Garden Views-08-August 2022

After the extreme heat event, and the generally dry month of July 2022, a burst of heavy rain on July 31st was followed by more modest wet days on August 2nd and 3rd. However, this proved to be a brief respite.

The weather reverted to days of warmth and sunshine, with another severe heat event on the 11th and 12th, when temperatures reached the low ’30’s Degrees C.

By August 18th, after 6 out of 7 drier than normal months so far in 2022, a drought was declared in most of South West Wales, the first time this has occurred since 1976.

So, much of the month was focused on selective plant watering to keep mature shrubs and vegetables in the land of the living.

Against this backdrop, there was much of interest to observe. A first, and only (!) field mushroom popped up in early July after the brief rainy interlude.

A pair of ruby-tailed wasps appeared on our terrace table, as they often do, sniffing out, and hunting for the solitary bees, which always seem to fill nest holes underneath the timber slats, earlier in the year.

Otherwise, it’s been a strikingly poor year for many insects. After last year’s bumper wasp nests, there have been very few wasps all year, and as the early apples get damaged by marauding jays, there are never any wasps around the rotting fruit.

The dry weather has meant it’s been our best year for blemish-free apples, and my efforts in crop thinning have off with mainly good-sized fruit, despite the very dry conditions. For the first time, we have a whole box of red, ripe ‘George Cave’, our earliest dessert apple, although we had to position our scarecrows to deter the birds for long enough to be able to pick the fruit, before they were wrecked.

The final swathes of green hay and a top-up of dried hay were cut and completed early in the month, and in such a bumper year for honey bee and bumblebee pollination, efforts with hand collection and spreading of favoured later season flowers like knapweed and betony continued. 

August was, as usual, a month when bees returned in numbers to the garden as the local bramble and rosebay willowherb flowers began to finish. Echinops, Rudbeckia, knapweed, Persicaria, Marjoram, and Devil’s-bit Scabious are particular favourites.

Eventually, the heat diminished once more mid-month, and some welcome clouds and light rain eased the stress on plants, though most of our ground remained parched, and a striking, lighning-free thunderstorm passed just to the South of us, with barely a  few drops of rain falling.

Sunrises, moonrises, and cloudscapes were often gorgeous throughout the month.

Mid-month, a second small common blue butterfly was seen in the upper meadow, but we’re still waiting for our annual Welsh fifteen moment with late summer butterflies around the several forms of Buddleja, although honey bees and bumblebees enjoy one particular large bush, which we think is probably a seedling form, self-sown in the garden.

The two most active swarms of honey bees suddenly both behaved in the same unusual way, as the weather changed dramatically from very hot and sunny, to cool with a Northerly wind, the day after a major thunderstorm drifted just South of us.A tight cluster of bees formed over the entrance to both hives, which persisted and grew over the next 36 hours, almost occluding access, and persisted overnight, and in the drizzle. Many of the bees seemed to have tatty wings and worn thoraxes. I suspect from a bit of research that both colonies anticipated a drop-off in nectar availability and chose this moment to evict the aging workers, after what has been an exceptional summer of opportunity for them – neither colony, being in its first season has any significant number of drones to worry about as extra mouths to feed. 

An unusual sighting mid-month was a woodpecker resolutely trying to ram an acorn into the top of our yard telegraph pole, something I haven’t seen before.

As the knapweed flowers finished, a charm of goldfinches was a regular sight in the terrace garden relishing the developing seeds, particularly in the light rain that fell intermittently for about 10 days mid-month.

The weather became warm, dry and generally sunny towards the end of the month, and the final rainfall tally for August 2022 was just 43.4mm, one of the lowest ever recorded by me here. It brings the annual total to date to “just” 810 mm. If the year is to surpass the lowest ever annual figure of around 1600mm, it means we’ll have to get some very  wet autumnal months.

This Met Office summary highlights just how exceptional the summer, and 2022 has been thus far –  the driest year so far since 1976, the UK’s warmest year so far on record (January to August), Wales averaged just 36% of typical August rainfall, and England had its joint hottest summer since 1884. The PV inverter reading also shows the pattern of weather during the month, and how much sunshine we ended up receiving in what is often a fairly damp and gloomy month here.

With September looking to start with at least some rainfall daily for the next 10 days or so, I’m hoping that the recently arrived IPAC water storage cubes can be filled soon, but won’t be needed for this year, given how the stream has looked for most of the summer.