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

Sunday, 16 October 2022

Life on The Weald - September 2022

Life on The Weald - September 2022

and in the garden and kitchen 

The days are getting shorter and there is an autumnal feel in the air.  It was hotter than usual on 1st September with bright sunny periods but the temperature dropped in the early evening followed by distant thunder and heavy rain in the night.  The day before I had picked more than a kilo of plums and I had begun the process of making some plum jelly by stewing the plums with the addition of a few apples and blackcurrants and had left them to drain in a jelly bag overnight. 

1 September - Plum jelly in the making

In the morning we had manged to harvest  another 2kg of plums!  Sylvi spent the morning clearing the long grass, bindweed and brambles from around the apple tree and I continued relaying the pathway with wood chips and it was very hot work with the temperature in the mid twenties.  The afternoon was spent making the plum jelly.

2nd September was very much cooler and overcast with the temperature reaching only 17C by early afternoon.  After the heavy overnight rain, there were showers in the morning so I decided to spend some more time in the kitchen with the plums.  I used half to make some Chinese plum sauce.  Around 2pm, however, the showers stopped and the clouds cleared and by mid-afternoon the temperature had risen to 23C, 4 degrees higher than the seasonal average (the seasonal average over the past 30 years for our area is 19C).

Wednesday 5th it was sunny all day until late afternoon when there were thundery showers. The weather forecast for the following day was thunder and lightning and heavy showers but the morning was bright and sunny. The French beans coming to an end but there were still quite a few to be picked.

French beans - 6 September

As there was a plentiful supply of wood chips I continued to repair the path.

6 Sept - relaid path

There was rain later that afternoon, but I managed to harvest some patty pan  squashes, a cucumber and a beetroot and I had also picked quite a few tomatoes from the pots in the garden at home.

Tomatoes, French beans, squash,cucumber and courgette

Thursday 8 September was dry.  I handweeded the leeks....

8 September - leeks

....and also lifted some beetroots.

8 September - beetroot

The garlic chives were in full flower and attracting bees.

8 September - Asian garlic chives

On 12 September, it was raining so I stayed at home and picked several of the chillies that were in the garden. I had already picked some of those from the mini-greenhouse on the plot.  They varied from the extremely hot to quite hot. The Habanero paper lantern were supposed to be  350,000 - 500,000 units on the Scovile scale, the Scotch bonnet 100,000-250,000 and the Cheyenne 30,000-50,000.  I have lots of chillies in the freezer, some from last year, so decided to make Habanero sauce.  It was far, far hotter than the commercial Habanero sauce that I had in the cupboard. It was intended for presents so it will have to go with a heat warning - I tested it and immediately had to go for the honey and yoghourt to cool down as it was quite a shock to the system!

The rain and cloudy weather continued that week. Tuesday 13th was cloudy all day with some rain, although the temperature was around 18C. It rained heavily in the morning of 14th. Thursday 15th was damp and cloudy but the temperature rose to 21C but Friday 16th was dry and much colder with a maximum of 17C.

I was able to harvest a few beetroots and some Patty Pan squashes and a small Crown Prince.

16 September - Boltardy beetroot

16 September - Patty pan & Crown Prince squash

The purple French beans were still producing

16 September - purple French beans

The Cavolo Nero is usually at its best after the first frosts, but there was so much I decided to pick some early.  There was also a plentiful supply of Chard.

16 September - Cavolo Nero

16 September - Chard

On Monday 17 September, I did some serious weeding around some of the beds. The soft annual weeds could be pulled up and added to the compost bins but I also dug out a lot of creeping couch grass and bind weed around some of the beds and removed the annual weeds from the beds, which I did not wish to dig.

17 September - clearing weeds

At home we were harvesting tomatoes daily.

17 September - today's tomato harvest

17 September - Marmande ripening

On Monday 19 September, I began to prepare the beds for the onions and garlic. I am gradually developing all the beds as "no dig".  I hand weeded the beds by just pulling up any annuals, which went to the compost bins, but I dug out as best I could, with a hand fork and hand trowel, any persistent bindweed and couch grass. I did dig around the beds to remove bindweed and couch grass and put down a layer of cardboard topped with wood chips/prunings.

Preparing a bed for the onions/garlic

19 September - a top layer of compost

I thought it was also a good time to try to clear the pond, before anything began to hibernate.  One end of the pond had become completely engulfed with couch grass which was now growing in the pond and choking the irises.

19 September: Pond - couch grass removed

19 September - matted roots of couch grass

I removed the growing basket containing the iris and put in a bucket of water awaiting removal of any remaining couch grass.

At home, I had a completely own grown salad of tomatoes, beetroot, and potato salad of Charlotte potatoes with chives.

20 September - Home grown salad

In the garden, the chilli peppers were thriving.

20 Sept - Scotch bonnet chilli

20 Sept - Orange habanero  chill

20 Sept - Basket of Fire chillies

The allotment was looking a lot tidier.

20 September - plot 247/2

20 September - Plot 247/1

20 September - Plot 247/2

The following week started cooler with a maximum of 17C during the day and down to 9C at night. The allotment was neglected for a while as we had visitors staying and we didn't return until Wednedsay 28th. The squashes were nearing harvest time but were not as large as last year, probably as a result of the drought.

28 September - Butternut squash

28 September - Butternut squash

28 September - Butternut & Chioggia squashes

28 September - Crown Prince squash

This was our last visit in September as we were off to London for the weekend for the London Marathon.

It was definitely feeling autumnal, quite sunny with clear blue skies during the day but feeling chilly with the night temperature down to 8C. Summer is definitely over.

John Austin

Hove, September 2022