How To Rotate Your Crops.

Crop rotation is one of those essential tasks when it comes to growing fruit and vegetablexs. It is important not to grow the same family of crops in the same beds year after year as this can lead to a build up of pests that attack that particular family of plants. The best way to avoid this is to move the groups of plants around your garden year to year to prevent the pests from getting too comfortable in one spot. In order to do this, separate your crops into either a three or four year crop rotation plan based on the family of vegetables to which they belong. I follow a four year rotation as follows.

Brassicas:  cabbages, sprouts, brocolli etc.

Roots:  carrots, parsnips, beetroot etc

Legumes:  peas and beans etc

Alliums: onions, leeks garlic etc

I tend to keep my potato crop with my other root veggies but you can keep them as an entirely different crop in your rotation if you have the space.

Each year, I rotate my crops so the ground doesn’t grow the same type of crop for at least three years. If you are clever, you can ensure that each year, the crop that follows the one previous will benefit from the crop grown in that spot the year before. For example, brassicas are the best crop to plant where your legumes where the previous year as they benefit from the nitrogen rich soil left behind by your peas and beans.

It helps if you draw up a plan of your plot, however big or small it may be, and decide, before you plant anything, how you are going to rotate your crops over the following years. This also makes life easier when it comes to planning your plot in future growing seasons.

My rotation plan for 2014

My rotation plan for 2014

In the above image, you’ll see I’ve clearly marked which types of crops I plan to grow in each bed this year. My main rotation works among the 8 raised beds and runs in a clockwise direction, so last year, I grew alliums where the roots are going this year etc. I tend to grown my salad leaves in these beds when nothing else is growing there as to not waste any space during the growing season.

A good crop rotation can be difficult to maintain, particularly in a smaller garden but will pay off dividends in the long run.

If you want to ask me any further questions about crop rotation, or even give me some handy pointers or feedback, please get in touch below.

Happy Digging!

Fiona

 

January Jobs In the Garden

It’s dark, it’s cold, there are only a few hours of light a day, it’s wet, it’s barren, the plot is a mess. Sound familiar?

It may be late into winter but it is a new year and the garden season is just about to kick off. Despite the cold and dull weather, there’s a tonne to do in the garden in January before the planting kicks off in a few weeks time.

  • Most importantly, it’s time to get your soil ready for planting. It’s no use planting seeds in terrible cold soil in spring, so spread some well rotted manure or compost on your beds, If you can get seaweed, do it, it’s great for your soil, packed full of nutrients. Cover your beds up with polythene to let the soil heat up for springtime.
  • If you still have winter veggies in the ground, this is the time to harvest them, parsnips and the last of your spuds need to be up in the next two weeks so if you have a glut, get yourself a decent soup recipe (watch this space).
  • It’s a great time of the year to get any infrastructural work completed in your garden. Fix your fences, mend your gates, reinforce your sheds and your beds, these are the jobs that you won’t have time to do during the summer months when you’re knee deep in weeds.
  • You can get some digging done too if the ground isn’t too frosty, wait for a good rain then turn your soil over.
  • You can of course, get excited and begin to chit your early potatoes.
  • Prune your fruit bushes if you need, especially your gooseberries and currant bushes.
  • Wash your tools and pots, seeds will do better if your pots are clean, it’s the little things like this that make the gardening year easier.
  • You can begin to force your rhubarb if you are so inclined. Cover it with straw and an upturned pot to keep out the light and force them, you will get lovely tender stems early in March.
  • Buy your seeds, this is often one of the most fun parts of the year, choosing what to grow, shop around for your seeds, have a seed swap with your fellow gardeners, order some heirloom varieties, have some fun with what you grow.
  • If you have a polytunnel, get some seeds planted, keep them warm, water them well and you’ll be well prepared.
  • Broad beans are great to plant this time of year but make sure they don’t get frost damage.

In a few short weeks you’ll be grateful if you get ahead of yourself in January, it’s worth braving the elements for.

My plot this morning, very chilly indeed.

My plot this morning, very chilly indeed.

 

The Fat of the Land

And just like that, It’s a new year.

Fresh start, new plans.

Last year, I had many plans. So many plans. Some came to fruition, some not. Mostly not. I had a list of resolutions a mile long and a spate of good intentions.  But, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. That Robert Burns was a smart man. I was thinking that the other day on the way to my allotment, how the best laid plans always go awry, and of course I began to hark back to that great Steinbeck novel. How all Lennie wanted to do was to “live off the fatta’ the land”. The simplicity of it. His simple plan, it’s not too far off from mine (I don’t however want to end up like he did, that would be all sorts of a headache).

I realised today that I can plan the garden all I want, life will always come along and throw me a curve ball. Mother nature will whip up a storm, a blight will hit, a slug will eat a cabbage, I’ll be stung by a nettle, I’ll have a work crisis, a family crisis, a personal crisis. However, I have a constant. I have a constant desire to garden, to grow, to get my hands all dirty. To dig up weeds, to drink tea while picking herbs, to squelch around the mud in my wellies. To plant seeds and watch them grow. To taste carrots straight out of the muck. To make fresh mojitos from my mint. To chat to my fellow gardeners, they know all of the dirt.

So I guess my plans can fail all they want but I will continue to try, because it gives me such joy and sometimes, the unexpected can make the garden far more interesting.

For 2014, I have huge plans, serious plans for the plot. I want to install a polytunnel, I want to grow tomatoes and chillies and peppers. I want to finally grow some courgettes! I want to have a pretty plot, I want flowers and herbs and pretty colours. I want a sanctuary for me and the bees. I’ll call it my very own bee loud glade, I’ll do Yeats proud with it.

We’ve had some really bad storms in Ireland the past 10 days. Floods and high winds, serious damage to roads and infrastructure. On site, there were sheds littered around the site, I saw a few destroyed greenhouses and polytunnels. Somehow, I escaped relatively  unscathed. One of my fence posts snapped so that’ll need to be replaced but otherwise all is good on plot P26, albeit a bit barren and forlorn after the winter months.

It’s the lean season, when you can’t plant much and there’s not much to harvest. Except of course for my parsnips, of which I dug some this week, it made me deliriously happy. I also dug up some Jerusalem Artichokes and picked some of my asian winter greens. It might be winter, but there’s life in the old girl yet.

First harvest of 2014

First harvest of 2014 and my rhubarb having a cheeky peek at the January sunshine

This is the perfect time of the year to plan. To plot and plan, plan the plot. Get digging, get growing, get a small pot on your balcony, build a raised bed in your garden, grow some herbs, grow some potatoes in a sack, get a bee hive, some chickens, a pig. Experience they joy of producing food.

Last year was a stormy one for me, but here I am, after the storms, still planning, always planning, still yearning to grow and ready to garden the hell out of the year. I’m currently drawing up the layout of the plot for this year so I’ll share it as soon as it’s done. Always interesting to see how differently it works out come the following winter. Best laid plans……etc, going over old ground now (see what I did there?).

Happy New Year to you all and get growing, you’ll thank yourselves this time next year.

xxx

Blue Beds, Blue Hands

It’s amazing the difference one weekend of hard work can make in the garden. Last week, I was beginning to panic at the lack of progress on the plot this year, I’m at least three weeks behind with my planting and the place was looking very bare and brown and boring. Something needed to be done.

My new herb garden

My new herb garden

The sun was mostly shining this weekend, with the exception of some lovely rain showers and the temperatures are finally up after what was the coldest March on record. Last week I dug up the terrible wasted area outside the shed, this weekend, I used the space to create a small herb garden. I planted rosemary, sage, lemon thyme, French tarragon (avoid planting Russian tarragon if you can, it has very little flavour), chives, lavender plus some echinacea, chamomile and bergamot. I also have some mint and lemon balm (bee balm) from last year and after saying I was not going to plant borage this year, I found a borage plant growing under my artichokes, it obviously wants to grow so I might as well let it. I’m also going to add some parsley, basil, coriander and caraway later in the year. It looks a bit bare at the moment but should be a lovely addition to the plot once it’s established.

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The shed area, big difference from the mound of weeds and rubble that was here two weeks ago. I love that you can see a neighbouring plot in the background with its lovely neat drills. 

I had been meaning to treat the wood on my raised beds for a while but kept putting it off. I decided this weekend that I should get around to doing it as the beds were looking a bit worse for wear after the winter. I toyed with the idea of getting a natural colour wood stain but I eventually chose a bright blue, I wanted to give the plot a bit of personality and thought blue would be nice and bright during the lean months when there’s little colour in the garden. It took me hours to do but it was well worth the effort, I’m hoping to add some more blue later, maybe a blue gate. Though maybe next time I’ll wear gloves, my hands were an almighty blue mess when I was done.

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Blue Beds

 

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Blue Hands

Having painted the beds, I spread a mountain of bark mulch along the paths, these had just been muck and weeds before so I was very eager to do something with them. It really makes a difference to the plot.

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I’m planning on using the empty bed in the left foreground as a hotbed.

 

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The entrance to the plot, definitely an improvement

I planted very little at the weekend, just some beetroot and radishes. Next week I need to get my peas and beans planted before it gets too late. Despite all my hard work, there’s still a huge mess to deal with next weekend, one whole end of the plot needs to be dug as it’s where the legumes are to be planted. It has been started but it’s a big job. It’s the embarrassing messy end of the plot and it must be conquered, especially now; no point in having pretty raised beds and a big pile wasted ground beside them.

Also, there’s not much point in having pretty beds with no veggies so this week I’m going to do some serios planting, excited!!

Spring Clean

This morning, I went out to the plot with the intentions to plant and dig and weed and do those things which we as gardeners are meant to do, but I took one look at the plot and decided before I could reasonably do any of that, I needed to clean up my act. Amongst all my weeds and muck, raised beds and shed, there’s an awful lot of dirt, and I don’t mean muck (we all know there’s plenty of muck) I mean rubbish. Flyaway netting, torn remnants of weed control fabric, shards of bamboo, even old cloches, just rubbish. The allotment was never going to start looking nice if I didn’t deal with all that rubbish first, so I got into cleaning mode and began to tackle the messy parts of the garden.

Underneath it's nice exterior, plot p26 had a dirty underbelly, like the gotham city of allotments.

Underneath it’s nice exterior, plot p26 had a dirty, seedy underbelly, it was like the Gotham City of allotments. Only the work of a superhero like Batman could weed out the grime and corruption.

You may remember I made a new years resolution to clean my shed. Well, I did it! Three months later but I finally did it, and boy was there a lot of mess in there. I threw out empty compost bags, plenty of torn netting, old bits of fleece, broken pots, empty water bottles, I found a pair of socks in there (seriously, no idea where they came from). My shed has been returned to it’s former glory, though it is in dire need of some prettying up. New mission: pretty up the shed.

I also decided to tackle the terribly wasted area outside the shed. Last year, most of my effort went in to my raised beds, installing fencing, getting the shed and of course getting to grips with growing my own food. Quite a lot of space on the plot went unused, particularly the area outside the shed, which is fairly big and has a lot of potential. I’d guess it’s about ten square metres of my plot which was just grass, rubble and weeds. So, I got out my shovel, and started to dig. It took me the best part of two hours but I turned over all the soil and raked it out to make it even, there had been a slope down toward the shed which was driving me mad. I sectioned off half of this area and began to work the soil and marked a layout for a small herb garden. The rest I covered with weed control fabric, I’m hoping to get either gravel or some paving stones to make a patio but I can’t decide which.

My future herb garden

My future herb garden, a work in progress.

I decided I needed a break from manual labour and so, I sat on the edge of one of the beds and planted my parsnip seeds. I had manured the soil pretty well last year and covered it for winter and what a difference it made. The soil in the bed was soft and fine, a far cry from what it had been last year. I planted three short rows of “Gladiator” parsnips, a variety I had to grow after tasting some last year and falling in love.

The weather took a bad turn after a few hours so I decided to call it a day, not before I had a little look around the plot. There’s life beginning to creep in again, the cold days are getting very slightly warmer and there’s more light in the sky during the daytime hours. My artichokes are growing back after the winter as are my raspberry canes, which last August, I thought had died. There are buds on my blueberry and gooseberry canes, the garlic seems to have finally started growing and my onions are beginning to sprout.

Garlic

Garlic

Right now, the king of the plot is my rhubarb. I finally picked some today. It was defenitely the highlight of my gardening year so far.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

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This should make a nice crumble

Imbolc

Yesterday was the first day of February, also known as St Brigid’s Day or “Imbolc” here in Ireland. St Brigid is one of the patron saints of Ireland, her feast day marks the beginning of lambing season. In fact, the word Imbolc derives from “i mbolg” the Irish phrase for “in the belly”, which referred to sheep bearing young. Saint Brigid’s day in school was great fun because we used to spend the day making St Brigid’s crosses, a traditional cross woven from rushes or straw.

Most importantly, however, St Bridgids day marks the beginning of spring. I am rejoicing.

It’s been a long winter, dark and wet. It seemed to do nothing but rain for the past three months. The past week has seen howling winds and driving rain, some hail, thunder and sleet. I have been absent from my allotment for some time, mostly because when I do get the chance to go, mother nature laughs at me and send some sort of horrible weather upon us. I’ve been feeling at a loss, like I might never garden again.

Yesterday, however, on the first day of spring, I found myself excited again. I woke up cheerful, I began to think about the gardening year. I began to imagine lovely spring days on the plot, buying my seeds, planning the plot for the year ahead. I’m currently trying to draw up a planting plan for the year. Last year, I tried my hand at a lot of crops and this year I hope to do the same, with the difference that this year I want to concentrate on a few key crops. I hope to grow lots of lovely legumes, plenty of peas, some garden peas and sugar snaps, and I’m going to try beans, broad beans, french beans, runner beans, you name it, I want to try it. I’m also going to grow the favourites from last year again, onions, carrots and beetroot. I have decided, though, not to grow potatoes. Yes, you read that right. I’m not growing spuds in 2013. This is for many reasons, they caused me so much trouble last year for a crop I don’t really love as much as others. They take up a huge amount of space on the plot and last year they were destroyed by blight. So this year, I’m giving them a break.

The plot's looking pretty bare right now

The plot’s looking pretty bare right now

This time of year is almost the best time for the gardener. We get to spend hours reading about seed varieties, picking our crops for the year and imagining how amazing our plots will be in the coming year. It all looks so wonderful and productive in our heads, more often than not, the outcome is far less amazing.

The best thing about the first day of spring though, is that it’s a fresh start; all of last years failures can be left where they belong and it’s time to look ahead to all the year has to bring.

Hopefully it’ll bring lots of rhubarb, I’m dying for some rhubarb!

Rhubarb won't be long now!

Rhubarb won’t be long now!

New Year’s Resolutions

Its coming to the end of 2012 and my first year as a novice gardener. Inevitably, I’ve been thinking about the year past and the one to come, the mistakes I’ve made and the lessons I’ve learned and I am looking forward to another year of being schooled by mother nature.

I’ve also been thinking of my new years resolutions for 2013. New Years resolutions can be very hit or miss, some years I’ve had great successes, like the year I decided to quit smoking (four years on, I still haven’t touched a cigarette) or the year I decided to learn how to drive. Most years, I make one or two resolutions, just for the sake of it and I know that they are destined to fail; like eat less chocolate (laughable) or get fit (hilarious).

This time last year, I had no idea I would be growing my own fruit and veg, that I would spend hours cultivating a small piece of land, that I would grow perfectly straight carrots and imperfectly round peas. So, this year, instead of a list of ill thought out resolutions pertaining to me looking fabulous in a bikini; I have drawn up a few lists of tangible, achievable goals and tasks that should be easy to achieve (I hope). This is my list of New Years Gardening Resolutions for 2013.

1. Tidy the shed! Properly, and keep it tidy for at least a week.
2. Move the poorly located raised bed to a new location so the plot has a better layout.
3. Grow beans, the one crop I really want to try in 2013.
4. Grow garlic.
5. Don’t kill my courgettes by planting them out too early.
6. Plan the plot properly, use up all growing space where possible, instead of leaving ground unused.
7. Make some jam.
8. Build a small herb garden
9. Make time every week to visit the plot, rain or shine.
10. Install a water butt.
11. Learn to prune fruit bushes, I haven’t got the foggiest about it.
12. Hang a proper gate.
13. Keep on top of the weeds instead of saying “I’ll do it next time”, only to find they have        taken over.
14. Grow parsnips.
15. Finish putting bark mulch on the paths, I started in September and never quite got around to finishing it.

Everything else would be a bonus. I’m going to make it my mission to tick off this checklist in early 2013, lets see how it goes, I’ll probably still be cleaning the shed this time next year.

Happy new year to you all, wishing you the best for the new growing season.

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Here’s hoping we see more of this chap in the new year too

iCarrot

This is what it’s all about, biting into your very first ever homegrown carrot and realising, you’ll never feel the same way about carrots again. It’s the most delicious carrot I’ve ever eaten. In fact, I may just grow carrots on my plot next year and nothing else. I’m considering starting a carrot related advertising campaign to entice people to garden but I think a certain famous company which shares it’s name with another healthy food (I’ll give you a hint, it’s not an orange) might take issue with my slogan.

If you don’t see me for a while, I’m probably busy being sued

Seriously though, grow carrots. Grow them seriously, or for fun, just grow them. I planted my carrots late. In fact, I forgot to plant carrots until the second week in June and wasn’t quite sure they’d even germinate. I had very palpable fears about the carrot root fly, I’ve heard and read some scary stories. Horrible creatures that burrow into your carrots and eat them from the inside out. I’ve had Night of the Living Dead Root Fly nightmares. Plus, we haven’t had the best summer for carrots, so my hopes weren’t very high. Imagine my delight when today I decided to pick some to see how they were progressing and what I ended up with were delicious, crunchy carrots. I of course, ate one straight out of the ground, muck and all. Cue many happy and appreciative noises which I’m sure raised a few eyebrows among my neighbouring allotmenteers. Oh, and another thing, my carrots are straight, very straight, and long. Obviously the 6 hours I spent sieving a tonne of soil (literally, a tonne) for the carrot bed paid off.  All that hard work, that hot March day, breaking my back wheelbarrowing soil to the plot, cursing myself, sieveing for hours, raking, raking, more raking, it was totally worth it.

Of course, the carrots aren’t the only crop we’ve harvested this September but they are definitely my favourite. We’ve also had, borlotti beans, celery, red cabbage, spinach chard, peas and of course my onions, which have been drying away in the back garden for three weeks and are nearly ready to eat. I did have to rip up my ridiculous perpetual spinach and swiss chard today as they were taller than me and had bolted, and were quite frankly, a disgrace. I might plant some more for over the winter months.

Spoils

Pretty Artichoke

September isn’t just harvest season though, there’s plenty of jobs to keep me busy in the garden. Of course there’s weeding, because, well, there’s always weeding. There’s plenty of tidying and maintenance to be done but there’s also plenty of planting. It’s time to get the garden ready for overwintering crops, winter onions, garlic, winter lettuces, spinach and of course spring cabbage. Today, I planted two blueberry plants, which are one of the things I’ve known from the start I wanted to grow. These are best planted in autumn, in acidic soil, the lower the pH the better, but around 5 is perfect. I did measure my soil pH in March and the reading was 5.5, so hopefully the bluberries will do well. It does help to aid them though, a good mulch, bark, grass cuttings, leaves, whatever you can get your hands on, and the pine needles from my christmas tree will definitely find their way to my blueberry bed.

Blueberries

September also sees the arrival of the brand new community room on site, it’s a lovely big room, with a fridge, microwave, tea and coffee and snacks, and of course, tables, inside and out, to take a well earned tea break when the work gets too tough. It’s a great way to meet fellow gardeners too, I have hopes of making a few friends here.

Community room

I did attempt to make the plot look a bit nicer today, I spread some bark mulch around the path near my fruit section of my plot but it took about 400 litres to cover a tiny area so it looks like it’ll be a while before I can do the whole plot. I also attempted a makeshift patio area. It’s not great. I had visions of a lovely decking area with potted plants and a table and chairs. In reality, I placed some planks of wood on the ground, thats about it, but it’s a start, I would put up a photo but I can’t bring myself to do it, it’s that bad.

Bark is better than weeds

September is also planning time. Get planning. It’s amazing how much a planting plan will help in the early spring.

As for carrots, if you’re not growing them, do it next year, you’ll thank me.

Bloomin’ Beautiful

We’ve had a beautiful stretch of weather here in Dublin the past 12 days. It’s been warm, dry and sunny, and it feels like summer is finally here. I’ve even been able to get out in my shorts and terrify the world with my so-white-they’re-reflective legs. I’ve been trying to visit the plot in the evenings to water it, the clay soil seems to totally dry out in the sun and becomes cracked very quickly.

The good weather has caused a wonderful growth spurt on the plot and everytime I visit, something new is growing of something has doubled in size. Everything is beginning to bloom. My main crop potatoes are coming up very quickly and I planted peas last Monday and they had germinated by Thursday!

Potatoes

Pumpkins

I had to thin out my beetroot, chard and perpetual spinach the other day. I felt like a murderer but it had to be done. I’m just pleased they’re growing, they were looking like they’d never come up. I also planted out my courgette and pumpkin plants, they were just too big to keep on the windowsill anymore, thankfully they seem to be adjusting well to being outdoors.

My strawberry plants have come back to life, having been battered by the wind a few weeks ago, and they are thriving. They have lots of beautiful white flowers and I can see some of the flowers starting to develop into fruit. I covered the bed they are in with weed control fabric, this is so the fruit won’t be sitting on wet soil when it grows as this causes the fruit to rot. Straw is also good for this purpose, just spread it under each plant for the strawberries to rest on. I also made a cage of sorts to protect them from birds, I simply used bamboo and wire to make it and draped netting over it to protect my strawberries .

Strawberries in bloom

Strawberry cage

When I first got the allotment, I knew I wanted to grow Borage. I had read about this wonderful plant in a few different books and loved how it looked. Borage is an annual herb, with beautiful blue star shaped flowers and a mild cucumber flavour. I planted two borage plants in early spring and in the past week they have literally tripled in size and burst open with gorgeous blue flowers, I’ve already seen a few bees buzzing around them.

Borage flower

Another one I planted to attract bees is lavender. It was very (very) slow to start and I didn’t think I’d see any life on it this year but lo and behold, the sunshine has done it wonders and there’s lovely stalks of lavender beginning to form

Lavender

My rhubarb has come back to life too, it’s amazing what a few days of heat and sunshine can do for the garden. It’s great to be able to sit out on the plot on a sunny day and just enjoy my surroundings. This weekend, there is an open day at the allotment site, there’s to be a barbeque, music, entertainment etc, I’m really looking forward to it.

This weekend also sees the return of the Bloom in the Park festival in phoenix park, an annual gardening and food festival held in Dublin. If you have the time, it’s worth a visit, especially if this weather keeps up.

I have big plans for the plot in the coming weeks, I’m going to finally rebuild our gate, install a patio area, compst bin, water butt and I’m working on a little project to attract some unusual wildlife in, watch this space.

The plot in the sunshine