Friday 10 January 2020

Life on the Weald - December 2019

Life on the Weald - December 2019

Very little work was done on the plot in December, partly because of frequent heavy rain, partly because of the General Election campaign - the election had been called for 12 December - and partly because of preparations for Christmas.

The month started with a warning from the allotment federation of the widespread infestation of leek miner across the City.

The leeks which I had planted out earliest looked healthy enough and on my first visit of the month I lifted one to check and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was without disease. 

5 December Leek

My good fortune, however, was not to last long.  A few days later I lifted a few more for our dinner and found that we did indeed have the dreaded disease.

8 December Leek showing damage caused by leaf miner
The leeks that I had planted out later all seemed to be infected.  The Alium leaf miner has two generations a year and can infect leeks, onions and garlic.  When I planted my onions and garlic in November, I covered them with fleece so hope they might escape attack.

Each year the first generation female flies lay eggs on the stems or base of leaves during March and April.  The second generation repeats the process in October to November, and it is this period which is the most damaging.  The maggots bore into the foliage or stems and after a couple of weeks are fully fed and turn into little brown pupae. This takes place in the stems but some pupae may end up in the soil, especially where the plants may have rotted.

The damage leads to leaves splitting and when peeling off the layers, long brown streaks can be seen.  Whilst some of the crop may still be edible it is important to remove all the trimmings from the site and they should not be composted because they may contain the pupae. There are no suitable insecticides that can be used to prevent this attack.  And as there may be some pupae in the ground, crop rotation is essential and leeks, onions, shallots, garlic should not be planted in the same area in successive years.

We had better news with the Medlars.  In the previous month we had put them in trays in the garden shed to blet.  Medlars do not ripen on the tree and have to be bletted - a process of beginning to rot where starch in the fruit is turned to sugars.  A fuller account of medlars and the process of bletting can be found in my blog on medlars from 2018

"A fruit, vulgarly called an open arse; of which it is more truly than delicately said, that it is never ripe till it is as rotten as a turd, and then it is not worth a fart." 18Century Anon

8 December, bletted medlars

8 December - a bletted medlar
We did find time to make some medlar jelly to give as presents for Christmas.

In the post election depression, I was cheered by a visit to the plot to gather large quantities of kalettes and these have been one of the great successes of 2019.

14 December, Kalettes on the stem
14 December, Kalettes ready for the steamer
 We were also able to harvest lots of cavolo nero

14 December - Cavolo nero

We still had a surfeit of apples - we had made lots of apple jelly, had used some to add to the medlars for extra pectin. We cooked and froze some as apple purée, made apple pie and gave loads away - but there were still a lot left over and they were beginning to deteriorate so we decided to try to make apple cider vinegar. We started off the process just before Xmas by covering the chopped apples with cooled boiled water and adding sugar and covering with muslin to keep out flies etc to let the fermentation process start.

apples fermenting for our cider vinegar

They were in the conservatory for three weeks and there was a distinct appley and yeasty smell so we parked the bowls in the garden shed over the Xmas period and will see how things are going in the New Year.

Just before Christmas my daughter, Zoë, and her family arrived and on Xmas Eve she joined me on the plot to harvest the Brussels Sprouts
Zoë comes to help on Christmas Eve

We also picked some Kale and Chard for her to take home when she left on Boxing Day. 

We had a couple of days to recover before the arrival of my sons, Damien and Toby and their families.  In between, whilst Sylvia was changing all the beds, I made one last visit to the allotment to pick spinach and chard to make Spanakopita - (spinach and feta cheese filo pie) for their arrival.  That was the last I would see of the allotment for 2019.  

On New Year's Eve I was taken for a hike on the South Downs at Devil's Dyke by my sons, Damien and Toby and their families
31 December Damien and Toby lead the expedition
On the South Downs 31 Dec
And later that evening some of us went down to Hove beach by the lagoon to see out the old year...

Shay, Sharon, Damien, Oisín and Toby
 ...and see in the new

Sharon, Me, Shay, Damien, Toby and Oisín 

Happy New Year

John Austin

Hove, December 2019

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