Saturday, 18 November 2017

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald - October 2017

Life on The Weald - October 2017

Perhaps the post should now be called "OUR ALLOTMENTS" as we have formally taken the tenancy of the neighbouring half plot so we now have a full plot to manage.

The new plot has been neglected and overgrown for a couple of years, although a young man did take it on for a short while earlier this year and with the help of one of the neighbours planted some potatoes and brassicas which we are now discovering amongst the wilderness.

There are also dense growths of nettles which would indicate that the soil is rich in nitrogen and phosphates.  We will strim the nettles and let the leaves rot down in situ or add to our compost before attempting to dig out the spreading roots, rhizomes and stolons. Nettle leaves are a good compost accelerator.

this is how most of the plot looked when we took over

and this is how it looks after strimming

We have strimmed the edge where the plot adjoins our original plot and where the weeds, bindweed and couch grass were encoaching on our path and now we need to dig out the couch grass and bindweed.

On the positive side, we have also acquired a prolific apple tree and several plum trees well as several brambles which are coming up all over the plot

We have also acquired a greenhouse, which has seen better days and may not be salvageable.  As a temporary measure we may cover the frame in netting and use as a fruit cage for our blueberries.

Our blueberries are growing in large plots as they require an acid soil and South Downs chalk is not their cup of tea.  They are growing in ericaceous compost.  They cropped heavily this year and I had planned to harvest them but left it a week too late because when I went to pick them they had all gone.  I am assuming it was the birds (and not a person) -birds seem to know just when they are at their best.

our original plot

We needed space to plant our garlic and shallots but most of our existing beds still have some produce although we have cleared the area where the courgettes and tomatoes were grown (and there is still a pumpkin to harvest) and we have planted the first of our Eden Rose and Printanor garlic and some Griselle and Jermor shallots

Whilst Sylvi has carried out a Herculean task of clearing the greenhouse and the area behind to prepare the base for our shed, (which we hope to erect by the end of the year),
I have been refurbishing some raised beds, transferred from Mile Oak and clearing a space for them on the new plot.

In the smaller one I planted some Electric red onion sets early in the month...

 ....and some Autumn Gold, towards the end of the month.

And we also planted our first double row of aquadulce broad beans.

But time to enjoy some produce!  We are eating spinach and chard almost daily and have just sampled our first Crown Prince squash.

And despite the fact that its October, I have just picked what will probably be the last of the autumn raspberries.....

....and picked loads of apples

...which we have been transforming into apple jelly...

....which will be some comfort as we contemplate the hard physical tasks ahead next month, the shortening days and the rain, the wind and the cold!

John Austin 

Hove, October 2017

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on the Weald - September 2017

The Weald September 2017 

We are still enjoying the harvest.  The parsnips have been a particular success but, as they are so deep-rooted, they need hard physical labour to lift.  Fortunately my daughter, ZoĆ«, was on hand to assist.

Generally September was a good month as we continued to harvest produce with little effort

We also have a pond which could hardly be seen under the couch grass and weeds. I decided now was a good time to clear the area and we have planted some aquatic irises in the pond.  

Whilst clearing the undergrowth we were greeted by a very large frog who hopefully is helping to keep some of the pests under control.

And there is possibly more good news. Our current half-plot is in Sylvi's name but now the neighbouring half plot has become vacant and I am top of the waiting list! So with any luck I could become the tenant in the next few weeks, at last we will have "his and hers".  The only drawback is that the new plot is somewhat neglected and overgrown and, as you can see, will take a lot of time and effort to clear.........

There is also a prolific growth of stinging nettles which will need to be removed.....

Stinging nettles - Urtica dioica

Stinging nettles are not altogether bad news. In the 17th century, Culpeper recommended that

The roots or leaves boiled, or the juice of either of them, or both made into an electuary with honey and sugar, is a safe and sure medicine to open the pipes and passages of the lungs’.

Perhaps we should harvest them first before digging out the roots. I am told that the leaves are nutritious and can be cooked like spinach (and of course there is nettle beer). But other parts can be used in a variety of ways.  Although nettles are wind pollinated and reproduce by production of seeds, they also reproduce asexually, spreading by stolons and rhizomes which are modified stems; stolons spread across the surface as runners whilst rhizomes spread underground. This is why they are so effective in colonising large areas and why they need to be removed if they are not to take over the entire plot.

We still need to erect our shed, so I think that we might be too busy this autumn to find time to do something with the nettles apart from composting them.  The good news is that their presence suggests that the soil is rich in nitrogen and phosphates.  We will probably leave a patch at the end of the plot as they are important in encouraging beneficial insects. Many caterpillars and aphids feed on them and may prefer them to my vegetables!  They also attract ladybirds which are welcome on the alloltment.  We can think about recipes next year!

John Austin

Hove, September 2017

Sunday, 12 November 2017

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on the Weald - August 2017

The Weald August 2017

August has been the month to enjoy the fruits of our labour without too much hard work except keeping the weeds at bay.  We tried a few experimental plantings this year, including this one of a round lemon cucumber.

I don't think we will bother next year.  They weren't prolific and the taste wasn't anything special. The outdoor ridge cucumbers, pepinos, however (sown from a 2 Euro packet of seeds from Spain) have been a great success.

Our swiss chard, also grown from a packet of seeds from Spain, has been wonderful. My daughter's partner, who is from New Zealand, calls it silver chard.

We have also been harvesting the rainbow chard, and are busy looking for new ways of cooking and serving it.

This is our first summer on The Weald and we inherited several plum trees, so we have had plum crumble, made plum jelly, and have a freezer full of stewed plums.

And they're great just to eat straight off the tree.

Apart from the chard and cucumbers, we have also harvested carrots, tromboncinos, potatoes and beetroot.

Swiss chard, courgette, tromboncino, cucumber, beetroot, potatoes and carrots

carrots, courgettes and cucumber (pepino)

We also had a good crop of shallots which we have been ripening in the sunshine.

The autumn leeks are looking good, but do need a lot of hand-weeding.

And the winter crop of leeks appears to be coming along nicely.

The glut of chard......
...and courgettes and beetroot

....has led to some experimentation in the kitchen and put the spiraliser to good use.

And 2017 is the first year that I haved had success with parsnips. Its perhaps a little early in the year - we haven't had a frost yet - but I couldnt resist lifting a parsnip just to see how they are doing.

The Crown Prince squashes are coming along - but not as large as I had anticipated.

There will be much more to harvest next month - and perhaps some tidying up and a bit of hard labour.

John Austin

HOVE, August 2017

Monday, 16 October 2017

REDFISH (Norway Haddock)


I just spotted this redfish at my local fishmonger down by the harbour and as it was a good price decided to buy it.  I had assumed by its appearance that it was Norway haddock a deep water fish found in the Atlantic and around Scandinavia and Iceland. It is also marketed as Ocean perch, red perch, Atlantic redfish and sometimes erroneously red bream

The name can be confusing, however, as the name redfish is also used to describe the red drum (or croaker) found in the South Atlantic and southern oceans - a fish related to the European corvina, popular in Spain and Portugal (see my blog).  I knew it wasn't red drum as my fishmonger only sells locally landed fresh fish and fishing boats from the Gulf of Mexico don't land their catch in Sussex!  To add to the confusion, the term redfish is also applied (especially in the US) to the red sea bream as well as to red snappers.

When filleted, redfish can be treated as any firm fleshed white fish such as haddock or cod and is often skinned before cooking if being pan fried.

I decided to pan fry it very simply with the skin on.

Ingredients (for two)

1 redfish fillet app. 250-350g
olive oil
herbs or spices of choice
1 lemon


Cut the fillet in two and rub both sides with a little olive oil. Season both sides with salt and pepper.  I then seasoned the flesh side with a little dried oregano and a pinch of sumac. Almost any flavours will suit - a sprinkling of pimenton/parika, hot or sweet according to your taste or rubbed with a little crushed ginger.... it's up to you.

Having seasoned the fish, I left it for 15 minutes to absorb the flavours.

Rub a heavy frying pan with garlic then bring to high heat, place the fish fillets skin-side down and press down to ensure all the the skin is in contact with the pan. Lower the heat to medium and cook for 2-3 minutes.  You will see the flesh gradually turning opaque as it cooks. At this stage you can add about a tablespoon of olive oil whilst is is cooking.

After 3 minutes turn the fish over and cook for a further 2 minutes.  When it is cooked, drizzle over the juice of a small lemon and serve skin-side up.  The skin should be very crispy and is popular with some people; if you don't like the skin it can easily be peeled off in one piece.

I served the fillets on a bed of spinach with steamed new potatoes - just because we have loads of both on the allotment.  It goes equally well with lemon or garlic mash potatoes or served with a green salad and of course a glass or two of chilled white wine!

John Austin

Hove, September 2017

Thursday, 28 September 2017

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on the Weald - July 2017

The Weald July 2017

Time to harvest and savour the fruits of our labour!

we have now lifted most of the early potatoes - Nicola and Charlotte - wonderful waxy, new potatoes, tasting just like I remember new poatoes from my childhood.  If you want to grow something that tastes really different from anything you buy in the shops, grow potatoes.

The ground we cleared by lifting potatoes is home for my autumn leeks which I have now transplanted.  Using a dibber to make holes about 8 inches deep, I just dropped in the young leeks and then watered, leaving room for the leeks to expand and for the holoes to fill naturally.  They look good now but they will need regular hoeing and hand weeding if the summer weeds are not to take over.

The remainder of the shallots and garlic have been lifted and left to harden/ripen in the sun

And the cucumbers are just getting the hang of climbing up the netting!  They are slow learners and seem to prefer to trail on the ground!

On the squash front, the tromboncinos are coming along nicely

....and the competition with Maurice is on!

But forgetting the competition, the best thing is to pick them young and treat them like a courgettte

Meanwhile, across the road at Neville, Luke's Patty Pan are doing well

Another great success on the Weald has been the chard.  I had sown some rainbow chard from seed and also some Spanish Swiss chard (or silver chard) from a pack of seeds I had brought back from Spain, but there also seems to be a lot of self-seeded red chard on the plot which is quite prolific.

There is so much that we have given loads away, frozen some, eaten it daily, put it in soups and curries and are busy exploring recipes for different things to do with it.

The plum tree which we inherited looks as though it will give us an abundant crop this year but is showing some signs of leaf disease so we must think about spraying it this autumn.

But whilst we are gloating about the success of our crops and relaxing in the sunshine, there is some hard work to be done if we are to get the shed up before winter!

John Austin

Hove July 2017