Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Hopes and Dreams for the Vegetable Garden 2016

It's January, it's cold and wet and the garden is a hostile place, overgrown, mucky and dishevelled. But your mind is full of warmth, colour, shapes and tastes. You can envision your garden as it could be, not as it is now. Suddenly you remember that you had the same lavish thoughts last year, and reality didn't quite play game. But this year will be your year. You're sure of it this time.

Reasons 2016 will outshine 2015:

1. I have new beds cleared and have relocated my raised beds to allow access on all sides, making weeding easier.

2. My rabbit moved on to greener pastures meaning the gladiolus and primroses that she demolished before they had time to flower will get a second chance.

3. I have put in the ground work in what, I hope, will be my pièce de résistance - a large curved bed with a mix of vegetables and decorative plants of various heights and colour. Now I have to gradually add to it as the year goes on.

4. I have bought fresh seeds for my main vegetable crop (most of what I used last year were old seeds) and a nice selection of flowers keeping in mind those that would make good cut flowers, and those that attract pollinators.

5. I read The Edible Garden by Alice Fowler and it helped to move my mind-set beyond the traditional vegetable beds to a more harmonious pairing of edibles and ornamentals.

6. Surely the weather will be better than last year?..........

Vegetables I plan to grow:

Garlic - already in the ground/modules

Broad beans - already in the ground/modules

Onions - already in the ground

Purple Sprouting Broccoli - already in the ground and by the time I am eating this crop it will almost be time to sow next year's seeds.

Tomatoes - to be planted indoors soon. This year I am expanding beyond the cherry tomato variety and trying a wicked looking beefsteak variety called Ananas.

Beetroot - I want a lot of beetroot for making chutney and soup. Last year I grew the Chioggia variety which has a vivid pink and white concentric pattern inside but I preferred the flavour of the bog standard Bolthardy. However, I grew them in poor soil in containers so I'll try again, to compliment my main crop.

Carrots - I must get coarse sand to add to carrot bed

Peas - I've only grown mange tout up to now, but I've realised that we prefer garden peas so I've bought some new seeds. I still have mange tout seeds that I saved from my own plants so they'll be sown also.

Spinach - love me spinach.

Leeks - I grew leeks two years ago and they were delectable. Definitely one of the vegetables where the superiority in taste of home-grown versus shop-bought was most apparent. I've previously written on how to grow leeks successfully.

Courgette - it's a vegetable I never really ate until I grew it last year and I am already looking forward a freshly picked courgette cooked in butter. Along with the standard variety, I have ordered seeds for a funny little yellow duck shaped breed just because I can.

Potatoes - I am undecided about growing spuds but I think it is worth growing a few for the earlies, which are pretty expensive to buy. It's probably time to buy my seed potatoes so they'll be well chitted before planting (traditionally on Paddy's Day).

Herbs will include basil, coriander and dill.

That's about everything. Next is to make a list of the equipment I need and stock up. I need more seed trays and support canes and of course, lots of compost.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

My Garden: 24th December 2015

Happy Christmas all. I haven't posted in ages because anytime I get a chance to take photos, night has already fallen. At least we have gotten through the shortest day of the year and are looking towards the light.  The weather has been dismally wet for weeks now. A lawn enthusiast would cry to see me walking over the boggy grass. Although it appears our drainage is pretty good; the grass is soggy but not holding puddles of water.
Despite the unfriendly conditions, I get a warm feeling when I look at the vegetables growing in my garden. I have garlic, onions, purple sprouting broccoli, broad beans and lambs lettuce. I've said it before (to myself perhaps) that Autumn/Winter is possibly my favourite time of year for gardening. Options are limited which means you are more likely to do things properly. Growth is slower so problems are smaller and pests are reduced.
In this bed I have Early Purple Wight garlic:
And under cover in modules I have Solent Wight and Lautrec Wight garlic, which will be planted out in Spring:

I have broad beans in modules which are being kept under cover. The mild temperatures have led to more growth than expected so I wonder if I should move them to bigger pots. For the meantime, they are looking nice and healthy so I'll leave them be:

Other broad beans are in the ground, framing the new bed I dug in the Autumn. The last of the seaweed mulch is being turned to soil:

I have many purple sprouting broccoli plants but only one producing food yet. This plant is from last year and is miles ahead of the others. It's my first time treating a vegetable as a biannual and I am delighted to get a second harvest:

Wallflowers are showing a splash of colour and you'd be forgiven for thinking the purple flowers belong to the broccoli plant in front of them:

Some lambs lettuce takes shelter in the corner of a window box. I like to call this my "snack box":


Senshyu onions in their bed. They look a little crowded but hopefully as I pick the small onions, room will be given to allow others to swell:

That's all the highlights from the garden. Till next year...

Friday, 6 November 2015

My Garden: 5th November 2015

I love gardening and writing about gardening this time of year. The jobs are bigger - digging and covering beds, clearing leaves, tidying away spent plants - and the dreams are bigger. It's a time for reading books and making plans for next year, thinking of your regrets and failures in the year gone by and about how to emulate your successes. I have lists written on scraps of paper all around the house and open books left on every seat. Plus the autumnal colours of my blog design become more relevant.

My most recent read was Alys Fowler's The Edible Garden which I picked up in Carrigaline library. I had taken my two year old out for an afternoon walk and when he unexpectedly fell asleep, I decided to park up in the library to relax and enjoy a read while he slept. I couldn't have chosen a more beautiful book for leafing through. Her garden is built on the premise of polyculture which is the mingling of plants for different purposes together, rather thank having, say, a vegetable plot and separate flower beds. It's something we hear of in companion planting tips - planting basil among the tomatoes to improve flavours, sweet peas with your brassicas to add nitrogen to the soil - but so far my efforts have manifested in tiny, awkwardly placed flowers at the edge of my vegetable beds. Looking at the photos in Alys's book, I realised that I have been doing it all wrong. Her sumptuous Birmingham garden is fabulously chaotic with fruit, flowers and vegetables of different colours, heights and textures intermingled with each other leaving virtually no uncovered ground.

So I've started trying to patch things together. I am slowly filling a patch of ground that was uncovered after we cleared a hugely overgrown bush and for the first time I am thinking about the overall aesthetic rather than the individual plant. In the background of the photo below you can see wallflowers on the left, Euyonomous in the middle and on the right what I think is Lonicera nitida or box honeysuckle. In the middle is purple sprouting broccoli and onions with pansies in the foreground. Hopefully when the plants fill out, and with more added, it will create a nice effect.

In other areas of the garden, I have dug a new bed by removing the top sod, digging the ground underneath and covering with the turned sod, so the grass side faces down. Over that I placed a layer of cardboard, which I have covered with loads of compost from the heap in the garden Finally, a layer of seaweed, which was washed up on a local beach after bad weather, has been spread over the top. Hopefully by the time the planting out season comes April/May, the bed will have good soil structure and be filled with nutrients. At the edge of the bed are Brussels sprouts, broccoli and broad beans:

This year I ordered my garlic from quickcrop.ie again, which I've found to be the best stockists for choice, quality and speed of delivery. I even got two extra heads of garlic in my order! I am trying Lautrec (hardneck variety), early Purple Wight and Iberian Wight I've planted my garlic in a raised bed but I've also put some in modules in a cold frame for planting out in the spring, as I've read that this can have good results. I'm hoping I've made a good choice as the hardneck and the early won't store too well. I plan on eating the early fresh so I can pick as needed, then using the hardneck and finally the Iberian, which I have planted more of as they will store well. The heads under cover have started to poke out:

In my front garden I am tidying up the old flowers. I've saved the seed from my Crocosmia Lucifer, for planting later:

My rose bush has flowered for the second time this year, the first time it has ever flowered twice, but with the Autumn winds, the flower fell apart quickly after blooming. Not to waste them, I gathered them up and placed in a jar of water. It looks very pretty on my kitchen window sill and smells gorgeous.

That's about the main news from my garden. My next big job is to attack an overgrown raised bed frame so I can move it out from the wall to the middle of the garden making it easier to maintain as I will be able to access all four sides and won't have to deal with thick coarse grass growing up between the fence and the wooden frame. It's a lovely big frame and I can't wait to put it to use.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Green Tomato Chutney

So 2015 was a dismal year for my tomatoes unless you like tiny green ones. However, after making the following recipe, I have discovered that I like tiny green tomatoes very much. I will no longer fear a crop that refuses to ripen now that I have found a way to use them. I got this recipe from one of my favourite cook books - Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen. It tastes along the lines of a spiced apple chutney, and is quite Christmassy making it a perfect food gift. It is simple, once the tedious peeling and chopping is taken care of.


Makes around 1.4 litres

  • 1kg cooking apples, peeled and diced
  • 1kg green tomatoes, chopped (no need to peel)
  • 450g onions, peeling and diced
  • 450g sultanas
  • 350g white granulated sugar
  • 350g Demerara sugar
  • 2tsp ground ginger
  • 2tsp all spice
  • 2tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 900ml white wine vinegar


Put everything in a large pot, leaving the vinegar until last to help dissolve the spices and sugar and mix well.

Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 45mins - 1 hour uncovered, or until the mixture has thickened and reduced by half. Stir regularly throughout the cooking to prevent sticking, keeping a close eye on it towards the end of the cooking.

How it looked at the end of cooking:


Pour the hot mixture into hot sterilised jars and seal immediately to help the jars form a tight seal.

Use jars with non-reactive lids (plastic coating on the inside) so the metal won't react with the vinegar. If you are reusing jars, those from relishes, chutneys and pickles should be ideal.

Ideally leave to mature in the jar for at least two weeks but I recommend saving some of the hot fresh chutney for your dinner today. I had mine with a pork chop and mash - divine.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Promoting Local Organisations

I love browsing informative websites that are gardening and nature orientated, but find myself constantly drawn to British organisations. Their standard is not to be denied and the country has a long history of conservation and study but it suddenly occurred to me that it is ridiculous I am not automatically seeking out Irish resources that are dealing with my native environment. I became aware of it while I was browsing The [British] Wildlife Trusts website and I thought, maybe there is an Irish Wildlife Trust? And of course there is!

Similarly, I’ve always admired the community gardens springing up around the UK. We spent a weekend in Bristol a few years ago and were amazed walking through the public parks to see vegetables growing among the flowers. I since discovered the Incredible Edible Bristol movement through an excelled TED TALK by one of the founders Pam Warhurst. Then while out for a drink with a friend one night, she introduced me to a woman who was just about to embark on a community garden in Knocknaheeny/Hollyhill, Cork City, which is now going strong. It made me realise that this was happening in my own locality. This year I learned that a community garden had opened in Dunmanway, the town I attended secondary school in. A GIY group meets every month in Passage West holding practical demonstrations such as apple pressing and Indian cooking and visits to local polytunnels and gardens. Cork is full of interesting people doing fascinating things.

An enlightening little publication that has taken off this year is The West Fork, a supplement with The Southern Star newspaper that features profiles on Cork food producers, from those who harvest the raw materials to the people who create the finished product. The most recent edition introduced me to specialist businesses such as Roaring Water Sea Vegetables who farm seaweed and sell it as a dried product and Ruby Harte Floral Design in Drimoleague who can create an edible bouquet for you.

Buying all local produce is undeniably expensive but maybe do as I have and start replacing one big brand product with a local variety every week. So the next time I go to buy a supermarket own brand box of biscuits, I'll stretch the extra euro and choose a box of Régale Cookies Of Character that are handmade in West Cork using Clonakilty free range eggs and local unsalted butter among other local ingredients. Or I'll bring my salad to the next level by trying some Macroom Buffalo mozzarella, from the only milk producing buffalo herd in the country. Cork is vibrant and innovative and it is a joy to take an invested interest in promoting my local economy. 


Monday, 5 October 2015

Outdoor Activities for Toddlers in and around Carrigaline

Toddlerhood is a fabulous time for exploring the world with your child. They are so excited and enthusiastic about the smallest detail - a plane in the sky or water flowing from a pipe. It's also a challenging time to be outside of the house as it is so difficult to give them the freedom they desire while keeping them safe. Structured play centres including playgrounds and indoor fun houses, although ideal in theory, are sometimes not so suitable for the younger toddler. Or maybe just my toddler who is more interested in fire escapes, hydrants, opening doors and running for the hills than playing with swings and ball ponds. Here are some of the things we like to do in Carrigaline and the surrounding areas. All are free of charge and outdoor.

1. Fountainstown Beach at Low Tide

I usually park in the car park and walk to the furthest end of the beach by road with small man in the buggy. He's only just two years old so is still happy to be wheeled around, thankfully. The front strand is quite rocky so I find the far side of the beach to be much more child-friendly as there is a huge stretch of flat sand with shallow pools of water. Here they can have a really good run and splash around without going near the actual sea. Obviously fine weather is the optimum time for this but I am thinking about buying some neoprene waders so he can splash through water in all weather without a chance of getting soaked through.

2. Monkstown Wall and Playground

Another buggy walk, Monkstown Wall provides plenty to see from marine birds, wind turbines, speed boats, anglers, dog walkers, and my son is particularly fond of a pipe on the opposite side of the road that gushes out water coming from a stream. If you bring some food, there are plenty benches with a scenic view for some al fresco dining. For a run-around, there is a small playground opposite The Monkstown Inn on Glen Road. Although in excellent condition, it is not a great playground for very young children - there is no baby swing which is surprising - but it is well enclosed and there is a stream running alongside it (at the other side of the railings) which should interest a toddler.

3. Near the Ferry Terminal at Ringaskiddy

A popular loop walk starts from a small public car park by the ferry terminal entrance. It is not really suitable for a buggy as the path gets quite narrow and stony in places but is ideal for a sling or a toddler you can trust to walk safely alongside you. There are meandering paths through brambles with some open spaces but some of the path runs right next to the water. The view of Cork Harbour is spectacular. It is an unbelievable place for spotting rabbits - they are everywhere but watch out for the holes in the ground as some of them are quite large. A toddler running around excitedly could easily let their foot slip through. They wouldn't fall in or anything but I'd be worried about breaking or spraining an ankle. It is also a wonderful place for blackberry picking and if you are carrying your toddler on your back, you can do the picking and hand them berries over your shoulder while you walk around. Pure bliss.

There is a playground in Ringaskiddy village.

4. Camden, Crosshaven

The area around the fort is a lovely area for a walk, blackberry picking and watching huge cruise liners coming into Cobh. The views are unbelievable. I'm not a swimmer but gazing at the sea on a calm day makes me dream of leaping from a diving board in the sky and plunging into the shimmering, cool aquamarine expanse. It's lovely to see random people gather just to enjoy the scene in front of them. If you walk up beyond the car park, there is a football pitch that, if empty, is a great place to let your little one have a run around. There are great views from here also. And of course you can visit the fort but it currently only opens during the summer weekends.

There is a great playground in Crosshaven village.

5. Weaver's Point, Crosshaven

When you approach the roundabout in Crosshaven, coming from Carrigaline, take the third exit which leads you up past the graveyard. This road will take you to Weaver's Point, a road of amazing houses with extraordinary views. There is a viewing point where you can park and from here there are a few little paths that will take you down to a walk that runs along the side of a grassy cliff (I use the term "cliff" loosely - although it is steep in a few places). This is a perfect walk for sling wearers. The views make you feel like you are holidaying on an exotic island (I suppose Ireland is an exotic island for a lot of people) and you can eventually descend onto a little beach. At places the path opens out into big grassy flats that allow you to really immerse yourself in your surroundings and give older, responsible children a place to run around.

6. Carrigaline-Crosshaven Railway Walk

This is a mostly off-road linear walk and cycle path that runs along the water. It's 5km in length and is an extremely easy and pleasant walk. The car park nearest to Carrigaline town is often serviced by Lulus, a bright pink van serving drinks and treats with plenty seating. The coffee is amazing and the cake slices are moist and generous. Along the walk, at this time of year, you'll find blackberries, sloes, elderberries and hawthorn berries. The walk is dotted with benches for you to sit back and enjoy your surroundings. If you have a bicycle with a child carrier, this is a great safe cycle for you. At the end of the walk, on the Crosshaven side, is Hasset's restaurant which serves great food in a beautiful building.

7. Carrigaline Library Not outdoors I know, but I had to mention it.

The library is located near Dunnes Stores and is a wonderful relaxed place to spend an hour. They have a nicely sized children's section with plenty of seating and a great selection of books. It may stir a bit of nostalgia in you when you see old favourites such as Stone Soup and The Goose Girl. They do story time on a Friday at 3pm and a children's book club on the first Wednesday of every month at 3.30pm. From there you can take a walk up to...

8. Carrigaline Park and Playground

The large duck pond is a banker when it comes to amusing toddlers. Nothing funnier than being circled by a volery of ducks, seagulls and crows as you share a snack on the bench. If you're into rat spotting, which always excites me, the banks of the pond are a good place to see some rodents scurrying around. Beyond the ducks and rats, you can walk along the Owenabue river, preferably not at low tide so you're not "looking at shit" as my other half would say. Down here you can pick blackberries at this time of year and walk back on the other side of the pond. The park is dotted with public gym equipment for adults and has a large playground divided in to two - for older and younger children. Of course my escapee gives about five minutes exploring the play things until he makes a run for the exit but in general it's a pretty good playground.

Hopefully I've given you a few places to explore. Enjoy!

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Hydrangeas As Cut Flowers

I am only beginning to take an active interest in flowers and have started slowly adding plants to my garden. The choice in my local garden centre is over-whelming, and can be expensive, so I am taking my time to build up my collection, thinking about plants for specific purposes.

One desire of mine is to grow flowers for cutting. Having received a beautiful Hydrangea macrophylla Soft Pink Salsa for my birthday, I started experimenting with cutting the tumbling blooms for my pretty beer glass-turned vase (pictured above).

A quick search online brought me to an excellent site on all things hydrangea where I read about the hot water method of prolonging the life of the cut flowers. It works incredibly well and I've gotten almost a week out of some blossoms. Here's what I do:

1. Fill your vase with water.

2. Make yourself a cup of tea and save a cup of boiling water. Leave both in the kitchen.

3. Bring a scissors and a jar of cold water to the garden.

4. Pick a good looking bloom and cut at an angle, leaving enough stem to suit your vase.

5. Put the bloom straight into the cup of cold water and return to the kitchen.

6. Pick any leaves off and sit the bloom into the cup of just boiled water for 30 seconds. The stem will turn brown and this is good. I have found that if I don't leave the bloom in the hot water long enough, the stem won't turn brown and the flower will be wilted the next day. The reason for the hot water is that is removes the thick sap from the stem that prevents the bloom from taking up water. It's a plant that likes a lot of water and the clue is in the name - hydra.

7. Remove from the hot water, pop into your vase and position for all to see.

8. Enjoy your cup of tea while looking at your flower arrangement. I've added a few stalks of lavender to mine.