Friday 24 May 2024

Life on The Weald - April 2024

Life on The Weald - April 2024

and other distractions

1 - 5 April
Easter Monday (1 April) was another rainy day. Our biggest distractions this week are having the builders in to create a cross-over and parking area in the front garden plus a visit from our tree surgeon to drastically pollard the eucalyptus in the back garden and cut back the Leylandii and a day out in London for a visit to the theatre to see Standing at the Sky's Edge.  

2 April - opening the front door!

2 April - That was the garden that was!

Jody, a neighbour at the allotment, had severely pruned her olive tree and I had brought home several branches which, between the other distractions and the rain showers, I managed to put through the shredder. 

The week ended with sunshine which continued into the weekend.

6 - 7 April
It would have been good weather for gardening but it was the Brighton Marathon weekend which kept me away from the allotment.  On Saturday, I joined David Weir for the Start of the various races for the children's and community one mile events in Preston Park.

6 April - The Community Mile

And on Sunday, I was on duty with the presentations for the Brighton 10K and the Brighton Marathon.

7 April - The Winners of Women's Brighton Marathon

Walking along the course, I found volunteers from the Plumstead Runners (my old manor) who had been staffing one of the water stations and I met up with a former running companion, Gina Little, from Greenwich. Gina had just completed the Marathon at the age of 79 and would be running the London Marathon - her 39th London - in a few weeks.  In all she has run more than 600 Marathons! (She was usually faster than me back in the 80s and 90s) and was part of the team that forged links with the runners in Reinickendorf (Greenwich's twin town in Berlin), a link that continues to this day, and we had run several Berlin Marathons together.

7 April - Hove seafront with Gina Little

I had been joined at the Brighton Finish by my grandson, Felix, who had been due to run the 10k as part of his preparations for the London Marathon, but had to withdraw due to a knee injury sustained the previous month in the Kingston 20miles.

7 April - with Felix on the Finish line

9 April
Back on the allotment and with the improvement in the weather, I removed the fleece where the mangetout peas were just showing through, and there were signs that some of the red flowered broad beans had germinated too.

9 April - Mangetout peas 

Luke had come round to saw up the trunk of the old fuchsia tree for his mother-in-law's wood stove and the branches which were too thick for my wood shredder.

9 April - my old Fuchsia

The rest, I shredded and used to extend and renew the path on the plot.

9 April - path renewal

I picked purple sprouting broccoli and the few remaining Kalettes, removed a few weeds from the shallots and cut a few rather wonky asparagus spears.

9 April - Asparagus

I was pleased to see that the Duke of York first early potatoes were all up and looking healthy - must be all that rain! To deter the snails and slugs, I spread some crushed egg shells around the shallots.

9 April - shallots

The plum trees were in blossom and the broad beans in flower...

9 April - Plums blossoming

9 April - broad beans flowering

...and the flowers on the Rosemary were attracting honey bees.

11 April 
The rain returned just as the work on the front garden had finished.  It looks very tidy but rather bleak. It will soon be brightened with various pots and planters.

11 April - what was the front garden

At the back of the house there is a profusion of flowers and the Three cornered leek (Snow bells) have taken over a whole corner.  It is considered by some to be an invasive species and shouldn't be planted in the wild, where it could overcome the wild garlic, but it can be contained within a garden and all of it is edible - tasting rather like a sweet spring onion.  The flowers look amazing in a salad.

11 April - Lady among the Snow bells

11 - Snow bells

12 April 
It was time to start potting up the home sown tomatoes. I had a plentiful supply of Marmande, Yellow Perfection and Sungold.  I have already given some to the organic gardening group (BHOGG) and I will have some more surplus to swap for other varieties or other plants.  I will need some swaps due to the poor performance of my brassicas!

13-14 April
A couple of days of bright sunshine!  

I had used some wood chippings to mulch the asparagus bed to try to keep the weeds at bay and was pleased to see some new asparagus spears showing through.

13 April - Asparagus

13 April - Asparagus

The mulch had served a useful purpose as a barrier to annual weeds but nothing could not prevent the spread of the raspberries from a neighbouring area or the bindweed.

In the potato bed the first early Duke of York were putting on growth.

13 April - Red Duke of York potatoes

14 April
With help from Sylvi, I managed to renew the frame for the climbing beans.

14 April - a bean frame

With a fresh supply of woodchip, I continued to renew the footpath.  The Broad beans were now quite tall, so I spent some time placing some stakes and string around them to keep them upright.  In the tidying up process we also moved the compost tumbler to a less intrusive position.

15 April
Another change in the weather brought some very strong winds.  I had tied up the broad beans just in time, otherwise they would have been flattened.  I carrried out some repairs to the compost tumbler, patching up the rusty parts of the drum.

At home I sowed some marigold seeds which will be planted out as companion plants for the beans.

17 April
The marigolds sown only two days earlier showed signs of germinating! The day started bright and sunny and now that the eucalyptus has been pollarded and the Leylandii cut back, we can actually see the sky from our patio.  With the sun shining I set off for the allotment.

17 April - the back garden

But the sunshine was not to last - as soon as I reached the allotment the rain started - I hurriedly put a chair in the shed....

17 April

....and settled in until the rain stopped.

17 April

When the rain finally stopped, I potted up one of my two jostaberry plants.  It won't be fruiting this year but I will need to find a suitable place to plant them out and am hopeful for next year
17 April - Jostaberry re-potted

18 April
There had been a fresh delivery of woodchip, so work contnued on the path.

18 April - the path progresses

19 April
At home, several Zimbabwe Black chillies had self seeded in the pot where the parent plant was growing so I decided to prick them out and pot on.

19 April - Zimbabwe black seedlings

The parent plant was now in full flower.

19 April - Zimbabwe black chilli
19 April
This would be another weekend when the plot would be neglected as it was the London Marathon weekend.  On Friday, the welcome reception was held in Frameless the immersive art gallery in London.

20 April
On Saturday, I joined Trustees of the London Marathon Foundation to help with the various waves of young runners doing the mini-Marathon - either 1 mile or 2.6 km
Around 10,000 young people participated!

20 April - Start of the Mini-Marathon, Horseguards Parade

20 April - Start of the Mini-Marathon, Horseguards Parade

20 April - Start of the Mini-Marathon, Horseguards Parade

20 April - Start of the Mini-Marathon, Horseguards Parade

21 April
Sunday saw the real Marathon, with many records broken. Felix and his partner, Lauren, joined me at the Finish.  Hopefully he will be fit and running it in 2025. I was able to introduce him to running and hurdling legend, Alan Pascoe

21 April - on the Finish gantry with Alan Pascoe and Felix

22 - 27 April
Another week when little was done on the plot apart from a bit of maintenance and tidying up, and meetings in London kept me away.  I was pleased to see that the Serbian Quince at home was flowering for the first time.

23 April - Quince - Serbian Gold

27 April
More distractions at the weekend as Felix and Lauren came to visit. It gave me an opportunity to recreate my classic Moroccan tagine.  I had carried the two tagine pots back from Morocco several years ago in my suitcase.

27 April - guests waiting in expectation

27 April - Chicken and Vegetable tagines

28 April
On Sunday Felix came up to the plot and we were pleased to spot some bees.

28 April - Buff tailed bumblebee on the Borage

28 April - honeybee on the Rosemary

29 April
A very wet month ended with more spring-like weather and blue skies.

29 April

I planted a few marigolds as companion plants near to where I sowed some dwarf French beans. Last year the slugs devoured the marigolds in days, so it will be interesting to see what happens this time.

30 April
There is a lot to be done on the plot, and there have been rather too may distractions this month but nevertheless we're off fo a few days to Krakow to celebrate Sylvi's birthday.  Hopefully we will return to sunshine with renewed energy!

John Austin

Hove, April 2024

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