Monday, 9 September 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald, June 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald, June 2019

Apart from the allotment there were jobs to be done at home.  We had acquired, for free, two traditional garden benches and a table through our local social media network, Nextdoor.  A number of the slats were rotten and had to be replaced and the bolts were rusted up.  We managed to get some suitable hardwood slats on-line and our local Nut and Bolt Store in Hove had all the necessary bolts, nuts and washers.

At the allotment, I had already planted out some of the brassicas, which had been grown from seed in the conservatory at home and hardened off in the garden.  This month I have planted out some more. This has included more purple curly kale, cavolo nero, Brussels sprouts, kalettes as well as purple sprouting broccoli. I planted some in the area where I had grown beans last year and some where I had lifted the first early red Duke of York potatoes, and some where garlic had been previously grown.

Lifting Duke of York potatoes

I also planted some brassicas where I had lifted the first half-row of the second early Charlotte potatoes. To give them a fighting chance against the wind and predators - pigeons, slugs and snails - I protected them with improvised cloches made from plastic drinks bottles.

Planting out curly kale and cavolo nero in the garlic bed

I had also grown some cayenne and habanero chillies from seed at home, which I hardened off in their pots in the garden, where most remain, but I did risk planting out some on the allotment.

The warmer weather was also time to plant out courgettes. Some squashes and a couple of courgettes had been planted out at the end of May, but now I planted the remaining courgettes, more Patty pan, tromboncino, Crown Prince and pumpkins, all of which had been grown from seed at home.   I had created a frame for the tromboncinos to climb up but they seemed reluctant to do so and required a bit of encouragement and tying to the canes with string.

I was pleased to see that some of the fruits had set and tiny tromboncinos were beginning to develop
Tromboncinos - first fruits
I also planted out some Dwarf French beans and runner beans which I had sown in pots and interspersed them with some directly sown seeds. It was also time to repair and renew the climbing frame for the runner beans. I was also given a few haricot bean plants and planted these at the end of the runner bean rows.

climbing beans

Tomatoes on the allotment have never been a great success, but last year my brother had given me a packet of seeds for golden cherry tomatoes and I had sown these in seed trays at home and potted on into large pots and decided to train them up strings against the garden fence at home and they seem to be faring well. Time will tell.

June was definitely the time to wage war on weeds. We have loads of annuals such as chickweed, ragwort, goosegrass etc which are fairly easy to pull up (although the goose grass, which appears easy to remove, leaves behind a newtwork of fine roots which seem to send up new plants).  If lifted before they go to seed, the annuals are added to the compost bin, or stored in plastic sacks for later addition to the compost bin.  But we are plagued by more resistant invaders such as Dandelion, bindweed, bramble, stinging nettles, creeping buttercup, groundsel and plantain which we do not add to the compost heap.  You can never elimiate bindweed or couch grass, as the tiniest piece of root left behind will turn into a prolific growth.  The same is true for any piece of the deep taproot from dandelions that may be left in the soil.  It's a constant battle.

Mulching and hoeing keep down the weeds and adding a good mulch around established plants helps retain moisture and adds nutrients. I usually use grass mowings from home, and bark and bush and tree prunings which are readily available on site.

In May and June we also continued to earth up the remaining potatoes, which are now well established, to encourage the development of new tubers and retain moisture.

Where our early peas had finished in one of the raised beds, we cleared and raked the area to sow some more beetroot,

sowing beetroot where peas had grown earlier
side by side with a late crop of broad beans

By mid-June the brassicas had grown into sturdy plants (but in need of weeding and protecting from pigeons!) 

15 June Cavolo nero

15 June Kalettes

17 June the brassica patch

17 June the brassica patch

17 June the brassica patch

Towards the end of the month we planted out our leeks as there was no room for them earlier!  They had been grown from seed in trays at home then transplanted to a seed bed on the allotment.  We planted some where we had lifted the first early potatoes and some where we had grown the garlic.  We planted them in the traditional way, making a hole in the ground about 6 to 8 inches deep with a dibber and dropping in a leek seedling then watering by filling the hole with water, allowing the soil to gradually fill the hole and the leek to expand over a period of time.

Leeks planted in holes made with dibber
 There is a lot of self-seeded perpetual spinach and chard where the early potatoes were. I have removed some but left quite a few plants on either side of a double row of leeks.  I realise that I may have to remove them later if they restrict the leeks, but in the meantime they will produce some young tender leaves.

These leeks are having to compete with self seeded spinach
leeks in the former garlic patch

We have also had a bumper crop of raspberries, best eaten fresh but can be frozen if picked firm or used for sauces or jam if past their best.  
Raspberries picked 17 June

Our black currants have not been so good this year but this may be due to them having been moved and replanted last year and not pruned back.  The red currants on the other hand did well and the investment in a fruit cage paid off as we ate them this year rather than the birds.  
Red currants

Our makeshift netting on the blueberries also paid off with us sharing only half the crop with the birds this year.

The end of the month saw our first courgette from the earlier planted ones.

1st courgette - size 9 (43) for scale!

And the later ones are ready to produce next month



The Patty pans are coming along nicely

Our first patty pan squash
The runner beans are in flower

Runner beans

The little gem lettuces are almost ready

Little Gem lettuces
On the last day of the month the plot looked green and productive, although a little untidy, and it looks like there will be loads to harvest next month.

30 June

John Austin

Hove, June 2019

Sunday, 8 September 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald, May 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on (and off) The Weald, 

May 2019

The allotment suffered a degree of neglect in May. Firstly there was the early May Bank Holiday weekend when we had children and grandchildren staying for the long weekend.
I did get a chance to inspect the broad beans and do a bit of weeding, before disaster struck later that month!  But more of that later.  

The first of the autumn sown broad beans

No sooner had we seen off our visitors and we were off to Spain, where the Nispero season was in full swing
Nisperos in Santa Pola market
It seems that Nispero blossom is popular with the bees, so we brought home some honey.  Whlist we are still members of the EU, we can do that but for how much longer? Who knows!

Honey from Nispero blossom

Oranges were still in plentiful supply, so several kilos were also bound for the UK for marmalade making.

Oranges in Santa Pola market

Back home in the UK, apart from making marmalade, and campaigning out on the doorstep firstly for the local council elections and then the European elections, there was harvesting to be done.  Chard was in plentiful supply and came to the table almost daily in various guises.

Rainbow chard stems with garlic
We also harvested some of our broad beans

The brassicas which we had planted out were doing well - purple kale, cavolo nero,
kalettes and sprouts.  We had also planted out some beet (perpetual) spinach.

purple curly kale

cavolo nero

spinach beet

The brassica patch
We were able to nourish the plants with worm tea, liquid waste produced from our wormery. It is very concentrated, but diluted it provides a nitrogen rich feed.

A new plant appeared on our plot, which a neighbour identified as salsify.   It has a very pretty flower and the roots can be eaten - I am told the taste is a bit like asparagus and oysters. We haven't tried it yet.


Some weeding was needed around the pond but we had sown some wild flowers on one side, so are just waiting to see what comes up!  The aquatic yellow irises and the land purple ones were both in flower and looking very attractive.  We are just waiting to see if we have any frogs this year.

We continued to harvest the first early Duke of York potatoes and have been self sufficient since last month.

Duke of York potatoes
They are delicious roasted in their skins.

On the Thursday before the late spring bank holiday, I was wondering whether to harvest the broad beans sown last autumn.  We estimated there were about 5 kilos which would yield up to 3 kgs of beans.  We decided to leave them until Bank Holiday Monday as we were going away for the weekend - what a mistake!

The weekend saw the London 10k and the Westminster Mile and my family had put in a family entry as an early celebration of my 75th birthday.  In all there were 23 in my team,
Go Johnny, go go.  We all finished,  with our youngest and oldest grandsons, 8 year old Jerome and 22 year old Felix crossing the finishing line first, together.  I just managed to pip my daughter, Zoe, at the post but later discovered she crossed the starting line behind me and so finished with a faster time!

Crossing the finish line with my daughter, Zoe 
There were great celebrations that weekend - not only for the Westminster Mile but Charlton Athletic, despite an early own goal, won the League One play-offs to secure promotion back to the Championship League.

Our celebrations were short-lived, however. I returned to the allotment on Monday evening to pick the broad beans and found they had all gone!  The whole crop had been picked.  We haven't had many thefts and this one did not appear to be some random "scrumping", but a professional job.   It was not only the loss of the crop that angered us but the fact that our 8 year old Jerome had helped to plant them last October.

Whilst the Duke of York potatoes will keep us going for a few more weeks, the second early Charlotte and Nicola are doing well and we have earthed them up a little to encourage more tuber growth.  We have planted a few squashes between the rows and once the potatoes are lifted there will be room for them to grow.

Patty pan and Crown Prince squashes between the Nicola potatoes.

Unfortunately not only are the crops doing well, but so are the weeds and there will be much work to do in June to keep them at bay.

John Austin

Hove, May 2019

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald, April 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald, April 2019

The weather  has been mixed this month, which is not unusual for April, but this year there have been extremes.  At the beginning of the month we had hailstorms. 
 2 April - Tulips took a battering from the hailstones
Following the hailstorms we had heavy showers, then frosty mornings. I had to scrape ice off the car windscreen on the morning of the Brighton Marathon on 14 April, but the following Easter weekend saw the temperature rise to 24˚
Earlier in the month, as the temperature rose,  I put some seedlings outside to harden off but this was a bit premature as the cold wind managed to kill some off and damage the others.   I managed to save some and brought them back inside to recover before trying again.  April has been a busy month, both for sowing at home and bed preparation on the allotment.


I cannot resist what looks like a bargain and, whilst in Spain last month, I bought a packet carrot seeds in Aldi for 99 cents.   The packet, labelled in Spanish and German contained 3 seed strips, each 1.67m long of different varieties, Nantaise, Pariser Markt and Lange rote stumpfe ohne Herz. I was familiar with the Nantes variety but had to look up the others!
I grew Nantaise successfully last year in a container. They are a fast grower which can mature in 12 weeks, so if sown in March can be pulled in May. The Pariser Market produce smooth, round, bite-size carrots which are fast to mature. They are suitable to be grown in containers and are said to thrive even in clay soils.  Lange rote stumpfe ohne Herz translates as "long red blunt without heart" and they are said to produce a high yield and store well. We shall see!

Carrots do not do well in our soil which is heavy clay on chalk, so in previous years I have grown them in raised beds or containers with finer soil.  This year I mixed in a little horticultural sand with some compost in some old plastic recycling boxes which make good planters.  One of the benefits of growing carrots in containers is that the plants are grown higher than ground level and do not get infected by carrot fly as the females can only fly a few inches above ground level.

Courgettes and squashes

I have sown courgettes, cucumbers and a variety of squashes indoors this month; Sunburst Patty Pan, Jaune de vert Patty Pan, Crown Prince Squash and Tromboncino.  They need to be planted out in May or June for harvesting from July/August onwards.

Purple sprouting broccoli

We had our last pickings of broccoli this month and then cleared the remaining row, just before they went to seed, to make room for more potatoes.  But having hervested the crop sown last year, it's time to sow for 2020.


At the beginning of the month I planted two rows of Second Earlies, Charlotte, and later, when the broccoli had been removed, a third row.

Charlotte potatoes 1 April
The First Earlies, Duke of York, are looking good and the Second Earlies, Nicola,  are just showing through.  Despite a wet start to the month, the sudden rise in temperature in the second half of the month has necessitated some watering.

3 April - Nicola

8 April - Duke of York

18 April - Duke of York
We have the Duke of York First Earlies on one side of our plot and the Second Earlies on the other

Rows of Second earlies


We lifted the last of the leeks......

Last of the leeks 1 April
....and dug over the area, ready for the beans and cucumbers.

Beans and Peas

The Broad Beans planted last November are in full flower and those planted early in the year are just coming into flower.  

Some of the peas are doing well but others appear to have been attacked by birds. Several of the broad beans planted in March have been dug up just as they were showing through.  I suspect mice or squirrels as the leaves have been left and there are holes where the seeds were planted.   

8 April - Broad Beans (left) & Peas (right) planted in March

Some repairs were necessary to my frame for runner beans but I now have it in place. 

18 April - ready for the runner beans

Courgettes and squashes

The area where the squashes will go had become overgrown this winter...

...and needed to be cleared.


Here are some of the bindweed roots we had to contend with.



The redcurrants are in flower and we have bought a frame to keep off the birds, so hopefully we will enjoy the fruit this year.

The blueberries are just coming into flower.  I have given them a liquid feed, suitable for azaleas and other lime-hating plants, and a top dressing of ericaceous compost.  Netting them will be a priority once the fruit begins to set.

The blackcurrants are just coming into leaf but do appear to have suffered from being transplanted so we are not expecting a heavy crop this year.  I have given them a feed of fish, bone and blood fertiliser and mulched the bushes and will prune them heavily once they have fruited.

The apple tree and plum trees are in full blossom.  I have cut back some of the plum trees so that any fruit is in reach and am hoping that we won't be plagued this year with brown rot disease.

plum tree in blossom

The gooseberries are just coming into flower and they too will need some netting.  The raspberries are engulfed with couch grass and are sending out succkers which are coming up all over the place.  We will remove as much of the grass as possible but I think this autumn/winter we will need to dig them up, clear the couch grass and replant or renew the canes.

Bed preparation and tidying up

We have seedlings of Cavolo Nero, Purple Kale and Kalettes hardening off at home and it has been a major task to clear the area where they will go.  The site is at the back of the plot and was full of brambles, couch grass, comfrey (at least this makes good compost) and invasive tree roots.  

Making a start on the brassica patch

This was a task too much for me alone but I have had stirling assistance from Sylvi's son Luke. Whilst Luke and I did the digging and the rooting out of weeds, Sylvi has been riddling the great clumps we have dug up, removing the invasive roots and saving the soil. We we have gone down two 
spade spits deep but I suspect the bindweed lurks even deeper!  

Over the Easter weekend, we had family help..  Luke, Sylvi and I carried on with the clearing whilst Nicole did a great job hand weeding the raised beds, Jerome fetched mulch in the wheelbarrow and Letty did some watering.

21 April - weed free garlic

21 April weed free onions

21 April - weedfree peas and broad beans

21 April - March sown broad beans and peas


The pond is covered in a dense layer of weed and surrounded by couch grass, brambles and dandelions but we have made a start clearing.  There has been no sign of any frogs or toads this year but in removing the pondweed and the silt from the bottom of the pond, we spotted some newts - they weren't around long enough to identify them, but at least we know the pond is alive. Unfortunately, newts are rather fond of eating frog and toad tadpoles, which may explain why we haven't seen any frogs this year.  I'm trying out some barley straw to re-oxygenate and clear the pond of algae but suspect the blanket pondweed will return.  The water irises seem to be surviving though and should be in flower next month. 

21 April 
21 April
Clearing the area around the pond has not been easy as bindweed roots and bramble suckers seem to go under the pond liner. There is much more to do but we have made a start.

Carrots make an appearance

Just when I was beginning to give up on the carrots and think about sowing a new lot, they suddenly make an appearance.

21 April - carrots emerge!


The gooseberry bushes are in full leaf and just beginning to flower.  We have weeded as best we could and given them a mulch and a liquid feed.

21 April - Gooseberry bush

21 April - Gooseberry bush

21 April - Gooseberry bush

 April is almost over

We missed working the last weekend of April on the plot as it coincided with the London Marathon so there was much to do in a hurry during that last full week.  I had potted up the courgettes, kale and kalettes and cavolo nero and hardened them off in the garden at home and have now planted out some, hoping that the weather will stay reasonably good - we have had record Easter temperatures as high as 24˚C.

The warm weather has brought on the second early Nicola potatoes....

21 April - Nicola potatoes
 ...and the broad beans seem to be flourishing and (so far) are free of black-fly

21 April - November sown broad beans

21 April - November sown broad beans
The fruit trees and bushes are in full blossom and we do not anticipate any frosts...

22 April Apple blossom

22 April Blueberries
...but towards the end of the month temperatures fell from the twenties to a more seasonable 10 - 11C.

At the end of the month, I planted out a few courgettes and covered them with improvised cloches from plastic bottles,

First planting of courgettes
I repaired the cucumber frame and took a risk on planting out some outdoor cucumbers

Cucumber frame
I also managed to plant out a few of the brassicas which had been sown indoors and been hardened off.  I planted a few Kalettes, some Cavolo Nero, some purple kale and a few Brussels Sprouts. 
22 April brassicas planted out
We are still enjoying lots of rhubarb and chard although the latter is just going to seed.

There is a lot to do to prepare for more planting in May.  I have sown some runner beans indoors which are hardening off in the garden and also some borlotti beans and I have sown some more beetroot directly in the raised beds.

All in all, the two half-plots are looking well given that we took over one in October 2016 and the other in October 2017 when they were both completely overgrown wildernesses.

Plot 247a April 2019

Plot 247b  April 2019

Hoping for fine weather in May

John Austin

Hove, April 2019