After 6 weeks without rain, it was with some trepidation that I went to check on the fruit treesonJubilee field (by the Sports Centre.) We had pruned the trees in the spring and I had thinned the fruit quite a lot in June as most of the trees had set a lot of apples or pears. At that stage it looked as if it would be an excellent crop.
Now though, the lack of water was having an effect. At least three of the apple trees have many leaves with brown edges, and the apples are very small. I watered every tree thoroughly, and also gave them a dose of Tomorite to encourage the fruit to grow. But, basically, we are dependent on some really heavy and prolonged rain to have any real effect. On a more optimistic note, several apple trees, the pears and the quince are doing well, and the plum tree we planted in the spring seems to be surviving the drought.
After a cold, wet spring, I was feeling frustrated at how difficult it was to get started on the vegetable-growing season. We had sown beans and parsnip seeds, and almost none had germinated, and planted out carrot, beetroot and spinach seedlings in April only to find wind and cold temperatures almost killed them. Although there was plenty of apple blossom on the trees at Jubilee Field, it was hard to believe there were many flying insects to pollinate them.
But a few weeks later, after some gloriously warm, sunny days, with intermittent rain showers, things are looking much more encouraging.
At the Westbrooke plot, the runner beans have started running (up the bean poles) and the sweet peas are suddenly following their example. The broad beans are formingpods, a row of peas and a row of parsnips have germinated quickly now the soil is warm, and carrot, spinach and beetroot seedlings have recovered from the cold shock and are doing well. Lettuces and rocket are coming on too. And a row of tiny leeks are getting established.
The Allen Gallery raised beds have filled out, with their interesting variety of herbs and perennial vegetables enjoying more light and sunshine after some of the overhanging trees have been cut back. And other planters around the town are all looking good, with their herbs and insect-friendly flowers.
On the Jubilee Field most of the trees have set lot of little apples or pears and we can hope for a good crop of fruit in a few months.
The Vicarage plot, full of soft fruit bushes and strawberries, is flourishing and we shall soon be planning a rota of people to pick the berries to put out on the wall at the front of the garden.
The Station plot is full of promise too; come and see it on Monday July 2nd, at 7.00pm, before our short and sociable AGM at the Railway Arms at 7.30pm.
2 large eggs
2 tbsp melted butter
75g frozen spinach, partially thawed, or 150g cooked fresh spinach, drained
Pinch of salt
110g plain flour.
Sift flour and salt into mixing bowl.
Break the eggs into a well in the centre.
Start to whisk the eggs, gradually adding the milk (or use a blender).
Add spinach and whisk until incorporated. Just before cooking stir in melted butter. Cook the pancakes in the usual way. Serve scattered with grated cheese or fill with tuna in white sauce.
On a cold, sunny afternoon we replaced the Victoria plum in the community orchard at Jubilee field with a Marjorie seedling plum.
The Victoria plum has not fruited well for us, and we’ve put this down to the exposed position of the orchard, which means the blossom is exposed to frost and harsh winds, adversely affecting pollination. The Majorie plum flowers three weeks later than the Victoria which we hope will suit the position better.
As the Victoria seemed to have good roots, Ann has taken it to plant in the Vicarage plot, which is very sheltered in comparison.
We gave all the trees a winter wash, to kill any dormant pests on the branches, and gave them a top dressing of fertiliser. In a few weeks we shall be enjoying the blossom on the trees – do look out for them if you are near the Sports Centre.
ALFI first started to cultivate the Westbrooke plot (a roadside verge at the junction of Lenten St and Westbrooke Rd) as a small vegetable and herb garden in 2009. For the first two or three years it was pleasingly productive; presumably the soil was fertile after growing only mown grass for many years.
But gradually the productivity decreased. One problem was the lack of a water supply. At first kind neighbours let us get water in cans from their taps but we were grateful when ATC agreed to fill our water butts on a weekly basis through the summer. We now have two butts, and organise a watering rota through the summer months. The site is also quite shaded and on a slight north-facing slope so crops only get sunshine from mid-day onwards.
However, the biggest problem was that whenever we dug over the plot, we found that masses of tangled fibrous roots had grown in from a large sycamore tree in a nearby garden. These, presumably, were taking water and nutrients from our crops. We had two lovely raised beds constructed and filled them with good soil and organic material over a permeable plastic sheet at ground level. I was sure this would prevent the roots from growing up. I was wrong.
The more we fed the plants, the more the roots grew in! So last year we decided to dig out the smaller raised bed and laid an impermeable plastic sheet before refilling with a lovely mix of fertile soil. And this year that bed has been most rewarding. Broad beans, peas, salad crops, beetroot and carrots have all done well through the summer, and in late September we planted seedlings of spinach, rocket, radish and Chinese cabbage – all of which have flourished and are now ready to pick.
So we have just had a working party to dig out the bigger raised bed to lay an impermeable membrane in that one too. Hard work; it is amazing how much soil comes out of a modest raised bed. But a good team of volunteers completed the task and the bed now has a few months to settle before we start planting again, beginning with broad beans in February.
Finding solutions to such problems is what makes gardening so satisfying. Unfortunately the rest of the plot still has to compete with the tree roots so we have to grow hardier, less hungry plants there-like herbs-unless we can find another solution!
Our first community picnic took place on Sunday 3 September on a rather rainy afternoon at the Jubilee Orchard on the Jubilee Playing Fields next to the Sports Centre where ALFI (Alton Local Food Initiative) have an orchard of fifteen fruit trees.
A range of activities were organised for participants, the fields looked splendid with newly-cut grass and some of the fruit trees were full of fruit and all were decorated with attractive bunting for the occasion. The afternoon included a conducted tour of the orchard to look at the range of apple, pear, plum, cherry and quince trees. Balloons that the children could take home decorated the area and guided participants to the event.
The main table was attractively laid out with a basket of fruit and flowers and had cut apples pears and apples to sample, dried apple slices, bramley jam pancakes, courgette cake and freshly picked local blackberries to sample or take away.
Picnics were eaten under the shelter of the pavillion whilst hot drinks and squash were provided in the pavillion.
Emily Crofts prepared a scavenger hunt for the children that directed them towards the orchard and an apple and spoon race had two heats with a final that was won by Sophie Tomson, one of the children, although the adults also enjoyed the heat that they participated in.
There were some imaginative hats with a fruity theme entered for the hat competition, from real fruit to a waste paper bin with fruit painted on it … and everything in between. The children’s section was won by Elise Clark, four years, with a hat straw cap that she had decorated herself, face paint reinforcing the fruity theme. Melissa Pritchard won the adult section with an elegant apple hat made of paper with a toilet roll core. (It needed to be seen to be appreciated!)
Prizes were given to all the winners and those who had won the schools competition earlier in the year were also invited to receive their prizes.
We all had a fun time and we were pleased we could go ahead in spite of the weather, thanks to everyone who came, the sun is ordered for next time. In the mean-time please come to the ALFI Harvest Feast, with special guest Apple Experts from Sparsholt College on Saturday 30 September at 10.00 a.m. until 2.00 p.m. for coffee and homemade cakes at any time and/or vegetable soups and bread at lunchtime. This is indoors at Alton Methodist Church Hall. See you there.
4 large tomatoes
85g cooked peas
85g cooked sweetcorn
Halve the tomatoes, scoop out the pulp and mix in a bowl with the peas, sweetcorn and a little salt and pepper. Pile this mixture back into the tomato cases. These can be served at room temperature or cooked for a short while in a moderate oven.