Friday, 18 August 2017

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on the Weald - June 2017

The Weald June 2017

On our return from holiday we were pleased that our potatoes at Mile Oak had made good progress and should be ready for lifting next month.

But sadly all of our purple kale and cavolo nero had been totally destroyed by snails or slugs.  And later in the month the same fate came to most of our squashes.

Undaunted we cleared an area to plant out the French beans which we had grown in seed trays and pots at home.

Meanwhile back at The Weald, things were looking good.  The broad beans had delivered a heavy crop and were eaten on an almost daily basis and the freezer was filled to capacity.
As a result, we hadn't picked them all at their best and we were about to go on holiday.

 Coals to Newcastle!

We picked all the remaining broad beans,shelled them and took them with us to Spain! We were not sure how edible they would be as the outer skins were quite tough as you can see

- but we removed the outer skins, to reveal fresh bright green beans within

- and now we have a plentiful supply in the freezer in Spain

Towards the end of the month the garlic was ready for harvesting.

The beetroots are coming along nicely

 The seed strips seem to have paid off as both the carrots and parsnips look healthy...

.....and the potatoes are doing well.  We have had our first lifting of the Charlotte earlies and they were delicious. 

Earlier in the year we had sown some peas which Toby and Jane had saved from their crop in Northumberland last year - unfortunately we don't know what variety they are but they are obviously suited to Hove as they cropped well and were delicious too.

We will certainly look out for a late cropping variety and sow during the summer for an autumn crop.

In view of our friend Maurice's success in growing tromboncino in West London last year we have set up in competition and sown some from seed.  I have erected a frame to grow them over.

And if you haven't seen a tromboncino before, here is Maurice's effort last year....

I have also constructed a frame for our Spanish pepinos, ridge cucumbers, which we are growing from seed brought home from Spain. 

We are also trying to grow pimientos de padron from seed and they will be ready for planting out soon.  

Our cavolo nero, chard and perpetual spinach are looking good and ready for picking - they are great cut and come again vegetables and might last through the autumn. Some years they have gone through the winter.  The purple sprouting broccoli is looking strong and healthy and hopefully will provide a plentiful supply next March if we can protect it from the pigeons.

And we have also managed to save some redcurrants and raspberries from the bindweed at Mile Oak 

I have some autumn leeks in one of the raised beds, some grown from seed and some from plugs and they will soon be ready for planting out.  My next task is to lift a row of potatoes to make room for them.

It looks as though July will be a busy month..

John Austin

Hove June 2017

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on the Weald (and Mile Oak and Neville!) May 2017

May 2017

The year has not progressed as well as we had hoped. Two minor operations put me out of action for a bit in the early part of the year and this delayed some of the heavier physical work needed, including getting the shed up. Before we got the half-plot at The Weald we had been co-working Luke and Nicole's half plot at Mile Oak where there is a shed. As they now have a half plot at Neville, the idea was to give up Mile Oak but as we haven't yet managed to erect our shed at The Weald, we aren't able to clear the one at Mile Oak, so I started cultivating there again with crops which, fingers crossed, will be ready before autumn. Meanwhile, Luke has broken his ankle and is out of action so we are minding his plot at Neville too! Hopefully we will be sorted by the summer.

We have managed to plant garlic and shallots and sow some broad beans, beetroot and spinach at Neville and put in a couple of rows of potatoes. But the dry April weather has been a problem as we haven't managed to get up to water as often as needed. We did plant out some squashes there just before we disappeared for another break at the end of May....

Squash plants on Neville
and we have cleared a patch and planted some purple kale, cavolo Nero and potatoes at Mile Oak.

Mile Oak, 2 rows of potatoes planted

We have sown quite a few seeds indoors which are now hardening off in the garden at home and we had arranged for them to be watered whilst we were away, but May has been so wet it hasn't been necessary!

We have some French beans in trays which we can hopefully plant out in June and some courgettes and outdoor cucumbers in pots which hopefully we can plant out early June.

Before going away in May we did manage to plant out some cavolo nero and early purple sprouting broccoli at The Weald and to sow some carrots and parsnips. I have never been lucky with these in the past, so this year I decided to buy packs of seed strips, which are slightly more expensive but hopefully worth it. It looks as if the investment has paid off.

Our potatoes are coming along nicely. They had a bit of a setback because of the April drought but have now been well watered by our neighbours while we were away and are back to life.

We have also harvested our first broad beans at The Weald

and it looks as though we will have a bumper crop this year - so we need to make some room in the freezer.

Luke is very fond of his squashes but because of his ankle had not sown any. Fortunately, I saw an end of line offer at Sutton Seeds for "plugs" at 99p for three and went a bit over the top and bought a whole load for Luke and me to share. Under Luke's supervision we have planted several varieties on his plot and I have potted up the remainder ready for planting at The Weald when I get back.

I bought three different varieties of patty pan squash, dark green, light green and yellow. And we have three other different squashes - we will see later in the year if they look anything like the catalogue pictures (below) or live up to their reputation

Uchiki Kuri -

A teardrop-shaped Japanese squash. They say it's easy to grow and has a sweet and nutty flavour. Uchiki Kuri is supposed to set around four 1.5kg fruits per plant. We'll see if they live up to their reputation! They are said to be hardy and drought-tolerant;

Honey boat -

- which is advertised as "easier to grow, more productive and sweeter than a butternut squash" and said to produce "super sweet fruit with firm, deep orange flesh". It's claimed that they also keep well throughout winter; and

Crown Prince -

which is claimed to be an allotment grower's favourite. The blurb says "it has a nutty, honey-like depth and smooth, pudding-like flesh making it a superb choice for roasting". It is also one of the most long-storing of all squashes.

I have planted some patty pan squashes and a Crown Prince at Mile Oak as well as pumpkin.

Off to Samarkand. Fingers crossed that everything survives until we get home

John Austin

Hove, May 2017

Friday, 28 July 2017


Oven roasted whole brill

We live in the Wish area of Hove and a few hundred meters from the eastern end of Shoreham harbour. I recently discovered that "Wish" is a word deriving from Old English meaning a meadow or land liable to be flooded and read a fascinating history of the harbour which is now a thriving port 

I asked the fishmonger to clean and trim the fish.


1 whole Brill, about 1 - 2 kg, cleaned and trimmed 
2 sprigs of fresh oregano
2 bay leaves
1 lemon
Olive oil
75mls Dry white wine, dry sherry or dry vermouth
1 piece fresh ginger app 2-3 cms
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

* if you don’t have preserved lemons use the thinly pared peel of a fresh lemon or lime.


Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan oven)     

Make some diagonal incisions into the flesh of the fish. Take the preserved lemon, remove all the flesh and discard. Cut the peel into very thin slices. Slice the fresh ginger into thin matchstick strips and do the same with the garlic.  Insert the slivers of lemon, garlic and ginger into the slits in the fish and then season with salt** and freshly ground pepper

Heat the oven to 200C (Fan oven 180C)
Put the oregano bay leaves and some salt** and pepper in roasting tin with any remaining preserved lemon, garlic and herbs, reserving some to put in the body cavity of the fish.  If using fresh lemon, slice ½ lemon and add the slices to the tin.
Lay the fish on top of the oregano, bay and lemon and drizzle a little s olive oil over the skin.
Roast in the pre-heated oven for 10-12 minutes (15mins if it is a larger fish) Check that the fish is almost cooked and coming away from the bone.  Pour over the glass of wine and a squeeze of lemon juice over the fish and replace in the oven for 5 mins, a little longer if you want the skin crispy. (or crisp up for a couple of minutes under a hot grill). If you don’t want to eat the skin it will lift away from the flesh and the flesh will come away from the bone. You will have 4 good portions.

Put each serving of fish on a plate and pour over the juices from the tin.
Two of us ate three portions.  We saved the remaining portion to add to a seafood linguine dish the following day and boiled up the bones and remaining skin for a fish stock. 

Two of us ate three portions.  We saved the remaining portion to add to a seafood linguine dish the following day and boiled up the bones and remaining skin for a fish stock. 

**Go easy on the salt seasoning if using preserved lemons as they are very salty.

John Austin

Hove July 2017


Brill or turbot?

What's the difference between turbot and brill? About £3 - £4 a kilo.

Most chefs and cookery books suggest that the turbot is superior in flavour and the king of white fish and brill was once considered "the poor man's food". Well I was brought up a poor man but never encountered brill (but then the only fish in our house was cod, haddock or plaice, apart from sardines and salmon which came in a tin. We knew of skate and rock salmon (or Huss) from the chippie but it never crossed our threshold.

I don’t know what my Dad’s aversion was to rock salmon, but mine stems from my school days. I studied zoology for my A-levels and dogfish were a standard item for dissection, preserved in formaldehyde. I opted out of school but became reacquainted with the smell when I worked in a mortuary as a Pathology Laboratory Technician.  I’m sure dogfish are perfectly edible when fresh but I can’t look at them without being reminded of the slabs and the smell in the mortuary!

In happier times, I became acquainted with turbot in my late twenties in France - and a host of other fish, many found in British waters, that I had never come across - but it was another twenty years or more before I discovered the delights of brill, despite a plentiful supply off the English coast.

Brill (Rémol in Spanish and Barbue in French) is one of the most popular fish in Spain, especially in Galicia, Asturia and the Basque country. It is usually smaller than the turbot. (Just to add to the confusion over fish names, brill is called rodovalho in Portugal, almost the same as the Spanish name for turbot, rodaballo! So if you have eaten rodovalho in Portugal thinking it was turbot, think again.

Turbot and brill are both sinistral flatfish but brill has a smoother skin without the protuberances or “nails” that turbot has. In Turkey, brill is known as turbot without nails (çivisiz kalkan)

Any recipe for turbot will suit brill and vice versa. Turbot has the firmer flesh and whilst the turbotière was designed to poach whole turbot, larger fish are usually cut into steaks.  My usual recipes for brill are to cook itwhole, either roasted or baked in foil.

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