Wednesday, 8 May 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald, April 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald, April 2019

The weather  has been mixed this month, which is not unusual for April, but this year there have been extremes.  At the beginning of the month we had hailstorms. 
 2 April - Tulips took a battering from the hailstones
Following the hailstorms we had heavy showers, then frosty mornings. I had to scrape ice off the car windscreen on the morning of the Brighton Marathon on 14 April, but the following Easter weekend saw the temperature rise to 24˚
Earlier in the month, as the temperature rose,  I put some seedlings outside to harden off but this was a bit premature as the cold wind managed to kill some off and damage the others.   I managed to save some and brought them back inside to recover before trying again.  April has been a busy month, both for sowing at home and bed preparation on the allotment.


I cannot resist what looks like a bargain and, whilst in Spain last month, I bought a packet carrot seeds in Aldi for 99 cents.   The packet, labelled in Spanish and German contained 3 seed strips, each 1.67m long of different varieties, Nantaise, Pariser Markt and Lange rote stumpfe ohne Herz. I was familiar with the Nantes variety but had to look up the others!
I grew Nantaise successfully last year in a container. They are a fast grower which can mature in 12 weeks, so if sown in March can be pulled in May. The Pariser Market produce smooth, round, bite-size carrots which are fast to mature. They are suitable to be grown in containers and are said to thrive even in clay soils.  Lange rote stumpfe ohne Herz translates as "long red blunt without heart" and they are said to produce a high yield and store well. We shall see!

Carrots do not do well in our soil which is heavy clay on chalk, so in previous years I have grown them in raised beds or containers with finer soil.  This year I mixed in a little horticultural sand with some compost in some old plastic recycling boxes which make good planters.  One of the benefits of growing carrots in containers is that the plants are grown higher than ground level and do not get infected by carrot fly as the females can only fly a few inches above ground level.

Courgettes and squashes

I have sown courgettes, cucumbers and a variety of squashes indoors this month; Sunburst Patty Pan, Jaune de vert Patty Pan, Crown Prince Squash and Tromboncino.  They need to be planted out in May or June for harvesting from July/August onwards.

Purple sprouting broccoli

We had our last pickings of broccoli this month and then cleared the remaining row, just before they went to seed, to make room for more potatoes.  But having hervested the crop sown last year, it's time to sow for 2020.


At the beginning of the month I planted two rows of Second Earlies, Charlotte, and later, when the broccoli had been removed, a third row.

Charlotte potatoes 1 April
The First Earlies, Duke of York, are looking good and the Second Earlies, Nicola,  are just showing through.  Despite a wet start to the month, the sudden rise in temperature in the second half of the month has necessitated some watering.

3 April - Nicola

8 April - Duke of York

18 April - Duke of York
We have the Duke of York First Earlies on one side of our plot and the Second Earlies on the other

Rows of Second earlies


We lifted the last of the leeks......

Last of the leeks 1 April
....and dug over the area, ready for the beans and cucumbers.

Beans and Peas

The Broad Beans planted last November are in full flower and those planted early in the year are just coming into flower.  

Some of the peas are doing well but others appear to have been attacked by birds. Several of the broad beans planted in March have been dug up just as they were showing through.  I suspect mice or squirrels as the leaves have been left and there are holes where the seeds were planted.   

8 April - Broad Beans (left) & Peas (right) planted in March

Some repairs were necessary to my frame for runner beans but I now have it in place. 

18 April - ready for the runner beans

Courgettes and squashes

The area where the squashes will go had become overgrown this winter...

...and needed to be cleared.


Here are some of the bindweed roots we had to contend with.



The redcurrants are in flower and we have bought a frame to keep off the birds, so hopefully we will enjoy the fruit this year.

The blueberries are just coming into flower.  I have given them a liquid feed, suitable for azaleas and other lime-hating plants, and a top dressing of ericaceous compost.  Netting them will be a priority once the fruit begins to set.

The blackcurrants are just coming into leaf but do appear to have suffered from being transplanted so we are not expecting a heavy crop this year.  I have given them a feed of fish, bone and blood fertiliser and mulched the bushes and will prune them heavily once they have fruited.

The apple tree and plum trees are in full blossom.  I have cut back some of the plum trees so that any fruit is in reach and am hoping that we won't be plagued this year with brown rot disease.

plum tree in blossom

The gooseberries are just coming into flower and they too will need some netting.  The raspberries are engulfed with couch grass and are sending out succkers which are coming up all over the place.  We will remove as much of the grass as possible but I think this autumn/winter we will need to dig them up, clear the couch grass and replant or renew the canes.

Bed preparation and tidying up

We have seedlings of Cavolo Nero, Purple Kale and Kalettes hardening off at home and it has been a major task to clear the area where they will go.  The site is at the back of the plot and was full of brambles, couch grass, comfrey (at least this makes good compost) and invasive tree roots.  

Making a start on the brassica patch

This was a task too much for me alone but I have had stirling assistance from Sylvi's son Luke. Whilst Luke and I did the digging and the rooting out of weeds, Sylvi has been riddling the great clumps we have dug up, removing the invasive roots and saving the soil. We we have gone down two 
spade spits deep but I suspect the bindweed lurks even deeper!  

Over the Easter weekend, we had family help..  Luke, Sylvi and I carried on with the clearing whilst Nicole did a great job hand weeding the raised beds, Jerome fetched mulch in the wheelbarrow and Letty did some watering.

21 April - weed free garlic

21 April weed free onions

21 April - weedfree peas and broad beans

21 April - March sown broad beans and peas


The pond is covered in a dense layer of weed and surrounded by couch grass, brambles and dandelions but we have made a start clearing.  There has been no sign of any frogs or toads this year but in removing the pondweed and the silt from the bottom of the pond, we spotted some newts - they weren't around long enough to identify them, but at least we know the pond is alive. Unfortunately, newts are rather fond of eating frog and toad tadpoles, which may explain why we haven't seen any frogs this year.  I'm trying out some barley straw to re-oxygenate and clear the pond of algae but suspect the blanket pondweed will return.  The water irises seem to be surviving though and should be in flower next month. 

21 April 
21 April
Clearing the area around the pond has not been easy as bindweed roots and bramble suckers seem to go under the pond liner. There is much more to do but we have made a start.

Carrots make an appearance

Just when I was beginning to give up on the carrots and think about sowing a new lot, they suddenly make an appearance.

21 April - carrots emerge!


The gooseberry bushes are in full leaf and just beginning to flower.  We have weeded as best we could and given them a mulch and a liquid feed.

21 April - Gooseberry bush

21 April - Gooseberry bush

21 April - Gooseberry bush

 April is almost over

We missed working the last weekend of April on the plot as it coincided with the London Marathon so there was much to do in a hurry during that last full week.  I had potted up the courgettes, kale and kalettes and cavolo nero and hardened them off in the garden at home and have now planted out some, hoping that the weather will stay reasonably good - we have had record Easter temperatures as high as 24˚C.

The warm weather has brought on the second early Nicola potatoes....

21 April - Nicola potatoes
 ...and the broad beans seem to be flourishing and (so far) are free of black-fly

21 April - November sown broad beans

21 April - November sown broad beans
The fruit trees and bushes are in full blossom and we do not anticipate any frosts...

22 April Apple blossom

22 April Blueberries
...but towards the end of the month temperatures fell from the twenties to a more seasonable 10 - 11C.

At the end of the month, I planted out a few courgettes and covered them with improvised cloches from plastic bottles,

First planting of courgettes
I repaired the cucumber frame and took a risk on planting out some outdoor cucumbers

Cucumber frame
I also managed to plant out a few of the brassicas which had been sown indoors and been hardened off.  I planted a few Kalettes, some Cavolo Nero, some purple kale and a few Brussels Sprouts. 
22 April brassicas planted out
We are still enjoying lots of rhubarb and chard although the latter is just going to seed.

There is a lot to do to prepare for more planting in May.  I have sown some runner beans indoors which are hardening off in the garden and also some borlotti beans and I have sown some more beetroot directly in the raised beds.

All in all, the two half-plots are looking well given that we took over one in October 2016 and the other in October 2017 when they were both completely overgrown wildernesses.

Plot 247a April 2019

Plot 247b  April 2019

Hoping for fine weather in May

John Austin

Hove, April 2019

Monday, 1 April 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald, March 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald, March 2019

The abnormal February heatwave is gone and March has started like a lion, with gale force winds and heavy rain (including hailstones).  Early in the month we found our neighbour's fruit cage, upside down in the middle of our patch and some of the cladding on our shed will need repair from wind damage.  But the crops seem to have survived, even though the broad beans are a bit wind-battered.

I'm not making excuses, but we have had a few other interruptions to our work on the plot, apart from the weather.  We lost a weekend when we were up in London for the Big Half .  It was pretty damp and breezy for spectators on the Finish Line at the Cutty Sark, but appalling conditions for the participants.  

As the storm clouds gathered over Greenwich....

Greenwich skies from the Cutty Sark

 ....the spectators were able to wrap up against the wind

Me on board the Cutty Sark

........but not so, the participants!  But it was great to be there to see our nephew's partner, Emily, finish with a sub 2 hour Personal Best  

Emily crosses the line Actual personal time 1.49.20

It was also great to be there to cheer Mo Farah, Charlie Purdue and David Weir winning the Men's, Women's and Wheelchair races respectively, and I was able to take some reasonable photos.

Sir Mo Farah

Charlie Purdue

David Weir
After the races, we battled the hailstones and walked to Deptford for a few craft beers, some biltong and Sunday roast at Big John's Biltong Bar, a joint venture of my daughter, Zoë
and her partner, John. 

Zoë and John, Deptford High Street

Back from our travels to Greenwich/Deptford, the weather was still bad, but on those wintry days there are always the indoor grown seedlings to care for.  As soon as our tomatoes gain their first true leaves they will be ready for potting on.

7 March Tomatoes
The cavolo nero has germinated
7 March Cavolo Nero
and the cucumbers look healthy and might be ready to go outside to harden off in a couple of weeks if the cold winds die down.

7 March Pepino - cucumber
The leeks are also looking good.

7 March Leeks
Out on the allotment, I had previously dug two trenches where the runner beans will be sown, and partially filled them with kitchen waste, shredded newspaper and torn up egg boxes.  Runner beans need a good water-retentive soil and any organic matter that can go underneath them will be beneficial - especially if we get a dry spell while we are away in the summer.  I have now filled in the trenches with the soil that had been dug out and given a top dressing of a blood, fish and bone fertiliser.

12  March Bean trenches filled
On the opposite side of the plot, our new neighbours have been busy erecting a new shed and greenhouse and clearing the weeds.  It made ours look a little untidy as we had an  overgrown patch full of dandelions, dock, couch grass and bindweed so I made an attempt to clear it and it certainly looks better.

12 March - plot ready for new raised bed
I have bought a new raised bed to go there to grow french beans later in the year - but I might sow a crop of broad beans first which, hopefully, will be ready to harvest by June.
Sylvia has been riddling the soil we have dug out and this will be put back in the bed mixed with some compost.  But first I have lined the bed with cardboard and newspaper to deter the return of any couch grass and bindweed.
14 March Raised bed in progress
The peas which had been sown indoors and planted out seem to be surviving the strong winds

as do the broad beans which had been transplanted last month.
12 March - Broad Beans
The broad beans that had been sown directly in the ground at the end of last year are not yet very tall but they are beginning to flower so we are hoping there will not be any severe frosts.

16 March - Broad beans sown outdoors in November
Various early St Patrick's Day celebrations have also got in the way of work on the allotment, but I did manage to plant two rows of second early potatoes (Nicola) before the 17th.  I had previously made two narrow trenches which I partly filled with compost with a dressing of organic potato fertiliser where I planted the potatoes about 6 inches (15cms) deep and 10 inches (25cms) apart, then covered with organic compost and raked over surrounding soil to form ridges which I lightly top-dressed with a blood, fish and bone fertiliser.

16 March - Nicola second earlies
They should be ready for lifting in 13-17 weeks - so hopefully new potatoes for the beginning of June! As the shoots emerge, I will continue to rake soil on to the ridges (to keep the growing tips covered) until the risk of frost has lessened.

Meanwhile we are still harvesting purple sprouting broccoli and I'm very thankful that I netted the plants to keep off the pigeons

16 March - Purple sprouting broccoli

16 March - Purple sprouting broccoli
 The rhubarb is looking good.  I gave it a good mulching last month....

16 March Rhubarb
and we have had our first picking.  It tasted wonderful, especially when cooked with a little crystallised ginger and served with crème fraîche.

16 March Rhubarb
Yay! Just in time for St Patrick's Day our first early Duke of York potatoes began to show through.
17 March first early potatoes sprouting
Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhaoibh!
Sláinte ☘️

St Patrick's Day and the sun was shining and much to be done!  

We have arranged to go away for a week at the end of March - in search of sunshine - and true to form the weather at home changed dramatically, the winds dropped and the forecast is sunny periods and no rain for about ten days!

Before going away, I had a long session on 18th March when I sowed some broad beans, Masterpiece Longpod, and peas, Kelvedon Wonder, in the new raised bed.

New raised bed sowed with broad beans and peas
Transplanted spinach/chard in the background

I also cleared an area where we had grown brassicas last year to make room for a row of second early Charlotte potatoes. There were still some beet spinach and chard plants taking up space that I needed for my potatoes and as they were coming to the end of their life, I moved them - you can just see them in the picture above behind the raised bed.  I have no idea if they will survive!

Charlotte second early potatoes planted 18 Match

On 20th I visited briefly to harvest more rhubarb and broccoli and chard. 


Purple sprouting broccoli - 18 March

Hopefully, there will be a final picking of broccoli when we return from holiday before it goes to seed and then I can clear the area for the rest of the Charlotte potatoes.

The Duke of York potatoes were now all showing through - I think they know its the equinox and the first day of spring!

20 March, Duke of York First early potatoes

I earthed up them up to cover the shoots, just in case there's a frost while we are away.

I looked back at photos of the area where they are planted to see what it was like when we took over the plot in September 2017.....

Autumn 2017

Autumn 2017

...and feel that we are making some progress.

As I left. I looked back and felt quite satisfied - the half plot on the left became ours in October 2016 and was a complete wilderness and we took over the plot on the right in September 2017 and that was even more derelict.  At last I feel we are getting somewhere.

And the redcurrants, which had been moved twice, originally from our garden in Belvedere to Luke's plot at Mile Oak and then to The Weald last year, also know it's spring as they are just coming in to leaf.

Red currants 20 March

We took off for the sunshine on 21st March hoping that all would be well when we returned

Fishing nets, Santa Pola, drying and awaiting repair
After a week of over-indulgence and cooking some delicious meals including Rabbit and Seafood, I was probably in need of the exercise on the allotment.

Fortunately, all the seedlings that I had planted at home had survived and thrived...

....and the spring weather had arrived, so it was time to reclaim the conservatory and put the seedlings outside to harden off.

Up on the allotment, all was well and on the last Friday of the month I was able to harvest quite a lot of purple sprouting broccoli and lift some of the last remaining leeks.

But then the weather changed. Temperatures dropped and there was a cold wind.  My outdoors seedlings took a battering and suffered windchill so I have brought them back inside again - apart from the leeks which I will transfer to a seed bed.

The area where we grew runner beans and cucumbers last year has been neglected and overgrown with weeds and some brambles.  The weeds look healthy so the soil is obviously fertile!

Site of last year's runner beans and proposed area for brassicas 2019

It will be a priority to clear next month as this is where my brassicas will be planted out. I made a start on Friday 29th March by digging a trench about 15ft long to mark the edge of this section and dug out lots of couch grass and bindweed.

And Luke and Sylvi spent a morning with me on Saturday, making a start on clearing the rest - we managed about a quarter of what is needed!

The Duke of York potatoes which had emerged earlier in the month which I had earthed up were now showing through again,  so I gave them a watering as there has been no rain for a week.

Duke of York potatoes
Despite our absences, and time out campaigning for the local elections, which intrudes into the weekends, I feel we have had a very productive month and am looking forward to April -and with the clocks going forward we have the lighter evenings to extend our working hours on the allotment.

John Austin

Hove, March 2019