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;

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

Get stuck in before the weather changes

perfect October morning
What a morning! blue skies, fluffy clouds and rolling mists across the valley floor blanketing everything in ethereal fog, a real autumnal day.Sadly its not going to last, so if you have a gardening project you want to do today get out as quick as you can, the forecast is for lots of rain this afternoon and tomorrow. Saturday is promised fine though. Its harvesting, bed clearing and green manure season so get stuck in!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Autumn Apple Review

Eckinville seedling Apples
Here if an apple drops off a tree 101 slugs appear in a flash to devour it. I picked up one last week and I'm not exaggerating when I say the whole surface was covered in black slugs-I really should have taken a picture! I have nothing against slugs eating the odd apple but in a lean year once the apples start to fall if you are not quick off the mark there will be nothing left to eat!

Wiser, more experienced people than me have written in depth about the rubbish year it has been for fruit, apples and pears in particular. Despite that Autumn is the time to taste any new apples and review the progress of the apple trees themselves. Even if this year we will have very few to review.

Oddly enough, despite poor crops across the board one little tree coughed up enormous perfect apples as it does each year very reliably. It's called Eckinville seedling. I got it from ISSA and it has the most amazing cooking apples. The tree itself has grown very little in the 6 years it has been here but what it lacks in stem and leaf growth it more than makes up for in enormous fruit. The two branches on it are almost entirely horizontal from fruit production over the last few years and but for the support of nearby blackcurrants one branch would be on the ground. This year it began to put out more branches so hopefully it will start to grow a little more next year. Trees are funny, it can take them a while to really settle in on a new site.

Redlove Era
Another apple that produced fruit this year on only it's second year on site is a strange variety I got from Suttons called Redlove Era. Inside it looks like a beetroot but it's a nice apple for eating if somewhat a little tarty in taste. It looks like a bigger version of the Lough Key Crab apple I grow for making crab apple jelly and Suttons tell you that you can bake as well as eat it. This year the yields on the Lough Key Crab are pitiful. Margaret met a crow carrying one of those apples with him as he left our garden the other morning but this year I don't mind, they are welcome to the few that are on it, its hardly enough to make a pot of jelly. The tree itself is growing well and is a useful pollination partner for the other trees around it and in a good year it crops well. It's also one of the most beautiful trees I have so it's definitely staying.

One incredibly delicious braeburn
The other surprise of this autumn was a Braeburn apple tree that produced 1 apple in it's first year. It was turning into a bit of a comedy here, two of us watching one perfect red apple ripening, checking on it every day to see if there was any signs of a give in the stem. If you are picking apples for the first time the apple is ripe when it can be twisted 180o and pulled upwards snapping it cleanly off the tree. If there is no give it's not ready. Still watching this one red apple was driving me mad! Once I found a small bit of damage to it's outside I decided that was it-couldn't take it any more! I snapped it off, it came reluctantly, but it turned out to be spectacularly delicious. Probably the nicest eating apple I have eaten in a very long time. The tree is young but it's healthy and has a good shape. I hope it will ramp up production next year.

The most important thing I think you must do is taste and assess your apples as early in the life of the tree as possible. Most of us have only so much space. We should grow only fruit that we love to eat or find incredibly tasty to cook. So if any of the apple trees produce inedible fruit they should go. Jack gave me an ornamental crab apple tree called Golden Hornet which he assured me was great for wild life. I have never seen any bird take fruit off that tree. In fact the fruit has often stood on the tree all winter into the following spring!! but it's too small to be useful to me in making crab apple jelly. It might be useful for pollinating other fruit trees but its hopeless in every other respect. I didn't like to throw it out as it was a gift so instead it went into a gap in the hedge where it continues to flower and fruit each year. Likewise I have a pear tree that produces tiny pears. Apart from being tiny they are very woolly in consistency, not amazingly flavoursome and they go off incredibly quickly.Guess where that tree is going this winter?

The only apples left on the trees here are the Keegans crabs, an eating apple again from ISSA. Last year we took a fine bucket of fruit off the tree, this year it will be more like a small basket. Since they don't fall ripe until late October there is plenty of time for the birds to attack them or winds to fell them. In the end it might only be a handful of tarty green apples to make wonderful juice from or eat fresh.

Storing Apples

apple store from
 Apples don't like to be stored with crops like onions and garlic, it speeds up their demise so keep the winter crops apart. If you have the money you can buy beautiful apple storage racks but anyone on more of a budget can store apples in old potato bags, just be careful not to overfill them. As with everything for long term storage the fruit must be handled like eggs and only perfect unblemished, unbruised and undamaged fruit are put in to store.Keep them in a cool place, no heat or direct sun. Some varieties are better to keep than others so know what you are storing to get the best out of them.

Harvesting Pumpkins and Squashes

cinderella, buttercup, musquee de provence,uchiki kuri and mixed winter squash
Saturday dawned sunny and bright and despite a generous sleep in (and lazy longwinded breakfast) there was still plenty of time in the afternoon for the important jobs of harvesting root crops and pumpkins. I have this debate with myself every year-when should I harvest the pumpkins? surely the thing to do is to leave them on the plant until close to halloween? but then over the years I found early autumn frosts destroyed pumpkins when I wasn't looking, and when I was looking I worried incessantly about them, dashing out at night to put jackets on them at the slightest mention of frost after the nine o clock news.All that frost anxiety is enough to make you go lu la! I sat in the garden one afternoon this summer looking up d'internet in the hopes of getting some inspiration.And it turned out I did, there are two important SIGNS for when you can harvest your pumpkins.

you can see the cracking and changing colour on the stem here
Over the past few weeks I began watching the pumpkins closely looking for these signs. One sure sign is when the stems start to change colour, crack and turn corky. At this stage they won't grow any bigger as the fruit is starting to ripen. The other sign is the skin thickening up as part of the ripening process. So another way to check if they are getting ready to harvest is the push your finger nail into the skin gently, if it dosen't break the skin the pumpkin is ready to be harvested. Don't keep poking at it! Damage to the skin will make the pumpkin go off in record time so do this very carefully, don't actually try to puncture it!

leave a "cork on the bottle" when you cut the pumpkin from the plant
If you read up on how to harvest pumpkins a lot of people tell you to leave a few inches of the stem going into the pumpkin intact. They are dead right -this is the most important thing to do in order to cure and store the pumpkin long term. But many online websites call this extra stem "a handle" and that is a really bad analogy to use. For one thing you can't hold the pumpkin by it's stem because it's too much weight for the stem and if the stem breaks the pumpkin can't be stored- it will just go off. So don't think of it as a handle, think of it as the cork for a wine bottle, if the cork falls out the wine goes off. Once you have cut the pumpkins from the plant and you are picking them up to take them inside hold them from the underneath to support their weight.

my trained pumpkin handler holds a cinderella pumpkin
Finally the Pumpkins have to cure. Usually it takes about two weeks sitting under glass (glasshouse/tunnel/cold frame/south facing pathway with shelter-no rain) to get the skins a nice uniform colour all the way round and the stems cured to rock hard corkiness. You must turn the pumpkins every few days to ensure the skin is hardening up evenly on all sides especially any sides that are paler coming in because of being in contact with the soil or away from the sun when they were growing. After that you move them to a nice cool place with an even temperature of about 15c, no sunshine or heat. I use my north facing hallway. Once you check them every now and again they should store for several months. You do need to check them though, one day it's a pumpkin the next its a pile of stinking mush and oozing juices-not pretty.

curing at the back door