March/April 1998                    112

A bad start to the year

Working the land is an unpredictable business. Our Scillonian flower farmers are probably more aware of this than most. Our winter temperatures are congenial but then out of the blue comes a storm such as we saw on January 3rd – 4th. The 100mph squalls, with hail and loaded with Atlantic salt devastated many crops at the height of the season.
One slight advantage was that, overall, the narcissus season was early. Cropping began in September due to a combination of a warm spring and early summer followed by a rather wet late summer and autumn which encouraged early flowering even if the quality was not as good as we would have liked. This meant that by early new year a larger than normal proportion of the crop had been marketed. However, despite this, losses from the gale were huge and the quality of bloom suffered until later beds came in towards the end of January.
Salt laden winds have a huge potential to damage both buds and the foliage, the latter being especially important in feeding the bulbs for next year’s crop. When strong winds or sand blast removes some of the waxy leaf cuticle, salt enters the tissues with greater effect; wilting, scorching and shriveling.
Of course shelter hedges are the growers only insurance against serious gale damage and the hedges need to be well maintained. To be most effective, they should obviously be tall, correctly spaced and 50% permeable to the wind. Much as this may surprise some readers, who might opt for walls or solid fences round their gardens, it is a well established fact that wind cannot be stopped only slowed down, so a solid screen only creates a much more damaging downdraught just beyond. The spacing of 50% permeable screens is normally at 10 times their height. Here on Scilly a times 5 factor is considered necessary which is a measure of the force and variable direction of our winds.
But then, growers have seen it all before. As Mary Wilson said in her ”Winter”:  
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