Brrrrrrrrr…….freezing temperatures and Hair Ice

The rather extreme (for here!) weather these past few days has shown me a couple things that have made me go ‘Wow!’

Putting aside the strange phenomenon of full-on sunshine in Central Brittany for six consecutive days. The first, admittedly banal, occurrence was that the sheets I put on the line to dry froze like cardboard in the icy wind!

However, much more interesting was finding hair ice  in Beffou Forest on Friday. I did not know what this was, nor that it even existed, and now after some research, and finding that it is quite rare, I wonder if I’ll ever see it again?

From typing ‘ice crystals wet wood’ into the machine  this is what I found….

Hair ice (also known as ice wool or frost beard) is a type of ice that forms on dead wood and takes the shape of fine, silky hair. It is somewhat uncommon, and has been reported mostly at latitudes between 45–55 °N in broadleaf forests. The meteorologist and discoverer of continental drift, Alfred Wegener, described hair ice on wet dead wood in 1918,[assuming some specific fungi as the catalyst, a theory mostly confirmed by Gerhart Wagner and Christian Mätzler in 2005.]

Hair ice forms on moist, rotting wood from broadleaf trees when temperatures are slightly under 0 °C (32 °F) and the air is humid.  Each of the smooth, silky hairs has a diameter of about 0.02 mm (0.00079 in) and a length of up to 20 cm (7.9 in). The hairs are brittle, but take the shape of curls and waves. They can maintain their shape for hours and sometimes days. This long lifetime indicates that something is preventing the small ice crystals from recrystallizing into larger ones, since recrystallization normally occurs very quickly at temperatures near 0 °C (32 °F).

The hairs appear to root at the mouth of wood rays (never on the bark), and their thickness is similar to the diameter of the wood ray channels. A piece of wood that produces hair ice once may continue to produce it over several years.

In 2015, German and Swiss scientists identified the fungus Exidiopsis effusa as key to the formation of hair ice.  The fungus was found on every hair ice sample examined by the researchers, and disabling the fungus with fungicide or hot water prevented hair ice formation.  The fungus shapes the ice into fine hairs through an uncertain mechanism and likely stabilizes it by providing a recrystallization inhibitor similar to antifreeze proteins. (Thanks Wiki).

And here’s what it looks like!

It melts, as you would expect, the minute you touch it. That it stayed in such good condition even in the sunshine, until I got back to the car to photograph it shows how cold the day was!

Away from Balanou, what shall I do….?

Well…. Lots of shopping for seeds, bulbs, onion sets and seed potatoes! The seed shopping I suppose could have been done from France, as it’s almost all online, but I like the ritual of it in London – mainly because it reminds me that I’ll be going back to sow them all. That said, looking at the array of packets it’s a bit of a daunting prospect!

I’ve taken full advantage of Pound Lands/Worlds and Stretchers, as well as Wilko, Lidl and even Bunnings,    which was new to me. Now I have a substantial stash of Dahlias, Gladioli, Sparaxis, Ixia and other summer flowerers. I’ve also got a new gadget: a maximum/minimum thermometer to be geeky with the weather. And books… quite a few, including a couple that I hope will help me get on with identifying mosses and lichens.

But I have been watching the weather forecast with some trepidation. Today and yesterday have been two of the balmy, sunny, beautiful February days that send you rushing into the garden shouting ‘Spring is here!’ It isn’t. Not yet. I’ve finally got wise to the fact that every year Nature plays this same trick, and I’m no longer falling for it. Especially after seeing this:

Look at those temperatures. We’re arriving just in time to walk right back into mid-winter.

Winter loveliness and signs of Spring…

After a few days of the kind of weather that, if it persists, makes winter here dreary. A few images taken during the dreariness that show the beauty that is still there if I open my eyes to it!

Huelgoat forest. The Mare aux Sangliers after the rain… Late December.Lichens from a fallen branch of oak after the wind… One day I’ll get to grips with their identification.

A Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) flower in the garden. Freshly opened and almost pristine, after the rain which had spoiled the others.

Chinese Witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis, ‘Pallida’) flowering now. Little slivers of yellow, crinkly crepe paper petals with a delicious, if sometimes elusive perfume.

An an unexpected, very early surprise… Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Hodgkin’. Why this one flower now when all the others are only just showing above ground? I have no idea. But how beautiful and how welcome!

All of these, plus the emerging Crocus, Narcissus and,   – I kid you not – Tulips(!) and more daylight. I know there’ll be bleak days ahead, but Spring is just around the corner. Time to start looking at the seed catalogues.

Bloody rain…but at least it isn’t snow!

The rain just doesn’t seem to have stopped. I’m sure it must have at some point these last days, but I was either asleep or I somehow didn’t notice. Actually, it did for about 30 minutes this morning – and probably did for some of yesterday, so I’m being overly dramatic.

I’m listening to it now falling on the window panes – which is better than Monday night when it woke me up dripping on the floor near my head! (There’s a waiting bucket now. It only happens with a combination of very heavy rain and strong wind from a particular direction…)

This of course means that I’ve got almost nothing done. In that little thirty minute window I did finally plant several pots of tulips that have been waiting to go in for ages. I don’t feel too bad about making them wait as, apparently, they do better planted once the cold weather hits and are less susceptible to diseases. Which is a comforting excuse for laziness on my part.

But here’s the garden from my window last week before the rain set in:

And the Miscanthus lit by… a little bit of sun!

As winter draws in…

I have to scrabble around and grab hold of the good at this time of year. Outwardly everything is rotting, withdrawing, collapsing and dying around me.

It’s  cold. It’s damp. I can’t walk on the grass without turning it into a slippery mud trail – but I have to walk on the grass and wheel my barrows full of manure over it, so it looks dreadful.

So… I have started raking and collecting the fallen leaves to use as mulch.  I have pruned my black currants and other soft fruit. I have started the long process of renovating and weeding the flower borders. I’m wandering around with secateurs in my pocket snipping when I see the need. I have smothered the Asparagus bed in manure and am gradually doing the same elsewhere.

There are Blewitts now. The last mushrooms to fruit. Even after the frosts. I’m still collecting Chanterelles (Cantherellus tubaeformis) and the day before yesterday got some Saffron Milk Caps (Lactarius deliciosus) as an unexpected surprise.

Scratching the ground I’ve seen the blunt snouts of daffodils already waiting to emerge. So, although it seems on the surface that it’s all decaying, there’s a whole world down below slowly preparing for the Spring. I love that.

Oca might be ok…

I’ve just started lifting the Oca in a serious way – rather than just scratching around the plants to see what’s there.  It’s been so damp and chilly the leaves are starting to drop and rot even under the netting and, though I’d rather wait longer, I can’t. Major vole depredations as usual. But I got out this handful of sizeable beauties. I hope there will be lots more – but there will at least be enough to have another try next year – The eternally optimistic (delusional) mentality of a gardener…

No clouds in the sky but a lovely Clouded Yellow

How I have waited for this photo – even though it’s not very good! After the miserable weather, and especially after this cold spell, I was thrilled to see two Clouded Yellows in the garden. They really are the last men standing. Even the reliable Speckled Woods have gone now and I haven’t seen a Red Admiral for a while… These have been buzzing around but not settling anywhere for more than a couple of seconds. So I was pretty happy that one finally stopped on a broccoli flower and let me close enough to snap.

Cutting back…

After a fair amount of time spent moping or doing very little I’ve finally spent a day hacking back the dead stems, scratching out the moss and prising out the couch grass ‘onions’. It’s  satisfying to see some semblance of order returning to parts of the most overgrown places – and more importantly, the re-opening up of borders which had felt (although I hadn’t paid enough attention and realised until now), somewhat claustrophobic.

I’m planning on an overhaul of my borders. I’ve finally got to the happy point where I can start to dig out and discard. Previously I was just glad that stuff was growing and filling the gaps – even if that meant having plants that I didn’t overly like but was pleased that they grew!  Now I’ve a substantial list of plants that I can move elsewhere (even perhaps out of the garden into the ditches and hedgerows) and, more importantly, other (better) things I’ve raised from seed or cuttings that now need to be moved from their nursery beds into a more permanent home.

What I’m not good at is ‘imagining’ what things will look like. I can’t plan plantings or juxtapositions of plants. It’s always been a bit of pot luck and serendipity if things have worked – normally I have no space ready for a new plant so things get fitted in and then worked around….even if they’re not ‘working’.



And the rain continues….

The weather, whilst mild and incredibly still for the most part, (despite hail yesterday, and two nights of frost which have now blackened the Dahlias) has been been wet. And horribly damp in the house.

I am a bit of a baby when it comes to getting wet. I hate being wet. When I’m out working I dash in and out of the barn like the little plastic lady of the weather vanes the minute it starts raining.

But now the dampness is interfering with my seed collecting/drying with quite a lot of mould even on things I’d thought were dry – or that would dry if I took them indoors. Of course it’s always a bit of a gamble saving seed. Generally with the big stuff like beans, squash etc. you can tell pretty much if they’re going to be viable. The tiny seeds are more problematic.  I should perhaps germinate samples when I save them to save heartache the following year, but I don’t. What made me think that, was that I’d collected some marigold (tagetes) seed – so nothing special – but was wondering if it was ok. Then I saw that amongst the seed heads a couple had already sprouted. Hmmmmn. So they are viable, but if they’ve sprouted now because of the damp is it worth trying to dry them for next Spring?

And now, after a day where the freeze overnight gave way to a beautiful, sun-filled, sparklingly lit sky, I’m waiting to see what tomorrow will bring. I can’t say that I got masses done, but I feel like I’m getting back in gear again after a period of what can only be kindly called ‘inertia’.

Now that the Dahlias, Nasturtiums, Marigolds etc. have had it I can tackle the cutting back and the weeding more comfortably. There is just so much that needs doing.

In the field today I saw two deer, scared a pheasant, picked some Millers and a huge Orange Birch Bolete (in good condition) which have been cooked down and will be part of tomorrow’s soufflé (just the mushrooms!)

And I collected these most beautiful beans. I call them ‘Isabelle’s Black Beans’ because she gave them to me several years ago and I’ve never found out their real name.