Wednesday 22 August 2018

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on the Weald August 2018

Our allotment - Life on the Weald August 2018 

As if there were not enough distractions to keep us from the allotment in July, this month proved even more problematical.  Our visitors left on 1st August only to be followed at the weekend by our nephew, Niall and his partner Emily and it was Pride weekend.

getting into the spirit - Brighton Pride 5 August

I did manage a trip to the plot on Sunday 6 August, only to find that some of my courgettes had become giant marrows!

But I was able to harvest some potatoes.  I lifted the last of the Vivaldi and a few of the Nicola, second earlies, which appear to have escaped any infestation.

I also harvested a few plums but I'm afraid that the plum trees are infested with a fungus and the fruits rot before they have ripened.  I am not sure there is a cure but I will need to seek some advice.  The few that had escaped infestation were quite delicious.

And the good news is that the outdoor cucumbers are doing fine


I also began lifting the onions.  Unlike the shallots and garlic they had survived the drought well. My intention was to leave them to ripen a little longer in the sunshine which we have been experiencing but regrettably, later that week we had torrential rain.

Electra onions
Apart from the rain, another distraction from the allotment was the preparation of favours for our niece, Adele, who was getting married on 11 August.  We had promised her some of last year's Sloe Gin  which we carefully decanted into miniature bottles and also last year's apple jelly, which had to be labelled.

And of course we had to be away in Sheffield for the whole weekend for the wedding, where I had been "volunteered" along with my daughter-in-law, Nicole, as official photographer!

Adele and Andy's wedding 12 August
On my return to Hove, I was able to spend a couple of days at the allotment, lifting some more of the Nicola potatoes. There is one 10ft row left to lift.

Nicola potatoes
At home, in the herb garden, the Asian garlic chives and winter savory were in full flower and very popular with the bees.

Asian garlic chives
I have planted some garlic chives on the allotment, grown from seeds harvested last year, and am hopeful they will be as successful there as in my garden.  

Winter savory
I will think about taking some cuttings from the savory to grow on the allotment too, to encourage more bees.

A feast for bees 
I also managed to clear an area to plant out some late leek plants from the plugs I had bought at the garden centre and to prepare an area for a row of kale.  I dug over the area and removed as much of the couch grass and bindweed as possible and the annual weeds; raked in some fish, blood and bone fertiliser and then top dressed with some compost, watered and well trodden down and then left for a couple of days.

ground prepared for leeks

We have given away several marrow size courgettes to friends and neighbours and shared ideas what to do with them.....

oversize courgettes - wine bottle for size comparison
....we have tried them spiralised in many dishes....

.... including my Asian Cod recipe

We have tried courgette soufflé in the past but I quite fancy the idea of lemon drizzle courgette cake

If you have a recipe for carrot cake, just use grated courgette instead of carrot - it will be a wetter mixture so you may need to add a little more flour.

We have harvested more cucumbers. We have given the pumpkins and green crops a good feed with liquid manure from the wormeries.

In a spare space between the peas, I have planted some more beetroot seedlings and hopefully they will crop by late autumn, early winter.

beetroot seedlings planted 14 August 
The peas sown direct last month are doing well 

Peas sown July

One of our favourites - the cavolo nero -  has not disappointed and it looks like we will be picking this well into the autumn. We have had several pickings already and are keeping a watchful eye for any evidence of caterpillars....

Cavolo nero
...and I have planted out some purple kale plants bought from the garden centre.

young Kale plants
Some hand weeding was needed around the leeks which had been planted out in recent months and they are looking healthy and I have top dressed them with some compost.

I planted out more leeks in the area which I had prepared a couple of days earlier.  Here's the method.

Water the area well and leave to soak in; tread down well to get a firm planting area. Make a hole with a dibber about 6 - 8 inches deep.  

Carefully withdraw the dibber making sure soil does not fall back into the hole.

Drop a young leek plant into the hole 

Carefully fill the hole with water.  Water daily for the first few days.  The leeks will expand within the hole which gradually fills up with soil.

newly planted leeks
The pumpkins are doing as well as the courgettes and you can almost watch them growing

I had planted one pumpkin between two rows of climbing French beans but it seems to have taken over the raised bed!

The torrential rain in mid-August was not helpful to the onions which were just hardening off.  We have now lifted all of them and are able to store most, but a few were soft and we decided not to risk them rotting in store.  We peeled them, removed any damaged parts, roughly chopped them and have frozen them in small packages in the freezer.  They can be used when needed by just adding to soups, stews etc.

The largest brown onion, centre stage above, was 4.5 inches in diameter and app 14 inches in circumference!

The red onions were such a beautiful colour, they deserve a picture on their own 

Electra onions
We also have a proliferation of spinach and chard.

perpetual (beet) spinach
On my last couple of days in August - around 18-19 - we were able to harvest some French beans and carrots as well as chard, courgettes and cucumbers......

.........and of course, more potatoes

But just as we have this major harvest, it is time to go on our summer holidays.  Having given away as much as we could we have asked our neighbours on the site to help themselves to anything which they think will not last well until we return in September

Just off to Spain to celebrate my 74th birthday - and of course my courgettes! (Hope I don't have too much trouble at airport security).

John Austin

HOVE 19 August 2018

Monday 13 August 2018

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald July 2018

Life on The Weald July 2018

We missed the end of June and the beginning of July on the allotment as we had escaped to the sun in Spain – just in time to coincide with the heat wave at home!  Thankfully, Luke was on hand with the hosepipe and prevented total disaster.  But after a very wet and cold winter it has been one of the driest and hottest periods on record in southern England.

No, these are not my tomatoes.  They are local from the area south of Alicante and north of Murcia and we found  them at the Lemon Tree Market, Montesinos/El Moncayo, south of Guardamar (Mercadillo de Campo de Guardamar) 

After a week of superb vegetables, fruit and seafood......

................we returned to England where the heat wave and drought continued throughout July.

In June  I had planted a grape cutting given to me by my eldest son, Damien, taken from the vine in our old home in Charlton.  It had been grown from a cutting from the vine that grew at the old Mind day centre at Ormiston Road in Greenwich and had been taken in the 1980s!  More than 30 years later, my new cutting seems to be thriving and I need to clear a spot in the wilderness around the shed on the allotment to transplant it.

On our return to the UK, we found the cardoon in full bloom.  It is majestic and beautiful but once it has flowered, I fear it has to go.  It is useful in attracting bees when in flower but it takes up too much space and consumes a great deal of water.

Cardoon 16 July
As a result of the drought the foliage on the onions and potatoes has died down earlier than expected but the onions are a decent size and looking healthy.

Onions 16 July

Red onions 16 July
Sadly, however, the shallots have not fared so well and are much smaller than last year..
Shallots harvested 20 July
....and the same is true of the garlic.
garlic harvested 20 July
I think I must have been away at a crucial time when they needed watering as the foliage had all died back by the time we returned from holiday.  On the good side, we have harvested our first crop of outdoor cucumbers and they taste great.

First cucumbers of 2018

I lifted the first row of Charlotte potatoes.  Fortunately, unlike the Rocket crop, they had not been attacked by slugs but they were rather small, which is clearly the result of the drought.  Having cleared the area where they had grown and the area where I had lifted the Rocket potatoes, I planted out my first batch of leeks. I must make sure to water them regularly during the early stages to get them established.  I planted them out in a traditional method, making a hole about 6 inches deep and dropping in the young plants - not filling in the soil but watering the hole regularly as the soil naturally falls back in as the leeks expand.  If the plants had been bigger, I would have made deeper holes which would have given more white part, but I will gently earth up as they develop with compost to increase the white content.

winter collection of leeks
Fruit has also been a victim of the drought and the berries are much smaller than usual.  This may also be partly due to the fact that I moved and transplanted the bushes last autumn and they may not have had time to fully establish.

22 July blackcurrants 
I find picking blackcurrants very tedious, which is a pity because along with raspberries they are one of my favourite fruits.  Luckily we enlisted the help of my nephew Charlie and his partner Fran to do some of the picking.

22 July blueberries
 We also removed the nets from the blueberries and then picked our first harvest. The blueberries are growing in large pots as they will not thrive on Sussex soil, so they are grown in ericaceous compost and occasionally fed with a liquid feed that I use for the camellias at home.

Although there are lots of cabbage white butterflies about, our kale (cavolo nero - Tuscany black) and purple sprouting broccoli appear to be caterpillar free (so far) but I am aware from past years how quickly that can change and with devastating consequences.

Cavolo nero is said to be at its best after the first frosts in October but it is cropping well and I see no reason to wait, so we have had our first pickings - and it was very good.  The beauty of cavolo nero is that it is a cut-and-come-again vegetable.  

22 July Cavolo nero - black Tuscan kale
In order to conserve water and stop erosion, I have mulched as much as possible using grass clippings from the lawn at home between the rows of potatoes and using the wood chippings provided at the allotment on bare ground and around established plants.

Wood/bark chippings are a useful mulch as they slowly break down adding nutrients and texture to the soil. It is not advisable to use wood or bark chippings as a mulch around young plants, however, as in the process of breaking down they will rob the young plants of nitrogen.

We have the benefit of 3 wormeries where we compost all our vegetable kitchen waste plus shredded paper and old egg boxes.  We have been spreading the composted material around our beds as a top dressing and mulch.  The liquid run-off from the wormery is a very rich fertiliser which we dilute and use particularly on the brassicas and chard - anywhere where we need good leaf growth.

The climbing French beans were coming along and between the two rows I had planted a pumpkin hoping to train it out of the raised bed.  It is rampant with a mind of its own but I have just about managed to train it.

Pumpkin growing between French climbing beans 25 July
 We also managed a small portion of runner beans from our first picking.

the first of our runner beans 25 July

We lost a few more allotment days at the end of the month as I was involved in the Ride London cycling events over the last weekend in July.....

Ride London 28 July, The Mall
...watching, not riding!

28 July, The Mall
And then my daughter, Zoë, came to stay for a few days with her partner, John and his mother Lenore who was over from New Zealand.  I did manage to drag them to the plot on the last day of July, when they helped gather the last few blackberries and blueberries that were left.

Lenore, John and Zoë 31 July
 John also managed to spot a couple of cucumbers 

Pepinos - outdoor cucumbers 31 July
 We harvested a few courgettes of reasonable size

courgettes 31 July
 whilst others were almost achieving marrow proportions 

I suspect we will be making marrow and ginger jam, courgette cakes, courgette Soufflés, vegetable curries with courgettes and courgette soup during August !

John Austin

Hove, July 2018