Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Happy Christmas!

Hi lads! On the couch attacking a few chocolates after a hectic day. All 16 guests have departed, well fed and well oiled.hope you are all on the couch, recovering from the day.happy Christmas!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Russian food production

cute pic borrowed  from blog
Hi lads!
found this fascinating post on another blog about small scale backyard gardening in Russia feeding the majority of the population.Check it out here Russian Organic Farming.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The English Market

into the bowels of the city
Since the good people of Cork gave the Queen a tour of the Old English Market everyone is beating a path to Cork to walk in her footsteps. Some of you might know that a previous Queen of England had a fondness for the people of Cork when they proved themselves her loyal subjects by rising up in her favour against a rebellion. She christened them "my little rebels". So Cork is often called the Rebel county-not because they were mad for independence (don't believe that "Peoples Republic of Cork " stuff that they are always banging on about) but because they were loyal subjects of the crown. Anyway whats a few hundred years and some bad judgement? we forgive you Cork people.

I decided to grace the people of Cork with a visit a few weekends ago. With my husband and two mothers in tow we headed for the pretty village of Blarney where my poor brother lives surrounded on all sides by crazy cork people.Mind you he does seem to really love them and finds them extremely witty and amusing. My favourite Cork person is Frances from Kanturk who rears my organic Christmas Turkeys. She is universally cheerful and addresses everyone as "dotee" in her sweet Cork accent. Even her turkeys adore her, following her around the field and pecking at her coat to get her attention! She loves them back -O how she ever manages to take them for slaughtering I will never know. Luckily by the time I get them they are plucked and ready for the oven, I don't think I could look a turkey in the eye before cooking it-even if it is dead!

a delectable assortment of fresh breads
feast your eyes jams and jellies galore

So on a cold but fine sunny Saturday we took the two Marys down Cork city and into the depths of the English Market. Most hilariously my mother in law (veteran "Hello!" reader) wanted to meet the fishmonger that had amused the queen with a joke about some ugly fish called the "mother in law fish". Most likely the Queen was laughing out of politeness being quite unable to deschiper a word the Corkonian was saying. I had a similar experience in Wales where three attempts to get information from a welsh man at a train station resulted in me being no wiser in the end than at the beginning, just considerably embarrassed(and I think the welsh train man was too). Maybe he couldn't understand a word I said either! Anyway the fishmonger man himself was no-where to be seen but the fishmongers stall he owns was doing a roaring trade and the walls behind the counter had huge pictures of .....yes you guessed it, the fishmonger and the queen sharing a joke (or laughing politely but not having a clue what the other was saying). They are not called cute Cork hoors for nothing- what a brilliant marketing strategy! That satisfied the two Marys, and on we went.

wonderful displays of delicious veg
Charming stall holders pry cash from Mary & Mary
What always strikes me about Cork is the great bustle of people out on the streets, lounging in coffee houses and warming seats at the interesting and odd bars and clubs scattered around the town. The English Market is no different, a heaving mass of people mostly shopping for unusual and interesting foods, organic supplies, fresh meats and of course fresh fish. Add to that mix a nice assortment of cafes, chocolate stalls, hot foods and sundries and you have the perfect recipe for an indoor market that is conveniently right in the heart of the city. Do I sound like I'm on the PR trail for them? I don't think they need the help!!!

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas...
all you have to do is look and you feel yourself getting fatter!

Cork city is a funny place and it's history is a complex mix of old English settlement after the Norman invasion layed down over a Christian founded town and a viking port. Over the centuries it has attracted an eclectic bunch making for a nice blend of people and a geography that is not unlike San Francisco with all is ridiculous hills. Even Lance Armstrong ( a man who knew how to get turbo charged) refused to go up one of the cities famous steep hills during an Irish leg of a Tour de France!

the farmgate cafe looks down on the quirky fountain
out on the street Christmas is in full swing (the goats belong to Bothar)

It's a very pleasant afternoon if you have the time and can afford to wander around aimlessly for a while. The market building dates from 1862 ( the original market charter from 1610) and was called the English Market to differentiate it from an Irish Market called St Peters Market. Since St Peter is long gone and is now replaced by the beautiful Bodega (pub, cafe, restaurant and nightclub all in one!) on Cornmarket Street that seemed a fitting place to finish the day.

The sun sets over the city after a wonderful day out

check out the English Market here www.englishmarket.ie

More than one way to make great compost

Eileen explains how the wormery works to the lads in Ardagh
Every year around this time in autumn I teach people how to make their own compost. For some it's something they have tried and failed at without knowing why, for others its something they would never dream of because of the fear of "drawing rats" into the garden and eventually into the house.Irish people have a pathological fear of rats, I suppose in the absence of alligators, snakes, scorpions, deadly spiders and killer bees its the best we can do!

The most amazing part of this class for me is when I see light bulbs going on in peoples faces as they realise why things went wrong before. The simple act of balancing out all the kitchen waste and garden clippings with equal or greater amounts of carbon in the form of newspapers, cardboard or straw is the single reason why so many people get armies of flies in their faces when they open the lid to view a stinking mass of wet gloop that seems to be going nowhere. The best part of the day is when we do the practical in the afternoon and we build a compost heap from scratch, putting in our green and brown layers and occasional activators to get the whole thing going. Afterwards when we are de-booting and getting ready to go home someone always says "that was great, I learnt so much today!". And I feel incredibly satisfied, BEST CLASS EVER.

Layering on cardboard with a shovel of old compost as an activator
But there is no danger of resting on ones laurels (or ones tired arse) after a day like that. It seems to me everyone has a different idea on how to compost and there are huge variations in the ingredients you should use to get the perfect end result. I was on a N.O.T.S.(www.nots.ie)(National Organic Training Skillnet) compost training workshop a few years ago and learnt a hell of a lot about the simple act of turning the heap, when to do it and how often, the importance of fungi over bacteria and how high you should build it Vs how long-(as long as you like but only a meter high!). Then a few weeks ago I got my brain cogs flying around again when I read an amazing article in Amateur Gardening Magazine from a bloke with an award winning allotment who has been making compost for 28 years.
Stole the image from amazon.co.uk, great little book bought it for a fiver in cork

Mick gardens near Birmingham and collects 13 separate ingredients to make his perfect compost. In the AG article he explains that he gave up digging after digging up a whole allotment put him in bed for days. While he was lying down he read an old booklet on the no dig method and was hooked so he got into making compost instead. He uses bins like the ones the council sell you to make regular compost with but instead of using regular composting methods he uses worms and turns the bins into high production wormeries.The worms in turn are spread out on his beds when the compost is matured and covered over. Protected from the cold and heat the worms do the digging for Mick, taking the compost down into his veg beds.

A barrow load of comfrey leaves for the heap

He really looks after the worms making sure they don't dry out or get too cold and if they don't like something he feeds them he takes note of that too. He paints the bins white to keep the sun from heating up the worms inside too much and puts a circle of carpet under the lid to keep out the cold. He claims that they can turn leaves to compost in 3 months! (as opposed to 2 years in a regular leaf mould bag or bin.) so that's really impressive!

It's a great article and really well worth the read. If you know anyone who reads Amateur Gardening magazine it featured in the October 13 edition. I looked on line at www.amateurgardening.com but I couldn't find it on the magazines on line pages so it may only be available in the print form. The original pamphlet Mick read was sent out with Marshall's seed catalogues and dated from 1949. A very interesting gentleman called Dr A Guest wrote the pamphlet after experimenting himself in his own garden, I found this short snippet about him on a comment thread on Amazon. com;

 "Mr A Guest lived in Middlecliffe Near Barnsley Yorkshire England when he wrote his book in 1946. I too lived in this small mining village and as a small boy, I would see him preparing his Garden Parties for the many visitors who were intrigued by his 'new' worm based gardening techniques that he employed."

the slowest part is shredding the cardboard

His grandson is living in America and has had the original book republished here www.gardeningwithoutdigging.com if you are looking to find the original source of inspiration. If you subscribe to the websites newsletter you can download 6 books free. I'm not sure the worth of these books as the author as far as I can tell is an American writing for American gardeners and American geographic and climatic conditions. But I will have a read of them anyway. You always learn something ! By the way it looks like the reprint of the original pamphlet will cost you 7USD from the grandsons website but as my pay pal has expired I will have to wait to see what it actually costs with postage and shipping. On Amazon.co.uk the only copy of the book (second hand and dated from the 70s)was costing £8.50 plus almost half again in postage costs!!! 

the lads open a finished heap to retrieve finished compost

Anyway back to the basic recipe for good compost;

 Compost Ingredients
  • equal amounts of brown stuff (cardboard, newspaper, straw, wood shavings) to equal amounts of green stuff ( raw kitchen waste, garden waste, spent tea bags and coffee grinds. The smaller you shred both browns and greens the more surface area you have for bacteria to work on breaking it down faster and resulting in a more finished compost.

Add a sprinkling of activators (comfrey leaves, nettle leaves, urine!, a spade from a finished compost heap)
and turn every two weeks if you can. No cooked food, cat or dog or human excrement. No china tea cups, cutlery, take away cartons, plastic containers (all of which I have found in compost heaps). Happy composting!

Catherine, Joan, Annmarie and Chrissy check out Eileen's pea seedlings sown in her finished compost


A hazel leaf immortalised by frost
Brrrr what a morning! white fields, smoky red skies and what looks like armies of birds pecking frozen stubborn ground in a desperate attempt for worms -winter is officially upon us in all it's icy glory.Like any sensible mammal I am hiding indoors taking comfort in over sized jumpers and hot cups of tea. The roads are passable by car but not safe to walk on foot. Well in my estimation anyway. I have become a great deal less adventurous since I fell on the ice last year (luckily my well padded arse finally came in useful for something taking the brunt of the fall and bruising in a spectacular fashion for weeks afterwards). Now I'm like an old lady clutching at walls, cars, trees and generally anything that might keep me upright when the ground turns treacherous. And the comforting thing is I know many of you are doing exactly the same wherever you are (yes Jude I'm thinking of you clutching at all the hedges in Yorkshire!).

Joey following me out of McDaids pub in Dublin city on Sat night.

While there have been discreet enquiries about my health, (maybe even a few visits to www.rip.ie) I am alive and well, (walking like a crab though thanks to an over zealous pilates teacher).Yes there has been serious radio silence for weeks now but I'm only HIBERNATING, and I will come back out when the weather looks up or sowing season begins, whichever happens first! Although the gardening classes have been busy doing lots of stuff like making veg gardens with paths and raised beds, learning how to make compost, sowing green manures and overwintering crops I have been doing sod all at home. In fact for the last few weekends I have run off to Blarney and Malahide to visit all and sundry. That's the upside of winter,less gardening time equals more socialising time, and helps you apologise for becoming a virtual gardening recluse in the Summer months I suppose. I console myself with the fact that on a day like today there is nothing you can do anyway except order seed catalogues and look at glasshouse porn on line. There is a lot be said for winter after all!

chard looks more beautiful covered in frost this morning
Frost is not a problem in the vegetable garden as even a light dusting greatly improves the flovour of any veg you might have still standing like Kale, brussels sprouts, chard or parsnips. But when I walked through the garden this morning (in my thickest furriest coat) it was obvious that last nights white out is the final death knell for a few frost intolerant crops like celery,leftover salad crops from the autumn and late crop peas. Mind you we do need this cold. It's so important for fruit trees to get their fruiting cycle set, its important for the ground to kill viruses and break up cloddy soil. It descimates slug populations too-a cause to make most gardeners cheer! The only reason to get pissed off is unwalkable roads, white knuckle driving and bloody tree ferns.My husbands opening line every evening is to wonder if we need to put jackets on the flaming tree ferns. And while I do like the tree ferns I hartily wish they had stayed in Australia where they belong. Putting a jacket on a dog is about the furthest I will stretch-putting a jacket on a fern is just going too far!! Yet who bought the bloody jackets? Me- like an eejit. Yes I drew this trouble upon myself. But I thought a jacket preferable to some mcguyver throw together I might have to make in a late night frosty armageddon emergency in mid-December. Come the wekend I will put on the jackets permanently for the winter with an inner layer of straw and be dammed after that. Fecking tree ferns.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Great winter read for inspiration and ideas

Now that we are all confined indoors, mostly looking out at frost or hail these last few days, it's nice to mould oneself into the armchair and peruse a few chapters of a good gardening book. Tuesday in the library (yes the library-i can hear the giggling from here-how "quaint" of me to go to the library instead of downloading from Amazon like a regular 2012 person) anyway, I found the just published and very beautifully presented Fionnoula Fallon Book "From the Ground up". I thought it was better to just borow it, lovely and all as it is, because a lot of the time these pretty gardening books are all style and no substance. Yet another dust catcher to add to the already considerable collection that are causing my shelves to creak and sag in the middle.

Was I wrong? yes indeed, two chapters in and I can tell this is pure gold. Not only indepth profiles of very interesting and varied "grow your own people" spread over the length and breath of the country but a good look at what they grow, what they have learnt from experience, what they find invaluable to help (tools, seeds, websites etc). Our old buddy Klaus is the first featured and today I am reading about Peggy, a famous Irish grandmother who became an allotment blogger a few years ago and has a massive following. She has a lovely gardening bunch in Blarney in Cork that includes her fellow allotmenteers, own children and grandchildren! Fascinating stuff. Anyway I priced it on Amazon at £19 sterling and on Easons for around €24.99. It's in hardback and is a really beautiful as well as practical book, Finnoula's husband who is a photographer collaborated with her on it.

So if you are writing to Santa it may be worth the mention, but if like me you want to look before you leap check it out in your local library, a building with bricks and mortar, not a virtual one on d'internet!


Peggys blog is here www.organicgrowingpains.blogspot.ie and when I get a moment I will tag it on to my own. 

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Onions grown from seeds harvested

A bit of a mixed bag-some god, some not so good
I finally dug them up and you know what? they really couldn't compare to the harvest from the onion sets. Perhaps the real secret does lie in starting them early enough. Chris in Ellen Street swears by growing his own onions from seeds and says they grew to huge sizes for him. Sowing them is the easy part, getting them to swell to size was my problem. Lots of them haven't swelled at all and are just like fat leeks!Some have two stems with neither onionette particularly large. Maybe the flavour will be outstanding? I wont find out just yet as they are in the Glasshouse drying out for long term storage. Will they even store if they haven't gotten to size in the first place? I can but try.It is all trial and error I suppose. I will give sowing them from seed a go again next year and do as our neighbours do in the UK starting the seeds on Boxing/St Stephens day on a heated propagator. That said if anyone wants to post their experience/wisdom on growing onions from seeds I'd love to hear all about it!

Autumn raspberries and the Puca

be still my growling stomach
No-body looked put out when Eileen asked them to pick raspberries last week. The truth is they had been eyeing them up every week, dying for an excuse to try them out! Last year Eileen lost huge amounts of fruit to days of rain but this year she  has a huge harvest and as a result is busy making pots and pots of her delicious raspberry jam. A lot of times people don't bother with Autumn raspberries but really they are one of the best crops of the year. They begin to fruit at a time when most other soft fruit has finished (blueberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants, strawberries etc) and can continue on very successfully right up into November if the conditions are right.

What a tough job! Chrissy, Catherine & Kathleen
Cold or frost don't seem to stop or ruin them and whatever terrorising the Puca does to the wild blackberries in the ditch dosen't seem to effect the raspberries at all.Maybe the Puca has no interest in raspberries? If you have never heard of the Puca we were told as children not to pick blackberries after Halloween because the Puca (pronounced pooka, a malevolent fairy spirit that can shape shift into anything but is most often a horse) would spit on them. I know! I know! it sounds like something straight out of Fr. Ted!! Actually I remembered being threatened with the Puca as a child if I stayed out after dark close to Halloween and in all the old myths and legends children were especially in danger of being kidnapped by bad faries at Halloween!!If I'd been kidnapped I would have been taken to an island in the west, have basked in sunshine, eaten delicious food and never grown old,-lucky escape eh?

Quick! stop chewing! Greg and Pat caught red handed!
So the lads ended up with a very nice job on a sunny afternoon last Tuesday, and as is the case with most things edible they managed to eat as many as they picked. Eileen explained to them that over-ripe fruit is no good for jam and showed them raspberries at the perfect stage for jam making to be picked. What to do with all those over-ripe fruit? hmm? eat them of course. So the lads returned to the house laden down with bowls full of raspberries and wearing the evidence of a fine feast as well.

"Autumn Bliss" is the variety Eileen grows for jam making but there are lots more to choose from. We are heading into bare root season when you can buy bundles of raspberries quite cheaply to plant for next summer but if you know someone who has them you can probably get them for free. They are the type of plants that like to invade the garden by means of their intrepid root systems so be warned if you put them in -you will always be giving some rogue ones away.
the foragers breakfast, our own raspberries and hazelnuts

My own Autumn raspberries are not great this year, highly disappointing after a great harvest last year. The summer ones grew and fruited well on the heavy clay soil, as did logan berries and all the other hybrid cane fruit but I feel that I must add some manures or compost to this area to really get the crop going for next year.

Winter blues

Spindle turns blood red before the leaves drop off
I don't know about the rest of you but this weather is really starting to depress me.Sure it's pretty outside with all the leaves turning and even I must admit that the colours this year seem to be more spectacular than I have seen in a long time too, maybe because of that lovely sunny week in early September.But day after day of grey skies, dark mornings and fast falling nights are fuelling thoughts of hibernation. Even the start of bath season in November, (when you have the heating on every day and enough spare hot water to spend some serious quality time in the bath) is hardly enough to coax me from pulling the douvet over my head and refusing to come out again until the end of March.Why didn't I go to India with Dace for a month? I wouldn't be in this fecking state.
Michelmas daisies light up the eastern garden

Not everyone sees it that way. I called in to see Tom just before lunch time. He had that look of work about him, wellies on, wheelbarrow out and the rake in his hand.I stood up talking to him and admiring his flower borders still spilling out clouds of white asslysum and blue lobelia with red salvias and pretty snap dragons in the background (we both agreed it was odd this year how late the snapdragons came).

I admired his window boxes too,still in great condition with the ever generous begonias blooming in profusion. He hadn't realised he could keep them from year to year, so he was delighted with the information that by cutting off the stalks after the first frosts and storing the tubers they would live to grow next year. Frost is on the horizon -as early as tomorrow night. Minus 2 is what we have been promised and Tom's not looking forward to it. "I hate the cold" he said, "give me wind and rain any day, and days like this when it's a crime to be indoors when it's so perfect for working outside". I looked up at the grey sky. The same grey sky that has been overhead for days.  That is depressing me beyond belief. That I would swap in the morning for clear sunshine and biting cold but never for wind or rain.I said what I was thinking; "I hope we never get stuck on an island together Tom". He laughed(and I finished the sentence in my own head" because you'll be the first one to die!").

Aren't some people mad? I'm glad I'm not one of them.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Decapitation and door wreaths

pretty cool use of puny pumpkins and autumn leaves
Did you ever wish it was the good old days when you could settle a score by riding to the villain in your story, decapitating them and gouging out their eyes? I swear to God I am fit to murder such a somebody today, I hope we don't meet on the main road or I will run them into the path of the next Cork train!!!!!!!!

Anyway. Trying to calm down. I thought of sleepy hollow when I saw this. Nice idea for Halloween, especially if you have a few midget pumpkins in the garden that never made it to size. For a brief how-to click here.

Carrots and Parsnips stored for winter

carrot bounty
I'm cranky and tired. There is a low level persistent headache pounding behind my eyes that I just can't shake.This has been going on for two bloody weeks!!! I have been reliably informed I have caught "the bug".So sorry I haven't been blogging, I been dragging myself around the house like a malnourished zombie.

This time of the year, before the real cold arrives the Autumn months become an incubation chamber for every type of virus, flu, cold and stomach upset going the road. Every fecker who coughs, brushes off or even looks at you seems determined to make you ill.Any of you in a GP's office know that "a virus" is just what doctors call anything they can't cure or put a name on. I don't know if this fecking thing is a "virus" but it's annoying. It cost me a chunk of last week, including a fine Saturday when I couldn't lift my head off the couch or look at food-even though it was a gorgeous sunny day and I had a million outdoor plans. Aaaragh!! At least next Saturday will be fine, if I get my energy back to put it to good use.

good sized parsnips this year
Anyway, back to the time when I did feel well. I have been leaving root crops in the ground over the years with mixed results. We all know what happened in the hard freeze of two desperately cold winters, one after the other. Other winters brought other problems, mice munching crops, slugs and worms tunnelling into them, rot setting after weeks and weeks of endless rain. This year I decided to try storing them properly, after digging them up, cleaning them off and sorting through them first.

Sorting! what a pain in the arse that is. But it has to be done if you want to get the best from your bed of carrots/parsnips. Remember you just spent months growing them from seeds, weeding and minding them through the Summer so yes it is worth the hassle of sorting through them to get the best from the crop, no matter what size it is. Waste not want not people-especially so in a bad year! Has anyone noticed the price of spuds?-already! we are in for an expensive winter I think so be as sharp as you can with whatever you have.

sorting; a two person + one cat job
Back to sorting-basically you make four piles. 

Pile no1 is made up of the perfect carrots/parsnips, free of damage of any kind including holes from tunnelling slugs or root flies.

These perfect carrots/parsnips are the only ones that can be stored long term in a bucket/container of sand in layers. Just make sure that each individual carrot/parsnip are not touching off each other in that container.The container can be left outside or left in a shed. You get to use them when you have used up all the other grades of carrot first,(or the in laws come for dinner and offer to help with the veg prep and you want to show off).

Pile no 2 is made up of your second best carrots/parsnips. These are not quite perfect, they have an odd hole or some slight damage. You can't store them long term but you can keep them short term, maybe in a hessian sack in a cold shed. But the plan is to use them in the coming weeks, as much as you can.

Top grade carrots and parsnips; even with extra legs!
Pile 3 is made up of the usable but bad carrots/parsnips. These carrots/parsnips have serious problems like tunnelling pests and rotten bits but once the bad stuff is cut off there is usually some good usable chunks in between. You can't store them at all. It's worse they are going to get so use these ones first, keep them in a bucket in the kitchen or somewhere cooler close by. Even wanted to make carrot cake, juices with carrots as the base, carrot/parsnip soups, vegetable crisps? here's your chance.

Pile no 4 our last pile is made up of the totally unusable carrots/parsnips. Ones with so much bad bits you have trouble locating any good bits! These is only one place for these and that's the compost heap.

So there you have it. And for the record I'm not just saying all this. As I write I'm guzzling on soup no 2 that involves a solid base of carrots(it's a sweet potato, chili, coriander and coconut cream soup). Please don't ask me to post recipes, I have tried and failed because I don't have time. I even tried setting up a recipes blog to go with this one-it has all of one entry!! And besides which there are loads more people, much better than I (hard to believe I know) blogging and writing full belt about cooking.Theres Jamie, Hugh, Delia, Darina, Nigel, Catherine,..........and a million amateur cooking bloggers!

the empty carrot bed

Thursday, 11 October 2012

2013 Kitchen Garden calendar for Ireland available!

bright and cheery for 2013
Great calendar, really reccomend it for the tips and suppliers listing apart from the fab pics, check out it's online home and list of stockists here; www.theirishkitchengarden.com

PS; West Limerick people bought it in D&M Garden Centre in Croagh

Monday, 8 October 2012

Sow your overwintering onions now

Spiders web made visible by the mist frames the first rays of sun
Last Saturday turned out to be the most perfect autumn day. It began as all autumn days should with shrouding mists that allowed only hints of blue skies and sunshine. As the morning wore on the mist lifted very gradually until at last, by midday the valley was clear and the garden was gently sweating in the most divine heat. The perfect day to straighten out one of this years brassica beds and prepare it for overwintering onions. As a bonus it was a root day on the biodynamic calendar.

Be still my beating heart!! Onion sets!
I had been in Gardeners world a few days before and seen really good looking onion sets in big baskets on the floor. I was especially intrigued by a pure white one called snowball that I have never seen before. But before I could help myself I had to stand in a corner and do some mental arithmetic. One strange side effect of teaching maths is my new inability to buy anything for the garden without working out how much space I have and how many I can fit. It's all very sensible I know but it took me longer to think about what proportion of the bed still held Toms Purple sprouting Broccoli, and how much room that left me for planting overwintering onions, and how many to put in and at what spacing, than it did to just pick up the fecking sets and put them in a bag! I have a slow maths brain, it clanks away like a mouse pushing a heavy steel door, still I suppose it works- I ended up with exactly the right amount!!

the last stragglers in the bed-wild rocket and weeds
Anyway- back to Saturday. First I cleared the wild rocket plants still growing in the bed. These had been an under-crop for Kale during the summer. The idea was that the rocket would enjoy the shade under the much larger Kale plants and so (hopefully) not rush to seed. The rocket in turn would compete the weeds for the Kale too and it all worked out-more or less for the last few months of the summer.

scutch grass roots
I had an idea that these rocket plants could be reliable perennials under glass as I have seen the same plant last several years at Eileen's so even though I dug them up I wasn't throwing them away. They would all get a nice sized pot, some compost and manure and go into the glasshouse for the winter. They are well worth keeping too as this type of rocket is the tastiest, truest rockety flavoured rocket you can grow-I think so anyway. It tastes far better than anything else I have tried.

Layer of sand added but not dug in -yet

 Next came some serious digging. It was exhausting, and incredibly sweaty. I stood up at one stage, leaned on my fork (in my best co council workers pose) and felt the sweat run down the back of my neck. Outstanding stuff in the month of October!! Why was I exerting myself in the first place you ask? I had two reasons to really thoroughly dig the bed. The first was scutch grass making a small colony in one corner, the other was the fast forward plan of growing carrots with these onions in late spring/early summer next year.

Leaf mould delivery
It was all a bit clumpy and heavy so I added a few spadefuls of sand. I'm sure the pile of builders sand is not as good as the blue sand from home but its handier when you have a pile of it on site just to use it. Unfortunately Ginger and all the local cats think its quite handy too for a quick loo stop en route to murdering something in the garden, so I had to look for a "clean" spot covered by plastic. I dug it in lightly. The aim is not to bury it but to get it into the top few inches of the soil. It will drop down further by itself over the winter.

Snowball sets in
Last, but by no means least I added a nice pile of leaf mould which has just finished breaking down after two years up at Jacks under his trees. The leaves are mostly lime leaves from Tony's place in Ennis which is dominated by a magnificent lime tree. Tony, much like my Dad sees the leaves as a right pain in the arse. Hopefully I can continue to persuade him to keep collecting them for me.Leaf mould is really terrific stuff, and as rare as hens teeth if your not making it yourself!

electric reds
Finally in went the onions. I planted 10 of electric red, snowball and troy. Great names I think! The troy are yellow, snowball pure white and as the name suggests the electric reds are red! I didn't net them from the birds but I am watching the bed in case they, or Ginger(or his cat brethren) take an interest in the newly cleared patch. If we are really lucky we will get more outstanding Saturdays like the last one making these Autumn jobs a pleasure and getting us really organised before the worse weather arrives.

PS; If you are in gardeners world they have more varieties of over wintering onions and beautiful looking overwintering garlic too.

Jack-King of a feral tunnel

Jack and his enormous tunnel sunflower
Last week as promised I visited Jack and so I can confirm (100%) that tales of his tunnel and garden gone wild have not been exaggerated. But of course while another person might be horrified to take anyone else around, (me and several other people I know) Jack was delighted! and as for his half hearted threats not to take me down the garden because it "was so bad"- I realise now were just attempts to get me even more interested!!! Yes, he is quite cracked.

To balance out the craziness he is undeniably generous too. I left laden down with black hamburg grapes and cherry tomatoes not to mention all the multiple hugs and kisses! And he was of course his usual entertaining self, telling me an outrageous story about eircom, a €5 bill and a hope to be published in Stub's Gazette!
Really, how could you not visit?

One man and his tunnel-spot the look of pride!
Still fruiting, still ripening and still being fed-tomatoes gone feral!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

End of the Tomato year

Excuse the upside down photo-again. This fecking blogger tool does something weird to my photos when it uploads them from the computer though for the life of me I can't figure out why!
Some people have tomatoes in their tunnels and glasshouses up until Christmas (Jack!)but I have always disliked the idea. For me tomatoes are strictly summer crops and once summer is very definitely over I'd rather be done with the tomatoes, clear them out and get stuck into winter crops instead. I like a very definite start and finish to everything so it won't surprise you that I'm not one of those people prone to nursing weak or ill plants either. Out they go, every few weeks or so when I have a major tidy up of the cold frame, the pots and now the glasshouse too. I feel great after it! So on Saturday, despite protests from my husband all of the tomato plants came out of the glasshouse, got stripped of their fruit, cut up and composted and the soil in their pots recycled as top dressing for the newest part of the garden. I'd love to say I washed the pots and put them away but unfortunately that job is still hanging over me.

Tigerella truss ripening through the glass

There was one exception to the tomato purge a Tigerella that Mary gave me. (thanks Mary!)It turned out to be the healthiest of all the tomato varieties I grew this year. It's leaves are still largely untouched by blight(unlike the rest that were riddled with it) and more to the point it has the best crop of the lot with a number of fine abundant trusses still ripening well on the plant. So the Tigerella was allowed to stay, along with chillies, peppers and aubergines that are still cropping well and an amazing little plant called a pepino melon pear that has fab tasting Chinese gooseberries.

Eileen explains about tomatoes to some of this years students

This week at Eileen's I was delighted to see that Eileen shared the idea and has stripped her tunnels of all but the last few plants to make way for winter crops. She is ripening the green ones in batches with bananas. If any of you have never heard of this trick the banana ripens other fruit because it produces lots of ethylene gas-a reason to keep it far away from the other fruit in your kitchen but to keep it cosy with green tomatoes in a drawer or brown bag if you want them to ripen within a week.

Eileen's tunnel collection basket for green tomatoes and cucumbers
I am now bracing myself for a visit to Jack this afternoon. Last night on the phone he told me the tunnel had gone "wild" because he allowed all the volunteer tomato plants to grow-Good God! I'm afraid of what I will see. He said he might not let me go down there-it must really be out of control! God job Mary Knockainey isn't coming with me she would give out yards to him.

Green tomatoes

If you find yourself stuck with a glut of green tomatoes that are refusing to ripen you can make a fantastic chutney out of them. There are lots of recipe's but I have made and really love this one by the great Hugh FW. It also calls for some other things you may have in abundance, courgettes, apples and onions.

Hugh's very funny piece on courgettes and what to do with them