Wednesday, March 11, 2015

First Ladybird of 2015

I couldn't get a better photograph without disturbing it, but here is my first sighting of a ladybird this year, nestled in my purple sprouting broccoli, hopefully feasting on any pests that the plant might be harbouring. It really seems apt to see this spotted beetle on the sunniest day of the year so far.

Monday, March 9, 2015

I Finally Employed A Gardening Apprentice

One of my proudest moments this year was seeing my toddler try out his new pair of wellies for the first time. During the summer, he would crawl around the grass barefooted but the winter has been an awkward time with a newly walking child. He has a great waterproof suit (bought in Lidl a few years ago and passed down to us from my sister) but was not ready for shoes until recently, although I do admit that I let him ruin his soft pre-walker shoes a few times in the wet grass.
This week I unleashed the beast into the wild [garden] fully suited and booted to get messy and wet. I think we've rummaged around every corner and puddle at this stage. I never knew so much pleasure could be got from dipping ones fingers in the water that collects on the lid of a bucket.  Another favourite game is to carry the biggest lump of coal we can find in our hands as we explore. And even when we fall down, the lump of coal cannot be dropped!
I look forward to teaching my son about gardening and hopefully in the near future I can post some useful advice on gardening with toddlers. He has already experienced the joy of growing your own food - last summer he would crawl to my tomatoes and devour the fruit straight from the plant. This year he might be able to help me pinch out the side shoots!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

My Garden: 4th March 2015

So we had snow this week but Spring has definitely arrived because I got my first seeds planted this week. It's too early to put anything in the ground uncovered but there are plenty you can start off indoors. It's a good time to sow your tomatoes inside on a sunny window (if you have a propagator or heated pad, you could sow as early as January). I sowed a mix of Sungold Select, Black Cherry (both cherry varieties grown locally in Skibbereen by Brown Envelope Seeds and some leftover Moneymakers from last year.

Outside under plastic, I sowed two trays with a mix of spinach, rocket, pak choi, coriander and dill, all hardy enough vegetables. I neglected do any salad greens last year, concentrating too much on brassicas, but I won't make the same mistake again. Brocolli (calabrese and purple sprouting) and brussels sprouts are the only brassicas I'll bother with this year.

Speaking of purple sprouting broccoli, we are currently eating those pretty little florets. Sown last April, it is a long maturing vegetable but a welcome one during the otherwise unproductive months of February and March. Brasssicas really are the champions of the winter months. They withstand the cruel winter temperatures and actually flourish after a bit of frost.
I have two broad bean plants under plastic but I've started to harden them off by putting them out during the day. One is looking quite healthy but the picture below shows the other plant has started to blacken around the edges of the leaves. I think it is a case of leaf burn. I remember the last time I overwintered broad beans under plastic, I had the same problem of blackened leaves. The plants still thrived once they were planted out, so I'm not too worried.

I'll leave you with a photo of pretty narcissus brightening up the battered swing frame.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Community Spirit and Buying Local

I've been thinking a lot about "community" the last few years - the almost unseen efforts made by ordinary people to keep a town or village alive. Suddenly I realise those pretty flowers in the middle of the roundabout didn't grow wild, those educational talks didn't organise themselves and that farmer's market didn't appear out of thin air. Did you ever wish a certain group or class was operational in your area without realising that maybe you should be the person to make it happen? Many of us are now living away from our family and the friends we grew up with. We have to create our own community support, and this can be difficult. A mutual hobby is an almost effortless way to meet like minded people. I've always held the belief that a single hobby goes a long way to enriching a life. It gives you something to feel useful about, something to talk about and something you can teach others about. Overall, it can give you confidence and that spills over into other aspects of your life.

How can you find out what is happening in your area?

Think small. The library is a good place to start, the local area/church newsletter or the noticeboard in the local supermarket. An internet search probably won't be the most effective way but maybe your town or village has a Facebook page that keeps up to date with local goings-on. The amount of [often free] interesting events organised might surprise you.

What prompted this post? Well I was in my local library recently and the librarian, on seeing that I had checked out a book on healing gardens, gave me a flyer for an upcoming talk in a local hall. The event was organised the GIY fraction in Passage/GlenwoodMonkstown and the speaker was Madeline McKeever of Brown Envelope Seeds, an organic seed producing company that operates out of Turk Head, near Skibbereen. The subject was seed saving - something I have started experimenting with. It couldn't have come at a better time for me. Having a young nursing toddler I am happily limited in my socialising. If given the choice, I'd much rather meet people at something interesting and educational and be home before ten! There was a great turnout of at least 50 people, much more than expected, we donated a few euro each, got tea and cake and were able to buy locally produced seeds after hearing from the grower herself about her history and methods.

It's one thing going to your local garden centre or co-op and buying a bunch of seeds - the choice is overwhelming and the prices can be cheap - but to listen to someone speak about how they choose, grow, nurture, harvest and clean the seed in your local environment is far more inspiring to be a part of. It makes sense that the seed should thrive in your back garden as it was reared in the same conditions. I'll let you know in a few months!

So what did I buy? Firstly I bought two varieties of cherry tomato - Sungold Select and Black Cherry. Since I am still obsessed with beetroot, I had to expand beyond the comfort of the popular Bolthardy and bought a pretty breed called Chioggia which is pink skinned with pink and white flesh in a concentric circle design. Lastly, I looked ahead to the winter months and bought seeds for a salad leaf that any reader of Joy Larkcom will be familiar with - Winter Purslane. By all accounts it grows like a weed and is frost hardy, making it sound like an ideal source of vitamin C. Putting them into my seed box and seeing all the cheap multi packs of seeds I've bought over the years made me slightly wish I was starting off again so I could buy local as much as possible. I'd buy less but hopefully increase the quality of my seeds.

If you want to start buying Irish produced seeds, check out Brown Envelope Seeds and Irish Seedsavers. If you know of any others, let me know!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thoughts on the Winter Garden

I have to share a wonderful quote I heard today that expresses perfectly how a gardener feels during the long winter season:

From December to March, there are for many of us three gardens - the garden outdoors, the garden of pots and bowls in the house, and the garden of the mind's eye.

Katherine S. White

If only I could get real life to reflect the lavish creation of my mind's eye.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Photographs of the Stages of a Tomato Plant

I haven't planted a single seed yet this year and I need to get cracking. This time last year, my tomato seedlings were thirteen days old. The only suitable place I have indoors is one little south facing bedroom window sill (my kitchen window is covered in herbs, cacti and succulents) so I can't afford to lose my seedlings.
Thinking about tomato seeds has made me nostalgic for last years journey from leggy seedlings to scraggly plants, building up to lavish foliage, blossoming into sweet yellow flowers, exploding into firm greenness and finally bursting into rosy red sweetness. I've compiled a photo diary of the progression of my old reliable Moneymaker tomatoes, which were grown outside. I put them out a little early and they took a battering from the wind (I am missing a photo of the plants just before they were put outside - they were healthy and starting to fill out). Some of the stems even cracked, as you can see in the third photo, but they all recovered. The fourth photo shows the cracked stem has grown back some leaves.


The stem cracked on this plant so I bound it together with insulating tape - worked perfectly.



I love when the plant is at this stage with its mix of red, yellow, orange and green. You'll notice that I have removed most of the leaves - this is so more of the plant's energy can go into fruit production.



Most of the tomatoes were eaten straight off the plant, while we enjoyed the gorgeous weather that lasted for months. This batch went towards making delicious, rich, sticky relish that the party goers ate the day of my son's first birthday. You can see the recipe here. I had made the relish countless times before with cheap supermarket tomatoes but the result when I used my own organic home grown tomatoes was not like anything I had made before. The relish was darker, more intense and far superior. If I ever found it hard to justify spending extra on local, organic produce when the supermarket offers the same products for much cheaper, this relish made the difference in quality so obvious.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My Garden: 11th February 2015

It's been a while since I've posted an photo diary of my garden. The last month has been cold and uninviting and my trips to the end of the garden have been fleeting and only when necessary. Now the first flashes of spring colour are erupting and suddenly the garden is a comforting place to be, once again.

These delicate crocuses will be my first flower of the new year:

Hyacinths are another bloom I am looking forward to witnessing in full flower:

My daffodils and narcissuses have multiplied over the last few years developing into little bunches of flowers where originally only one flower stood. As you can see, I am not lawn proud although the grass has yet to be cut this year:

Now to the back garden where the good stuff stands. Even though I haven't been very productive outdoors over winter, I still have quite a bit going on from plants that are producing food for us to eat at the moment, to plants that won't be mature for another few months.

One lonely leek remains:

Back in the Autumn I covered the neighbouring onions (Senshyu sets) in a layer of seaweed that had washed up on shore after a storm:

As you can see, the seaweed has completely decomposed into the soil:

My garlic is coming up strong. I bought four seed bulbs for planting last autumn (Provence Wight, Iberian Wight, Early Purple and Solent) along with one bulb of Iberian saved from my own harvest. By planting that amount I was hoping for a harvest of one bulb per week for the following year, plus some left over for planting next season. Finally, I would be self sufficient in one crop!  I planted my own bulb and the Solent, keeping the others for later planting....and I lost the damn things. I've searched the house with no luck. I couldn't bring myself to pay for more bulbs and resigned myself to the hope that they would turn up in time for late winter planting. Well it's February now so I think that ship has sailed.

Finally after almost a year after sowing the seeds, my purple sprouting broccoli is starting to produce a beautiful colourful head:

I have eight plants, far too much for one family, but they are not all looking quite so healthy. Fat pigeons have been perching on top and dining to their hearts content. It's time to pull out the netting again:

Finally, my broad beans have been coming along under cover.  I took them out for a breath of fresh air today. I have only two plants out of about six seeds planted. I should have planted more.