Friday, January 28, 2011

Toasting the Tootsies & Pondering Poultry!

I wrote in a previous post about having no heating for nearly 10 days in the recent freeze up. I had natural gas for heating and cooking ,electricity from the ESB (Electricity Supply Board) which is our state owned/run utility company.When I came into this house 14 years ago, there was only an open coal fire which heated the water in the tank only. We spent one winter freezing, going to bed putting more clothes on than we had taken off, hot water bottles and piles of bedclothes. I got in the gas heating and also took out the solid fuel fire and had a gas fire put in for convenience.It was rarely used ,maybe around Christmas more for atmosphere than anything else.
When I had no means of heating the radiators as the fan in the boiler had given up the ghost the same gas fire could not heat 3 ft in front of it without the back up of the radiator.
I decided then to get the gas fire taken out and revert back to a solid fuel fire as an independent means of heating without being completely reliant on an outside supplier.The heating is now back more efficient than ever but for the last 2 weeks I am enjoying the benefits of an open fire!
I am burning turf at the moment which is beautifully atmospheric as the flames dance with different hues and the smell adds to the enjoyment!
I have not being doing much of anything else really!

My random dyed socks were knitted last year from yarn bought in Aldi, I had not knit socks since being in school but decided to give it a try. There is no wool in this yarn which on hind sight is essential for socks for warmth and keeping their shape in wearing.

The pile of containers to the right of the pic are all empty and for the small Grandchildren to play with when they are here. They make noise and roll and fit into each other and I have always found they give hours of fun to smallies!

Gardening is marking time until the weather allows us outside, severe frost again tonight!

I have been thinking for some time about having some hens?!
I would have them at home in the back garden, 2 or 3 would be more than enough for me and I have been studying houses and runs which come in all shapes ,sizes and prices!
To my way of thinking there is no point in having hens at home if they cannot be free range which to my mind means spending as much time as possible roaming and foraging for themselves. All of the hen houses/runs seem to confine them within their boundaries.
I really know nothing about them, even though my late Mother did keep hens for some time a few years ago.I have been to various websites but they seem to work on the premise you should know what you are looking for and know a certain amount about poultry?!
I need an Infrequently Asked Questions column!

If/can you leave them out around the garden all day if you are at home?
How do you get them rounded up and back in the house at night?!
Are there plants/flowers that they like/ are good for them!
" " " " " " don't like/ harmful to them?
What is an ideal number..2? If I have 3 is one going to be an outsider and hen pecked ?!
Remember those pictures of the Little Red Hen with her pinny tied around her? Not true, hens are very unhouseproud and create a lot!

Great for the garden BUT can it be used straight away on the garden, added to the compost bin or left to stand for some time before using? If it needs to be left in a pile for any length of time then it is not suitable for a small garden in a built up area.
Do hens HAVE to have a rooster in attendance, I don't think my neighbours would take too kindly to a rooster crowing at 5.30 am!

They lay eggs in a nest box, should it have straw/hay for comfort/cleanliness/whatever!

Eggs may need to be washed before using for hygienic

What happens to hens as they get older:
How long do they lay eggs for..months/years?
When they stop laying eggs, are they retired gracefully?!
Do they die a natural death?
Are they killed and eaten?!

Am I analysing this whole thing too much?
I think it is the fumes of the turf fire!
All suggestions/helpful hints/advice appreciated.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Irish Times Potato advice

While browsing Facebook, Kehoes Brilliant Garden Centre caught my eye with this link from last Thurs Irish Times.The said paper was gone by the time I went up to my local shop so I was delighted to see this link as it is from Fionualla Fallon's gardening column. Fionualla is the lady who visited our allotments last year to take some pics and talk to us for inclusion in a forthcoming book she is writing.
The topic of new potatoes is foremost for all veg gardeners at the moment whether we can get out in the garden or not,so this is topical and very interesting.
Kehoes Brilliant garden centre also has a Blog presence in the shape of joyous flowers here

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Recycling & Rethinking!

The new season begins and with it some recycling to start off seeds etc.I have lots of egg boxes which are just the right size and shape to chit the seed potatoes. I heard an advert on local radio during the week saying a garden centre had just got in stocks of seed potatoes already!
I know there is always a debate to chit or not, I have done it for the years I have been on the plot so cannot comment on not chitting.We could try a drill of unchitted and a drill of chitted to see if there is any difference in growth rate and yields.The one drawback to chitting which we encountered a couple of years ago was the trays of seed potatoes attracted rats into the shed and all the potatoes had to be discarded and replaced.
Plastic fruit trays with air holes already punched through the bottoms for seed sowing.Our local Aldi store usually has trays for soft fruit with a high lid which are ideal as mini incubators for seed.The small trays are useful if small amounts of seed are sown instead of using large seed trays which are wasteful unless you have space to plant out all of the resultant seedlings.
Loo rolls for long rooted plants like sweet peas etc, again a bit of a debate whether it is a better system or not.I remember reading a blog last year and different methods of sowing peas had been tried and the ones which had been allowed to grow freely in a window box did so much better.Plastic root trainers can be bought in garden centres and while expensive are reusable. I wonder if there are chemicals used in the manufacture of these loo rolls, while unbleached they have been stiffened and glued.
We will continue saving and meanwhile make up our minds on whether to use them or not.
I am going to pay a visit to the garden centre during the coming week to check out the seed potatoes available.
I have been missing from the blog as sitting at the computer is not conducive to keeping warm while having no central heating!My heating has been off for 10 days now but hopefully the gas fitter has the part by Monday and I will be back online and toasty warm.
The funny thing is I have been sleeping like a new born baby in the cold bedroom. I put a hot water bottle in the bed and snuggle under the duvet and once I drop off to sleep I don't move until the alarm goes off next morning.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Theanne is going to learn as much as possible about Livorno in Italy as it has personal connections with her late husband and she has a liking for all things Italian!
I remembered I have had two visits to Italy, visiting Venice each time.The first trip I took to Italy I stayed on Lake Garda and took the train for a day trip to Venice where it was so hot we could not walk around!
The second visit I stayed in Venice for 4 days in April 2007 and it was flooded! I know you are saying it is supposed to be they have canals instead of streets!Twice yearly the canals actually rise and flood the walkways and squares.
Pic above is the Bridge of Sighs, so called as it was the last glimpse prisoners got of the outside world as they went from the Doges Palace to the prison.
The entrance to St Marks Cathedral was flooded and these high wooden ramps were placed around for people to walk on, they were also around the squares and anywhere the water would rise at high tide.
St Marks Sq, at times most of it was under a couple of inches of water!
Our hotel was on the Grand Canal, even though there are Gondolas outside we took the water bus everywhere which was the cheapest option for getting around. On my first trip I did take the obligatory Gondola ride which I think everyone does,it was 80e for about 20 mins! Our laughing Gondolier did sing for no extra charge and took us through some of the Grand Canal under the Rialto Bridge.
The Rialto Bridge, spanning the Grand Canal it is lined with shops selling very touristy stuff at a price.
The 2 boats in the foreground are actually delivery boats as all commerce and services are done from boats including Police and Fire Brigade.
We visited Art galleries and museums and walked through narrow winding streets, Venice has a mystique all of its own whether wet or dry.We also found Harry's Bar, famous because Hemingway was a regular visitor and they invented the Bellini cocktail which you can still buy there at a very exhorbitant price!

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Season's Seed Planning

New Year in the offing and the sowing sap is rising! I got out all of my seeds and culled anything out of date or anything which I had bought with the intentions of 'trying' and didn't.The recession is biting everyone this year so feeding the family for as long a season as possible is the aim for this year.Successional sowing will be the buzz words for the allotment.Keeping records will also be on the agenda as I usually cannot remember from year to year what was sown and performed well or failed.I plant seeds at home which is about 5 miles from the allotment, moving the seedlings to their growing position has often meant tags become lost on the way!
This mornings labours were brought about by taking a look at the garden at home. I had been raking up leaves and discovered daffodils peeping through the soil!Some of you may remember our monster parsnip which weighed in at over 4 lbs!I found a half empty seed packet which is probably the one I used.Tender & True, exhibition quality with long roots will definitely not be going in this year, White Gem parsnip for shallow soils will be our parsnip of choice. Parsnip seeds are recommended to be bought fresh each year as they do not last from year to year.
I have various carrot seeds but after poring over them I have decided on the following to begin sowing as early as possible and have carrots right into next winter.
Amsterdam 3 Sprint: sow outdoors from Jan to July
Sow every 2-3 weeks for a continuous supply of young carrots.These are specially selected to grow in containers or small spaces.
Chantenay red Cored 2;Sow march to June, again sow every 2-3 weeks for continuous cropping. Sow thinly and when harvesting select young roots alternately, no other thinning should be required.
Autumn King2, sow march to July.these last right up to Dec.
Sowing -cropping 22-26 weeks
Carrots are a really versatile veg and used all year round from salads to winter stews so as long a crop as possible is needed.
I pulled all of ours back in Oct and cut and blanched them, they froze very well.
Buds already forming on the Kilmarnock Willow.We only planted a few beetroot last year but will definitely plant a lot more this year as it is a veg we have now developed a taste for other than pickling!
Boltardy as its name suggests is resistant to bolting and going to seed.
Sowing - cropping 12 weeks, I think this should be on all seed packets as it is a great pointer for anyone growing for the first time,wondering when a crop is ready to harvest.
I planted Sweetcorn Sundance last year, (found the half empty seed packet)!We had a great crop and this will be going in again this year.

Grape Hyacinths under the willow tree.
I found a half empty packet of cauliflower 'All Year Round', this was one of our disasters last year, golf ball sized heads!It may not have been the fault of the seed but a different variety is in order for this year.
Oregon Sugar Pod peas did very well, they are a Mangetout pea and will be another one going back in with plenty of netting to keep the birds off!
Broad beans 'Meteor'can be sown indoors from Feb,grown on and hardened off to plant outside in April which give an early crop without winter sowing.
I have Evesham Special Brussels Sprouts, they are supposed to give a heavy early crop over several months with large old fashioned flavour sprouts.
Cabbage, probably greyhound which can be started indoors in Jan.
Tomatoes, I have the ever reliable Moneymaker but we had such a glut of tomatoes last year it is the one we will be trying for different tastes and flavours in a few varieties this year.
I came across a envelope marked 'Matron'.When matron visited me here in Cork last year she brought me some of her own saved seeds and I am looking forward to having Dog beans (dwarf Broad beans)
Crimson Flowered beans
Lazy Housewife beans
Queensland Blue Pumpkins.
I will be following her very informative blog for growing and harvesting tips on all of the above and much more!
I have not mentioned potatoes or onions which will be bought as seed /sets in the coming weeks.
We are looking forward to another season with old and new friends on the Hydro Allotments in 2011.