Friday 5 June 2020

Life on The Weald - May 2020

Life on The Weald  (and in isolation) - May 2020 

Rainbow chard - 1 May

Silver leaf chard - 1 May

May Day on the allotment was a time for gathering chard and the following day, to amuse myself in isolation, attempting to create a collage and, with a pack of puff pastry and some cheese, some mini chard pies, roughly using the recipe for Spanokopita

Rainbow chard - a collage

Chard and cheese puffs

The first early Duke of York potatoes were beginning to show signs of flowering.

First early Duke of York potatoes - 4 May

Duke of York, beginning to flower - 4 May

May Day (Friday) had been cloudy with a maximum temperature around 14C falling to 12C over the weekend but feeling much colder due to the wind. The first full week was sunny, however, with the temperature rising to 17C and a high of 22C on Saturday 9 May. But it was not to last as rain came on Sunday 10 May with temperatures falling dramatically by 10 degrees with strong winds.

I had grown some butternut squash plants indoors and had put them out in the garden to harden off but, even in the warm temperatures, they had taken a battering from the wind although they had been covered with a cloche overnight. On Sunday 10 May I decided it was time to bring them back indoors - I doubt whether they would have survived outside and it remains to be seen whether they will recover indoors. 

I acquired a yellow courgette and a Crown Prince squash from a neighbour on the allotment and although they looked OK in the sunshine on Saturday, I also brought them indoors on Sunday.

It was a bit breezy on Monday 11 with a high temperature of only 11C but it felt much colder, so I spent time indoors potting up seedlings that had been sown in seed trays in March and April.  These included a number of chillies which had been sown from seed acquired at Seedy Sunday in February.  Some of them are extremely powerful on the Scoville Scale (see my blog February 2020)

We had our first picking of broad beans on 4 May - I picked about a kilo which yielded about 250g of beans.  They were beautiful but the pods had not filled out as well as I had hoped.  I put that down to a lack of water at the crucial time in April, but there are many more to come both from the November sowings and the later January/March sown crop.

Broad beans picked 6 May

Around the pond the irises were coming into flower and not far behind were the water or pond irises (yellow flags) so it was time for yet another tidy up around the pond and to clear yet more of the ubiquitous bind-weed.  I don't think it will ever be possible to remove it completely since the root runners seem to go around and under the pond itself, but at least it looks tidy for a time.  We have also removed the papyrus from the pond as it was in danger of taking over.  The roots had completely filled the pots they were in and broken through and although submerged had also been taken over by couch grass! I will split the plants, re-pot and return a little.

Irises by the pond

Water irises about to flower

Another plant that had become pot-bound at home was our Moroccan Mint, perhaps the best of the culinary varieties.  I had promised to pot one up for a friend but could not pull out any with a root.  In the end, with brute force we removed the entire plant which was completely root-bound as the roots had grown round and round the inside of the pot.

Roots of pot-bound Moroccan mint

On 7 May, whilst riddling the mound of couch grass to recover the soil, Sylvi found a friendly slow worm.  That's a good sign that the soil should be in good condition and their presence is very beneficial as they feed on slugs and snails.

a friendly slow worm

By 11 May the irises were in full flower


...and there appeared to be a good supply of gooseberries.

Early showing of gooseberries

Gooseberries - 11 May

I planted out a second row of celery and continued clearing an area for the brassicas.

Celery 11 May

There was a good showing of plums that had set on the trees at the back of the plot but very little sign of fruit on the other ones.

Plums - 13 May

Whilst clearing weeds from the potential brassica patch, I acquired a new friend!

My new friend

Looking for worms?

Having cleared a suitable area, I took a risk and planted out some kale, cavolo nero and kalettes

Kalettes 13 May

In the middle of the month I was in panic mode sowing more seeds and potting up various seedlings that I had sown earlier plus some that I had acquired from other plot-holders. At the beginning of the month, I had sown some Borlotti (climbing beans) directly in the ground but as there was no sign of them a fortnight later, I sowed some more in pots indoors - the seeds were from an old packet from last year and perhaps they haven't kept well.  I also sowed some runner beans and French beans in pots and trays and some more peas.

I have potted on the tomatoes which I had been given but the writing on the labels had partly worn off or was indecipherable and as a result I'm not sure which ones are which; but I believe I have some red, black and yellow cherry varieties, a beef tomato and a regular salad tomato.  In addition I had bought 3 plugs on the internet; an Alicante, a Marmande and a Sweet Million (cherry tomato).  I also potted on some yellow cherry tomatoes that I had grown from seed that my brother had given me and which had done so well in pots last year.  I think I may have gone a bit over the top and will have difficulty finding room for them all on the patio!   I am also waiting for the daffodils and tulips to die back to free up some of the larger pots.  Earlier in the year I had rescued a pot-bound English Mace and have begun splitting this and now have dozens of plants to give away.

The bush mulberry at home has flowered and the fruit just beginning to set so I have given this a feed with the liquid feed I use for the tomatoes.  On the allotment the blueberries have finished flowering and the fruit is setting and I have given them another ericaceous feed.

With the weather forecast predicting temperatures approaching 20C for Sunday 17 May, I planted out some butternut squashes but hope it was not a mistake as the temperature didn't get above 15C and there was a cool wind.  I did provide a bit of protection with improvised cloches made from plastic bottles for both the squashes and the kalettes and kale so hope they will survive.

improvised cloches for kale and kalettes

At home in mid-May the front and back gardens were looking more colourful with the summer flowering shrubs and bulbs coming into flower.

The week beginning 18 May saw continuing sunshine and no rain, so watering the newly planted vegetables was important.  The kalettes, cavolo nero and kale planted the previous week were doing well so this prompted me to plant out the first of the runner beans which I had grown in pots at home.

First Prizewinner runner beans planted

And the good last the Borlotto climbing beans sown some weeks ago have not been eaten by rodents, and they have germinated and are beginning to break the surface.

19 May The first sign of Borlotto beans - Firetongue (Lingua di Fuoco)

Having planted out some home-grown runner beans, I had completely forgotten that I had ordered some plugs earlier in the year on-line and my recently constructed bean frame was full.  This necessitated the rapid clearing of one of the raised beds and construction of a wigwam before planting out the plugs.

Rapidly constructed wigwam for runner beans -22 May

Having cleared the area around the pond, it was time to plant something.  I had sown some wild flower seeds earlier and hopefully some will germinate, but I have added some aromatic mints - pineapple and grapefruit - and planted out some English Mace (sweet yarrow or sweet-nancy)

planting out around the pond

At Christmas, my son Toby and his wife Jane had given me some bean seeds that they had harvested from their crop last year - they were black and white, Ying-Yang - I checked with them that they were not a climbing variety, as I had run out of space for any more frames, and reassured that they were a dwarf variety I sowed some in pots at home. 

Ying-Yang beans

I now need to ask if you can eat them like flagelots when young or need to dry them and use like haricot beans or black-eye peas.

The raspberries have gone rampant and are beginning to send out suckers which are coming up all over the place, including in the raised beds.  It is a struggle to keep them in check but the fruit has set and we look to be in for a bumper crop.


The latter part of the month saw lots of sunshine and temperatures soaring to the mid-twenties - and no rain! So watering became a daily necessity.

30 May - grapes setting on the vine

30 May - plums and blue skies

30 May - plums and blue skies

And at home (with the Salvia hot lips flowering behind) the Nicola 2nd early potatoes were in full flower.

30 May - Nicola 2nd early potatoes

A glorious end to a very sunny month.

John Austin
Hove, May 2020

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