Monday, 5 June 2017

OUR ALLOTMENT Life on the Weald April 2017


A month of mixed fortunes

Before considering the allotment, its worth sharing some news from the garden at home. After a prolific display of daffodils from early March we had a magnificent display of tulips and anemones and our camelia flowered for the first time. Click to see the video here

The month on the allotment was one of mixed fortunes with bright sunny days turning into cold blustery ones.  Often the morning would start with bright sunshine when the allotment looked really inviting and it seemed spring was in the air.

But after a couple of hours the sky would cloud over or the wind would get up and it would feel more like February.  On one occasion we had a bright sunny morning followed by sleet and hailstones!
We have had some cold drizzle but no April showers and the soil is dry and brick hard. It has been one of the driest Aprils on record and farmers have been badly hit too.

Seedlings that I had taken out of the conservatory at home to harden off have been affected by wind-chill and are stunted and I doubt whether they will recover sufficiently.  As a safeguard I have ordered some plugs to try to ensure some crops later in the year.

But not all is gloom and doom.  The broad beans that were sown at the end of last year are in full flower and looking healthy

And I think we are assured of a good crop of garlic

 and shallots

Two rows of early potatoes are looking healthy, but have required a lot of watering, and we are waiting for the third row of second earlies to show.  

We have top-dressed the blueberries growing in pots and cleared much of the couch grass around the raspberries and fruit bushes.  Some of the gooseberry bushes are in bud and the blossom is just beginning to show on the plum trees which we inherited.

Just need to do lots more watering!

John Austin

Hove April 2017

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

OUR ALLOTMENT Life on the Weald March 2017

March 2017 

from St David's Day to St Patrick's Day

According to the Meteorological Calendar, 1st March is the first day of Spring - if you are using the astronomical calendar you have to wait until 20th March. I didn't visit the allotment on 1st March but did venture out into the garden just to prove it was indeed St David's Day

The sight of the daffodils in full bloom made me think that Spring is on its way, even if it doesn't appear to have arrived quite yet.

As February drew to a close, during a brief gap in the rain, we did manage to transplant some currant bushes from Mile Oak to The Weald but there is a lot more ground clearance to be done before we can move the rest.

The few days of early spring-like weather in mid-February quickly disappeared and the last week was wet, windy and cold with daytime temperatures around 8 -9C and nighttime down to 2-3C.  It wasn't suitable weather for the allotment but it afforded an opportunity to sort out the shed at home and get the seed trays scrubbed and ready for indoor sowing.

I did manage to sow some seeds in our unheated conservatory - some summer sprouting purple broccoli and cavolo nero in seed trays and some rainbow chard and perpetual (beet) spinach in fibre pots for planting out when the soil has warmed up. I have not sown summer sprouting broccoli before so it is an interesting experiment; the seed packet says I should be able to harvest it in August/September.  Usually I sow early sprouting purple broccoli in March for transplanting in July for harvesting the following Spring and I will do this later in the month

Forever the optimist,  I also sowed some aubergines, which I hope to grow on in pots indoors until the weather really warms up..

The summer broccoli was the first to germinate after only 8 days and a few days later the chard began to show.

We had planned to spend a day on the allotment on Friday 10 March but despite a sunny afternoon the day before, Friday was wet in the morning and foggy in the afternoon.  We did visit but the ground was far too wet to consider digging.  Instead we spent an hour preparing a new raised bed and sowing a row of Boltardy beetroot and also parsnips and a double row of carrots.   For the carrots and parsnips I used seed tapes that I had bought from Sutton's.  I covered the bed with plastic mesh to deter the foxes, cats and birds.

Cats and foxes think the raised beds are purpose-built toilets and the birds think I have provided a feeding ground for them.  I used the mesh which I had used previously to cover the shallots, but they are now sprouting and have developed a roots so are fairly firm in the ground (fingers crossed).

By mid-March, the Aquadulce broad beans planted in November had begun to flower, so we are hoping there will not be late frosts!

And the Luz de Otono planted a little later are looking good.

We also sowed some Giant Exhibition Broad Beans in the New Year and they are just showing through. I scattered the soil with broken eggshells to deter slugs and snails.

We also managed to clear a space for a couple of rows of early potatoes

and we have now planted a row each of Charlotte and Nicola (second earlies) on St Patrick's Day!

After St Patrick's Day the weather got a lot cooler (down to 7C, colder than February) with blustery showers and we are off in search of sunshine for the last few days of March, hoping the allotment will take care of itself.

John Austin

March 2017

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

OUR ALLOTMENT Life on the Weald - February 2017 (2)

February 2017  (2)

In the middle of February we had a few bright spring-like days which enabled us to do a bit more weed clearing - the biggest problems being couch grass, bindweed and brambles.  Much of the bindweed and bramble is deep rooted so it will be a recurring problem and just a question of constant vigilance and control.

The few days of sunshine really seem to have encouraged growth and the shallots planted in December are just sprouting

Shallots - Griselle

The garlic is also looking very healthy


And the Luz de Otono broad beans are showing through. 

Luz de Otono Broad Beans

I haven't tried Luz de Otono before but they are a variety of aquadulce which is cold resistant and suitable, therefore, for November/December sowing, but they are supposedly good for late spring sowing to produce autumn crops, hence the name.  So if  I have space, I will sow some more in the spring.

Although the soil is still fairly wet and heavy, we did manage to do some clearing and preparation to plant 4 gooseberry bushes acquired from neighbours and we have a further two which need transferring from our old plot at Mile Oak.

We have also cleared a space to transplant 9 blackcurrant bushes from Mile Oak.   Our biggest challenge will be to try to transfer two red currant bushes which I fear will be too deep-rooted to move.  It was a struggle transferring them from Belvedere to Mile Oak some years ago when they broke the garden fork!  Another challenge will be moving a plum tree which was newly planted at Mile Oak about 18 months ago but now looks well established.

It's too early to think about most sowing yet but I will try some aubergines in the conservatory at home and try to bring them on in pots before transplanting outdoors in July.

I have started chitting the potatoes too.  I started off some  Charlotte, second earlies at the beginning of the month but have now bought some Nicola, also second earlies, which did so well at Mile Oak last year.  If the weather improves, I will start planting in March but just as we thought spring was on its way, the weather has turned and Storm Doris has arrived!

John Austin

Hove, February 2017

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald February 2017 (1)

February 2017 (1)

A double hernia operation just before Xmas and an eye operation in January have delayed some essential work and the amount of rain hasn't helped in enabling us to prepare the soil for planting and there is still a lot of weed clearance and digging to be done.

We have almost cleared a patch, however, to transplant our blackcurrant bushes and two gooseberry bushes from Mile Oak and we need to find space for two more gooseberry bushes donated by a Weald neighbour.

We have cleared about one third of the site and installed raised beds.  The Broad beans (Aquadulce) planted in October and November are doing well

And the double row of Luz de Otona sown in December is just showing through.   I have now sown a double row of Giant Exhibition.

The shallots planted before Xmas are showing through and I have just planted two rows of a later variety, Jermor.  The garlic planted in December, is also going great guns.

As digging in the very wet soil is difficult, I took the opportunity to top-dress the blueberries with a rich ericaceous compost.  I am growing them in pots because they don't like the South Downs chalky soil.

From the footpath, the site is beginning to look quite organised

- but that's deceptive as about two-thirds remains to be cleared.  Apart from transplanting the fruit bushes, preparing the ground for the early potatoes is the next priority.

And whilst I've been weeding and planting, Sylvi has made great progress in clearing all the weeds and brambles from the far end and building a fence with pallets - it's still a work in progress, but looking good.  Sylvi has also made a great start on clearing and preparing the site for our shed. The footpath to the left is the boundary of our site and was laid by our neighbour.

We are just hoping for a few dry weeks - fingers crossed!

John Austin

February 2017, Hove

LIFE ON THE WEALD - January 2017

January 2017

We went a bit over the top with garlic planting towards the end of 2016.

I had bought two varieties from the site shop a white one and a purple one Provence Wight and Purple Wight but I had also ordered varieties from Sutton's which included Edenrose, Printanor, Germidour and Messidrome.  The Germidour is also known as Purple Wight.  So we have 5 varieties to see which do best on our soil and in our climate (and rather a lot left over which has gone to Luke at Neville and one of our neighbours at the Weald, Steve).

I had also bought some shallots – Griselle - for autumn/winter planting. We made a quick visit to the site in January to see how things were progressing and were pleased to see that the shallots were beginning to sprout although a few had been dug up and had to be replanted.  I'm told that birds mistake the growing tips for worms and pull them out and then leave them when they find they are not.  I have covered the beds with some plastic mesh as a temporary precaution until they get rooted. The garlic also seems to be progressing well.

We attempted some digging to clear a patch to transfer our blackcurrants from Mile Oak but the ground was too wet for any serious digging and weed clearance.

The Aquadulce broad beans planted in October/November are doing well and I also planted a double row of another variety Luz d'Otona just before Xmas.

Sylvi has made great progress in building a fence with old pallets at the end of the allotment and clearing a space to site the shed.  We need to get team shed together soon!

John Austin

Hove, January 2017

Monday, 6 February 2017

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald November 2016

November 2016

November was a month of frenzied activity.  I managed to sow a double row of Aquadulce broad beans in the last week of October and a second double row a fortnight later. The first sowing were up by the middle of November and the second just showing by the end of the month.

We began to move some of the other raised bed frames from Mile Oak and have planted some shallots in one and several varieties of garlic in another.  It's a constant battle to keep them planted as some bird or animal keeps digging them up.  I am told that some birds see the tip peeping from the soil and tug at it, thinking that it's a worm, and then discard it.  I have remedied this by laying some plastic mesh over the shallots and resting an old pallet on the bed with garlic.  I will uncover them in December to see how they are progressing.

We now have a variety of frames for raised beds from the old allotment and I responded to an offer on Streetlife - for wooden planks.  They turned out to be slats from an IKEA bed, but they have made a useful small raised bed which I may use for herbs.

We also acquired some wooden pallets and several planters free on Streetlife and Luke has provided us with several more pallets with which Sylvi is building a fence.

The Weald is a very friendly allotment site and feels like a real community.  People have offered to help, lend us things and our immediate neighbour has already supplied us with green salad and Jo, on the opposite plot, offered us a shed which was no longer needed!

The only problem was that it needed dismantling and re-erecting!

With an army of helpers, Charlie, Terry & Anita, Bradley and Luke (with extra assistance from Jerome), the demolition and move on to our plot was achieved relatively painlessly and it is now piled up in pieces awaiting a site to be cleared and levelled.  It had no floor but was resting on pallets!

John Austin

Hove, November 2016

Friday, 27 January 2017

MEGRIM SOLE - (1) What's in a name?


MEGRIM also known in UK as Cornish Sole, Torbay Sole, Witch, Sail-Fluke, Fluke or Whiff 

Sadly Megrim rarely appears in our fishmongers in the UK although it is found in English waters, especially around Cornwall.  I have seen it occasionally in Morrison's and Tesco and is usually reasonably priced. Its praises have been sung by the likes of Rick Stein, so if it's cheap and sustainable why do we not see it more?

Although related to the Brill and Turbot (it is a sinistral fish), it cannot compare in taste or texture with these but, if cooked well, it can stand its own with Lemon Sole and most other flat fish and is a quarter of the price.

I read somewhere that Cornish fishermen used to throw them back as there was no market in the UK and now most catches are sold to the continent!

In Spain it is known as Gallo (which is a little confusing as John Dory is also known as Gallo in some areas, including Catalonia and Valencia, rather than its usual name Pez de San Pedro). If you find Gallo on the menu in restaurants it is likely to be John Dory and not Megrim,

Megrim is also known by regional/national names in Spain such as Lliseria, Palaia and Cappela. The French word for Megrim is Cardine.

There are plentiful supplies of Megrim in the eastern Atlantic off the coasts of France, Spain and Portugal and some of the catch I have seen in Spain came from France, but it is also found in the western Mediterranean, and is landed in Santa Pola - those pictured above were bought in Santa Pola in January 2016 and I recently bought a large one in Elche for less than 4€ a kilo.

I have posted a recipe for whole pan-fried Megrim

John Austin

Santa Pola, January 2017