Friday 5 April 2024

Life on The Weald - March 2024

 Life on The Weald - and other distractions

March 2024

1 March

My hopes for a cool dry March seemed to be dashed on day one as we saw a continuation of the recent heavy rain.  "March comes in like a lion...."  well it certainly has, with very strong winds.

There was some good news at home.  Several of last year's peppers had survived indoors and the Cheyenne had flowered and fruited!

1 March - Cheyenne
The first chilli of 2024

In the unheated loft room, the potatoes were chitting nicely.

1 March

2 - 4 March
Friday was another indoor day!  I sowed some Marmande  and Yellow Perfection  tomatoes in trays indoors and on Saturday I sowed some Kalettes, purple sprouting broccoli, red Drumhead cabbage and some Sungold tomatoes.

Sunday and Monday were clear sunny days so I spent some time on the plot, although Saturday was cut short due to a granddaughter's 18th birthday! 

I managed to clear the potato patch of clumps of grass and sundry weeds.  Despite having had a layer of manure last season, the ground was very waterlogged,  The weeds could be pulled out easily and the tufts of grass with a little help froma handfork without disturbing the soil too much but unfortunately the raspberries had begun to invade and needed to be dug out and they were firmly rooted in the sodden clay that lay a few inches beneath the surface.  I dug up a couple of rasperries that had been engulfed with couch grass, which I removed and replanted the canes.

I removed the fleece from the onion sets planted last month as they had rooted firmly and were beginning to show green growth. The autumn planted garlic was doing well.

3 March - onions

3 March - garlic

3 March - garlic

It was amazing how much bindweed I manages to remove from around the raspberry canes!

4 March - the dreaded bindweed

7 March 
I am in the process of cutting back the shrubs in my front garden and the shredder is proving its worth.  I am using some of the chippings to restore the path on the allotment.

7 March - reestoring the main footpath

Last year, I allowed the bind weed to take over the redcurrants and sadly many of the stems rooted.  I spent a whole morning on my knees removing the bindweed roots.  I have also lifted one of the three redcurrant bushes as the bed was overcrowded and now have to find somewhere to replant it.

7 March - weeding the redcurrants

7 March - bindweed roots

At home the pale pink camellia was in full flower and the other one in bud.  We are having the front paved and as soon as flowering has finished, I will be moving the plants.  As they are acid loving, they need to be in ericacious soil and I think they may do better in large pots or planters.

7 March - Camellia

Indoors, my first tomato seed (Marmande) had germinated and there were signs that the brassicas had too.

7 March - a tomato seed sprouting (Marmande)

7 March - first sign of brassica seedlings

8 March
What a difference a day makes! The purple sprouting broccoli and kalettes were now in evidence and the Marmande tomatoes had progressed since yesterday.

8 March - purple sprouting broccoli

8 March - Kalettes

8 March - Tomato Marmande

9 March
Whilst the kalettes and broccoli for 2024/25 were just sprouting we were harvesting the previous season's crop.

9 March - kalettes

I had taken home all the prunings from the plum trees and apple that Luke and Sylvi had cut back and spent an afternoon with the shredder

10 March
Another wet Sunday!  I stayed at home and sowed some boltardy beetroot and silver and rainbow chard in trays at home.

11-12 March
Monday was another wet, dank day with all day drizzle and a maximum temperature of 10C. Tuesday saw heavy - and I mean heavy - rain all day so I stayed indoors and sowed some spinach, chervil and landcress.  I also planted some spring onions in modules - i had cut off the root base from spring onions we had in the fridge and planted them to see if they would grow again (see them 2 weeks later below).  I had read a tip on the internet :
"Cut the spring onions about two to three centimetres from the root. Use up the stems in whatever you are cooking, then simply plant the root pieces in a pot with potting mix. The roots should go into the soil with a little bit of the stem still visible above the soil. Water regularly and let it grow. Once they are fully grown you can snip at the base as you need them. Keep the roots in the soil and they will continue to regrow about four more times before you will need to start the process again. You can also let one of the spring onions continue to grow, flower and produce seeds."

13 March
At home the tomatoes were doing well.

13 March - tomatoes

The Duke of York potatoes had been chitting and I thought ready to be planted.

13 March - Red Duke of York potatoes

I planted my first two half-rows (ten potatoes each)

13 March - Red Duke of York

I picked a good supply of rhubarb.

13 March - rhubarb

At home, we had made a start on our last remaining Butternut Squash  and decided on a butternut squash and sage risotto

butternut squash risotto in the making

butternut risotto with broccoli and deep fried sage leaves

15 March
Some fresh wood chippings had been delivered to the allotment, which I desperately needed to finish my footpath and to fill in between beds.  I managed to get some but with all the heavy rain we had been having, I nearly got stuck in the mud collecting it.
15 March - the flooded haulageway

16-17 March 
Saturday started off fine and I went down to the port to buy some fish. It was a glorious sunny morning with virtually no breeze and the harbour was like a mill pond.

16 March - Portslade Harbour

I managed a short spell on the plot, removing couch grass and other weeds from the footpath and, where it was not too bad, just spread the newly acquired wood chips.  The new stuff was mainly pine - I suspect some Leylandii that someone had got rid of - the colour and smell was quite different from the plum/apple chippings that I had laid earlier.

16 March - contrasting chippings

16 March - two-tone footpath progresses

It was welcome to have a dry spell - but it was not to last and it soon turned into another very wet weekend!

18 March
It was a damp Monday morning with continuous mizzle but brightened up in the afternoon.  The herb garden that I had planted in the old wheelbarrow last year had survived the winter well. The thyme, tarragon and winter savory  were looking healthy and the grapefruit and pineapple mint  were just beginning to surface.

The wheelbarrow was also serving to keep the front panel of the shed upright but has to be moved to open the door each time.

18 March - wheelbarrow herb garden

18 March - wheelbarrow herb garden

The following day was wet and damp with drizzle all day.

20 - 21 March
Wednesday 20 March was a glorious spring day - the hottest day of the year so far, but one where I was in London all day!  Thursday was a very misty morning - no rain but the atmosphere felt very damp.  

21 March - Looking east from 247

21 March - Looking west from 247

I carried on with the path renewal, this time laying some cardboard before spreading wood chips.

21 March - the path progresses

21 March - woodchip on cardboard

I thought I had removed all the raspberry invaders from the raised beds but discovered one coming up among the recently planted shallots.  I managed to get it out with a trowel but suspect there are runners much deeper and that more shoots will emerge.

21 March - a raspberry invades the shallots

As if I did not have enough seeds already, I bought some more - Crimson flowering broad beans and Mangetout (Norli) peas, and sowed a double row of each.  After a useful morning I picked some more purple sprouting broccoli and headed home.

22-24 March
Friday was another wet day. Saturday was initially forecast to be dry with bright periods, but a later forecast suggested rain by 11am, so I made an early morning visit and planted a row of Charlotte second early potatoes before the rain came down. The ground was very wet.  I dug a shallow channel to plant the potatoes and then half-filled it with some dry, bought compost before planting the potatoes and covering with soil.  I will gradually earth them up as shoots appear.

23 March - first row of  Charlotte potatoes

The onions don't seem to mind the wet weather!

23 March - Stuttgart and Rumba onions

 23 March - Red baron onions

At home, the spring onions that I had planted in egg boxes on 12 March had rooted and were putting on growth and would probably need potting up or even planting out soon.

23 March - 11 days growth - spring onions

24-25 March
Sunday was sunny but with a bit of a chilly wind, so we harvested some spinach and broccoli but didn't stay long.    One of my fellow plot-holders, Helen, was getting rid of an aluminium cold frame (which needs some re-glazing) and between us we carried it to our plot.  Thank you Helen.

24 March - our newly acquired cold frame

Monday was also sunny and we spent some time on the plot. Sylvi continued to prune and cut-back some of the plum trees, some of which will be removed soon and I managed to plant another row of First Early Charlotte potatoes.  

24 March - second row of Charlotte potatoes

I also found a place to plant our spare red-currant bush.  Now that we had cut back the apple tree there was a convenient space nearby.  I thought it would be a realtively simple task but alas the area around the apple tree was full of bindweed and brambles and removing these was quite a laborious - and unfinished - task.

There was some good news at home.  The Zimbabwe black  chilli plant that I had brought indoors last October is beginning to flower!

23 March - The 2023 Zimbabwe black chilli blossoms

26 March
Rain was forecast but we managed to spend some time in the garden in the morning cutting back trees and shrubs and then chipping the branches for woodchip for the allotment.  As we are putting in parking space at the front soon, I will need to move some of the plants.  The pink Paeoni came up fairly easily, although split in the process.  They were just beginning to produce shoots and advice on dividing and or replanting Paeonies suggests this should be done in the autumn when the stems have died back and the plant is dormant. Unfortunately I didn't have a choice, it was either move them or lose them.  I have divided and repotted them in 5 pots, hoping that at least one will survive but I have been advised that moving them at the wrong time might mean losing a flowering season.

I also transferred the Hellebores from the front garden to the back.

27-28 March
On Wednesday, there was a brief break in the rain and Sylvi continued to cut back the fuchsia tree and shrubs in the front and I was able to do some more shredding.

On Thursday I transported three box loads of wood chippings to the allotment before the rain came down again and during a brief half hour respite from the rain in the afternoon, Luke helped Sylvi move our numerous pots and planters from the front garden to the rear and helped dig up some of the shrubs we want to keep including the Camellias. 

29 March Good Friday
Sylvi had cut off most of the branches which I had shredded and we were now waiting for some help from Luke and the chainsaw to remove the rest.

29 March - remains of the Fuchsia tree

On the plot, I managed to re-plant the redcurrant bush with some added compost.

29 March - redcurrant transplanted

I then surrounded it with a layer of cardboard topped with a mulch of wood chippings/

29 March - redcurrant ready for mulching

With the rest of the wood chippings I continued the path.

29 March - the path progresses

29 March - the path progresses

The Red Duke of York early potatoes planted just over two weeks earlier, on 13 March were now showing through.

29 March - Red Duke of York potato

30 March
March certainly came in like a lion and today it looked likely that it would go out as a lamb, as Saturday was a bright, sunny spring-like day.

30 March - a sunny spring day

There are no frosts forecast, but just to be safe, I began to earth up the potatoes by raking a light covering of soil over the exposed leaves.

31 March
The brief sunny spell was not to last though and the month ended, as it began - as a lion - with heavy rain and gusting wind.  Definitely a day for staying indoors. A good day for baking! I baked a single rise, "no knead" loaf using the Dutch Oven method

31 March - A satisfying "no knead" loaf

John Austin

Hove, March 2024

Friday 15 March 2024

Life on The Weald - February 2024


Life on The Weald - February 2024

and at Home and in the kitchen 

After the wet autumn and December and the unpredictable, unsettled and changing January, things were beginning to look a bit more hopeful at the beginning of February and there was produce to be harvested as well as a lot of delayed preparation for spring planting. Unfortunately we did not experience the cold, dry February that we needed - globally the month turned out tobe the warmest February on record and as far as the UK was concerned one of the wettest.

2 Febuary
The early morning rain had stopped by midday and the afternoon was cloudy, with a high of 10C.  After removing the fleece there was sign of the most recently planted broad beans but also a few weeds that need to be removed.  I lifted a few of the remaining leeks, expecting them to be damaged by alium leaf miner but was pleasantly surprised that they were OK so I left the others in the ground. 

2 February - sign of broad beans (and weeds)

The broad beans sown in December and early January also seemed to be doing well
2 February - December and January sown broad beans

I top-dressed all the broad beans with a sprinkling of coffee grounds mixed with crushed egg shells which, hopefully, will act as slug deterrent as well as supplying nutrients to the soil.

With Sylvi's help I had removed the grass from what will be this year's potato patch.
This is the area where the squashes and courgettes had been growing last year and which had benefitted from a layer of cardboard covered with compost and manure early in 2023, so no "digging" was needed.  The clumps of grass were not couch grass and could be easily pulled out with light forking so there was minimal disturbance to the soil. In the next few weeks, before planting the potatoes, I will spread the contents of our compost bins which are in a pile on the edge of the bed.

2 February - The 2024 potato patch and compost pile

The nearby raised bed, where spinach had been growing last year, also had clumps of grass that need to be removed. The grass was easy but there had also been an invasion of raspberries which needed to be dug out.   There is also a threat of invasion of couch grass from the raspberry bed which will need to be tackled by digging up and replanting the raspberries whilst they are still dormant.

2 February -A raised bed in need of weeding

3 February
Saturday was another dry cloudy day with a high temperature of 10C so a good opportunity to continue the weeding and the tidying up and, with the help of Luke and our little chainsaw, removal of the lower branches from the apple tree, some of which were touching the ground as a result of being heavily ladened with fruit.

All the hard work was beginning to seem worthwhile as we were able to begin harvesting our early purple sprouting broccoli.  I had removed the central head from one advanced plant about a week ago to encourage the growth of side shoots and that had paid off.

3 February - purple sprouting broccoli

So I removed the head from a second plant, hoping for fresh shoots next week.

3 February - purple sprouting broccoli
central flower head for removal

3 February - Harvested broccoli

We also harvested the first of our forced rhubarb.

3 February - Rhubarb

4 February
Today was Brighton's Seedy Sunday, the UK's largest and longest running seed swap.  Not only was there an abundance of seeds on offer but a whole load of interesting stalls connected to horticulture, bio-diversity, wildlife etc.  Sylvi and I were volunteering on the Weald Allotment stall where our allotment shop was selling seed potatoes and we did a roaring trade.

4 February - Seedy Sunday

6 - 9 February
There was heavy rain all day on Tuesday 6th February but I ventured out in the evening for a meeting of the Allotment Association Committee.  it was a miserable, wet and wild night and the heavy rain continued for the next few days.

10 - 11 February
There were brief dry periods between the showers on Saturday but my dranddaughter, Tilly, was visiting for the weekend so no work was done on the plot.  That was a missed opportunity as Sunday was a clear day and would have been a good one for gardening.

12 February
Fortunately the dry spell continued and Monday was a clear bright sunny day.  Sylvi continued to trim the pruned appple branches - we will compost the little twiggy bits or add to the footpath mulch, and the branches will go to the shredder.

I planted out some Stuttgart  abd Rumba  onion sets and sowed a double row of Kelvedon Wonder peas and covered them all with fleece.

12 February - newly planted onions protected with fleece

I'm glad we took advantage of the sunny Monday as the next two days were again very wet with contuinuous drizzle and heavy mist.

15 February
Thursday saw another change in the weather with unusually high temperatures. Around this time of year we would expect it to be no higher than 10C but in some parts of the country it reached 16C and in Hove was 14C in the afternoon.

I planted some red onion sets, Red Baron  and Kramer  as well as a few Menhir and Biztro  shallots.

15 February - red onion sets planted

17 - 18 February
It was another wet but warm weekend!  I did venture to the allotment on Sunday but only to visit the shop to get some seed compost and vermiculite to prepare for seed sowing at home. I did manage to do a write-up for the Weald Allotment blog on seed sowing and the use of vermiculite and perlite.

Seed Sowing – Perlite or Vermiculite?

The Weald Shop has supplies of both

Now that we have begun the seed sowing season it’s time to think about sowing mediums.  It is important to remember that germinating seeds and seedlings need air around the roots as well as moisture.

One way of improving composts for sowing seeds or planting seedlings is the addition of perlite or vermiculite, both of which are inorganic compounds but both are natural materials and generally accepted for organic gardening. 

What’s the difference?


Perlite is a product formed from rapidly cooling magma (volcanic glass). It is light, bright white and is hard and porous.  It is made by heating magma until it pops like popcorn. Perlite allows water and air to penetrate but does not retain water.

Perlite is used as a soil additive to improve aeration and drainage.  If you see white particles within bought compost or potted plants it is possibly perlite (although it might be Styrofoam – extruded polystyrene foam, which most gardeners would not recommend).

Perlite can be very useful in improving aeration, drainage, and compaction in soils.  It is a particularly good additive for growing Cacti, non-cacti succulents, and epiphytes which prefer a drier growing medium. It is also a good additive for rooting cuttings from plants and is pH neutral


Vermiculite is a mineral (magnesium-aluminium-iron silicate) that is mined in several countries including the United States, Russia, China, South Africa, and Brazil.  Vermiculite is heated to expand its particles and can absorb up to 3 to 4 times its volume in water. Vermiculite also attracts and holds nutrients such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium (essential nutrients which are then slowly released to plant roots). Vermiculite is usually brownish to silver grey in colour and very lightweight.

It can be used as an additive to soilless growing mediums for its water retention and nutrient attraction properties. It is also pH neutral

It can be applied as a thin layer on top of seed starting mixes to retain moisture and prevent crusting of the top layer of soil, or mixed with compost/soil before sowing/planting.  It may not be suitable for some house-plants as it retains moisture which could result in root rot if over-watered. Vermiculite can also useful in storing bulbs/root vegetables etc. If a layer is placed around bulbs when storing it can absorb moisture and prevent mildew.

Vermiculite vs Perlite

As a general rule of thumb – use perlite when you want better drainage and aeration and vermiculite when you want more moisture retention – and of course you can use a mixture of the two.

Footnote: Both products are natural minerals and non-renewable and therefore not sustainable products but it is estimated that less than 1% of natural resources have been mined. Mining/extraction/refining will inevitable mean use of energy/fossil fuels and transportation and for this reason some gardeners may look to other products/methods.

There is also a useful guide on Gardeners’ World at

Posted by John Austin – 22 February 2024

19-24 February
Monday 19 was a very miserable day - full of Mizzle, a combonation of mist and fine drizzzle.  For the rest of the week there was more heavy rain.  I thought things had changed on Friday as it was bright and sunny early in the morning but that didn't last and there was more heavy rain in the afternoon.

25 February
Sunday was the Brighton Half Marathon and usually we go to cheer the runners on at the bottom of our road but as it had stopped raining I thought I ought to visit the plot.  

I lifted the few remaining leeks and thankfully they were pest and disease free.

25 February - leeks

25 February - Leek

There was also a plentiful supply of perpetual spinach which had over-wintered well.

25 February - PerpetualSpinach

The pond was loking healthy, but no sign of any frog, toad or newt spawn 😞

25 February - The Pond

I managed to harvest some more broccoli to go with the leeks for dinner.

25 February - broccoli

25 February - Leeks

26-28 February
I was up in London for various events on the Monday and Tuesday and on Wednesday at the josptal to see the hand-therapist following my recent operation.
But February wasn't over as it's a Leap Year!

29 February 
The extra day this month was little different from earlier ones - wet, wet, wet!

29 February - Path to the plot

Should I consider growing rice?

29 February - waterlogged approach

Far too wet to do anything on the plot do we indulged ourselves and went to the cinema.  Hoping for a few dry days in March - please!

John Austin

Hove, February 2024