Sunday, February 28, 2010

Inch by Inch...row by row...

When we took over the second plot last year the area behind the greenhouse was completely overgrown with thistles and teasles and brambles.We cleared it and discovered this old cold frame lurking underneath
We filled the cold frame with compost and grew courgettes and tried a mushroom experiment which came to nothing as we found out that to grow mushrooms from seed temperatures are crucial.

This is the same area today! I went out to the plot at 12 and did not come home until nearly 6.I also had to call in reinforcements from time to time. Kathryn and David came up to break up the cold frame and take the pieces up to the compost heap.Gemma kept me company for most of the afternoon making tea and taking wheelbarrow loads up to the compost heap for me.
I recycled the back part of the cold frame, I dug a trench down inside the wire sinking the timber to hopefully stop weeds etc growing through from the pathway at the back. I kept digging down the length of the bed which is about 20 feet as it is the full width of the plot.The end of the bed was the hardest as it had not been dug ever I think. There was carpet underlay buried and roots like ropes underneath which took some tugging to get out.Couch grass roots were plentiful and back breaking to keep bending down to pull them out.I went back to the compost heap and recycled some more of the old timber to frame the bed.
This is a completely new bed and is earmarked for potatoes this year.We are down to the wire with both plots now, it has taken some time but all of the hard digging is now finished!
I was alone for most of the day ,other plotters came and went but I decided to stick with it as it was a lovely sunny afternoon with just one quick hail shower to contend with.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Spring Sunshine

It was a beautiful sunny day today despite the dismal weather forecast, Kevin and myself headed out to the plot in the early afternoon. It was Kevin's first day on the plot this year and he checked out everything, he cleared a lot of debris for me like old sprout and sunflower stems because we had left the seed heads for the birds over winter and they had been picked clean.Kevin took all of them up to the main compost heap which Zwena has had redug exposing the well rotted compost for the plotters.This is Kevin digging out a bed, this year he is old enough to use a full size fork and he was giving it welly literally!
The neat bed in the foreground has red onions (red baron) in it since today. We have not had much luck with red onions in the past as they go to seed, I am hoping putting them in now while we still have this cold frosty snap will help to slow them down a little.Today is what we here in Ireland call a 'pet day' to be enjoyed but aware that it does not mean Summer is here!
I dug a drill for the strawberries and moved the ones off the fruit bed into it.The foliage on the bushes shaded the plants too much blocking sunshine.Strawberries I believe do better in drills as they are raised off of the ground, we will test this theory this year.I have lots of runners for new plants in the greenhouse which will be put into a second drill, these ones are now entering their second year and three years is their optimum harvesting period.
I moved some boards and made a pathway today, this is it under construction. Black membrane covered with bark chippings. The bed to the right has been covered all winter and is a second onion bed which should be planted up by next week depending on the weather
Something has been eating the leeks which had put on a spurt of growth the last couple of weeks.I did not think rabbits would eat them but they are the obvious culprits I think, especially as we saw quite a few of them hopping around the drive way as we drove up!
Zwena has done a lot of work on the site since I was out there last, new gravel pathways have been laid to make wheel barrow pushing much easier, she has also put in a new gate at the top of this path to make accessing the compost heap easier for us instead of going around the toilet block to it.Yes that is Kevin disappearing into the distance!
There were quite a few people working today enjoying the sunshine and getting some much needed spade work done for the new crops to go in.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Seed Potatoes

I bought seeds of second earlies yesterday and have put them in the egg box incubators in the plastic greenhouse.These ones are Maris Peers, ideal for wedges,boiling and salad.There were 12 for 2.99e and are rated as high yield.
Wilja another second early, ideal for boiling roasting and chips so that should be all tastes catered for.There were 10 for 2.99 but the two together were only 5.00e.It must be a sign of the huge interest in growing your own that there is such a lot of seed potatoes available and also a lot of different varieties. We have not had these two before so it will be interesting to compare yields and taste.
The first earlies Colleen are chitting nicely and we have had no unwelcome visitors so far but I am keeping ,my fingers crossed!
The cauliflower and cabbage are finally setting their second true leaves, they will be transplanted into 3" pots early next week to grow on and I will plant more seeds to stagger the harvest (hopefully)
The Cos lettuce are growing in their planters and the frosty nights and cold temps don't seem to have bothered them
Today has been very windy so I tied the shelves to the greenhouse frames with cable ties I am hoping they will also secure the frame in position, last year in the mini greenhouses the shelves blew down on a really windy night.
Lynda from Wales left a comment on my previous post and I visited her blog,we share some of the same hobbies like gardening and knitting. I was delighted to find she had a post and links to Moon planting and gardeners calender.I have signed up for the Gardeners newsletter Lynda so I will receive an email each Thursday with a planting guide for the week!
Thanks Lynda!

Monday, February 22, 2010

....on a cold and frosty morning

I know the rhyme is 'here we go gathering nuts in May' but hopefully we will be finished with frost by then but for the moment we have to contend with it.We are back to a spell of severe weather with freezing temps and frost but not quite as bad as earlier in the year.The upside of the clear frosty weather is sunny bright days not the usual gloomy days we experience here at this time of year.A cheery start to the post is my single crocus is now 3 and the daffs are budding up nicely.
I bought these chives in Lidl for 99c last week,put them into a pot in their own pot, watered them and they are growing, great to have to hand for sandwiches etc and look cheerful on the kitchen windowsill as an added bonus!
I wondered what these green shoots were pushing through and remembered they are my chives from last year and yes that is frost all round
I used my stash of loo rolls to set peas this morning.They are Oregon super pod Mangetout.The funnel was made from the neck of a 3 litre mineral bottle (from the recycling stash)it was much easier and cleaner for filling the tubes with compost.They will be brought indoors tonight.
The left side of the plastic greenhouse, I lined it last week with bubble wrap after reading about it on Veg and Flower time blog.I bought the roll in B&Q for 20e and while there are clips to attach to a greenhouse frame I just draped it over the bars here.It does hold heat inside, I was actually amazed the first morning I opened up the flap and that was after a night of frost.
The seed potatoes are coming outdoors now as they have been on the bedroom windowsill chitting up to now. I hope I am not tempting fate after last years fiasco!The cauliflower and cabbage seedlings are only just developing their true leaves so I will leave them in the seed trays for another few days. They also go indoors at night.
The green trays were bought in Aldi yesterday , 3 trays,3 seed modules and 3 lids for 4.99e which is not a bad price.They also have a stock of fruit trees if anyone is interested for 4.99, now is the time to buy while they are fresh and not exposed to the heating instore for a few weeks.
Right side,Spring onions , set about 5 or 6 to a module when planting out they are already bunched and should need no further thinning being allowed to grow on as a bunch for picking. I read that handy info on Blackvillage blog.
A tray of Musselburgh leeks, which we were very happy with last year so see no reason to change.
A tray of white onion sets a donation from Mike on the allotment.
Underneath the winter cos lettuce,transplanted this morning. I will leave them grow on in these containers. I put compost from the bins underneath the bagged compost to give them a head start.They will be left out in the greenhouse now after being hardened off each day for the last week or so, again maybe I am being over optimistic but they are at the house side of the greenhouse so should be protected from frost.
The seed trays are covered with a layer of vermiculite which I found under the stairs since last year!
The view into the greenhouse, lots of room to fill yet but I am not setting too many seeds too soon as if the weather deteriorates I need to be able to bring them into the house overnight!My Rosemary seems to be suffering from the fresh frosts, it survived all winter but may have put out new shoots in the last couple of weeks, I used the end of the 3 litre bottle to put a cloche over it but had uploaded my pics by the time I had thought of doing that.The new occupants of the bedroom windowsill, Red salad onion Purplette set 5 or 6 to a module again, Bedford Darkmar Brussel sprouts and Medina Spinach both of which we grew last year and were very pleased with the return.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wartime Gardener


Cabbage does remarkable work in clearing the complexion,making cheeks pink,lips red and infusing you with vitality. Ministry of Food ad,Sept 1944

If that does not make you go out and grow your own veg nothing will!The history of allotments especially during the war years is the subject of an exhibition open from now until Jan 2011 so anyone making a trip to London should try to visit ,the admission prices are very reasonable and attractive for families to visit.

I visited nipitinthebud today and was fascinated by her post on the ministry of food exhibition and blog.The above is from her blog and there are links to videos etc.
Any available land was dug up and planted even in schools. I saw this pic of school children enthusiastically getting stuck in and became immediately aware of the lack of safety boots,gloves,goggles,hard hats,all of which would be de rigour today if we were to find ourselves in this position!This of course was before Nanny states took over or more to the point we allowed them to take over and any sort of spontaneous action is frowned upon.
I wonder how many injuries were reported and sued for?!
The Ministry of Food blog
and nip on over to nipitinthebud to read the full post and follow the links to videos etc.I have been twice already and will be visiting again as it is one of the most interesting reads I have come across!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Spring Cleaning/moving/pancakes

This is the plastic greenhouse which I got last year.I moved it to this new position today hopefully now in full sun. The wind could get at it here which is why I am trying to anchor it down all round. Sam stays out of harms way when he sees me in this cleaning/moving mode!
This is the view up the garden, the greenhouse did occupy the space between the shed and the hedge.While it was a great position for the greenhouse as regards safety during storms and wind,(it survived the winter) it was not such a good position for the plants inside as the sunshine was limited and I think this was the downfall of a lot of plants in it last year.The bags scattered around are full of the winter debris for the dump.I emptied old compost from the pots into the flower bed.My soil here is rocky so I keep filling the bed with any compost or soil I can.
Today was a sunny day if cold, there were some falls of snow in parts of north Cork early today! I decided to bring the seedlings out for an airing to the newly located greenhouse.They will go indoors again tonight.The winter Cos lettuce has put out true leaves so I will transplant them over the weekend into larger pots or trays to grow on.
Lasagna waiting to go into the oven, I have a Spanish student staying for a few weeks but I am sure she will not mind eating Italian! The student has offered to cook some authentic Spanish dishes like Frittata and Paella, she is staying for a month so we will do that soon.
Today is Shrove Tuesday and traditionally we have eaten pancakes on that day.Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday a day of fast and abstinence in the Catholic calender. I have heard it said that pancakes came about as housewives were emptying the cupboards of goodies before the rigours of the Lenten fasting began but that does not make sense to me.
I would think the cupboards had been cleared and by today all that was left in storage were the basics of flour milk and eggs and the housewife had to make do.
The traditional way of eating them is to sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice, but I cannot imagine lemons being a staple in the cupboards of rural Ireland!Flour eggs and milk make the basic mixture, I have never been a 'tosser' preferring to 'flip' instead, knowing if I missed the pan then I would have to be the one to clean up the sticky mess from floor or ceiling!
I made a couple for the girls this afternoon and had one myself just to test the mixture you understand!We can now buy such exotic items as vanilla sugar to sprinkle but for me it is hard to beat the good old Lyles Golden Syrup!
I read of carnivals held in the run up to Lent in other parts of the world like Rio de Janeiro, Venice etc and cannot fathom why we the Irish who love nothing better than a good old knees up settled for a few frugal pancakes before 7 weeks of Lenten fasting?!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bed Hopping


Bed hopping or to be really technical crop rotation is causing us some problems this year. The first year on a plot is no trouble just sow whatever where ever takes your fancy, even the second year was easy for us as we extended the plot digging previously overgrown beds.
Last year we had the second plot so were able to move stuff around, again no problems.
This year all of the beds have now had at least one crop so rotating them is now important to offset any danger of infestation of the various bugs and diseases that can attack when the same crops are grown in the same position year after year.
It should be easy enough one would think,lots of books and advice out there,and there begins the problem!I have 5 or 6 organic/gardening books written by knowledgeable gardeners but they often do not agree on what follows what or even what belongs to the same family!It also seems to depend on whether you have enough ground to rotate crops over a 3 or 4 year cycle.
We had potatoes in 2 beds last year (new beds) I had earmarked these for onions this year as in company with some other veg do not like to be grown on freshly manured soil and perform better on soil that has been manured for a previous crop.
Some say brassicas are a group to themselves and others that they can be put in with roots and onions? I am going with Caroline Foley's The Allotment Handbook' who uses a 4 year rotation system.
Year 1 Potatoes which break up the soil and can take a lot of manuring which feeds the ground for following crops
Year 2 Roots for our purposes roots will cover alliums (onions,leeks,garlic)carrots,parsnips,beetroot
Year 3 Legumes (Peas & Beans)the ground can be manured for these but an organic compost is recommended ( we have a full compost bin at home which will be emptied and taken out) these leave nitrogen in the ground which benefits year 4 crops.
Year 4 Brassicas, cabbage, cauliflower,broccoli,sprouts,turnips.
Sweetcorn can be planted with any of the above groups but should also be moved around every year.Lettuces and fast growing crops can be popped in anywhere as they are not too long in the ground to attract diseases.
Tomatoes will be in the greenhouse with cucumber and peppers as our summers do not encourage outdoor sowings.
The permanent beds with fruit, rhubarb and asparagus will stay as is.
Then you can go on to read about companion planting which is a long list depending on which book you are reading.A shorter list is the antagonists, this list is from Grow your own Organic fruit and vegetables by Christine & Michael Lavelle.
You should always avoid planting the following close together.
Asparagus hates Onions & Potatoes
Beans hate Chives fennel or garlic
Carrots hate Dill
Carrots, cauliflower & Potatoes hate Tomatoes
Peas hate Onions,garlic & shallots
Potatoes hate Pumpkins & squashes

We are putting in a lot of onions,spring onions and shallots.
First and second early potatoes only
Early and later carrot crops and staggering sowings of brassicas
Peas,mange tout, french beans
salad crops

This planning is not easy and I am sure we will get some of it very wrong.Any advice from anyone will be most welcome

I was in B&Q this morning and they have a large gardening section indoors, all the usual bits and bobs but I was interested to see they have 3 different types of raised beds on sale.The boards are of varying heights but all fit together easily with the minimum of effort.There are different sizes to suit any garden if you are thinking of digging out a vegetable patch this year.
1.8 metres x 0.9m 21.85e
1m x 1m 21.85e
1.8m x 1.2m (green) 55.00e
A few bags of compost and one of these and anyone could be growing their own salad crops in a few weeks.

Friday, February 12, 2010

St Valentine


Valentines Day as everyone knows is celebrated on 14th February.It is a a huge money maker for cash strapped stores in the lean period after Christmas, cards flowers and cuddly toys etc are bought and given all over the world to loved ones or soon to beloved ones hopefully!
The 'saint'has more or less been dropped from the name in the interest of global commercialism but a saint there is and the remains/relics of Saint Valentine are reputed to be in a Church in Dublin Ireland!
It is the Carmelite Church in Whitefriars St in Dublin, St Valentine was martyred for performing catholic marriages in the 3rd century and was buried in Rome.A catholic priest was given permission to bring the remains to his own Church in Dublin in the mid 19th century. It was largely unknown until a shrine was built in the 1950s and since then there has been a steady stream of visitors requesting favours of the heart from the saint.
There is a video in Youtube but it cannot be embedded so to view you will have to go to youtube and search for St Valentine Dublin or Google St Valentine Dublin for a list of sites with pictures and story
A Happy St Valentines day to everyone!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Buttons Galore

I finished Callum's
aran jacket last week so today I went to the Cork Button Co. for the buttons. I said I would do a post about the button company some time ago so today I took my camera with me. Years ago aran cardis had leather buttons but I knew these would not be suitable for a child's one which would be washed quite a bit as the dye would eventually run into the wool so I got these lovely imitation look ones for an authentic look.
The button company is an institution even though a lot of Corkonians are not aware of its existence!No cards of buttons here they are all sold from tubes which line the walls.The Button company has moved home a number of times but has always remained in the same area of the city. This is the unimposing modern entrance so come inside to button heaven!
Buttons are grouped in colours and types all around the walls, jewelled and plains and buttons are even dyed especially to order.
Some buttons are even Zworoski crystal. The staff are passionate about getting the right button and will spend ages with a customer to make sure you have exactly what you are looking for.Buckles of all shapes and sizes are also stocked.
Picture framing is another sideline as are all types of sewing 'notions'! Zips, threads, needles,knitting and crochet wools etc.
A side view of the shop with buttons stacked tightly in every available space
The side and end view, the sun was streaming in the window so the shop is in shadow, but you get the idea of button heaven inside.
This picture was made by the owner of the shop from what else but buttons!He used twigs to make the stems of the flowers, the picture is going to be restored and cleaned up.
When I asked to take photos the staff laughed and said it usually foreigners who ask to take photos.Some of them stumble on the shop as they walk around the city, others have heard about it and come looking for it. The shop has been mentioned on blogs by delighted customers. They do not have their own web site but have a page in the Golden pages where they would get a lot of their custom from. You can find that here
A link to a blog from an American living in Cork. The opening times are mentioned here but just to clarify the shop is now open on saturday mornings too
A link to blog of a tourist who set out to find the button company

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pictures tell the Story

Took quite a few photos today as it was sunny, very cold but sunny!I spent a couple of hours on the plot and even though I was digging I needed my jacket and fleece on together.The fields surrounding the allotments were a hive of activity, 2 tractors were ploughing at a great rate. The crows and seagulls were following close behind.
The finished field, this would probably have taken a couple of days of hard physical labour for men and horses in the old days
The second field also ploughed this morning, the seagulls and what seemed like hundreds of swallows darting about the drills
Scarecrow stands guard, behind him the new onion bed which I dug and raked today. I did not plant anything just to give the ground a while to settle and putting my small onions into freezing cold ground probably would not do much good.
The flower bed at the back of the house at home, it was still sunny in the late afternoon so I spent some time pulling out dead frosted leaves and foliage,emptying compost from flower pots and generally tidying up.
I have 2 clumps of crocosimia and they had been burned brown with the frost, I was in the process of pulling away the dead leaves when I noticed bright green underneath! This prompted me to stay out for a while and clean up some more.
A single yellow crocus blooming in the stone flower bed.
The whole flower bed,still needs a lot of care but lots of daffodils are up.
Granny's Bonnet survived the frost and snow, us grannies are tough!
I thought the Peony Rose had had it with just blackened stalks left but when I pulled away the winter debris I found these two little babies peeping up.
The red Hot Poker was another brown slushy specimen but when the brown leaves were removed new growth was trying to come through.
The weather here continues very cold but at least while it is dry we can work outside.