depressing enough, but my greenhouse had been left to rack and ruin for the past year, and seeing it looking like an overgrown mini bombsite every time I walked outside just added to the feelings of despondency! It wasn’t even charmingly rambly like something out of the Lost Garden of Heligan. It just resembled a cesspit of shame:

greenhouse of shame

Greenhouse cleaning is one of those jobs (like digging) that I really really really don’t like doing. But I couldn’t take it anymore. It just had to be done.

So I spent four hours clearing out dead bindweed, removing the old straw bale (fab compost material) that I’d previously grown squashes on, and dug up two barrow loads of bindweed roots, all just to find some semblance of restored order. As you can see from the pictures below, my greenhouse fell victim to a storm about a year ago, where we lost a number of glass panels. Those will have to be replaced at some point but for now we’re just enjoying some “ventilation”. The greenhouse is in a pretty sheltered corner, so there’s still a decent amount of heat and protection from frost in there.

before and after

Typically, it’s still a half-finished job, but at least it’s looking a little less neglected. Around the outside, I’ll also be chipping our pruned apple tree branches to make homemade mulch which will be going over some weed suppressing mat, and then there’s the even more brain-numbingly boring job of cleaning pots and trays before I even put the greenhouse into action. But once it’s done, it’s done and I should be able to reap the rewards. It’ll be a thing of beauty, a corner of my Smallest Smallholding that I’ll be proud to photograph in all its glory.

For now, I’ve only got a couple of trays of Red Baron onion sets on the go, but with the arctic winds giving way to a bit more spring cheer, the (well ventilated) shelves should be filling up with seed trays very soon. Watch this space…