Friday, 10 January 2020

Life on the Weald - December 2019

Life on the Weald - December 2019

Very little work was done on the plot in December, partly because of frequent heavy rain, partly because of the General Election campaign - the election had been called for 12 December - and partly because of preparations for Christmas.

The month started with a warning from the allotment federation of the widespread infestation of leek miner across the City.

The leeks which I had planted out earliest looked healthy enough and on my first visit of the month I lifted one to check and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was without disease. 

5 December Leek

My good fortune, however, was not to last long.  A few days later I lifted a few more for our dinner and found that we did indeed have the dreaded disease.

8 December Leek showing damage caused by leaf miner
The leeks that I had planted out later all seemed to be infected.  The Alium leaf miner has two generations a year and can infect leeks, onions and garlic.  When I planted my onions and garlic in November, I covered them with fleece so hope they might escape attack.

Each year the first generation female flies lay eggs on the stems or base of leaves during March and April.  The second generation repeats the process in October to November, and it is this period which is the most damaging.  The maggots bore into the foliage or stems and after a couple of weeks are fully fed and turn into little brown pupae. This takes place in the stems but some pupae may end up in the soil, especially where the plants may have rotted.

The damage leads to leaves splitting and when peeling off the layers, long brown streaks can be seen.  Whilst some of the crop may still be edible it is important to remove all the trimmings from the site and they should not be composted because they may contain the pupae. There are no suitable insecticides that can be used to prevent this attack.  And as there may be some pupae in the ground, crop rotation is essential and leeks, onions, shallots, garlic should not be planted in the same area in successive years.

We had better news with the Medlars.  In the previous month we had put them in trays in the garden shed to blet.  Medlars do not ripen on the tree and have to be bletted - a process of beginning to rot where starch in the fruit is turned to sugars.  A fuller account of medlars and the process of bletting can be found in my blog on medlars from 2018

"A fruit, vulgarly called an open arse; of which it is more truly than delicately said, that it is never ripe till it is as rotten as a turd, and then it is not worth a fart." 18Century Anon

8 December, bletted medlars

8 December - a bletted medlar
We did find time to make some medlar jelly to give as presents for Christmas.

In the post election depression, I was cheered by a visit to the plot to gather large quantities of kalettes and these have been one of the great successes of 2019.

14 December, Kalettes on the stem
14 December, Kalettes ready for the steamer
 We were also able to harvest lots of cavolo nero

14 December - Cavolo nero

We still had a surfeit of apples - we had made lots of apple jelly, had used some to add to the medlars for extra pectin. We cooked and froze some as apple purée, made apple pie and gave loads away - but there were still a lot left over and they were beginning to deteriorate so we decided to try to make apple cider vinegar. We started off the process just before Xmas by covering the chopped apples with cooled boiled water and adding sugar and covering with muslin to keep out flies etc to let the fermentation process start.

apples fermenting for our cider vinegar

They were in the conservatory for three weeks and there was a distinct appley and yeasty smell so we parked the bowls in the garden shed over the Xmas period and will see how things are going in the New Year.

Just before Christmas my daughter, Zoë, and her family arrived and on Xmas Eve she joined me on the plot to harvest the Brussels Sprouts
Zoë comes to help on Christmas Eve

We also picked some Kale and Chard for her to take home when she left on Boxing Day. 

We had a couple of days to recover before the arrival of my sons, Damien and Toby and their families.  In between, whilst Sylvia was changing all the beds, I made one last visit to the allotment to pick spinach and chard to make Spanakopita - (spinach and feta cheese filo pie) for their arrival.  That was the last I would see of the allotment for 2019.  

On New Year's Eve I was taken for a hike on the South Downs at Devil's Dyke by my sons, Damien and Toby and their families
31 December Damien and Toby lead the expedition
On the South Downs 31 Dec
And later that evening some of us went down to Hove beach by the lagoon to see out the old year...

Shay, Sharon, Damien, Oisín and Toby
 ...and see in the new

Sharon, Me, Shay, Damien, Toby and Oisín 

Happy New Year

John Austin

Hove, December 2019

Wednesday, 8 January 2020


Medlar Jelly

For more information about Medlars check out my blog from November 2018, Medlars

We received a supply of medlars from our usual source and for the second year made some medlar jelly adapting a recipe from Nigel Slater.  Medlars, as explained in my earlier blog do not ripen on the tree and need to be bletted.

Having received our medlars we placed them on a tray and put them in a fairly dark place in the garden shed

unripe medlars
After a two to three weeks most had bletted successfully.  A couple had shown signs of mould and these were discarded.  There were also a few which had not completed the process but to make the jelly a few unripe medlars are helpful as they are rich in pectin which aids setting of the jelly. 

successfully bletted

bletted medlars

We also had a surfeit of apples this year and decided to add a few of the sound windfalls to the mix for added pectin.

windfall apples on the allotment
We also used the rest of the sound apples and some still on the tree to make apple jelly using my recipe from 2018

Some recipes suggest chopping the medlars but as ours were so ripe I just pulled them in half, squeezed them and placed them in a pan and covered with water, adding the juice of two lemons and the squeezed lemons (peel and pips). I also added a few of the apples (stalks removed), roughly chopped including cores and pips.

bletted medlars being squished for the pan
With the squished the medlars, chopped apples and squeezed lemon covered with water I brought the pan gently to the boil.

medlars being brought to the boil

medlar mixture simmering
I left the pan simmering gently for about 40 minutes. As you can see from the pictures, it does not look particularly appetising - and don't be tempted to taste it, otherwise you might just give up on the whole process.  Indeed I had my doubts that this mixture would ever produce a clear and tasty jelly.  During the simmering process, the fruit mixture can be pressed with a potato masher to ensure all the juice is extracted.

The entire contents are then poured into a jelly bag, suspended over a bowl and left overnight (or for 12-24 hours) for the juice to drip through.

At this point you will be relieved to see a clear amber to pinkish liquid dripping through.

Jelly bags and stands are readily available in cookshops and on-line, but if you don't have one a couple of squares of muslin will do either draped over a colander or large sieve or pinned/tied to the legs of an upside down stool or chair (which is what I used to do when I made jellies with my mother in my youth) with a bowl underneath.  Just make sure the muslin is clean and has been sterilised with boiling water.

Do not prod or squeeze the bag!  Its very tempting as you can always extract more juice and it is thick and sticky and will aid the setting BUT it will make the jelly cloudy. Squeezing won't spoil the taste; it will increase the quantity, but you won't have that beautiful clear jelly.

Measure the juice and put in a stainless steel pan and add sugar in the quantity 
750g of sugar for every litre of juice, or a pound to a pint in "old money". Using less sugar will produce a sharper tasting jelly, which I prefer, but reducing too much might make it difficult to get a good set.

Heat gently, stirring all the time until the sugar has dissolved then bring to a rapid boil. Keep a watchful eye as it may suddenly foam up. Take care that it doesn't boil over by lowering the heat..

Boil rapidly until the setting point is reached, probably after 20 minutes - but could be shorter or longer.  The best way to test for setting point is with a thermometer, which should read 220C, but I don't have one (must put it on the Xmas Wish List!), so I rely on the cold plate method.  Drop a little of the jelly on a cold, dry plate and leave in a cool place for a couple of minutes. If it forms a skin which wrinkles when you draw your finger across it then setting point has been reached.  If it doesn't set, boil a little longer and then repeat the test.

When setting point has been reached, remove from heat and skim off any scum that appears on the surface with a metal spoon.

The jelly can now be poured into warm, sterilised jars and the lids screwed on tightly.
You should have a beautifully clear jelly.  

ready for pouring into sterilised jars

The jars should be stored in a cool dark place as the jelly will darken and lose some clarity with age.

the finished product

To prevent this, the best suggestion is eat it as soon as possible and if you have too much, give it to your friends and neighbours.  You will be very popular!  It is delicious on toast or can be eaten with hard cheeses or meat, especially game (Nigel Slater recommends it with pheasant) but it goes very well with fatty lamb or pork.  You can also add a spoonful to your gravy (or jus).


John Austin

Hove, December 2019

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Life on The Weald - November 2019

Life on the Weald - November 2019 

We left the sunshine and temperatures of 26C in Spain to return to the UK where temperatures were in single figures with a lot of rain.  It has been a very wet November, although in the south east we have fared much better than the rest of the country, especially the north, where there has been extensive flooding with the Doncaster/Sheffield area being particularly hard hit.

The Aquadulce broad beans that I had sown in October were looking good, and few seem to have been eaten or damaged by animals.

8 November - broad beans
 I planted onion sets and garlic which I protected with fleece.  Birds seem to think the growing tips peeping out are worms and peck at them and pull them up, and I was hoping the fleece might prevent this.

8 November - onions and garlic protected by fleece
Some of the sprouts were infected with aphids at the lower end of the stem so I removed these and some of the yellowing leaves, and hopefully we will have a decent crop for Christmas.
8 November
We had regular pickings of kalettes - they are a cross between kale and sprouts and produce small florets, like sprouts that have blown
8 November - Kalettes on the stem

8 November - Kalettes showing stem where kalettes have been picked
We had grown the kalettes from seed and had bought a packet of mixed green and purple varieties
8 November - Kalettes

8 November - Kalettes ready for steaming

The leeks were looking good and I did find a little time to do dome hand-weeding

8 November - Leeks
I sowed some more broad beans and decided to provide some protection from weather and predators by laying some fleece. 

10 November
A second sowing of broad beans
Around the middle of the month there were a few rain-free days and even some sunshine, which encouraged me to clean the debris out of the pond and clear the surrounding area of weeds.  Having removed the pondweed, I could see that my water lily was alive and had almost reached the surface,
10 November
A neighbour gave me some medlars which i have taken home for bletting (ripening)
15 November

an unripe medlar
I had saved the seeds from the pumpkin which we had harvested last month but they obviously were not in a dry enough location and had started sprouting!

sprouting pumpkin seeds
On the odd dry day, I also tidied up some of the empty raised beds and added some compost from the wormeries.
19 November - preparing raised bed
We had loads of windfall apples and there are still some on the tree.  I have taken home several bags for cooking and preserving and have given away almost as many.

I also lifted the last of the beetroots.  They are so sweet and delicious, I will grow more next year.

19 November Beetroots
In addition to the kale, cavolo nero and kalettes, I have been picking some of the lower Brussels sprouts and some of the younger leaves of the purple sprouting broccoli to serve as mixed greens.  
19 November - mixed greens
After a brief spell of dry weather, the rain returned with a vengeance and this, together with campaigning in the General Election (which had been called for 12 December) conspired to keep me away from much needed tasks on the plot.

But despite the appalling weather, we have had a lot of good produce and have made some progress, especially in renewing the footpaths with wood chips and bush and tree prunings.

John Austin

Hove, November 2019

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Life on the Weald - October 2019

Life on the Weald - October 2019

Having lost the last weekend of September, I'm afraid I lost the whole of the first week of October as I was off to Montenegro to speak at the Balkans Parliamentary Forum in Cetinje, followed by a few days of meetings and sight-seeing around Podgorica and the coast.

Cetinje Forum, Montenegro
I think I missed some reasonably good UK weather whilst away, and when I returned there were lots of tomatoes to be harvested.....

5 october
...........and yet more tromboncinos

6 October
The chilli peppers had also ripened whilst I was away.

9 October
The rain had returned but on 10 October, the rain stopped and the sun began to shine so I took the opportunity of clearing the area around the pond where I would like to sow some wild flowers on one side near our sitting out area.  This required the removal of quite a lot of couch grass, bindweed and bramble roots.
10 October
The pond itself was choked with pond weed so I might have a go at clearing it soon, if only to see what has become of the water lily which I planted earlier this year as there is no sign of it on the surface!

The leeks are looking good, but needed hand weeding and I have earthed them up a little to increase the white part.
9 October - Leeks
My grape vines (which have yet to fruit) look healthy, but untidy.  I decided not to prune them yet as this is their first year, and I am trying to train the black grape to grow up the trellis attached to the shed.
9 October - grape vine

9 October - grape vine 
I began to clear one of the raised beds in preparation for my broad beans. It was heavily infested with weeds which had to be dug out.  The soil seems to be very healthy with a plentiful supply of earthworms (of which I am somewhat protective), and transferred some to the wormeries.  I have a new found friend who is also very interested in the worms and the insects and other wildlife that my digging revealed!
9 October - my new found friend

9 October
At last the bed was weed free and ready for sowing

9 October
I decided to sow two double rows of Aquadulce Broad Beans.  I used a dibber to plant them about 2 - 3 inches deep and hope they won't be dug up by mice or other predators.
9 October - ready for the broad beans
Taking advantage of the dry weather, I dug over two of the areas where potatoes had been growing and scattered some winter green manure seeds which will need to be dug in later in the year before they start flowering. 
10 October - ready for sowing

10 October - green manure seeds sown
I have also cleared another raised bed and have sown some meteor peas. These are suitable for October/November outdoor sowing, and have a dwarf habit growing to only 18 inches.  I sowed them about 1 - 1½  inches deep, 2 inches apart in rows 8 inches apart. I sowed two such double rows with about a foot between them. 
Meteor peas sown 10 October
Garden Focussed say these are not the best tasting or sweetest of peas but are among the hardiest and therefore suitable for autumn sowing.  As they are dwarf, they survive on exposed sites and need little support.  They are among the earliest of peas, so hopefully we may have some in the spring!

All seemed to be going well until I inspected my two pumpkins.  One had completely collapsed and turned to mush!

10 October - squish!
This pumpkin didn't make it to Halloween
But thankfully the other was fat and healthy, so not wanting to take risks, I picked it...
10 October

....and took it home

We have loads of apples which are dropping faster than we can pick them and we have given loads away to friends and neighbours for pies, crumbles and for drying.

We have been making more apple jelly and we haven't yet eaten or given away last year's production.  We know what people will be getting for Christmas this year!

Apples ready for cooking

straining the cooked apple pulp

This year's apple jelly
There were more chilli peppers to be harvested.  We freeze them and they can be used as and when needed.  Just take one out of the freezer when needed, chop whilst still frozen and add to whatever dish you are making.

Home brown chillies
It's the middle of October so I thought now is the time to pull up the aubergine plants that had been planted out in the open ground and consign to the compost heap - but surprise, surprise, here was an actual aubergine concealed beneath the foliage!

15 October aubergine from the plot
So I picked this, added it to the two grown in pots at home...

Aubergines from the pots on the patio

.............and made baba ghanoush!

One crop that can be relied upon to keep giving is chard.  I am sure we will continue picking it through the winter.  One of the most popular dishes amongst my friends in Montenegro is "cheese pie"It can take many forms and is a common dish throughout the Balkans, often called Burek, probably originating in central Asia and brought to the region by the Ottomans. The essential ingredients are cheese and filo pastry but one of the added ingredients can be spinach or chard, as in the Greek Spanakopita. With a regular and plentiful supply of chard and spinach, our version of this cheese pie is now regularly on our table.

John's cheese and chard pie

My delicious Spanakopita
We have perpetual beet spinach, white silver leaf chard and rainbow Swiss chard in a variety of colours.
Rainbow and silver leaf chard

15 October chard

We have been virtually self-sufficient in potatoes since April and this month we lifted the last of our 2nd Early Nicola potatoes.

The last of the Nicola potatoes

After all that digging and lifting, the gardener deserves a rest.

But there are still jobs to do.  I regularly inspect the brassicas to check for pests or disease. Fortunately we have been virtually caterpillar free this year.  Some of the Brussels sprouts have aphids, but mostly on the lower florets which I have removed along with any dead or yellowing leaves.  Removing the lower leaves also allows air to circulate and reduce infestation.  We also have kalettes - a cross between kale and sprouts which grow like sprouts but produce open florets.  Our seeds this year were a variety pack so we have both green and purple kalettes and hope to harvest some soon. 


Brussels sprouts

Kalettes forming
Towards the end of the month, tromboncinos were still growing!

The last tromboncino of 2019?

And we picked the last of the raspberries

On 22 October, the broad beans planted thirteen days earlier had sprouted and were beginning to show through.
With a good eye you might just spot the broad beans showing through!
But with the nights drawing in and the temperature falling we abandoned the plot to escape to Spain for the school half-term with some of the children and grandchildren and I swapped the allotment for the Spanish kitchen and a change of diet!

Lubina - oven baked sea bass

My unconventional paella
We discovered some green tinged mushrooms in the market and learned they were a variety of milkcap mushrooms. We haven't yet tried them - that's an adventure to look forward to.

Milkcap mushrooms
The tomatoes are always worth buying

tomatoes from Murcia
Well the half term holidays are almost over and time to start thinking of the cold weather...

Gran Playa, Santa Pola - October 26C
... and all those jobs that need doing on the allotment!

John Austin

Hove, (and other places) October 2019