Tuesday, 20 September 2022

Life on The Weald - August 2022

Life on The Weald - August 2022

& in the garden and kitchen

The Weald allotment, Hove - August 2022
July was the driest and hottest on record and August started in the same vein with hose-pipe bans in some parts of the country and an official drought declared by the Environment Agency in several regions (including the South East) on 12 August.

The butternut squashes had not fared well during the drought but the Crown Prince, Tromboncinos and pumpkins seemed to be surviving but smaller and less prolific than previous years, and the Courgettes and cucumbers were doing well.  We also had a reasonable crop of climbing French beans

2 August - pumpkin

2 August - tromboncinos

2 August - French beans, cucumbers and courgettes

I picked some of the Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella) that had gone to seed.  I saved the seeds and used the dried stems for decoration at home.

3 August - Love-in-a-mist 

I also picked some of the Banana chillies (yellow wax)

3 August - Banana chillies

I will leave the Crown Prince squashes until next month but in the meantime, the Patty Pan can be harvested.

3 August - Crown Prince squash

3 August - Patty pan squash

At home, some of the tomatoes were showing signs that they might ripen soon - its a bit like watching paint dry! Or what's that saying about watched kettles?

4 August - tomatoes (Marmande)

4 August - tomatoes (Super Mama)

We had family visiting for a few days in August and then there was Pride weekend so the allotment got a bit neglected. I did manage to lift some of the 2nd Early Nicola potatoes and was very pleased that they were pest free and showed no signs of blight or scab. I am hoping that the Charlotte will also have fared well. 

5 August - Nicola potatoes

In the mini-greenhouse on the plot, the chillies were doing well but I noticed brown lines on the jalapeños and wondered what the cause might be so I looked it up and found that it was both significant and common. The jalapeño heat level varies from mild to hot depending on growing conditions and can be from a few thousand to over 10,000 Scoville heat units. The number of brown scars on the pepper is known as 'corking', and is an indicator of heat level. Growing conditions which increase heat level also cause the pepper to form scars.

7 August - Orange Habaneros

7 August - Jalapeño 


I picked the yellow wax (banana) chillies that were growing outside. There were courgettes and patty-pan squashes to harvest and I also picked some of the climbing French beans and some purple dwarf ones.

7 August -Courgettes, beans, peppers & squash

At home, the Orange Habaneros were ripening

8 August - Orange habanero

On 10 August beefsteak tomatoes seemed resistant to ripening, despite all the sunshine we have had - am I being too impatient? (It's the watched kettle phenomenon again)

10 August - Marmande tomatoes

There had been a delivery of tree prunings and woodchips on the allotment, so this was a cue to take advantage of the good weather and renew the central path and the paths between the beds.  There was, however, a lot of couch grass and bindweed to be removed.

10 August - bindweed and  couch grass roots

Having removed the weeds, I laid a layer of cardboard and spread the wood chips on top.
10 August - footpath renewal

10 August - footpath renewal

On arrival on the plot on 13 August I was confronted with swarms of flying ants - it must be "flying ant day"!  Contrary to popular myth, however, there is no such thing as "Flying ant day" but the pehenomenen does occur around the same time each year, between July and August and follows a period of hot weather.  The actual day will vary in different parts of the country and it is when the emerging new "queens" leave the nest with swarms of male ants, with whom they mate, and then go on to form a new colony.

Flying ant day is fairly harmless to humans but not very pleasant to experience.

"Flying ant day"

It was another warm dry day on 16 August  with temperatures in the low twenties.  It was hot work, but I continued to renew the paths.

16 August - path renewal

It was also time to harvest the borlotto beans.

16 August - Borlotto beans

I took these home and laid on trays and left them in a sunny place indoors to ensure they were fully dried
Borlotto beans drying

Whilst on the plot, I also lifted some more Nicola potatoes.

2nd Early Nicola potatoes

At last, on 17 August, the beefsteak tomatoes appeared to be ripening.

17 August - Marmande tomatoes

We were about to go away for a few days to celebrate my 78th birthday so I gave the plot a good watering before we left in case the dry spell continued.  We were spending a week in Holland and had glorious hot weather, although I was pleased to hear that there was some rain back home!

On our return on Friday 26 August it was great to see that the tomatoes were ripening nicely and we had a good haul of both Super Marmande and Yellow perfection cherry ones.

26 August - Marmande & Yellow perfection tomatoes

The earlier sown beetroots were looking healthy and might be ready soon and the later sown ones had germinated.

26 August - beetroots

The Crown Prince squashes and pumpkin had benefited from the recent rain and had increased in size

26 August - Crown Prince  squash

26 August - Pumpkin

The purple dwarf French beans were flowering again so there are hopes of a new crop.

26 August - French beans flowering

There were also more plums to be picked.

26 August - plums on the tree

26 August - Plums for the eating

26 August - Cucumber on the vine

26 August - Patty pan

26 August - good harvest

The month was drawing to a close and autumn is approaching but the temperature on 27 August was still in the twenties. At home I was waiting for more tomatoes to ripen.

27 August - Super Marmande

But there were lots of other tomatoes to be picked as well as chillies

27 August - Chocolate Cherry tomatoes and Habanero chillies

27 August - Tomato harvest

It was decision time about the plums - and I decided to try a plum tarte tatine.

27 August - preparing for a tarte tatine

Tarte tatine before turning!

On 28 August I decided to do something with an old redundant wheelbarrow.  I had tried , in vain, with WD40 to free the wheel but without success. Should I take it to the dump or find a new use?  I decided to convert it to a planter! Firstly, I painted it.

28 August - painting the wheelbarrow

The following day, I continued painting, having drilled some holes for drainage.

29 August - the wheelbarrow project

30 August it was time to plant the new planter. I planted winter savory. pineapple mint, French tarragon, grapefruit mint  and some cinammon basil  which someone had given as a birthday present.  The new trough was more for the bees than for us as we have a plentiful supply of herbs at home.

30 August - the wheelbarrow planted

30 August - the wheelbarrow planted

There were still more plums to be picked!

30 August

I began to make some plum jelly and put it to strain overnight

31 August - Jelly making day

It has been a strange year so far and the weather forecast is that temperatures will drop in September with quite a lot of rain.  The garden certainly needs the rain but I hope we see enough sunshine to ripen the rest of the tomatoes, peppers and squashes.

John Austin

Hove, August 2022

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Life on The Weald - July 2022

Life on The Weald - #Plot247 - and in the garden and kitchen - July 2022

Marmande tomatoes - 2 July

2 July At home the beefsteak tomatoes were doing well but the cherry tomatoes were only just coming into flower .  At the allotment, l lifted some of the garlic plants and brought them home to leave in the sun to dry out

Marmande tomatoes - 2 July 

2 July - Garlic harvest
3 July  My home sown Rudolph  purple sprouting broccoli had made little progress and looked poorly specimens. I did toy with the idea of getting rid of them but in the end decided to plant them out in one of the empty raised beds.  The Akito cucumbers sown last month had grown their second true leaves, so I also planted these out.  I put bottle cloches over both the broccoli and cucumbers to give them a fighting chance against pests.

4 July I harvested the rest of the garlic

Remainder of the garlic harvest - 3 July

In the garden I had spotted a rather untidy plant which I couldn't identify and assumed was a weed!  I did contemplate pulling it up but decided to leave it to see if it would flower to help identify it. 

An untidy weed?

It was just as well that I left it, because a few days later it burst into flower -
a large flowered Evening Primrose (Oenothera).  I had completely forgotten that I had planted this a couple of years ago, before the pandemic.

Evening Primrose - 4 July

Another strange plant had appeared during the pandemic.  It looked vaguely familiar but had now completely taken over a raised bed.  I discovered it was Houttuynia.

Houttuynia - 4 July

I then recalled that I had bought a very cheap selection of summer flowering plants from Lidl two or three years ago and this was one of them.  Houttuynia likes moist shady conditions which is why it is doing so well.  It produces adventitious roots and can regrow rhizomes from any part of the foliage and is considered an invasive plant.  I think we are stuck with it but am thankful it is in a brick built raised bed so won't take over the garden.  I have also learned that one of its common names is "Fish Mint"  and that it is widely used in SE Asia as a vegetable, a herb and in chutneys.  I have tasted the leaves and have to say that I didn't find it an entirely pleasant experience but I might think about how it might be used in Vietnamese, Chinese or Korean recipes in combination with other herbs and spices.

5 July I visited a garden centre to get some more potting compost but couldn't resist buying a few sad looking tomato plants which were being sold off and were in need of some TLC.  I took them home and potted them up with the addition of a sprinkling of bicarbonate of soda and Epsom salts - fingers crossed that they will recover and survive and hopefully bear fruit.  On the allotment the courgettes were looking ready for harvest.

5 July - Courgette

6 July I directly sowed a double half-row of purple French beans (Tepee) and harvested half a dozen courgettes and lifted some red Duke of York potatoes.
I also spotted a caterpillar of the Cinnabar Moth.

Catterpillar of the Cinnabar moth

I mentioned last month that we were not short of ragwort (stinking willie) on the plot and this is the main source of food for the cinnabar caterpillar and they do little damage to other plants. I have also seen them feeding on groundsel.

Later that week we attended a reception in London, which proved to be a big mistake. On Sunday 10 July we were due to attend a friendly cricket match at Windsor and we both took Lateral Flow Tests, which were negative, before setting off.  During the course of the day, Sylvi developed flu-like symptoms and barely made it home. The following day she tested positive for Covid and was very poorly and went into self-isolation.  I tested negative, however, and nipped to the plot that evening to do some watering.

On the morning of 11 July, again I still tested negative for Covid so visited the plot again.  It was 26C by mid-morning but, as there was no cloud and no wind, it felt much hotter. Despite having watered the night before, the ground was rock hard and it was difficult to make any holes with a dibber to plant anything.

I soaked the ground in my first Hugel bed and with some difficulty, I did manage to sow another half double row of Teepee purple French beans.  I had previously planted out the Tepee beans that I had sown at home and also directly sown some more seeds the previous week. I also sowed two half rows of green French beans in the raised bed where the mangetout and sugar snap peas had been earlier.  

I picked several young courgettes, around 8-10 inches in length plus a couple of larger ones which were about to become marrows!  I began lifting the second row of 1st early red Duke of York potatoes. There was no haulm as the plants had completely died back and weeds had taken over. If I hadn’t left the string marking the rows, it would have been difficult to locate them.  

The tromboncinos  had put on some growth and were beginniong to trail along the ground, so I constructed a tripod with wooden stakes for them to climb up, (if they ever learn to climb!) and then thoroughly watered everything. 

The following day, 13 July, because the ground was so dry, I went to the plot at 7am to water everything again.  Despite the dry weather, the French beans I had sown a week earlier were beginning to germinate, and they desperately needed water. 

13 July -purple French bean germinated

I also transplanted a chilli, Hot banana, from a pot that they had outgrown to a raised bed. 

 13 July - Hot banana

By the time I returned home, around 9am, it was already 24C.  Later that day the tempreature reached 30C. I was feeling fairly rough so took another LFT test, which this time proved positive.  I soon developed all of the symptoms associated with the new Omicron strain of the Coronavirus.  So now both Sylvi and I were isolating at home for several days and unable to visit the plot or even leave the house.

There continued to be no rain and daytime temperatures remained in the mid to high twenties with a peak of 34-37C on 19 July.

It was not until 22 July that I tested negative and felt able to venture out. Whilst we had been indisposed, Sylvi's son, Luke, had been watering the plot in the evenings and picking courgettes.  Apart from a brief shower on 13 July there had been no rain for weeks.

The squashes had suffered in the drought. The fruits were tiny and a lot of the foliage had turned brown.

22 July - butternut squash

The pumpkin was looking more healthy. It isn't in a true Hugel bed but is growing where, 2 years earlier, we had dug a hole and buried a lot of organic material.

22 July - pumpkin

The French beans also seemed to be surviving the drought (thanks to Luke's evening watering).

22 July - purple French beans (Tepee)

I had been offered a tumble compostor by the plot run by a local nursery school. The only problem was transporting it as it was much larger than I had anticpated.
Thankfully, Luke came to the rescue and we (well, he) managed to move it successfully.

23 July - transporting the compostor

moving the beast!

The problem then was where to put it.  My plan is that it should be out of sight at the back of the plot but that requires a bit of reorganisation.  It has been placed, temporarily in the middle of the plot where the Duke of York potatoes had been growing.

successfully in its temporary location

Whilst on the plot, I harvested some courgettes and climbing French beans for the weekend.
23 July - harvest

At home the Ornage habanero was beginning to set fruit and there was one large, very healthy looking specimen.

23 July - Orange habanero

Orange habanero

Orange habanero

The Orange habanero is very hot, measuring between 350,000 and 500,000 on the Scoville scale.

The beefsteak tomatoes were beginning to ripen and I picked some to finish ripening indoors to give the others a chance to develop.  I also had one lone cherry tomato!

23 July - Beefsteak, Marmande, tomatoes

On the plot, the Jalapeño pepper was also ripening.  This is a fairly mild pepper, around 4,000-8,000 on the  Scoville scale (or so it says on the label!)


Marmande tomato

Picking some of the tomatoes before fully ripe, seems to have paid off as they had fully ripened indoors and the plants were becoming too top heavy.

Tomatoes ripening indoors

giant beefsteak Marmande tomato

giant beefsteak Marmande tomato

When leaving the allotment about 2pm on 28 July, I spotted this creature in the distance.

28 July - Hedgehog in the distance

I approached very slowly and the hog froze as I got near.

Hedgehogs are not usually seen out in the heat of the day and there might be reason to think it was distressed but as I backed away it scampered into the undergrowth. It's possible that it was dehydrated and searching for water.  A number of plotholders have encountered hogs in distress and many have now created safe water stations for them and other wildlife during the heatwave. Hedghogs are a gardener's friend as they do no damage to crops but do feed on slugs, snails and other creatures that harm our plants.  Most allotment holders are keen to support bio-diversity and encourage a balanced eco-system and other creatures such as bees, which are essential to life, also get thirsty in heatwave conditions and need access to water and there has been a great deal of information shared on our site about ways that we can provide safe drinking for wildlife.

As we approach the end of the month, there is no sign of a let up in the heatwave and no rain expected.  There is a possibility that a hose-pipe ban may be imposed so it has been important to fill all water-butts and any other containers with water in case the supply is cut off and to ensure a minimal amount of water remains in ponds.  Plot holders are discouraged from watering during the day as 90% can be lost in evaporation and water on the leaves in the heat of the day can lead to scorching. It is important to apply water to the base of the plant so that it has more chance of reaching the roots.  I have sunk a number of inverted plastic bottles (with the bottom cut off) next to thirsty plants. Filling these with water means the water gets down in the soil to the roots rather than lying on the surface and evaporating.
Mulching is also of high priority in these conditions.  Luckily we have a good supply of tree prunings and wood chips which I have put round the base of all our fruit bushes to conserve moisture as well as enriching the soil over time with organic matter.  Much to do in the coming days, whilst praying for rain!

John Austin

Hove, July 2022