Thursday 4 March 2021

Life on The Weald - Plot 247 - February 2021


Life on The Weald - February 2021

Wealding and Shielding

5 February Blue skies and calm water
Shoreham harbour - Portslade

The first day of February was cold, but dry although I missed the chance of a day on the plot due to scheduled Zoom Meetings !  Tuesday was almost spring-like with a top temperature of 14C, but with the warmer weather came rain and the following day the temperature dropped back to a maximum of 10C accompanied by strong winds and heavy rain.

I had planned to visit on Thursday 5th as the forecast was for light showers and sunny intervals.  We didn't see much sun but did experience a lot of heavy rain, so it was another day indoors.  Friday was supposed to be cold and wet but turned out to be bright and sunny - but again best intentions were thwarted by other scheduled events. 

The weather could have been worse - as these pictures from family in East Anglia and Yorkshire show.

Suffolk footpath & Sheffield garden 

This was the arrival of Storm Darcyalso called the Beast from the East 2. Christoph brought us heavy rain and flooding whereas Darcy has blanketed much of the country with heavy snow and strong winds coming from Ukraine and the Black Sea.

More wind and rain was predicted for the Saturday so I thought that would be the first week of February written off.  Thankfully the forecast was wrong and Saturday morning was cold but bright and sunny so I was able to do a little on the plot.  Nearby Kent was not so fortunate as it experienced blizzard conditions.

The ground was too waterlogged to finish clearing the potato patch so instead I tackled some of the gooseberry bushes that had become engulfed with couch grass.  The only way to get rid of the grass was to dig up the plants and remove all the soil (and the couch grass roots) and replant with some added compost and then apply a mulch of wood chippings.

6 February Replanting some gooseberry bushes

There was some broccoli to harvest for Sunday dinner.

5 February - purple sprouting broccoli

I inspected the rhubarb which had been forced. I was tempted to pick some but resisted for a few more days.

6 February - forced rhubarb

It was time to give some attention to the asparagus bed, planted last year.  I have applied a layer of compost (from our wormeries) and covered with a mulch of chippings and clippings.   

Sunday and Monday saw light snow showers and sleet. During the day on Tuesday 9th, temperatures were at freezing during the day but with bitterly cold winds it felt like -7C. I did venture into the garden but soon retreated indoors with a collection of pots and seed trays and did some sowing. This was the worst of Storm Darcy with temperatures in Scotland and the north of England plummeting to record low levels of -20C.

Confined to the house by the freezing conditions I sowed some more aquadulce broad beans in pots indoors to replace the directly sown ones that have not appeared.  I found some old Tender and True parsnip seeds and sowed some in a seed tray to see if they would germinate. Time will tell.

I also sowed some chillies.

Chillies - 9 February

The "heat" of chillies can be measured in Scoville Unites (SHU) as explained in my Blog of February 2020.

For the first batch I have sown Apache (hot 70,000-80,000 SHU); Red Trinidad Scorpion (extremely hot - over 1,000,000 SHUs); Chocolate Habanero (very hot 425,000 SHU)  Orange Habanero, (slightly milder than the Chocolate variety but still very hot 350,000).

The ideal temperature for germination is 21C. It's not quite as hot as that in our unheated conservatory, but it does benefit from the warmth of the house and has good insulation, so fingers crossed.

I also sowed some Kalettes in seed trays.

I have some Anaheim - (mild and sweet 500-2,500 SHU) to sow later this month and Padron (very mild 3,000-12,000 SHU) which I will sow in March.

Another casualty of Covid  has been Brighton's Seedy Sunday, the UK's largest community seed swap, which has had to be cancelled this year.  The organisers (some based at The Weald) were determined to put something in its place to encourage people to grow organically and have access to open sourced seeds and a team of volunteers has worked to specially select and pack easy to grow Variety Packs of 10 different veg, salad, beans, tomatoes, onions, squash, herbs and a collection of "bee mix" flowers to encourage pollinators.
It was possible to register on line for a free pack (with voluntary donations invited) and Luke collected ours from Infinity Foods, a local retail food co-op.

Our Seedy Sunday haul

Our mystery collection consisted of the following vegetables:

Climbing French Bean Goldfield
Sweet Pepper Marconi
Butternut Squash Waltham
Perpetual Spinach
Tomato Pantano Romanesco
Sugar pod pea Oregon
Lettuce  Red Salad Bowl
together with the following flowers:

Achillea Ptarmica the Pearl (sneezewort)
Cosmos Dazzler
Linum grandiflorum (flowering red flax)

I have planted a few Oregon sugar pod peas in pots in the conservatory to be planted out when the cold weather is gone.

After what seemed the worst of Storm Darcy, I made a brief visit to the plot on Thursday 11 February but there was still a bitter wind and the ground was frozen hard.  The early peas looked very sad. I had intended to put some sticks in the ground for them to climb, but this proved a hopeless task as the ground was frozen solid, too hard to push the sticks in, and the broad beans sown in November/December looked very distressed.

11 February - distressed broad beans

11 February - broad beans - a sad sight

Storm Darcy was still with us and that night saw more cold winds coming from Ukraine with sub-zero temperatures which persisted until Saturday.

With the central heating turned up, we "battened down the hatches"  and turned our attention to our last remaining autumn squash - a Crown Prince -  which was in excellent condition and perfect for a warming squash curry!  The seeds, roasted with a hint of chilli and garam masala were a great aperitive.

On Sunday, Valentine's Day, the temperature rose to zero and Luke had offered  to prune and cut pack the plum trees. He managed to cut back about half of the trees to 2m - 2.5m (6 - 8 feet) in height.  The ice on the water tank was more than 5cms/2 inches thick and our worst fears about the December sown broad beans were confirmed - I think they are unlikely to recover.  

14 February - November sown broad beans

14 February - November sown broad beans

The good news is that the broad beans which had been directly sown and which had so far failed to appear had actually survived and germinated, and had not been eaten by the mice. I lifted the fleece and they were just beginning to show their tips above the surface of the soil. After a brief peek, I decided to keep them covered in case of more cold weather.

There was, however, further bad news. The cold and wind had given "frost burn" to the emerging florets on the purple sprouting broccoli which I had hoped to pick that weekend.  I did managed to salvage enough for Sunday dinner and hope that with warmer weather they may sprout again. I did manage to pick the first of the forced rhubarb.

14 February - first picking of forced rhubarb

The following week, the beast from the east died away and temperatures rose but brought more heavy rain which prevented any serious work on the plot, but it provided an opportunity to clean up the pots and seed trays at home, ready for more indoor sowing in March.

By 18 February, the broad beans that had been sown in pots in the unheated conservatory to replace those lost in the storm had germinated and, at the weekend I put them outside to harden off.  

18 February Broad beans 

At the weekend, the rain eased off and I got the wood shredder out to deal with the previous weekend's prunings from the plum trees.

Prunings from plum trees 20 February

I also cut a few branches off the Leylandi in the garden to add to the chippings.

Chippings for mulching

Sunday 21 February was a bright sunny day and very spring-like with temperatures at an amazing 15C.  The mulch was transported to the plot and Luke finished pruning the other trees.

Chippings, transported - 21 February

There was some unexpected good news. The broad beans which had been devastated by Storm Darcy, and which I had written off, had made a remarkable recovery.  They weren't looking their best but there is hope that they will survive and produce a crop.  
21 February - recovery of the broad beans

The broad beans sown in pots in December and January and planted out had not been badly affected by the cold winds and, with the temperature rising, I judged that it was time to remove the fleece from the directly sown ones which were now just visible above the surface.

21 February - later sown broad beans

 directly sown broad beans, fleece removed

The purple sprouting broccoli had also recovered from the cold and was ready for harvesting.
21 February - purple sprouting broccoli

And a sure sign that spring is approaching - the daffodils were flowering and the rhubarb was looking good.

21 February - Daffodils in bloom

I decided to stop forcing the rhubarb and removed the cover.

21 February - time to remove the cover from the rhubarb

Heavy rain returned on Monday 22 February but Tuesday was bright and sunny and it was forecast to remain that way for the rest of the week. On Monday our next-door neighbour had engaged a tree surgeon to cut back the bamboo and bay tree that was shading our conservatory and this has given us much more light.  It's a welcome improvement.  They also cut back their eucalyptus tree which put much of their garden in the shade.  We have a similar (and larger) one which we had cut back severely and pollarded a couple of years ago. At first it looked unsightly but soon recovered with new growth.

We had given permission for our neighbours to remove all the branches from our eucalyptus which were overhanging their garden.  The result is quite drastic and the tree is now an odd shape but I am hopeful that it will grow back very quickly.

This is how it looked in the bright sunshine on Tuesday morning.

23 February - blue skies and the pruned eucalyptus

Not satisfied with the all the seeds I had from Seedy Sunday,  and the ones I ordered online earlier this year, and all those saved or left over from previous years, I felt it necessary to order more!!!  And then I spotted this on Instagram -

I think they must be talking about me!

With the fine weather, there was a chance to get on with some real work on the plot.  The wormeries were doing fine and there was the prospect of some really good compost to spread in a week or two.  We feed our worms well and they are so obliging. 

23 February - contents of the wormery

Sylvi had an energetic day, cutting back the brambles at the end of the plot and behind the shed and I dug over part of the area where the early potatoes will be planted next month.

preparing the ground for the Duke of York potatoes

I Sowed some Kelvedon Wonder early peas and Oregon sugar pod peas directly in raised beds.  I also planted out the Aquadulce  broad beans, which I had grown in pots at home, to fill the gaps created by the storms and the mice.

And I planted out a small Chinese Quince,  which I had been hardening off, firstly in the porch and then in the garden at home.

Chinese quince - 23 February

Red sky at night.....Thursday 25 February delivered a wonderful sunset, a good omen for Friday.

25 February - sunset

viewed from our back bedroom window

True to expectation, Friday 26 was a glorious day.  I spent some time tidying the garden and got the wood shredder out to deal with the previous week's prunings from the allotment and was able to deliver two sacks full of chippings for mulch back to the plot.

Saturday 27 was also a beautiful sunny day and without any wind so it was ideal weather to spray the plum trees with an organic vegetable oil and water wash.  I was also able to complete the digging over of the planned potato plot and removing remaining weeds.

27 February preparation of the potato plot

There were 3 self seeded chard plants which I decided to leave in situ for the time being as they were still producing leaves.

The last visit of the month on Sunday 28 February was a good time to continue clearing the raspberry beds of weeds and couch grass.  This is what they looked like before 👇....
Raspberries choked with couch grass
28 February

....and after 👇
Raspberries - weed free 28 Feb

But I am only halfway along the row, so there is much more still to do.  I took one last look for the month across the plot and headed home.

Broad beans and potato patch beyond -28 Feb

At home the crocuses were flowering on the lawn and I was looking forward to getting sowing and planting in the next month.

The garden lawn at home - 28 February

John Austin

Hove, February 2021

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