Cold but growing …

The north wind was blowing today … and it was freezing. We’ve already had a couple of air frosts near London Rd Station and it’s only the beginning of November. After the clocks went back at the end of October, it’s easy to feel that winter is on its way. We’ve been winding down: our last two sessions have mostly taken place in the comfort of the conservatory. We did those ‘autumny’ tasks: cleaning and oiling tools, talking about next year’s seeds and cleaning out pots.

I cleared out the maturing compost bin: I think this is our best compost so far – crumbly and not too soggy. But there wasn’t a lot of it, probably because we’ve had it in the resting compost bin for almost a year now. We’ll need to mulch the shady garden and there’s not a lot left.

We’ve agreed that we’ll continue meeting at least up until Christmas, even if it’s only for an hour or so in and around the garden, and then of course, tea and a natter.

In fact, the garden is still growing: I noticed that the onions are coming up and the chard and beetroot seedlings are doing well. We’ve also still got Verbena bonariensis growing in the tree pit in front of the station.

We’ve removed our perennial – and long-suffering – rhubarb and have divided it: both ‘pieces’ are doing well and are growing on ready for replanting in the spring. Poor rhubarb: remarkably it was growing well in a shady corner in one of our old raised beds by the wall. When we reconstructed the raised bed at the beginning of the year, we decided to build it around the rhubarb – which carried on growing at least half a metre lower than everything else. We’ll now have two rhubarb to plant in the raised raised bed: we’ve been adding old grow bag compost and the compost from our bin to raise the level. A bit of manure, and the rhubarb(s) will feel at home.



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Harvest Supper 2017

Another great celebratory dinner at the end of September! This year we held our Harvest Supper significantly earlier than usual, reflecting the much earlier harvest. Indeed, for the first time since we started in 2011, we had very little to be harvested in the station garden by the middle of September.  We’ve missed cavalo nero this year, the potatoes in bags were a disappointment and the courgettes didn’t do quite as well as in some years, but the climbing beans were great.

The star produce this year was from our mini-orchard: lots of apples and the most delicious pears. It’s been challenging storing them – some have gone squashy and had to be composted, but most ripened nicely in the dark of my garage.

So our meal this year:

Onion soup, now a perennial as onions are one of our most reliable crops. Diane made lovely wholemeal rolls to go with the soup.

Mark’s fish pie, made with greens and herbs from the garden and if our potato crop had been better and later, it could have included our potatoes. This was a delicious combination of layers of spinach, wild salmon, potato and a grated Provolone topping.

Garden beans (frozen after picking in mid-September) and Madeleine’s baked kohlrabi worked really well as sides or mains for non-fish eaters.

Garden salad – the Greek idea of chopped tomatoes and cucumber with a simple olive oil dressing and some chopped lettuce. The Sweet Million tomatoes having been producing in the greenhouse since the middle of June, and the cucumber plants, also highly productive beteween June and August, rallied mid-September to produce a final few for our supper.

Pear and apple crumble – our pears and our apples – with hints of downland blackberries and a wholemeal and walnut topping. And … a raspberry/blackberry coulis, just made from our fruit simmered down with a bit of honey, whizzed and strained.

Ending with pears with cheese, a great combination really highlighting the flavour of our wonderful pears this year.

This was our seventh harvest supper … hard to believe that the LRSP garden has been going since 2011, still with great enthusiasm.

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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 – . 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:

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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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