Love Bites!

I must admit, so far, this Autumn has been a  joy in the garden, the sun has been shining, the leaves are turning golden,  gardeners and farmers everywhere are enjoying harvest season. The days are bright and fresh and the evenings are beginning to shorten significantly,  with sunsets that paint the sky in warm pinks and hot oranges. Along with sunny Saturdays in my garden,  I’ve been enjoying evening walks, evening strolls, evening rambles. It is a happy time in my life……mostly.

Love does hurt however, my penchant for going out in the lovely Autumn air has left me covered in bites from a few swarms of midges and some rogue mosquitos. Over the past four weeks, I’ve had at least eight or ten bad insect bites on my arms and legs that have swollen and itched and driven me positively mad.  Unfortunately, my favourite time of year to be outside also happens to coincide with hungry insect season and I seem to be attracting a crazy amount of bites this year. It must be my animal magnetism.

All of this I can live with, I can deal with itchy arms and legs, unsightly bumps and sneezing, I can deal with antihistamines and the scratching and discomfort. I can NOT however, deal with what I woke up to this morning: a large insect bite on the left cheek of my bum! Not only do I have no idea how in God’s name an insect managed to bite my arse throughout my jeans on my walk yesterday, but I had to spend the whole day trying not to scratch the bite for fear of being one of those people who scratches their bum in public. The shame.

Now, I’ve been told that insects are attracted to sweet blood, so I’ve decided that this obviously means I have a sweet ass. Obviously. I’d even share a photo of said bite to show you just how biteable my arse  is only I’d be worried you’d be jealous!

So, if you see me over the next few days awkwardly “adjusting” my jeans or conveniently rubbing my backside off a wall to scratch it, don’t judge, just know I am just the victim of the least sexy love bite of all time.

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Strike A Pose!

You know the saying, absence makes the heart grown fonder? Well, when it comes to my allotment, absence makes the weeds grow faster. It’s been a very busy few weeks chéz Fiona. I’ve been ill, on holidays, flooded (don’t ask), busy in work, partying, sleeping more partying, and the poor old garden didn’t get a look in. I must admit, I’ve been very very bold. Many apologies for the hiatus, but I am back now with a bang! (BANG!)

Last week, I had a bit of an Ireland’s Next Top Model moment when I was interviewed for an article for the Irish Independent about growing my own food. I’m a regular A-list celebrity now, and yes, you may have an autograph but it will cost you €10,000. Bargain. Now, not only was I interviewed for the article, I was also photographed by a lovely chap named Martin who visited my plot for an hour to take some snaps of me in very awkward poses with my various gardening tools. I did some spectacular vouge-ing with my fork, draped myself over my wheelbarrow á la Rose in Titanic, slightly less naked but far more sexy, I assure you. “Draw me like one of your french gardeners” I whispered over the heady buzz of bees, the sultry scent of lavender filing the air. I strutted, dug, draped, flirted, pouted, stuck out my chest, my bum, I was titillating in my favourite polka dot wellies. “Fabulous, Fiona, you look fabulous, a bit of teeth, show me some va va boom, fabulous”. Snap, click, flash. (I may be embellishing this story a little for dramatic effect, just a little though). I felt like a forking idiot.

The article was a lovely little feature in the Irish Independent about urban gardening in Ireland and featured myself and three other urban gardeners and our efforts to get growing in an urban environment. It’s just a shame my plot was a weedy disaster when the photographer came to visit, I did give him some rhubarb though, in the hopes that he wouldn’t use a horrible photo. Anyway, here’s a link to the article, give it a read.

http://www.independent.ie/life/home-garden/gardens/irelands-urban-gardens-have-never-been-more-vibrant-30506760.html

All autograph requests to fionagrowsfood@gmail.com. Will provide guest appearances at parties for a nominal fee, ready and willing to accept all invites to red carpet events with Michael Fassbender present. Hollywood, here I come.

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How To Grow Peas

 

Peas are one of my absolute favourite crops to grow in the summer garden. They are easy to grow, quick to germinate always look beautiful in a garden. There’s not much better than picking peas straight from the vine and eating them fresh. They’re like nature’s candy!

Since I’m talking about summer planting this week, I thought I would do a quick post on how to grow these fantastic plants as summer is the perfcet time to get them in the ground.

There are two types of peas you can grow, ordinary podded peas and eat all “mange tout” varieties. I grow ordinary garden peas on the plot every year and they never fail to do well.

Peas like full sunshine which is why summer is the perfect time to plant. They also thrive in well cultivated, loose soil as air is essential for the roots to thrive. Peas are known as  nitrogen “fixers”, which means they can draw nitrogen from the air, as such, you do not need to feed your peas

Planting:

I sow peas straight in the ground where they are to grow, you can sow them in pots and transplant later but there isn’t much need. Make a shallow drill about 10 cm wide and 5cm deep. Scatter pea seeds along the drill or space them evenly about about 20 cm apart. Cover back with soil using a rake to draw it over them. The warm summer soil will boost your pea growth and they should germinate in 7-10 days. Use succession sowing to ensure a steady crop throughout summer.

Support:

Most peas, particularly mangetout peas, will grow to be very tall so need support as they are growing. There are dwarf varieties available which do not need as much support but I’m warning you, I’ve seen dwarf peas grow very tall in the past, despite their title. Strong mesh or chicken wire is perfect for this purpose. Peas send out tendrils that grasp on to and wrap around structures for support.

Aftercare:

Peas don’t really need too much care once they are established, birds can peck at them though and slugs love them so keep an eye out for pests. Peas can get sometimes get powdery mildew in the summer which appears on leaves . Make sure to keep your peas well weeded, especially when they are tender young plants. It helps to keep your peas well watered, particularly as they are flowering and again as the pods are beginning to swell.

Harvesting:

Peas have a relatively short growing time and will be ready to harvest within 10-12 weeks provided the conditions are correct. Your peas are ready to harvest once the pod begins to swell, you will be able to see the peas forming inside the pod and should be able to judge when to pick them.

Peas are amazing straight off the vine, I challenge you to pick peas and not eat them straight away, go ahead, I dare you.

Summer Planting

It’s the height of summer here in Ireland, the sun is shining, the world cup is on, beer gardens are jam packed and I’ve seen more inappropriate short shorts than I care to remember. I even have a tan (i.e.. I have new freckles that are just merging together to look like a tan).

Most gardens are now in their most productive stage of the year, however, mine is not thanks to the toe injury. I am quite a few weeks behind on my planting. As such, I’ve had to plan out my garden for the next few weeks to get the most I can out of it. Even though it is June and I have missed out on planting some essential crops, I have been forced to rethink my strategy for the plot for the year. That being said, that’s half the fun of gardening, a garden is forever changing and gardeners work is never done.

So, I figured I’d do a blog post on summer planting, what’s good to plant this time of year and how to make sure your garden is productive right in to the winter months.

It being the last day of June today, you would think it is almost too late to plant most staples of the vegetable garden but you would be wrong. Peas and beans can still be planted, in fact, I planted some on Monday last week and they have already germinated, a combination of the warm sunshine and a heavy summer rain earlier in the week gave them a real boost and I should have a serious haul of peas soon enough. Salad greens are another great vegetable to plant in the summer months, they grow very quickly and within 4-6 weeks you can have loads of leafy greens for your late summer salads.

Summer is the time to plant your cucurbits, squashes, pumpkins and courgettes . If you have a polytunnel or greenhouse, even better, just ensure you keep them very well watered.

You can also continue with succession sowing so you can still plant carrots, beets, french beans, chicory, endive, kale, turnips and kohlrabi for an early autumn harvest.

It is also time to begin planting for winter harvests, kale, winter cabbages, purple sprouting broccoli and turnips. Planting these now will ensure that even in the lean winter months, some forward planning will provide you with plenty of hearty winter vegetables to warm your bones.

It is also the ideal time of year to plant asian greens, Pak Choi, Tat Soi, Mizuna and Mustard all thrive when planted in July so you can plant yourself a delicious bed of asian stir fry veggies. Florence Fennel also prefers a mid to late summer sowing, I planted some just last week.

So, if your garden is like mine, and lagging a bit behind, don’t panic, there’s still plenty of time to get growing.

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All that being said, my plot isn’t bare, there is plenty growing, I have a beautiful artichoke plant bearing plenty of globes ready for harvesting, rhubarb, raspberries, blueberries, russian kale, onions, leeks, garlic, peas, beetroot, carrots, blackberries, red currants, lettuces and spring onions and plenty more. And thanks to my summer planting, I should have plenty more in a matter of weeks. so don’t despair, get out, keep planting, it will pay off.

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How To Grow Raspberries

Raspberries are a surprisingly easy to grow plant that produce lots of fruit per plant. Also, they are divinely delicious straight off the bush. What does it for me is the texture versus the flavour. I love that when you pop them in your mouth they’re soft and furry then when you bite in, they are tart and juicy. Mmmmmmmm, hang on, just going to wipe the drool from my keyboard.

drooling-homer-simpson

Rasberries come in two varieties, summer fruiting and autumn fruiting, it helps to know which of these you are growing in order to properly care for your plant.

Raspberries love the sunshine but can also tolerate partial shade. They prefer fertile, well drained soil that is slightly on the acidic side, if your solid isn’t acidic, you can add mulch of an acidic matter such as pine needles or bark. You will also need to provide some support for your plants as they grow very tall. You will only really need a couple of raspberry plants to get yourself a good crop. You can buy young raspberry canes in most garden centres during the Spring/Summer months.

Planting:

Raspberry plants should be spaced about 30-40cm apart in rows spaced a metre apart. You will need to support your raspberries as they grow very tall and can be destroyed by wind. The best way to do this is to get yourself two posts and drive them into the ground a few metres apart (the distance will depend on how many raspberries you intend to plant). Using some strong wire, evenly space three lengths of wire horizontally between the posts. You can then use these to tie your raspberry canes as they get taller.

My DIY effort
My DIY raspberry supports

Care:

Raspberries need very little care. They hate weed competition though, so I would recommend keeping all perennial weeds in check around your raspberry bed. Every year or two, add a mulch of well rotted manure to your raspberries in early summer.

Pruning:

Like most fruit bushes, raspberries benefit from annual pruning. After fruiting, untie the canes and prune them back to ground level. In the winter, prune the canes back to ground level and remove any weak canes.

Pests and Disease:

Raspberry beetle is the main pest that could affect your plants.  The stalk will turn dry at the end and there will often be white maggots in your fruit.

Grey mould is the biggest disease to contend with when growing raspberries, it causes your ripening fruit to rot, it is particularly prominent in high rainfall areas. To help control this, remove all dead or infected leaves and fruit from your plants and make sure there is no dead plant material lying around.

Cane blight and cane spot can cause the canes to wither and die, to help avoid this, only prune your raspberries in dry weather and always cut off any infected canes immediately, it can also be beneficial to improve soil drainage as this can contribute to rotting.

All that being said, I have yet to experience any problems growing raspberries, they are a wonderful addition to any garden, tall, with beautiful bright green leaves and we all know raspberries make the best jam. Fact.

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Fiona Gets Fruity

This weekend saw the summer solstice come and go and from here on in the evenings will begin to get shorter. Sob. The weather here in Dublin has been nothing short of spectacular the past few weeks, so much so that my veggies are bolting with the heat and my clay soil is as dry as the sahara.

Summer is the time of year I associate with fresh fruit. As a child, there was a large farm out near where I live where you could pay to go fruit picking. Every summer, my parents would bring me there and we would spend a day picking fruit. Buckets of raspberries and strawberries. Hands stained red from the juice, track marks all over my skin from the raspberry thorns, I was a regular old berry junkie. We would spend hours there, walking around picking fruit to bring home and make jam. My dad would buy a load of jars and sugar and would get to making jam for hours. I made little labels on my computer, “J.J’s Jam” we called them. I spent a good hour or four designing a fancy label, guess this was a bit of a pre-curser to my graphic design days (yep, I was a graphic designer for a spell, I’ve had many a job in my time). He’d spend hours cooking the fruit, sterilising the jars, pouring in the jam, sealing them, labelling them and by the end of the process we’d have about 15 jars of jam. I thought this was the BEST THING EVER!

When I first got my allotment, I spent the first few weeks and months just digging the plot, installing a shed, building my raised beds and planting spuds. I didn’t necessarily give much thought to fruit and as such it was only last year I began to plant any fruit bushes. I did know however that I wanted to make jam again eventually, relive those glory days when J.J’s Jam was the jam of choice in the Kelly house.

I did have rhubarb last year, as you all know, because I have a tendency to harp on about rhubarb (no apologies, it is a wonder crop). Last summer, rhubarb was the only real fruit I got from the plot. Myself and my Dad spent one evening making 36 jars of rhubarb and ginger jam, and this year we already have about 20 jars with plenty more to come over the coming weeks.

I have criminally overlooked strawberries, an offence for which I am truly remorseful. Fresh strawberries are probably the best thing about summer in a garden. Bless me mother nature for I have sinned.

I do however have a serious crop of raspberries on the way. Having pruned my raspberry canes to the ground in early February, I am amazed at how tall they have grown, most of the canes are over seven foot tall now and the plants are throwing out runners all over the plot. There are raspberry canes popping up in my rhubarb patch, my beetroot bed (no idea how) and even in my herb garden, which is quite a distance a way from where I originally planted them. There are quite a lot of berries beginning to form now and I reckon in two weeks I’ll be able to begin harvesting and making myself some raspberry jam to add to the jars of rhubarb and gooseberry jam we already have at home. Looks like J.J’s Jams could be having a bit of a revival.

I also have some pretty gorgeous looking blueberries, not loads this year but they are very young plants and blueberry bushes take a few years to establish. I’m just pleased I got something on them, the clusters of berries are beginning to turn blue now. I’m watching them with great excitement, waiting to gorge myself on the sweet fruit like Violet Beauregard from Willy Wonka. I have visions of rolling my fat blue self around the plot signing the oompa-loompa song.

I have a pretty unruly blackberry bush at the back of my plot, behind my rhubarb patch, this will be the first year I get fruit from it. Blackberry picking is a particularly satisfying experience. I remember spending days on end in County Roscommon with my childhood best friend, picking blackberries in the wild, bringing them home and eating so many our tummy’s hurt and our tongues turned purple. Blackberry bushes can be a bit of a nightmare as they get a bit out of hand but I just couldn’t resist planting a little bit of nostalgia on my plot. I’ll deal with the consequences later. Famous last words, I know.

I have a redcurrant bush starting to come into its own in the corner, in fact, I had forgotten I planted it as it died off a few weeks later so imagine my surprise when it did a Lazarus on me and resurrected and began producing red currants. Hallelujah.

Now that I have a polytunnel, I shall be adding some more fruit to the plot. I am getting myself a fig tree, strawberries, a miniature citrus tree, cherries, gooseberries and even kumquats (idea courtesy of my very adventurous foodie Mother, Janette).

So, in honour of these juicy developments on my plot, this week on the blog I’m getting a bit fruity. I’ll be sharing some tips on growing fruit in your own garden and on making your very own jam so keep your eyes peeled. Get it? Peeled? Like fruit? You peel fruit? See how I’m over explaining my terrible pun? Is it getting a bit sour now?

(And yes, it may be fruit week but I am clearly nuts.)

Happy Digging,

Fiona

 

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The Great Rhubarb Robbery of 2014

Hello! I have returned from the land of the computer-less, having spent the last ten days adrift in an ocean of disconnect, where everything was bleak and lonely and there were no books of faces for me to look at. Apologies for the hiatus. Business as usual has returned.

This week is a glorious, warm, thing. There seems to be a large yellow orb hovering over the city providing much warmth, most are calling it the “sun”, I however am not beyond believing it is actually a UFO emanating heat waves in an attempt to burn our freckly Irish skin to melanomic proportions in a slow bid to take over the world.  Clever aliens are playing  a long game with this one.

The soil is dry, the air smells like coconut (I am yet to see evidence of this being from sunscreen and am leaning on the theory that the aliens are planting coconut trees in Ireland in order to ruin our ecosystem with a foreign species should the skin burning plan not work out).

Gardens everywhere are blooming, there are dahlias, foxgloves and sunflowers everywhere and cabbages seem to be growing at an astronomical rate (Aliens? Anyone? The evidence is stacking up here). Unfortunately for me, I have been trapped in the office all day everyday, longing to go out to the plot to bask in the heat rays, to pick some veggies, water my plants and get my daisy dukes on while I do some hoeing.

My toe is finally on the mend after the toe breaking incident. Yep, only seven weeks later and it’s nearly not broken anymore. As you can imagine, my poor plot has suffered as a result. The polytunnel is more or less empty, the weeds are running wild and there’s not as much planted as I would have liked. This wouldn’t be all so bad if it wasn’t for the gross crime that seemed to have been committed last weekend.

It was a dull, warm Saturday evening, I was going about my business socialising with some friends, engaging in some mild dancing, indulging in some not-so-mild beverages, oblivious to the fact there were two ruffians invading my plot to steal some of my glorious rhubarb. Word on the grapevine is that two unidentified individuals entered my allotment, looking a bit shifty. One, a dark man, with a Tom Selleck style moustache, only more glorious; the other, a female with dark curly hair that bounced as she giggled. The story goes,  they made a beeline for my glorious rhubarb patch, the crowning glory of plot P26. Stalks that reached to the sky, pink stems thick and proud, large umbrellas of leaves providing shade for the royal Victorian stems below.

These two individuals are said to have committed regicide, tearing through the royal rhubarb court at speed, pulling up the rhubarb stems, discarding the leaves into my compost bin and taking off into the summer night with armfuls of fruit, giggling like princesses. What a royal pain in my……neck.

On a completely unrelated note and I’m sure this is just one giant coincidence, my parents seem to have gotten their hands on twenty fresh jars of Rhubarb jam. Yum.

The investigation continues….

 

 

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