IT'S A NEW DAWN

It's a new dawn, It's a new day, It's a new life, for me, and I'm feeling good.

A song made famous by Nina Simone, recorded in 1965, which went largely unnoticed until it was used in a VW commercial in 1994. Since then the song has taken on a life of it’s own, with countless versions, including oddly Muse, and has featured in numerous films and TV shows.

What I find interesting is that it was written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Briscusse for their musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd. Anthony Newley had an interesting career. Now largely forgotten, he was hugely successful in the sixties, especially in the US. He was born in Hackney and started as a child actor, appearing famously as the Artful Dodger in David Lean’s Oliver Twist of 1950. His career took off after appearing in the film Idols on Parade of 1959 in which he sang, and which started his recording career. He had many hits including two number ones in 1960 with Why and Do You Mind. He then started song writing with Leslie Bricusse and wrote musicals with hit songs such as What Kind of Fool Am I, Gonna Build a Mountain, Once in a Lifetime, and On a Wonderful Day Like Today. He also wrote film music, including the theme for Goldfinger, and Candy Man for the film Willy Wonker & The Chocolate Factory.

But perhaps his lasting legacy was as the inspiration for the start of David Bowie’s career. Listen to Bowie’s first recording of the Laughing Gnome, and Newley singing his comedy hit Pop Goes The Weasel and you cannot tell the voice apart – Bowie could have been performing at the Eastbourne bandstand doing a tribute act. All that and Newley was married to Joan Collins as well.

And what has this to do with allotments – wellll, because I always associate September as a new dawn in the allotment calendar. Cleverly segued in, if I say it myself, you never saw the join.

In September the current season is all but over, it’s all down to clearing up and harvesting. And the new season is starting – onions sets, garlic, and shallot bulbs are on sale, the potato order form needs completing, and the new seed catalogues are beginning to appear. It’s also the month to look back and appraise the successes and failures of the season just gone.

My major failure this year has been sweet corn. Despite having chicken wire netting all around the bed, and loose netting over the top, all the cobs were eaten - either by squirrels or rats. This also happened to the corn on my neighbouring plots. Both rats and squirrels have been seen around our plots, so we’re not sure which eats the corn, and both the rats and the squirrels look far from starved, so no clues there. For next year it’s either 24 hour surveillance with a shotgun at hand, or even better protection.

The other disappointment has been runner beans. Normally I pick my first runner by the end of May, and the last, albeit stringy bean, as late as early November. This year the first pick was late June and the last early September. I guess it’s all down to the weather at critical times, next year can be completely different.

My aubergines this year have been very bad at pollinating, hence very little fruit. They are in my polytunnel opposite the tomatoes which have been fine, so again, difficult to know exactly why.

As I mentioned tomatoes they have done very well and still going. This year I grew Sweet Aperitif rather than Gardeners Delight which I thought was losing flavour through over cultivation. The sweet aperitif are smaller than GD, more cherry size – I wouldn’t say the flavour is outstanding but they have been prolific. I’m not sure if I will grow again as they are maybe too small – I’ll do some research to see if I can find an alternative.

It has been a good year for strawberries with many plants starting to produce a few extra fruits in September – I know not why, but again probably down to the weather. My apple and pear trees have done well, as did the gooseberries, and the currant bushes. The plum and damsen trees, however, developed a nasty leaf problem following flowering and never really recovered, producing little fruit. But the worst fruit story was my espalier apricot tree, which flowered superbly, produced an abundance of fruit, which then proceeded to all drop off. Why oh why, I still have no idea.

Worth mentioning amongst the vegetables are three I tried for the first time. Firstly salsify, a white root vegetable, rather like a smaller parsnip but more sweet in taste than parsnip. I’ve just started to harvest the roots and roasted they are fine. Secondly, New Zealand spinach which is furry perpetual spinach, but more spreading in habit,, which after a slow has now taken. I will definitely grow this again. As I will Florence Long Red onions. These are grown from seed and produce largish, oval shaped onions. They are strong in flavour and rather bitter – to be cooked rather than eaten in a salad. I am increasingly being drawn towards onions being grown from seed rather than from sets, mainly because I find the set grown bulbs are much more prone to rotting when stored.

The maincrop onion variety that I grow is called Toughball, a medium sized variety which produces uniform shaped onions which store relatively well. The only problem is that it is a bit of a faff to grow onions from seed – they need to be sown in warmth in December and January before being planted out in April. But the results I thinks are worth it if you have the time and wherewithal to sow the seeds so early.

So, all in all, a fairly good season. We have eaten nothing but food from the plot for the past four months. This, hopefully, will keep going for at least another two months. To keep us going we have root vegetables galore; potatoes, carrots, parsnips, salsify, celeriac, beetroot, and sweet potato. Plus greens spinach, cabbages, cauliflowers, calabrese, self blanching celery (another success), and the last of the courgettes. For salad leaves there are lettuces still growing, plus rocket, mizuma, and chicory. I’ve just started to harvest the butternuts and pumpkins which will last for the next four months. And still to come are the Nero di Toscana, overwintering sprouts and broccoli. Phew, all seems rather a lot.

So now it’s a new dawn and a new start. In the next few weeks we need to start the autumn onion sets (I grow Shakespeare), plus garlic, elephant garlic, and shallots. The latter three I keep my own bulbs from this year, along with the onion sets start off in modules in order to establish them and to avoid the birds walking off with them. I have also sown some winter lettuce, spring cabbage variety April, some 60 day Raab broccoli (definitely better than the Dominic variety of Raab – not so bitter and twisted), All Year Round cauliflower, plus some overwinter spring onions. These will all be grown in the greenhouse and polytunnel over winter.

I’m also going grow all my garlic under cover this winter. Last year I grew some under cover and some in a row outside. The outside plants attracted rust completely, whereas the indoor grown bulbs mainly avoided rust and were at least twice the size as a result.

It all seems rather a lot but with a little effort and a good measure of luck the results can be very rewarding.

I’ll report next time on my results with the flowers grown.

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