Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Life on The Weald - plot 247 - and in the garden - April 2021

Life on The Weald (plot 247) & in the garden

Emerging from lockdown

4 April Water lilies in the pond & reflection of plum tree

Covid restrictions eased this month and advice on shielding ended, but we are continuing the same pattern until we have the second vaccination which is due this month but it will take 2 - 3 weeks to be fully effective.  We can have visitors in the garden again, but the weather is not yet very suitable for picnics or al fresco dining!

March had been a very mixed month with gales and storms, alternating with bright sunny days and temperatures ranging from zero to 20C.  April began well with clear skies and bright sunshine for the first few days, but with temperatures nearer seasonal normal, rarely rising above 11C. But by 6 April a new cold spell arrived with a night time low of -2C, cold winds and daytime temperature not rising above 7C.  So not a good time for barbecues in the garden or for putting seedlings out to harden off!

There was some good news on the plot - on 4 April I saw the first sign of the first early potatoes showing above the surface.

4 April - Duke of York first early potatoes

The potatoes had been planted shallowly so now was a good time to start earthing up by raking the soil on either side of each row to just cover the growing tips.

4 April - first earthing up of Duke of York

The water supply had been turned on at the beginning of the month so I took the opportunity to give the rows a good watering.  Although we have had some rain, we have had a lot of wind and the ground was very dry.

potatoes watered - 4 April

In March, I had erected the frame for the climbing beans and had dug a trench on one side, and then filled with semi-rotted compost.  I now dug a similar trench on the other side and filled it with the remainder of the contents of the compost bin together with some shredded newspaper which will aid water retention and eventually rot down.

4 April - bean trench

Trench filled with compost

I will leave the trench and compost uncovered until nearer the time for sowing/planting the beans.

I had saved a few seeds from last year's climbing beans which had been a mixture of runner beans and a runner/French bean cross.

A few days later, on 10 April some of the runner beans sown at home had germinated and were beginning to break the surface.

Climbing runner beans

The table in the conservatory was beginning to get very crowded with a variety of seedlings and young plants but it was still too cold to consider putting them outside. There were some sunny days but temperatures rarely above 10-11C and down to near freezing at night.  

We had a number of seedlings and young plants in need of hardening off - tomatoes, peppers, collard greens, cavolo nero, purple kale, kalettes, Brussels sprouts as well as sunflowers, nigella and geraniums (pelargoniums). I tried putting some young plants outside during the day, when the sun was shining, but they clearly didn't like the cold wind - so I decided that hardening off will have to wait a while.

I had sown some of the geranium seeds in used tea bags, which seems to have worked well,  so I have now tried that with some Tomato Super Mama seeds. The seed catalogue says that this variety produces oval fruits weighing 150-170 grams each! We shall see.

Out in the garden, on 13 April, some of the early tulips were now in flower

13 April Tulips

Our children discovered a cheap min-greenhouse in the newly opened Lidl store in Hove and we agreed over the phone, that they should buy one, thinking it would be suitable up against the fence in our garden for hardening off our young plants. Unfortunately it proved too large and intrusive so we decided to give it a try on the allotment where our polytunnel had failed!

13 April - the mini-greenhouse rises

15 April was a bright clear day

en route to plot 247 - 15 April

With only a gentle breeze, it seemed a good opportunity to complete the min-greenhouse and put the cover on.

15 April - the greenhouse is up!

15 April - transferring some plants from home

As the weather was improving, I decided to remove the fleece tunnel from the mustard greens that had been sown in the winter.  They seem to have survived.

Green and purple Mustard Greens

I have not grown mustard greens before. We had green and purple varieties and both are very "mustardy". The seed packets suggest that the purple ones (organic Osaka purple) should be eaten cooked but the green ones (organic green wave) can be eaten raw or cooked. We find them both good in salads.

The weather continued to improve with bright clear days - we had not seen any of the snow that had been experienced elsewhere in the UK - and daytime temperatures were around 10-12C.   On 19 April the plum trees were in full bloom and the apple tree was coming into leaf.

19 April Plum blossom

19 April The Apple tree

At home the Hellebores  were coming to the end of the flowering period but the tulips were now coming into full flower.

19 April Helleborus niger

19 April Tulips

On the allotment, on 21 April we saw first signs that the asparagus was alive...

21 April - Asparagus first sighting

...and we also had a plentiful supply of rhubarb - so there is more rhubarb and ginger cake to be made.  

21 April - rhubarb harvest

It had been several days since we had any rain and the ground was very dry, so I got the hosepipe out to give everything - especially the potatoes and asparagus a thorough watering.

During the week, I transferred several seedlings to the min-greenhouse but continued to sow more seeds at home!  I have made some early indoor sowings of squashes, courgettes and cucumber.

The table in the conservatory is full again despite the transfer of several pots to the greenhouse and to the front porch.....


Seedlings in porch

... and some have had to go upstairs to a spare bedroom. It's just as well that, due to Covid restrictions,  we can't have visitors!

Tomatoes and spinach in the spare bedroom

Last year I grew some pink narcissi in the garden and, when they had finished flowering, I lifted them and put them in a large pot. When the foliage had died back, the pot was put behind the shed and forgotten about - so we had a pleasant surprise rediscovering them and towards the end the month as they were in full flower and the pot has been brought out of hiding for all to see.

Late flowering pink narcissi

23 April, St George's Day, was another fine spring day, although still chilly.  I spent some time at home in the garden sowing some maincrop peas in plastic guttering.  Once they have germinated and grown a few inches they can be slid out into their permanent home, which will be a raised bed on the allotment that I need to prepare.

24 April and May is only a week away so I have given some thought to planting out some of the brassicas.  According to the instructions on the seed packets, Collard, purple kale and Cavolo Nero can be planted out in April but purple sprouting broccoli, kalettes and Brussels sprouts  should wait until May. My sprouts and kalettes, however, look at least as advanced as the Collard  greens, so I am taking a chance and planting some out this weekend.

As I am growing them in a raised bed, I am also ignoring the advice on spacing and planting them out closer together than recommended.  The recommended spacing for Collard greens, purple sprouting broccoli and Brussels sprouts is 2 feet (60 cms);  kalettes  30 ins (75 cms);  Cavolo Nero  18 ins (45 cms)   I have reduced this, on average, by up to 6 inches (15cms) but will need to remove the lower leaves as they grow to ensure good air circulation near to the ground.

Some of the runner beans in the greenhouse are now 10 ins (25 cms) tall and I will risk planting these out soon, filling any gaps with directly sown beans in a week or so.

I plan to grow some climbing French beans, so need to sort out a frame for them too.  Whilst in frame mood, I need to decide where to put the frame for the cucumbers which should be planted out in June.  It sounds like a busy weekend!

The second early Nicola potatoes were rising above the surface and will need earthing up shortly.

Nicola, 2nd early potatoes - 25 April

At home more tulips were coming into flower

27 April was another fine day but with temperatures still below the seasonal average and it was revealed today that this month has been the frostiest April for 60 years; so it has really not been a good month to harden off tender young plants. It has also been one of the driest Aprils in recent years.  The level of water in our pond is very low and we could do with some April showers.  

Despite the relatively low temperatures, I decided to press ahead and plant out some of the more mature brassicas - Collard greens, Cavolo Nero, Kalettes & Purple Sprouting Broccoli (Santee), covering them with improvised cloches of cut down plastic bottles.  I had already planted out some curled purple kale a few days earlier.

27 April
Cavolo nero & purple kale in foreground

27 April
 Collard, Brussels sprouts, Broccoli & Kalettes

I had finally got round to making a sign for my side of the plot - 247/2.  Sylvia's is a work in progress.

27 April - a new sign & redcurrants flowering

The red currants were just coming into flower as was the apple tree.

27 April - Apple about to blossom

At home the tomatoes had outgrown the pots they had been sown in and, although it was too soon to put them outside, I potted them on into larger pots.  At the base of the pots I added some plant compost mixed with a crushed aspirin and half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts). The aspirin guards against disease and the bicarb and Epsom salts provide essential minerals.  If I had any bananas, I would have added a bit of banana skin to provide essential potassium as well as nitrogen, phosphorus and magnesium. I did add a few crushed eggshells which provide calcium and good drainage for root development.

When I next have some banana skins I will soak them in a bottle of water for a week and then use the water as a liquid fertiliser both for the tomatoes and peppers but also house plants.  The remaining banana skins can be dug in to the ground or added to the compost bin/heap.

Epsom Salts can also be dissolved in water - one teaspoon of Epsom salts per litre of water - and used as a liquid fertiliser or leaf spray for tomatoes and peppers.

On Wednesday 28 April I picked some of the mustard greens to add to a stir-fry that I was cooking later that day.

28 April - mustard greens in stir-fry

On the last day of the month the Queen of the night tulips obligingly flowered, providing a cheerful end to a rather chilly month.
30 April - Queen of the night tulips

Hoping for warmer weather in May!

John Austin

Hove, April 2021


Saturday, 3 April 2021

Life on the Weald - Plot 247 and in the garden - March 2021

Wealding and Shielding - March 2021

Daffodils - 2 March at The Weald

On 1st March, the first day of Spring in the meteorological calendar,  it was bright and sunny with a gentle breeze - a good opportunity to get outside and tidy up the garden.  

One of the first tasks was to clean out the hanging baskets and various pots that had hosted last year's summer plants.  Usually the pelargoniums survive the Sussex winters, but sadly not this year . Storm Darcy had taken its toll and the pelargoniums were not the only victims as we had also lost some of our half-hardy fuchsias.  On the positive side, some of the daffodils came out in time for St David's Day, the Hellebores are in full flower and the buds on the Camellias  are beginning to open.

It's only the first day of March but as we are in the south, I sowed some vegetable seeds for germination indoors.  I have sown purple kale, kalettes, Tuscan kale (Cavolo nero) and Brussels sprouts.

Of the chilli/capsicum seeds I sowed last month, the Apache, Basket of Fire and Anaheim have germinated, but there is no sign yet of the habanero or Trinidad Red Scorpion  which I think need a warmer environment.

The purple mustard greens which I had sown in December and put out in the garden to harden off were a bit battered and overcrowded so I thinned them out and transplanted to individual small pots.

The Aquadulce broad beans  and Oregon sugar pod peas, which I had sown in pots in the conservatory only a week ago, had germinated and should be ready to go outside in a sheltered spot to harden off later in the week.

2nd March was a bright sunny day and I continued work in removing couch grass from the raspberries, weeded around the pond and started to clear the area where we hope to erect the polytunnel.  The rhubarb was doing remarkably well.

Rhubarb - 2 March

What a difference a few days of sunshine make.  I had written of the broad beans that had been devastated by Storm Darcy  but they seem to have made a remarkable recovery the photo below shows the December planted beans as they were on 14 February and how they looked a week later.

Left 14 Feb   -   Right 21 Feb

They continue to make good progress. I just hope we don't get another extremely cold spell as they are just beginning to flower!

winter sown broad beans - 2nd March

The broad beans which had been grown in pots at home and planted out in January had escaped wind damage and those sown directly in January were just beginning to develop.

L. b
L. beans sown directly in January -  R. beans planted out in January

The fruit cage had been replaced over the red currants and leaf buds were beginning to appear.

Red currant bushes - 2nd March

Red currant bushes - 2nd March

Back home, I continued with sowing seeds indoors - more purple sprouting broccoli, Collard greens, two varieties of cherry tomatoes (Cherry belle and Summerlast) and two beef varieties (Corazon and Pantano Romanesco).

3rd March. A planned visit to the plot was abandoned due to unexpected heavy showers so I continued with seed planting at home.  This included some flowers,  Cosmos, Linum Grandiflorum  and two varieties of Sunflower -  one a tall variety, Giant yellow (expected to grow to 1.8-2.7m, 6-9ft) and the other, Titan (which should be slightly shorter but with flowerheads up to 50cms, 18inches in diameter). We should know by July whether or not it "does what it says on the tin"

I also sowed some more early purple sprouting broccoli (Santee) and a later variety, Rudolph.

4th March was a misty, cold, damp day spent indoors but I sowed some Basil (floral spires Lavender)  and as the parsnips (Tender & True) sown last month showed no signs of life, I sowed some from another packet saved from last year (Hollow Crown) - seedlings should appear in 14-32 days (some time between 18 March and 5 April 🤞

5th March was slightly overcast but without winds and, as the table in our conservatory is becoming rather crowded, we decided to look out the polytunnel we had bought 6 years ago and which has sat in its box in the shed.  We had bought it as an end of line sale for £10 when the real price should have been about £60!  I think at today's prices it would be nearer £100.  We had no idea what condition it might be in so were pleasantly surprised to find that it appeared OK.

It was not of high quality but we started to put it up at the back end of the plot, where the leeks had been last year.

5 March Preparing the base for the polytunnel

5 March - getting the frame up

5 March - view from the shed

Sylvi had a small bonfire to rid us of the masses of brambles that she had cut down so that we could access the back of the shed and the plum trees and the apple tree which had become engulfed and I planted out some purple mustard greens under a fleece tunnel.

Sylvi's fire and me planting the greens

At home the Camellias were beginning to flower so I gave them a feed with some liquid ericaceous fertiliser.

pink camellia 5 March

pink and white camellia 5 March

6th March was another fine dry day and I prepared two narrow trenches about 8-10 inches/20- 25 cms deep, for planting potatoes.  I partially filled the trenches with peat free compost and raked in some dried blood, fish and bone fertiliser.

Sunday 7 March was another fine sunny day and fortunately our co-worker, Luke, was on hand and, being taller than the polytunnel, which is 180cms high, was easily able to lift the cover over the frame. 

7 March - my socially distanced co-worker

7 March

7 March -success

I also found time to plant two rows of First Early potatoes.  I had ordered some Red Duke of York which had done so well in previous years and they are delicious roasted in their skins when young.  Regrettably the Scottish seed potato suppliers have been having a difficult time and there have been delays in deliveries and shortages.  Ours came from Perth but we were informed rather late in the day that Red Duke of York would not be available this year and they sent traditional Duke of York.  These are a yellow flesh variety which are said to be very reliable, disease resistant and among the earliest.  They had not been chitting for as long as I would have hoped due to their late arrival but had begun to show some shoots.  I left around 3 shoots on each potato, rubbing off the excess and planted them about 10 inches (25 cms) apart.  The recommended distance is 12 inches (30 cms). The rows are 2 feet (61 cms) apart.  Having planted them about 6 inches (15cms) deep on top of the compost, I raked over the soil to fill the trench.  I did not earth up but will do so as soon as shoots appear.  I have some left over so will plant them later in bags or tubs.

7 March - First Early Duke of York potatoes

I have some 2nd earlies still chitting in the shed at home, Nicola and Charlotte varieties, which I hope to plant at the end of the month.

With the longer days, I carried on working, clearing around the pond.  I also removed the papyrus which had taken over one end of the pond and had outgrown the pot it was in.  A lot of it was dead and choked with couch grass,  which was even growing in the pond, but there were signs of new growth, so I divided the plant (removing all the couch grass) and repotted to put back in the shallow end of the pond.  We also removed a number of suckers around the plum tree next to the pond which were also engulfed with couch grass and bindweed.  The bind weed extends further than we thought, so there is still more to do.  It was time for a sit down, however, before returning home!

7 March - the pond

We will have to wait to see if any of the frogs, toads or newts have returned but there is no sign of any spawn.

9 March saw a sudden change in the weather with the arrival of gale force winds across the UK.  In Hove we had gusting winds of 50-60 mph.  We feared for our new polytunnel.

Those fears were well-founded as an inspection on 11 March revealed.

11 March

11 March

11 March - our toolstore

11 March - the tool store lid

On Sunday 14 March we cleared away the damaged polytunnel and are assessing whether it is worth trying to re-cover it, or perhaps use netting to create a fruit cage.  Apart from the cover some of the connecting joints were also damaged in the storm and will need to be replaced.  There was some good news, however, as we harvested some purple sprouting broccoli.

At home the table in the conservatory was becoming overcrowded with seedlings and I needed space for more.  Although the heating in the conservatory is turned off, it does benefit from some warmth from the house and some of the seedlings which will need to be hardened off later in the month were looking a bit leggy so, in the absence of a polytunnel, I transferred some to the front porch which is somewhat cooler.
seedlings in the front porch

The ones I moved included some of the brassicas, and some flowers such as Cosmos.

That evening we had the broccoli with our dinner and it made all the effort worthwhile.  As commercially grown sprouting broccoli has to harvested by hand, it is usually very expensive - and never as good as that grown at home.

16 March - home grown broccoli

St Patrick's Day, 17 March was forecast to be dry and sunny - but a brief visit to the plot proved otherwise and on arrival we were caught in a heavy shower.  We fed the worms, staked up some of the  broad beans and beat a hasty retreat!

Later that afternoon the sun emerged and I was able to do a few chores in the garden.  The tulips, planted in containers, were showing through and beginning to form flower buds.

17 March - tulips

We may not have shamrock for St Patrick's Day, but we do have chives which we could add to our Champ or Colcannon . Wikipedia also has a view on the difference between Champ and  Colcannon

17 March - fresh chives

17 March - chives and blue sky

Friday 18 was a fine day and I prepared a third trench for potatoes, part filling with some good compost and a dusting of organic fish, blood and bone fertiliser.  

third trench for potatoes

I was also able to do some weeding around the broad beans sown in January.  

Winter sown Broad beans

The November sown broad beans were flowering so I am hoping there will be no sudden frosts.

Autumn sown broad beans, flowering in March

Autumn sown broad beans, flowering in March

Sunday 21 March, the vernal Equinox and first day of astronomical Spring was another fine day and Sylvia spent a long time behind the dilapidated greenhouse cutting back brambles and pruning the plum trees and it is now possible to walk behind it for the first time.  We inherited the greenhouse, which is just a frame.  We were told the previous plot holder's wife had smashed all the glass as part of a marital tiff!  As we lost our polytunnel we are thinking about whether the greenhouse frame can be reglazed. 

I started to clear part of the old brassica patch, but some of the kalettes and purple sprouting broccoli are still producing.  

21 March - kalettes

I also began to dismantle the old wooden frames that had been used in past years for the runner beans and cucumbers and took them home to treat with wood preservative and to renovate them.

Monday 22 March I began to reassemble the frames on site but need some more wood for crossbars to prevent wobble.

Reassembly of frames

Reassembly of frames

23 March I had read a tip somewhere about using used teabags for sowing seeds and decided to give it a try.  For my first attempt, I made a small tear in the teabag and inserted a geranium (pelargonium) seed.                                                                          
23 March - geraniums sown in teabags

I tried a second batch by cutting off one side of the bag making a small sack in which I sowed chillies and sweet peppers.

23 March peppers sown in teabags

The teabags do dry out very quickly and need constant watering.

The home sown tomatoes and several of the chillies have now grown their first true leaves and are almost ready to be transplanted to single pots.

23 March - tomatoes and chillies

24 March we received the good news that some wood chippings had arrived at The Weald, but although there was a plentiful supply it was like the Klondike gold rush with a great flurry of wheelbarrows back and forth.  We managed to get a couple of full bags which I used to renew some of the paths around the raised beds.  I removed any weeds, put down a layer of cardboard and topped with the chippings.

24 March - renewing footpaths 

25 March More wood chippings had arrived at The Weald and I managed to fill another bag.  The chippings will add organic matter to the soil and eventually break down into good compost but it is not a good idea to dig it in as the breaking down process requires a great deal of nitrogen and any plants will be deprived of this essential element.  It is useful, however, as a mulch around plants to retain moisture and suppress weeds.  It will eventually break down and add nutrients to the soil and, if used as a mulch on the surface, it should not deprive the plants of too much nitrogen. We have been replanting the raspberries and removing the couch grass that has engulfed them and applied a woodchip mulch.  We created a lot of wood chips ourselves from the branches removed from the plum trees. I have added some of the wood chippings to the compost bins and the rest has been used to renew the paths between beds.

I also dug another trench  for planting a fourth tow of early potatoes.

25 March trench ready for the Charlotte potatoes

There was still a plentiful supply of purple sprouting broccoli  which needed to be picked.

25 March purple sprouting broccoli

26 March Strong winds and heavy rain arrived and I used the time to deal with some of the seedlings at home.  I began the process of potting up some of the tomatoes -    and some of the chillies -    I also potted up some kalettes, cavalo nero and purple kale and sowed some new seeds for the hanging baskets at home - geraniums (pelargoniums), black eyed Susie and petunias - and some Padron peppers for the allotmentAfter Friday's heavy rain we had another fine, sunny weekend.

27 March I spent the day removing more of the bindweed that had engulfed the plum tree by the pond and discovered the extent of its spread in the surrounding area.  It was mainly a hand weeding job, on my knees with a multi-tined hoe and having to dig down about a foot to loosen the large roots.

27 March - bindweed roots

Bindweed roots for the incinerator

The entire area around the pond had been invaded by bindweed - some of the roots half a centimetre thick! And there was evidence that the spread of roots was under the compost bin.

27 March clearing the area around the pond

Sadly there is no sign of the return of our frogs for mating and spawning but one of the plotholders has given us some frog spawn from his garden pond.  He keeps fish which eat the spawn and tadpoles so we re-homed the spawn in our pond.

27 March - donated spawn

A new home for the tadpoles to grow

28 March I decided it was time to move the compost bin and do a thorough job removing the bindweed.  The  lower contents of the bin were reasonably well composted so I moved this making a pile near to where the runner beans will be planted.

I part filled the trench with some partly rotted compost from the compost bin that I had moved which I will leave until ready for planting and then fill with the removed soil.  In the past, I have made the trenches in the autumn or early winter and filled with kitchen waste, leaving to rot down but this is undesirable on an allotment as the waste attracts rats and foxes.   I now use enclosed, rat-proof wormeries to compost kitchen waste It was hot work as the  temperature rose above 20C - the hottest March day for 53 years.  I

Compost bin contents

It was hot work as the  temperature rose above 20C - the hottest March day for 53 years.  

31 March On the last day of the month, I put the final touches to the rejuvenated bean frame and dug a trench where the runner beans will be planted. 

Bean frame -31 March

I part filled the trench with the partly rotted compost from the compost bin that I had moved and will leave it uncovered until ready for planting the beans.  In the past, I have made the trenches in the autumn and filled with kitchen waste, leaving to rot down during winter but this is undesirable on an allotment as the uncomposted waste attracts rats and foxes.   I now use enclosed, rat-proof wormeries to compost kitchen waste.  

31 March bean trench

March was drawing to a close - and with it the beginning of the end of lockdown.  I had been "shielding" since March 2020 and now the government advice is that shielding is over from 31 March.  We had our first coronavirus vaccine in January and are due our second in April.  From next week we will be able to have visitors in our garden so some priority will have to be given to tidying the garden!

Next month we may no longer be shielding but we will still be Wealding!

John Austin

Hove, March 2021