Saturday 10 December 2022

Life on The Weald - November 2022

Life on the Weald - November 2022

and in the kitchen and garden

1 November - Storm Claudio arrives in Hove

The month started with temperatures still above the seasonal average but very, very wet and with storm winds as Storm Claudio struck Brighton and Hove.

Ther was a break in the rain on 2 November so a visit to the plot was needed to check on any damage.  The table and chairs had been scattered and the storage box which had been damaged in earlier storms is probably now a write-off.

2 November

2 November

2 November

On Friday 4 November there was a brief respite from the wind and rain. I planted out the broad bean seedings (Aquadulce) that I had grown at home and sowed some more directy into the soil. I aso planted some more red winter onions where the patty pan squashes had been.

Broad beans

red winter onions

The Aquadulce broad beans sown in October and the garlic had survived the storm quite well.

Broad beans and garlic

I also lifted the last Charlotte potatoes

Last of Charlotte potatoes

Over the weekend the rain and high winds well into into Monday.  Rain was forecast al day for Tuesday 8 but there was a brief period of sunshine around mid-day

Friday 11 I planted more broad beans (Bunyard's Exhibition) in the space next to the parsnips. Normally, at this time of year, I sow Aquadulce as I find these the best for autumn sowing but everywhere seemed to be sold out and Bunyard's can be sown either in the autumn or February-March.

Saturday 12 I cleared weeds from the second hugel bed ready to sow more broad beans but we had a relative staying for the weekend so it was a brief spell on the plot. It was a glorious weekend, misty mornings followed by sunshine and blue skies. On Sunday morning we had a stroll around Devil's Dyke on the South Downs.....

13 November - A misty morning at Devil's Dyke

13 November - Sun breaking through on the South Downs

13 November - a stroll through Devil's Copse

.....and a drive through West Sussex country lanes and then to Worthing.

13 November - Herring gulls on Worthing beach

Monday 14 was a bright autumn day which would have been ideal for work on the plot but instead we had another day out in the East Sussex countryside.  Before leaving, however, we did manage to clear the front path area at home of fallen leaves before visiting Birling Gap and East Dean....

Looking East from Birling Gap

Severn Sisters from Birling Gap

.... and then watched the sun setting at Rottingdean beach before heading home.

Sunset Rottingdean beach

On arriving home I collected more fallen leaves - in total I now had 7 large sacks, full and ready for use as a mulch and to compost.  As the weather was good I was planning to plant some more broad beans on Tuesday 15 once our visitor had left, but the return of heavy rain and gusty winds kept me at home.

Wednesday 16 was another wet, windy day, but around 11am the rain stopped and the sun came out, so I dashed to the allotment with my 7 bags of leaves, 2 sacks of dead tomato plants and other green material from the garden and 3 caddies of vegetable kitchen waste for the worms.  I also hoped to sow some more broad beans, but as soon as I had unloaded the sacks of leaves the sun disappeared, the clouds returned and as I added the kitchen waste to the wormery, the rain came down with a vengeance and I was back home by midday, somewhat wet, only one hour after setting off.

At last on Thursday 17 I managed to sow two double rows of Broad Beans (Bunyard's Exhibition) in the second Hugel bed. I also planted out some remaining shallots (Jermor).  On Friday 18 I added some of my autumn leaves to the compost bins and the rest I spread on the vacant Hugel bed (where 2023 brassicas will be planted).

Applying a layer of autumn leaves

Everything looked well - until I inspected the leeks.  The bad news - the dreaded allium leaf miner had struck.

Leeks infected with allium leaf miner

Saturday 19 I began to tackle the problem of raspberries invading the rhubarb bed and the asparagus.  This did involve a lot of digging out of the invasive roots and also removing quite a lot of bindweed.  In this process, I was lifting bluebell corms and daffodil bulbs that would need replanting in f
ront of the rhubarb, by the public footpath.

In this crazy climate, the rhubarb was already sending out fresh shoots.  I covered the whole area with a thick mulch of autumnal leaves after replanting the bluebells and daffodils.

The temperature was now definitely dropping to a more seasonal daily 10C but, with strong winds, it felt more like 6C.  There was a great joint effort on Sunday 20.  Armed with a chain saw, Sylvi's son, Luke, set about removing the lower branches on our very old apple tree which enables us to tackle the brambles that were engulfing them.  We also began to remove some of the plum trees - we have a dozen and really only need two or three.  Sylvi was busy tackling the brambles and also laying a tarpaulin over the large Hugel bed which had been covered with another layer of leaves.  Sylvi managed to buy some organic Super Aquadulce broad beans at the allotment shop and I returned later in the day to sow two double rows in the bed that had grown the patty pan squashes. I put a layer of mature compost between the double rows of broad beans and planted out the remaining Electric Red Onions.  I put a layer of grass clippings over the area where the beans had been sown and then covered the bed with fleece.

The following week remained very wet with a daytime temperature around 10-11C with very strong winds. There was a brief respite on Friday 25 when I made brief visit to plant some more daffodils. It was black Friday (another American tradition that has found its way into the UK) and our local Homebase was selling daffodil bulbs at halfprice with a large bag reduced from £5 to £2.50.  I couldn't resist so I started to clear the area by the redcurrants, at the front of the plot, from invading couch grass and bindweed to plant the bulbs.  Daffodils are among the first plants to flower and bring a warm feeling that spring is at last on its way.   The respite was shortlived, however, and the rain returned.  

I had planned a long session on the plot for Sunday as the forecast had been good but there was a sudden change and heavy rain was predicted all day so I took advantage of a clear period on Saturday 26 and made a brief visit to pick some Cavolo Nero, which was healthy and abundant, and lift some of the remaining leeks, most of which had to be discarded due to the allium leaf miner.  I did manage to sow the remaining broad beans and covered with a mulch of leaves and wood chips before covering with fleece.

Mulch covering a further sowing of Aquadulce

26 November - Broad beans showing through

The beans which had been sown at home and planted out were looking rather battered by the strong winds.  

I had a chat with one of my near neighbours, Steve, who kindly offered to transport 3 wheelbarrow loads of manure/compost from the site shop for me.  I had also collected a lot of green material, mostly tomato plants, from Luke that morning which I added to the tumble compostor which is over half full.  I think I will now stop adding to it to let it mature and start a new compost bin.

The weather forecast was accurate and Sunday 27 was another very wet miserable day. One note of cheer was that the Cavolo nero picked the day before was excellent and had done surprisingly well this year.

freshly picked Cavolo nero

Sadly the rain clouds persisted all day on Monday with intemittent heavy rain and a top temperature of 11C.  The month ended as it began with very heavy rain.  After the dry summer the rain was very much needed but we hope the weather in December will be a little drier and more stable.

John Austin

Hove, November 2022

Tuesday 15 November 2022

Life on The Weald - October 2022

Life on The Weald - October 2022

(in the garden and the kitchen)

Autumn harvest

The weather turned distinctly cooler at the beginning of the month although some days were still above the seasonal average.

Saturday 3 October was a dry, bright autumn day and I continued to clear the pathways around the beds and replenish them with a layer of organic material, mostly woodchip and prunings. I cleared the weeds from the area surrounding the raised beds - including bindweed and couch grass (which is bit like painting the Forth Bridge), and laid down cardboard covered with woodchips.  I prepared two of the beds which had grown squashes and French beans, ready to plant red onion sets, garlic and broad beans. 

Clearing the surrounds of weeds

I am moving to "no dig" with the beds themselves, not only to save labour but it is now generally accepted that digging is not good for the soil structure as it disturbs the balance of soil life, affecting the micro-organisms, fungi and worms that help roots grow.  I did remove some of the weeds by hand, however, for composting before adding a good layer of organic compost.

Adding a layer of organic compost to the bed

On 4 October, I continued preparing beds for onions, garlic and beans. I planted two varieties of red onions - Electric and Winter Red - some French shallots - Jermor - and two varieties of garlic - Germidor (Purple Wight) and Messidrome. Having planted them, I covered them with fleece, mainly to protect them from birds who have a habit of pecking at and uprooting them.  A few Patty pan squashes were still growing at the end of one of the beds which I left in he hope that they might get bigger before neding to be picked, and planted some red winter onions at the other end of the bed.

Red winter onions covered with fleece
-remaining patty pan in foreground

I picked what will probably be the last cucumber of the season.

The last cucumber of 2022?

It was time to harvest most of the squashes - Crown Prince, Butternut and Chioggia as the foliage had died back. If picking for storing it is better to wait until there is no moisture left in the stalk where it joins the squash.

Crown Prince squash

The Marina di Chioggia were a first time for me.  They take their name from Chioggia, a fishing town near Venice which also gives its name to the “candy stripe” beetroot which when cut displays red and white rings.  The squash has a green blistered skin with sweet yellow orange flesh.  The seed packet says it produces fruits up to 5kg.  Mine were a disappointing 1 - 2kg, which is probably due to the summer drought.  The butternut squashes were also much smaller than previous years.

Chioggia  and butternut squashes

Chioggia squash

Autumn planted garlic covered with fleece

I planted the first of the shallots in some spare space where the leeks were growing and covered them with fleece.

Shallots planted among the leeks

We were still harvesting tomatoes from the garden on 5 October and there are lots more to come.  I think we have seen the last of the Marmande, beefsteak variety but the large Santa Mama and the yellow varieties are just ripening and the cherry tomatoes are still producing on a daily basis.

5 October - today's tomato harvest

We also have a good supply of chilli peppers, from the fiery hot habanero and Scotch bonnet to less hot, but still very spicy, Basket of Fire and Cheyenne.

Clockwise from top left
Habanero, Scotch bonnett, Cheyenne, Basket of Fire

Habanero - ready for the freezer

On 9 October I continued to clear weeds from the area around the raised beds and put down a layer of cardboard and also removed weeds by hand-weeding in the beds themselves.

The large bed, partially cleared of weeds

Cardboard laid between the beds

Cardboard covered with woodchips 

I harvested most of the squashes, leaving a few, including several tromboncinos, to mature.

9 October - a squash harvest

On 11 October I lifted my first parsnip just to see how they were doing. It looked reasonable but the flavour will be improved with the arrival of colder weather.

First parsnip of 2022

I had decided to make the large raised bed a "no dig" bed using the Hugel method. (H├╝gelkultur)  I calculated that I could fit three trenches in the bed so started on the first one. (A lot of initial digging to achieve a "no dig" bed but, hopefully, it will be worth it in the long term.)

1st trench

At the bottom of the trench I laid some logs from a tree that we had cut down last year.

1st trench - burying logs

I covered the logs with half rotted organic matter from one of the compost bins.

1st trench - filling with organic material

I then topped this with fresh green material.

1st trench - green waste

I then managed to dig and fill a second trench.

On 12 October, I made my first sowing of Broad Beans (Aquadulce) in two double rows in one of the vacant beds.  I didn't add any compost or additional nitrogenous material at this stage as broad beans add nitrogen to the soil through the organisms on their roots.  Adding more nitrogen would encourage the beans to produce leaves rather than bean pods.  I did add a layer of organic compost in the middle of the bed between the double rows of broad beans where I planted some more garlic. I then covered the bed with horticultural fleece to protect the garlic from the birds and the beans from squirrels and other rodents.

A double row of garlic between
2 double rows of broad beans

Beans and garlic protected with fleece

We picked some chard and Cavolo nero as well as some nasturtium leaves with which we made some individual Spanokopita pies.  We are familiar with using nasturtium leaves in salads - as they have a taste similar to water cress - but I have not cooked with them before.  One of our neighbours said she uses them instead of spinach so we gave it a try.  It worked fine.

Individual Spanokopita pies

We also made roast stuffed patty pan squash with ricotta and parmesan cheese and fresh herbs. We have a plentiful supply of oregano in the herb bed in our garden.

Stuffed patty pan squash

14 October : Earlier in the year, I had planted some "blue" potatoes in a container at home and decided to see how they were doing.  The skins were purple rather than blue.  Some blue varieties have blue skins with white flesh but this variety has blue flesh as well.

Blue potatoes

Cutting the potatoes in half revealed that the flesh was indeed also coloured.  It was more purple than blue but when cooked was definitely blue.  They were a floury variety and very tasty.

Blue potatoes cut in half

Sunday 16 October was cloudy but dry during the day but followed by heavy rain in the evening.  I started on my third and final trench in the large bed.....

The third trench for my new Hugel bed

....then filled it with logs and managed to retreat before the rain came down.

The beginnings of a no dig Hugel bed

Monday 17 October reached a maximum of 14C. It rained heavily in the early hours, was cloudy but dry during the morning but then quite sunny although cool in the afternoon.

By contrast, Tuesday 18 October was dry, sunny and hot with a high temperature of 18C although it felt much hotter than that in the sunshine.  I completed filling the third trench in the large bed with partly composted material and fresh green material on top of the logs.

I topped all three trenches with torn up egg boxes, which are good for water retention and will eventually rot down.  Sylvi was busy with the wormeries, recovering the worm compost - there were 6 trays of fully composted material,rich in worms, which I used to top the three trenches and then covered the whole bed with the soil that had been removed to create the trenches.

filling the final trench with egg boxes & worm compost

Large bed, trenches filled, topsoil returned

I will now leave the bed over winter and apply another layer of compost in the spring before planting brassicas. In the meantime I will look out some cardboard or tarpaulin to cover it.

I picked the last of the Crown Prince and took it home to store.  The 
squashes were all smaller than last year but at least this one was a reasonable 3.6kg.

18 October - Crown Prince  weighs in at 3.6kg

Wednesday 19 October was cloudy with intermittent clear, sunny, blue skies and a temperature of an unseasonal 19C, although the wind was quite strong.  At home I sowed some broad beans indoors in deep trays for planting out later and as a safeguard in case the rodents get the ones sown outdoors. 

There certainly weren't any blue skies the following day with continuous heavty rain all morning, easing off in the afternoon. Not a day to be out and about, but the rain will be good for the broad beans that I planted, helping them to germinate, and for the onions and garlic to encourage strong roots.  The rain will also be good for the Hugel beds that I have just created. Friday was another rainy day but the morning of Saturday 21 October was bright and clear.

After the heavy rain, the trenches which I had filled on the newly created Hugel bed had sunk considerably and will need topping up with more organic material and/or top soil before the winter sets in.  I took the opportunity of a rain free morning to hand weed the asparagus bed and around the blackcurrants before applying a heavy mulch of wood chips.

The Marmande tomato that I had planted out on the allotment rather late in the season showed no sign of the fruit ripening and the foliage was now dying back.  There were a few huge, green, unripe fruits.  Had they ripened, they would have been magnificent. Sadly slugs, snails and other creatures had also decided they like tomatoes!

21 October Marmande - beefsteak tomato full of promise

21 October - Marmande  disappointment

The following day there was torrential rain most of the day, and overnight there was thunder and lightning which continued into the early hours of the morning. On Monday 24 the heavy rain continued through the morning with strong blustery winds for most of the day, but surprisingly the afternoon was sunny with higher than average temperature of 17C, although it felt much colder due to the continuing high winds.

School half-term brought a visit for a few days of my younger son and family (who are all vegetarian), and a visit later in the week by my daughter and her crew so  the allotment was neglected for a few days.  On the plus side, with a house full, it gave me an opportunity to develop my culinary skills in using the allotment produce.

With a plentiful supply of chard, spanokopita was an obvious choice, but I also stuffed a Chioggia and a Crown Prince squash, one with a ricotta and parmesan based stuffing and the other with vegetables and mixed grains and roasted them whole.  I am pleased they both proved a success.

Whole roast stuffed Crown Prince squash

On Friday 27 October,  I took the grandchildren to Hove Park and for a walk in the woods at Three cornered copse . Unsure about what the weather would bring, I had dressed for a normal autumnal day but the temperature rose to an astonishing, summer-like 21C

With the children and grandchildren gone, I returned to the plot on Saturday 29 October and there had been significant growth during the few days away.  In my planted wheelbarrow, the different mints were in flower and receiving frequent visits by bees, and the basil, tarragon and thyme were looking healthy. 

My wheelbarrow herb garden

The shallots which I had planted next to the leeks had put on significant growth since I removed the fleece earlier in the month.

Shallots among the leeks

And there appeared to be something happening underneath the fleece covering the garlic and onion sets.

signs of growth beneath the fleece

Garlic sprouting

Red winter onions beneath the fleece
(and the last remaining patty pan)

Red winter onions

When I removed the fleece from the broad beans, I was pleased to see that most had germinated and had not been attacked by rodents.  The garlic planted between the double rows appeared to have rooted well and was producing its first leaves.

Garlic between the broad beans

30 October was not a day to be outdoors!  There was persistent heavy rain and gale force winds with a storm threatening.

The last day of the month there was intermittent rain during the day but I managed to pick a few tomatoes from the garden.  We put our carved pumpkin in the front garden and awaited the usual Halloween callers - we had more than 50 in several groups and ran out of treats, despite the intermittent rain.

October ended with a great deal of rain, which was welcome following the summer drought, but it was accompanied by unseasonal high temperatures which has resulted in some trees and shrubs budding or coming into flower in the autumn instead of spring. It has also produced a proliferation of slugs and snails which have attacked our brassicas and chard.  I have even spotted some cabbage white caterpillars on the broccoli and my neighbours have reported a new crop of runner beans and the return of blackfly!  Climate change is a real longterm threat to our environment but is already affecting ecosystems and presenting gardeners with new challenges now.  The meteorologists tell us that temperatures will be near normal in November - we shall see!

John Austin

Hove, October 2022