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

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.( 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, 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 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 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 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 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 and when I get a moment I will tag it on to my own.