A Fragile Existence

Across the track, directly opposite our plot, there’s a hole where a hedge should be, the charred remnants of a shed visible. The lower gate to our plot is shattered, the locks on both sheds have been forced and the contents ransacked. We don’t leave expensive tools, don’t own expensive tools to leave. It’s the arbitrary nature of the act that’s unsettling; one shed damaged, another on an adjacent plot untouched, why? What remains of the shed opposite might be the most obvious and dramatic evidence, but sheds have been broken into all the way up the valley.

Thankfully this doesn’t happen often, it’s been five or six years since a similar incident on the site, our sheds not targeted that time. Looking at the chaos in the top shed, we’re not so fortunate this week. That said, two trays of elephant garlic remained untouched, apart from one bulb, the cloves separated and thrown onto the veranda, and nothing taken apart from a small lump hammer.

We’ve been on this site for over twenty years, arbitrary acts of vandalism happen; years ago, a caravan on the plot next to ours was set alight destroying our neighbour’s occasional workshop, but fortunately they weren’t at home. Allotments are havens of tranquility, but vulnerable too; all too easily disrupted.

The damage done, we replace boxes on shelves, repair the locks and get on with life on this plot; the early potatoes have been harvested, the beds refreshed and our leeks are in the ground now. We’ve picked our first beetroot; Madhur Jaffrey has a wonderful recipe for beetroot purée that we never grow tired of, and we’re growing Golden Burpee courgettes this year. They have a lovely flavour, are much firmer than our other varieties and planted into manure and compost which is a mixture of tea, egg shells, and banana skins. We garden on chalk which can be poor, so the nutrients in the tea mix are valuable for greedy crops like courgettes and pumpkins.

We’ve been making lots of courgette frittatas:
Courgettes seared dry on a skillet
Potatoes, cooked & sliced
Onions & garlic, sautéed
Mixed Herbs + seasoning
12 eggs

 

Another Autumn day

It’s been calm today, a light wind blowing up the valley, but cold with it. Our neighbour across the valley has retrieved their polytunnel, or rather the frame. Looking at the wreckage a few days ago, a casualty of the storms that battered our coast, we thought it had been comprehensively demolished, but the frame looks intact, at least from where we’re standing, and covering can be replaced.

We’ve been working on the garlic bed; open composting with the remnants of earlier crops, and then covering with a layer of seaweed, and today covering with compost from the paths. We lay woodchip every year and find that after a couple of years the wood chip has been trodden into the path, and rotted, making wonderful compost. We dig the paths out, replace with wood chip, start the process again; in a couple of years the compost/path will be ready to spread across beds again.

These are shorter days now; sitting in the shed drinking tea in the fading light is a lovely way to watch the day pass.

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Another Stormy Day

Another deep Atlantic low is expected to arrive in the western channel on Monday morning.

A stormy day, turbulent sea, and just the two of us wandering across wave scoured shingle, with little evidence of the detritus we found yesterday. Swept out to sea again, it’ll be deposited elsewhere with the incoming tide.
There’s plenty of seaweed scattered across the shingle, from strand line to low water, and mostly Toothed Wrack (Fucus serratus) and Fucus ceranoides, seaweeds of the upper, middle and lower shores. Hold fasts no longer holding fast, holding onto nothing; stranded, like the solitary shoe we encounter.

A metal detectorist appears, but he stays above the strand line sweeping the shingle.
He’s still listening, still searching, when we leave, carrying bags of seaweed. Passing by we say hello, wonder if he’s found anything.
‘No, just bits of foil, aluminium gives a good signal. It gives a good signal, does aluminium’.
‘Good luck’. But he’s wrapped his headphones round his ears again, returned to his searching.

We’ve collected enough seaweed to cover one of the potato beds.

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After the Storm

The Met Office issue a weather warning: YELLOW WARNING of RAIN and WIND for much of southern and south-eastern England.

Issued at: 08:58 on Sun 20 Nov.
Valid from: 09:00 on Sun 20 Nov.
Valid to: 13:00 on Sun 20 Nov.

The strongest of the winds and heavy rain associated with Storm Angus are now confined to parts of southeast England (strongest winds in the Amber warning area) and will clear to the east through the rest of this morning, although some gusts of 50 mph may still affect eastern parts of East Anglia and Kent into the early afternoon.

Battered by the storm last night, we decided, before checking for any damage on the allotment, to visit the beach in the hope of collecting seaweed. The sea was still turbulent but the wind had eased slightly, and there wasn’t as much seaweed as we thought there’d be, but enough; and anyway being on the beach on such a windy day was exhilarating.
We often need to separate seaweed from the flotsam that litters the shoreline, and today was no different, just more than usual, thrown up by last night’s storm. So much rubbish, ghost tackle, battered and broken but still recognisable; what we throw away, returned with the incoming tide.
Collecting seaweed attracts attention, people curious to know what we’re doing and why? We explain composting; covering beds on the allotment; adding trace elements to chalky soil. We managed three bags today, enough to cover a bed.

Fortunately there was no damage on our plot, but one of the allotments, across the valley from us, had lost their polytunnel. Picked up and rolled across several plots, it lay upended; nothing but twisted wreckage.

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Another Seaweed Day

We’ve been preparing the potato and garlic beds; open composting comfrey, borage, adding the remants of the courgette plants; and collecting seaweed. It’s been perfect weather for wandering along the shingle, dodging waves, filling bin bags with seaweed. We gathered enough to spread across the four beds we’re working on. The seaweed will rot down over winter, and we’ll continue open composting to build the beds.

Once the leaves have fallen we can see what Sycamore and Ash needs felling around the site, and use the trunks for terracing, as the beds are on a chalk ridge towards the top of the plot; by open composting we’re making soil.

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Hen’s Eggs and Manure

Today we’ve been collecting more manure from Phil for our pumpkins, and came away with eggs from their small flock of hens. A fox got into the coop late last year & wrought havoc, as they do; these are a new flock just beginning to lay, producing beautiful pale blue eggs. Time spent collecting manure is also time to catch up with Phil and Anne, & play with Mutley, their young collie. He demands attention as usual, so time at the stables is divided between throwing a battered ball for him, and filling manure bags, then drinking tea.

During the last few days we’ve been preparing beds, lifting the last of the leeks, dividing bunching onions, re-planting some, harvesting most. One of our neighbours has sycamores growing on her boundary; we cut down the smaller trees for her and used the timber for terracing. There’s sycamore and ash, apple trees too, on the unassigned land bordering the lower entrance to our site. The sycamore needs removing as we’re planting the area with native species (mainly Ash & Hazel); the allotment association is managing the area as a long term project for the production of Hazel & Ash poles, an attempt to cut down on the amount of bamboo we buy in each year.

Using the felled sycamore, we’ve created another bed near the top of our hilly plot, dug out of the chalk & filled with the manure we’d collected, plus seaweed – we plan to try sweetcorn & courgettes here; we have also cleared land for a second greenhouse. It has to be constructed by May as the tomato seeds have germinated & are growing strongly. At the moment we have a frame and several panes of glass, so in the coming weeks we’ll be skip hunting, looking on Freecycle to source polycarbonate to complete it. For now we will concentrate on getting the frame rebuilt.

 

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Collecting seaweed

With the wind easing briefly over the weekend, along the South coast, we were out collecting seaweed to mulch the fruit bushes, apple trees, and asparagus beds. We’ve also covered the potato beds so that the seaweed will rot over winter ready for planting in the spring, & the garlic beds have been covered ready for planting this week, rain permitting.

Strong south westerly and southerly winds have thrown up lots of Maidens hair seaweed; Ectocarpus siliculosus is found from the middle shore down to shallow water. This is the first time we’ve seen it dominating the shoreline, with little evidence of any other species. Potentially, the heavier & larger seaweeds are still being held in the sea by the energy of the waves, while the lighter seaweeds like Maiden’s hair have been dropped on the beaches during lulls in the winds currently lashing the South coast. It’s possibly also evidence of a large community of the seaweed in the Bognor to Brighton littoral zone.

 

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