Turn, Turn, Turn

Hello, and Happy New Year from Fiona Grows Food.

It has been a bit of a strange few months, hence the lack of blog posts, many apologies to my regular readers. I’ve been pretty busy in work (Christmas is silly season in retail), busy partying, busy living, busy having a bit of an existential crisis. I’m not trying to sound melodramatic, I’ve literally been busy questioning my life choices, and in turn, questioning whether I even wanted to continue gardening anymore. As such, my allotment and the blog have gone to the wall a bit. In fact the past few months, I could have realistically renamed my blog Fiona Drinks Booze with the caption “scene missing” and it would have been a more accurate reflection of my lifestyle.

However, last Friday, something wonderful happened. It was the 2nd of January and I woke up, still nursing a bit of a sore head from New Year’s Eve and decided to get some fresh air, clear the cobwebs a bit and see what state of disarray my poor garden had fallen into over the weeks of winter neglect. I hauled myself out to the plot, expecting the worst horrors that a neglected allotment had to offer. On arrival, however, that feeling came over me, that “I love this place” feeling that I only get in the garden. That complete happiness.

It was cold, wet and grey, there wasn’t a soul to be seen on site, aside from a hare who was fast asleep beside my shed who ran thundering past when I woke him. I remembered just how good the garden made me feel, there’s a sense of peace there, a sense of belonging.

Needlessly to say, the plot was looking a bit anarchic. There were – somehow, despite the cold months- weeds everywhere. There was a huge pile of muck and debris in one corner where my old compost heap had been which I tore apart in a rage in November, on my last visit to the plot in 2014.

The bloody state of the place!!
The bloody state of the place!!
The terrifying fennel, this thing was bigger than my head
The terrifying fennel, this thing was bigger than my head

There were last year’s unharvested vegetables: some sad looking brussel sprouts, a patch of limp leeks, a monstrous florence fennel, the world’s most overgrown sage plant, a bamboo wigwam chocked with the dead foliage of broad beans, bare arsed raspberry canes towering like seven foot tall harbingers of death over everything. Mud. Mud everywhere. More weeds. I sighed, put on my wellies, my trusty fingerless gloves, then I got my hands dirty.

You see, the past few months, I’ve been finding it difficult to get to the plot for varying reasons, work, social commitments, but also, a lack of motivation to get out in the cold depths of winter. I’d lost that thing that makes me obsess over seeds, soil and spades. It was gone. I had no desire to garden at all. I was bereft. But the moment I plunged my hands into soil last Friday, it all came flooding back, I was back in touch with my garden again, with myself.

I spent the day moving around my plot with a natural gardener’s kinesis, pulling up unwanted plants, turning over the soil in the beds, smelling handfuls of muck, talking to worms (yes I do that), building a new compost bin, stopping every now and then to smell the salty sea air, to feel the rain on my face.

I was refreshed, full of excitement at the potential of a whole new garden year. A clean slate, a chance to do better, to do greater. A chance to grow. Consequently, the planning has begun.

I often think January is the best month of the year for a gardener. There is next to no planting or harvesting, there is little in the way of work in the garden, apart from cleaning up the ravages of winter and preparing for a new year. There is simply hope. I spend the long, dark evenings dreaming up what weird and wonderful plants I can grow in the following months. Thus, the lists have begun. I have about 12 lists as of today. What to grow, where to grow it, how to grow it, when to grow it, where to get it, how to get the soil ready for it. The year stretches out before me like a blank canvas waiting to be painted and the garden is my brush.

The canvas awaits
The canvas awaits

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about seasons and time. Maybe my waning interest in the garden lately was simply a matter of seasonal affective disorder, maybe when my garden dies in winter, my desire to be there dies along with it. Thankfully, the seasons change and the garden changes with them, as does the gardener.

I am waiting with great excitement for this season to change, for the days to get longer, for the grand stretch in the evenings, for the spring sun to warm my soil and give light to life on the plot. Until then, it’s lists and seed hoarding and planning for me.

On a final note, as I stood on the plot the other day listening to the radio, this song came on which make me snort with laughter, talk about appropriate timing. I sang it while I thought of Summer, and of all the hopeful things to come in 2015.

Shocktober!

October has landed with a bang. Literally. Having had a glorious summer and a beautiful, warm, September, the weather here in Dublin is finally catching up with the calendar. Last night saw a bad storm with gale force winds and driving rain, knocking trees over, downing power lines, dislodging slates from rooftops and causing a bit of a commuter’s-hell-on-earth this morning. There was flooding, lots of flooding, not quite Noah’s Ark level of flooding, but enough flooding to create holes in the road and for the trains to be cancelled. I even have a friend whose car was crushed by a tree.

I have fears about the structural integrity of my shed and polytunnel, but due to other commitments, I can’t even check the damage until the weekend. *cue the tense music from countdown*

All that being said, I absolutely love this time of year. I love the smell of Autumn, I love the falling leaves, the colours, I love the fresh weather, the impending festive season, and of course, I love Halloween.

With harvest season drawing to a close and the long winter months stretched out ahead of us, us gardening folk can forget that this time of year is one of the most crucial in the garden. It’s time to get dirty, really, really dirty. It’s time to pull up all the dying plants, it’s time to compost, to mulch, to leaf mould, to manure. As my Dad eloquently put it yesterday, having spent a day wheelbarrowing manure in his own garden, “It was the sh*ttiest day of gardening all year”.

I haven’t had the best of luck this year with the garden, truth be told, a combination of bad weather, a bad experience and some bad motivation led to a bit of a lazy gardening year. I need to get my bum in gear and quickly if I want to get ahead of myself for next year. I am going to plant some over wintering alliums this weekend, garlic, winter onions and shallots benefit from being planted now, just before the cold weather really kicks in and hopefully I’ll plant some other veggies too, any suggestions are very welcome.

I also have great plans for a leaf mould mountain this year, having never made leaf mould before. So, if you see me walking around with great black sacks, stuffing them with leaves, I haven’t gone crazy, leaf mould is a great soil improver. I’ll just find it hard to resist kicking through the leaves, is there any better feeling then kicking a pile of leaves in autumn. No, the answer is no, and if you disagree, you are wrong.

I have a very busy few weeks of gardening ahead so I’ll be ploughing away as much as I can (see what I did there? I’m hilarious).

Quick FionaGrowsFood news round up:

I’ve been doing some volunteer work at a local garden project which I really love and which I am planning to continue for the foreseeable future.

In other news, FionaGrowsFood was also announced as a finalist in the Irish Blog Awards which took place last week, and although I didn’t win, I am honoured to have even been nominated so thank you to my readers and friends who nominated me, your continued support means the world to me. Huge congratulations to the winners, especially David over at Beyond The Wild Garden, his is my favourite Irish blog and I’m delighted for him, very much deserved.

Oh and in one last update, I have a super-secret, super-exciting trip coming up in a few weeks to somewhere super-awesome and will be flooding my blog with pictures and stories so keep an eye out. I’m super, SUPER, MEGA, SUPER, AWESOME, EXCITED.     SUPER.

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.

Beautiful Autumn Blues

It’s been a very busy few weeks in the garden. It’s mid September and harvest season is drawing to a close. My raised beds are beginning to look very empty, the polytunnel is bare and my perennials are beginning to wither away for the winter.

Strangely enough, even with the plot looking worse for wear, it’s a great time of year in the garden. The weather is good, there’s always something to harvest and all the plans for next year begin to form. On Saturday, the weather was surprisingly hot for this time of year, it seems we’re having an Indian summer. It hasn’t rained in a few weeks, which shows on the plot, my soil is dry and cracked and very difficult to cultivate. That being said, I’m not complaining, I’m enjoying the nice weather while it lasts.

2014-09-06 13.32.17
A few weeks ago, I harvested my red and white onions and I’ve had them drying in the polytunnel. I didn’t have a huge amount of success with my onions this year, most of my red onions didn’t bulk up, no doubt because of the very dry summer. However, I did get a lovely crop of Stuttgarter Giant onions. I’ve had another rhubarb rich year, it just thrives in my soil and is no doubt my most prolific crop. Every time I visit the plot lately, I have peas to harvest too, it’s just a shame I never get them home as I have a tendency to eat them while on the plot, they’re just too irresistible.

2014-09-13 14.18.55
With growing season all but winding to a close, I’m beginning to clean up the plot (and believe me, it needs it) and plan for next year. It won’t be long before I’m covering up the raised beds for winter. I do plan on planting some over wintering crops like purple sprouting broccoli (a personal favourite), winter cabbages and garlic. It’s also the time of year to begin planting spring bulbs, this year I hope to plant a full array of spring flowers to begin next year with a splash of colour. For now, I’ll just have to be content with the beautiful Autumn blues of my herb garden.

2014-09-13 14.37.05

I’ll also be beginning to collect fallen leaves to make a leaf mold to use on the plot next year. A gardeners work is never done, in fact, I dont think I’ve ever had such a long to do list for the garden. In part this is due to a busy summer during which, I didn’t exactly neglect the plot but I didn’t get to put in as much time as I would have liked.

The past few weeks I’ve put in more work on the plot than all year and it is beginning to pay off, though there is still a huge amount of work to do. The messy corner is still a disaster and the whole section outside my polytunnel lies empty.

2014-09-13 13.48.23

We had a harvest day on site a few weeks ago so I’ll be writing about that tomorrow. Until then, happy growing and happy harvesting.

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.

IMAG1088

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.

IMAG1084

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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