Saturday 21 November 2020

Life on The Weald - October 2020

 Life on The Weald (and still in isolation) - October 2020

The first two days of October started well with relatively mild weather but then, on Saturday 3rd, England experienced the heaviest rainfall in one day on record.  Brighton and Hove fared less badly than many parts of the country but it was still a heavy downpour which caused some waterlogging on the plot.

Just before the rain came down, I checked on the progress of my recent sowings. Last month I sowed some beet spinach and some beetroot in a raised bed that had been cleared of French beans and to which I had added some well rotted compost.  I was pleased to see they had germinated.

3rd October - beetroot and spinach seedlings
behind the celery

Sadly, the celery, which is supposed to not need earthing up, has not self-blanched and the stems are thin and green.  There will be a lot of material for soups etc but little for salads I fear.

3 October - beetroot and spinach seedlings

The brassicas are doing well and the kalettes are beginning to form....  

3 October - kalettes the meantime we have a plentiful supply of tender young leaves from the kalettes as well as a variety of kales and the last of the Collard Greens....

3 October - kale collection well as a plentiful supply of raindow chard.

3 October - Swiss Chard

The pumpkins are ripening and the leaves and stems, dying off.  As soon as the stalk is dry they will be harvested, probably by the middle of the month.

6 October - pumpkins ripening

6 October saw the arrival of a delivery of tree/hedge clippings and wood chips.  These are delivered to our allotment periodically from an approved supplier and make a good mulch, acting as a moisture retainer and weed suppressant and which gradually break down to form a good compost.  They are also excellent for creating and renewing pathways and around raised beds.

This was a great opportunity to tidy up the plot and renew the main footpath.  The footpath had been created 3 years ago using chippings laid on top of an impervious membrane in parts, old compost bags and sheets of cardboard in others.  The layers under the chippings were effective in suppressing annual weeds but seem to have provided a good environment underneath for bindweed and couch grass roots to flourish and provide a safe conduit for them to spread underneath from one side to the other.

The "impervious" layer was no longer impervious as it has acquired several holes and some weeds had come through.  Annual weeds had also seeded themselves on top so there was a lengthy task (over several days) of removing weeds and topping up the path with new chippings.

Fighting against the odds, I did try to remove as much of the bindweed and couch grass as possible.  But it is a "painting the Forth Bridge" operation.

Couch grass - 12 October

Bindweed and couch grass - 12 October

I made a start on the footpath on 6 October - but obviously other plot holders had the same idea and the supply of chippings was soon exhausted.  Nevertheless, I had made a start and hoped there would be a new supply of material soon. Fortunately we did not have to wait too long.

6 October work commences

When new soft clippings and chippings arrived, work continued

12 October

13 October

I think someone must have either removed or seriously pruned some Leylandii as the new clippings contained a lot of chipped coniferous material which has created an interesting colour change in the footpath!

Change of hue on the footpath

October is a good time to think about pruning the currant bushes and the raspberries.  I made a start with the black currants which fruit best on branches that are one year old.  In pruning, therefore, it is best to remove the old wood, cutting back about one third and removing any dead or diseased branches or any that cross over others.  Cutting back old branches right to the base will encourage new growth.

Black currant cuttings root very easily and if you put healthy looking branches that you have cut out in a bucket of water they will produce roots in a matter of weeks and can be potted up either to replace old bushes next year or as a gift for friends and neighbours.

Having pruned the black currants, I removed the weeds around the base, taking care not to damage any potential new shoots and gave the bushes a feed of general fertiliser - a dressing of blood, fish and bone is useful, and then, using the clippings left over from the footpath, mixed with some grass mowings, applied a mulch around the base.

Red currants require a different pruning technique as they fruit on old wood i.e. branches that are two years old or more.  First it is good to remove any really old wood and any branches which cross over others to create an open bush so that light can get in.  Then it is wise to shorten this year's growth by a few inches.  I haven't got round to it this month so it will be a task for November - along with the raspberries.

With all the heavy rain due, we had harvested our butternut squashes and my prized Crown Prince squash at the end of last month and we have been storing them in the conservatory at home for the stems to fully dry out before storing them somewhere cooler.

Butternut and Crown Prince squash - 13 October

On 14 October, between heavy showers, we escaped to the nearby countryside to pick sloes from our favourite spot - sorry but we will keep the location secret to safeguard our future supplies!

South Downs sloes - 14 October

Sloes - fruit of the wild blackthorn

South Downs blackthorn - prunus spinosa

Some of the 4kg of sloes picked

Now all we need is the gin!

In the meantime we are making a start on eating the squashes.

Butternut squash

Last month I began the process of making rhubarb gin and the rhubarb had been macerating in sugar and gin for a few weeks, so now was time to strain and bottle it.

Straining the Rhubarb gin

Rhubarb gin bottled - 2020 vintage

I have saved the gin-soaked rhubarb and put it in the fridge for future use.

On 18 October, I cleared the area in front of the blackcurrants, where the climbing French beans had been as I wanted to try growing some late planted mustard greens.  I had sown the seeds in a tray at home and they had just germinated and should be ready for planting out soon.

18 October preparing the bed

The young seedlings may need a bit of protection so I checked out an old fleece tunnel.

checking the fleece tunnel

I had planted some shallot sets in September, in a raised bed where dwarf French beans had been growing. I had covered them with fleece to stop the birds from unearthing them.  They seem to have rooted well and the new shoots were struggling against the fleece so I thought it was time to remove it.

18 October - shallots

The crushed egg shells scattered around the plants are to deter slugs and snails.

At home, I have a small young fig tree in a pot and it is fruiting for the first time with 3 figs beginning to ripen.  You can imagine how upset I was to discover that something (I suspect a squirrel) had removed one, started to eat it and then abandoned it on the ground!

Our first fig! 18 October

We managed to acquire some windfall apples from nearby.

19 October - windfalls
I never lose my amazement at the beauty and symmetry in nature

19 October - apples

Jam and jelly making time had come.  I cooked the apples and strained them to obtain a  thick, sticky juice, rich in pectin with excellent setting properties.

apple pulp straining overnight in a jelly bag

I used some of this juice to mix with the gin-soaked rhubarb, left from the gin making, to make apple and rhubarb gin jam  and the remainder to make rosemary jelly.

Rosemary jelly

On Monday 26 October, there were threats of showers with a brief interval late morning and around midday to harvest some greens - a mixture of different varieties of kale and some leaves from the purple sprouting broccoli - as well as some magnificent silver chard which was grown from a 2€ packet of seeds bought in Spain last year, where it is a popular vegetable.  

I also managed to lift a few of the early leeks - Musselburgh - that I had grown from seed in trays at home, which I had transferred to a seed bed in May and planted out in June.  It was bad news, as I soon discovered that they were infested with the dreaded allium leaf miner.

26 October - leeks looking good but.....

Early planted Musselburgh leeks 

The dreaded allium leaf miner

Sadly, at this stage, little can be done as there are no suitable insecticides available to home growers.  Allium leaf miner has two generations a year. The first generation female flies lay eggs on the stems or base of leaves during March and April and the second generation repeats the process in October to November. The latter generation is usually the most damaging.

The maggots bore into the foliage, stems or bulbs of their host plants and, after a couple of weeks, are fully fed and ready to turn into brown pupae. Pupation takes place mainly within the stems and bulbs during summer and winter but some pupae may end up in the soil, especially where plants have rotted off.

The parts of the leek that are not infected are edible but anything thrown away should not be composted as the pupae may survive and infect the soil.  General advice is to net the plants when planting out with insect-proof mesh - the flies are about 3mm so very fine mesh is needed.  Gardeners are also advised to lift and remove the entire crop if infected!  

I had two crops - the Musselburgh, which I had  grown from seed and planted out at the beginning of June (but which had been in a bed on the plot since May) and two varieties of winter leeks  which I had bought as plants from a garden centre and planted out later in July. I was hoping these might be free from infection so that I could leave them in the ground and lift as needed during the winter months. I will need to check - fingers crossed­čĄ×.

With the drop in temperature and arrival of strong winds towards the end of the month, I judged it time to bring indoors the chillies growing in pots in the garden, hoping that they might ripen - or even gain a new lease of life and flower.

Chocolate habanero - 28 October

Chocolate habanero - 28 October

Kashmiri chilli - 28 October

We have been using some of the purple cayenne chillies  whilst they were still purple but had brought a couple of plants indoors at the beginning of the month when they were a deep rich purple and put them in our unheated porch.  By the end of the month they were beginning to turn dark red.

Purple cayenne ripening 30 October

Earlier in the month, I cleared one of the raised beds and sowed some broad beans directly into the soil and some peas suitable for autumn sowing.  I covered the bed with fleece in the hope of discouraging predators from digging them up and eating them (which is what happened last year).  I also took the precaution of sowing some in trays at home for planting out when large enough.  Towards the end of the month the home sown broad beans were about 6 inches tall, so on 25 October I took the chance and planted them out.

Aquadulce broad beans 25 October

Aquadulce broad beans 25 October

We had planted different varieties of purple sprouting broccoli  and obviously at least one was a very early sprouting variety as it has already produced florets which are ready to pick. This is one of my favourite vegetables - and was delicious.  The first picking is always something to look forward to and as we had provided netting protection we were able to benefit rather than the pigeons.

first picking of purple sprouting broccoli - 25 Oct

The silver chard at this time of year is excellent and ours was cropping better than ever

Chard - picked 26 October

The last few days of October have seen continuous heavy rain and strong winds and not conducive to outdoor gardening - or many other things outside!  I was due to abseil from the 163m high i360 tower for charity this month but, regrettably, it has been postponed twice for safety reasons due to high winds and has now been rescheduled for November 14th when, hopefully, there will be more settled weather. Details can be found at John's i360 abseil

The October drop that wasn't

Due to the Covid epidemic, we do not expect any "trick or treat" visitors to our door this year but we do have our traditional pumpkins which were harvested earlier this month.

Home grown pumpkins, harvested 12 October

We finished off this rather wintry month with some warming pumpkin soup!

John Austin
Hove, October 2020

Tuesday 10 November 2020

Life on The Weald - September 2020

 Life on The Weald (and still "shielding") - September 2020

"season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" (Keats)

locally picked medlars, bletting at home

At the beginning of the month we had a supply of locally picked medlars given to us by a friend and fellow plot-holder.  They cannot be used as they are when picked, but need "bletting" (left to ripen/rot a little).  You can find details of bletting and medlars here
We will probably make Medlar Jelly once they have bletted.

On 3 September we were greeted by a new flowering water lily.

Water lily on our allotment pond

We also had a large supply of plums, so 3 September became baking day with my own version of Pflaumenkuchen (plum cake) 

pflaumenkuchen in preparation

pflaumenkuchen ready to eat!

With a plentiful supply of patty pan squashes there was an opportunity to have them stuffed and roasted.

Stuffed patty pan for roasting - 4 September

At home, the tomatoes have been very productive and we have had daily pickings. they are still looking good and more fruits are setting.  We are hoping for some sunshine to speed up the ripening of these later arrivals.

Tomatoes - 4 September

August is supposed to be the last month for sowing beetroot but with global warming I decided to sow a couple of rows this month together with some perpetual spinach.  Even if we don't get beetroots we should at least get some salad leaves.

Despite the heavy winds there are still a few plums on the tree and on 6 September we picked some as well as rather a lot of cucumbers (Spanish pepino variety) and some very large courgettes!

6 September - more plums!

6 September - a proliferation of cucumbers

6 September - rather large courgettes

We have also been picking kale almost every day.

8 September - a variety of kale

And we picked our lone Blue Ballet squash, similar in colour to a Crown Prince but a different shape.

Blue ballet squash - 8 September

Our rhubarb was prolific, still pink and not stringy, so we thought we would use some to make rhubarb gin.

10 September - rhubarb

In addition to the kale, we had a good supply of chard

11 September - chard and kale

Some of the chillies seemed ready to pick.  The Hungarian yellow wax are mild and suitable for stuffing and the hot wax and purple cayenne, which are medium hot, should turn red when fully ripe can be used whilst still green or purple.  

Hungarian yellow wax, hot wax and purple cayenne peppers - 11 Sept

Stuffed Hungarian yellow wax peppers.

We also harvested a butternut squash - perhaps not yet ready for storage but fine for eating.

Butternut squash - 11 September

Although we fared better than the rest of the country, September has been wetter than usual and very unsettled with temperatures below average. On the night of the 12 -13 September, Storm Aileen arrived hitting Wales and central England hardest with 74 mph winds but, even in the southeast, winds were 50-60mph with most of the fruit left on the trees, finally dropping

After months of wind damage, next door's fence finally came down at the beginning of the month, giving us a great sense of space in the back garden

3 Sept The fence is down

The new fence is now up but needed treating with wood preservative, so I took advantage of a few dry days to treat it.  It reminds me that the workshop in the garden and the shed on the allotment need attention too!

11 September, the new fence is up

Mid-September and the plot is still giving, including some fine beetroots.

Beetroot, patty pan and courgette - 16 September

On 19 September we caught sight of some damsel flies.  Sadly, I didn't catch a picture of their courtship/mating, which is a shame because they make such interesting and beautiful shapes.

Damsel fly

Our wormeries are doing fine.  They produce a regular supply of "worm tea"  which, when diluted, makes an excellent, nitrogen rich, liquid feed. From time to time, the bottom tray can be removed and the contents, which are a rich compost, can be spread on the beds. The wormeries take care of all our vegetable kitchen waste.

Bottom tray of the wormery - 28 September

spreading the compost - 28 September

The compost is rich in worms, most of which get put on the beds with the compost but we reserve some to add to the new trays of kitchen waste in the wormery. 

On 29 September we harvested the unknown squash which should have been a tromboncino (and clearly isn't) and we have another similar one growing elsewhere on the plot so at some stage some seeds or plants must have got mixed up!  I do not know what variety this one is.

The unknown squash - 29 September

In view of the deterioration in the weather and frequent rain I decided it was time to harvest the butternut squashes and the Crown Prince.  We will keep them indoors for a few days for them to dry out and ensure there is no moisture in the stems before storing an a cool place.

The butternut squash harvest - 30 September

My Crown Prince squash was way smaller than my neighbour's but did weigh in at a creditable 2.5kg

Crown Prince squash - 30 September

As September comes to an end, the weather is very autumnal, but also unsettled. We can expect more storms in October so we will really have to prioritise tasks as fine days for working on the plot may be few and far between.

John Austin
Hove, September 2020