Monday 5 February 2024

Life on The Weald -January 2024

Life on The Weald - January 2024

and at Home and in the kitchen 

I no longer need a sling but with my right hand in plaster there will be limited opportunities to do much on the plot in January!

1 - 2 January
The year started with more heavy rain and the arrival of Storm Henk. My son, Damien, and daughter-in-law, Sharon were down from London but it was too wet and windy to venture down to the beach, as we usually do, to see in the New Year, so we celebrated at home. 

We did manage a brief visit to the plot on 2nd January to lift some Jerusalem Artichokes and pick some Kalettes for them to take home. It was very, very wet underfoot and the rain was to continue for a few days.

7 January
We didn't visit again until Sunday 7 January.  At last it was dry and sunny, but as there was a very cold wind we didn't stay too long.  

7 January - Plot 247b looking north

7 January - from the plot looking east

7 January - from the plot looking west

Sylvi fed her worms as we had rather a lot of kitchen scraps and I picked a good supply of Cavolo Nero.  We also removed the fleece from the broad beans that had been sown in 1 December. and were just coming through.

7 January - Broad beans sown 1 December

So far, the November sown broad beans seemed to have survived the storms....

7 January - November sown broad beans

...and the garlic was doing well too.

7 January - Garlic

One of the purple sprouting broccoli has produced its first floret, the rest look a few weeks behind.

7 January - purple sprouting broccoli

The leeks looked healthy enough but sadly, when we lifted some it became obvious that they had been infected with alium leaf miner and had split below the surface.

7 January - victim of leaf miner

We lifted a few more Jerusalem artichokes - all things in moderation - for dinner that night.  They were delicious but I have written before about the down-side of Jerusalem artichokes and their effect on digestion

7 January - Jerusalem artichokes

8 January
The clear weather was not to last, however, and we had more rain and heavy sleet showers - not a day for venturing out!  Fortunately the south-east did not suffer the havy snowfall and floods that were being experienced in other parts of the country.

8 January - heavy sleet on loft windows

11-12 January
Thursday 11 January was another bright sunny day but very cold with overnight temperatures down to -4C.  But according to the weather forecasters we can look forward to milder weather and hopefully next month the ground will have dried out a little.  On Friday the seed potatoes arrived in the allotment shop and hopefully the onion sets will follow soon. 

12 January - arival of potatoes

14 January
At last a bright, dry Sunday and I had a chance to inspect the rhubarb which I had covered with inverted recycling boxes to force it.

14 January - forcing the rhubarb

I lifted the covers and was pleased to see some progress.  Hopefully some will be ready for picking later in the month.  I crossed my fingers and replaced the boxes.

14 January - rhubarb

14 January - rhubarb

We picked some Cavolo nero and our first purple sprouting broccoli as well as a few rather small purple brussels sprouts. I visited the allotment shop and bought some First early Red Duke of York potatoes and some Second early Charlotte. It's a little early to start chitting so I will keep them in a cold dark room for a while.

15 January
There was no problem finding a cold room for the potatoes as we don't have the heating on in the upper bedrooms! On Monday 15 January the outside temperature
was zero at 7am and dropped an hour later to -1C, reaching a maximum of 3C in the afternoon.

21 January
At last the onion sets and shallots had arrived at the shop.

21 January - Onions and shallots had arrived

21 January - The Weald Shop - ready for Spring

It was relatively mild and we managed to do abit of general tidying up.  We emptied the contents of the compost tumbler which had not yet fully composted, as it contained a lot of fibrous material from the squash vines, but we decided to pile it on the open ground where we will be planting out in the spring and let nature take its course.

24 January
We spent some time digging out couch grass and bind weed from the area where the potatoes will grow.  This was the area where the squashes had grown lasy year and where we had laid a layer of cardboard covered with compost and manure 15 months ago.  The soil was very friable and had drained well and it was relatively easy to pull out tufts of grass and weeds that had seeded and grown there.  We did need to do a bit of more physical digging however towards the boundary path where couch grass and bindweed had spread.   It might be necessary to dig out some of the fruit bushes, where bindweed and couch grass had invaded and replant them as the roots had become entagled.

In December I had emptied one of the compost bins in a pile near this year's brassica patch and we were able to spread this with a rake.

24 January - preparing a brassica bed

24 January - pile of partially rotted compost from the tumbler

26 January - 28 January
Friday morning was sunny with a temperature of 9C and no wind, rising to 13C in the afternoon - a perfect day for being on the allotment - but we were away for the weekend in Sheffield. Sylvi's family are all Wednesday supporters and had tickets for the FA Cup match at Hillsborough that evening, so I joined them, and Sylvi's son, Luke had a ticket for the Brighton & Hove Albion FA Cup match against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Saturday.  It was a good excuse to spend a weekend "up-north" and visit family there.

Family Friday night at Hillsborough

Given the weather of the past few weeks we thought we might encounter floods or snow, but not only was it unseasonably warm when we left Hove on Friday morning but the weekend in Sheffield was positively spring like on Saturday and we had to shed several layers.  Some areas in the north and Scotland recorded record high temperatures for January!

January has been a month of contrasts and extremes as temperature and rainfall have seen large fluctuations with mild wet weather interrupted by cold dry spells and significant floods and snow in some parts of the country.  

We have had 3 significant storms on top of each other during the month causing major disruptions, HenkIsha and Jocelyn.

Surprisingly, however, the average mean temperature and rainfall for the UK as a whole have been near average for the time of year.  After a very wet December the break from the rainy autumn and winter was welcome as the wet conditions have hindered preparations for spring.  Generally gardeners favour a cold, but not bitter January.  Too warm a January encourages early growth of seedlings, and premature flowering of fruit trees and bushes, which renders both vulnerable to frost damage.  We are hoping for a dry, bright, albeit chilly February and more settled conditions.

John Austin

Hove, January 2024

Friday 12 January 2024

Life on The Weald - December 2023

 Life on The Weald - December 2023

It was a very cold start to December with the first really heavy frost. Nevertheless I went to the plot to sow some more broad beans, where the red cabbages had been growing, and then covered the area with fleece.  With freezing fingers I decided not to stay too long.

1 December - a new row of broad beans

2 December
As the cold weather continued, I decided to stay at home and spend some time in the kitchen.  I removed the seeds from the bulbous end of one of our butternut squashes and stuffed and roasted it.
2 December -  butternut squash

2 December - roast, stuffed squash
6 December
The cold spell continued and I had to scrape the ice from the car windscreen and despite the cold visited the plot. The temperature rose to 3C

6 December - a frosty morning

I removed the fleece from the garlic which now appeared to be firmly rooted.  The fleece was more to protect the cloves from being pulled up by birds rather than to protect them from the cold.  Garlic does well if it has two months at 0-10C.

6 December - garlic

6 December - garlic

I found some netting to put loosely over the broccoli that was outside the netted cage.  The ground was quite hard on the surface but with all the rain we had recently was soft underneath so I thought digging out some couch grass and bindweed might keep me warm. This is the area where either the potatoes or brassicas will go next year.

6 December - couch grass removed

Back at home, it was clear that Christmas was on its way as the Schlumbergera (Christmas flowering cactus) was in bloom.

 6 December - Schlumbergera 

That evening there was heavy rain and several flood warnings.

7-14 December 
The rain and stormy weather continued as Storm Erin arrived, followed by Storm Fergus  and there was heavy flooding in the Midlands, the North and Scotland.  We escaped the worst but it was miserable weather and not conducive to gardening.

15 December
There was a break in the rain so i paid a visit to a very wet and waterlogged plot.  I had collected a lot of cardboard and laid this where the brassicas will go and covered it with the contetnts of two compost bins.  The compost was not fully rotted but I am relying on the worms and fungus to do the rest. i did then cover the area with tarpaulin as more rain was threatened and I didn't want it to get too sodden.

I also managed to pick a lot of perpetual spinach for a warming sag aloo (spinach and potato curry) over the weekend

27 December
On my last visit of the year, I noticed that the rhubarb was beginning to show through, so it might be time to force it by covering with an old recycling container.

29 December
After many months of delays and cancelled appointments, I eventually had surgery on my right hand to correct Dupuytren's contracture - (a thickening of tissues in the palm of the hand causing one or more fingers to curl towards the palm, restricting certain functions).  Whilst am pleased to have had the operation at last it might curtail my allotment activity for weeks and possibly months.

29 December
The sling comes off in a few days, but it will be a week or so before the dressing and plaster come off and the stitches removed but I will have very limited use for about a month and it will be longer before I can drive or do strenuous physical activity - but hopefully back to full activity for the spring.

John Austin

Hove, December 2023

Friday 5 January 2024

Life on The Weald - November 2023

Life on The Weald - November 2023

- and distractions

1 November
November started with a rainy morning and a maximum temperature of 14C with the wind getting up in the afternoon and after Storm Agnes and Babet, in previous months, we were advised that Ciarán was due to strike that evening.

2 November 
The wind was very strong in the night and a lot of the beach ended up on the promenade

4 November
The strong winds persisted although there was little damage from Ciarán in the south east compared to the rest of the country.

4 November - Hove beach

5 November
The damage on the allotment was minimal.  Most of the covering on our derelict greenhouse had been blown away and the panels for our replacement shed had blown over but everything else was intact.

5 November - greenhouse

5 November - the shed

We found a good home for the Halloween pumpkins - the compost tumbler. They look happy there.

5 November - farewell Halloween

After a stormy night, it was a bright clear day and I lifted some of the Jerusalem artichokes

5 November - Artichokes

5 November - Artichokes

The broccoli was growing taller than the cage so i raised the netting to accommodate it.

6 November
Sylvia began to re-cover the greenhouse (which is just used as a storage area) and deal with invading brambles whilst I raised the netting over the kalettes which, like the broccoli, had outgrown the cage.

raising the netting over the kalettes

In raising the netting, I disturbed the whitefly which flew around in clouds.  I decided to spray all the brassicas with an emulsion of natural oil and water with a little added soap.

I had a plentiful supply of fresh farmyard manure that our grandson, Jerome, had delivered from our allotment shop and I spread some of this on the raised beds where the onions will go in the spring. 

I am supposed to be shedding responsibilities in retirement but have recently taken on the role of communications officer on the Allotment Association Committee and am responsible for its website and social media. 

fresh manure

the onion beds

The newly sown broad beans were just beginning to germinate, so for a protection against slugs and snails I sprinkled a mixture of crushed eggshells and coffee grounds on the bed.

Broad beans beginning to sprout

I then cleared another raised bed of weeds, by hand weeding, (no digging) and laid cardboard ready for a layer of manure.

8 November
At home on a cold, dreary November day, I was wondering what to do with tromboncinos.  We have tried them roasted, in risotto, in soups, with pasta - and then I remembered I had a recipe for a Courgette Lemon Drizzle Cake so I decided to try it using tromboncino instead and I'm pleased to say it worked well.

Tromboncino Lemon Drizzle Cake

11 November
Jerome delivered another 3 barrow loads of manure, Sylvi continued to tackle invading brambles and I dismantled the bean and cucumber frames.

more manure

the old climbing bean frame

At home we decided to try one of the Crown Prince squashes

Crown Prince squash

The broad beans that we had sown in modules had sprouted and would soon be ready for plantiong out.
Broad beans

12 November
Taking advantage of the sunny weather I hand weeded another of the raised beds laid cardboard and covered with manure.

hand weeded raised bed

raised bed with layer of cardboard and manure

We harvested some red cabbage and beetroots...

red cabbage and beetroots

..... and I picked the remaining tromboncinos.

My efforts to tame the tromboncino!

13-18 November
13th and 14th were bright sunny days and ideal for gardening but unfortunately I was otherwise engaged!  The following days were not so good but I was still busy with non-allotment issues and at the weekend my eldest grandson, Felix, and his partner came down for the weekend as Felix was running the Brighton 10k on the Sunday.  It was a tough run with some rain and howling gale force winds.

Felix flying home

A first 10k for Felix

24 - 25 November
It had previously escaped my notice, but one of the trailing Crown Prince  squashes had attached itself to a low branch on the apple tree and had climbed up about two metres!  Now that the tree had lost its leaves, I discovered that the squash had fruited and there was a large one lodged in the branches!

Crown Prince  in the apple tree

Crown Prince  in the apple tree

With some difficulty I rescued the squash from apple tree...

Squash safely landed!

... and having got it home, it weighed in at a magnificent 4.5kg

4.5kg Squash

I sowed some more broad beans directly into a raised bed - you can never have too many and they freeze well. 

26 November
I continued weeding around currant bushes and where the red cabbages had grown.  I had intended to plant out the broad beans grown in pots at home but at midday the rain came down and I left the beans for another day.  Heavy rain continued for the nexty couple of days.

29 November
At last there was a brtight clear sunny morning which enabled me to plant out the pot-grown broad beans

30 November
The last day of the month was also dry but the temperature dropped to zero overnight and by mid-morning it was only 3C in the morning and cloudy and I decided to stay at home in the warm!

John Austin

Hove, November 2023