Monday 31 May 2021

Life on The Weald - Plot 247 - May 2021

 Life on The Weald (Plot 247)

and in the garden

May 2021

Garden tulips on May Day

Last month had been the frostiest April for 60 years.  It had also been one of the driest, so many of the plants were a bit behind. May appeared to start well but then disaster struck with 60 mph cold winds!  The nice new mini-greenhouse went the same way as the polytunnel.  It couldn't withstand the strong winds and took off.  Fortunately the frame remained intact, and the cover sustained only minor damage as it caught on the plum trees.  I am sure we can patch up the small holes with repair tape but we will delay trying to put it up again until the weather improves.

There were clear skies on Saturday 1st and I was able to make a start clearing the area where the brassicas had grown in preparation for planting out the squashes, courgettes and cucumbers and also making room for more beans.

There was, of course, the annual battle against bindweed and couch grass and in particular, removing it from around the gooseberry bushes.  But after digging out the perennial weeds and hand weeding newly seeded annuals I forked in some some organic  material - partially rotted down compost from my compost bins.  It felt like good progress.  Much of the plot is raised beds where we pursue a "no dig" policy and I am hoping to extend this to the rest of the site.

1 May - preparing the ground

We were still able to harvest some edible material from the kalettes and broccoli before chopping the woody stems to add to the compost bins.

1 May creating space for squashes

I had removed the cage and netting that had protected the broccoli and kalettes from the pigeons and used it to cover the blueberry bushes which were just coming into leaf.  The blueberries are growing in large tubs as the South Downs soil does not suit them.  They are growing in ericaceous compost and we also feed them from time to time with an fertiliser suited for rhododendrons and azaleas.

I carried on with the task on Sunday which was another clear, dry day.  The apple tree was now covered in budding blossom and it felt more spring-like.

2 May - Apple blossom

All four rows of potatoes were now through - two of first early Duke of York which I had already earthed up and one row each of second earlies, Nicola and Charlotte which also needed to be earthed up.

5 May - the potatoes

On the May Day Bank Holiday (3 May) the weather turned bringing heavy rain and strong gusting winds.  On Tuesday 2 May we visited the plot to see the damage.  The broad beans had held up well but the min-greenhouse had come down in the storm, scattering all the seedlings and plants to the floor.  After rescuing the greenhouse cover, which had a few repairable tears, we inspected the frame and were pleased that, although it had come apart in some places, it was still intact and could be re-erected.  The rest of our time was spent picking up the plants and we were able to re-pot those which had been disturbed.  Surprisingly few had been damaged and the brassicas and chillies had survived but the runner beans had not fared so well.

Last year I had bought some runner bean plugs from a garden centre which had been very productive and at the end of the season we saved some for the seeds. They were French/runner cross varieties: Moonlight Firestorm and Tenderstar  
We had sown these indoors last month and then had moved them to the new min-greenhouse.    As a back-up we had bought some more runner cross seeds (Moonlight and Firestorm) earlier this year and had also sown a few indoors and transferred to the mini-greenhouse.  Sadly these had all fallen to the ground when the greenhouse cover blew off and some were damaged so we decided to take a risk and plant them out.  
We will fill the spaces between with directly sown seeds so we hope to have a succession of crops or a back-up if the earlier ones fail.

At home the conservatory, porch and windowsill in the spare bedroom were full of seedlings and rather leggy plants, so on 6 May I decided it was time to try hardening off some outside during the day. 

6 May - leggy tomatoes indoors

A brief dry spell on 9 May provided an opportunity to plant out some of the brassicas, Brussels sprouts, Collard greens, Kalettes & Purple sprouting broccoli and to erect the net cage to protect them from the pigeons.

9 May brassicas

The apple tree was now in full blossom

9 May - Apple blossom

Silverbeet Chard was mostly looking very healthy, but some showed signs of bolting.

9 May - Silverbeet chard

The potatoes were looking good but the plot was in need of a good tidying up. I just need a few dry days!

9 May - potatoes looking good in an untidy plot

Back at home, as the early tulips were just finishing, new later varieties began to appear.

9 May - more tulips

With a brief respite from the rain on 14 May a quick visit showed that most of the runner beans were surviving - just!

14 May - runner beans

14 May - runner beans

None of my parsnips had germinated, so I resorted to buying a tray of seedlings from the garden centre.  I was also tempted by a rainbow mix of beetroots and planted out both.

14 May planting out parsnips

We still had a surfeit of chard!

14 May - Silverbeet chard

On 18 May I finally put together the frame for my cucumbers and also made a start on putting up supports for the climbing French beans which had yet to be sown

18 May cucumber frame and bean supports

18 May cucumber frame and bean supports

The beetroots that I had planted out a few days earlier appeared to be doing well

18 May - beetroots

After one of the driest Aprils on record, May brought heavy rains which were welcome but unfortunately accompanied by cold winds.  I had planted out some tomatoes in tubs in the garden but sadly most of them suffered from windburn and it is doubtful whether they will recover.

It was too wet to do much on the allotment but, between showers,  I did manage to harvest some silver beet and rainbow chard.

23 May - Silverbeet & Rainbow Chard

The cold and rain were forecast to end around 25 May and the front garden was beginning to look spring like and colourful 

25 May - the front garden in flower

On 26 May, with the change in weather and a good outlook forecast, I ventured to the allotment and took the opportunity of planting out some of the rather leggy plants that were hardening off at home.  As the winds had also dropped, I had contemplated putting the cover back on the mini-greenhouse - but all these plans had to be abandoned as the heavens opened and I retreated to the shed.

The weather took a turn for the better on 28 May and the crops, particularly the potatoes, had benefitted from the rain.

28 May - Charlotte and Nicola potatoes

28 May - potato patch

At last, the broad beans appeared to be filling out

28 May - Autumn sown broad beans, Aquadulce

28 May broad beans

I also took the risk of planting out some cucumbers.

28 May cucumbers

28 May cucumbers

The mangetout peas were flowering and some pods already setting.  These were Oregon variety and I had acquired the seeds for free (with a voluntary donation) from the community organised Seedy Sunday, seed swap which had not taken place due to Covid lockdown.

On 30 May, with the arrival of warmer weather and the prospect of frost hopefully gone, I risked planting out the home-sown courgettes.

30 May courgettes planted out

Back at home the alliums and irises were flowering in the front garden

30 May our front garden

When I planted out the potatoes, I had a few spare so during March and April I had planted the surplus in grow-sacks.  This is how they looked on 31 May - from left to right, second earlies Charlotte & Nicola and first earlies Duke of York.

31 May l to r  Charlotte, Nicola & Duke of York

31 May Duke of York

31 May Nicola

31 May Charlotte

April and May have been difficult months; not very spring-like!  Hoping for some summery weather in June.

John Austin

Hove, May 2021

Tuesday 4 May 2021

Life on The Weald - plot 247 - and in the garden - April 2021

Life on The Weald (plot 247) & in the garden

Emerging from lockdown

4 April Water lilies in the pond & reflection of plum tree

Covid restrictions eased this month and advice on shielding ended, but we are continuing the same pattern until we have the second vaccination which is due this month but it will take 2 - 3 weeks to be fully effective.  We can have visitors in the garden again, but the weather is not yet very suitable for picnics or al fresco dining!

March had been a very mixed month with gales and storms, alternating with bright sunny days and temperatures ranging from zero to 20C.  April began well with clear skies and bright sunshine for the first few days, but with temperatures nearer seasonal normal, rarely rising above 11C. But by 6 April a new cold spell arrived with a night time low of -2C, cold winds and daytime temperature not rising above 7C.  So not a good time for barbecues in the garden or for putting seedlings out to harden off!

There was some good news on the plot - on 4 April I saw the first sign of the first early potatoes showing above the surface.

4 April - Duke of York first early potatoes

The potatoes had been planted shallowly so now was a good time to start earthing up by raking the soil on either side of each row to just cover the growing tips.

4 April - first earthing up of Duke of York

The water supply had been turned on at the beginning of the month so I took the opportunity to give the rows a good watering.  Although we have had some rain, we have had a lot of wind and the ground was very dry.

potatoes watered - 4 April

In March, I had erected the frame for the climbing beans and had dug a trench on one side, and then filled with semi-rotted compost.  I now dug a similar trench on the other side and filled it with the remainder of the contents of the compost bin together with some shredded newspaper which will aid water retention and eventually rot down.

4 April - bean trench

Trench filled with compost

I will leave the trench and compost uncovered until nearer the time for sowing/planting the beans.

I had saved a few seeds from last year's climbing beans which had been a mixture of runner beans and a runner/French bean cross.

A few days later, on 10 April some of the runner beans sown at home had germinated and were beginning to break the surface.

Climbing runner beans

The table in the conservatory was beginning to get very crowded with a variety of seedlings and young plants but it was still too cold to consider putting them outside. There were some sunny days but temperatures rarely above 10-11C and down to near freezing at night.  

We had a number of seedlings and young plants in need of hardening off - tomatoes, peppers, collard greens, cavolo nero, purple kale, kalettes, Brussels sprouts as well as sunflowers, nigella and geraniums (pelargoniums). I tried putting some young plants outside during the day, when the sun was shining, but they clearly didn't like the cold wind - so I decided that hardening off will have to wait a while.

I had sown some of the geranium seeds in used tea bags, which seems to have worked well,  so I have now tried that with some Tomato Super Mama seeds. The seed catalogue says that this variety produces oval fruits weighing 150-170 grams each! We shall see.

Out in the garden, on 13 April, some of the early tulips were now in flower

13 April Tulips

Our children discovered a cheap min-greenhouse in the newly opened Lidl store in Hove and we agreed over the phone, that they should buy one, thinking it would be suitable up against the fence in our garden for hardening off our young plants. Unfortunately it proved too large and intrusive so we decided to give it a try on the allotment where our polytunnel had failed!

13 April - the mini-greenhouse rises

15 April was a bright clear day

en route to plot 247 - 15 April

With only a gentle breeze, it seemed a good opportunity to complete the min-greenhouse and put the cover on.

15 April - the greenhouse is up!

15 April - transferring some plants from home

As the weather was improving, I decided to remove the fleece tunnel from the mustard greens that had been sown in the winter.  They seem to have survived.

Green and purple Mustard Greens

I have not grown mustard greens before. We had green and purple varieties and both are very "mustardy". The seed packets suggest that the purple ones (organic Osaka purple) should be eaten cooked but the green ones (organic green wave) can be eaten raw or cooked. We find them both good in salads.

The weather continued to improve with bright clear days - we had not seen any of the snow that had been experienced elsewhere in the UK - and daytime temperatures were around 10-12C.   On 19 April the plum trees were in full bloom and the apple tree was coming into leaf.

19 April Plum blossom

19 April The Apple tree

At home the Hellebores  were coming to the end of the flowering period but the tulips were now coming into full flower.

19 April Helleborus niger

19 April Tulips

On the allotment, on 21 April we saw first signs that the asparagus was alive...

21 April - Asparagus first sighting

...and we also had a plentiful supply of rhubarb - so there is more rhubarb and ginger cake to be made.  

21 April - rhubarb harvest

It had been several days since we had any rain and the ground was very dry, so I got the hosepipe out to give everything - especially the potatoes and asparagus a thorough watering.

During the week, I transferred several seedlings to the min-greenhouse but continued to sow more seeds at home!  I have made some early indoor sowings of squashes, courgettes and cucumber.

The table in the conservatory is full again despite the transfer of several pots to the greenhouse and to the front porch.....


Seedlings in porch

... and some have had to go upstairs to a spare bedroom. It's just as well that, due to Covid restrictions,  we can't have visitors!

Tomatoes and spinach in the spare bedroom

Last year I grew some pink narcissi in the garden and, when they had finished flowering, I lifted them and put them in a large pot. When the foliage had died back, the pot was put behind the shed and forgotten about - so we had a pleasant surprise rediscovering them and towards the end the month as they were in full flower and the pot has been brought out of hiding for all to see.

Late flowering pink narcissi

23 April, St George's Day, was another fine spring day, although still chilly.  I spent some time at home in the garden sowing some maincrop peas in plastic guttering.  Once they have germinated and grown a few inches they can be slid out into their permanent home, which will be a raised bed on the allotment that I need to prepare.

24 April and May is only a week away so I have given some thought to planting out some of the brassicas.  According to the instructions on the seed packets, Collard, purple kale and Cavolo Nero can be planted out in April but purple sprouting broccoli, kalettes and Brussels sprouts  should wait until May. My sprouts and kalettes, however, look at least as advanced as the Collard  greens, so I am taking a chance and planting some out this weekend.

As I am growing them in a raised bed, I am also ignoring the advice on spacing and planting them out closer together than recommended.  The recommended spacing for Collard greens, purple sprouting broccoli and Brussels sprouts is 2 feet (60 cms);  kalettes  30 ins (75 cms);  Cavolo Nero  18 ins (45 cms)   I have reduced this, on average, by up to 6 inches (15cms) but will need to remove the lower leaves as they grow to ensure good air circulation near to the ground.

Some of the runner beans in the greenhouse are now 10 ins (25 cms) tall and I will risk planting these out soon, filling any gaps with directly sown beans in a week or so.

I plan to grow some climbing French beans, so need to sort out a frame for them too.  Whilst in frame mood, I need to decide where to put the frame for the cucumbers which should be planted out in June.  It sounds like a busy weekend!

The second early Nicola potatoes were rising above the surface and will need earthing up shortly.

Nicola, 2nd early potatoes - 25 April

At home more tulips were coming into flower

27 April was another fine day but with temperatures still below the seasonal average and it was revealed today that this month has been the frostiest April for 60 years; so it has really not been a good month to harden off tender young plants. It has also been one of the driest Aprils in recent years.  The level of water in our pond is very low and we could do with some April showers.  

Despite the relatively low temperatures, I decided to press ahead and plant out some of the more mature brassicas - Collard greens, Cavolo Nero, Kalettes & Purple Sprouting Broccoli (Santee), covering them with improvised cloches of cut down plastic bottles.  I had already planted out some curled purple kale a few days earlier.

27 April
Cavolo nero & purple kale in foreground

27 April
 Collard, Brussels sprouts, Broccoli & Kalettes

I had finally got round to making a sign for my side of the plot - 247/2.  Sylvia's is a work in progress.

27 April - a new sign & redcurrants flowering

The red currants were just coming into flower as was the apple tree.

27 April - Apple about to blossom

At home the tomatoes had outgrown the pots they had been sown in and, although it was too soon to put them outside, I potted them on into larger pots.  At the base of the pots I added some plant compost mixed with a crushed aspirin and half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts). The aspirin guards against disease and the bicarb and Epsom salts provide essential minerals.  If I had any bananas, I would have added a bit of banana skin to provide essential potassium as well as nitrogen, phosphorus and magnesium. I did add a few crushed eggshells which provide calcium and good drainage for root development.

When I next have some banana skins I will soak them in a bottle of water for a week and then use the water as a liquid fertiliser both for the tomatoes and peppers but also house plants.  The remaining banana skins can be dug in to the ground or added to the compost bin/heap.

Epsom Salts can also be dissolved in water - one teaspoon of Epsom salts per litre of water - and used as a liquid fertiliser or leaf spray for tomatoes and peppers.

On Wednesday 28 April I picked some of the mustard greens to add to a stir-fry that I was cooking later that day.

28 April - mustard greens in stir-fry

On the last day of the month the Queen of the night tulips obligingly flowered, providing a cheerful end to a rather chilly month.
30 April - Queen of the night tulips

Hoping for warmer weather in May!

John Austin

Hove, April 2021