Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Life on the Weald - July 2021

Life on the Weald - plot247 

(and in the garden) July 2021


1 July - front garden

The month started well. Thursday 1 July was a bright sunny day with temperatures in the 20s, slightly cooler on the following day but the Saturday was mainly overcast with occasional sunny periods and then the rain showers arrived for Sunday.

At home the paeonies had finished but many of the roses were blooming and the hydrangea was just breaking into flower.


At the plot, the American landcress, sown in an old recycling box, was beginning to grow.

1 July - American Landcress

On Friday 2 July, at home, I spotted my first tomatoes on the container grown plants.


2 July - Tomatoes (Summerlast)

2 July - Tomatoes


Some woodchip/prunings had arrived on site so I thought this was a good opportunity to remove the perennial weeds from the footpaths and do a bit of repair and general tidying up.  Sylvi spent her time removing the bindweed, brambles and plum suckers that had invaded our old glassless greenhouse.  Our intention is to reglaze it (eventually!)

2 July - tidying the footpaths


Saturday 3 July was overcast and cloudy  and I spent the morning indoors 
bottling the rhubarb gin that I had started 4 weeks previously.

Rhubarb Gin - 3 July

Later in the day there were some sunny periods and I spent some time on the plot.  I was able to pick some raspberries.  In our min-greenhouse the aubergines, tomatoes and peppers had outgrown their pots so I transferred them to larger ones and took the risk of putting them outside. 

The Blueberries which are growing in large pots inside a fruit cage had become engulfed with weeds so I removed the netting to clear them, gave the blueberries some slow release ericaceous feed and replaced the netting.

The cucumbers were doing well and beginning to show signs of flowers. Unfortunately they didn't seem to want to climb up the frame that I had provided, so I tied them into the frame to give them a bit of encouragement.

At home the beefsteak tomatoes were looking encouraging.

beefsteak (Pantano) tomatoes - 6 July

And on the plot the tromboncinos were growing well.

7 July - Tromboncino

I lifted the garlic as the leaves had now died back, but some of the cloves were rather damp as a result of all the rain we have had.  We desperately need some sunshine for them to dry off.

7 July - Provence Wight garlic
 
There were also signs that the pumpkins were beginning to swell!

7 July - Pumpkin

On Thursday 8 July we went off on our first real outing since the pandemic started in March 2019 to visit my nephew in Pagham, West Sussex, who we hadn't seen for almost two years, and we had our first visit to a pub in 16 months! We had a great meal in the garden at The Gribble Inn in Oving, near Chichester - I would highly recommend it.

The weekend saw glorious sunny weather.  My near neighbour on the site, Maggie, gave me some more aubergine plants - they were the same age as the ones she had given me earlier but were much smaller.  I repotted them in larger pots but decided to keep them in the mini-greenhouse for a while to re-establish themselves.
Here's a comparison of size between the earlier ones and those I have just been given. 
11 July - aubergines

11 July - aubergines

The garlic that I had lifted earlier was lying in the sunshine in the garden at home to harden off.  But Sunday evening, 11 July, saw storms and heavy rain which persisted into Monday.  We were very lucky that the storms did not cause any serious damage locally, whereas other parts of the country were not so fortunate. West London saw four weeks' rain fall in a couple of hours causing flash floods and parts of the London Underground were closed due to flooding.  My garlic was rather damp though, so I I had to bring it indoors to dry off.

7 July - garlic drying in the sunshine

The yellow pumpkin had grown in size in a week from a tennis ball to a football

11 July - Pumpkin

Fine weather returned on Tuesday 13 July with clear blue skies and the temperature back in the twenties.  The kalettes had outgrown the netted cage I had constructed with blue water pipe so I took the opportunity of reconstructing it to make it higher.

kalettes and broccoli protected from pigeons -13 July

I also planted out patty pans & more pumpkins in the raised beds where the broad beans had grown, topping up the beds with more organic matter.  With a heat wave forecast, I was pleased to see that the water supply had been restored. It had been cut off for several weeks to repair leaks.  Fortunately I have three large water butts which saw me through the cut-off period.  

I harvested several courgettes which would have become large marrows if left.  I was also pleased that the Swedes which were now uncovered had not been devastated by pigeons.

I lifted the remaining row of first early potatoes (Duke of York) and planted out some more purple sprouting broccoli where the potatoes had been, adding some pelleted poultry manure to the soil.

There was no sign of any dwarf French beans where I had sown them a couple of weeks earlier.   I had used some old seeds from 2020 - so I bought some new ones, green and purple, which are suitable for late sowing and on 14 July sowed two patches in raised beds. 

It was good to see the blue skies and get out in the sunshine.  After the June drop there looks to be a good crop of plums and hopefully they will ripen next month.

15 July - Plums

The sun has brought on the sunflowers which grow taller every day.

15 July - sunflowers rising

The landcress is doing well and almost ready for picking.

15 July - Landcress

Temperatures are near seasonal averages and on 16 July  reached 23C which was good news for the tomatoes.  Those grown in containers at home were in advance of those on the allotment and we had our first picking of cherry tomatoes from the garden.

16 July - container grown cherrybelle

On the plot we harvested some dessert gooseberries, blackcurrants and raspberries.
16 July soft fruit

The cucumbers and climbing beans were also doing well.

16 July - Cucumbers 

16 July - climbing beans in flower

I checked the beetroot (Boltardy) and was pleased to see that they were ready for lifting. 
16 July - Boltardy beetroot

The warm weather continued and on 17 July I inspected the tromboncinos. They had needed a bit of encouragement and help in climbing up the frame I had made but at last they were getting the idea.

17 July - Tromboncino

As we were about to go away for a few days we decided to take most of the potted plants out of the mini-greenhouse as I thought they would suffer if the hot weather was to continue.  A mini-heatwave was forecast.


17 July - peppers and aubergines

17 July - aubergines

17 July - peppers and herbs

Nasturtiums are in full flower and looking very attractive... 

Nasturtiums -17 July

... but they're not grown just for appearance; they are very beneficial for other plants including the cucurbit family - squashes, courgettes, cucumbers as well as tomatoes, and brassicas.  They form good ground cover for beneficial spiders and ground beetles and for deterring weeds.  They are also useful "trap crops" attracting blackfly and cabbage white caterpillars (keeping them off my beans and cabbages) which can then be easily spotted and dispatched.  And of course the flowers and the leaves are edible - a tasty addition to salads in lieu of watercress. And the seed pods can be pickled and used instead of capers.

17 July - last look before a summer break


There is never a good time to go away in the summer, from an allotment point of view, but we risked it before the school holidays to avoid the crowds and the hike in prices.  We arranged for Luke to keep a watching eye and to water if needed, both on the plot and at home and, with fingers crossed, set of on 19 July.

During the early part of our absence, Luke's assistance was needed as temperatures soared without any rain but then, just before we returned, there were heavy showers.  It was good that Luke was there, however, to pick the plentiful supply of courgettes before they became giant marrows.

We returned on 28 July.  The temperature was still fine for the time of year, with lots of sunshine but with the return of gale force winds.  On our return home we were treated to a wonderful display of summer flowering bulbs in the front garden.

29 July - summer blooms

And there was a beautiful display of wildflowers on the plot next to ours

29 July wildflowers on the next plot

Everything was looking good.  The pumpkins had obviously benefitted from the combination of sunshine and showers.

29 July - pumpkin


29 July - pumpkin

There was still a plentiful supply of courgettes and I was also able to harvest beetroot, and runner beans.

29 July - beetroot

29 July - runner beans

There was also a lot going on in the kitchen at home as we had brought back lemons from Spain. At 60cents a kilo we just couldn't resist!  So there was a spate of marmalade making and baking.

29 July - lemons for the marmalade

29 July - Lemon zest

And we found a use for some of the courgettes in a delicious courgette and lemon drizzle cake

29 July - Courgette Lemon Drizzle cake
 
But on the evening of 29 July disaster struck with 60 mph gale force winds. We wondered what damage this might do. A visit to the plot the following day confirmed our worst fears - the mini-greenhouse had not survived!

30 July - the mini-greenhouse

The pots containing tomatoes, peppers and aubergines had also been blown over or the greenhouse had fallen on them and some of the tomato plants were damaged.

30 July - the mini-greenhouse

The winds continued into 31 July causing wind-burn to some of the plants and breaking others.  Miraculously, some of the sunflowers had survived.

31 July - a windswept plot

We did manage to pick some landcress, lift some spring onions and pick some beans.

31 July - landcress

31 July - spring onions

31 July - more runner beans

And we took home the damaged sunflowers, hoping to dry the seeds either for consumption or to grow next year

31 July - sunflower

The sunflowers brought a little bit of sunshine into the house on a very gloomy weekend.  Hoping for some better weather next month.

John Austin

Hove, July 2021

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Life on the Weald - June 2021

Life on the Weald (and in the garden and up in the air!) - 

June 2021 

1 June

June started well with clear skies and glorious sunshine for the first couple of days - and brought the hottest day of the year.  Thursday 3 June was a little cooler and then the weather forecasters were wrongfooted on Friday 4 June when Sunny periods had been forecast and temperatures in the low twenties - but it proved to be much chillier with continuous rain all day long.

Fortunately the weather improved thereafter with several days of continuous sunny periods and sunshine with no rain, so a lot of watering was required.

The heavy rain in May, however, had resulted in some flourishing growth. This was how the potato plot looked at the beginning of May..............

5 May - the potatoes

............with the rows reasonably spaced so that it was easy to walk between them and remove any weeds.  But by early June it looked like this.....

8 June - the potatoes
 
This was me standing between the rows of Nicola & Charlotte.


On the plot, the Yellow flags (Water irises) and Corn cockles had begun to flower 

3 June - Flags and corn cockle


We had a plentiful supply of rhubarb and apart from loads of dessert options I made a start on the rhubarb gin.  This entails cutting the rhubarb into one inch pieces, leaving overnight covered with sugar - which extracts the juice - and then adding the gin, putting in jars and leaving for about 4 weeks.  Proportions are 1kg rhubarb, 400g caster sugar and 800mls gin.  I will report on progress next month.

 4 June Rhubarb gin in the making

On the rainy Friday (4 June) I took the opportunity to visit my eldest son, Damien, in London - to take him some rhubarb as well as some chives and English Mace (Sweet Nancy).  In return I was offered more chillies - some Kung Pao (which are relatively mild at 10,000 Scoville heat units; Purple Princess (50,000-80,000 SHU) and Demon Red (50,000 SHU).   These had been propagated and raised indoors under artificial full spectrum light so I hope they will cope with their new surroundings.

Our garden is beginning to look colourful with Bowles's Mauve wallflower, Weigela, mock orange blossom and Ceanothus as the snow bells fade

4 June - in the garden


And the chives are very popular with the bees.  For this reason I have planted several clumps on the plot.

5 June 

On the plot there were more corn cockles  in flower at the weekend.

6 June - corn cockles

In the garden self seeded Columbines (Aquilegia - granny's bonnet) were abundant; our first foxglove of the year was in full flower, as was the clematis, and the hot-lips salvia was just beginning to bloom. 

6 June Columbines with Weigela & Philadelphus behind

6 June Foxglove

6 June Clematis

6 June Salvia (hotlips)

And even in the street there is colour - this poppy has self seeded in a pavement crack by a garden wall.
6 June - street flower


Over the weekend I had planted out some Swede plugs which I had bought at the garden centre as they were going cheap!  (Let's avoid any argument, Sylvia and our northern friends call them turnips - its all part of the north-south divide.  Down south we call a turnip a turnip (brassica rapa) - that's a "white" turnip, what the French call navet.   What southerners call a Swede - short for Swedish turnip - (brassica napus) is known in Scotland and up north as a turnip or commonly "neeps". In some countries including America it is called rutabaga.

Well, whatever you choose to call it, the pigeons seem to love it along with most of the brassica family and by Tuesday they had eaten most of the green leaves, so I have resorted to some temporary cloches in the hope that they will recover and then I will need to think about some netting.

7 June - protection for the Swedes

In contrast, the parsnips are not attacked by pigeons and do not require netting (unless it is to keep away the carrot fly).

7 June - parsnips

Swedes/turnips are members of the brassica (cabbage family) and their leaves are edible (not just for pigeons!) - turnip tops are among the most delicious greens.  Parsnips, however, are members of the carrot family and their leaves contain toxins which can be harmful to humans.  The leaves when handled can also cause an allergic reaction resulting in dermatitis.

At the weekend some of my broad beans looked ready for picking. We began to pick from those that had been sown in the autumn and we also had our first picking of mangetout peas on the Monday.  The later sown broad beans are showing signs of blackfly so will need their tips pinching out (which I will take away and destroy)  I will also spray the plants with soapy water to discourage further infestation of blackfly.

6 June - autumn sown broad beans



7 June - Oregon mangetout peas

7 June - freshly picked mangetout

As well as the peas and broad beans we also picked some chard which was coming to the end of its season and beginning to go to seed.  We have planted some more which will be ready later in the year but, in the meantime, the perpetual spinach planted earlier this year will soon be ready for picking.


8 June - broad beans, peas and chard

At home the Weigela was now in full flower......

8 June - Weigela

...and the rhubarb gin was just taking colour.

8 June - rhubarb gin

I had also sown several varieties of Basil indoors, Lavender, Red Rubin, Thai, and Lettuce leaf and decided to introduce them to the sunshine.

Lavender basil, red Rubin basil, lettuce leaf basil & minette

I still have two other varieties to sow, Lemon and common Sweet Basil

We have regular pickings of mangetout and broad beans and are enjoying them with many meals.  We have picked over 7 kgs of broad beans which have yielded around 2kg of podded beans, some of which have gone in the freezer for deferred enjoyment.  There are still more to be picked.

Oregon mangetout



Mangetout and broad beans steamed

At home the paeonies are putting on a great display - not yet in full bloom.

8 June - Paeonies

8 June -Paeony

As we are running out of space on the plot - and we have always had problems of slugs with our attempts to grow lettuce - we are growing some red salad bowl lettuces in an old recycling box at home. 

8 June - Red salad bowl lettuce

And we are growing an open leaf lettuce in an old flower trough.

8 June - open leaf lettuce

One week later, 13 June, and the paeonies  are in full bloom

13 June - Paeonies

13 June - Paeony

The courgettes are beginning to develop flower buds and the Cosmos are also flowering.

13 June - courgettes and Cosmos

Following the rain the beetroots have shown signs of growth....

13 June - beetroot

...and the Nicola and Charlotte 2nd early potatoes are beginning to flower.

13 July - 2nd early potatoes flowering


The back garden was looking colourful with sunflowers, wild geraniums and dianthus in flower....

14 June in the garden

...and on Plot 247 the red currants were ripening, protected from birds by netting....

14 June - red currants ripening

We were still picking mangetout regularly and also harvested a few Hurst Green Peas

14 June - Oregon mangetout and Hurst Green peas


Early June had been fine and sunny and the week beginning 14 June brought temperatures in the high twenties but by mid-week there was a real change with thunderstorms and heavy rain.  Temperatures remained in the low twenties and winds were light, so not too much damage was done and the rain brought on a real growth spurt, not only for the vegetables, but for the weeds and and wildflowers.  

All over the allotment there is a sea of poppies - some, the wild field poppies (Flanders poppies) but also escapees from gardens which have naturalised. These beauties are growing on the border between our plot and our neighbour on 246.

14 June - self seeded poppies

Everything was looking green and lush.

14 June

The courgettes were flowering

14 June - courgettes flowering

And in moving some debris, I was pleased to see we had no shortage of slow worms.

14 June - friendly slow worm

Slow worms are completely harmless to humans.  They are not actually worms - they are legless lizards and beneficial to the garden as the live on a diet of invertebrates which includes slugs and snails and  insects which damage plants.  They also indicate that the soil is rich in organic matter.  Apart from being beneficial, they are a protected species so if you uncover one the best thing to do is to leave it to find its own safe environment or cover it back over with soil or vegetation.

The Chard was now going to seed, but still hade a lot of edible leaves and the perpetual spinach was ready for picking.

I had been hoping for fine weather for the weekend as my charity abseil from the i360 tower in Brighton was scheduled for Sunday morning 20 June.  The morning started with the threat of light rain and the i360 was shrouded in mist.  Fortunately the mist cleared and the sun came out just in time for my jump.  I was accompanied by my daughter Zoë and granddaughter, Tilly. Here is a video of my rather inelegant jump - but the rest of the journey was smooth.


The descent from the i360


After the i360 drop
On terra firma - with daughter Zoë & granddaughter Tilly

Apart from an occasional light shower the day remained bright and sunny and in the afternoon I managed a brief trip to the plot to gather some spinach, kale and mixed greens for Zoë to take home. I must have done something right in parenting as my children love their greens!

On Midsummer Day (Monday 21 June), however, we turned on the central heating as the temperature plummeted and heavy rain arrived.  The rain continued into the following day with a  temperature of only 13C.  Summer did return on Wednesday and mid week saw sunshine with temperatures in the mid-twenties but by Friday the rain was back again and it was decidedly cooler with a maximum temperature of 17C.

The rain had brought some healthy growth for the Tromboncinos  and I had made a frame for them from an old broken garden bench that I had found.  The problem is that they don't seem to know what it's for and insist on trailing along the ground so I have had to give them a bit of encouragement by tying them to the frame!

23 June - tromboncinos

I have sown some dwarf French beans in one of the raised beds and have tried to provide some protection from rats and mice with some wire mesh.  There was a self seeded chard plant in the bed which I decided to leave there. 

23 June - bed for French beans

I planted out some Patty pan squashes that had been sown indoors and provided some temporary protection with improvised cloches from plastic bottles.

23 June - cloches on Patty pan squashes

I had lifted some of the first early Duke of York potatoes and made use of the space released by planting out some purple sprouting broccoli. The broccoli that had been planted out earlier in the year, Santee variety, was beginning to form florets.  When it said "early", I thought October/November but a look at the seed packet says it can be harvested from July!  The variety I have now planted is Rudolph  and should be ready to harvest some time between November and March (provided I find some protection from pigeons!)

23 June - purple sprouting broccoli

The parsnips were overgrown with weeds, so some careful hand weeding was needed.

23 June - parsnips

In addition to harvesting potatoes, I was able to pick some courgettes.  If left any longer they would have become marrows with all this rain!  Picking them frequently also encourages more to grow.

23 June - Duke of York potatoes & courgettes

The potatoes were a respectable size but not as good as the Red Duke of York last year, possibly due to the lack of rain earlier this year.  They taste good though - there is nothing quite like freshly lifted new potatoes, steamed with a sprig of mint and served with butter and parsley.  We have a plentiful supply of flat parsley which comes back year after year, close to our prolific sage bush which is threatening to take over the footpath!  Just waiting for it to flower when it will be swarming with bees.

It was time to give some attention to our rickety shed. We had acquired this from a neighbour 4 years ago and it had lain in pieces on the ground throughout the winter before we erected it.  It has served us well but is in serious need of repair but I doubt if it will last more than another year.  Still, I thought it needed a coat of wood preservative which meant removing the grape vine which sits in a pot at the front but which is beginning to trail over the shed.

24 June - our shed - before

...and after

The untidiness inside is, I can assure you, temporary!

On 25 June - just in time for Wimbledon - I was able to pick some strawberries growing in an old flower trough at home.

25 June home grown strawberries


Saturday 26 June was the day to pick the redcurrants.  The netting was a good investment and had protected them from the birds.

Red currants - 26 June



26 June - redcurrants

26 June Red currants


As it was a wet weekend I decided to stay indoors and make Red currant jelly

A few years ago I made Red currant jelly with port by adding two tablespoons of Port per 1kg of fruit, stirred in to the jelly just after it reached the setting point and beginning to cool.  BBC Food has a recipe for Red currant jelly with mint which entails adding a sprig of mint to the fruit before boiling and straining and then adding chopped mint to the jelly at the setting stage. Maybe I will give that a try next year.

Inside the mini-greenhouse, the Apache chilli was bearing its first fruit.

26 June - Apache Chilli

26 June - the first chilli of 2021


... and outside the water lillies were flowering on the pond and the scarlet flax (linum) on the edge was in flower too.

26 June - water lily and scarlet flax

We have had quite a lot of good news - I am particularly pleased that the autumn sown broad beans survived the storms and produced lots of beans before the blackfly arrived and I was looking forward to the crop from the later sown beans, some of which had been attacked by blackfly. We had managed to stop too much damage by pinching out the growing tips, hosing down and spraying with soapy water.  What we were not expecting was that half the crop would be eaten by rodents, probably rats!  We had not experienced this problem in previous years but note that some of our neighbours have been similarly affected.  There appears to be a decline in the Fox population at the site but an increase in Rats.

26 June - damage to broad beans by rats?

On the positive side, we were able to pick some of the very early Santee purple sprouting broccoli

26 June - Purple Sprouting Broccoli (Santee)


26 June, broccoli, Cavolo nero & purple kale


The foliage on the garlic (Provence Wight) was dying back, so I lifted one to see how it was doing.  It looked fine but was very damp so we need some sunshine for them to dry out and ripen. I will partially lift them to aid the process.

26 June Garlic (Provence Wight)

We had been expecting sunny weather for the last weekend in June and getting some work done on Sunday 27  but within minutes of arriving, despite the forecast , it began to rain. Some woodchips/prunings had recently arrived and before the rain came down, I managed to collect a couple of bags full to repair the footpaths; now a job for another day.

Tuesday 29 June was a fine day with the temperature in the low twenties.  The garden at home was changing colour with the sunflowers, wild geraniums and dianthus in flower/

29 June - the back garden at home

And on the plot the sunflowers were also beginning to open

29 June
And the Nigella were starting to flower

29 June Nigella (Persian  )

I lifted the fleece cover on the Swedes, which had protected them from the pigeons and left them partially covered to see how they might fare.

29 June - Swedes

The gherkins which I had planted out and protected with bottle cloches were looking OK so I planted out the remainder and am hoping they will climb over my recycled bed frame!


29 June - gherkins with Crown Prince Squash in between

On the last day of the month, I strained the rhubarb gin.


30 June - Rhubarb gin

April and May saw some very odd weather patterns and June has been very varied - a period of hot sunny weather in the middle but a lot of rain either side.  We are hoping for more settled weather in July and a bit more like an English summer.

John Austin

Hove, June 2021