Tuesday 3 April 2018

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald March 2018

Life on the Weald, March 2018

March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb according to the old proverb and the February snow was still around as we entered March.  In the 19th century, however, the proverb was used as a prediction depending on the weather in early March - If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb.  Let's hope so, as the early March weather was cold, windy and wet and no better than February.

3 March - Broad bean sprouting
 As the weather in late February and early March were not conducive for work on the allotment, I began to sow some seeds indoors.  I soaked the broad beans in water indoors leaving them in the warm for a couple of days to give them a head start and then planted them in trays in the unheated conservatory.

By 5 March the snow had gone and I managed to get up to the plot to assess the damage.

Sadly, during the snowy period and its aftermath, the pigeons had devastated the purple sprouting broccoli.

Early purple sprouting broccoli 5 March
Early purple sprouting broccoli 5 March

I must remember to net the broccoli next year before the florets form.

But if the broccoli was bad news there was at least some good news elsewhere in the brassica department.  The winter cabbages (which we had inherited from the previous plot owner) had survived the winter and the slugs and were ready for harvesting.  We had only discovered these late in the day when we cleared an area in the autumn which had been completely overgrown with weeds, brambles and nettles (the latter being a sign of a good fertile soil)

Winter cabbage, 5 March
The other good news was that the garlic, onuions and shallots were doing well, although in need of some hand-weeding.



And when I went to weed and rake over one of the empty beds where carrots and parsnips had been grown last year, I noticed some fresh green growth - in clearing the bed, we had left a parsnip behind!  I suspected it would be tough and woody, but surprisingly it wasn't and was a sweet and delicious addition to our Sunday roast!

A late parsnip
 I tried to do some digging to remove the couch grass from the uncleared areas but this proved impossible on a clay soil that had seen so much rain.  But I did manage to dig two shallow trenches about 3 - 4 inches deep, on an area previously cleared, to plant my first early rocket potatoes  which had been chitted in the allotment shed. I then covered them with soil and will rake more soil over as the shoots begin to show to ensure they are completely covered until the risk of frost has reduced.

Shallow trenches for potatoes
First early rocket potatoes
 The rhubarb was also showing through at the beginning of March but doesn't look as healthy as on the Mile Oak allotment from where it was transplanted.  I think we should have given it a good mulch of manure in the autumn. We have provided it with some nutrients from the wormery and have applied a mulch.

In the middle of the month we had a few bright days and Sylvi and I were able to do a bit of digging and couch grass and bindweed removal and we dug one trench on our new plot and two on the old to plant some more early potatoes - Charlotte and Vivaldi. The potatoes on the old plot were planted where the brassicas had been last year in accordance with our crop rotation

Vivaldi early potatoes 14 March

Vivaldi and Charlotte early potatoes 14 March

Vivaldi and Charlotte early potatoes 14 March
Just when we thought the weather was improving, the beast from the east returned and I looked out of my window at home on 23 March to see this.............

the back garden at home 23 March
So a few more days were lost!

By the week-end the snow had cleared and there were a couple of dry sunny days.  Sylvi and I managed to clear a little more and we were able to plant a row of 2nd early Nicola potatoes.

first row of Nicola potatoes (second earlies)

I also managed to clear an area of nettles and plant the third and last redcurrant bush to be transferred from Luke's old plot at Mile Oak.

the third redcurrant bush is planted
There had been a delivery of fresh bark and wood chippings which gave us an opportunity to mulch some of the fruit bushes and start to renew and repair the paths.

With the brief period of sunshine came another ray of good news - despite the best efforts of the pigeons to destroy my crop, the broccoli showed some resilience and sprouted again and we had a modest picking of one of my favourite vegetables.

Early purple sprouting broccoli
 We were very far behind due to the weather but managed to draft in family members for the last Sunday before Easter and they did sterling work.   Luke and Sylvi did most of the heavy work, digging out brambles, bindweed and couch grass; Nicole did a great job of hand weeding the garlic, onions and shallots; Jerome brought 5 or 6 wheelbarrow loads of chippings to repair paths and to go between the raised beds and Letty provided much needed massage for all our weary limbs.

Things are looking much better and we felt more optimistic (despite weather warnings of more snow for Easter).

Now weeded and tidied the onion beds were looking good

Garlic 29 March

red onions 29 March

onions 29 March
I also managed to plant out the broad beans which I had sown at home and hardened off in the shed.  I used these to fill in the gaps where we had lost the plants which we had sown in January.
 broad beans planted 29 March
For the Easter weekend 30 March - 2 April we went to Sheffield for a family event and almost got snowed in on the Sunday night/Monday morning with 0C temperatures - fortunately when we returned to Hove on the Monday, 2 April, there had been no snow and the temperature was 8C - but there had been more rain!

Before Good Friday, however, I had managed to plant another row of Nicola potatoes, a row of perpetual spinach, two rows of carrots, a row of parsnips and two double rows of Kelvedon wonder peas.  Indoors I also sowed some cavolo nero and early summer sprouting broccoli.  Let's hope the weather is conducive to planting out in April!

John Austin

Hove, 3 April 2018

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