Saturday, 10 October 2020

Life on The Weald (and in isolation) July 2020

Life on The Weald (and still "shielding") - July 2020

Covid-19 is still with us but there have been some general relaxations in lockdown for the majority - but not for us as I am over 75 and in the "clinically extremely vulnerable" category.  I am able to go to the allotment, however, as I can do this without having any contact with the public, and can maintain my plot without coming into close proximity with anyone.

The government's "shielding programme" is due to end next month but we will probably continue to follow the shielding advice until the epidemic appears to be over or a vaccine is available. The allotment will continue to be our only escape from home!

The temperature in July has been above average and apart from the last week, which saw some heavy downpours, has been very, very dry necessitating several trips to the allotment for watering.

During the hot dry days, the birds had feasted on my brassicas so it was time for drastic action.

As the blueberries and redcurrants were finished, we moved the fruit-cages to protect the kale and broccoli.

Fruit-cage moved from the redcurrants

Fruit cage moved from blueberries

Hopefully the mesh will be fine enough to keep away most of the butterflies.

I had grown the kalettes, kale and broccoli from seed but had forgotten that I had ordered some plugs from the garden centre which arrived this month.  I potted these on and kept them at home as I had nowhere to plant them out until the second early potatoes are lifted.

Luke came (socially distanced of course) to help try to remove an unwanted ornamental bush that had assumed tree-like proportions.  Whilst clearing the undergrowth he got a bit of a shock as he spotted a black tail - but what could this monster be?  After the initial shock it turned out to be a discarded toy dinosaur, presumably left by a pervious plot holder.

Monster in the undergrowth
Monster in the undergrowth

We harvested the last of the Broad beans but were now seeing the peas come to fruition.

July pickings of peas and broad beans - 2 July 2020

I managed to plant out my first double row of leeks (Musselburgh) which I had grown from seed.  I planted them where we had recently lifted the First Early potatoes,

Leeks planted out 6 July 2020
6 July 2020
6 July 2020

6 July 2020

We also began to harvest the first courgettes (whilst still courgette size)

The first courgettes - 11 July

Back home the Mulberry bush (grown in a pot on the patio) was producing fruit.

Home grown mulberries - 10 July

I have memories of picking mulberries, when the children were young, in the grounds of Charlton House, from one of the oldest Mulberry Trees in London and one of the oldest trees of any species in England.  

Charlton House SE7, The Mulberry Tree

The tree is almost certainly as old as the Jacobean mansion (which was built between 1607 and 1612) and is one of several in the SE London area, notably at Greenwich Park and Sayes Court in Deptford.

I do not expect mine to live as long - it is a new bush variety, Charlotte Russe, which was developed recently for the Chelsea Flower Show.

We are currently self-sufficient in potatoes and have been enjoying the Duke of York first earlies for several months.

11 July - Duke of York First Early potatoes

We have now made a start on lifting some of the second earlies - Nicola

11 July Nicola second Earlies

The corn cockle and other wild flowers were beginning to flower in the area I had set aside near the pond.  Hopefully they will self seed and be more prolific next year.

Wild Flower garden 13 July

The grapes growing on the vines (in pots) by the shed were beginning to bear fruit.

White grapes - 13 July

Black grapes - 13 July

The Patty pan squashes were beginning to produce prolifically and it is best to eat them whilst small. When they are very young we just slice them and grill or fry them or cook them on the barbecue.  As the skins get tougher and the seeds begin to form, its better to scoop out the seeds to stuff and roast them.

Patty Pan squash for dinner - 16 July

I have never been successful in growing tomatoes on the allotment.  They either suffer from blight, get eaten by squirrels and slugs or fall victim to the winds.  Last year we had a good crop of cherry tomatoes in pots on the patio at home, so this year we have been more adventurous and apart from some red cherry and golden cherry tomatoes grown from seed we have also tried a beefsteak tomato, some cherry plum and black cherry tomatoes as well as a familiar salad variety, Alicante, from seedlings offered to me by other plotholders. By mid July they were displaying fruit.  I had removed some of the lower leaves and shoots growing in the axils and trained the tomatoes up strings attached to the fence. And this seems to have worked well.

Home grown tomatoes 16 July

The unwanted bush was defying efforts to remove it and I fear a chainsaw will be required.

the offending bush - 18 July 2020

But the courgettes and butternut squashes looked to be doing well

Courgette and squash plants -18 July

And the Crown Prince, the pride of all squashes was swelling nicely.
Crown Prince squash - 18 July 2020

At Home, I had grown some Lollo Rosso and oak leaved lettuces in a container and whilst they were ready for harvesting, some had begun to bolt.

Home grown Italian lettuce 26 July

At the allotment we were harvesting runner beans an French beans daily and I was very pleased that our purple variety of French beans did well.

Dwarf French beans - Amethyst  29 July

And there is a plentiful supply of courgettes which need to be picked before they become giant marrows!

Courgettes 26 July

At home the container grown peppers were beginning to ripen and we look set to get a bumper crop of Hungarian yellow wax peppers,

Hungarian wax peppers - 30 July

These are very mild peppers, low on the Scoville scale, and suitable for pickling or stuffing.

The tomatoes, growing in various pots and containers at home are setting and hopefully we will get a good crop in the coming months.

Cherry tomatoes - 31 July

The herb garden at home is doing very well and the winter savory is in full flower and attracting a large number of honey bees, so I have taken some root cuttings and potted them up.  I hope they will take as I intend to plant some on the allotment to accompany the grapefruit mint and pineapple mint that I have already transplanted there.

Winter savory - 31 July 

I think that "winter savory" is a misnomer as it is an evergreen perennial which flowers in the summer. I assume it is called winter savory because it survives the winter and to distinguish it from the related "summer savory" which is an annual.  It loves sunshine and does best in a well drained soil, so I will have to prepare its planting spot well as much of my plot is heavy clay.  Apart from attracting bees, the plant is beneficial as a companion plant to beans as it keeps bean weevils away.

The relocated fruit cages have done a great job in protecting the brassicas from the pigeons (and hopefully will have kept some of the cabbage white butterflies away), so I have decided to copy several neighbours and provide protection for some of the raised beds using water pipe as a support for the netting.  I have purchased 25m of 25mm blue polypipe (MDPE) to make the necessary supports and made a start at the end of the month.

building the frame/supports for the netting - 31 July

The pipe is cut into equal lengths, depending upon the height that you need.  If it is a low tunnel, the pipe ends can just be pushed into the ground but to make them more secure a length of cane can be inserted into the pipe with sufficient protruding to press further into the ground to anchor the pipe.  The frame is made more secure by tying a cane, horizontally along the top, to which the netting can also be attached.

Well that brings the month of July to a close - more netting needed for August and then we can enjoy the fruits of our labours as many more crops are almost ready for harvesting.

John Austin
Hove, July 2020

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Life on the Weald (and in isolation) June 2020

Life on the Weald - and in isolation - June 2020

1st June: Duke of York - 1st Early Reds

The Duke of York first early potatoes, planted twelve weeks previously looked ready for lifting and I was not disappointed.  We lifted just a few and hopefully the rest will get larger as we pick just what we need.

They looked good and tasted good!

1st Early Duke of York

At home.the garden was coming into bloom with summer flowers and shrubs as we approached mid-summer.

8 June - garden in bloom

With lockdown, Luke had cleared his back yard and lifted the paving slabs to lay artificial grass to give the children somewhere to play and we became the beneficiaries.  Luke was kind enough (and strong enough) to transport the slabs to the allotment and, whilst maintaining social distancing, he and Sylvi laid a path between our plot and our neighbour Viv's plot. So now we can get down the path to pick the raspberries.

9 June - new path
Putting netting over the redcurrant bushes had paid off and denied the birds (and marauding humans)  a feast and luckily Jerome was still small enough (just) to get inside the fruit cage and pick them without having to dismantle it.  I don't think we will be so fortunate next year!

14 June - redcurrant harvest

On 15 June we began lifting a second row of Duke of York potatoes and were pleased that they were larger than those harvested earlier in the month.

15 June - First early Duke of York potatoes

We also managed to harvest some Mangetout and more were on the way.

17 June - Oregon Mangetout peas

The regular peas were also beginning to fill and would be ready to pick shortly and we began to harvest some of the early raspberries.

17  June - first picking of raspberries

It would soon be time to harvest the first Patty-pan squash (although the plant had been given to us as a yellow courgette).

17 June - Patty pan squash

Once we have lifted all the First Early potatoes, we can make a start on the second earlies, We have two rows of Nicola and a half row of Charlotte on the allotment and two rows of Charlotte at home.

22 June - 2nd early Nicola potatoes

The celery put on a growth spurt in June and I gave it a liquid feed with some general fertiliser.
The beet spinach which I had grown between the celery rows was beginning to show new leaves but some of the plants were beginning to bolt!

22 June - celery and spinach

I planted out the kalettes, purple sprouting broccoli and kale that I had grown from seed and used plastic bottles to provide some protection from wind and predators. 

22 June - improvised cloches over kale

There were signs of life on the grape vines growing in pots and grapes beginning to form.

22 June - the grapes are forming

The courgettes and squashes were beginning to flower but the runner beans behind them didn't appear to know they were supposed to climb!
22 June - courgettes and squashes

There were also signs that pollination was successful with the appearance of tiny squashes.

22 June -signs of the first butternut squash

22 June - the first Crown Prince Squash setting

The Musselburgh leeks which I had sown from seed and planted temporarily in clumps in a seed bed were looking ready for planting out and they will go where the First Early potatoes are waiting to be lifted.

Musselburgh leeks ready for planting out

There had been a chilly start to the month with a top temperature of only 14C on the 6th and the 10th followed by a heatwave around 24th/25th June with temperatures of 31/32C.  But, at the end of the month the temperature suddenly fell to only 17C , which was a bit of a shock to the chilli peppers I had just planted out.

Hoping that we may see some more sunshine, less wind and a few showers in July

John Austin

Hove, June 2020

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

RECIPES - Baking bread in a cast iron pot (Dutch Oven) 3.Wholemeal

Baking bread in a cast iron pot -  Wholemeal Loaf 

Wholemeal loaf

I used my bread machine on the dough setting to make this loaf, using the quantities given in the recipe for a 100% wholemeal loaf that came with the machine.  If you are using a bread machine I would suggest you follow the recipe and instructions that came with the machine as every one is different.

If you do not have a bread machine just follow any wholemeal loaf recipe for making one manually (or with the aid of a food mixer) as far as completion of the first rise then follow the method below.

Using my bread machine the ingredients were as follows:


 ¾ cup water
1 ½ tbsp skimmed milk powder
1 ½  tbsp butter
2 ½  tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups Strong Wholemeal flour
1 tsp dry yeast
1 x 100g Vitamin C tablet (optional)

Adding Vitamin C improves the rise of the loaf and should be crushed and added to the flour.


Whichever recipe you are following, at the end of the first rise place the risen dough on a floured surface.

Dough after first rise

There is no need to knead the dough, well only a little - just gently knock back and shape into a ball

Knock back and gently knead

Shape dough into a ball

Using a sharp knife cut a slit across the top,, cutting about 1 inch deep.

slash top with sharp knife

Place the shaped dough into a cast iron casserole dish, that has been lined with baking paper.

 dough in casserole dish lined with baking paper

Put the lid on the casserole dish and place in a cold conventional oven. Set oven temperature to 240C and turn on. Leave to cook with the lid on for 35 minutes. 

remove lid after cooking for 35 minutes

After 35 minutes remove the lid and continue cooking for a further ten minutes but keep an eye on it in case it burns.

loaf removed from oven after 10 mins cooking with lid off

Remove from oven, lift out loaf and place on a wire rack to cool

loaf cooling on rack

When cool, slice and enjoy.

John Austin
Hove, June 2020