Monday 28 November 2016


Gurnard - roast whole

Sad news in November - Trump won the US Presidential election, Leonard Cohen died and my local fishmonger's closed. Kevin has finally retired. I wish him and Aloma a long and happy retirement, but it is a sad loss for the Richardson Road local shopping area where we have an independent butcher, a local baker, an independent off-licence, an organic greengrocer, two very good coffee shops and a podiatrist - but sadly no longer a fishmonger. Kevin was my main supplier of Brill and he regularly had a local catch of gurnard.

Just by chance, I was passing the fish counter in Tesco this week and there, on the counter, were two gurnard, caught in the North Sea/English Channel - how much more interesting than the imported farmed sea bass and sea bream sitting alongside!  So they had to be bought.

Rick Stein, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver have all contributed to the wider availability of gurnard by advocating its benefits both in flavour and sustainability. Unfortunately this publicity, like that for dabs, has also contributed to its price rise!

English fishermen traditionally returned gurnard to the deep or used it as lobster bait, whereas across the channel it was prized and a regular ingredient of bouillabaisse.

In his River Cottage Fish Book, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall favours pot-roasting in a robust fish stew 

Jamie Oliver uses gurnard in his fish pie and there are various recipes, including pot-roasting, on the Jamie Oliver Forum

Richard Corrigan reveals in the Guardian that gurnard is one of his favourite fish dishes and has a recipe for whole roast gurnard with parsnip, carrot and coriander mash  

I decided to roast mine whole, which usually takes about 15 minutes. In earlier posts I suggested recipes for pan fried gurnard and gurnard linguine

Gurnard has a mild, sweet flavour but will take strong accompaniments.

I had the fish scaled and gutted and the sharp spinal fins removed.  The fishmonger left the "wings"  and "legs" on, however,

and I removed these with a sharp pair of scissors.  These are not really wings or legs but are appendages used to swim and walk on the bottom of the seabed.


2 whole gurnard
sprig of fresh rosemary
peel of a preserved lemon
2 tomatoes quartered
1 sweet red or yellow pepper
4 cloves of garlic
olive oil

*the Jerusalem artichokes are not essential to the dish but I had some available and they go so well with the fish - you could try parsnip, swede or other root vegetable.


Pour a little olive oil in a roasting dish, add tomatoes and pepper cut into quarters and 2 peeled cloves of garlic. Make sure vegetables are thinly coated in oil and place in oven at 180C (160C fan oven) for 15 minutes.

Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper and add a clove of garlic, a sprig of rosemary and the peel of a quarter of a preserved lemon (flesh removed and peel well washed to remove excess salt) to the body cavity,  After the tomatoes and pepper have been roasting for 15 minutes, add the fish to the roasting dish, drizzle with a little more oil and cook for a further 15 minutes.  Check that the fish is cooked - the flesh should be firm and white and coming away from the bone,

I served the fish with lemon mashed potatoes (mashed potatoes to which a dessert spoon of chopped preserved lemon peel had been added) and the roast tomatoes, peppers and Jerusalem artichokes. I added a few steamed mange tout (as much for appearance and colour as for taste).

John Austin

Hove - November 2016

Friday 4 November 2016

CORVINA - Meagre, Drum, Croaker

Corvina roasted whole

Janet Mendel describes corvina as a bland tasting fish which benefits from a sharp sauce. In “Cooking in Spain” she has a recipe for Corvina en salsa de alcaparras (Meagre in caper sauce); the fish is baked in white wine and the sauce includes capers, blanched toasted almonds, spring onions, olive oil and garlic.  The recipe is one which I may try next time and she suggests it is also suitable for hake or grouper.
Alan Davidson (Mediterranean Seafood) suggests treating it as a rather large sea bass, and since I think fish is almost always better cooked whole, on the bone – and looks impressive at a dinner party, I decided to cook it roasted whole.  It weighed over 2kilos so I did ask the fishmonger to remove the head as I feared, correctly as it turned out, that it wouldn’t quite fit in the roasting tray with the head on.

We were only four for dinner.  Sylvi says that I underestimate how much fish people eat and as Alan Davidson recommends corvina as a fish that can be eaten cold, I wasn’t concerned that it was too big.
The advantage of corvina cooked on the bone is that it doesn’t have any small bones and it is easy to serve bone-free portions when cooked. 
There were some leftovers and tasting it the following day, I can confirm that it is an excellent fish to be served cold in a salad, perhaps with a garlic mayonnaise. The flesh is firm when cooked and even firmer when cold, almost with a chicken breast texture, so maybe a salad next time, but on this occasion I decided to make my version of Thai fishcakes.
When Faith and Sue were with us last year I baked Corvina with herbs, anis and lime wrapped in foil 

On this occasion I roasted it, uncovered.

1 Corvina weighing app 2 kilo
4 tbsp Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, in this slivers
Peel of one preserved lemon or thinly pared peel of a fresh lemon.
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 teaspoon of sumac

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C). Have the fish scaled, gutted and cleaned. Make four or five deep slashes on each side of the fish and sprinkle inside and out with sea salt (if using lemons preserved in salt, go easy on the salt; rub the fish with oil and sumac, and force slivers of garlic, strips of lemon and a few rosemary leaves into the slashes. 

Put the remaining sprigs of rosemary, any remaining garlic and lemon peel into the body cavity and place in a roasting dish in the  preheated oven for app 30-40 minutes,– the skin should be crispy and peel off easily and the flesh should be white and flaky.

Serve with any juices from the cooking, with a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon and garnished with fresh chopped parsley.

 John Austin

Santa Pola, Spain 
November 2016

Cooking in Spain – Janet Mendel –Santana 

Saturday 15 October 2016

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald October 2016

October 2016

I feel rather guilty that, although I kept notes and photos of progress on the Mile Oak allotment in 2015, I didn't get round to posting - but will do so retrospectively!   We were co-workers at Mile Oak on Luke's allotment but now have this one of our own at The Weald, much closer to home.

Just as a reminder this is what it looked like when we took over the tenancy

It looked a lot better after the council had strimmed it and we had removed most of the rubbish.

On the first Sunday in October, with massive help from Luke, Charlie and Fran and from Steve who has a plot nearby, we made a good start, clearing the brambles, tree stumps and the derelict fence.  We also managed to work out where the  boundary should be with the neighbouring derelict plot and began the construction of a path.  Perhaps construction is a bit of an overstatement - we dug out as much of the weeds as we could, laid some tarpaulin,cut to an appropriate width and covered with wood chips.  

Thankfully The Weald has a ready supply of wood chips from an approved source.

Here's the path nearing completion (apart from where the wilderness still exists at the far end)

We brought two raised beds from the Mile Oak allotment and refurbished them - one made from old floor boards and the other from an old door.

Having removed as much bindweed and couch grass as we could, I lined the beds with layers of old newspaper before adding some fresh compost.  Hopefully the newspaper will act as a temporary weed inhibitor and also help to conserve moisture. I am hoping for a concerted effort on Sunday 16 October with our press-ganged band of "volunteers"

John Austin

Hove 14 October 2016

Thursday 29 September 2016

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald September 2016

September 2016

After only a couple of years on the waiting list, Sylvi's name came up and we were offered and accepted a half plot (125sq m) on The Weald, which is the one we wanted, and we have friends who have plots there too. Hopefully, we can come to a mutual arrangement over watering when we are away.

It looked a daunting task as it was quite overgrown and had been abandoned for more than a year and there was an accumulation of rubbish - metal, plastic, fencing, the remains of an old shed, roofing felt and old carpets, chicken wire and more. Sadly the adjacent half-plot is still in a derelict state.

The Council agreed to remove the metal and plastic but not the roofing felt, carpets or timber so we had several trips to the dump and burned some of the untreated wood.  Once most of the rubbish had gone and the council has strimmed the plot, it looked a little less daunting.

We've enlisted the help of Luke and Charlie and will have a concerted effort at the weekend.  There is still a lot of rubbish including the remains of a wire fence all tangled up with brambles and loads of paving stones which hopefully we can use for the base of a new shed.

I hope to bring one of the raised beds from Luke's allotment at Mile Oak where I am co-worker so that I can sow some broad beans in November.

John Austin

Hove September 2016

Friday 23 September 2016


Cabracho - scorpionfish

Cabra, gallineta and many more.....

Maybe I should learn to trust my instincts more.  I saw some fish in Ersoski in Santa Pola, labelled Cabra, and assumed them to be scorpionfish, which I had seen on the menu in several local restaurants.  It's a fish with a sweet taste and firm flesh which I had initially eaten several years before at the Zlato Sidra (Golden Anchor) in Lucija, near Portorož, Slovenia, caught fresh from the Adriatic.

I had not come across the name Cabra before, but fish in supermarkets and fishmongers in Spain almost always have a label indicating their scientific name and where and how it was caught. This notification of source (NW Atlantic) confirmed it as Cabracho so I assumed Cabra (which is otherwise goat in Spanish) was a Spanish abbreviation.

Having no access to the internet, I thought I would seek some confirmation from my books, which only added to the confusion.

In a rather old cook book Elizabeth Cass says Cabracho has no translation into Spanish but that it resembles Rascasio and is good baked in the oven.  She describes  Rascasio as an essential ingredient for fish soup.  I have since seen what I thought to be Scorpionfish labelled Gallineta (little chicken) but Dr Cass says this is Sand piper, a fish "resembling Rascasio but greyish in colour and very good cooked in the oven". But the Gallineta I had seen were red - definitely not grey - and looked like Scorpionfish to me.

Perhaps Davidson's Mediterranean Seafood might be clearer (Mediterranean Seafood
Alan Davidson 2002 Prospect Books: ISBN 978-1-903018-94-1) Here he describes Cabracho as Red Scorpionfish (Fr Rascasse rouge) and particularly recommends the cheeks as not unlike lobster. In France, Rascasse is regarded as an essential ingredient in bouillabaisse.

Davidson lists Rascacio as Black scorpion fish and Gallineta as Blue mouth scorpion fish, reddish brown in colour but with the inside of mouth blue.  My Gallineta did not have a blue mouth. It was definitely Cabracho , red scorpionfish!  Davidson describes Gallineta as similar to Redfish, also known as Norwegian haddock, which is found in the Atlantic.

In his book Seafood of Spain & Portugal (The Tio Pepe Guide to the SEAFOOD of SPAIN and PORTUGAL: Alan Davidson 2002 ISBN 84-89954-21-6) Davidson confirms Cabracho is Scorpionfish/rascasse rouge which he says is called Pola de mar (chicken of the sea) in Catalan and he recommends baking whole. He says that rascacio is also scorpionfish, rascasse noire in French but smaller.  According to this book there are two varieties of Gallineta, G.rosado, slender rockfish found in the western Mediterranean and Morocco  (Fr rascasse rose) and Gallineta which, like Dr Cass, he says is Bluemouth which in Gallicia is called Cabra da altura (goat of the deep). Confusingly, the Portuguese use the term Cabra for gurnard

Clearly there are several different varities of scorpionfish, widely distributed in the Mediterranean and Atlantic. If you wish to confirm which fish it is you could consult the scientific name, usually on the label in Spain:

Cabracho - Scorpaena scrofa
Rascacio - S. porcus
Gallineta rosado - S. elongata
Bluemouth - Helicolenus dactylopterus.........

Or not bother and just assume that if it looks like Scorpionfish, it probably is and will taste delicious!
Apart from the fact that common names in Spain seem to be used, interchangeably, for different varieties of fish there is the added confusion of several languages and regional names, which are given in Wikipedia as:

Catalonia escórpora
Cantabria cabracho
Valencia escorpa
Asturias tiñosu
Balearics cap root
Ibiza cap roja
Murcia galling
Cartagena rascasote
Galicia escarapote
Pais Vasco (Basque) krabarroka or itsakabra  (Cabra de mar in Spanish)

Canaries and Andalusia rascacio

Sea chicken, goat of the deep? If it looks like this

it's almost certainly some variety of scorpionfish and I recommend you buy, cook and enjoy.
Baking or poaching is recommended or use in fish stew. I have posted a recipe which I tried in Santa Pola in August 2016.  The spines can be mildly venomous, but can be removed by your fishmonger but if you handle carefully the poison is denatured in cooking and rendered unharmful.

John Austin

August 2016, Santa Pola


Poached scorpionfish - cabracho

We were staying in Santa Pola with family and friends and I decided to oven cook a whole Corvina as it had been such a success the year before with a family gathering.

Whilst I thought that one large Corvina was enough for 6 adults and 4 children (two of whom were not fish fans), my daughter-in-law, Nicole, (rightly as it turned out) thought we needed more. There was Cabracho on the fish counter and I couldn't resist.

Corvina and Cabracho

Most cookery books recommend baking or using in fish stew, so I decided on a compromise and poached in the oven,


Scorpionfish, cleaned weighing about 3/4 -1kg
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 glass white wine
1 cup fish stock/court bouillon
1 lemon and or 1 teaspoon sumac


I made a court bouillon with a small chopped onion gently fried and softened in olive oil, added a stick of celery and some chopped celery leaves and one carrot finely chopped, a large cup of water and brought to the boil and simmered for 20 miniutes.

Place the fish, seasoned inside and out with salt and freshly ground pepper, in an ovenproof dish
(I had also sprinkled some sumac over the fish). Pour over the court bouillon and one glass of white wine (or dry sherry or vermouth), Add a splash of olive oil and juice of half a lemon, cover with foil and place in heated oven 160C for about 30-35 minutes.

Before serving squeeze over remaining juice of half lemon.


I served it whole at the table and the top fillets are easy to remove, then the backbone pulls away easily revealing the two fillets underneath.  The fish can be served with the cooking juices. And don't forget the head....

And did the cheeks taste like lobster as the books suggest?  I don't know. One cheek was eagerly devoured by 6 year old Jerome who is a fish lover and the other by 10 year old Leelah who doesn't normally like fish.  When asked what she wanted for dinner the following day, Leelah exclaimed in a loud and enthusiastic voice "Fish cheeks"!

John Austin

August 2016, Santa Pola

Friday 26 August 2016

JAPUTA (Ray's Bream) Roasted

Whole roast Japuta - (Palometa Negra) Ray's Bream


1 whole Japuta (scaled if you can)
Peel of half a preserved lemon (or thinly pared peel of a fresh lemon)
1 fresh lemon
1 teaspoon dried tarragon or a sprig of fresh
1 clove of garlic


The fishmonger and I tried to scale it as best we could but if roasting the skin forms its own "tin foil" covering.

Make deep diagonal slashes on either side of the fish.  Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper and rub skin with tarragon forcing some into each slit.  Put the remaining tarragon in the belly of the fish and insert a thin sliver of lemon peel into each slit (if you have preserved lemons, use the peel of these but reduce the amount of salt seasoning).  Put the remaining lemon peel in the belly of the fish with a clove of garlic

Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan oven). Lightly oil a roasting dish with olive oil and lay the fish in. Drizzle with olive oil and the juice of half a lemon.  Cover with foil and roast for 15 minutes.

Remove the foil (add a little more oil and/or lemon juice if the fish is drying out) and baste with the juices in the dish.  Return to oven and continue cooking uncovered for 10-15 minutes until the skin is crispy and the flesh firm and white.

Remove from oven. Remove the top layer of skin. 
  1. Carefully lift the fish onto a serving plate and pour over the juices from the tin and any remaining lemon juice.
  1. To serve, cut down the middle of the fish from head to tail to the backbone, then release the fillets from the bones on either side of the backbone. Slide a fish slice under the fillets and lift off, then pull the bone from the bottom fillets; divide and serve.
John Austin
Santa Pola, August 2016

Wednesday 24 August 2016

JAPUTA - Poached whole on the bone

JAPUTA (Palometa negra) RAY's BREAM


One whole Ray's bream, cleaned 
Sprig of fresh thyme
Two cloves of garlic
2 shallots or one small onion chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 glass white wine and equal quantity of water
Half teaspoon fennel seeds
Lemon peel
Splash of Anis Secco (Pastis/Ricard/Pernod)


After a determined effort to descale this fish, weighing just over 1kg, I seasoned the fish, inside and out with salt and freshly ground pepper and stuffed the belly with .
a sprig of fresh thyme and garlic and put to one side. 

Use a large saute pan with a lid. Gently fry the chopped onion in just enough olive oil to soften, add the chopped celery and fennel seeds and continue frying gently for a few minutes add the wine and water and simmer gently for a few minutes.

Make deep slashes on either side of the fish and insert slivers of lemon peel into the slashes. I used preserved lemons . : Place the whole fish in the poaching liquid, add a splash of Anis if you like the flavour, put on the lid and poach gently for 30 minutes.

John Austin
Santa Pola, Spain 
August 2015


Palometa negra

I first came across this fish in Carrefour in Elche, looking as if made of steel. It had a bream like appearance but I had no idea what it was and had to consult various books to find out.

I learned that its English name is Ray's bream (although it is not a member of the sea bream family) and is named after the 17th century English naturalist John Ray, but I have never seen it in England. I had also seen a fish in Spain called Palometa blanca which is Spanish for Pompano (palomino or palomète in French).

In Europe, Palometa blanca or pompano is sometimes called Asian or Mediterrranean pomfret.  I haven’t tried it but I have read that the Mediterranean variety are not worth eating so I will probably not bother. To add to confusion, Ray's bream, Palometa negra,  is known as pomfret in N America.

In some parts of Spain, Palometa negra may be known by its Catalan name, Castanyola and similarly castagna in Italy and castagnole In France, where it is sometimes called brème, but in south eastern Spain it is usually sold as Japuta.  Once seen you cannot fail to recognise its distinctive steel-like appearance. 

In August 2015 they had some in Eroski in Santa Pola on offer at 4.95€ per kilo and as my son, Damien and family were staying with me I decided to give it a try.  My Spanish is none too good and I thought the fishmonger was asking if I wanted it skinned.  I said no, just cleaned, which normally includes scaling, so I was surprised when I got home to find that it had not been scaled.  A subsequent effort by Damien and myself, both with scaling tools and the chef's knife proved difficult and only partially successful.  The next time I bought it, in the summer of 2016, I specifically asked for it to be scaled - it was a Herculean task and not very well accomplished and required further effort on my part when I got it into the kitchen.  The scales are as tough as steel and are all strongly linked.

I didn't know anyone who had tried Ray's bream so I sought some advice on Facebook.  I am grateful to Steve Whitelegg for his reply
May 26 at 10:38pm

The post by 'Nepptune', about halfway down this fishing site thread, might be helpful even if you are not intending to cook it on a barbecue

Nepptune confirmed the impenetrable nature of the steely scales

Nepptune View Drop Down


Joined: 29 Nov 2007
Location: South Africa
Status: Offline
Points: 637
We get a ton of those out here off Cape Town too, in the canyons and YFT grounds.... big commercial market for them and marketed as "Angelfish" in Fishmarkets and Restaurants....
Damn good eating.... skin is tough as nails, but acts almost like tin foil on the BBQ.... just lay a fillet skin down on the Barbie, spices and such on the top, and cook with the cover over the BBQ..... skin keeps the whole bunch together, and peels off easy once done...
Alan  Davidson in Tio Pepe says "if you see it on the menu, opt for it".( The Tio Pepe Guide to the SEAFOOD of SPAIN and PORTUGAL
Alan Davidson 2002
ISBN 84-89954-21-6

Recipe books suggest poaching or roasting whole or frying fillets.  I have cooked it whole on two occasions poaching (2015) and roasting (2016) and have published the two methods on this blog.

John Austin
August 2016

Friday 1 April 2016



Whilst the rise in global temperatures is truly alarming, as recent months have broken all records ( This February was the warmest in recorded history ), I have risked bringing forward my spring planting by a month.

The recommended planting time for my first early potatoes was end of March/April and second earlies April/May, but I planted a row of first earlies at the end of February and a second row at the beginning of March with some second earlies in mid-March. So, either I am looking forward to some very early new potatoes or a total disaster if we see a plummeting of temperature and late frost! 

With the disruption of building work at home, with our loft conversion, the allotment has not seen as much activity as it should but with a bit of help from Luke and Sylvi we have made some progress.

Although our allotment is on the chalky South Downs, we are in a hollow with a heavy layer of clay which is water logged in winter and hard as concrete in summer. 
the view from my patch

Digging in winter is a nightmare as the soil is so heavy and like modelling clay, which is why I have introduced a number of raised beds to which I have added a lot of organic matter - some from the wormery, into which all our kitchen waste goes, and some from the compost bin , together with partially composted lawn clippings and autumn leaves. I think I may need to start a second compost heap of leaves as they take longer to break down.

The area where I have planted potatoes, however, is open ground where I grew broad beans and kale last year.  When the area was cleared in late autumn I did spread some part rotted compost and contents of the wormery on the ground and covered with a tarpaulin over the winter.

We began to remove the tarpaulin, in late January and then gradually, row by row in February/March.

 Around the tarpaulin there was an uncleared area with substantial growth of couch grass which had spread its roots and stems under the tarpaulin to join the indigenous bindweed. 

hidden beneath the tarpaulin!

Clearing the area was a mammoth task, and the challenge now will be to keep it clear with regular weeding.  We are also plagued by dandelions which send down tap roots up to a foot in depth which usually break off as you uproot them which means they will grow again!  Thankfully, I was assisted by Sylvia and Luke in the digging and weeding.  To be fair, we gave Luke some help on his allotment - but quite a different task due to the soil.  Luke,s is fairly light soil and if you dig up couch grass or perennial weeds you can shake them and the soil falls off. On mine the heavy clay adheres and has to be removed by hand in lumps - it;s rather like molding potters' clay.

Having cleared the area we dug a very shallow trench - about 4-6 inches deep in which we planted the chitted seed potatoes and then covered them with some bought general garden potting compost, earthing them up with the soil removed from the trench.

In the last week of February, I planted a ten foot row of First Early Pentland Javelin and in the first week of March a similar row of Arran Pilot - ignoring the instructions that they were to be planted mid to late March.  I followed on in mid March with two rows of second earlies, one of Nicola and the other Charlotte. The recommended planting time for these was late March - April, so now it's fingers crossed!  When I visited the site in the last week of March, the growing tips of the Arran Pilot were showing through.

The Broad beans I had sown in November  ( a double row each of Aquadulce and the Sutton Dwarf) are about 6 - 8 inches high with some obvious gaps which I have filled with re-sowing.  I have also cleared an area next to the potatoes and sown a new double row of the dwarf Sutton and covered with a fleece tunnel.

and before you ask, that's Luke's dog, Kanami

My final act of March on the allotment was to clear one of the raised beds and sow some beetroot (Boltardy) and some Chard before seeking some sunshine in Spain to recharge the batteries before the April sowing season.

On my return I was tempted to start some indoor sowing in seed trays of leeks, cavolo nero, early purple sprouting broccoli, pumpkin and courgettes.  I am also trying out some rainbow chard (Bright Lights) sown in fibre pots in the cold conservatory.  I don't have a greenhouse - and neither does my nephew Bradley (any more); sadly his was taken away by the howling winds of Storm Kate!

On the last day in March, I went just for an inspection and was pleased that my tunnel had survived Storm Kate. I also noticed that the first early potatoes planted in February were just peeping through.

And the shallots - which had been uprooted on several occasions by birds and replanted - were also just coming into growth

And I picked a handful of sprouting broccoli from the last remaining plant - I think I might get one more picking

harvested 31 March 2016
This is quite a contrast from the previous season.  My broccoli has been sprouting since November and is now nearly finished, whereas the crop I sowed in 2014 did not start producing until April 2015 as the picture I posted a year ago on facebook shows

Which brings me back to where this blog started - climate change?

John Austin
1 April 2016, Hove

Saturday 26 March 2016



Between the gales and sleet and rain, there were a few sunny days.  November was time to prepare the beds for the early sowing of broad beans and we managed two double rows - Aquadulce and Sutton's Dwarf .  They were up in weeks and I gave them some protection with a mulch of bark chippings.  By January they were looking good - I suppose I should have given them some added protection from frost (and the birds) with a fleece covering - noted for next year!
The Aquadulce (left) seem to be doing better than the Sutton's (right)
In November I had dug a trench where I will grow my runner beans

 and have been filling it with kitchen waste. As March approaches it is probably time to fill them in.  Any compostible material can be added, especially shredded newspaper.  Apart from providing nutrients to the soil, the material will aid water retention which is of major importance for growing runner beans.

bean trench filled with kitchen waste

I turned over a patch in November where I intended to grow potatoes and covered it with a tarpaulin - a) to reduce weed growth and b) to warm up the soil.  On a plot with clay soil the task of digging is a hard one especially after a very wet winter.  My allotment is on the South Downs but any thoughts that there might be bands of willing helpers quickly disappeared when the snow came down and there were no offers of help from this lot

Devil's Dyke was clearly a greater attraction and although there was plenty of energy for throwing snowballs, sadly none for digging.

On the odd dry day, I did manage to get to the allotment, but drawing back the tarpaulin revealed that the couch grass and bindweed had appreciated their cosy home underneath and so had to be removed

underneath the tarpaulin

Breaking up the compacted soil was hard work and I did it in two stages.  Firstly I turned it over and then left it to the weather (hoping for some frost to  kill off some of the weeds and bugs) and then enlisted support to dig it over again, carefully removing any couch grass and bindweed and their spreading roots as well as digging out dandelions whose tap roots sometimes go down 10-12 inches. And here's the end result

A big thank you to Sylvia and Luke for helping with the weed removal - their assistance was essential.  We did repay the effort, however, by assisting Luke on his allotment (which, thankfully, isn't clay!)

Thank you Luke!
It's not all gloom and doom.  There were still crops to be harvested. We finished off the beetroots in November but throughout December and January have had a steady supply of leeks, Jerusalem artichokes,chard and kale (cavolo nero) 

We also harvested our purple Brussel sprouts in January - small but beautiful

And in my view, the Brussel tops were even better!

John Austin
February 2016, Hove