Saturday, 21 July 2018

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald June 2018

Life on the Weald, June 2018 

June is very much a month for harvesting with an opportunity to make some late sowings.

We have had several pickings of raspberries - the taste was excellent but because we have had one of the driest couple of months on record they were not as plump as last year....

the first raspberries of 2018
....but they were delicious

The raspberry canes are a bit choked by couch grass in some areas so may need digging up and replanting in the autumn.

The outdoor cucumbers which I bought from the Allotment Holders' sale were looking good at the beginning of the month but need some encouragement to actually climb up the netting which I have provided.  The ones I grew from seed are just a couple of inches high.

Cucumbers 11 June
Although we have been watering regularly, the lettuces are beginning to bolt.  Some were grown from seed planted in the winter and having survived the cold and the wet at the beginning of the year, it would be sad to lose them now.

One crop that seems to have done very well is the onions and we will be harvesting and drying them off later this month or next.

Onions - Autumn sun

Red Onions - Electra
In the meantime a spot of hand weeding is required!

I have managed to clear a raised bed to sow some dwarf French Beans which hopefully will be up next month.
Raised bed ready for the French beans

What we had hoped was a Globe Artichoke is regrettably a Cardoon.  It's very decorative and no doubt will be stunning when the flowers open - but its not an artichoke!  Its over 2m tall and has a spread of 2m so it is taking up a lot of room and no doubt depleting the soil of water and nutrients.  So, sorry but it has to go.

The courgettes, marrow and pumpkin plants are all looking good.  I bought the plants from the Allotment Holders' plant sale as the ones I had grown from seed had all been eaten so I am not sure what varieties they are or which are the marrows and which the courgettes!

I have planted them in what was an overgrown wilderness of couch grass, nettles and bindweed where the previous plot holder had grown cabbages and sprouts and obviously some Duke of York red potatoes which we keep unearthing!

Courgette in flower
We have harvested our peas - Kelvedon Wonder - and they were so good we have made some more late sowings of both Kelvedon Wonder and Boogie.

Our first peas - best eaten from the pod!
June was the month to dig up the first early potatoes and the first to crop were the Rocket variety.  This is supposedly the earliest cropping variety but various sources suggest it is not best for flavour.  They are right.  They do not taste like the freshly lifted new potatoes I remember from my youth.  They are just bland potatoes.  They also don't look like new potatoes as they are the size of baking potatoes!

Early Rocket potatoes
They do seem popular with slugs though!  Many were pitted with large holes made by slugs -some were still in residence but most had been vacated only to be re-occupied by woodlice!  I lifted one plant of later Charlotte potatoes to see if they had suffered the same and they had not.  Speaking to my colleague and fellow plot holder, Simon, I discovered he had the same problem and only his Rocket potatoes were affected by slugs and not the other variety he had planted.   Well, that's one easy decision - I won't be growing Rocket again.

Earlier in the year I had planted a mixed collection of lettuces bought from the garden centre and we have lifted our first from the crop and it was very good - lollo rosso.

Our first Lollo Rosso 
There is still no sign of rain in what has been the driest June on record and at the end of the month we're off to Spain!  Bad timing.

John Austin

June 2018, Hove

Monday, 25 June 2018

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald May 2018

Life on the Weald, May 2018 

One of the consequences of living by the sea is that children, grandchildren and the wider family and friends visit quite often.  This was an intended consequence and we love having visitors but we do tend to lose weekends on the allotment!

We hadn't done as much preparatory work as we should in April as we lost a whole weekend for the London Marathon, then we went away for a week to coincide with Sylvi's birthday and then my daughter and family came down for a weekend (although it was so wet and miserable that in all honesty we wouldn't have ventured to the allotment).

In May, my eldest son and family visited for the early bank holiday weekend and shortly after we disappeared for a week to Spain.  The weather for the early May holiday was extremely good and whilst we neglected the allotment, we made good use of the garden

We also got the barbecue out for only the second time this year and also put the smoker to good use with smoked pork ribs and a slow smoked been joint. 

Chicken and lamb kebabs

smoked beef and pork ribs
Surprisingly though, we grabbed a few hours later in the week and got some work done on the plot and its looking reasonably good.

On my first visit of the month I was pleased to see that the rhubarb which we had transplanted had taken well.

And in those dark November/December days I had sown some winter lettuces in seed trays at home.  They had germinated indoors but spent January and February outdoors before being planted out in March.  I was surprised to see that they had survived!

Vailan, winter sown lettuces

The peas were also doing well......

Kelvedon Wonder peas
 ...........and the broad beans sown in March were coming along.

Meteor broad beans
 Early May and the blueberries are in full flower...........


............. and the apple is in blossom.

We also had signs of the first gooseberries in early May 

gooseberry 4 May
And by 25 May we had a prolific crop

Sadly, two days later the entire crop had disappeared - squirrels? pigeons? herring gulls? We just don't know.  Unlikely to have been people as they weren't ripe.  But next year I will have to think of netting them.  We lost our entire crop of blueberries last year so netting them is a priority for this month.

The first early potatoes are doing well...

First early Rocket potatoes - 4 May

Vivaldi and Charlotte first early potatoes - 4 May

At the beginning of May, the pond was covered in pond weed and there was no evidence of frogs or toads returning, but the water irises planted last year are looking good and hopefully will flower this year.   If there are no signs of our amphibians returning by the end of the month, I think I might import some spawn or tadpoles.

Garden pond and irises - 4 May

We still have plentiful supplies of chard and perpetual spinach, some of which is beginning to go to seed.  There are also bluebells everywhere.

chard and bluebells - coexistence

We have had a good crop of broad beans from the Aquadulce sown in November

Sowing in November gives a crop a few weeks ahead of those sown in February/March which usually means they avoid blackfly - and sure enough the ones sown in February are now infested.

I have repaired the frame that I built for last year's tromboncino and have used it to make a frame for the runner beans.

I confess that I haven't grown them from seed but bought some plants from the garden centre and supplemented them with some bought from the Allotment Federation's plant sale.  I also bought some courgette plants from the plant sale but am not sure of the variety.  I have cleared the jungle where the sprouts and cabbages grew last year and had to dig out nettles and brambles and it will be a challenge to keep both under control.

By the end of the month the water iris was in flower

But still no sign of any frogs or toads.  By chance someone on the local "Nextdoor" social media site was offering tadpoles so I collected some and transferred them to the pond

By the end of the month we were harvesting Broad Beans and Peas and the raspberries were just beginning to ripen. Looks like we'll have a good harvest in June.

John AustinHove, May 2018

Wednesday, 30 May 2018


Seafood Pasta -

with clams, squid and prawns 

Recently, I was watching Saturday Kitchen on TV and saw Jamie Oliver's Five Ingredients Recipe for a spicy pasta dish with 'nduja and clams.  Later that week our local fishmonger had a supply of fresh palourdes.

I don't know why a Sussex fishmonger uses the French name rather than call them clams (carpet shell clams to be precise). Jamie uses the Italian, vongole.  In Spain we know them as almejas.

'Nduja seems to be the trendy new ingredient and seen on a number of bar menus recently. Its a soft, spreadable spicy italian sausage flavoured with paprika.  I suppose the Spanish equivalent is sobrasada, a sort of spreadable chorizo.  I had neither, but I find ordinary chorizo picante excellent with seafood so used this instead.  I am a great fan of clams but Sylvia prefers prawns, so with inspiration from Jamie, I put together my own mixed seafood dish with clams, squid and prawns.

Ingredients   - serves two
·                     150 g fresh pasta* - linguine, tagliatelle or spaghetti
·                     500 g clams  (palourdes/almejas/vongole or any other clams that might be available, such as cockles)
·                     25 g chorizo picante
·                     1 medium hot red chilli
·                     Two small squid
·                     200 g raw prawns
·                     small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley
·                     100 ml dry white or rosé wine (or dry Fino sherry or dry vermouth)
*if using dried pasta, the cooking times below will need to be adjusted and the pasta started sooner.

If you are not using the clams immediately, take them out of any plastic bag or container they were bought in and keep in the refrigerator in a bowl or colander with a wet towel on top or loosely wrapped in damp newspaper in the salad drawer of your fridge until needed.  Some say they can be kept for a day or so but I wouldn’t  leave them for more than a few hours. Do not leave them in a bowl of water or ice as they will probably die.  When needed, rinse thoroughly under running water.  If they have been bought from a supermarket or fishmonger they will almost certainly have been purged but leaving them in running water in the sink for up to 30 minutes just before you cook them will probably remove any remaining sand or grit.  (Some recipes suggest adding oatmeal to the water for the purging process but there seems to be no evidence that this is necessary or effective). Inspect the clams and reject any which have broken shells and any that are open or not tightly closed and won’t close when tapped.

I used three pans - a frying pan, a sauté or frying pan with a tight fitting lid and a large saucepan.

In each frying pan, gently soften half a chopped small onion in a little olive oil over a low heat, then add 1 clove of chopped garlic to each, continue frying gently until softened.   Set aside the sauté pan.

Finely chop the chorizo, and slice the red chilli and add these to the frying pan and fry gently to extract the oil from the chorizo.  Add the squid, cut into rings plus the tentacles and chopped wings and fry on high heat, stirring for 2 minutes.  Turn down the heat, add the prawns and fry on a gentle heat till they are just turning pink and partly cooked. Turn off the heat and set aside.  Cook the pasta in boiling water in a large saucepan according to the instructions – usually about 4 minutes.

In the meantime, add half of the parsley, chopped, including the chopped stalks, to the sauté pan, add a small glass of dry white or rosé wine (or dry Fino sherry or dry vermouth) and bring to the boil.  Add the washed clams, put on the lid, and cook for 3 minutes, shaking the pan until the clams have opened.  Take off the heat, inspect the clams and remove any that have not opened.  

Return to the heat, add the prawn/squid/chorizo mixture from the frying pan, stir and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the drained cooked pasta and stir to ensure the pasta is well coated with the cooking liquid.  If there is insufficient juice, add a small quantity of the pasta cooking liquid.  Season with freshly ground black pepper and the juice of half a lemon, drizzle a little olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining chopped parsley and serve.

The Italians would describe this seafood pasta as blanco. With the addition of tomato at the cooking stage – some halved cherry tomatoes and a little passata – it would be seafood pasta rosso.   If you are adding tomatoes, use some basil in place of or in addition to the parsley.

John Austin

Hove, May 2018


Sunday, 20 May 2018

STONE BASS - What is it?

Stone Bass - what is it?

On our first visit to Fishmekan in Hove earlier this year they had "Stone Bass" on the menu and Sylvi asked me if I knew what it was.  I couldn't recall exactly but thought it was a fish similar to the Grouper. Regrettably we didn't try it and it wasn't on the menu when we visited again recently.

After our first visit, I checked  to see if my memory was right - and it was (or was it?).  Nothing is ever simple with fish names as my blog on fish names shows

Stone Bass is an English name for Wreckfish which we had seen in Spain as Cherna and also under its Catalan name rascas (not to be confused with rascacio which is Scorpion Fish).  The Grouper family includes Grouper (Mero in Spain and Merou in France) and a variety of related species all called Grouper in English which include in Spain Cherne de Ley, Cherne Denton and Gitano.

The Grouper is highly esteemed in Spain and is also very popular in South East Asian cuisine. I had first been  introduced to Grouper in the 80s by my Vietnamese work colleague, Troung Tran, but later found it widely available in restaurants and markets in Malaysia and Thailand often steamed whole.

Grouper appears from time to time on English restaurant menus but I was surprised to see Wreckfish and did some further research.  Google Stone Bass and most sites will rightly describe it as Wreckfish but, intriguingly, not The Fish Society!  Their website says it is Meagre, one of the Croaker or Drum Fish.  I contacted them to find out more and they said that you would be unlikely to find Wreck Fish on menus in the UK as there was no market for it.  Alan Davison confirms this in Mediterranean Seafood saying that it is "not found in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean, and is not common in the market, as it has to be fished with a line and hook at a depth of 150 metres or so"

The Fish Society told me that it was not easy to find large sea bass that could be cooked as steaks but that Meagre were much larger and similar in texture and flavour to sea bass and could yield good steaks.  They informed me that if I saw Stone Bass on a menu in the UK it would almost certainly be Meagre.

The Fish Society is not what it's name might suggest, however. It is a wholesale fish merchant supplying many restaurants in the U.K. And on their website they say

So what is stone bass?

Dare we say it? Stone bass is, in fact, a ‘marketing’ name for a fish species called meagre from the Sciaenide family. You can understand why they didn’t think it’s normal name was that sexy can’t you? If you would like to learn more about meagre it’s latin name is Argyrosomus regius. Depending on where you are in the world you may see it described as salmon bass, shade-fish or even corvina.
Now Corvina is a fish that I am familiar with as we often have it in Spain when we have a large gathering and cook it whole as you might sea bass. I posted a recipe for Corvina in November 2016 

 Mystery solved!

John Austin

Hove, May 2018

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on the Weald, April 2018

Life on the Weald - April 2018

The Easter weekend and bank holiday Monday are usually a time for gardening activity, but this year we went away for a family celebration to Sheffield.  Having lost valuable days, it was my intention to spend some days on the plot on returning - but when we looked out of the window in Sheffield on Easter Monday, this is what we saw

Sheffield, Easter Monday 2 April
Hove escaped the snow but had days of heavy rain and when we returned the allotment was waterlogged so it was a few more days before it became workable.

There was a brief dry day on 5th April. The broad beans (Aquadulce) sown in November had survived and were looking healthy.

Broad beans, Aquadulce 5 April
 I was able to plant a couple of rows of Peas (Kelvedon Wonder) in one of the vacant raised beds...

Kelvedon Wonder Peas sown 5 April
.... and despite the heavy going, I did a bit of tidying up and the rhubarb appears to have made a recovery.

The soil was very heavy but I managed to plant another row of second early Nicola potatoes

2nd Early Nicola potatoes
Vivaldi and Charlotte early potatoes

Vivaldi, Charlotte and Nicola early potatoes

It was not until 25 April that I managed to get to the plot again - but thankfully there had been some progress.

November sown Aquadulce broad beans
The broad beans sown in November were looking healthy and in flower. We can expect the first crop towards the end of May

1st Early potatoes

The first early potatoes were just showing through, so i earthed them up a little more and weeded between the rows.  I had cut the lawn at home so laid the cuttings between the rows to act as a moisture retainer and weed suppressant.

The garlic planted last year was looking very healthy

January/February sown broad beans
The second sowing of broad beans - sown in January/March were looking good

red currants

red currants
The red currant bushes transferred from Mile Oak had survived the winter and were now in flower so we should get a crop this year,


And the blueberries are also in flower.  They are in pots in ericaceous compost as they are acid-loving plants and I gave them a liquid ericaceous feed.  Once the fruit has set I will need to provide some cover to protect them from the birds which consumed the entire crop last year. 

The weather appears to be improving and there is a lot of work to be done next month  as we still need to clear some space for our runner beans, leeks courgettes, kale and broccoli which we will be planting out in May/June.

John Austin

Hove, April 2018