Thursday 30 April 2020

Life on The Weald - March 2020

Life on the Weald (and other places) - March 2020 

It's now official; February was the wettest month since records began and at the beginning of March the soil was still waterlogged and heavy. The last day of February continued with very heavy rain, with Storm Jorge arriving on 27 Feb, so Sunday morning, 1st March, was a complete surprise with clear blue skies and sunshine.  Unfortunately we weren't at home, so another possible day on the allotment was missed!  But it was very good news for the Big Half, the half marathon being held in Greenwich.  It was cold but dry and we had a great viewing spot on board the Cutty Sark overlooking the finish line.

1 March - Selfie on board Cutty Sark in front of Royal Naval College and Maritime Museum

It was great to see the World 5,000 km and 10,000 km champion, Bekele, break the course record and come home in just over 1 hour.

Bekele wins the Big Half (half marathon)

A slightly slower finisher was former World Heavyweight boxing champion, Frank Bruno, now 58!  We had met over thirty years ago at the London Marathon when I was Mayor of Greenwich.  Frank was the official starter for the London Marathon Elite Race in 1989 and I had been the starter for the public mass start (after starting the race, I stripped off and ran the 26 miles!).

With Frank Bruno outside Greenwich Park before the 1989 London Marathon

I missed seeing Frank's finish but caught up with him after the race - interesting to see if we had changed at all in over 31 years!

With Frank Bruno under the Cutty Sark after the 2020 Big Half

I was also pleased to meet up with the Leader of Greenwich Council, Danny Thorpe, after he had completed the run.  It seems I have established a tradition of Greenwich Council Leaders and Mayors running marathons.

With Cllr Danny Thorpe (and medal) after the Big Half 2020

With such a change of weather, I was hopeful for a good week on the allotment but was soon brought back to reality arriving back in Brighton to pouring rain and cold winds!

Monday morning, however, 2nd March was another pleasant surprise, cold but with clear skies and little wind so I ventured to the Weald.

At The Weald, Monday 2 March

Despite the pleasant weather, some of the tracks and footpaths were still full of deep puddles and the ground underfoot was soggy.  I attempted to do some digging but it was an uphill task.  I managed to turn over a couple of rows where the brassicas will go and remove some of the weeds and this will help the ground dry out a bit.  If we do have a frost that will be a bonus I (although it might not be such good news for the autumn sown broad beans which are beginning to flower!) 

Extending the cabbage patch - 2 March

I inspected the broad beans.  The autumn sown Aquadulce were in flower and although the later planted out beans were battered, they had survived Storms Ciara and Dennis.

Bunyard's Exhibition broad beans, planted out in February

Aquadulce broad beans planted out in February
Although the pigeons had pecked at the broccoli leaves, the florets seemed intact. Last month I had picked the growing heads and was pleased to see that the side shoots were now looking good and I was able to pick a reasonable crop.

Purple sprouting broccoli - 2 March

Purple sprouting broccoli - 2 March
I also picked some rather good looking rhubarb which I had put a bucket over last month to slightly force, but it didn't need it.

First picking of rhubarb 2020

On 6th March I dug two narrow trenches on the area where last year's brassicas had grown

trench for potatoes
I partially filled the trenches with well rotted compost (some from the wormery mixed with a commercial brand) so that the trench was 6 inches deep.

trench partially filled with compost

I planted my chitted 1st early potatoes (Duke of York, red) firming them into the compost with the sprouting shoots upwards. 

1st earlies planted

I then covered the potatoes, filling the trench with the soil that had been removed and gently raked over.

two rows of first early potatoes - 6 March

We have enough potatoes for a third row but this will require clearing a bit more of the old brassica bed and I decided that was a task for another day!  Time for a sit down and admire my work.

Time for a rest and admire my handiwork

I had also been persuaded by Sylvi to plant some asparagus and we had bought 6 crowns.
We decided to use two of the raised beds where shallots had been grown last year.  Unfortunately the beds had been invaded by raspberries which have a habit of sending out runners, spreading across the plot and are quite deep rooted.  Together, on 9 March we made a determined effort - it was quite hard work as the raspberries were quite deep rooted. I am sure there are still some runners lurking deep so we will have to keep an eye out and remove any shoots in their infancy.

the beginning of the asparagus bed

Having dug a trench about 8-10 inches deep we created a mound at the bottom of the trench on which we placed the asparagus crown, draping the roots over the sides

asparagus crown planted with roots draped over mound

All that was now needed was to cover the crowns by returning the soil to fill the trench.

On 28 February there had been a report of the first Coronavirus, Covid19 infection in UK but contacts had been tracked and the number of incidents in early March were low in the UK but there was a large outbreak in Italy. We had planned to go to Spain on 12 March and checked the Foreign Office travel advice.  They did not advise against travel but suggested avoiding Madrid and an area in the north.  As the government advice was that it was OK to travel, we would not have been able to get a refund if we changed or cancelled our flights and, as there had been no identified cases in the south and south east of Spain, where we were planning to go, we decided to proceed with the trip.

On arrival we decided to stock up for the week but found that, due to panic buying, some of the supermarket shelves were empty.

Supermarket Santa Pola 14 March

Fortunately we were able to get basic necessities - and of course being a fishing port there was no shortage of fish and I always have a supply of preserved lemons

preparing fish for supper

Although there were still no reported cases where we were, the number of cases of Covid19 in other parts of Spain had risen dramatically and the Spanish government had declared a state of emergency and gone into lockdown with people advised to stay indoors.  We decided to change our flight and return home early but Easyjet (with whom we were booked) could offer nothing and the following day they informed us that they were cancelling our return flight, scheduled for Saturday 21st and were not able to indicate when we might be able to get a "rescue" flight.  After many hours on the internet we did manage to book a flight with BA and came home on Thursday 19th only to find that the UK was experiencing a similar hike in cases to that in Spain and Italy.

Surprisingly there were no health checks and no advice or information on our arrival at Gatwick Airport and although travellers from Spain had been in lockdown for several days, some in areas where there were many confirmed cases, they were free to get on to public transport and travel anywhere in the UK.  It was only when we arrived home that we heard on the news that returnees from Spain were advised to go into self isolation (i.e. stay at home) for 14 days.  A few days later the same advice was given to the whole UK population other than essential workers. The government then said that one trip a day to go shopping for food and essentials or for exercise was OK so long as a 2 metre distance was kept from other people.  It was a great relief when, on the following day, the government said going to the allotment was OK so long as social distancing was observed. So, on 23 March I made a brief visit to our plot.

I managed to find a few remaining baby leeks.  The main crop had all been lifted but there were a few which had remained in the original seed bed that had not been planted out and there was plenty of chard and rhubarb to be harvested.  

last of the baby leeks

I was happy to spend some of my self isolation using the chard and leeks to make Spanokopita and the rhubarb to make a rhubarb and yoghourt cake with a recipe given to me by Selina, a nearby plot holder.


Rhubarb and yoghourt cake 

At home the garden was beginning to look spring-like and the mulberry bush was breaking into leaf

Charlotte Russe Mulberry bush
At present during the Covid virus epidemic, government advice about staying at home allows one visit per day to the shops for food and one excursion for exercise and the government clarified that visits to the allotment were permitted for both collection of food and exercise.  Whilst I have taken advantage of this I am conscious there are fears that the advice may change and the lockdown become more severe, so I took the precautionary decision to convert part of the garden at home to vegetable growing.

In addition to the main lawn, we have a small secondary lawn which was in poor condition and in need of relaying, so I decided to dig this up and grow some potatoes.  This part of the lawn was very patchy and past attempts to reseed it had failed.

the rather patchy lawn

When I removed the top layer, the answer was clear.  The whole area was choked with roots from next door's large cherry tree, conifer and bay tree.

roots under surface of the lawn

It was a hard task digging out the roots as the soil was very compacted and in places just hard clay.   I have dug in some compost from the wormeries and hope that there will be sufficient nutrients for the potatoes to flourish and hopefully help to break up the soil.  I also dug in the fresh mowings from the main lawn.

the former lawn in transition

the former lawn almost ready for planting

Back on the allotment, there was the same problem in some areas of compacted soil..A couple of weeks earlier the clay soil was so waterlogged and heavy it was almost impossible to dig, now it had set like concrete

27 March - compacted clay
On a brighter note, the onions and garlic planted towards the end of last year appeared to be thriving and would soon need hand weeding and possibly feeding.

27 March - garlic

27 March - Electra onions

The plot was beginning to look a little tidier, with some spinach and plenty of chard which had overwintered and the broad beans for this year seemed to be doing well

27 March

There was still some work to be done on the new potato patch to get it ready for planting a third row of first early Duke of York potatoes.

extending the potato patch 27 March

21 days after planting the first two rows of first earlies
we were ready to plant a third row

I didn't have quite enough seed potatoes for a full row, so I have kept the remaining space for planting some 2nd earlies next month.

Time to relax at home and enjoy some of the home-grown broccoli with some locally caught fish from our fishmonger by Hove Lagoon who, during lockdown, are delivering to our door.

dinner with home grown broccoli

Looking forward to some better weather in April and to getting new crops planted.

John Austin

Hove, March 2020

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