Monday, 14 October 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald, July 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on (and off) The Weald, 

July  2019

I visited the allotment on 1st July but then we were away for the first fortnight, relying on Luke to do the watering  - otherwise it might have been a complete disaster. He was rewarded by having unlimited supplies of raspberries for the children's smoothies - and we've had some raspberry jam in return from him as well. 

On that first visit in July things seemed to be progressing well.

1 July

The brassicas seemed pest-free (but in need of weeding)

The "cabbage patch" 1 July

 The courgettes were flowering and some beginning to set

Courgettes 1 July
 And the runner beans were beginning to flower

Runner beans 1 July
But then we abandoned the plot for 10 days for a trip to Spain to see old friends in Andalusia and visit the Alhambra in Granada




and then it was back to the kitchen to enjoy the food in Santa Pola!

home cooking

a paella in progress

the finished article

When we returned to Hove, around the middle of the month, I harvested the remaining onions, shallots and garlic.  It had been a disappointing year. Some had rotted during the earlier period of torrential rain and others had suffered and not swollen during the later dry spells.  Next year I will definitely plant in a different area and prepare the soil in advance.

The peas sown earlier in the year were ready for picking and they were so sweet it was difficult to get them as far as the kitchen, let alone the saucepan or steamer.  They have been so good that I have made successional sowings so hope to be picking until the autumn.  The late sown broad beans are ready for picking but have been heavily infested with blackfly.  Not wishing to use chemical sprays we have hosed them down from time to time which does reduce the problem, and a good proportion survived, but picking was still a messy job!  Next year I will resort to the old fashioned remedy of spraying with soapy water and I think I will only sow in October and November (in a a less publicly viewable part of the plot to reduce the risk of theft) and sow more peas in the early months of the year.

We have begun to lift the Second earlies, starting with Charlotte. Some have grown quite large and most are of a good size.

Charlotte potatoes 13 July

There are, however, always a few pea sized potatoes which are hardly worth picking as a food supply - although they can be added to soups - but it is essential to remove them all from the ground. If left, it's certain that they will start sprouting in the following year, precisely where you don't want them. They may suddenly appear in the midst of a newly sown row or row of seedlings and their continued presence will harm the new crops by stealing nutrients, and pulling them out may also disturb the new crop.  Another reason to make sure you don't leave any in the ground is that there is a risk that they will become infested over the winter with creatures or fungus which could threaten the whole of next year's potato crop.  That's another reason why crop rotation is so important.

It is also important to maintain vigilance whilst the potato crop is growing.  Any leaves that die back or turn yellow should be removed as a precaution in case it is a fungus that can cause blight in the tubers if the leaves fall to the ground.  And whatever you do, don't put diseased plants or leaves in the compost. Burn them or dispose of them off-site.

There are loads of cabbage white butterflies this year and a regular inspection of brassicas is required.  Fortunately we have not been seriously affected, although I have removed a number of eggs from the underside of leaves or removed the leaves altogether. The few live caterpillars that have been spotted have been squished or removed - it is advisable to do this with gloves as some species can cause severe skin irritation.

We sowed a few lettuces in May and June and these need to be inspected regularly for slugs and snails. I planted some Little Gem, which are diminutive cos lettuces, plus some oak leaf lettuces and red leaved lollo rosso and they need to be picked before they bolt.

The rhubarb is still prolific. We haven't made any rhubarb gin yet this year nor rhubarb jam but we have had regular helpings of stewed rhubarb and ginger, served with crème fraîche, and we have donated loads to neighbours and friends.

The first Courgettes appeared last month and it is important to pick them when they are young, firstly because this will encourage the growth of more but also because they can double in size in a day! And then you have giant marrows.  

Courgettes 17 July 

There are only so many courgettes you can eat, even if you make courgette cake and soufflé, and courgette soup, and stuff them or bake them or make zucchini ravioli or spiralise them to make "courgetti  spaghetti". And what do you do with all those jars of marrow and ginger jam when you still have some left over from last year?  Even the neighbours say "no" after a while to the offer of yet another marrow. The best solution is to find a neighbour who likes to make pickles or jam and let them do the work and offer you a jar or two in return for the gift. Fortunately we have, so there is a jar of pickle with our name in it.

We are not short of vegetables this month. We have loads of chard and perpetual spinach, some of which we planted and some which has self seeded and pops up all over the plot.  It's just as well we like it.

The cavolo nero and curly kale has done well. They say cavolo nero is best picked after the first frosts around October time.  We can't wait that long and we have been steadily picking throughout July. The plants are heavily infested with whitefly and clouds fly about when you shake the plant or pick the leaves. I find it's best to shake the plants and hose them down before picking and then wash again before taking home to avoid them flying about the kitchen.  They don't seem to harm the plant in any way.

Brussels sprouts 13 July

Purple curly kale 14 July
Cavolo nero 14 July

Kalettes 14 July

Outdoor cucumbers have been a disappointment this year. The English ones were particularly disappointing but we did have some large ones from the pepino plants grown from a cheap packet of seeds bought in Spain last year.

I had also sowed some more French beans directly into a raised bed and by mid July they were making progress and then put on a sudden spurt.

French beans 13 July
French beans 22 July

We harvested the first of our lettuces and beetroot - and sowed some more beetroot.

Little Gem 13 July
I had grown some Aubergines from seed at home in the conservatory and transplanted them to pots on the patio which was becoming somewhat crowded so I transplanted some to the allotment but I fear they will be too late to fruit.  I gave several away to neighbours who have greenhouses so I hope some of those might produce.

  By mid-July the runner beans were in full flower

Runner beans 13 July
Our pumpkin plant had produced two fruits but had several more flowers.  I pinched out the growing tip to allow the two fruits to develop - and they did grow rather rapidly! 

Pumpkin 13 July

The plants think they own the allotment with the right to spread anywhere, so having pinched out the growing tips we have removed the fast growing sideshoots and lifted the Pumpkins from the earth and put a tile or paving slab underneath which hopefully will reduce the risk of insect or slug damage.

Pumpkin 22 July

Pumpkin 22 July
In addition to the courgettes, squashes and pumpkins, I had also planted some tromboncinos and in July these were developing nicely.

Tromboncinos 22 July

Tromboncino 22 July

Tromboncino 22 July
They only have seeds in the bulbous end.  The thinner part is a bit like courgette but seed-free and when picked young and green they can be treated like courgettes.  

Tromboncino 27 July
If left to get bigger, the skin becomes harder and the seeds develop in the bulbous end, like butternut squash and at this stage they can be cooked in the same way as butternut squash.

The patty pan squashes, when young can be sliced and fried or steamed like courgettes.

Patty pan squash sliced
We have grown different varieties but the yellow ones seem to have softer skin.

Patty pan squash 27 July

If they are left to get bigger, the seeds develop and the skin gets tougher, and then it is best to slice off the stalk end, remove the seeds and stuff and bake or steam them.

The beetroots are also very good this year and delicious when boiled or oven roasted with herbs.
Beetroot ready for the oven
Some of the lettuces appear to be ready to bolt so it is important to pick them before they do as they may become bitter.
Liitle Gem, patty pan and courgettes
We have had a massive crop from our squash crop this month and there are more to come.

Patty pan squashes

A variety of squashes picked in July

 A few years ago we invested in a spiraliser, which comes in very handy when you have a glut of courgettes.  They can be eaten raw in salads or used as a pasta substitute - veggie spaghetti. Or they can be thinly sliced for Lasagne, or to make ravioli parcels.

Courgetti spaghetti!
They can be baked with herbs and spices, make excellent curries and soups and courgettes can be used in souffles or as an alternative to carrots in cakes.  I also recommend marrow and ginger jam!

We also began to harvest the last crop of potatoes, second early Nicola and they are delicious.  We have been self-sufficient in potatoes since the end of April and looks like these will see us into August.

2nd Early Nicola potatoes

At home, in the garden, we have been giving the tomatoes and peppers a fortnightly feed and been pinching out the new shoots on the tomatoes to encourage the growth of more fruits and we have begun to harvest them. I have transplanted a couple of cayenne pepper plants to open ground on the allotment so am hoping for some sunshine and a good crop of chillies!

Two further disappearances from the plot - towards the end of the month I was twice in London for the London Marathon Charitable Trust.  On the first occasion to open the newly renovated Skateboard  park at Southbank..............

20 July Southbank

20 July Southbank

20 July Southbank

and later in the month to open the new children's playground in Greenwich Park.  Whilst in Greenwich, I had to go down memory lane and visited the oak tree on Blackheath that I had planted in 1988.

23 July

23 July

The month was drawing to a close when we abandoned the plot and the garden again for a visit to Belfast to see family there.  We did the active bit and explored the Giant's Causeway

Giant's Causeway, Antrim
 But also found a pub or two.....

....and the Bushmills distillery to immerse ourselves in the local culture.

At home, in the garden, we have been giving the tomatoes and peppers a fortnightly feed and been pinching out the new shoots on the tomatoes to encourage the growth of more fruits and we have begun to harvest them. I have transplanted a couple of cayenne pepper plants to open ground on the allotment so am hoping for some sunshine and a good crop of chillies!

We are looking forward to a plentiful harvest in August.

John Austin

Hove, July 2019

Monday, 9 September 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald, June 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald, June 2019

Apart from the allotment there were jobs to be done at home.  We had acquired, for free, two traditional garden benches and a table through our local social media network, Nextdoor.  A number of the slats were rotten and had to be replaced and the bolts were rusted up.  We managed to get some suitable hardwood slats on-line and our local Nut and Bolt Store in Hove had all the necessary bolts, nuts and washers.

At the allotment, I had already planted out some of the brassicas, which had been grown from seed in the conservatory at home and hardened off in the garden.  This month I have planted out some more. This has included more purple curly kale, cavolo nero, Brussels sprouts, kalettes as well as purple sprouting broccoli. I planted some in the area where I had grown beans last year and some where I had lifted the first early red Duke of York potatoes, and some where garlic had been previously grown.

Lifting Duke of York potatoes

I also planted some brassicas where I had lifted the first half-row of the second early Charlotte potatoes. To give them a fighting chance against the wind and predators - pigeons, slugs and snails - I protected them with improvised cloches made from plastic drinks bottles.

Planting out curly kale and cavolo nero in the garlic bed

I had also grown some cayenne and habanero chillies from seed at home, which I hardened off in their pots in the garden, where most remain, but I did risk planting out some on the allotment.

The warmer weather was also time to plant out courgettes. Some squashes and a couple of courgettes had been planted out at the end of May, but now I planted the remaining courgettes, more Patty pan, tromboncino, Crown Prince and pumpkins, all of which had been grown from seed at home.   I had created a frame for the tromboncinos to climb up but they seemed reluctant to do so and required a bit of encouragement and tying to the canes with string.

I was pleased to see that some of the fruits had set and tiny tromboncinos were beginning to develop
Tromboncinos - first fruits
I also planted out some Dwarf French beans and runner beans which I had sown in pots and interspersed them with some directly sown seeds. It was also time to repair and renew the climbing frame for the runner beans. I was also given a few haricot bean plants and planted these at the end of the runner bean rows.

climbing beans

Tomatoes on the allotment have never been a great success, but last year my brother had given me a packet of seeds for golden cherry tomatoes and I had sown these in seed trays at home and potted on into large pots and decided to train them up strings against the garden fence at home and they seem to be faring well. Time will tell.

June was definitely the time to wage war on weeds. We have loads of annuals such as chickweed, ragwort, goosegrass etc which are fairly easy to pull up (although the goose grass, which appears easy to remove, leaves behind a newtwork of fine roots which seem to send up new plants).  If lifted before they go to seed, the annuals are added to the compost bin, or stored in plastic sacks for later addition to the compost bin.  But we are plagued by more resistant invaders such as Dandelion, bindweed, bramble, stinging nettles, creeping buttercup, groundsel and plantain which we do not add to the compost heap.  You can never elimiate bindweed or couch grass, as the tiniest piece of root left behind will turn into a prolific growth.  The same is true for any piece of the deep taproot from dandelions that may be left in the soil.  It's a constant battle.

Mulching and hoeing keep down the weeds and adding a good mulch around established plants helps retain moisture and adds nutrients. I usually use grass mowings from home, and bark and bush and tree prunings which are readily available on site.

In May and June we also continued to earth up the remaining potatoes, which are now well established, to encourage the development of new tubers and retain moisture.

Where our early peas had finished in one of the raised beds, we cleared and raked the area to sow some more beetroot,

sowing beetroot where peas had grown earlier
side by side with a late crop of broad beans

By mid-June the brassicas had grown into sturdy plants (but in need of weeding and protecting from pigeons!) 

15 June Cavolo nero

15 June Kalettes

17 June the brassica patch

17 June the brassica patch

17 June the brassica patch

Towards the end of the month we planted out our leeks as there was no room for them earlier!  They had been grown from seed in trays at home then transplanted to a seed bed on the allotment.  We planted some where we had lifted the first early potatoes and some where we had grown the garlic.  We planted them in the traditional way, making a hole in the ground about 6 to 8 inches deep with a dibber and dropping in a leek seedling then watering by filling the hole with water, allowing the soil to gradually fill the hole and the leek to expand over a period of time.

Leeks planted in holes made with dibber
 There is a lot of self-seeded perpetual spinach and chard where the early potatoes were. I have removed some but left quite a few plants on either side of a double row of leeks.  I realise that I may have to remove them later if they restrict the leeks, but in the meantime they will produce some young tender leaves.

These leeks are having to compete with self seeded spinach
leeks in the former garlic patch

We have also had a bumper crop of raspberries, best eaten fresh but can be frozen if picked firm or used for sauces or jam if past their best.  
Raspberries picked 17 June

Our black currants have not been so good this year but this may be due to them having been moved and replanted last year and not pruned back.  The red currants on the other hand did well and the investment in a fruit cage paid off as we ate them this year rather than the birds.  
Red currants

Our makeshift netting on the blueberries also paid off with us sharing only half the crop with the birds this year.

The end of the month saw our first courgette from the earlier planted ones.

1st courgette - size 9 (43) for scale!

And the later ones are ready to produce next month



The Patty pans are coming along nicely

Our first patty pan squash
The runner beans are in flower

Runner beans

The little gem lettuces are almost ready

Little Gem lettuces
On the last day of the month the plot looked green and productive, although a little untidy, and it looks like there will be loads to harvest next month.

30 June

John Austin

Hove, June 2019