Friday, 31 August 2012

Dig for Victory over volunteer spuds

Nettles, stray comfrey, nasturtiums and weeds!
Yesterday evening was just beautiful.There was something Autumnal in the air, the dropping temperatures, easing daylight, and lengthening shadows that got me motivated to clear the second early bed for a nice crop of winter leaf beet.Now that I'm a "no dig" advocate it might seem a bit cracked to suggest digging but if you are going to give any bed a bit of a going over it really should be an empty potato bed because no matter how thorough you think you have been in clearing it out-you haven't. There are spuds lurking there waiting to become next years volunteer crop, and holding inside whatever diseases we had this year. Since Ireland and the UK seem to be awash with blight you don't need me to tell you that keeping it in the ground over winter is a bad idea!

I was also secretly hoping that I had missed some Charlotte's as Manie who is a superb cook is coming for a BBQ on Saturday and I really want to make her that delicious potato salad we had a few weeks ago)plus I'm dying for more too)!!

beautiful gang of Charlotte's
First I had to pull up the still flowering nasturtiums that are rapidly setting seed. These guys are so useful in the garden, insects love them, they are tough and spread rapidly giving great ground cover, you can eat the peppery leaves and they flower from early summer to the first frosts. They had grown around the potatoes taking off after I cut the potato stalks down when we first got blight. I moved some of them to different parts of the garden to help pollinate other crops, including the pumpkins in the next bed. And even if I felt a little sad to be clearing them out it's now the turn of a green manure to help preserve fertility for the winter. This can be sown after the leaf beet gets underway to prevent them competing with each other . Next year this will be a Pea and Bean bed so when I put in the green manure I'm putting in the compost from the heap too-a tactic Tanguy told me he uses in his no dig management system each autumn. But don't worry about the bees, there are plenty of nasturtiums still flowering in other areas of the garden and plenty of seeds scattered in this bed to get the next generation going next spring.

After the nasturtiums were cleared I started digging. Not only was I rewarded by a lovely cache of Charlotte's but I got a lovely crop of British Queens too and found several mounds with Catriona's underneath that have not been dug at all yet! woo hoo! better than finding gold in the Rio grande.

leaf beet ready for its new home

It was late evening by now but in went the leaf beet, all of which are nice sized plants, some even a little root bound. I gave them some pelleted chicken and a little cal-sea-feed to get the roots going and a god watering to settle them in. Looking out this morning I realised I need not have worried, lots of soft rain was falling in fits and starts. But the first two weeks are crucial, so if it dries out, even for a day or two I will have to water them. I will need to do a bit of slug patrolling too. Baby green plants like chard are very popular after they first arrive.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Chitting spuds-again

Red duke of york and British queens
Lads anyone who has a glasshouse or tunnel can grow spuds for christmas day.If you have a few of your own harvested first or second earlies still in the fridge get them out and chit them now for planting next month.


check out this earlier blog post;

chitting first earlies

John's Crazy Caterpillars

John sent me this picture. He found these two in his garden and has never seen anything like them before!
I thought myself that they were some type of moth larvae (caterpillars), but hunting in my Field guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland it was hard to be certain.Here is Johns description;

"about 2 to 2 ½ inches long ½ inch in diameter. Brownish black in colour with lighter stripes. 
4 eyes 1 at each side front top and 1 at each side back of head.
Snoutish head when crawling moves in a sort of concertina type movement." 

Luckily I have a moth consultant! I emailed it on to Veronica who confirmed that its elephant hawk moth caterpillar, they are pretty common and like willowherbs which are very common weeds in most gardens. They are not garden pests though.  All those scary "eyes" are fakes to scare off anything that might want to eat them! Here is what the adult looks like;

from rx

There must be a caterpillar revival going on as I found two hairy molly caterpillars yesterday in the garden (my neighbours believe when you see them crossing the road it signals fine weather ahead, so looking out at the driving rain today I must conclude seeing them climb a wall can only spell trouble). Meanwhile my winter Kales are hosting armies of cabbage white caterpillars.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Cant talk- too busy eating

box of tricks
Last night, bright as day, a harvest moon hung over the hill. After the frantic summer, daylight hours reaching well into the night, early rises for dawn, hoeing, weeding, sowing, transplanting, watering there is something blissful about this time of the year. True the nights are drawing in but with them comes a type of reprieve. No big gardening jobs, earlier nights, longer sleeps and the pure happiness of harvesting in the garden.Literally eating all your hard work from earlier in the year. As one crop finishes another replaces it, and you never will have such appreciative friends and neighbours as you do right now.

Harvesting is one thing- storing is another. It's important to know what to do with something after you take it from the garden, or otherwise it will go to waste. Based on knowing absolutely nothing when I started harvesting and fucking it up every which way in the beginning here's what I learnt about storing veg, for what its worth.

Peas and beans have a short enough shelf life. Do not(on pain of death) separate them from their pods until you are ready to cook them. When you bring them in just give them a rinse under a cold tap, shake or spin off the excess (here's where a salad spinner is really useful) put them in a bag or an airtight box (plastic take away boxes are really handy) and keep them in the fridge. If they have little or no damage you will get two weeks out of them. Without the rinse of water under the tap they soften fast and they wont store properly without being in the fridge(both of these were tested extensively out of sheer lazyness).

Spuds store well in a hessian sack in a cool dark room. I'm currently experimenting with first Earlie's that have been in for at least a month, and so far so good. If you wash the spuds dry them well and keep them in the fridge in the veg drawer. They will keep for weeks in there. If you want to hold on to the flavour an old method was to keep them dirty in a bucket of soil in a cool dark place. Trouble is most of our houses are too warm for this. Still you could try it as a short term (3 days) strategy.

Parsnips and carrots go off fast, especially carrots which soften so fast in the fridge it kind of frightens me when I consider how long a packet of bought carrots can last. I'm experimenting with keeping them dirty at room temperature covered by damp kitchen towel, seems to last a week so far with no problems.

Salad leaves that are washed and spun out well in the salad spinner can be put in sealed boxes or bags and into the fridge where you should get 7-10 days out of them without deterioration of the leaves or loss of flavour. Beware you must wash them well! If slugs survive the washing process they will be there to meet you when you open the lid a week later dead or alive. A few salt and water rinses for salad leaves should do the trick.

Cucumbers keep well in the fridge, just handle them gently to keep them from rotting at bruise points.

Do not put tomatoes in the fridge! Put them in the fruit bowl where they will keep their sweet flavour for a least a few days.

Damaged fruit and veg automatically =poor storage.

Curse of the big fat marrow

O no!!!
This year I have several enthusiastic and prolific courgette plants (haven't we all, you are saying to yourself) and it is something of a joke amongst vegetable gardeners how generous courgette plants can be with their fruit and how hapless you can become trying to come up with new ways to use them. The worst of all though is the dreaded marrow. I had prided myself this year on picking courgettes so often, diligently giving them away and using them up that there was no danger of this happening, yet again, to me.But the other day "shopping" for veg in the garden I stopped at the most aggressive and enormous courgette plant I have (Cocozelle is the variety by the way and  it's easily 3ft by 3ft- a heaving mass of tangled stems and flowers) only to find a massive marrow wedged between its lowest limbs and the edge of the raised bed. Well feck it anyway.

If  your pretty slim courgette somehow escapes your eye, hidden by a leaf or a large yellow flower and gets from a young nubile tasty veg to the fat overblown over the hill vegetable beloved of jam makers 40 years ago what are you going to do? try out recipes from d'internet, of course,(assuming you have no interest in a pot of retro marrow and ginger jam?). I found the recipe on this page on but there are plenty of offerings online. 

For example here is what Nigel Slater Suggested "Have you ever tried it baked with tomatoes and olives? Simply peel it, dig out the cores and fibres and cut it into thick chunks. Toss it in a roasting tin with lots of garlic, olive oil, red and yellow tomatoes, oregano, black olives and thyme leaves. Cover the roasting tin with foil and let it cook slowly in a moderate heat till thoroughly tender. Alternatively, cut the marrow into slices, tossed in flour, egg and crumbs, deep fried and served with lemon."

Marrow with feta and mint

Serves: 2
  • 1 large marrow
  • 100g of feta (or alternatively a hard cheese)
  • fresh or dried mint
  • 50g of puy lentils
  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves
  • red pepper sauce or red chilli flakes
  • black pepper
  • olive oil

Preparation method

Prep: 10 mins | Cook: 15 mins | Extra time: 10 mins
Cook's note: Shortcut: Use tinned puy lentils instead of dried, and skip boiling them first!

Pumpkins fattening up nicely

.Despite the crappy summer (or maybe because of the crappy summer?) my pumpkins are really thriving
In Margaret's shop, just over the off licence door there is a funny little painting of an American farm house and a field full of ripening pumpkins. Every time we sit down for a chat my eyes are drawn to it. I cant help help myself! My only cure will be one day when I have a field full of pumpkins ripening in the late autumn sun, just like in the picture. In the meantime I have to settle for growing 10-13 plants every year scattered throughout my raised beds, creating havoc as they race towards each other obliterating pathways, knocking over other plants and causing mayhem along the way. In one way it wouldn't be August without the garden going to shit-courtesy of the pumpkin plants.

tear dropped shaped uchiki kuri squash
One thing I do love about gardening is how different things are from year to year. Very often that means brilliant successes one year are unmitigated disasters the next, and vice versa. Last year I was awash with french beans, this year I only harvested a handful. Last year the pumpkin crop set very few fruit and very late in the season (you remember the cold weather we had in mid summer? that's the reason why). This year (so far and without wishing to tempt fate) the pumpkin plants are really thriving. They set fruit in July, haven't wanted for rain since and are now prolific, fat and happy. Even the baby pumpkins being picked off by slugs cannot diminish the excellent sized crop already established. In fact the only complaint is the smell-rotting pumpkins are not the sweetest scent in the world, so finish whats on your plate slugs, before moving on to the next one.

Buttercup Squash, sweet nutty, floury and very tasty!

I had a good chat with Tanguy about growing pumpkins in Ireland since this is one of my pet projects and has been a little obsession of mine since I began my own garden. I suppose pumpkins are not something that we grew at home, they are a little mysterious and exotic to me, facts only confirmed by the sheer range of sizes, colours and types available to grow.They are also impossible to buy (discounting the tasteless "jack o lantern's" sold around Halloween for the sole purpose of carving-and fit for little else in my opinion). The yellow one fattening up in the first picture is one that I have had no success with last year and one that I am really keen to get to full size. It's often nicknamed the "Cinderella Pumpkin" but its real name is  ‘Rouge Vif d’Etampes’. Apparently in the world of pumpkins it's a real looker- so good looking some people don't like to cut it, despite it's tastiness! You will find it listed as an Heirloom variety, meaning that it was commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but it is not used in modern large-scale agriculture. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open pollination. Apparently its was the most commonly found Pumpkin in the French markets in the 1800's.

Pumpkins take over pathways
Funnily enough Tanguy is convinced that it's pointless to try and grow french varieties here as the climate won't allow them to reach their full maturity and sadly, from my own experience up to now I have to agree. So my success this year with rouge vif may be a fluke.Each year I like to try out different varieties but no matter what varieties I try I do always grow smaller varieties that do well no matter what the weather (like the Japanese Hokkaido's and uchiki kuris). One French pumpkin that he did suggest we try was "petit marron" a small knobbly orange pumpkin with a good flavour. I have also had pretty decent success with the "Queensland Blue Pumpkin", and Kerry who I gave seeds to tells me they get better every year. So don't be dis-heartened if someone more experienced tells you not to bother with something, go ahead and try it out anyway. Have a backup plan and don't depend on it being a success, that way you cant go wrong! If you are getting into the form to look for unusual seeds for next year here are a few places to look for pumpkin seeds; lovely selection but expensive postage for outside the UK, might be good for Jude and co in Yorkshire if you want to try out the Australian/Queensland blue pumpkin brilliant U.S. site with a wow selection but as it only ships to its own united states you need a yank to post on orders to you.( Brothers in Boston are handy for this) They also have a brilliant sister site for heirloom tomato seeds.But again only if you have an American to help you! U.S site that will ship to Ireland and the rest of the world, airmail about 3 dollars depending on the size of the order. It has the most beautiful selection of squashes and pumpkins from all over the world.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Make hay/paint while the sun shines

Strangely enough he didn't stick to it, cats must be paint repellant
Yesterday, what a cracker of a day! A day to bale hay or paint a wall.Painting the upper garden wall was the only option. I did consider driving home for a swim, but there was no one to go with me (we had that "never swim alone" rule beaten in to us as kids)-it's hard to shake off.

It's amazing how a coat of paint really changes everything. This is my first attempt at garden wall painting and I'm sure ideas will change as time goes on about colour and style. Lots of people were puzzled when I explained that no I wasn't painting it white. White is too high maintenance in an area of greenery both above and below the wall. And it's too cold! In a country of perpetual grey skies white is just not warm enough. This is Ireland not fecking Greece!!

delicious local snacks
The good thing about working near the fruit is the supply of fresh snacks to keep you going while working. I started the wall at 2 pm yesterday afternoon, took a break at 6 for dinner and finished up at 9pm. 2/3 of the wall got two coats but even the side that just got the one looks good in the spells of sunshine today. I would have loved to have it done for the BBQ at the weekend but the weather was too unsettled and besides it would have been wildly impractical with Dave cutting stone and producing clouds of fine dust in the same area.I'm telling myself it's done for next year, but despite all the claims made on the side of the paint tin I'm a bit skeptical about how long it will really last.

Anyway it dosen't look like I will get to finish the last piece anytime soon. The weather outlook for the next 7 days is unsettled to say the least. We could really do with a heat wave and I bet the rest of Europe needs a break from it! Check out my before and after pics to see what you think.


Glasshouse offical launch and end of summer BBQ

Thank God for a fine day
Saturday afternoon saw the garden awash with kids and relations for what is fast becoming the annual end of Summer BBQ party. This year apart from Seamuses family we had my family too so I'm thinking of changing the name to the " Inlaws and Outlaws" Summer BBQ, it has a nice ring to it I think!
It's also a bit of a rehersal for next Summer when we are having a big garden party to mark someones milestone birthday. Although Dave had been working on the patio all week it wasn't finished in time for Saturday-it's not finished yet! Hopefully that and a million other jobs will be done by next summer.

Trish and Annie
One of the best things about doing my own party food was trying out the varieties of spuds that I grew especially for the day. The Maris Pipers (supposedly the best chipping spud)were destined to be wedges but I got a bit disheartned as I was digging them. So many were tunneled by slugs and half gone off, and yields seemed quite small too. Some of the spuds had weird ridging like two spuds joined together or maybe one was splitting in two? Never saw anything like it before though inside they were fine. I was planning on at least 4 trays of wedges to feed the hungry hordes but in the end I had to add some roosters to bulk things out. Although I didn't get to eat any myself Joe told me they were really the best ones he has ever eaten so maybe it was worth all the effort to grow them in the first place. I have a few small ones in a bucket outside that were left over so I might try those out for myself today.

Nor, Joey and Dace
The charlottes became a (very delicious) potato salad that I did get to taste. These spuds are second earlies and couldn't have been more different from the maris pipers. Yields were very good, spuds were 99% perfect, long pale and smooth skinned, no slugs on the inside and no sign of blight.I was really pleased with them and will definately grow them again.The potato salad went down really well too, not a single bite was left! The recipie is one of Kevin Dundons and it's here if you want to give it a go- potato salad. It was the first time I really made use of the french tarragon thats been growing for a few years in a pot and the flavour was excellent. If you want to grow it be sure to keep it under cover through winter, it will die back naturally and regrow in spring but hard cold can kill it altogether.

Kieran and Martin
I dont know about the rest of you but I do like to eat well at BBQs, not crappy stuff but real food, so it was jugs of Pimms, wine, home made elderflower and blackcurrant cordials, home made salads, home made burgers and wedges and home made ice cream for dessert, Just when they thought they couldn't eat anymore sparkling wine and white tuxedo strawberries appeared for the glasshouse launch where I made a short speech to thank Johnny and ask him to cut the blue ribbon on the glasshouse. It was quite funy how everyone entered into the spirit of it,applauding the cutting of the ribbon, while my mum and a few others dashed in the door after the offical opening to get a look around!!!(a tour lasting all of 5 seconds!) This in a way was good as everyone left their seated spots and suddenly they got talking to everyone else. They stood up in the evening sunshine enjoying the last heat of the day before Seamus brought on a coffee course with Daces delicious spice and ginger cake.
Worlds greatest mother in law Mary and my big brother Joe

Now that the glasshouse is finished I can almost move plants in there (many thanks to Martin Begley for all the glass!) The floor is paved in sandstone that must be sealed before I can put down a single pot. The sealer puts a stain resistant barrier between the porous stone and the outside. It should last ten years so it's well worth doing. I'm also short saucers for some of the plants.As Atlantic Homecare are folding up they are selling off everything at quite a discount so I might go in to see if I can get some badly needed large pot saucers to act as reservoirs for tomato plants. (I grew too many tomato plants as usual!).

Aaron tried to break in-literally!
Before going home some of the kids came down the garden with me to pick and eat plums and get veg for their mums. It's frightening (and quite cute too) how they "ooh" and "ahh" over seeing carrots growing. Even the ones growing up out the country have no clue where food comes from.This is a frankly frightening state of affairs but it's only a reflection on the adults they grow up with who grow no food and spend feck all time outdoors. When society as we know it collapses they will be the first to starve and die! Dont believe me? Read Jared Diamonds "Collapse". The Romans never believed Rome would end either-console yourself with that!

Ps; photos of the food? you must be joking! I was too busy flying around feeding people.I only managed to get these later on when the feeding frenzy was over. A million thanks to Michael who came early and got loads of jobs, including manning the BBQ and getting more gas! And to Tara and Nick who came early and helped out despite me almost mowing them over that morning at the Cappamore show. Big thanks to Martin for bringing and putting up Ricks marquee that morning despite having a million more important things to do.To my fantastic mother in law Mary who did so much to help me, including becoming my burger apprentice! To Donna who couldnt come herself but sent on trays of beautifully made rice crispie cakes for the kids.To Annie for the fab blue cupcakes, Treas for the roulades, Tara for the georgous pear and almond tart, Trish and Kate for the freshly imported french wine and everyone for the ridiculous quantities of alcohol, we will have to throw another party to see the end of it.

Johnny offically opens the glasshouse with a very blunt sissors!

Judging at the the Cappamore Show

old lad in a cap-you're at the show!
Saturday was Cappamore Show day, and although I had the BBQ and Glasshouse launch planned for the afternoon Mike English had phoned me up weeks ago and I foolishly agreed to be a judge. I'm not a professional show judge but I am lucky to work with Dave who is. According to Mike he is an all Ireland Dahlia judge who grows and shows Dahlias at shows all over Ireland and the UK.Last year I had the best time talking to him over a cup of tea afterwards. He is such a mine of information on Dahlias! I love plant nerds!!! This year I had to dash off immediately after I finished in my section. Next year Dave I will pick your brain again I promise!

you couldn't make it up"collection of 6 pansies on a plate"!
The show is seriously well organised despite a very local comfy feel to it. A one way system avoids any traffic chaos, signposting is good at all junctions and roadways, and a network of stewards keeps everything running smoothly on the day. Some bits of the show are quite funny, like the most "glamorous granny competition", "guess the weight of the cow" and the "best grass" category! You'll find Irish dancing, show jumping, a pet dog show, craft and exhibition halls, poultry, machinery, vintage cars, fashion shows, flower arranging,sheaf throwing, carriage driving, bonny baby competition, cookery demonstrations, ...the list goes on! In fact Marie Hayes once told me that if you want to enter something and there isint a category they will create one for you! You see the funniest things too, I once walked down the field early in the morning to find someone shampooing their cow. Cattle feature prominently alongside the horses and are groomed just as well for the competitions. Ginger is the only animal we have but as there is no category for cats, maybe I should ask Marie to create one for him "tubbiest and best gooomed cat". He does all his own grooming and in his current state of extreme laziness would take home the rosette-no question!

Dave judging at the flower section
The job I have is to meet with Dave in the morning at 9 and judge the flower sections with him. This is extremely well organised. We both get two assistants (each!) to guide us through the categories, check the number of entries and hand us anything we would like to look at for closer inspection.This year bottled water and a glass was also strategically placed for us to get a drink if we were thirsty from all the judging! After Dave and I finish the flower judging we split into two directions. I judge the kids entries and the fruit while Dave goes on to judge the veg.If any of you ever enter your flowers or fruit into agricultural shows you will know roughly what's involved but it still amazes me how basic the mistakes some people make, e.g. the wrong type of Dahlia, too many flowers (5 stems if it specifies 3) and the wrong colours (one type if it asks for three colours), all of which instantly disqualify you- so obey the schedule at all costs!

my glamorous assistants!
There are lots of other technicalities too. If it says "one plant only" you get automatically disqualified if you put more in the pot. Dave will actually root around in the soil if he suspects more than one entry! If you are entering roses or other flowers they must be at their best, flowers that are too old (if you can see the centre of the Dahlia or Rose for example) will not make the grade.In the fruit section I always smell the apples, shop bought are usually too perfect looking and have no smell. You won't win a rosette if you bought it in Dunnes!

 I definitely wore the wrong shoes
Some sections were brilliant, the local Cappamore ICA (Irish country women's Association) had their own section for "an arrangement of  flowers in a teacup". There were lots of entries, all really beautiful and some really fab. Other sections like the "sweet peas in a vase" were very poor, very few entries, and a very poor standard of flowers. Strange considering its easy enough to have good sweet peas for a show.I won this section once before my "career" as a judge. Seamus slags me off about it to this day, there were only three entries-I was bound to win something! No danger of inflated egos around here.

Marie, commanding all from the box
I was finished by 11 and just popped in to the "command centre" to see Marie who organises the whole thing and compliment her on her ICA sisterhoods excellent flowers in tea cups. On the drive out I met a steward at the top of the hill who directed me across a field full of horse boxes and ponies to the exit. Right in my path was a big ploughed up patch covered in deep muddy ruts. O no!!
"Whatever you do don't stop"he said "unless you want us to pull you out!"


I geared down and kept going, the car waltzed a bit but I got through. I was so busy concentrating on not getting stuck that I completely missed Tara and Nick who were just about to cross in front of me but stepped out of the way! Sorry! At the bottom of the hill the track was a muddy pair of ruts in the lane way. I kept going and hoped for the best. I never thought I'd say this but God was I glad when the car turned on to a tarmac road. What the hell would it be like later? At least bales of straw were already being "deployed" in the very muddy areas.

Strategy for dealing with mud-bales of straw!
Lots of Agricultural shows have been cancelled this year because their grounds are too wet, that should never happen in Cappamore as they moved a few years ago to a very dry area because of wet summers like this one. If you get a chance be sure to go next year; the website is

Friday, 10 August 2012

Plum Wars

Plummy heaven
Ah August, month of delicious home grown plums.Unfortunately month of rabid angry wasps too. And in some twisted rule of nature the two go together, like nettles and dock leaves.

It all starts off innocently enough, the plums begin to ripen nicely on the trees, turning from pale gold to luminous purple in the first weeks of August.( see photo for this lovely stage) So far so good, as you stand back and admire them, with not a wasp to be seen for miles around.

But then overnight everything changes. For some unknown reason the plums are complete tramps, they start to split and ooze thick sweet sap out. It's the fruit equivalent of batting your eyelids at a sex starved stranger in a dodgy bar. Wasps suddenly appear from all sides, descend upon the tree and will not leave until every gorgeous fruit has been reduced to an empty paper lantern.Bastards.

Woe betide you if you attempt to pick fruit while the wasps are there. Last year it got so bad that I had to go out at night when all the wasps had gone to bed in order to pick them! And although I bought wasp traps I hadn't the heart to use them.Think about it, I would be pointlessly killing wasps to eat a few plums, it just didn't make sense. So in the end I picked what I wanted late at night and left enough to keep the wasps going during the daytime.

Have you ever seen a wasp chewing bark? pretty cool

What do I do to stop wasps getting out of hand on the plum trees?
I pick the fruit much more often (not waiting for the whole tree to ripen at the same time). I am in the habit now of picking off ripe fruit especially if it starts to crack and ooze every few days.

Why leave the wasps alone?
 Wasps are very helpful to the gardener despite their bad reputation, so please don't murder them for the sake of  fruit. I was reading this great article made up of peoples responses to "do wasps serve a purpose?" on the Guardian website, and I am reproducing bits of it here in case you need convincing If you get a chance read the whole thing here at do wasps have a purpose?

Two slightly different opinions;

  • WASPS are predators of flies and caterpillars. One wasp may make several predatory expeditions an hour. One nest could contain a couple of thousand adult hunters. That's a lot fewer caterpillars and flies in a garden, even after one day. Wasps can convert your garden fence into a three-dimensional paper architecture that can support at least 10 times its own weight. That seems to me worth a round of applause. One wasp can provoke limb-flailing frenzy in a creature 100,000 times its own size, a defensive, yes defensive, advantage that should impress any military strategist. Wasp grubs are the favoured diet of that strange bird of prey, the honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus) - long may it survive. Even if you are decidedly against wasps, at least learn to respect the enemy. There are possibly a thousand species of social wasps worldwide. Their colonies range in size from two adults to about one million (yes, a million wasps estimated in one nest of a South American species). In Britain we have seven species of wasps: the hornet, Vespa crabro (only in southern England and becoming rarer), two species of Dolichovespula (square-faced, rather ignorant-looking, making nests with narrow horizontal bands) and four species of Vespula with prettier, heart-shaped faces and nests that are a mosaic of shell-like patterns. So, next time you get stung cry 'Hallelujah, the world would be a duller place without wasps!'
    (Dr) M. H. Hansell, Dept of Zoology, University of Glasgow.
  • WASPS are agents from outer space appointed to keep an eye on the progress of human beings. They soon discovered that human beings didn't serve any useful purpose on the planet so they turned their attention to rotting plums and open-air cream teas and have been having a whale of a time ever since.
    M. R. Meek, Norwich, Norfolk.

Cut back tall growth on Apple trees now

This is the stuff you lob off
Every year your apple trees grows putting out new soft branches. Some are obligingly horizontal which is the best for encouraging flowers and fruit to form. Some are vertical, growing high up and making the tree taller, taking the fruit further away from you and making them harder to reach. There is also a theory that this tall growth is packed with leafy growth, restricting light in the centre of the tree, preventing the bark getting warmed up, which is essential in encouraging flowers and fruit to form.

Elstar Apple ripening in the evening sun

Charlie once told me that summer pruning must be carried out in the last week of July or the first week of August. He explained to me that this pruning was just to lob off the soft new growth that was growing vertically(straight up) at the top of the tree. In CVHs walled garden they had a beautiful central espaliered apple tree "hedge" and for all the world it looked like someone just clipped back the top of the hedge when this Summer pruning was done.

In places like I.S.S.A where they graft huge amounts of apple trees every year they don't cut off this tall straight growth until February or March because they use it to create new trees with grafted root stocks. But unless you are planning on grafting some of your apple trees next April you can safely chop off this growth now.

These soft leaves could go on the compost heap

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Lazy days of summer

How do cats find the most uncomfortable places to sunbathe?
Exhaustion gotten hold of you? Sweating for Ireland?
Is officially summer!
Summer is offically over at the weekend when it starts flogging rain again so make the most of it.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

All Ireland Scarecrow festival all week in Durrow!

looking a bit drunk- must have been in faultys bar!
It was the last thing I expected as we drove into Durrow for lunch yesterday but feck me if the whole town hasen't gone mad on Scarecrows. The "All Ireland Scarecrow Festival" is in it's second year and I can't help but think that the enterprising people of Durrow have hit upon a novel idea for a summer event.There is a main prize of €3000 for the best scarecrow and the competition is fierce.

The town is awash with scarecrows and bunting and has its very own "Scarecrow Village" on the green. We ended up going to the village for a tour of the entries(for the princely sum of €1!) and a little light shopping with some enterprising little girls who had set up a bric-a-brac stall.

brilliant scary lion in the scarecrow village
Scarecrows included Mary poppins flying between buildings in the town, synchronised swimmers in the river near the bridge, Marylin Monroe with her skirt blowing up, the famous lunch on a skyscraper re-enacted by scarecrows near the castle, teenage mutant ninja turtle scarecrows, a scarecrow Jack horner eating his pie in the cafe window and scarecrows spiderman and the green hornet having a coke and a break from crimefighting!

Crow with a double barrel shotgun-my favourite!
There are craft workshops and all manner of fun and games planned for the weekend so check it out if you are nearby. Plus Durrow castle re-opens today with amazing organic gardens to go visit too. No I'm not on comission, just doing my bit for the crazy people of Durrow!

Check out more here;

and check out the castle gardens here;
castledurrows gardens

Biodynamic gardening course in Durrow

Orla takes a wander down the garden
Good afternoon to you all, another fine soft day thank God but we'd give it all up for a few dry weeks and some badly needed sunshine, these constant overcast days are getting on my nerves. So cough up some sunshine O Lord and let us pull out the BBQ's in honour of the month of August.We may even say a prayer or two while BBQ'ing, with cider in hand. I haven't even had a swim in the sea yet this summer -this is getting ridiculous.
The whole garden is awash with flowers including roses

Yesterday, although not the greatest of days, was the day that found Eileen, Orla, Brida and myself at Dunmore country school for a morning of gardening with Tanguy De Toulgoet. Tanguy gardens biodynamically on a lovely plot of land just outside the picturesque village of Durrow in Co Laois. I wrote about him earlier in the year when I found his website by accident here; earlier blog post.

My friend Annmarie is from just out the road and I spent lots of great weekends on her Dads farm and out in the town when I was in college fado fado ( a long time ago in Irish). I'd like to say I know Durrow well but really I know the inside of Faulty's Bar well so it was a shocking revelation to see a whole beautiful town in daylight that I never saw before!
And to see Faulty's in daylight too-not so good.
Christ! did we really drink there? it looks like it might fall down any minute.

Yarrow is an important wild plant in bio-dynamics

Biodynamically speaking I think I'm a yellow belt. While I'm getting used to gardening with the moon calendar I know nothing at all about the preparations or making compost the biodynamic way.Some things cross over with Organic gardening like rotating crop areas, companion planting and green manures but there is a bit more to biodynamics, it's a little bit of earth magic and seems almost Pagan in its rites and rituals. Mind you I think myself Christianity is over-rated so a bit of Paganism can't be a bad thing from time to time. We were all pagans once and it seemed to be going grand until St Patrick showed up and rocked the boat so maybe it's time to look into it again. Christianity is not going so well at the moment, and a number of us are shockingly bad at it, myself included, so maybe we'd make better Pagans?

Tanguys system for growing outdoor tomatoes-roof made from cold frame lid

We started with a delicious cup of coffee and an introduction to the history of the garden and house. The house was a fine ruin when they bought it but it was once an old inn- how cool is that? I forgot to ask if they had a ghost, you are entitled to one I think when you buy an old Inn, otherwise you should really get your money back. My friend bought an old farmhouse and got an old man ghost, it was probably in the small print on her contract; "contents to include one retired spectral gentleman who shall appear in the sitting room if and when he fancies it". And he did the fecker.
Ridiculously good looking cabbage

Tanguy took us through the building of the garden and the projects they took on each year. This reminded me of Deborah and Martin who have the motivation and discipline to pick one job and stick to it until its done, a skill sadly lacking in the greater Irish gene-pool. In spite of the rain we went outside and got a tour of the front garden. This was followed by a trip to the field nearby to see more crop areas, plus the hens, ducks, geese, sheep and cattle before breaking for a little elevenses involving home made Brioche and delicious pancakes with lemon and jam. At this stage I was on my second cup of coffee, knowing full well that I would pay for it later. Total coffee consumption for me is 1/2 cup a week not two big strong mugs in one day! Still I told myself it would help with my concentration.

Tanguy imparts some wisdom on Eileen

After the elevenses we went back outside to look at the tunnel crops and see the process of compost making. The whole time we were there we had intriguing conversations with Tanguy about everything he does and how he does it. We went from soil science to pollinating insects, disease management, useful weeds, useful mulches, managing pollinating insects, biodynamic bee keeping (which absolutely fascinated me) to varieties of crops he grows, undersowing, no-dig methods, green manure management and mixtures of flowers that are highly beneficial for fallow areas. There was so much information to take in and so much to learn. I'd love to come back again in 5 years when I know so much more to thrash out more ideas with him, it was absolutely brilliant! Thank God for the coffee! it helped me hold it all in and kept me focused on asking the right questions while we were there. A morning is really not enough. A whole day would be brilliant or better yet six months worth of them!

Aromatic Japanese Parsley under tomatoes in the tunnel
We were still talking as we wrapped up the day at 1pm. Afterwards I got an email from Tanguy with some bee-keeping questions for Jack. He told me how lucky I was to have someone like Jack living close by who has 70+ years of experience with bees, to pay close attention to him and learn all I can. Good advise if I can keep from throttling Jack in the meantime! But he's right, this is what its all about, swapping ideas and learning from people who have lived longer and know more than you, no matter what age you are.If you get a chance gather up 3 others (you need 4 for a group) and go spend a morning or better yet a whole day with Tanguy. I Highly reccomended it.

For contact details for Tanguy and more information on courses go to