It’s been a while … but it’s harvest time already

All I can say is that the absence of posts on this site is testimony to the rapidity of this year’s growing season. We had a very warm spring with dry weather – watering, watering, watering. Thankfully, we now have our own water source on the platform and a super long hose. We’ve tried very hard to keep to our own harvested rain water, but the water butts ran out in May this year, and rain fall has been unpredictable. And carrying full watering cans to all our garden spaces is a real challenge with quite a few back injuries in the group. The hose has been a blessing.

The dry spring then gave way to torrential rain spells and very high winds. In June, the temperatures got up to 35C. That’s very unusual here, even on the south coast. That heat spell came just at the right time for ripening our fruit and veg, though it did require a lot of watering – thanks to Jenny and Madeleine in our group, who have become the main manipulators of a very long and cumbersome hose.

So we’ve already had beans and courgettes, the chard has been picked and is coming back, and the spectacle of the summer is our fruit trees. It’s clearly been a great fruiting year. All our fruit trees are heavy with fruit. Even the plum has come back from what looked like a terminal attack of aphids in the spring. We’ve already collected windfalls and tasted the pears: delicious. It’s true much of the fruit has been ‘shared’, i.e. there are signs that other creatures have tested it before us. But it’s a case of just cutting out the burrowed bits. Apple purée made with our perfumed Tinsley Quince apples is delicious. And even Crawley Beauty has delivered this year: beautiful dappled green and red fruit which are sweetish cookers.

Our pear harvest looks amazing – both fat Beurre Hardy and the more svelte Concorde. I’ve just been reading up on harvesting pears as it turns out it’s not such a great idea to let them ripen on the tree. Last year I think we left the pears too long and in the relative heat of my conservatory. They were mushy and flavourless when we came to make them into crumble for our harvest supper in mid October. It seems pears need to be harvested when barely ripe and kept to ripen in a cool place, not in the sun. Seems counter intuitive but here’s the source – extension.oregonstate.edu . Oregon State University who post some very detailed and scientifically careful horticultural advice.

We’re only at the end of August now, and have just experienced that rare thing: a really hot and sunny bank holiday weekend. We’ve already got our harvest supper planned for the end of September this year – at least three weeks earlier than in previous years. I think Tuesday will see us harvesting at least some of the pears. Will they last until the end of September for Jenny’s pear and Wensleydale soup? We’ll just have to see. Otherwise, it’ll be pear sorbet, pear jelly, pear purée in the freezer stored to be made into crumble. But there’s no doubting: this has definitely been the best year yet for our mini-orchard.

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Spring – renewing, restoring

It’s almost the end of March, the evenings are lighter, the days are warmer. Finally, we’ve had some dry sunny days to clear up, renew and restore the gardens at London Rd station.

The trees pits and platform planters have been really beautiful this year. Bulbs we planted last year have flowered well again, and the polyanthus have been going almost all year round.

The platform planters – particularly the middle one – are brimming with spring blooms, and the scent from the skimmia japonica we planted last year is beguiling. Unfortunately, the poor skimmia keeps getting sat on and uprooted … and we’ve had to work hard on several occasions to revive it and settle it back in the soil.

A couple of weeks back, we planted lots of new polyanthus and pansies in the shady plot and in gaps in the tree pits and platform planters. So far, we’ve managed to protect the new planting in the tree pits from dogs, cars, pedestrians and foxes.

Last week another group of volunteers from Network Rail came for a work day at the station, and we planted up a further tree pit at the entrance to Shaftesbury Place. As luck would have it, it was raining, windy and cold but we managed nevertheless to clear the weeds and get some more primroses in to brighten things up.  We also sowed some wildflower seeds from GrowWild. This week, we’ve followed up with planting some silver-leaved cineraria to fill in the gaps, and watering copiously after a couple of days of warm sunshine. It’s a tricky spot as people walking around the corner tend to trample over the tree pit, and the plants are always at the mercy of dogs, but it does make Shaftesbury Place look more cheerful.


 

 

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Stationary tales – the video

It’s been a busy 2016 and as usual I’m only just catching up with lots of admin and interesting news, now that the weather is cold, there’s evidence of frost and the gardens at London Road Station are asleep.

As usual, Madeleine has produced another lovely video over the course of this year: this time, it’s about station partnerships throughout the South East, but the LRSP, and in particular our giant leeks, feature! Lots of very inspiring projects going on up and down the railway lines.

Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPqziBuX5a0

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Rebuilding the raised beds

We’ve just transformed our ten 3m scaffolding boards and the two 3m long posts into the sides of our new raised beds. It involved sawing and drilling, and some of us are not very proficient at woodwork. So a great opportunity to try … and a wonderful sense of achievement. It was wet outside, so we couldn’t assemble the raised beds in the edible plot, but they are now ready, give or take a few drillings.

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Renewing the plot

There’s been a lot of renewal work going on at London Rd Station during November, helped by the dry(ish) weather. The wet weather in the first part of the year really did for our raised beds. Already in May, we realised the corner posts of our central beds were rotting. The rot got progressively worse until we had to tie the old scaffolding planks together with leads and bang in a couple of temporary boards to retain the long shady bed against the wall.

Given that these were our first raised beds, constructed from used scaffolding boards back in 2011, it’s not surprising they were collapsing. The key detail we discovered later when we constructed the fruit tree beds along the south facing wall: make sure you line the beds with pond liner or equivalent to keep the moisture from the wood.

And so it was that we decided to replace our raised beds. Not an easy task really, as it required digging out the soil. Enter the cavalry: a Network Rail volunteer gang. Thanks to our guardian angel Sam Bryant, formerly of Sussex Community Rail Partnership, and collaboration between our Network Rail contact, Eddie Burton, and our Southern line manager, Lisa Stacey, we were visited in early November by five Network volunteers who enthusiastically swapped a day in the office for a day digging out the soil from our raised beds and clearing weeds from the station forecourt. Southern’s maintenance team were also on site.

It took three people three hours or so to dig out the soil. The bridge then got swept and the shady triangle cleared and tidied. Lisa got stuck in cleaning up the platform shelters, Sam dropped by to do what she’s so good at – motivate, enthuse, congratulate, take photos – and Eddie drew the short straw: sweeping up leaves from the forecourt which then reappeared with the next gust of wind. It was a really productive day, we really appreciated everybody’s hard work and the station is looking all the better for it. Network volunteers have even enquired about coming back to London Rd Station. Wonderful … That soil is going to need to go back into the new raised beds! (There are other jobs to be done such as cleaning our lovely underpass mosaic;) We’d love to see you again – a big thank-you to all.

Since then, the station has had further repainting work and looks so much prouder. The genial decorators even took the trouble to redecorate the areas around the edible plot and the composting area. It looks so much better that we’ll forgive the spits and spots of paint on the fruit trees and platform planters – inevitable, really and we can deal with it.

The mini-orchard and the forecourt and platform planters are now taking a bit of a rest over the winter, while the shady plot has also been cleared ready for spring replanting. We’re right now planning our carpentry workshop in order to reconstruct the new raised beds. Lovely new scaffolding boards – our investment, thanks to a kind donation from our neighbour John – to be lined with LDPE in the form of old compost bags turned inside out – still frugal and re-using after all these years.

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Autumn – don’t prune, paint!

Autumn has arrived, lots of yellow and gold leaves on the trees and the station forecourt is littered with dried dead leaves. It’s been unusually dry. We had rain last Tuesday (of course, on our workday, but it led to comfy conversations in the conservatory on plans for 2017).

We did a good job of tidying the edible plot the Tuesday before last, and we cleared a lot of straggly plants from the poor old shady triangle. This area has really suffered from the dry conditions this summer. It’s shaded by sycamore trees but the base of the soil is some horrible claggy hardcore-and-chalk, so despite adding year upon year of compost, it still dries out quickly. Given the pressures on watering this last summer, I deliberately ignored the shady plot. I knew we just couldn’t get enough water into the soil to keep lush growth going, and we needed to concentrate our energies and water on other areas. So it will need reconditioning (with our compost – now) and probably replanting (shrubs and bulbs now).

Which brings me to timing and pruning … As the garden becomes dormant, I have such an urge to start cutting everything back, a kind of Autumn ‘spring-clean’ as we retreat into winter. And it seems this urge is shared by others. My neighbours engaged me in conversation about pruning their apple cordons the other day, and next door’s plum trees seem to be crying out for a chop. BUT … Now is NOT the best time to prune established fruit trees, particularly dwarf varieties and cordons. For APPLES AND PEARS = AUGUST, for PLUMS = JUNE.

Minor pruning of apples and pears, particularly to shape a tree, can take place during winter, but pruning of plums should only be done when the tree is growing (not dormant) and when weather conditions are not soggy (as though one can predict the English weather!). During the dormant season, plums are more susceptible to insect and fungal infections, and in particular silver leaf.

So the straggly branches of my plum trees will have to stay, unless the winter gales really start and mean that a compromise prune to stop the tree rocking has to take place. The station garden plum hardly fruited this year – all the more reason to leave well alone until late spring. What we will do is PAINT THE TREE TRUNKS WITH GREASE to lessen invasion by aphids, ants and other insects. That does need to be done NOW!

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Harvest supper 2016

our-harvest-2016-lIt’s been a good growing year this year: we had a wet and coolish early summer but this had the advantage of getting lots of moisture into our light chalky soil, and it was followed up by lots of sunny days in August and September. We’ve had lettuce and other greens from June, tomatoes and cucumber in the greenhouse and ripe courgettes in the plot since early July, onions harvested and hung at the end of July. More recently, we’ve been harvesting our apples and pears. I sowed rocket and green beans again towards the end of August, beginning of September and both have produced a harvest in October. We’ve also had several sowings of beetroot and the leeks we sowed in March. Above our final harvest: onions, chard, leeks, rocket, beans, tomatoes, pears and some very pretty flowers.

So our harvest supper this year was:

onionsElspeth’s Anglo-French onion soup – French-style onion soup with our onions sweated down in butter for an hour to give a caramelised mess, Marmite added, along with stock and a splash of French dry white wine, finished off in the oven with French bread spread with Dijon mustard and Cheddar cheese.

Madeleine’s garden lasagne – more slow cooking, this time of lots of chard and rocket leaves with onion, garlic and tomatoes forming the filling between the lasagne sheets, then topped with a creamy béchamel sauce and cheese.

marks-veg-fishcakesMark’s veggie ‘fish-cakes’ – having been asked to ‘do something with leeks’, Mark has been experimenting for the last week (the rest of us tend to just chuck ingredients together in familiar patterns) with a fishless, leek-based ‘fish-cake’. His creation involved a mixture made of mashed potatoes and leeks (there must have been butter and cream in there too), dipped in egg and herbs including home grown chili, and lightly fried: a great success!

A rocket and tomato salad with a dressing made with the remains of the basil, and a tiny red onion.

Jenny’s three fruit crumble – a crumble that included elements from our mini-orchard: some of the apples and pears and some plums from my garden. Jenny had a bit of a challenge: many of the apples were blighted, the dinner-table-gdpears still hadn’t ripened and the plums were over-ripe. She gamely produced a delicious crumble with extra fruit and a hint of ginger. She has staked her claim to the soup next year: Wensleydale and Pear (assuming the pears ripen at the right time), which sounds fantastic. Two crumbles, along with custard and cream, were rather heavy to transport across town.

It was another great convivial evening, just the way to celebrate the end of the growing season and the start of longer nights and cooler days. The Ed Furey cup was on the table to reinforce the community spirit!

madeleine-serving all-at-table all-of-us-mad-serving mad-phil-chris

 

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