Thursday, 7 November 2013

End of the line

The restored "Gardeners cottages" garden at Doneraile
It's tricky, I find, to type with a cat stretched across your lap, an awkward barrier between you and your laptop, his furry ginger head firmly wedging your right elbow to the couch. So excuse me if my grammar and spelling take a turn for the worst,or my spaces are uneven; today I am left handed, one fingered and handicapped by the weight of a fat purring cat. I'm getting the odd flex of claws into my leg too but compared with THE BITE ON THE ARSE I got earlier from a neighbors dog on an innocent evening walk being kneaded is positively relaxing!! I was furious/shocked/frightened(all three simultaneously it seemed at the time)  but I have calmed down now. I'm almost looking forward to the spectacular bruise tomorrow. "Almost" I said! after all you have to find the funny side in everything.

Before the dog bite I was out walking at the close of the day. There is something about this time of the year, a kind of pause as everything grinds to a halt. November is the end of the line. The Summer and the Autumn are both over. Dark nights stretch ahead. And despite roses lingering on in the borders, chillies in the glasshouse, and roots and greens in the vegetable garden, an air of finality, death and decay hangs over everything. Molds and mildew take hold, stems rot, glass inside holds condensation and moisture all day, the patio looks dirty and cold-everything feels perpetually damp.

It's a bit too early for seed catalogues and almost too late for cleaning up, (though to be honest I have 99% of my own cleaning up yet to do) but it's about the right time to look back over the growing year, assess what was good and bad, and make a big batch of chutney while thinking about what you will grow next year.

The Good

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes! In hanging baskets, outdoors in the vegetable garden, indoors in the glasshouse. A great crop, huge yields and fantastic flavour, eaten in salads, made into roasted tomato soup and given away to delighted neighbours, family and friends.The best year ever!

In hanging baskets Seamus grew yellow and red tumbling tomatoes, the yellow had by far the better flavour but both fruited superbly. The yellow tomatoes also made amazing pasta sauce and looked lovely on pizzas.

Outside I grew Glacier, Totem and Aurora. All of which fruited well ( the slugs developed quite the palate for them at the later end of the year) When picked and cooked together they made the best tasting, smoothest tomato soup I have ever had.

In the glasshouse too many tomato plants jostled for the best positions. We learned a valuable lesson about space, half the amount will be grown next year! In the Tomato Jungle were Anais Noire, Rainbow, Brandywine, Golden Queen, Sweet Millions, Sungold, Weissbehart, Marmande, Tigerella, Broad ripple currant, Chocolate stripe, Yellow submarine and Gardeners delight. Sungold and Sweet Million were probably the sweetest  of the cherries. Golden queen was the loveliest salad tomato while brandywine, while only having a few fruit per plant has such enormous fruit with such great flavour that they are well worth the effort.

The Bad

Sweetcorn. It did not pollinate well, swell properly or crop well. Likewise pumpkins were wildly hit and miss. Not a good year. I'm curing the Hunter butternut squashes, a small crop of small sized fruit it must be said, but Eileen did not fare much better indoors in her tunnel. Other pumpkins I managed to harvest include one fair sized marina di chioggia, two decent green Latvian Pumpkins thanks to Liliana, Dace's mother, four small Japanese black futsu pumpkins, one tiny Hopi Pale grey and three cute but small New England Sugar Pies. Not a good year at all!

The ugly

Potatoes, or rather a lack of potatoes. Not the first earlies, they were lovely, not the second earlies they were lovely too, but the main crops-O Lord the flaming maincrops!As I dug my maincrop beds I turned up rotten spud, after rotten spud, after yet another rotten spud filled with tiger worms, burrowing  millipedes, tunelling slugs and any other insect that could stick in its head for a snack. The first lot of Tibet's were great but one of the stalks had next to nothing underneath and the two potatoes that did come up were soft turning pink after a few hours on the surface. I looked it up. Its called " Pink rot". Nice. Another soldier in the blight army. I found some depressing information about it on the UK potato councils website here.

Thank God for the Tibet's, or we'd be spud-less. I have a bag in storage but the odds of them lasting to Christmas day are fairly poor. They are a lovely baked and roasted potato, better than mashed though that's not bad either. There were a few Pink Fir apple too, God what an astonishingly delicious potato! Pity most of them rotted away to nothing.There is always next year, although I am seriously rethinking growing maincrops at all now.

Gold star

But the gold star has to go to the Brussels sprouts currently forming , I have two of the finest plants I think I have ever grown with an enormous crop of sprouts running right up the stems of both. And the final award must go to the Black Tuscan Kale, the same stuff I threatened to pull out of the ground earlier in the summer , its still growing strong, has reared two lots of caterpillars this summer and is producing a wonderful crop of delicious green leaves still. Its now two years old!

Great runners up

The golden berry pineapples are still producing fruit. The Kilkenny pearmain apples- we had the first decent crop of an absolutely delicious eating apple. There was an outstanding crop of Keegans crab eating apples, Eckinville Seedling cooking apples and Lough Key crab apples too, but they are solidly reliable any given year. Finally there is still a fantastic crop of beetroot (in the ground), as are the leeks and believe it or not there are still raspberries, peas and courgettes fruiting. Is it the end of the line after all?

Friday, 4 October 2013

A Cockroach the size of a hubcap and other strange stories

I am eating the odd autumn raspberry
Being back at work is great, don't get me wrong, but instead of being outside gardening, or on here bogging I'm doing endless reading up on new material and typing endless handouts. Mind you its all interesting stuff, soil science and plant science, plant propagation techniques and botanic keys, whatever about the students I am learning loads, and I hope their looks of confusion will soon be replaced by looks of scholarly interest, neurons firing away madly in their brains as they ask me brilliant questions........or maybe not.

The neurons might not yet be firing but one thing we do have in abundance is good craic, everyone is high spirited and happy. Eager to learn and not a bit bothered about getting dirty, so Monday to Friday at least I look forward to seeing them all, and the classes in general are not at all serious or sedate. I keep trying to come up with interesting and fun ways to get them out of the classroom and still deliver the lesson which has led to some memorable moments already!

Tom, Rose and Ann investigate raspberry on the fruit course
One of my groups is incredibly mixed, the type of people reality show people would love for a desert island survival camp.And funnily enough I am incredibly fond of them after only a few weeks. Scholarly questions are all well and good but entertaining, outrageous and wildly crazy ones are even better! One student in particular comes out with the most hilariously entertaining statements right in the middle of class (often completely unrelated to what we are talking about) and though on one level I should try to stop her when she gets going, statements like; "I found a cockroach the other day and I'm not joking you it was the size of a hubcap" are just too good to be true! It's so hard keeping a straight face when she goes off in a wildly politically incorrect rant about cutting away bogs "its just as well to get rid of that old wet bog land is-int it?sure what is it good for?" or makes yet another wild statement about a plant that is hopelessly off the mark, my jaws ache from the sheer effort to keep a straight face. And none of this is helped by some of the others in the group barely holding it together, hiding behind refill pads shaking with laughter.(I must point out we all love her, and she is a great worker so none of this laughter is at her expense)! O lord! the joys of education!

So what have we been doing this week, apart from laughing our arses off?

Emptying old compost heaps and spreading them on beds cleared for the winter then covering them with black plastic until spring.

Disinfecting work surfaces in the tunnels, washing pots, seed trays and labels for use in spring time.

Putting away propagators to keep them dry over winter

Sowing over wintering onions and garlic (root day today lads, great day for it, tomorrow too)

Getting ready to sow green manures, early flowering sweet peas, edible peas and overwintering broad beans

Monday, 16 September 2013

Season of the apple

Better Seamus than me!
Saturday was the day to end all sunny days. Blue skies and warm autumn sunshine, warm enough to bring out the butterflies and bees that darted around the garden on the ivy and in the long grass, get the birds singing loudly, and better than all that it was the perfect day to pick apples.

Marys apple tree in Tallow is probably close to 100 years old,(her house is over 100 years old) but it's incredible just how productive it continues to be. Last year there were no apples, not a one, and she was very disappointed. This year almost by way of apology it has outdone itself, we ran out of fruit crates, ran out of boxes and finished up with 5 kg potato bags!

I have no idea what the variety is. I can only describe it as a cooker that blushes a nice shade of red on the southern side of the tree, not much of a description really, and I have been tempted to have it officially named if I could find someone to identify it. ISSA used to do it but I don't think they offer that service anymore. Just in case anything happens to it I have grafted it a few times and the new "Tallow wonder" trees are doing nicely. My sister in law got her first decent harvest from hers this year. I'm still at the pruning stage with mine, trying to imitate the open goblet shape of the original tree, perhaps the secret of its long productive life. Maybe its thanks to the deep loam soil and mild southern weather of County Waterford, or the walled garden it calls home, protecting spring flowers from late Spring frosts. The trees next door are still producing too despite absolutely no intervention for years and being surrounded by a forest of weeds!

the very best apples get their own VIP box
The great thing about helping Mary is the advanced "apple training" I have got over the last 12 years. After all that time I really understand that a  successful apple harvest depends on a few things, and these are the same things that apply to any gardeners harvest, especially long term storage crops.

First at the picking stage they must be picked with great care (treat them gently "like eggs" to quote Mary), putting them carefully into the collection bucket, leaving aside anything that falls as it is being picked and treating "fallen" apples as windfalls, not for storage.

Once the bucket comes to the ground the apples have to be sorted. Mary has 3-4 categories. Only the most perfect apples made the grade for long term storage, so sorting the apples according to their keeping qualities is really important. Even little holes present the opportunity for rot down the line so any apple with a hole won't make it to the storage shed. The most perfect apples are the VIPs, they are huge, blemish free, fat and satisfying. Most of these can fill a whole apple tart by themselves.

Mary sorting the apples at the apple "factory"
Next are the regular sized  apples, perfect for storage for at least six months although they will need to be checked over regularly.That old expression " one rotten apple rots the whole barrel" is really true when it comes to storing apples over many many months. If you don't check over them regularly you can lose a hole bag or box thanks to one stinker!

The third category is the almost perfect apples, with some small blemish tat means they cant be stored but at least 80-90% of the apple itself is perfectly good. These go into a use quickly category and get sent out to friends and relatives first as they wont keep for much longer than a week or two and will dis improve dramatically after that.

bucket ready for sorting
The last category are the windfalls, lots of bruises, chunks gouged out by birds and wasps and cracks from where they fell and hit the ground. These apples need to be used up asap, and usually Mary , God love her, makes a pile of apple jelly to use them up quickly before they rot away to nothing. For a few devoted apple lovers Mary will send out these windfalls first, with the promise of the better apples to come.

You would be amazed at how many people Mary manages to supply from this one tree. Her extended family in Limerick and Tipperary, neighbours, friends and now a supply extends to my mother in west Clare! Mary wouldn't see a single apple go to waste and I suppose its a testament to living through more frugal times even if on occasion Marys tales of war time rationing ( how many ounces of tea they were allowed!) remind me of Uncle Albert on Only fools and Horses!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The honey run

Jack has had a good year, well technically Jacks bees have had a good year. On a visit the other day I was allowed in to "the holy of holies" according to Jack (his honey extraction room) to see the harvest and even better to bottle/jar my own raw fresh honey.

It was a two person operation, Jack pulled the tap and I held the jars underneath. There is something fantastic about a stainless steel trough that yields thick flowing amber goo. The jars filled amazingly quickly and with all the talking we did it was easy to get caught out and find your hands covered in the stuff!! I got 11 beautiful jars full, all packed with pollen. Jack told me that the odd insect leg or egg, might be in here too, none of which bothers me, though my dear husband refused to eat it after I foolishly explained that to him! Regardless of whats in there overtime everything rises to the top where it can easily be scooped out before you dig in. Mind you I saw only small pieces of wax and nothing else in all the jars I filled myself.

Jacks commercial honey is cleaned of all this debris, but for hay fever sufferers like myself its better laden with the offending pollen as it helps build immunity against it in the long run. Once I got home there was only one thing left to do, break out the Greek yogurt, top it with walnuts and pour some of this fantastic honey fresh from the comb into the bowl.Could there be anything better?

is there anything nicer?

To Organise a visit to Jack see the details here Ryan's Honey Farm

Monday, 9 September 2013

Well fed and well watered in Letrim

Planting  winter salads in the glasshouse
"Lovely Letrim my hole!" Mike said when Eileen and myself told him we were off for the weekend to train with Klaus Leitenberger. Klaus who is a GIY Legend lives just under the shade of Benwiskin mountain across the Sligo border on the western tip of Letrim.For those of you who don't know many people deride poor County Letrim which is the least populated county in Ireland( probably because it seems to be the wettest place in Ireland too).In fairness to Mike who flat out refused to come, (he also had a number of cat and wheatgrass sitting duties for Eileen and Orla) he wasn't far wrong.A long sunny scenic three and a half hour drive from Limerick through Clare, Galway, and Sligo ended up cloudy and wet once we got to Letrim!

Maybe if the day had been fine and sunny it would have left a nice impression, but it was raining all bloody day, raining and cold, raining and cold and miserable, I'd go on but I think ye are getting the picture.Last time I was in Letrim for a weekend it rained all that weekend too. Maybe I am just unlucky in Letrim? Maybe it was a slight hangover and lack of sleep ( I'm a cheap night out before one of ye books me into AA).I must be getting conditioned to County Limerick, (being that much closer to the equator) which on the whole is mild and agreeable most of the time. I brought two sets of clothes, thermal winter and optimistic autumn, guess which ones I wore? The winter thermals of course!

some of the humongous tomatoes
In fairness to Klaus and Johanna we got a warm hospitable welcome. In the house fires blazed in all the hearths, and good warm cups of coffee and tea, with scones greeted us inside the door. In all 16 people were on the course across a range of knowledge and ability. What surprised me most was how many of them were absolute beginners, I had expected people with lots of experience here to pick his brain. After all he ran the Organic centre in Letrim, ran a successful market garden in the UK, appears on TV and does talks. Why aren't these lads doing beginners gardening courses first to get the basics and then go on one of these courses? The mind boggles.

The other thing that amazed me was the geography. People had travelled from Northern Ireland, Dublin, Wicklow, Waterford, Galway, Cork, all over the country. I thought we might be regarded as a bit mad for coming from Limerick! Ha!

looking across Johanna's pond to a rain soaked Benwiskin
No matter the weather we got an awful lot out of the day. The course was "Growing in Poly tunnels and Greenhouses" and was focused on what to grow through the winter months.Eileen and I tried to say as little as possible and just take it all in , but I was found myself wanting to ask loads of questions and had to somehow put a lid on it! I would love a few hours with Klaus to pick his brain, and he is so agreeable and nice it would be easily spent. He was still taking questions at half four, long after we should have been finished for the day with all the appearance of not minding at all which really says a lot about him . Johanna was lovely too. She made the most delicious three course meal for us for lunch-it was bloody hard work getting back up and going outside afterwards!

Klaus gives us a masterclass in his outdoor bog garden
So what did we cover?
  • We looked at tunnels and how to manage them for year round cropping with examples of how to do it with different succession crops.
  • The importance of choosing tunnel and glasshouse friendly varieties to prevent premature bolting, especially with root crops.
  • We ran through typical under cover crops with hints and tips for success with sowing them-this was excellent.
  • We found out how to make a German hill bed! Amazing stuff!
  • We went out to the glasshouse and looked at how it was built. We also did practical work, sowing, transplanting and pruning, and other hard work like tasting varieties of tomatoes, delicious salads and grapes!
  • Looked at Klaus's more unusual "Inca"crops, ( like tuberous nasturtiums) and why he grows them
  • Discussed the sweetest varieties of Tomatoes to grow and which to avoid!
  • Looked at techniques for saving your own seeds, recommended tools and techniques for cultivating good soil
  • and loads more!

I have pages and pages of notes! If you get a chance I highly recommend a day with Klaus, Johanna and their lovely kids. The next courses will run in 2014. He only does 4 a year so book early!

For courses and info on Klaus check out his website

Cool stuff I heard of on this class

Ladies check out Wild Wellied Women a group Klaus trained who run a box scheme in Letrim, an interesting model for women who want to grow food together and make a commercial venture out of it. Mary J I'm thinking of your neighbour with the old walled garden for this one, check it out!

It looks weird but Klaus demoed this garden "gark" tool that is some kind of mad cross between a spade and a rake. It is so cool! And apparently unbreakable-you can drive over it.Perfect for the accident inclined gardener!

Read all about what it can do here on the GIY website.

Monday, 1 July 2013

The Garden Wall

endless transplanting.....
I finally hit the wall.
I can't take another day of watering, feeding, transplanting,and fighting endless armies of greenfly. Not another night of slug patrol,or mornings of dog wrangling, cat chasing, blackbird hunting...aahhhhhhhhhh!!!! I'm finally going MAD!!!!

No I'm not really going mad, just fecking knackered. Can't go to bed till late as it's so bright, cant sleep on as its bright too early in the mornings (and any sleep I might get is interrupted by the sound of falcons screaming at all sorts of uncivilised hours). They must be going STARK RAVING MAD in Iceland and Alaska, I'm only in Limerick and I'm going mad. Is there anyone else going mad with me? No? O well then , I'm the only crazy in the village.
beds of first and second earlies doing well

In my more lucid moments I have taken a gander around the veg garden just to see what stage things are at. Last Friday I had the pleasure of the first broad beans for dinner and tomorrow it looks like the first Earlie's will be on the plate. I had an idea to cook all three meals from spuds tomorrow in sheer celebration. It seems so slow this year, so long to wait for a harvest compared to other summers that I could (almost) cry to be finally eating something (see I haven't fully lost it yet) I grew myself. And in an odd ironic twist my new broad bean dinner was accompanied by beautiful calvo de nero kale which was meant to be profusely feeding me through last winter but has chosen instead to be at its peak now, right at the moment when I need to rip it out of the ground for the next crops. Seriously what is going on with our growing year? and why wouldn't you go mad dealing with all this?
beautiful calvo de vero, completely out of season!

Half of this is my own fault, setting too many seeds, stubbornly deciding I must transplant them all. Them being bowed over doing crazy amounts of transplanting and keeping the compost factories afloat. Waking up with a battered back. Ridiculous! The other half is the cold, slow spring. Everything is bloody late.

Then there is the whole new learning curve of the glasshouse, which although brilliant for tomatoes, cucumbers(first one fattening up) and peppers is tricky enough to ventilate correctly, manage water for the plants which are in pots and keep the ever increasing hoard of green and white fly at bay. I have loads of french marigolds scattered throughout the fruiting plants but that doesn't seem to be really helping the chillies although the tomatoes are pretty greenfly free. I even brought in a ladybird larvae, a very unattractive looking insect which I suspect is wrongly accused of all manner of gardening crimes based on its unfortunate appearance. In face these ugly weird baby ladybirds chomp aphids by the hundred (except for the one I brought in on a leaf from the garden-the lazy b****** refuses to work. Fecking insects!

Having a snooze; lazy ladybird larvae
And the slugs, don't get me started on the bloody slugs. You know I'm slug tolerant, I even like them which is really odd for a gardener I know. But If I go out one more night at midnight and collect even more long grey ones, stripey small fat ones(odd drier ones) and skinny black ones that then try to make a break for it slithering through my fingers and up my arm or chew on my palm in a really weird itchy annoying way while I'm leaning over a bed trying to collect a few more....! Where the hell did all these slugs come from?
peas, broad beans and flat leaved parsley

The signs were there,  I found numerous slug egg depots in the soil over the last two weeks(which Seamus enjoyed popping in a disturbing way) but the sheer scale of the nightly hoards is just frightening to behold. Out last night I kept crunching something underfoot on the pathways, eventually I looked away from the plants and looked down to see what looked like a five lane highway in America full of snails! No wonder there are chunks taken out of everything!!!

The solution arrived in the post today, a packet of Nemaslug, currently chilling in the fridge. This is powerful and safe stuff, approved for Organic growers and entirely harmless to all but the slugs, after the initial high "woo hoo my nemaslug has arrived!!" ( which made my husband laugh, well its hardly a winning lottery ticket I suppose) I was driving later in the day and thinking about using it when real guilt set in and I began to feel bad for the slugs! O you can't win, dammed if you do, dammed if you don't. I WILL BE using it though, maybe then I can quit midnight slug patrol and finally get some bloody sleep!

Foxgloves in the fruit garden

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Fantastic Gardens to visit in Limerick

Beautiful new feature at Knockpatrick
Lads while the weather is good get yourself off to see some of the loveliest gardens our fair county has to offer and find inspiration for your own garden (or work for your other half for the winter). In the last few weeks I have taken students to two of the best in County Limerick at Terra Nova near Dromin, Bruff and to Knockpatrick gardens near Shanagolden. Both very different but with a few crucial things in common, warm welcomes, a great passion for plants and stunning gardens to see.Here are some recent photos from both.

Super tall Sue poses with the Rhododendrons
Tim and Helen impart wisdom in the woodland garden
lush cherry blossom in the arboretum
stunning views from the deck of the terraced garden
Check out last years blog post here for more information on the garden and the fabulous pair who own it. Tim and Helen use the money raised on garden visits for the Cystic Fibrosis unit at the Regional Hospital in Limerick so all visitors are contributing to a great cause.

Terra Nova
one of the many lovely peonies
looking across the pond to the Thai hut
Deborah takes the tour to the newest part of the garden
Gorgeous arbour in the front garden
beautiful specimen plants including golden bamboo
Check out last years blog post here on Martin and Deborah and the fab garden at Terra Nova. This year they are doing a whole series of garden events as well as open days and guided tours including; picnic Saturdays, treasure hunts, and a twilight garden party in August! check it all out here

The Longest Days and the shortest nights

Outstanding laundry and gardening weather
How do they do it in San Francisco?
Day after day of belting sunshine and blue skies.. I don't know about the rest of you but I'm physically a wreck! Short hours of sleep, long days of "two workdays" during the day (the one you do away from home and the one you do in the garden) that finishes only when the last ray of light disappears as you nod off standing upright with the hose in your hand watering the vegetable garden for the 155 time that week!! So I'm burning it at both ends and this morning I am beginning to feel like an arthritic old lady as I bet you all are too!

Yesterday I saw my first field of hay in Herbertstown. It brought on a right burst of memories which of course led to a pang of nostalgia for home. Memories of raking stray bits of hay in the evening sun after the tractor had collected it into piles and my mother teaching us the special knots she used to secure the cocks of hay. I wonder will all those skills be lost now that everyone seems to be making silage? There was great craic in making hay too along with the hard work and on a quite evening across the field you would often hear our neighbour roaring "get off the fecking cocks!!!!" when he spotted the kids climbing on them and jumping off them! Silage is handy but it's not half the craic!!!

Cows Parsley on our back road
And if agricultural nostalgia is your thing this season could not have a better romantic /nostalgic image than fields of flowers. Everywhere you look there is an astonishing display of wildflowers on a scale I have never seen. In the hedgerows and field boundaries, in the field behind the house, Hawthorn are covered crown to root in creamy white flowers. Cows parsley is high and massively abundant lending clouds of whiteness to both sides of the road and the fields are literally bursting with seas of yellow buttercups. I know the weather was rubbish in March and April but whatever it did to the grass it suited the wildflowers. They are so beautiful this year.

Hawthorn, cows parsley and fields of buttercups
In the Garden the burst of heat has triggered lovely growth especially from plants like the potatoes and peas that seemed to be in a holding pattern for weeks. I'm not sowing all the potatoes I had planned as I didn't get round to it and stopped worrying about it when I realised there are a number of new crops this year looking for a home that have to be catered for. I'm outdoor trialling asparagus peas, cucumbers, tomatillos,  musk melons, and Hopi blue sweetcorn along with the usual trialling of different types of pumpkins and squash and the ridiculous but somehow necessary growing of many many types of courgette, lettuces and salad crops! The idea is to broaden what we grow. To grow strange and weird stuff and see if its worth growing again.

Endless rounds of transplanting and running out of pots
In the glasshouse this includes golden berry pineapples, cucamelons, achocha, vampire chillies, *naga bhut jolokia (*worlds hottest chili and most frustrating fecker to grow), Spanish sweet Ramiro peppers, miniature chocolate peppers, and several types of cucumber, melon and tomato. Everything is growing great so far, fingers crossed we will get them all to fruit and better yet get to eat them all, though I'm not eating that bhut jolokia. "Burns on the way in ,burns on the way out"-that my philosophy! Seamus and the chili nuts can have at it. He is throwing a Chill con Carnival in September for Johnny who gave us the glasshouse, Dace who helps out in the garden, and Manie who feeds and boards us in Malahide. Collectively I am calling them the chili nuts as they all love chilli's- the hotter the better! I plan to take the videos and photos of them trying to eat the naga jolokia! If you want to see what it does to people click here for a hilarious, disturbing video of a crazy person eating a whole one.

watering late into the evening

Weather update; According to met Eireann the glorious sunshine will last up until Tuesday,after that temperatures return to "normal" (thats insulting! surely sunshine and 22 degrees should be normal for June?)and rain arrives, so make the most of it!!!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The Crazy Chicken man

One of Seans beautiful roosters (his photo not mine)
Jack has a unique knack of finding the strangest, most unusual and most interesting people in the county. Yesterday he talked myself and Leslie into going with him to visit his friend Harry who lives down the road from Sean. Sean specalises in breeding some of the rarest chickens, ducks and fowl in the world. He lives on what I can only describe as a (three quartes of an acre) zoo packed with chick nurseries, egg hatcheries, various houses and enclosures for his fowl and a pretty canal running right around that is home to many many types of ducks. There are even goldfish, and a bar! All in all one of the most unexpected places I was at in an age. But Seans pure joy and enthuasim for his birds is the most breathtaking of all. He used to be a posh chef, now hs a chicken man. Probably the "crazy chicken man" to everyone in the neighbourhod.

"dancin at the disco bumper to bumper"-chick disco
He sells these birds to other chicken enthuasists and if you are gardening you can't escape the fact that every second person growing their own wants chickens too, so the chicken trade is a lucrative one. Holding a three week old fluffy young chicken I almost got out the wallet myself but thought the better of it as I pictured explaining to my husband where the chicken came from while Ginger chased it around the house! Leslie is the real chicken enthuasist. He could rattle off breeds and discuss which ones to cross with which. I could see by the glint in his eye he was sorry to have to go. If he hadent promised to milk 90 cows he would still be there discussing chickens with Sean!

I was asking about which layed the tastiest eggs or made the most delicious roast chicken. Turns out Sean prefers a delicious Duck-a sensible man. Chicken breast is the most boring meat alive. Once I got him going though he gave me a great recipie for chicken breast with a posh sauce that he swears by . So he is obviously still passionate about food. He planted loads of fruit trees but his wifes pigmy goat ate them all! Needless to say when she went to hospital to have their daughter the goat got his marching papers.

Some delectable ducks
We left the tour delighted with all we had seen and learned (my brain was exploding with chicken facts) and I was surprised how much chicken care has in common with vegetable care. I think I could actually look after a few chickens( maybe even a few tasty ducks too!!). It's amazing how fragile the freshly hatched chickens looked and how strong they got after even just a few hours. That was the coolest thing, seeing baby chickens at the various ages in the chick nursery. If chickens are your thing go see this guy;

Sean, the crazy chicken man

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Swimming in a sea of broccoli

only 3 plants!
Last year the indomitable Tom sowed a tray of what he thought was Summer purple sprouting broccoli, a very useful veg that will cut and come again for months throughout the summer, and so one which I am always banging on about and recommending to anyone who will listen to me!

It turned out in the end (after consultation with the seed packet) that they were Spring sprouting purple broccoli and suddenly their value sank. After all Spring purple sprouting broccoli takes 12 months before it starts producing spears so its a bit of a lazy arse as far as I am concerned.I put three plants at the end of a bed and abandoned them to their fate. The caterpillars found them in late summer and dined in style trimming them down almost to the stalks. They recovered a bit and stood into winter doing nothing and looking a bit forlorn. Around March I stood over the three plants anxious to liberate the space for practical and essential onions. But I spotted a few small heads and decided to leave them be for another few most amazingly here we are in May and its still going strong. Actually its the most outrageously productive sprouting broccoli I have ever grown. I cut one spear and five more appear, cutting it just serves to encourage and drive it on exponentially. I'm giving it away to beat the band and I only have three plants! 
pick them small and keep them coming
If you have the space it's not too late to sow some for eating next March/April and May. But be sure to sow the Summer purple sprouting too, it's fantastic long season makes it a great summer veg. All need at least 18 inches apart and a few plants will be more than enough to keep you dining in style for quite a while.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

May Day-get your Gardening good luck for the year

Sea of yellow at the teaching gardens today
Yesterday was May Eve. It also happened to be one of the most glorious days of the year so far. My little brother, home from Boston is taking the credit, so when he leaves next week I hope it doesn't go back to shit.Apart from the importance of fine weather there is huge importance to the start of May itself that all but passes unnoticed nowadays. The 1st of May was a key day in the Irish farming calendar(and all over Europe too). Across the country hiring fairs were held where men found work according to their trade. Landlords negotiated new contracts with tenants and people on the land mushed pagan and Christianity together to ward off the living and the fairies while guaranteeing fine weather and a fair harvest!!

Exciting stuff isn't it? I love a bit of Pagan in the garden.
Depending on where you lived (and how superstitious the whole neighbourhood was) different methods were used. My Grandmother in Galway (and her neighbours) grew a particular tree in one of the fields. Each May eve a branch or two was cut down and pushed upright into the ground in the garden around the house and in one of the farm fields. Depending on which county you lived in different types of tree were used. My mother doesn't remember what Granny's tree was but" it had soft leaves like a willow".I'm thinking it must have been a fast grower considering two whole branches were lobbed of each year!

The children of the house decorated the tree with bunches of wild flowers. My mother remembers picking buttercups and primroses ( she thinks it might have been important that the flowers were yellow). Granny would have kept blue duck egg shells for weeks and brown hens egg shells too. These were put on the tree as decorations and finally the whole thing was blessed with holy water. This May tree acted as a powerful fairy and misfortune repellent. As an added protection Granny would never give eggs, butter or milk to anyone that day for fear of them taking the luck of the year with them. My mother remembers her hunting away anyone who made the mistake of showing up on May eve!!!

In Limerick on May eve they had a thing for lighting bonfires from the highest hill, in Tipperary they blessed each field with Easter holy water. Some superstitions or "piseogs" as we call them were so complicated that you had to prevent neighbours milking your cows or stealing eggs on May eve (out of spite and bad mindedness) while also staying up all night to guard against the fairies running off with your sons! What an exhausting day it must have been if you took all of it seriously!!

My May bush
In the interests of a good nights sleep and not turning psychotic in suspicion of my neighbours I decided to stick with the May bush, making a very basic model from a piece of hazel, one lonely broken eggshell and a few dandelions-my grandmother would not be impressed!-and to add insult to injury the holy water is yet to be found to bless it! As meatloaf said two out of three ain't bad.

So happy May day to all gardeners and farmers everywhere. May the luck of the gardening year be yours from today onwards.And if you get a chance perplex your neighbours by building your own may bush.

PS; in the last half hour managed to locate a bottle of holy water-the job is now complete!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Volunteers wanted for sweet pepper trials

Minature bell peppers in the cold frame
Lads if any of you are interested in the minature sweet bell peppers or the long super sweet Ramiro Peppers I am looking for volunteers to participate in a trial of one or both. I have germinated the seedlings and am currently growing them to pot on in the next few weeks. Once potted on they will be looking for homes, ideally under glass or plastic, or at a push a very wrm sheltered patio outside. All you have to do is grow them, feed them and report on the yields. Let me know if you are interested!

Grow you own in Montenotte

Pat out the front working on the clean up
Last weekend I had a lovely visit to the posh end of Cork. Joe and Dace have taken up residence in a georgous old apartment that is one part of an enormous old house with period details and amazing views across the river from it's steep terrace and beautiful south facing slope. When I googled the history of Montenotte it coughed up a wikipedia page explaining that in the 19th Century wealthy merchants and prosperous middle class families colonised this hillside to create beautiful houses set amid spectacular terraced gardens. A walk around the neighbouring streets with Dace on Sunday morning opened up vistas of old walls, railings, gate lodges and gardens bursting with camellials, azelas and other acid loving plants.It's a beautiful part of Cork city and I'm beginning to see why people call it monte-snotty! there is still lots of money(old and new) in the houses on that hill.

A most interesting part of the visit was a meeting with Pat and Declan, Joe and Daces landlords who were hard at work when we arrived out to see the front of the house and it's little terraced gardens. They have decided to clear a derelict plot and invest in a small glasshouse, some fruit trees and shrubs and some raised beds. The raised beds will not just be for them but for all of their tennants too which is a smashing idea. Not since my wonderful gardening landlord in Dalys Cross have I heard of any landlord going down the GIY route and including their tenants in the plan.

The planned site for the glasshouse
Dace who is a brilliant gardening assistant to me whenever she is here has offered to help Pat and as a vegetarian is very enthuastic at the prospect of being able to grow her own salads and herbs for use in the kitchen. It struck me that any landlord being able to offer this to prospective tennants would be on a bit of a winner since so many people have taken up the task of growing their own. So I'm commited to supporting the scheme in any way I can supplying surplus plants if they need them and coming down in another few weeks to see the progress. It's so cheering to see people get excited about growing food and so good to see an abandoned garden come back to life. Viva Montenotte!

Mercury Rising

tulips bursting into flower after rain and heat
I don't know about the rest of you but this spring tested my love of gardening to the absolute limit, so it's not before time that the weather has finally improved and everything has taken off in a spectacular way.Animals and birds included; birdsong has gotten louder and begun much earlier in the morning, bunnies appear daily in the upper field and a plethora of tom cats have taken to visiting the garden.

Whiskers waiting to ambush Ginger!
Unfortunately it looks like the cats may have alterior motives; Whiskers from next door has decided the fine weather means it's now mating season and since their are no girl cats around he has turned his amorous attentions to Ginger who luckily enough is twice his size and can reject his passes with one decisive swipe of the paw(or more usually by hiding under the table).So in between weeding, hardening off and sowing I'm trying to break up the romance, often lifting my head from the weeds to find Ginger flying past with whiskers in hot persuit behind!! My aim isn't improving either. The advise to drench the horny cat with cold water probably works like a charm if you can manage to soak him as he passes you. So far I keep missing. All I can do is shout at Ginger to keep his arse to the wall. If only they would invest all that energy in hunting the bunnies and the field mice whose populations are exploding while these two play hard to get-bloody cats!!

bat plant by sue kohler
The new propagator Seamus bought  has proved to be the best bit of growing this Spring. Although he bought it specifically to grow crazy exotic stuff like Australian bat plants(I'm not joking) it's adjustable temperature control means its suitable for loads of veg, particularly those that like high temperatures and garden flowers too.It's quite amazing the speed at which seeds germinate on it. When Eileen told me it had increased her output dramatically I didn't really understand how but now that I am using one myself and I have a glasshouse as well I can really see the advantages of both. It's so easy getting things to grow now, easy to keep them healthy and well, easy to take them in on a cold night and put them back out next morning. I find it hard to remember the time when I got everything to germinate on windowsills and managed to squeeze them all into a cold frame and plastic greenhouse-but I did!

Thermometer in the glasshouse.

The temperature under glass rises quite spectacularly too. In a tunnel it's not as dramatic as a glasshouse owing to the bigger space and the different frequency of light passing through plastic as opposed to glass. All last week and into this week temperatures of 25-35 degrees celsius have been the norm in the glasshouse here even with the vents open. On the advise of Chris in Garden World I invested in a minium/ maxium thermometer for the glasshouse showing you not only what the temperature is when you walk in but what the highest and lowest values were since you last reset it.Although the temperature does drop off at night so far it has remained around 5-15 which I think is really good.In this very benign indoor climate sunflowers, birds of paradise, early dahlias, french beans, an avacado tree and many, many more thrive.Outside last weekend Seamus used his newest toy, a soil thermometer to test the garden soil in the terraced garden. The result was an amazing 11degrees celsius, getting warm enough to sow carrots and other root crops not to mention all the annual flowers like marigolds, nasturtiums and poppies!

French beans in the glasshouse
Nothing lasts forever I suppose but while the met office are predicting good warm sunshine over the next week or so they are also predicting a return to colder nights, nights cold enough to give us frost. My accu weather phone app predicts temperatures ranging from 1 degree celsius tonight to 3 on Saturday night, 2 on Sunday night and 0 on Monday night! So if you hardened things off put some fleece or newspaper on standby to protect them and remember even under glass (or plastic) temperatures can drop dramatically at night so don't forget to protect what you already consider protected.

Keep tabs on the weather
Ireland only
Biogreen heat mats here