Thursday, 6 January 2022

Life on the Weald - December 2021

Life on the Weald - #Plot247 (and at home) December 2021

Crown Prince squash

November had ended with freezing temperatures but the first day of December saw the daytime temperature rise to 11C and in Hove there were sunny periods with only a moderate breeze.

I visited the plot to see what damage, if any, had been caused by Storm Arwen and was pleased that there appeared to be none, apart from the table and chairs having blown over.

The late pumpkins were looking ready to harvest but I wasn't sure that they were fully ripe so decided to leave them a little longer.

1 December - Pumpkins (Rocket)

The fleece that I had laid over the broad beans which had been sown last month was still in place despite the strong winds...

1 December - Broad beans sown under fleece

...but there was no sign of any growth under the fleece.

The autumn sown broad beans, however, had survived the strong winds.

1 December - autumn sown broad beans

At home, my genuine Quince tree (Cydonia), Serbian Gold, had arrived and as it was bare-rooted needed to be planted immediately.  I planted it in the garden.  It is currently two years old and about 1.5m tall. It should eventually grow to no more than 2 metres.  I already have a Chinese quince on the allotment, planted last year, and now two years old, which is a bush variety.  There are three distinct types of quince - the true quince which is a tree (Cydonia), the Chinese quince (Pseudocydonia) and the more common Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica), a flowering shrub found in many gardens in England.  The fruits of all three are edible and similar in taste.  Most years I make quince jelly in the autumn using Japanese quinces gathered from neighbours' gardens.  Hopefully, next year or the year after, I will have my own genuine quinces as well as Chinese quinces to choose from.

My Quintal Gallio pumpkins picked earlier and being stored at home appeared sound and I gave one away, to be shared between my daughter and eldest son.

9 December - Quintal Gallio Pumpkin

Watching BBC Saturday KitchenI was interested to see a vegetarian version of the traditional Maghreb bastilla (pastillawith a Persian touch, from the British/Iranian chef Sabrina Ghayour. Her recipe can be found hereI had several varieties of squash as well as root vegetables - Swede, carrots and a parsnip so I adapted her recipe and made my own bastilla with a mixture of squash and root veg..

Bastilla - the filling

Bastilla - the finished dish

I saved the Crown Prince squash for another day to be roasted on its own.

15 December - Crown Prince Squash

As rain was forecast, I took the Rocket pumpkins home but the stem/stalks did not seem to have fully dried out and within a few days the pumpkins began to show signs of softening.  We salvaged most of them and cooked and froze the flesh for use in soups etc throughout winter.

The seed potatoes that I had ordered arrived mid-December and I prepared these for chitting at home.  I had bought 3 varieties - Red Duke of York, first early and two second earlies, Nicola and Charlotte 

Early potatoes chitting

I also spent some time tidying up the front garden at home cutting back trees and bushes and removing all the dead branches from the lavender.  On my next visit to the plot on 17 December, I dug a 1ft deep trench on one side of an empty raised bed and filled it with the garden prunings adapting the Hugel principle.

burying the garden prunings

I then added a layer of wood chippings that had begun to compost and left the trench open.

topping the prunings with wood chips

There was no sign of any growth under the fleece on the second Hugel bed (where I had directly sown some broad beans last month) but I rolled back the fleece on the side where nothing had been sown and planted out a few broad bean plants that I had started off indoors and grown in pots at home.

transplanted broad bean seedlings

An inspection of the brassica bed confirmed that we would have Brussels sprouts for Christmas. And more good news - there was a good supply of kalettes

17 December - Brussels sprouts

Kalettes - 17 December

When I planted potatoes at the beginning of the year, I had a few seed potatoes left over and planted these later in a growing bag.  I tipped out the bag of Nicola and am pleased to say we have new potatoes for Christmas. Hopefully there will be more in the Charlotte  bag for New Year.

Nicola potatoes - 17 December

We had a few days of pleasant weather but this was soon  to change with a period of heavy continuous rain so there would be little opportunity to do anything more on the plot before Christmas apart from a brief visit on 23 December to collect the sprouts and kalettes and lift a swede.

Christmas itself was very wet as were the days following so we used the post-Christmas period to strain the Sloe gin which had been maturing since October

Straining the sloe gin

We had been anticipating a large family gathering for Christmas and New Year but all that was cancelled due to the new variant of Covid and we spent Christmas on our own.  We cancelled the order for the Christmas roast but our freezer was well stocked for the post-Christmas period and New Year.  We had a variety of game so decided to make a Game terrine based on my previous recipe but ommiting the chicken liver.

Game terrine in preparation

Game Terrine, the finished product

There was also bread to be baked, and I used the tried and trusted "Dutch oven" method to make a 50/50 White and Wholemeal Spelt loaf using my old recipe

50/50 loaf with Spelt flour

31 December: the month - and the year - ended with abnormaly high temperatures. New Year's eve was predicted to be dry, sunny and 13-15C.  In some parts of the country it exceeded expectations and was the hottest ever New Year's Eve recorded in the UK.  Whilst it was mild in Hove, at around 12C it remained a dank and damp day with a heavy mist and occasional drizzle - what we have come to call "mizzle" but brightened up in the afternoon.

The morning weather did not deter us from visiting the plot to pick some more kalettes, some cavolo nero and a Swede.  Earlier in the month I had applied a mulch of leaves to the rhubarb patch and was surprised to see that the new rhubarb shoots were showing!

Rhubarb -31 December

The garlic had also shown some progress

31 December - garlic

I returned to the bed where I had fillied a trench with twigs and wood chips and covered it over with the soil that had been removed. I then dug a parallel trench which I also filled with twigs, prunings, woodchips and grass mowings from home and left it exposed.

2nd trench - Hugelstyle

2nd trench with woodchips and grass clippings

We also lifted a few Charlotte potatoes from a growbag for New Year's Eve.

Charlotte potatoes - 31 December

I checked on the November sown broad beans by lifting the fleece and was pleasantly surprised to see they had germinated - about 4 weeks after sowing - so I removed the fleece in the hope that the mild weather continues.

31 December - Broad beans sown 25 November

Back home I checked on the broad beans that I had sown in trays earlier in the month which were in the unheated loft extension.  They were looking very "leggy", and as the temperature was warm and the winds had subsided, I put them outside to harden off.

Broad beans sown at home hardening off

The mild weather continued into the evening and just before midnight we strolled down to the beach with a bottle of fizz...

New Year's Eve - Hove Promenade 23.46

...and saw out the old year with a bang!

 31 December 2021 Midnight 00.00 - 00.01 1 January 2022

John Austin

Hove, December 2021

Tuesday, 21 December 2021

Life on The Weald - November 2021

Life on The Weald - Plot 247 - November 2021

and at home

1 November

It had been a good year for apples, and this year they had been largely pest and disease free.  We have frozen a lot, ready for pies and crumbles and this year Sylvi has also had a go at bottling (which, for some strange reason, the Americans call "canning") and also making cider vinegar.

The beginning of the month was warm for the time of year but generally only just reaching double figures during the day and down to 3C at night.

Work continued on building a frame for our second Hugel bed, using old pallets.

1 November

The late pumpkins (Rocket) appear to be ripening, so fingers crossed that they might be ready before the frosts set in.

1 November - Pumpkin F1 Rocket

1 November - Pumpkin F1 Rocket

There was plenty of Cavolo Nero to be picked which is excellent for making Ribollita, a delicious Tuscan dish.

1 November - Ribollita

The late tomatoes which we had picked had ripened successfully indoors and we also harvested a late aubergine. We were also kept busy thinking of new things to do with squashes.

3 November  the harvest

3 November

On  November we gave the broad beans a top dressing of coffee grouts, tea leaves and crushed eggshells, hoping these might keep the slugs at bay.

5 November - broad beans

I have moved two chilli plants to the conservatory at home, Basket of Fire which is moderately hot at 80,000 Scoville heat units and the slightly hotter Apache at 80,000-100,000 SHUs
Apache chillies
Hügelkultur, a German word meaning mound culture or hill culture, has been practised in Central and Eastern European countries for centuries and is one form of permaculture.

Permaculture is a method of gardening, horticulture or agriculture which is based on natural ecosystems, working with nature rather than against it.  Essentially it is sustainable gardening, mimicking  what happens in nature and in turn reducing energy consumption, conserving water and safeguarding the natural environment.

Traditionally, a Hugel bed would be a mound maybe 1 – 2metres high with sloping sides, thereby increasing growing area compared to a flat bed. 

Picture from Wikipedia

Picture from Paul Wheaton  

In the wild, plants die, leaves fall, trees decay and an army of insects, funghi, and micro-organisms get to work transforming dead matter to rich compost which can support new growth. Usually, a Hugel mound would be a pile of logs, branches, leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, manure, compost or whatever organic matter is available topped with soil in which you can plant your vegetables and flowers.

On my plot, I have combined the principles of Hugel culture with the more familiar  raised bed, by digging a trench to bury the wood and twigs below ground and filling in with other organic matter, finally topping with compost and topsoil. I ensured that there was a  layer of at least 6 - 8 inches of top soil and compost on top of the unrotted and partly composted material. The process of composting requires a lot of nitrogen and if the top layer is too thin the composting process might deprive the plants of this vital element for their growth.  We have added nitrogen to the bed by the addition of "worm tea", the liquid run-off from our wormeries.

As the buried wood decays, it provides a consistent source of nutrients for the plants above for 10-20 years. During the first year or so it will need regular watering, allowing  the logs to soak up the water, but after that it will need only occasional watering, possibly only once per season (unless there is a prolonged drought).  The wood can absorb a lot of water acting as a huge sponge during  the rainier seasons.  Hard wood is better for this.  During the composting process, heat is generated which can extend the growing season and the process also aerates the soil - so no digging is required.

Hard woods are generally better than soft woods for this process although there are some woods which should be avoided such as Walnut, Eucalyptus and Black Cherry.  Soft woods are usually OK but there are certain varieties, high in resin which are allelopathic,(they contain natural herbicides and pesticides) – ones to avoid are Cedars and Juniper.  Yew is also highly toxic.  To be safe, it is better to use wood that has already started to decay. If using prunings, especially from fruit trees, it is important to ensure the twigs/branches are dead to avoid the possibility of them rooting or sprouting.


returning the top soil to the 2nd Hugel bed

adding some well rotted manure

"muck spreading"

The weather was beginning to get much colder, although on 7 November the sun was shining brightly, but I thought it was probably time to harvest the remaining tromboncinos and take them home.

7 November - tromboncinos

7 November - sunshine and blue sky

Tromboncinos, at home at last

On 10 November I sowed some early peas in the first Hugel bed at the opposite end from the broad beans.  We then went away for a few days for a well earned rest.  After our return I sowed a double row of broad beans on 25 November in the second Hugel bed and covered them with fleece and some old wire shelving to hopefully keep rodents away.

25 November

The beans which had been planted out in the first Hugel bed were looking healthy

25 November - broad beans

The Rocket pumpkins looked almost ready to harvest and with heavy rain forecast it was the time to think about taking them home. But as the sun was still shining I thought I would give them a few more days to harden off.

25 November - Rocket pumpkin

25 November - Rocket pumpkin

We had picked loads of apples and have given away bags full.  After the strong winds there were now very few left on the tree, but lots of windfalls

25 November - the apple tree

At home we had a cooking session, making tromboncino and ginger soup which we have frozen to see us throught the winter!  Usually we have roasted them in their skins and then used the pulp for the soup, but this time we peeled and boiled them.

peeling tromboncinos

tromboncinos, onions and garlic

The beginning of the month had been warmer than usual for November but the month ended with freak storms and, in some parts of the country, the lowest November temperatures for 20 years - minus 8.5C in exposed places.  Our Sheffield family saw heavy snow falls and Northumberland, where my younger son lives, experienced winds of 98 mph.  They were also without electricity for two days.  

When my nephew, who is only 26 miles away from us, on the south coast, visited his local golf course at the weekend, this is what he found:

Goodwood golf course 28 November

Goodwood golf course 28 November

We hadn't experienced snow or stormforce winds but the weather in Hove wasn't pleasant. We did experience zero temperatures, rain and a lot of strong winds - enough to keep me off the plot for a few days.  Hoping that the winds subside and we have a few dry days next month as there is still a lot to do.

John Austin

Hove, November 2021