Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Hoe hoe hoe

Grange Stone Circle in the Snow
Yes it is THAT time of the year, the perusing of seed cataloges, the planning of bed rotations and the doing of ....well...nothing else really. It's too wet, too cold, too bloody miserable to think of going outside treading on sodden soil and getting covered in shit for the sake of a few grey hours of low daylight. But! on the plus side the shortest day has just passed so the looking forward has begun..the pulling out and assembly of propagation mats and benches, the buying of compost and the sowing of the first chillies, sweet peas and onion seeds. On drier days the pruning of fruit trees for the coming years growth, and the inevitable moving of established plants to try and improve their performance or position in the garden.

The shortest day turned into a lovely days outing with an astronomy talk at the Great stone circle in Grange at Sunset followed by a very informative show at The Honeyfitz Theater on the constellations and the eclipses forecasted for next year. Did you know that 2015 is to have a total solar eclipse followed by a total lunar eclipse? The total solar eclipse will happen on March 20th 2015 and be visible in the morning just after 9.20am from our Irish shores. We will have to pray for clear skies that morning in order to really see it properly. Although you never look into the sun directly or for any length of time. You WILL go irretrievably blind. Not a piseog(superstition), true! So don't do it!

archaeology map of the circle
Once it got dark we went to the lake side at Lough Gur where the lads from The Shannonside Astronomy Club unloaded and set up their telescope so we could all admire the galaxy of Andromeda and various visible stars. It was an exceptionally bright night for stars, so much so that we had no problem seeing the International Space Station flying rapidly overhead with our naked eyes. At the same time the Christmas market and Santa's grotto was in full swing in the car park and visitors center so we spent some of our time trying to avoid the Santa train speeding past carrying excited children to see the great man himself.

Normally it's pitch dark at the lake, and one of the few places to be so useful for star gazing, (our evening was a little hampered by sporadic overhead lights for the market and Santa visitors). The club are going to come out to use the lake more often for public viewings so keep an eye on their Facebook page to see whats on when. They are based in Mary I in Limerick city and membership is a modest €20 for the year. Check them out here on their official web site and here on their facebook page.

What do eclipses mean for growing food? No idea as yet but I am hoping this coming years Bio-dynamic Calendar will explain the effects and what it means for sowing, transplanting etc on these unusual days.

Photos; Grange in Snow from www.thestandingstone.ie
Archaeology map from; www.voicesfromthedawn.com

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Ould bothers..or everything that can go wrong...

Leicester square London; the view from the grass
My darling mother in law has an expression that I love when it comes to discussing the various ailments of her elderly relations and friends, she calls them; "ould bothers" and I think, given the time of the year and all the ailments my garden has managed to produce in the last few weeks, it's a fitting title for this blog post.

So I know you were all labouring under the assumption that things always go smack smooth here and I produce perfect veg, perfect fruit and grow prolific herbs, flowers and salads too (I hope you are sitting down now when I tell you it's far from the case). Maybe it's about time I delivered on the other side of gardening the "interesting challenges" that keep one on ones toes, particularly when one is just arrived back from swanning around Chelsea and Bloom to find plenty of ould bothers have appeared in your absence....

Yesterday for instance I arrived home to find the cold frame broken. Glass everywhere, shards in my seed trays full of next months lettuces, herbs and salads. I should not be in the least surprised given that Sooty(the cat) uses it as a springboard to higher altitudes on the bathroom window and a shortcut to the side of the house.

Taking the aforementioned (much beloved) mother in law around the garden on tour last Friday afternoon I spotted one of my beautiful summer purple broccoli plants ( I only planted 4 but they were smashing) thrown down, turning purple and wilted looking. I pulled it up easily to find the root well chewed and the plant on the way out. Worse! all three other broccoli plants are showing early signs of infestation...its my first year experiencing the bloody cabbage root fly.

Signs of the Cabbage root fly

My picture perfect bed of garlic (that I was so proud of) having dutifully saved the seed from last year, sown them early and happily given it away to all and sundry has got rust, lots of it, every fecking plant in fact! (and walking over to another Allium bed I found out the overwintering garlic not only had rust but has bolted too).

rust on garlic leaves

Having spent a solid day digging and re-digging  one of the beds to receive carrot seed some weeks ago I uncovered the bed last week (carefully cloched) to find no carrots had germinated and worse than that slugs had eaten all my onions.

My first early potatoes are doing beautifully, but I found three plants with stunted growth, curled leaves and yellowed leaves. It looks like potato leaf roll virus. No bloody cure!

Potato leaf roll virus in the first early bed

My early bed of peas is a disaster. Poor germination, heavy slug damage. Three plants out of ..well.. a whole packet. WORST PEA BED EVER.

worst pea bed ever awards winner

Now it's not so much the bothers themselves as the way you respond to them. Things are bound to go wrong, often multiple things at once, there is only one way forward; assess the damage, work out a solution and plough on. And if all else fails pour yourself a stiff drink and then plough on!

For instance did you know that rust on Alliums can be beaten by spraying it with cheap Gin? I didn't know it either. But guess what I'm buying in Lidl or Aldi this week?
And guess what I will be spraying my garlic with?!

The bolted tops have been snapped off the overwintering garlic. I will make the most of it by harvesting it as soon as possible and using it in the kitchen. Good timing as my stored garlic had finally gone soft and was thrown out two weeks ago.I might put some of my bush tomatoes in that bed instead to use the space.

The replacement peas have been resown in module trays and brought on in the glasshouse before being hardened off outside. They have almost caught up with the four original outdoor survivors and will join them in the bed this week. OK so the peas will be later than usual but at least there will be peas! The Late summer bed of peas will be sown indoors in modules and transplanted out-no direct sowing this year.

replacement peas, "fill the bucket" and "mummy peas"

The broccoli will be dug up and the roots examined of the remaining three plants. Since there is a lot of good advise on how to prevent this pest all my future brassica plantings this year will go into the ground with a small piece of rhubarb and wearing collars to prevent further attacks. If my three remaining plants are not too badly damaged I will wash out the roots, rhubarb the planting holes and replant them with collars on. It's worth a try to see if they can be saved as they haven't become very large as yet. If not I will get replacements and plant them out the same way. I might even get some decent photos of cabbage root fly for the blog!

a remaining healthy broccoli plant

I will dig out the three stunted potato plants (record the varieties and where they came from)and watch the rest for any sign of the potato leaf roll virus spreading.According to the UK Potato Council this disease is spread by aphids that once they have acquired it remains in their systems for life. Buying certified seed is one way to avoid it (which I currently do), removing volunteers and harvesting the potato beds thoroughly is another (do both as well). All that remains to be done is to keep aphids at bay in the first place so more plants to encourage ladybirds, more debris for them to overwinter in, more biodiversity in the garden for hover flies etc.

A ladybird on an infected potato plant this morning

Finally I have bought more carrot seed and I have spare onions so that entire empty bed will be replanted. This time I am watching it like a hawk. Is it slugs? I will be putting down the organic pellets. There are a lot of leather jackets around too, a biological control might be in order.

As for the broken cold frame; its a trip to Martin Begley. While I am there I might as well pick up the missing pane of glass from the glasshouse and visit Terra Nova(O the hardship) Two birds with one stone, (or making the best of a bad situation).

one of the many delights at Terra Nova

This morning I picked up all the broken glass. Sooty came over and managed to look contrite (as much as a cat can anyway).

Sooty s favorite pastime (unfortunately); glasshouse surfing

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Merry Month of May

Snail no 587...
While April might have begun dry, at times too dry (digging out the last surviving winter leeks, I nearly reached for a pick axe! It took serious elbow grease to liberate them from the ground), May has proved to be a pleasant mixed bag of sunshine and showers, driving on growth inside and out.Seedlings pop up, weeds prosper, snail armies march at night, trees bud up and flower, birds sing, and everything is in that great burst of new life that characterises this most lovely of all months.

Tom sowing clover in the orchard at Blackhill farm
In the potato beds the first potato leaves are now well above the ground and have been earthed up. It's fatal to first early crops not to keep the water supplied in the next few important weeks.You might not realise it but we have actually had a very dry month of April (like last year) but unlike last year with its cripplingly cold bleak easterly wind, this April has been marked out by mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine.Last year lots of people complained their spud crops were slow to develop and poor looking, none of them thought to water them, once they did start watering all their crops began to prosper and grow. In the next few weeks if the weather dries up and becomes hot-water your spuds if they don't come by it naturally(and water charges be dammed!).

Apple blossom on the Lough Key Crab
Soil temperatures are nicely up. A few weeks ago I saw the first stray nasturtium self seeded in the vegetable garden (many more have appeared since)and spotted the asparagus (which had somehow eluded me up to now) at a healthy few inches high and unmolested by slugs. I have been eating rhubarb and giving it away for a few weeks, by far the best crop in an age, although, like everything else the growth had begun to slow down for want of rain before the weather finally broke.The great wealth of blossom on cherries, pears and apples is a great promise of the harvest ahead.

Strawberries in bloom
Under the protection of glass and plastic tomato, aubergine, chili, sweet pepper,herbs, salads, brassicas and flowers are all prospering well. While Seamus can't seem to decide what to do with his delicate exotics it's a doddle with veg; once they are up in the propagator its off out to the great outdoors, glasshouse or cold frame. Mind you things are getting a bit chaotic to say the least! So far 48 varieties of Tomatoes (including outdoor bush and basket tomatoes) have been grown, and not one of each but about 5 or 6 of each!!! Seed sowing is a kind of madness really, like gambling, you know you should stop but you cant' help yourself!

Tomatoes in the Glasshouse
That's not to say the sowing is over-far from it. More leaf crops are in the pipeline for Thursday and Friday; its time to get the first Kale crops going and to keep on with succession sowing  salads, herbs, spring onions and lettuce.

All around me seedlings are popping up on the windowsills and propagators-cucumbers, pumpkins and squashes, runner and climbing beans, courgettes, sunflowers and dwarf french beans. Dace has very cleverly organised a large patch at home in Clare for pumpkin, spud and cabbage production. Although such a venture is fraught with dangers; ( Mum and Dads unintentional "help", a local hare population with undeveloped palates and straying cattle) it's probably worth the risk. If all she gets is a handful of pumpkins and some nice spuds it will be worth it as she could never grow them in the confines of the one raised bed in Montenotte.

Daces Pumpkin Plot in Clare

Extra space and the question of upping scale has been occupying my mind a lot in recent years. Is it worth renting extra land, is it worth the hassle of field scale veg for pumpkins, onions and potatoes? What about acquiring a tunnel for that matter? The lure of fresh peaches, apricots, nectarines, kiwis, passion fruit, oodles of space to try tonnes of tomato varieties, to grow salads for winter and spuds in early spring or for Christmas day. Early strawberries!!!A storage area indoors, a propagation area indoors, all very exciting prospects. But at what cost? and at what effect to the existing garden space?

A red arsed Bumble bee on Borage in the Veg garden
The tunnel debate goes on daily here; we have gone so far as to visit Poly-dome in Offaly and price a large tunnel, (you'd probably fall over if I told you the price, though the tunnel itself is a fantastic straight sided, industrially built model). Do I pay the money or source it elsewhere at a lower price?It looks tempting to order from First Tunnels in the UK.

Large 8ft bamboos mark the spot on the lawn where it could go, but when? Now? and get it up and running for this summer? A big ask! Later in the Autumn? and get it prepared for next years Spring season? definitely the easier of the two. But then what happens to my Tomato army? Having set up a very fast tunnel in Kilmallock with my 5s (a tunnel which is now heaving with crops) I feel I could manage it. I do think I will have to give up work though-it keeps getting in the way of my gardening.

The lads put finishing touches to a climbing bean support in Kilmallock

Monday, 14 April 2014

Killed out rescuing bloody rabbits

Lucky baby rabbit no 3; rescued this evening...soooo cute
One of the more unfortunate side effects of having cats is the indiscriminate murder of fluffy cute animals that we would consider TOO CUTE to die (especially too cute to find pieces of after the event, like a gall bladder or fluffy tail end!). While Ginger might consider himself too old, at the grand old age of 5, to go around chasing rabbits, he is not above helping to corral them into tight spaces for the other two cats to catch. Maybe he gets his bit of fresh rabbit for his trouble, I don't know. Meanwhile Dutch and Sooty are just getting to their prime at 9 months of age. Young, fit and carrying no excess weight they couldn't been keener hunters and it's prime hunting season with nearby fields literally awash with baby rabbits. So rabbit is on the menu, every bloody day!

Bunny no 2 had a little injury but ran off home no bother
In the last three days Seamus has managed to rescue no fewer than three baby rabbits and return all of them to the field from which they came. You can be sure for the three that were rescued many, many more have died, but it's hard to watch it happen in front of you and hard in particular to listen to the horrible squealing of the little rabbit in the cats mouth.So if we can we distract or put the cats in and capture the rabbits ourselves. Once across the road and in the field they recover from the ordeal that left them trembling and still in our hands and spring back to life; maybe the very smell of the field gives them the urge to run home. Really their mothers take shocking care of them, they should never get into the clutches of our well fed cats in the first place.

Back at home tonight all three cats are thrown down and exhausted. Dutch in particular who was missing for most of the day has obviously overindulged, he is flat out on one side of me with Ginger crashed out on the other. Every now and again his paws twitch as he dreams of chasing more rabbits! Sooty meanwhile has a whole couch to himself to nap on. There isn't a gug out of any of them.It's like Easter Sunday after the last Easter egg has been demolished!!

Rabbit no1 biggest of the three rescues
There is a funny side to all of this. This evening I met my neighbour at my gate and we stood up chatting in the sun for a few minutes.Sooty was waiting inside the gate for me and Geraldine spotted him. "O" she said "he is a great cat, I see himself and the grey one (Dutch) in my garden all the time, do you know I have completely cut back on rat poison since they arrived?"
"No" I said, in the calmest tone I could muster all the while feeling quite faint at the thought of rat poison and my precious cats.
" O yes" she said "its brilliant, if they could manage to kill the rabbits now that would be great, the bloody place is over-run with the bastards!!"

Sooty and rabbit no3
And on that note I will say goodnight to you all and leave you with the last photo of the day Sooty with poor rabbit no 3 before the rescue in his mouth.

For those of you that may be wondering, no I didn't tell my neighbour we are rescuing the rabbits!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Earthing up spuds in the glasshouse

let there be spuds
Just a quick post to let you know that I have earthed up my spuds in pots. I'm experimenting with "Rocket" and "Swift" that are renowned for giving a fast crop (in two months!) under cover. Mine were sown in February (in pots of cow manure and put in the glasshouse under fleece) and despite my standing over them they showed no sign of life up to two weeks ago when shoots suddenly appeared. These have amazed me since at their speed of growth, I know they are called Rocket and Swift but I'm still amazed!! Will I be eating them by the end of April though? Watch this space....God I'm getting hungry now just thinking about it..

Overwintered sweet peas V spring sown ones

Ah sweet peas and roses...summer bottled
For a long time I have been reading how Autumn sown overwintered sweet peas in a cold frame are THE WAY to grow sweet peas, bringing you stronger multi-branched plants that bloom earlier and produce huge crops of flowers......The only problem is that by October I'm not inclined to sow anything. I am long retired from sowing as far as I'm concerned. I finish sowing around June and concentrate all my efforts on EATING from there on out. It's the whole point surely of growing all that veg in the first place?! And as much as I love sweet peas I could never summon up the motivation to want to look after them through the winter. So for years it never happened. Until finally last year I read Monty Don giving advise on sweet peas and happened to see the man in the UK with the national sweet pea collection on the A to Z of TV gardening and there were both espousing the merits of an Autumn sown plant. I gave up the fight, dragged myself out one fine day in October and grumbling to myself begrudgingly set one root trainers worth of seeds.

February transplanting; un-eaten on the right, eaten on the left
After that not much happened. I was disappointed to see that germination was quite erratic and more disappointed when I missed a slug getting in who managed to graze several seedlings to the ground.That's the problem with winter weather. A lot can happen outside while you are inside wrapped up on the couch watching The Tunnel, eating for Ireland and piling the fire high. The survivors apparently shocked into hibernation by the death of their brothers looked a bit forlorn and miserable while I stared into the cold frame pulling my eyebrows together and fretted about them. By Christmas I gave up fretting, forgot all about sweet peas and concentrated on seed catalogues and new types of tomatoes. They were still alive but not looking like they would amount to much.I was ready to write them off as a failed experiment and send a tweet to Monty to ask him what I was missing.

Sweet peas looking good this April

Around February much to my surprise I realised they were starting to grow, with roots beginning to poke out the bottom of the root trainers. I re-potted them all and once I opened the root trainers I was surprised again to find that almost all of them had in fact germinated and those I thought had failed or had been grazed by slugs were sending up second growth, so I ended up transplanting far more than I had expected to. Over the last two months they have steadily grown taller and bushed out, while in the last few weeks they have been fully hardened off outside. It was really only last week when I put the spring sown sweet pea seedlings beside them that I could see the value of the overwintering plants. They are three times the size, climbing well and looking extremely promising.

Spring sown sweet peas

The final test will be the flower crop outdoors this summer of course. Tomorrow we have a willow weaving workshop planned in Kilmallock for the FETAC 5's where we will all make and bring home willow garden obelisks for climbing plants like our sweet peas. Now all that's left to do is to prepare the ground with horse manure, compost and chicken pellets!

The secret life of slugs

Slug Cartography; A slug maps out Spain and Portugal in the veg garden..is he looking to fly Ryanair?
I was going to title this "the sex life of slugs" but as ever, the thought of my mother somehow one day learning to use the Internet and actually reading my blog(longest odds in the world by a country mile) managed to discourage me. Last week I held the funniest class I have ever had as I tried to explain to my Science laden FETAC 5's, (without getting embarrassed myself which is harder than you might think!), how slugs mate. As you might imagine as we got into it (forgive the pun)chronic giggling broke out, followed by accidental (and not so accidental) innuendo, uproar followed, (it really went to shit at this point, even I was having trouble keeping a straight face)and cold showers were threatened until finally I got some type of order on the chaos, finished the lesson and survived the day. O Lord. I have a new found respect for teachers explaining the "facts of life" as we once quaintly called them to 11 year old's.These were adults! And worst of all it was all about the un-sexiest creature on the planet-the slug! Thank God I'm not explaining human reproduction to them.

For those of you who may not know it every slug (and snail)carry the bits for both male and female inside them, making them hermaphrodites. When they meet they push out their bits and swap sperm leading to both parties laying their own clutch of eggs after parting ways.This might begin to explain to you why slugs seem to be everywhere, as literally hundreds of eggs are produced by each slug each year. I'm not going near explaining Apophallation, thank God I didn't get into it in class , I'd have to be stretchered out! Needless to say if you are curious click on this link here to take you to the Wikipedia page that explains it all (its under the Reproduction heading). If you are male you might be better off not reading it at all-you have been warned!

Gosh that was really easy; there is a lot to be said for delivering this kind of information over the Internet from the comfort of the couch, no danger of blushing or getting embarrassed and no smart ass innuendo either!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Great Craic with Helen Dillon

Helen Dillon
My jaws are yet aching today after a great night with a unique stand up comedian.Hats off to The Limerick Garden Plants group who had Helen Dillon down from the big smoke to talk to the Gardeners of Limerick last night at the South Court Hotel. Helen is really funny -a bit of a deadly wit actually! She does a great line in telling it like it is so while many of her slides showed beautiful photos of her garden in proficient bloom there was also a gallery of failures. She explained the Irish expression of "it died on me" really translates into "I killed it" and honestly described how she has evolved from posh muted colour coordinated borders to "box of smarties" with loads of different colours in the borders.

She is fiercely direct and honest and feisty as hell! She has great tales of Christopher Lloyd and other famous gardeners she hob-nobbed with and is brilliantly self-depreciating in her re-telling of how people would come up to her after her Irish television career had finished to check it was really her because, as she puts it "everyone thought I was dead"!

A great Lady of Irish Gardening (even if we had to originally steal her from Scotland).Even I , a person prone to growing plants with a view to eating them can appreciate, and be inspired by such a passionate and energetic ornamental gardener (though to her credit she grows some veg in carefully tucked away raised beds hidden behind a sunny border in her garden). If you want the Dillon experience read any of her books, she also writes for Which Magazine and writes in the monthly Catholic "Messenger" (which got her a lot of new fans in the nuns!) and you can visit her beautiful garden in Dublin. Highly, highly recommended!

The Dillon Garden in Dublin

Friday, 21 March 2014

Slow, slower, slowest......

Sorry everyone, since the storm last month the internet service has been reliably awful. I can't post anything successfully, but, finally! the man over the phone opened a small window for me today with a temporary fix (that is coming and going all morning )and better yet a man with a tool box is coming out next Thursday, so hopefully I will be back blogging with a vengeance on Friday! In the meantime keep sowing and growing, and mind yer ankles!

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Sowing onions from seed

There can never be enough onions , I wish I had a field!
The sun is shining (between pelting showers) but regardless of the weather today is the day for sowing onions from seed.I finally got my module trays(7cellx12cell) from Garden World at 9am sharp this morning.This year I am trying out module trays on the advise of Klaus Laitenberger who swears by sowing three onion seeds per module and transplanting all three to the next stage before separating them out in the outside bed.Usually I use an open tray and broadcast the seeds, but these Letrim Germans might be on to something, and I'll never know unless I try.

I'm experimenting with compost this year too. I'm trying out a new worm castings compost called Celtic Gold which I got in Raheen Co-op last week.Supposedly the addition of 10% worm castings boosts plant growth by 100%, on the downside the remaining 90% is peat based. Great stuff peat, but not sustainable unfortunately. And while I'm not exactly wearing hemp clothes and living off grid  you can't escape the pressures on our resources.

Seamus has resurrected the heavy duty propagator and it's all set up in the Utility, with only a few cat paw prints so far-Ginger has yet to break in properly to sleep on it as he did last year, knocking pots, flattening seedlings, (well hes a bit large and clumsy)and causing general chaos. This year the plan is to put a cloche over it to make it harder for him to find a way in. But you know cats, they would sit on your head to get a bit of heat, so I'll be dubiously optimistic until I see otherwise. Expect me to post photos of him caught rotten, trying to pretend he is invisible!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Hurricane season

Will I ever get home?
Well lads, what a bloody day.

The centre in Kilmallock was evacuated at 1.30pm when the storm had knocked out the power and heating and people were starting to panic about getting home.Birdie was stranded ( "my fella" as she calls her long suffering husband, was stuck in traffic in Mallow)so I offered to take her home.
Easier said than done!

from Old Pallas to Pallasgreen
We set off at the height of the hurricane, luckily for me Birdie talked non stop distracting me from the wild rocking of the van and absolute howling of the wind outside.The centre of town was closed, a man in a high vis jacket was busy directing cars elsewhere, (afterwards I found out slates and bricks had been flying across the road) so we took an alternate route round the back of the town.It all looked good until the truck ahead of us suddenly pulled in and I flew past him only to find a huge tree blocking the whole road.Birdie did the swearing for me, even berating the council for lack of signs! But a few roads later it became obvious the council couldn't keep up with the rate of falling trees. Every road out of town was blocked and all I could do was drop off Birdie and take myself in resignation to the Deerbert Hotel for a cup of coffee and commiseration with the other people similarly stranded in the foyer of the hotel.

It was like the start of a bad horror film. Strangers stranded in a hotel, the power out, the staff trying to look after everyone as best they could, all eyes on the door for fresh arrivals and updates on yet more roads closed and yet more trees down. I looked out at one stage, watching the trees across the road (luckily there are no trees near the hotel) buckle and flail in the wind, and thought, I'm stuck here for the night!! But two coffees and one old lady later the news arrived; the town had reopened, the winds had dropped, and there might be a way home after all. Woo hoo!

Two hours later I finally got home!

Kilmallock to Bruff Road

It should have taken me 25 minutes, but between trees down, council crews with chainsaws, diversions, power lines flailing like ribbons, floods and deadly back-roads it was the longest commute of my life. I have to take my hat off to everyone on the council crews and the local farmers with machinery and chainsaws who worked flat out to clear the roads. The nicest man I met was near home, a cheerful farmer in a tractor clearing debris off a back road " don't go down there" he told me, "there are five trees down in the next mile alone!". I thanked him profusely and told him to mind himself as we talked casually underneath a huge tree leaning dramatically at a 45 degree angle across the road. He had just picked up his chainsaw to start cutting it down. "Tis a pity about this tree" he said, "I thought it would escape, it stood strong all morning, and that other bloody tree( he tilted his head to the other side of the road) I hoped would fall is still standing!"

The beautiful weeping willow in my neighbors garden that has been the backdrop to so many springs and summers here was the last tree I met across the road as I finally saw home. I cant tell you how sad it made me to see it lying prostrate on the road, it was so beautiful, and I had loved seeing it fill with new leaves each Spring. Not any more. No doubt in the middle of all this chaos, aside from the practicality of clearing roads, people are saddened to lose some much loved trees.

This tree on the Dromkeen back-road took the ditch with it!
I got home, parked up and congratulated myself on still being in one piece. Then I walked around the corner. to..absolute carnage; portable greenhouse shredded, BBQ stripped, roof ripped from the dog house, outdoor furniture stripped, plastic sun lounger half way down the garden in several nonredeemable pieces, cowl from the roof deposited in the hedge but worst of all part of a metal fence(where the hell did that come from?) resting casually against the glasshouse having obliterated half the glass and beheaded several plants on its journey over the hedge. I spent the next two hours with Seamus picking up glass and moving precious plants indoors getting colder and hungrier as hail beat down on us.But good news! the electricity is still on, there is a blazing fire in the stove and I am typing this with Ginger lying across me on one side and Seamus on the other, one purring the other snoring! so for now at least the worst is over.

I hope all of you are OK tonight and in one piece after a unforgettable crazy day . Eliza I hope your beautiful old trees are all still standing.

The end of the lovely weeping willow

Friday, 31 January 2014

Building a pick your own Orchard

Sue Measuring out the beds for the Apple trees
This teaching year may be hectic but is is extremely interesting. Eileen is setting up a Pick your own fruit Orchard in Blackhill Farm with the help of the FETAC 4 students who are studying fruit as their anchor module this year (this means that a lot of the key skills we do in other modules like plant propagation and plant identification are also bound up with the work we do for the fruit module). We have had a great time going on visits to Irish Seed Savers in Clare and The Apple Farm in Tipperary gathering information and learning as much as we can from experts in (no pun intended) the field of fruit. Apart from the fun of going on field trips we actually found out a huge amount about growing Apple trees in particular and we owe a big thank you to Pat at Irish Seed Savers and Con at The Apple Farm for all their advise and help.By the way ye members of the public do all ye can to support Irish Seed Savers in their time of need.

On the estuary near Glin
This Tuesday we went on to the Shannon Estuary near the pretty village of Glin to collect seaweed for the new apple tree beds. The lads have already built some of these beds using the spacings recommended for commercial planting my I.S.S.A. and Con Traas. Eileen had opened some well matured compost heaps to add nutrients and the final job before planting is to put on the seaweed mulch to add lots of trace elements to the soil for the new trees.We were spectacularly lucky with the weather. Up to the night before it was blowing a gale and pouring rain. But the day dawned clear and calm and it was the first true taste of spring watching the sun fall on the fields as we drove through Carrigkerry cross country to the beach near Glin.

The beds ready for mulching the yellow area is weeds dying off under black plastic
It is good fun picking seaweed but the estuary is completely different from the beach. Its full of mud flats which are dangerous in themselves. Walk across the wrong stretch of "beach" and you get swallowed up never to return. Drift seaweed (freely floating not attached to roots or rocks) was few and far between although when we did find it it was exceptionally fine and soft. Most of the seaweed visible at low tide was firmly attached to the rocks or the pebbly upper shoreline.Although initially it looked like just one type of seaweed it turned out we collected at least 10 different varieties. There was slim to no kelp, which is one of the most important seaweeds of all for plant and human nutrition. In all just three pieces were found on the whole inlet beach! A far cry from Seafield which is fairly awash with the stuff.
sea lettuce was in abundance

Still we managed to be a distraction for the locals who periodically drove down to see what we were up to.  No one came over and asked us any questions they just drove down to the pier, parked, watched us for a bit and drove back very slowly watching us all the time. We made a good effort to wave wildly at everyone who ventured down (at least 5 cars I think!), what they made of us up to our eyeballs in mud wrestling with seaweed in January God only knows! Two of the girls speculated on all the affairs, sneaky local goings on and drug smuggling we had interrupted with our mornings work. A few of us wondered what wild stories the locals had come up with about us in the privacy of their cars. How disappointing for us and the locals that life is rarely as exciting as we might like it to be!

The beds covered in their seaweed mulch

We got back to Eileen's farm in time for a hearty lunch followed by the most delicious apple crumble and custard that poor Eileen had made for us the day before. Despite there being less students and more crumble than anticipated somehow they put a good dent in the supplies, proof if any were needed, that sea air (even diluted by the freshwater and air of the estuary) really gives you a great appetite. After marinating for a bit in front of a hot stove we managed to eventually venture back outside into glorious January sunshine. In the Orchard we pulled back our black plastic mulch and were pleased to see the weeds between the rows had started to yellow and die over the last few weeks.We picked up where we had left off on the making of a third apple bed, carefully pulling out weeds (a job made much easier by the use of the mulch) loosening the earth and removing large stones. Eileen opened more compost heaps for us to barrow well matured compost onto the surface of the new bed. Once done it was simply a case of emptying bags of seaweed onto the beds. In all we used about 12 bags for each bed (36 bags in all) with plenty in reserve for the beds yet to be made. We re-covered the entire area with the black plastic and weighted it down once more.The last thing we did was a bit of seaweed identification before hitting for home after a very satisfying day.

If you want to find out which seaweeds are which here are two good sites for Ireland and the UK;
Seaweeds in Ireland
Seaweeds in the UK

State of the Union

Last Black Futsu Pumpkin from stores
Today may be fairly rubbish weather wise but its exactly the type of day to stay in, do big piles of boring paperwork and enjoy a pot of good soup. Unfortunately my pumpkins in stores are down to just a few, and today the last black futsu was sacrificed at the altar of pumpkin, veg and ginger soup. 

No I haven't put in the wrong photo. The futsu started off completely dark green-black at harvest time but has turned this lovely mottled orange colour in storage as it ripened and
Black futsu original colour
matured. It's amazing what a few months indoors can do. This very often throws off new growers of pumpkins who fear something has gone drastically wrong when they see colours changing. Trust me when I say that in my humble opinion its when they start to go soft, smell bad and cry all over the floor that you are in serious trouble. At that stage heed the warning the pumpkin is giving you and Do not eat!

I won't be sowing pumpkin and squash seeds until April but I am getting started on other crops like spuds which are chitting on my new dresser. My sister in law gave it to me when she did a huge remodeling job on her kitchen and afterwards discovered it would no longer fit. It's a beautiful piece of handmade furniture but even better than that it has a long obliging shelf the perfect width for rows of egg boxes with sprouting spuds. To be honest I liked my humble little dresser I bought at auction better with its open shelves and cream colour my mother and I painted it. And I feel bad that its losing its prime spot in my kitchen with no immediate hope of a new home. It suited me if you know what I mean, it wasn't pretentious or brassy just cheerful, simple and homely. This thing is a bit too posh for me, thank God my sister in laws kids scribbled in crayon and slightly thrashed it, I feel I have permission to paint it and soften the look of it! Plus its twice the size of my humble charlie. I'm ungrateful, I know!! I just like furniture you can live with, not have to mind. Already it's hard work keeping the new cats from jumping up on it to steal chillies!

Chitting first earlies

This year Garden World on Ellen street in Limerick city are doing 70+ varieties of potato! I seriously do not have the room for that amount in my garden but Chris one of my former students is set to grow about 74 varieties and is planning on another spud tasting open day at his farm. Last year he had people tasting spuds from early morning to 1am at night! It's a fantastic idea and I will be sure to mention it when he sets a date for this year. Hopefully it won't go all Copper faced Jacks on him on the day.

What I am going to try this year is growing spuds in potato grow bags and in large containers. Although I have always been very dubious about it- it is one way of maximising the types you can try in one growing season.A few of the new super fast spuds like "swift" and "rocket"are the ones I am most curious about. The have shorter foliage, tighter plant spacings and promise an even earlier crop. Definitely worth a try.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Obey the moon-sow leafy crops today

today's seeds for sowing
Hi lads! into battle we go. Today is my first sowing day of 2014. According to my bio-dynamic calendar it's leaf crops; spinach, early hardy cut and come salad crops, rocket, texel greens, and micro greens; dark opal basil, green sprouting broccoli and rocket victoria. I'm using root grow mycorrhizal fungi in each seed tray to help them get going. It's a bit early in the year so I think they will take all the help they can get! That said everything in the cold frame and the broad beans in the glasshouse have started to grow again, under glass today its a nice 10c so I hope the temperatures will continue like this for these salad crops once they are transplanted out. I'm putting all of them under cover to crop. It's still too cold to plant them outside, though I will have to harden off the broad beans soon, they are pushing roots out through the very large pots I gave them!

If you are making plans for sowing this month using the moon my plan is;

Fruiting crops like early peas and beans, chillies and tomatoes on Monday the 20th January
Root crops like onions  on Wednesday the 22nd January
Flower crops like broccoli,  sweet peas, verbascum, and foxgloves on Friday 24th of January

Happy sowing!
Please order your seeds from The Irish Seeds Savers Association who need all the help they can get this year. Or better yet become a supporter. It's unthinkable that they should fail so please do all you can to help, even small orders can count.

If you have old packets of seeds and you want to ckeck their viability you can do this simple test that my FETAC 5 group carried out yesterday;

  1. Lightly moisten a paper towel. Then, fold it in half.
  2. Place 10 seeds on the paper towel. Then, fold the towel in half again to cover up the seeds.
  3. Stick the paper towel in a plastic sandwich bag and seal.
  4. Write the seed name and date on the bag. Then, store the bag in a warm spot (on top of the refrigerator works well).
  5. Check the bag each day to see if any seeds have germinated and to re-moisten the paper towel, as needed.
  6. Continue checking the bag until you reach the germination time listed (e.g. 7 days) on your seed packet.If its not listed on your seed packet check it online from seed companies, it varies dramatically from each seed to the next so don't guess! check it out.
  7. Count how many seeds germinated. Use this to determine your percentage of viability. If, for example, 8 of your 10 seeds germinated, that would be an  80% viability.
  8. If you decide to use your seeds, plant extra to make up for the seeds that aren't likely to germinate.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Coming around again

The sun; so near and yet so far away
Did you ever get the feeling that no matter how well intentioned you are there is always something getting in the way of the things you want to do? January should be renamed "the road to hell" littered with the good intentions, drunken new years resolutions and half arsed ideas of what you will do with the clean sheet of the new year. One of my many good intentions is to be a better correspondent, a regular bi or tri-weekly blogger as I used to be. Push work firmly to one side, get on with the business of blogging, forget about teaching! making money! feeding cats! blog at all costs. Hold me to it, and we will see how long the resolution lasts....

At this time of year I miss the light of home. One decided advantage to having no impediment for miles around is the pure spectacular light levels in the house and in the garden even on the shortest days of the year. On this slope the sun begins to disappear gradually through October shortening its stay each day until one frosty day in November (when the skies are blue and the sun busy dissolving ice crystals in the valley below) you wake up to a quiet gloom, the fields a stiff grey white, ice in puddles refusing to melt and time suddenly seems to stand still.Does anyone remember the Greek legend of Persephone? Condemned to spend months underground and only allowed back overground to bring the flowers of spring? That's what it feels like here. Going underground for November, December and January.

So January becomes the month of watching. Watching for the sun to begin its reappearance in the southern sky. Because of the extinct volcano between me and the sun, monitoring the light; what times it "breaks the hill" each day, where the light falls and how long its rays last becomes supremely important each year and for some strange reason no less compelling at the years go on. Just today at lunch time I noticed the sun finally break the top of the hill at 1.06pm hitting light squarely into the back of the kitchen wall, onto the last bed in the vegetable garden (bed no 5) and in jagged stripes across the apple orchard on the front lawn. What always amazes me is how this light stretches out, at first only lasting for 20 minutes until by degrees it begins earlier and earlier each afternoon and lasts later and later each evening.Never mind your hippies banging drums at Newgrange on December 21st, this is my gardens winter solstice, and the sun is finally coming round again.Somehow it spurs you on and gives you the enthusiasm you need for the busy time that lies ahead.If you pay attention too you will know which parts of the garden warm up earliest. Important stuff when it comes to sowing the first veg crops in February and March.

ready to go....
 So what does lie ahead ? The seed stock-take has been done, with seeds graded into each calendar month for sowing and the box for January filled with early hardy varieties of sweet peas, lettuces, salad crops, tomatoes,broccoli, micro greens, flowers, broad beans, onions and chillies. The moon calendar has been consulted and each date marked on the kitchen calendar for the different crops to sow that day. The seed labels used in the garden last year have been brought indoors, washed, pencil markings erased, and  put into bundles ready for sowing over the next three weeks. The plan for the garden rotations has been drawn up although the debate rages on about how many beds potatoes should get and in an effort to solve the problem it looks like I will trial potato grow-bags and tubs this year for first earlies anyway. Since students squeezed for space often ask me about it I'm definitely in need of trying it out. In about two weeks the shop on Ellen street will have over 70 varieties of seed potatoes so its important to have a plan (so I don't go crazy when I get inside the door!!). If you were so inclined you could work out exactly how many seeds to sow for absolutely everything you were going to grow and lay out every piece of ground for them well in advance. Can you imagine being that organised? me neither! But it dosen't stop me trying to get there every new year.