Monday 4 December 2017

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald - November 2017

Life on The Weald - November 2017

The weather wasn't particularly good in October and in the early part of November the October storms continued. We've had lots of rain which has meant that digging has been difficult even on the occasional bright sunny days.

Nevertheless I think we have made real progress and at the beginning of the month began to erect the shed!

The autumn has brought some glorious colours - we have harvested our Spanish pumpkin

 ....and back at home, have brought the Habanero chili peppers indoors to finish ripening.

We have begun work on our new plot but sadly the neighbouring one has been left and become overgrown.  It is particularly sad as it was a well maintained plot and much cared for by its owners who have just not had the time this year to manage it.  It has not been helped by the fact that the vegetation on our newly acquired plot had encroached on theirs and it was difficult to discern where the border should be.

the neighbouring plot
I did make an attempt to clear the border area but now the site representative has marked it out and it seems that, in my enthusiasm, I went a bit too far and have cleared an area on the neighbouring plot!

the demarcation line

The area on the right of the tape is ours and to the left is the vacant plot!  But it's not all
bad news as, having cleared some of the neighboring plot, this will stop weeds encroaching on ours.  The other good news is that much of the rubbish which I thought I would have to clear is actually not on our side of the boundary. The brassicas we inherited on our side have survived and are healthy - we have cabbages and brussel sprouts!

Sylvi has been working hard cutting back brambles, digging out bramble roots and plum suckers and clearing the area where we have decided to put our shed.

In the first week of November we built a frame, consolidated the ground with stones and rubble and laid paving stones in preparation for the shed.

the base

We had acquired the shed from a neighbour a year ago - and it appeared to be in a fairly poor condition then and has been lying on the ground for several months since.

With help from Sylvi's son, Luke, we actually got the shed erected in a couple of hours on Saturday morning 18 November, just before the rain came down!

The shed on Saturday

Despite having been lying on the ground for some months, it was surprisingly in reasonable  condition and is fairly sturdy.  There are a few repairs that need to be made but it should last us a good few years.

The following day, the weather was quite different - a bright sunny day and my nephew Charlie and his partner Fran came over and painted the shed with wood preservative and it's looking fine -

The shed on Sunday

Sylvi has now installed a window but we need to re-hang the doors and do some patch repairs to the roof but we are very pleased with the result so far.

More good news - the neighbouring plot has been let and we have met our new neighbours and I think we are going to get along fine.

As far as the crops are concerned, the broad beans I sowed in October are now showing through -

Aquadulce broad beans

- but I think they might need a bit of protection in case of sudden frost so I will probably put some fleece over the frame.  We sowed three more double rows in November so we are looking forward to a bumper crop next spring, and we are still waiting for the peas to show which we also planted last month.

There is also good news on the shallot front as the ones we planted in October are looking really healthy -

We also lifted our first leeks to share with the family and are reasonably pleased with them, but I could have planted them deeper.

We have cleared an area along the border with our new neighbours and successfully transplanted several blackcurrant bushes from Luke's old allotment at Mile Oak.


Moving two large redcurrant bushes may prove to be more problematic.

The long awaited wood chips have arrived so we have made a start on renewing the path which now divides our two half plots.

Hopefully there will be further deliveries and we will be able to complete the path in December and renew all the minor paths between the raised beds.(if we have any time in the run up to Xmas!)

John Austin

Hove November 2017

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