Tuesday 21 December 2021

Life on The Weald - November 2021

Life on The Weald - Plot 247 - November 2021

and at home

1 November

It had been a good year for apples, and this year they had been largely pest and disease free.  We have frozen a lot, ready for pies and crumbles and this year Sylvi has also had a go at bottling (which, for some strange reason, the Americans call "canning") and also making cider vinegar.

The beginning of the month was warm for the time of year but generally only just reaching double figures during the day and down to 3C at night.

Work continued on building a frame for our second Hugel bed, using old pallets.

1 November

The late pumpkins (Rocket) appear to be ripening, so fingers crossed that they might be ready before the frosts set in.

1 November - Pumpkin F1 Rocket

1 November - Pumpkin F1 Rocket

There was plenty of Cavolo Nero to be picked which is excellent for making Ribollita, a delicious Tuscan dish.

1 November - Ribollita

The late tomatoes which we had picked had ripened successfully indoors and we also harvested a late aubergine. We were also kept busy thinking of new things to do with squashes.

3 November  the harvest

3 November

On  November we gave the broad beans a top dressing of coffee grouts, tea leaves and crushed eggshells, hoping these might keep the slugs at bay.

5 November - broad beans

I have moved two chilli plants to the conservatory at home, Basket of Fire which is moderately hot at 80,000 Scoville heat units and the slightly hotter Apache at 80,000-100,000 SHUs
Apache chillies
H├╝gelkultur, a German word meaning mound culture or hill culture, has been practised in Central and Eastern European countries for centuries and is one form of permaculture.

Permaculture is a method of gardening, horticulture or agriculture which is based on natural ecosystems, working with nature rather than against it.  Essentially it is sustainable gardening, mimicking  what happens in nature and in turn reducing energy consumption, conserving water and safeguarding the natural environment.

Traditionally, a Hugel bed would be a mound maybe 1 – 2metres high with sloping sides, thereby increasing growing area compared to a flat bed. 

Picture from Wikipedia

Picture from Paul Wheaton  

In the wild, plants die, leaves fall, trees decay and an army of insects, funghi, and micro-organisms get to work transforming dead matter to rich compost which can support new growth. Usually, a Hugel mound would be a pile of logs, branches, leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, manure, compost or whatever organic matter is available topped with soil in which you can plant your vegetables and flowers.

On my plot, I have combined the principles of Hugel culture with the more familiar  raised bed, by digging a trench to bury the wood and twigs below ground and filling in with other organic matter, finally topping with compost and topsoil. I ensured that there was a  layer of at least 6 - 8 inches of top soil and compost on top of the unrotted and partly composted material. The process of composting requires a lot of nitrogen and if the top layer is too thin the composting process might deprive the plants of this vital element for their growth.  We have added nitrogen to the bed by the addition of "worm tea", the liquid run-off from our wormeries.

As the buried wood decays, it provides a consistent source of nutrients for the plants above for 10-20 years. During the first year or so it will need regular watering, allowing  the logs to soak up the water, but after that it will need only occasional watering, possibly only once per season (unless there is a prolonged drought).  The wood can absorb a lot of water acting as a huge sponge during  the rainier seasons.  Hard wood is better for this.  During the composting process, heat is generated which can extend the growing season and the process also aerates the soil - so no digging is required.

Hard woods are generally better than soft woods for this process although there are some woods which should be avoided such as Walnut, Eucalyptus and Black Cherry.  Soft woods are usually OK but there are certain varieties, high in resin which are allelopathic,(they contain natural herbicides and pesticides) – ones to avoid are Cedars and Juniper.  Yew is also highly toxic.  To be safe, it is better to use wood that has already started to decay. If using prunings, especially from fruit trees, it is important to ensure the twigs/branches are dead to avoid the possibility of them rooting or sprouting.


returning the top soil to the 2nd Hugel bed

adding some well rotted manure

"muck spreading"

The weather was beginning to get much colder, although on 7 November the sun was shining brightly, but I thought it was probably time to harvest the remaining tromboncinos and take them home.

7 November - tromboncinos

7 November - sunshine and blue sky

Tromboncinos, at home at last

On 10 November I sowed some early peas in the first Hugel bed at the opposite end from the broad beans.  We then went away for a few days for a well earned rest.  After our return I sowed a double row of broad beans on 25 November in the second Hugel bed and covered them with fleece and some old wire shelving to hopefully keep rodents away.

25 November

The beans which had been planted out in the first Hugel bed were looking healthy

25 November - broad beans

The Rocket pumpkins looked almost ready to harvest and with heavy rain forecast it was the time to think about taking them home. But as the sun was still shining I thought I would give them a few more days to harden off.

25 November - Rocket pumpkin

25 November - Rocket pumpkin

We had picked loads of apples and have given away bags full.  After the strong winds there were now very few left on the tree, but lots of windfalls

25 November - the apple tree

At home we had a cooking session, making tromboncino and ginger soup which we have frozen to see us throught the winter!  Usually we have roasted them in their skins and then used the pulp for the soup, but this time we peeled and boiled them.

peeling tromboncinos

tromboncinos, onions and garlic

The beginning of the month had been warmer than usual for November but the month ended with freak storms and, in some parts of the country, the lowest November temperatures for 20 years - minus 8.5C in exposed places.  Our Sheffield family saw heavy snow falls and Northumberland, where my younger son lives, experienced winds of 98 mph.  They were also without electricity for two days.  

When my nephew, who is only 26 miles away from us, on the south coast, visited his local golf course at the weekend, this is what he found:

Goodwood golf course 28 November

Goodwood golf course 28 November

We hadn't experienced snow or stormforce winds but the weather in Hove wasn't pleasant. We did experience zero temperatures, rain and a lot of strong winds - enough to keep me off the plot for a few days.  Hoping that the winds subside and we have a few dry days next month as there is still a lot to do.

John Austin

Hove, November 2021

Thursday 25 November 2021

Life on The Weald - October 2021

 Life on the Weald - #plot247 October 2021

(and in the garden)

Ready for Halloween!

Storm force winds had been predicted for the first weekend of October. There was a torrential downpour on the evening of 2 October but the morning of Sunday 3 October was warm and sunny for the London Marathon.

Monday and Tuesday had been cloudy and dull but with the tempeature reaching 17C. Wednesday 6 October was forecast to be cloudy but warm and I made my first visit of the month to the plot.  There were occasional sunny periods when the temperature reached an unseasonal 19C.  I decided to make a start on clearing the weeds from the area behind where the mini-greenhouse had been and where the sunflowers had been growing.  I had decided this was a suitable location for my first proper "no-dig" bed.  With the unseasonal warm weather it was hot work.

The weed infested patch - 6 October

an attempt to dig out the invasive weeds

Thursday 7 October was forecast to be sunny with no rain but there had been heavy rain overnight and the morning was overcast.  We had planned a long day at the allotment but instead we spent most of the time in the shed, sheltering from the fine drizzle and left earlier than intended.

The snails seemed to appreciate the wet weather!

Snails come out to play on our brassica cage!

Friday had been forecast to be sunny with temperatures reaching 20C but the early morning saw rain and the rest of the morning was cloudy and overcast with temperatures reaching only 16C by midday.

The weather throughout the month was warmer than the seasonal norm but not as warm as the forecasters had predicted and often raining on days when they had said it would be dry.

I had a bit of a shock early in the month to discover a caterpillar on the kalettes.  I had assumed it was a large Cabbage White but one of my neighbours thought it was a Box Tree Moth.  The good news is that I could only find two.

 7 October - Caterpillar on the kalettes

I had decided to have a go at "Hugelkultur"  and create a Hugel raised bed. I will write a little more about Hugelkultur next month. With a dry day on Thursday 7 October, I made a start on the first Hugel trench.  I had dug down about one spit depth, and had a trench 2 metres x 1 metre about 30 cms deep (app 6 x 3 x 1 feet).  At the bottom of the trench I laid some logs, cut from a large bush/tree we had removed earlier in the year.

trench number 1 with logs as base layer

On top of the logs we laid several layers of organic material, mainly semi-rotted material from one of our compost bins together with the contents of the lower trays of compost from the wormeries, including a lot of worms.

logs covered with semi-rotted compost

added compost and worms from the wormery

I watered it well and left it a few days to settle.

The stem of one of the Crown Prince squashes had dried off and as rain was predicted we thought it was time to harvest it. Crown Prince squashes store well.

8 October - Crown Prince squash

On 11 October, after a few days of heavy rain, work resumed on the first Hugel bed by putting a layer of wood chippings and prunings down folowed by a layer of cardboard which, hopefully will keep any deept rooted weeds, like bindweed, from coming through.

 11 October trench number 1

trench number 1 - a layer of cardboard

Sylvi had been busy riddling the soil we had removed from the trenches, removing any sign of weeds such as bindweed and couch grass.  We laid a layer of the seived soil on top of the cardboard.

adding some sifted soil

The new beds were not the only things needing attention.  There was some weeding to be done in the brassica cage and I also removed some of the lower leaves to improve air circulation and let in some light.  I was pleased to see that we will have some sprouts for Christmas!

11 October - Brussels sprouts

11 October - Brussels Sprouts

We are not growing any Jerusalem artichokes on our plot this year, but I couldn't resist taking a photo of my neighbour's which were just coming into flower.

a neighbour's Jerusalem artichoke

Having made some progress with the first Hugel bed, I decided to tackle one of the areas where courgettes had been growing, near to the pond and decided this would be a good spot for a second Hugel bed; so on 14 October I started to clear the weeds.


weeds removed!

Digging the whole area was a daunting task, so I tackled it in two stages.  I dug a trench about 1 metre by 1.5 metres about 1 foot (30 cms) deep.

trench number 2

I still had a supply of logs but some were rather large, and I had to dig a little bit deeper.

the bottom layer - logs laid in trench

The following day, 15 October, I spotted a moth on the back of my car when I was in a supermarket car park.  It was still there several hours later when I got home!  Had it come from the allotment?  It was definitely a box-tree moth.  Was the caterpillar I had spotted on 8 October a box tree moth caterpillar and not a large cabbage white?  The two caterpillars are very similar in appearance.

Box tree moth

One of our plot holders had several bags of shredded office paper on offer and I took two. On 16 October, I resumed work on the second Hugel bed and deposited one of the bags of shredded paper.

Trench No. 2 - shredded paper

I then topped it with wood chippings/prunings.

Trench No. 2 - a layer of wood chippings

It was time to dig trench number 3, which would be a continuation of the second trench

Trench No. 3

Trench No. 3

The Hugel beds were all part of my "no dig" plan.  It seems there is an awful lot of digging to get them started though!  Still I'm told they should last for 10-20 years.

On 17 October we returned to our first Hugel bed. We had constructed a rough frame from some old pallets and after adding another layer of wood chippings on top of the cardboard and soil we were almost ready to start returning the rest of the soil that had been dug out.

Hugel  bed number 1

Hugel bed No. 1

As a relief from the hard labour, we harvested some of the padron and chilli peppers...

Padron peppers and Apache chillies

....and lifted a Swede (or for my northern friends a turnip!)

A Swede (or turnip if you prefer)

On 19 October, I was delighted to see the first sign that the broad beans I had sown at home were beginning to germinate.

the first broad bean appears

There was other important work to be done at home.  We had a large quantity of Sloes  in the freezer and a plentiful supply of cheap gin. If we were to have Sloe Gin for Christmas, now was a good time to start.  Placing sloes in the freezer results in the skin cracking as they defrost which saves the laborious task of pricking them with a needle.  After adding some sugar and the gin, it was now time to find a cool dark place for the majic transformation to take place.

Sloes soaking in gin

20 October I received some good news from my son Damien. Almost two years ago, before lockdown, I had bought him a log for his birthday which had been impregnated with mushroom spores. It had rested in a damp corner of his London garden since February 2020 and now at last it had come to fruition.

Damien's mushroom log

23 October and the pumpkins, lately discovered last month under the apple tree were ripening.

Pumpkin (Rocket)

Pumpkin (Rocket)

Elsewhere on the plot, the Tromboncinos and yellow pumpkins were ready for harvesting.

Tromboncinos and pumpkins

I was also still lifting Charlotte potatoes

23 October Charlotte potatoes

24 October was a pleasant Sunday with clear skies, Sylvi spent most of the time riddling the pile of soil that had been removed from the first trench and I was able to use it to begin topping off the bed.  I wanted 4-6inches depth of topsoil on top of the wood chippings.

We also laid cardboard around the perimeter of the bed as a weed suppressant....

Sunday 24 October

...and then covered this with wood chippings.

24 October - Hugel bed number one

On Monday, 25 October I cleared some old logs from behind the shed at home.  They were too large to fit in trench number three on the allotment, so it was a job for the chainsaw.

25 October - sawn logs

The following day, I transported the logs to the plot which was beginning to look a little untidy.  The foliage on the pumpkins and tromboncinos had died back so I will harvest them before Halloween.

Pumpkins and tromboncinos

26 October The third hole I had dug was ready to receive my logs

trench number 3

bottom layer logs

I covered the logs with brushwood and twigs and thin branches from earlier pruning of apple and plum trees (making sure they were dead - I didn't want plum trees sprouting) and then covered this with a sackful of shredded paper.

shredded paper

The paper will retain moisture and eventually rot down.  I then covered the paper with any available green material including the dying down courgette plants and lower leaves removed from the chard and kale.

green material

This was then topped with a layer of wood chippings/prunings which looked to have come from a mixture of hedging, fruit trees and Leylandii.

wood chippings/prunings

Trenches 2 and 3 together now made a bed approximately 1 metre by 4 metres

trenches 2 and 3

All that now remains is to sift/riddle the pile of earth which was removed from the trenches, and mix with some compost as the topping.

Soil that had been removed from trenches

Then we will have Hugel bed number two!

28 October We had a good supply of old pallets which Sylvi started to take apart so we could make a frame for the second Hugel bed

30 October and the chillies were still doing well.  I picked the Basket of fire chillies and transferred the plant to a pot to try to overwinter at home.

Basket of fire chillies

I also transplanted the broad beans, which had been sown at home, to the first Hugel bed.
Broad beans - Aquadulce

We began to make a frame for the second Hugel bed.

Hugel bed No 2
We also picked our first kalettes

Kalettes - 30 October

The pumpkins were too heavy to carry - they are called Quintal which means a hundredweight.  They were not quite that big but the largest did weigh 2 stone! (12.7kg) So I had to bring the car round to get them home.

Pumpkins (Quintal giallo)

Safely home and lots to share with family and friends

At home with my pumpkins (and a Crown Prince by my side)

October had been a very active and productive month. 

John Austin

Hove, October 2021