This time last week there was still snow on the ground and thick ice on the moat, and now it feels very much like spring is very close by. I know that’s a bit premature as it’s still February, but buds are swelling, I have seen Daffodils flowering as well as crocus and primroses, pussy willow, hazel catkins and sticky buds on the Horse Chestnuts – all signs of a season on the move. Bumblebees are on the wing, and the Vibernum in the garden was smothered in honeybees today. Birdsong is filling the air – thrushes, tits, robins, skylarks, blackbirds, finches, all are vocal, marking territories and attracting partners. Woodpeckers are drumming their heads off in the distance. Yes there is still time for plenty of hostile wintry weather, but Shrove Tuesday is behind us, the days are lengthening at pace, and a week tomorrow heralds the start of meteorological spring.

Today I paid a visit to my bees, really just to see that they had made it through the winter, and to heft the hives to assess how much food they still had. There was plenty of activity at the hive fronts, and all were heavy, so I don’t think that any supplementary feeding will be necessary. I always try to leave enough honey in the hives to see the colonies through the winter, only feeding sugar syrup as a last resort – its much more natural and sympathetic.

I was quite surprised by how the ground has dried out since the thaw; I was expecting a mud bath, but it hasn’t been like that at all. This week looks like being dry and mild, so some work on the soil may be possible soon. In the meanwhile conditions should be pleasant for getting on with more pruning in the orchard.

The propagator is full of seed trays, with all manner of plants being started – peppers, cabbages, lettuce, chard, parsley, tomatoes. It will be fully utilised from now, right throughout spring. Already germinated and on the benches in the low greenhouse are onions, beetroot, tomatoes, coriander, spring onions and lettuce. It’s a very exciting time as a grower, I never tire of this early season seed sowing activity, it’s hugely rewarding and is a time of great optimism.

The future may be bright, but at this time of the year it is very difficult to keep the ‘shop’ interesting, as availability, particularly of green veg, is very limited. To try to liven things up a bit I am getting in some European produce this week to provide some relief from the same old stuff. All of the winter root crops are still being offered, but every so often it is nice to have something a bit different. Needless to say, everything I buy in is grown on certified organic farms whatever its origins. Not all of you will want out of season vegetables, I understand that, but the option to indulge is there should you wish to avail yourself of it.

So the items I have added to the availability list this week are Broccoli (Calabrese), and courgettes – both from Spain, where light levels and warmer temperatures mean that there is an extended growing season for these vegetables. In addition there is very limited curly kale, plus carrots, parsnips, swede, beetroot, red cabbage, onions, red onions, limited sweet potato, mushrooms, garlic, ginger, turmeric, plenty of potato options – including a limited quantity of Pink Gypsy (see below). Blood oranges, lemons, kiwi fruit and ‘Gala’ apples (now in bags of 4) are your fruit choices – I don’t think that I will be able to get any more Seville oranges this season.

Progress has been made on improving my hearing! Two weeks ago I had an appointment at the ENT department at the West Suffolk Hospital. For the first time in a year long saga a doctor actually looked in to my problem ear for the first time and discovered that the ear canal was inflamed. She gave me some antibiotic ear drops that I was to use twice daily for 10 days. After 4 or 5 days my hearing had improved significantly. Tomorrow afternoon I have a follow-up appointment at the clinic to assess my condition. My hearing is not perfect, but it is at a level that I would settle for after 12 months of – not misery, but it has been miserable at times. If only my GP had taken a look; I have found my 4 telephone appointments as useful as a chocolate teapot!

I have already spoken of birds, but I have had some notable sightings recently that I would like to share with you. Yesterday I saw 3 Red Kites in different locations, suggesting that they really are resident over this way now. I saw a Kingfisher twice today – or two Kingfishers once. I have seen Barn Owls in several locations, Treecreepers scaling the trunks of Alder trees, and I had a lovely view of a Goldcrest at Wyken. Though not as sexy as some of those I mentioned, I get great satisfaction from watching the Tits, Robins, Dunnocks and Pheasants at my feeders daily at Moyns Park. The Pheasants hang around beneath the feeders to hoover up what the small birds drop. The squirrels have trashed a second feeder, but watching their dextrous gymnastic antics is very amusing, so I can’t be too miffed with them.

I’m later doing this today so I will draw things to a close. I wish you a very good week, take advantage of the drying footpaths and observe nature on the move whilst taking your daily exercise, but remember to stop, look, and listen – you will be rewarded richly.


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