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

Saturday, 13 April 2013

On tour-The Organic College Dromcollogher- an t-Ionad Glas

Ok its weeks ago now but I did take the east Limerick students to the Organic College-an t-Ionad Glas, in Dromcollogher for a visit as part of the Festival of Lifelong Learning in Limerick. Eileen had said to me it had changed and developed out of measure and she was right! We had an amazing tour with the very hospitable Dan, met loads of the students and saw lots of cool stuff. Highly reccomend a visit if you are planning a trip to South Limerick/North Cork. Check out the website here or ring them +353 (0)63 83604 or email them for more info

Some photos!
Getting the ground ready on Horans Acre
The lads explain their field scale crops
Showing 1 year and 2 year no dig trials
Getting a talk on the refurbishment of the herb garden
explaining the return to old fashioned flowers in the cut flower garden
overwintering and early spring crops in the second years impressive commercial tunnel
The lads are mesmerised by the early potatoes!
pulling back winter protection to get going with spring crops
Catherine explains how to build a permaculture shed in the wildlife area
the tree nursery-most profitable for the college
Explaining the stratification pit and how it works
By the way we booked in for lunch and it was excellent no less than a choice of three delicious organic soups, home made cakes, bread, tea and excellent coffee. We finished the day with a visit to "An Siopa Glas" the college shop where the prices were really excellent. All in all a great day. 

Return to Eden

Jacks beautiful heather and daffodils with cherubs arse in view!
It has been a frustrating few weeks. Day after day of beautiful sunshine but bitter cold borne in on an Arctic easterly breeze.Cold frames were packed, glasshouse shelves heaved, conservatories and tunnels ovverrun with plants stuck in a three week holding pattern waiting for the cold wind to die down so the job of hardening off could begin in earnest.Most amazingly my first time veg growing students have managed to keep most of their plants alive and well throughout all of this pain and aggrivation.They all complained of course about having to bring plants in and out, cover them with fleece and uncover them, but what can you do when the weather is so unforgiving? Still I'm so pleased and proud of them all, and like I said a bit amazed too-how the feck did we get them through it?!!
This week we are rewarded for all that hassle, the wind has changed direction, the temperature rose and the rain (last piece of the puzzle) has finally arrived.

coming through the bad weather and looking good the ever reliable Tigerella Tomato
Of course I lost a few plants, a tray of brandywine tomatoes turned almost white on a particularly cold day outside under plastic. Dwarf french beans planted for an early glasshouse crop snapped and shriveled in the breeze sitting out one day on an otherwise warm, sheltered area! Other people lost plants when they got sick themselves. Eileen spent 5 days in bed with a raging flu, losing tomatoes in her greenhouse because she couldn't go out to cover them with fleece. Jack lost plants in his tunnel becuase temperatures dropped so low at night he got frost even under cover! I put up a maxium/ minium thermometer in my own glasshouse to find that night time temperatures were dropping dangerously low even after a sunny warm day when the mercury could reach 20-30c under midday heat. Bloody weather!

So now I haven't thrown in the towel (came very close) it's back to business.

First use of this beautiful tool! Thank you Mary J, Maudie, Paudie, Tom, Denise, Miriam, Mary and Paudie x