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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On a Wintry Day

 

Wintry showers spreading south during the morning…

There’s never a moment of inactivity on this allotment site, even on the bleakest of days. Yesterday was sunshine, wind and rain, sleet too, but still there were people working their plots; our neighbours across the valley stacking boards to replace rotten ones they’re using as terracing. We’ve continued to use felled sycamore to repair our beds through the winter; the results, a softening of outlines, an irregularity after the severe regimentation of scaffolding boards. The beds meander rather than sit grid-like across our plot, but then again we were never ones for squaring off, so the felled logs continue an arrangement that has evolved over time.

We often find the seaweed mulch scattered across the paths bordering the fruit beds. Sitting quietly by the shed drinking tea, we watch a blackbird root through, then select a strand of seaweed from a pile ringing a gooseberry bush. The seaweed is pulled away and the blackbird methodically picks at the strand. A Robin scratches and pecks at the wood chip on the path.
Then the rain sets in again & we decide to take shelter in our ‘new’ greenhouse. The frame was given by a neighbour on our site, the glazing we acquired through Freecycle, and where it didn’t fit we cut and patched with scavenged polycarbonate, securing it in place with gaffer tape where necessary. It withstood the wind yesterday, which is a good sign. Now it just needs plants.

Between showers we managed to weed and began to prune the sage bushes, but then we were engulfed by a hail storm and decided that we’d done enough for the day.

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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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Seasonal seaweed: harvest of the seasons, gift of the winds.

We recently went on one of our intermittent winter seaweed scavenges, in order to re-build our compost and manure piles ready for spring. Our supply of seaweed is important during spring for our potato beds; we cover them in winter (Nov/Dec) and leave the seaweed to rot down, then plant through any remaining, which then gets covered with compost or soil as we earth up the growing plants. It’s also important for our rhubarb and our asparagus beds, as well as valuable addition to our compost piles, and liquid fertiliser for our courgettes and pumpkins. We use seaweed in place of horse or cow manure to avoid the possibility of amino/clopyralid contamination and potential devastation for our allotment, something that has happened to many allotment holders on our site and across the city.

Winter along the south coast can be surprisingly stormy, and generally we’re assured of good supplies of seaweed during these months. Several days after stormy seas the seaweed harvest usually starts arriving on the shore. This year there’s been very little evidence of this. There are large seaweed beds off the coast at Bognor Regis, which provide the supply of Laminaria during the winter, one of the best seaweeds for mineral content. The Seaweed beds off Bognor are to the SW of Brighton, and the seaborne seaweed is moved along the coast through the process of longshore drift. The prevailing winds are from the SW, and the line of travel for longshore drift is also W-E. Hence, stormy seas tear seaweed from the seabed to the West of us, longshore drift transports the seaweed W-E along the coast then deposits it on the beaches, nearby. This year, the lack of seaweed suggests something else is happening.

Our current cold weather across the UK is caused by a weather system over the near continent. High pressure between Iceland and Norway has led to winds blowing East-West, from the high pressure to the north of us towards the low pressure to the west of the British Isles out in the Atlantic – remember ‘Winds blow from high to low’. So, I reckon, the winds have been blowing in the opposite direction to usual during winter, while longshore drift continues its movement West-East. This, I think has led to storm-torn seaweed clusters not moving inshore, but remaining suspended off-shore; the winds blowing from the East and longshore drift acting from the West has created an equilibrium. Hence, the distinct absence of seaweed this winter.

Such a small shift in our weather patterns, yet it could have a significant effect on our crops and harvests this year; I reckon we need to do some research.

collecting seaweed [2]

Spring Cleaning

Sunday afternoon, the clouds cleared and it felt like the first truly sunny day of the year, warm on the hillside but still cool at the bottom of the allotment.

Over the weekend we’ve been clearing the allotment, planting out new hedging, pruning and thinning existing hedges that have been neglected; our foray into fruit tree pruning has given us courage and a bit more knowledge about the process. We ended up with an enormous amount of wood, so we lit a rare bonfire to burn the diseased applewood that John pruned out last week. We also burnt the hawthorn, blackthorn and bramble – all the vicious stuff – and added the smaller branches to the compost heap to open it up, encourage more oxygen to circulate.

Our hedges badly needed pruning into shape, particularly where they’re growing out into the boundary paths. We’ve also allowed the flowering currant to grow too large. The bushes make a brilliant shady area in the summer but they’ve grown over a path making it impossible to use. Now that the sun’s shifted we also need to thin and lower the hedge at the bottom of the allotment so that the beds get more sun later in the day. We planted a hazel six years ago and it now has some very useful straight trunks ready for use as beanpoles; we’ll coppice it to the ground to encourage new growth for harvesting as native-grown beanpoles, instead of buying imported bamboo. Unfortunately, not all the growth will be useable; the local council send in contractors once a year who mutilate all the hedges without prior notice and the hazel became a victim of this ‘management’ practice two years ago. A case of ‘managing’ rather than understanding or caring about growing practices. Tick the box, job done, contract fulfilled, doesn’t matter that they’ve just ruined a hedge. Continue reading