Sunday, 29 April 2012

Sow yer "fruiting veg" today and tomorrow

Hi lads! fruit day today on the biodynamic calendar. I just finished sowing the first lots of peas, mange tout and purple peas direct into the garden, dwarf french beans, broad beans and climbing french beans under cover.You could do the broad beans directly into the ground but I have to prepare a bed first.Did lots of pumpkins, courgettes(1st of two sowings) melons and cucumbers too.It's a fruit day all day tomorrow too, so its a good time to get sowing if you havent already got round to it! Would love to post a picture of peas but google wont co-operate today!

The weeding begins....

Garlic and carrot bed
Charles always told me you should hoe on a hot windy day. Today wasn't exactly hot, 9 degrees that felt much much cooler in the shade, but the wind was brisk and busy. The carrot bed (sharing with garlic) has been netted since it was sown weeks ago. The netting was to protect the bed from inquisitive cats and birds and it did its job well. But now the garlic is really getting underway its time to take off the netting, and face the army of weeds beneath.

A Nasturtium towers over baby carrots and wild weed seedlings
I don't know about you but I have found that after a few years of gardening there are as many "cultivated" weeds as wild ones. Under the netting for every ragwort, dock, nettle and grass seedling there was a mustard, radish, rocket and nasturtium to match them. Actually there were far more weeds here than in the next bed, sown at the same time but without the netting. Did the netting help create a micro-climate a bit warmer than the next bed helping the weed seedlings to get going? An interesting idea.

There is no option but to hand weed the rows of carrots and garlic, a hoe will do the spaces in between. If this army of weeds gets any bigger it will seriously hinder the two crops in the bed. Seamus who is most keen on bloody carrots refused point blank to weed them, calling the job tedious and insane! He wants to wait until the weeds are bigger!!! The crazy fecker refused to listen to all the reasons why its better to do it earlier. So it was a one sided weeding job-but I don't mind. I like this kind of microscopic weeding, its very absorbing somehow-maybe I am mad!

If you dont know your weeds here is a handy website with links to pictures and full descriptions;
common garden weeds

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Glasshouse envy

Marys Fabulous Glasshouse
OK Mary, I know you are reading this, you must admit that if we are to be envious of anyone it should be you! That glasshouse is amazing!

Mary and Ollie
Thursday morning I took the Lough Gur Group down the road to visit Marys garden. Everyone was enamoured with her beautiful glasshouse and all the amazingly healthy seedlings inside. I haven't seen this lot so animated on any other visits, the notebooks were out and there was serious note-taking going on! Of course Mary had the good sense to put a deckchair inside too, you must be able to sit and admire your work (or hide from the rest of the world) Good thinking Mary!

Getting stuck in
Once we got outside we got everyone organised to help plant a long border to go around the glasshouse and the raised bed vegetable garden behind. I think they had such a soft visit to Ursula's house last week they were in shock at the concept of work!! We planted Cosmos that are already beginning to bloom, calendula and sweet peas at strategic locations for climbing over an arch.All the plants were big, healthy and well hardened off. Its great doing a slow job like this with a gang of people-It becomes an easy and a fast job to do!

Mary went far too easy on them all by making a lovely baked breakfast bromlette (at least that's what I'm calling it-Bread base with omelet style filling). Followed by scones with jam and all washed down with tea and coffee.I think she could have knocked another job or two out of them after all that fine dining.Next time Mary more work!

A bit like the ICA this crowd need the promise of a cup of tea!

Earth up yer Spuds

Noticed this yellow discolouration as I was earthing up
Lads I'm a big fan of the jobs that kill two birds with one stone so today, when Seamus was digging out the path for the terrace, I got him to drop the topsoil down to the veg garden where first and second Earlie's were in need of earthing up. Earthing up is a mystery to a lot of people but really its like being an over-anxious Irish mother. Instead of fretting over your ankles(which my mother is forever doing for some strange reason!), fret over the stems of the spuds. Just think of them as exposed necks, in danger of catching cold. If you pull the earth up around their necks they will be nice and cosy-no chance of catching a cold. Between here and June keep up the fretting (the earthing up) and your spuds will be the best looked after, most contented spuds in Ireland ( or Sheffield!).


Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The neatest tunnel in Ireland

Last night I called in to see Heather. She is definately in the running (if not already crowned) the owner of the tidiest tunnel in Ireland! I dont think the picture does it justice.I couldnt get her to pose for me, something about poor lighting and no make up artists on hand!! Ah Heather I'm pulling your leg-but next time I will get you in all your glory-fair warning!!!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Glasshouse part 2

Glass gone-dismantling begins
On Saturday, a bit accidentally, we found ourselves back at Johnny's taking the glasshouse apart. Of course it was 4 in the afternoon when we got there after a morning of getting supplies in town and it was late when we finished. Barney, Johnny's Jack Russel terrier supervised the work literally "barking" orders at us to get our attention!

Most of the glass was already taken down so now came the taking apart of the aluminium frame. Many of the upper screws just sheared off but the lower ones were fine, and with a little persuasion they obliged and popped out intact. Johnny reckons the replacements will be easily got in town.

ghost of gardens past-raised bed emerges
There is a lot of broken glass to replace and as I raked out the briar's, finding yet more broken panes, I worried about that cost a bit. The more I raked the easier it got to see the former layout of the glasshouse; two raised beds with wooden planks running the length of the side and a concrete path in between. When we finally got down to the base someone had originally poured a very thin concrete base that just matched the width of the aluminium base panels. It was an incredibly neat job. Whoever did the second glasshouse hadn't bothered to be so neat-they put down a rough wall of concrete blocks instead!!!

Barney supervising the work
We were asking Johnny about the history of the house and its last occupants.It was a bit of a sad story really. The previous owner had to sell the house after his parents died to sort out inheritance for the rest of the family. The poor guy was a down and out, who regularly brought his drinking buddies back with him to the house. That was more than 10 years ago.

A few months ago one evening he suddenly appeared in Johnny's porch. Johnny took him in and made him a cup of tea. They began to talk about the house, the previous owner vowing to buy it back off Johnny and make it his home again. A few weeks later he passed away. No doubt his liver gave up after a lifetime of abuse. It seemed like such a sad end to a lost life. I hope he doesn't visit Johnny from beyond the grave so that he can live at home again!!!! He better not think of haunting the glasshouse either, maybe I should get Fr Hayes over for the opening ceremony just in case?!

We gave up when it was almost done, leaving the last difficult part(tree growing through frame) for the next morning. All the glass is home now and all of the frame pieces too. They all need cleaning and disinfecting which isn't too bad. The big job now is putting it all back together again. I'm not looking forward to it. Joe are you free some Saturday ?....

last panes of glass ready for road
the unbolting begins
It took both of them to get off some of the screws and bolts
meanwhile I was attacking the brier jungle
briar's cleared and raked out
half way there
The last pieces come down as daylight starts to fade

The Arboretum

the immaculate lawns out front at Fota
Before we left Fota we had a nice walk through the arboretum ( I may actually be able to spell arboretum after posting this!). There is loads of work going on, new trees being planted, the old walled garden being restored. It needs a full day,a sensible pair of walking shoes (no hangover) with a packed picnic to really enjoy it.

"garden gate" doesn't do it justice
The orangery-I could die happy here!
Orange and lemon trees inside
beautiful planters inside the orangery
cool bark!
ridiculously tall trees
very comfy garden chair
beautiful tree peony
lots of fab camellias
flowering myrtle threw jasmine like  perfume into the air
shocking pink rhododendron
eerily like being in another country walking into this copse of trees

warning sign for the fernery...
in case the dinosaurs get you!
off to middle earth we go...
I have loads of photos, but I cant do it justice. Hopefully when the walled garden and glasshouses are restored the veg and fruit gardens will be just as impressive as the rest of the grounds.

Fota House Plant and Garden Fair

Fota House in the background
If I wasn't so busted/hung over I think I would have enjoyed the plant fair more but the night before we had a spontaneous house party with John and Joey, all of us staying up far too late, eating too many crisps, drinking too much alcohol and (most ridiculous of all) taking it in turn to nod off in front of the roaring fire like pensioners in a nursing home!

Fruit Hill Farm brought lots of tools
Its a reoccurring theme-last week I bought Woman's weekly gardening magazine only to find the back page carried a full page ad for HSL chairs with higher seats and back supports for easier sitting and rising, with pictures of grey haired people smiling happily in the seats!! O no! I thought, this is what I have become, I'm officially old and boring-this is aimed at me!!!!

cool garden furniture!
So while walking around the beautiful grounds at Fota it gave me some comfort to see a few cool younger people at the plant fair, even an odd punk or goth! Maybe I'm not too far gone after all? Or is this just the cool alternativeness of  Cork oozing out? It was a lovely day too, the rain we left behind in Pallasgreen was long gone and even if we were late, arriving at 3.40 (plant fair over at 4pm!) there was still loads to see and do.

Hammocks! bring on the sun
Pretty display with cool teracotta follies and great plants

First port of call was Future Forests to pick up an Acer from Matt, an amicable guy I had been chatting with over the phone the week before. Future Forests are out in the arse of West Cork so it saved quite a bit of driving to meet them there. They are almost finished posting bare rooted stock until next Autumn so although we got part of our tree order from them in the post last week they couldn't send on the Acer which was now in leaf and starting to grow. Matt told us not to leave without taking a walk in Fota Arboretum which I had forgotten all about but visited many years before. I remember in particular the Orangery-in my lotto winning dreams I build one of those and live with orange and lemon trees into old age.(with a purple rinse in my hair and chasing kids off with a large stick of course).

Cool supports for sweet peas-might have a go at making these
I met Dave from Seed Savers, we had a big chat about the last batch of students out on work experience and the stuff he is trying out in the experimental orchard. Dave is a mine of information, and the weird thing is we always seem to be discovering some soil science fact or other at the same time! We were talking about electrical charge in the soil, I could feel Seamus rolling his eyes behind me. But he perked up considerably when Dave started telling us about a medical herbalist he met in Cork the night before who is brewing the most amazing beer. He had to taste it of course. It was my turn to roll my eyes!

furniture and flowers-senetti were everywhere!
Deborah and Martin were there from Terra Nova. As she recently blackmailed me into doing a talk for her( I know! the ridiculousness of it!!-coals to Newcastle!) we had a funny chat. Her ankle is still giving her trouble but she is battling along hoping to open the garden soon to visitors. I'm chomping at the bit to go back. Its one of my favourite places to visit and I always see something new.

Although there were loads of plants and stalls I only bought some green manure from Seed Savers and 5 pots of asparagus from a funny lady on the way out (5 pots for 10 euros!there may be a good reason to arrive late after all!). I think next year I will ban all partying the night before and show up at a respectable hour to actually see everything that is on offer. Its not a veg growing show although there are lots of herbs, but if you are into unusual ornamental plants then its well worth the visit. And to meet other like minded crackpots like yourself of course!

Fota House

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Free seeds

Lads if you bought today's Irish Independent you will find an ad on page 8  offering two packets of T&M seeds, one flower, one vegetable to anyone who sends a stamped self addressed envelope to Mr Middleton in Dublin. Click on the photo to get the details. For the price of a stamp its well worth it and you can always swap packets if you dont get something you want. Happy sowing!!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Fire on the hills!

Nicker Hill
The gorse is out and what a show it is this year. I think its early, but then lots of things are this Spring. If you have never smelled it get up close-its divine!

The Nano Nagle Centre

The Nano Nagle Centre
I'm just back, (in several pieces)! from an afternoon spent near Mallow Co. Cork at the Nano Nagle centre. Once upon a time it was famous for its presentation order of nuns, now it's more famous for workshops, retreats and it's organic garden and farm. I took a community group from nearby Kildorrery to get some ideas of how to layout their new tunnel and organise their allotment.

The Allotments
The nuns run two gardens really, one to produce food for the restaurant in the centre and one as an allotment for anyone who wants one. There are rules and regulations; its strictly organic, must be kept well and a fee paid yearly of €100 for the use of the land, the provision of manure and water and the use of a tool shed to keep tools. The smiling guide told me several people had been "evicted" for using chemicals-they are serious about being organic!

They hold a farmers market every month in one of their three tunnels, keep a variety of farm animals(free range and organic of course)! and run all sorts of interesting courses and retreats. They also use one of the tunnels as a teaching tunnel for students.They have a kind of three fold mission in that care of the earth is bound up with their own brand of spirituality with a dollop of Heritage thrown in.

the teaching tunnel
I don't know if everyone who came today got the worth of the visit. Sometimes its easy for me to see what you can learn from other places but people very often miss the essential things or see everything but observe nothing. I was saying this to one of the group over tea and scones at the end of the visit but she reckoned you can lead a horse to water but you cant make it drink!! Amen to that!!

beautiful scenery on the way home
I had picked up Jack at lunchtime and he came with me. Discussing the place on the way home he was very struck by the professionalism of the whole place, the neat layouts of the teaching tunnel, kitchen garden, small tunnel and allotments. Everyone had been asking about Kitty Scully, our guide told us she left them for 6 months to work in television and came back looking for part-time hours but couldn't get them. This afternoon they were interviewing for a new farm manager to fill her shoes. I cant help but feel they should have given her the hours. Her public profile could only have been of benefit to them.

Anyway here in pictures is what I took from the visit. We were lucky with the weather, thunder was grumbling as we left Kildorrery and the sky was inky black, but the sun shone while we were walking around in Ballygriffin.

deep heat mat propagator with under storage in the tunnel
beautifully built 4 bay compost system
and around the other side clever water collection!
beautiful curved covered pergola walkway to the gardens

great crop signage-just what I need in the garden!
beautifully made potting bench and storage underneath
Protected spuds-1st earlies kept protected for early cropping