Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Losing the plot......

Dear readers, I am departing Googles blogspot to try out Wordpress for a while, but this blog will remain here for at least a few more months.

 Should I somehow manage to find an easy way to migrate all the posts from here onwards into wordpress I will do it. In the meantime new posts will be on wordpress at this web address;

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Hoe hoe hoe

Grange Stone Circle in the Snow
Yes it is THAT time of the year, the perusing of seed cataloges, the planning of bed rotations and the doing of ....well...nothing else really. It's too wet, too cold, too bloody miserable to think of going outside treading on sodden soil and getting covered in shit for the sake of a few grey hours of low daylight. But! on the plus side the shortest day has just passed so the looking forward has begun..the pulling out and assembly of propagation mats and benches, the buying of compost and the sowing of the first chillies, sweet peas and onion seeds. On drier days the pruning of fruit trees for the coming years growth, and the inevitable moving of established plants to try and improve their performance or position in the garden.

The shortest day turned into a lovely days outing with an astronomy talk at the Great stone circle in Grange at Sunset followed by a very informative show at The Honeyfitz Theater on the constellations and the eclipses forecasted for next year. Did you know that 2015 is to have a total solar eclipse followed by a total lunar eclipse? The total solar eclipse will happen on March 20th 2015 and be visible in the morning just after 9.20am from our Irish shores. We will have to pray for clear skies that morning in order to really see it properly. Although you never look into the sun directly or for any length of time. You WILL go irretrievably blind. Not a piseog(superstition), true! So don't do it!

archaeology map of the circle
Once it got dark we went to the lake side at Lough Gur where the lads from The Shannonside Astronomy Club unloaded and set up their telescope so we could all admire the galaxy of Andromeda and various visible stars. It was an exceptionally bright night for stars, so much so that we had no problem seeing the International Space Station flying rapidly overhead with our naked eyes. At the same time the Christmas market and Santa's grotto was in full swing in the car park and visitors center so we spent some of our time trying to avoid the Santa train speeding past carrying excited children to see the great man himself.

Normally it's pitch dark at the lake, and one of the few places to be so useful for star gazing, (our evening was a little hampered by sporadic overhead lights for the market and Santa visitors). The club are going to come out to use the lake more often for public viewings so keep an eye on their Facebook page to see whats on when. They are based in Mary I in Limerick city and membership is a modest €20 for the year. Check them out here on their official web site and here on their facebook page.

What do eclipses mean for growing food? No idea as yet but I am hoping this coming years Bio-dynamic Calendar will explain the effects and what it means for sowing, transplanting etc on these unusual days.

Photos; Grange in Snow from
Archaeology map from;

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Ould bothers..or everything that can go wrong...

Leicester square London; the view from the grass
My darling mother in law has an expression that I love when it comes to discussing the various ailments of her elderly relations and friends, she calls them; "ould bothers" and I think, given the time of the year and all the ailments my garden has managed to produce in the last few weeks, it's a fitting title for this blog post.

So I know you were all labouring under the assumption that things always go smack smooth here and I produce perfect veg, perfect fruit and grow prolific herbs, flowers and salads too (I hope you are sitting down now when I tell you it's far from the case). Maybe it's about time I delivered on the other side of gardening the "interesting challenges" that keep one on ones toes, particularly when one is just arrived back from swanning around Chelsea and Bloom to find plenty of ould bothers have appeared in your absence....

Yesterday for instance I arrived home to find the cold frame broken. Glass everywhere, shards in my seed trays full of next months lettuces, herbs and salads. I should not be in the least surprised given that Sooty(the cat) uses it as a springboard to higher altitudes on the bathroom window and a shortcut to the side of the house.

Taking the aforementioned (much beloved) mother in law around the garden on tour last Friday afternoon I spotted one of my beautiful summer purple broccoli plants ( I only planted 4 but they were smashing) thrown down, turning purple and wilted looking. I pulled it up easily to find the root well chewed and the plant on the way out. Worse! all three other broccoli plants are showing early signs of infestation...its my first year experiencing the bloody cabbage root fly.

Signs of the Cabbage root fly

My picture perfect bed of garlic (that I was so proud of) having dutifully saved the seed from last year, sown them early and happily given it away to all and sundry has got rust, lots of it, every fecking plant in fact! (and walking over to another Allium bed I found out the overwintering garlic not only had rust but has bolted too).

rust on garlic leaves

Having spent a solid day digging and re-digging  one of the beds to receive carrot seed some weeks ago I uncovered the bed last week (carefully cloched) to find no carrots had germinated and worse than that slugs had eaten all my onions.

My first early potatoes are doing beautifully, but I found three plants with stunted growth, curled leaves and yellowed leaves. It looks like potato leaf roll virus. No bloody cure!

Potato leaf roll virus in the first early bed

My early bed of peas is a disaster. Poor germination, heavy slug damage. Three plants out of ..well.. a whole packet. WORST PEA BED EVER.

worst pea bed ever awards winner

Now it's not so much the bothers themselves as the way you respond to them. Things are bound to go wrong, often multiple things at once, there is only one way forward; assess the damage, work out a solution and plough on. And if all else fails pour yourself a stiff drink and then plough on!

For instance did you know that rust on Alliums can be beaten by spraying it with cheap Gin? I didn't know it either. But guess what I'm buying in Lidl or Aldi this week?
And guess what I will be spraying my garlic with?!

The bolted tops have been snapped off the overwintering garlic. I will make the most of it by harvesting it as soon as possible and using it in the kitchen. Good timing as my stored garlic had finally gone soft and was thrown out two weeks ago.I might put some of my bush tomatoes in that bed instead to use the space.

The replacement peas have been resown in module trays and brought on in the glasshouse before being hardened off outside. They have almost caught up with the four original outdoor survivors and will join them in the bed this week. OK so the peas will be later than usual but at least there will be peas! The Late summer bed of peas will be sown indoors in modules and transplanted out-no direct sowing this year.

replacement peas, "fill the bucket" and "mummy peas"

The broccoli will be dug up and the roots examined of the remaining three plants. Since there is a lot of good advise on how to prevent this pest all my future brassica plantings this year will go into the ground with a small piece of rhubarb and wearing collars to prevent further attacks. If my three remaining plants are not too badly damaged I will wash out the roots, rhubarb the planting holes and replant them with collars on. It's worth a try to see if they can be saved as they haven't become very large as yet. If not I will get replacements and plant them out the same way. I might even get some decent photos of cabbage root fly for the blog!

a remaining healthy broccoli plant

I will dig out the three stunted potato plants (record the varieties and where they came from)and watch the rest for any sign of the potato leaf roll virus spreading.According to the UK Potato Council this disease is spread by aphids that once they have acquired it remains in their systems for life. Buying certified seed is one way to avoid it (which I currently do), removing volunteers and harvesting the potato beds thoroughly is another (do both as well). All that remains to be done is to keep aphids at bay in the first place so more plants to encourage ladybirds, more debris for them to overwinter in, more biodiversity in the garden for hover flies etc.

A ladybird on an infected potato plant this morning

Finally I have bought more carrot seed and I have spare onions so that entire empty bed will be replanted. This time I am watching it like a hawk. Is it slugs? I will be putting down the organic pellets. There are a lot of leather jackets around too, a biological control might be in order.

As for the broken cold frame; its a trip to Martin Begley. While I am there I might as well pick up the missing pane of glass from the glasshouse and visit Terra Nova(O the hardship) Two birds with one stone, (or making the best of a bad situation).

one of the many delights at Terra Nova

This morning I picked up all the broken glass. Sooty came over and managed to look contrite (as much as a cat can anyway).

Sooty s favorite pastime (unfortunately); glasshouse surfing

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Merry Month of May

Snail no 587...
While April might have begun dry, at times too dry (digging out the last surviving winter leeks, I nearly reached for a pick axe! It took serious elbow grease to liberate them from the ground), May has proved to be a pleasant mixed bag of sunshine and showers, driving on growth inside and out.Seedlings pop up, weeds prosper, snail armies march at night, trees bud up and flower, birds sing, and everything is in that great burst of new life that characterises this most lovely of all months.

Tom sowing clover in the orchard at Blackhill farm
In the potato beds the first potato leaves are now well above the ground and have been earthed up. It's fatal to first early crops not to keep the water supplied in the next few important weeks.You might not realise it but we have actually had a very dry month of April (like last year) but unlike last year with its cripplingly cold bleak easterly wind, this April has been marked out by mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine.Last year lots of people complained their spud crops were slow to develop and poor looking, none of them thought to water them, once they did start watering all their crops began to prosper and grow. In the next few weeks if the weather dries up and becomes hot-water your spuds if they don't come by it naturally(and water charges be dammed!).

Apple blossom on the Lough Key Crab
Soil temperatures are nicely up. A few weeks ago I saw the first stray nasturtium self seeded in the vegetable garden (many more have appeared since)and spotted the asparagus (which had somehow eluded me up to now) at a healthy few inches high and unmolested by slugs. I have been eating rhubarb and giving it away for a few weeks, by far the best crop in an age, although, like everything else the growth had begun to slow down for want of rain before the weather finally broke.The great wealth of blossom on cherries, pears and apples is a great promise of the harvest ahead.

Strawberries in bloom
Under the protection of glass and plastic tomato, aubergine, chili, sweet pepper,herbs, salads, brassicas and flowers are all prospering well. While Seamus can't seem to decide what to do with his delicate exotics it's a doddle with veg; once they are up in the propagator its off out to the great outdoors, glasshouse or cold frame. Mind you things are getting a bit chaotic to say the least! So far 48 varieties of Tomatoes (including outdoor bush and basket tomatoes) have been grown, and not one of each but about 5 or 6 of each!!! Seed sowing is a kind of madness really, like gambling, you know you should stop but you cant' help yourself!

Tomatoes in the Glasshouse
That's not to say the sowing is over-far from it. More leaf crops are in the pipeline for Thursday and Friday; its time to get the first Kale crops going and to keep on with succession sowing  salads, herbs, spring onions and lettuce.

All around me seedlings are popping up on the windowsills and propagators-cucumbers, pumpkins and squashes, runner and climbing beans, courgettes, sunflowers and dwarf french beans. Dace has very cleverly organised a large patch at home in Clare for pumpkin, spud and cabbage production. Although such a venture is fraught with dangers; ( Mum and Dads unintentional "help", a local hare population with undeveloped palates and straying cattle) it's probably worth the risk. If all she gets is a handful of pumpkins and some nice spuds it will be worth it as she could never grow them in the confines of the one raised bed in Montenotte.

Daces Pumpkin Plot in Clare

Extra space and the question of upping scale has been occupying my mind a lot in recent years. Is it worth renting extra land, is it worth the hassle of field scale veg for pumpkins, onions and potatoes? What about acquiring a tunnel for that matter? The lure of fresh peaches, apricots, nectarines, kiwis, passion fruit, oodles of space to try tonnes of tomato varieties, to grow salads for winter and spuds in early spring or for Christmas day. Early strawberries!!!A storage area indoors, a propagation area indoors, all very exciting prospects. But at what cost? and at what effect to the existing garden space?

A red arsed Bumble bee on Borage in the Veg garden
The tunnel debate goes on daily here; we have gone so far as to visit Poly-dome in Offaly and price a large tunnel, (you'd probably fall over if I told you the price, though the tunnel itself is a fantastic straight sided, industrially built model). Do I pay the money or source it elsewhere at a lower price?It looks tempting to order from First Tunnels in the UK.

Large 8ft bamboos mark the spot on the lawn where it could go, but when? Now? and get it up and running for this summer? A big ask! Later in the Autumn? and get it prepared for next years Spring season? definitely the easier of the two. But then what happens to my Tomato army? Having set up a very fast tunnel in Kilmallock with my 5s (a tunnel which is now heaving with crops) I feel I could manage it. I do think I will have to give up work though-it keeps getting in the way of my gardening.

The lads put finishing touches to a climbing bean support in Kilmallock

Monday, 14 April 2014

Killed out rescuing bloody rabbits

Lucky baby rabbit no 3; rescued this evening...soooo cute
One of the more unfortunate side effects of having cats is the indiscriminate murder of fluffy cute animals that we would consider TOO CUTE to die (especially too cute to find pieces of after the event, like a gall bladder or fluffy tail end!). While Ginger might consider himself too old, at the grand old age of 5, to go around chasing rabbits, he is not above helping to corral them into tight spaces for the other two cats to catch. Maybe he gets his bit of fresh rabbit for his trouble, I don't know. Meanwhile Dutch and Sooty are just getting to their prime at 9 months of age. Young, fit and carrying no excess weight they couldn't been keener hunters and it's prime hunting season with nearby fields literally awash with baby rabbits. So rabbit is on the menu, every bloody day!

Bunny no 2 had a little injury but ran off home no bother
In the last three days Seamus has managed to rescue no fewer than three baby rabbits and return all of them to the field from which they came. You can be sure for the three that were rescued many, many more have died, but it's hard to watch it happen in front of you and hard in particular to listen to the horrible squealing of the little rabbit in the cats mouth.So if we can we distract or put the cats in and capture the rabbits ourselves. Once across the road and in the field they recover from the ordeal that left them trembling and still in our hands and spring back to life; maybe the very smell of the field gives them the urge to run home. Really their mothers take shocking care of them, they should never get into the clutches of our well fed cats in the first place.

Back at home tonight all three cats are thrown down and exhausted. Dutch in particular who was missing for most of the day has obviously overindulged, he is flat out on one side of me with Ginger crashed out on the other. Every now and again his paws twitch as he dreams of chasing more rabbits! Sooty meanwhile has a whole couch to himself to nap on. There isn't a gug out of any of them.It's like Easter Sunday after the last Easter egg has been demolished!!

Rabbit no1 biggest of the three rescues
There is a funny side to all of this. This evening I met my neighbour at my gate and we stood up chatting in the sun for a few minutes.Sooty was waiting inside the gate for me and Geraldine spotted him. "O" she said "he is a great cat, I see himself and the grey one (Dutch) in my garden all the time, do you know I have completely cut back on rat poison since they arrived?"
"No" I said, in the calmest tone I could muster all the while feeling quite faint at the thought of rat poison and my precious cats.
" O yes" she said "its brilliant, if they could manage to kill the rabbits now that would be great, the bloody place is over-run with the bastards!!"

Sooty and rabbit no3
And on that note I will say goodnight to you all and leave you with the last photo of the day Sooty with poor rabbit no 3 before the rescue in his mouth.

For those of you that may be wondering, no I didn't tell my neighbour we are rescuing the rabbits!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Earthing up spuds in the glasshouse

let there be spuds
Just a quick post to let you know that I have earthed up my spuds in pots. I'm experimenting with "Rocket" and "Swift" that are renowned for giving a fast crop (in two months!) under cover. Mine were sown in February (in pots of cow manure and put in the glasshouse under fleece) and despite my standing over them they showed no sign of life up to two weeks ago when shoots suddenly appeared. These have amazed me since at their speed of growth, I know they are called Rocket and Swift but I'm still amazed!! Will I be eating them by the end of April though? Watch this space....God I'm getting hungry now just thinking about it..

Overwintered sweet peas V spring sown ones

Ah sweet peas and roses...summer bottled
For a long time I have been reading how Autumn sown overwintered sweet peas in a cold frame are THE WAY to grow sweet peas, bringing you stronger multi-branched plants that bloom earlier and produce huge crops of flowers......The only problem is that by October I'm not inclined to sow anything. I am long retired from sowing as far as I'm concerned. I finish sowing around June and concentrate all my efforts on EATING from there on out. It's the whole point surely of growing all that veg in the first place?! And as much as I love sweet peas I could never summon up the motivation to want to look after them through the winter. So for years it never happened. Until finally last year I read Monty Don giving advise on sweet peas and happened to see the man in the UK with the national sweet pea collection on the A to Z of TV gardening and there were both espousing the merits of an Autumn sown plant. I gave up the fight, dragged myself out one fine day in October and grumbling to myself begrudgingly set one root trainers worth of seeds.

February transplanting; un-eaten on the right, eaten on the left
After that not much happened. I was disappointed to see that germination was quite erratic and more disappointed when I missed a slug getting in who managed to graze several seedlings to the ground.That's the problem with winter weather. A lot can happen outside while you are inside wrapped up on the couch watching The Tunnel, eating for Ireland and piling the fire high. The survivors apparently shocked into hibernation by the death of their brothers looked a bit forlorn and miserable while I stared into the cold frame pulling my eyebrows together and fretted about them. By Christmas I gave up fretting, forgot all about sweet peas and concentrated on seed catalogues and new types of tomatoes. They were still alive but not looking like they would amount to much.I was ready to write them off as a failed experiment and send a tweet to Monty to ask him what I was missing.

Sweet peas looking good this April

Around February much to my surprise I realised they were starting to grow, with roots beginning to poke out the bottom of the root trainers. I re-potted them all and once I opened the root trainers I was surprised again to find that almost all of them had in fact germinated and those I thought had failed or had been grazed by slugs were sending up second growth, so I ended up transplanting far more than I had expected to. Over the last two months they have steadily grown taller and bushed out, while in the last few weeks they have been fully hardened off outside. It was really only last week when I put the spring sown sweet pea seedlings beside them that I could see the value of the overwintering plants. They are three times the size, climbing well and looking extremely promising.

Spring sown sweet peas

The final test will be the flower crop outdoors this summer of course. Tomorrow we have a willow weaving workshop planned in Kilmallock for the FETAC 5's where we will all make and bring home willow garden obelisks for climbing plants like our sweet peas. Now all that's left to do is to prepare the ground with horse manure, compost and chicken pellets!