How To Sow Seeds

IMG_9801Now this may sound like a ridiculously basic garden task, and it should be, but it’s one of those things we all just assume we can do. Bit of muck, a pot and a seed right? Wrong.

I had a conversation with a friend today about sowing seeds, and I realised, not everybody actually knows how to go about doing it.

March being the time of year to get seriously planting, I figured I’d do a very quick overview of seed sowing. First things first, always – and I mean always - read the information on the back of your seed packet. Read it properly. This should give you details about when to sow your seeds and where. Usually it will have a little calendar on it too with information about when to plant, transplant and harvest. It will also usually give you information about sun position and soil drainage that the plant requires so pay attention to these.

Outdoor Planting:

Quite a lot of plants, vegetables in particular, are very sensitive to being transplanted and need to be planted directly where they are to grow. To do this, first ensure your soil has been treated well, manured during the winter if necessary. You’ll need to make sure there aren’t too many stones or large pieces of rubble in your soil. This is where a rake becomes a gardeners most valuable tool (controversial? I’ve had a few arguments with people about this one). Use your rake to remove debris from the soil and create what is known as a fine tilth. Mark off your drills, I usually just use bamboo canes and twine. Use a hoe or a piece of bamboo to create a shallow drill for your seeds, then lightly firm the soil down when they are covered. Then of course, water them in.

Indoor Planting:

Now, to start, I would suggest a good seed compost or vegetable growing compost, these will contain the vital nutrients for germinating seeds. Do not use cheap, poor quality compost as your seedlings will suffer. When transplanting on, you can then use potting compost etc.

Some seeds require heat to germinate. I use a heated propagator for these, it simply plugs in and keeps your soil at a constant temperature, usually between about 19-22 degrees celcius. They usually have vents too for beginning to harden off your seedlings before potting them on. Otherwise, for indoor planting, I would suggest placing your pots and propagators on a sunny windowsill as seeds also need light to germinate.

When planting seeds in seed trays/pots, fill the tray to the top with compost, don’t skimp as it will sink when you water them. For some plants, it helps to put some fine gravel in the end of the tray for drainage. I always bang the tray on the surface of my potting bench a few times to level the soil out, then I use a piece of wood or a ruler to scrape away any access and create an even seed bed. Plant the seeds at the depth suggested on the pack. When you have the seeds planted, always water them in gently. What I do is poke small holes in the lid of a drinking water bottle and use that to water my seeds, it works as a mini watering can and it’s easier to control. be sure not to drown your seedlings, this leads to what is known as “damping off”, which is a disease caused by soil borne fungi when growing conditions are too wet and seedlings don’t have adequate ventilation.

Handy homemade watering can for seeds

Handy homemade watering can for seeds

Then, cover them if necessary with a plastic lid or bag. Don’t forget to label your seeds, it’s very easy to get them mixed up when you have trays and trays and pots and pots of seeds scattered everywhere.

Oh, and just in relation to my comment above about my rake. I’d be interested to know just what tool is your most valued in the garden, I’ve popped a little poll below.

As always, I’d love your feedback, or suggestions for my next “How To…” post

Happy Digging

Happy Birthday!

March 10th is a big day in my life. It’s my birthday (presents and cake welcome if you’re that way inclined). Not only that, it’s the two year anniversary of my plot. So, it’s a double birthday celebration tomorrow. Just wanted to share a few photographs of the plot from the last two years and a little story with each to explain the processes, simply hover over each image or click on the first one to scroll through them. Thank you all for reading and for all the support over the past two years. Big things coming in the coming weeks/months in the garden, watch this space.

Now, to go cry into my birthday cake and lament my misspent youth. Hold me.

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

Brace Yourself…..

isnns

As the honourable Ned Stark once said said repeatedly, “Winter is Coming”. In fact, friends, winter is just about here, the clocks went back on Saturday and now it is dark by six in the evening. It is getting that bit colder every day and before we know it The Others will be among us (well, maybe not, but it does no harm to be cautious).

However, despite the wind and rain and cold and darkness, I like the winter, it is a time to reflect, to take stock and to plan. With this in mind, I am going to get to work this winter. I have some major changes I want to make to the plot. I have a huge section of totally unworked land at one end of my plot which I am going to turn into a bee garden. I hope to add a small seating area for those hot summer days on the plot where I can sit and simply enjoy my surroundings. This is the perfect time of year to get busy with structural changes on your plot as there’s not a huge amount to do in terms of planting and the weed growth slows down significantly. The ground is perfect for digging, the rain softens it and the frost hasn’t hit yet so if you do have digging to do, do it now, you’ll be grateful in springtime. I spent a few hours digging today and it was fun! I love when the soil is as workable as it is now, it makes digging and weeding seem like easy work.

Winter may not seem like the best time to be in the garden but I’ve enjoyed spending time at the plot the past few weeks,  I had gone through a tough phase during the year when I didn’t even think it was possible to keep my plot but I’m so glad I did. The weather has turned but I like the dull rainy days on site, there’s barely a soul around and the place is peaceful, if sometimes a little eery.

20131021_145616

If you look very very closely, you can see a direwolf in the distance, I swear.

There are also plenty of crops still growing if you thought far enough ahead and winter can be one of the best times of the year in the garden. The food is rich, hearty and nutritious, and a hell of a lot tastier than the out of season veggies you buy in the supermarket.

My friend bought me this adorable postcard and I had to share it

My friend bought me this adorable postcard and I had to share it

My herb garden is pretty much the only thing that looks pretty at the moment, the only crops really growing in my beds right now are my parsnips and my winter salads. However, once November hits, I am going to plant some overwintering crops, garlic, purple sprouting broccoli, chicory and broad beans.

It’s hard to believe the gardening year is coming to an end, but then again, it doesn’t really end at all, it’s just a cycle of seasons, a cycle of change. Since I first got my plot, this is the least I’ve had growing on it at any given time and yet there is still plenty, that’s the joy of growing plenty of perennials I suppose.

20131023_155210

My asparagus is still going strong and in fact, is thriving at the moment, though it’ll be at least another year before I can even think about picking any. My fruit bushes are all starting to establish themselves, I have 10 foot tall raspberry bushes, a blackberry bush, redcurrant bush, gooseberries and even my two blueberry bushes are beginning to grow and have a beautiful colour in autumn.

20131021_145737

Blueberry “Spartan” (I need to physically restrain myself from crying “This Is Sparta” a la Leonidas every time I see it)

This week, I also finally got around to staining my shed. This serves two purposes, one, it looks a hell of a lot better and two, it protects the wood from the battering of the winter weather.

Before

Before

After

After

It’s strange really, because of the way my year worked out, I didn’t really get time to garden during the gorgeous summer this year, so I’m going to get on my scarves and gloves and make sure I get out there during the cold weather, there’s plenty of work to do, lots of dirt to get under my (Little)finger nails.

20131023_152107

My sage plant looking fabulous in the late October sunshine

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.

DSC_0638

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.

DSC_0633

Blue Beds

 

DSC_0623

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.

DSC_0628

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

 

DSC_0636

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

DSC_0604

This should make a nice crumble

What The Fliuch?

View from my window on Tuesday

View from my window on Tuesday

The weather this week has been almost unbearable, at least it has been for gardeners. We’ve had cold, some freezing cold, sunshine cold, snow cold, wet cold, a little-bit-less-cold-than-yesterday cold, then back to snow cold. Today is the 29th of March and it is currently 3 degrees celcius outside. Three! This time last year we were experiencing a bit of an unusual hot spell, I was at the plot every day in a t-shirt; so this year I’m getting very frustrated at the lack of gardening. Somebody may have to restrain me before I eat all of the easter eggs in Ireland in an act of despair.

I have done, literally, no gardening since I planted my onions two weeks ago. Even my seedlings on my windowsills won’t grow as there’s no light in the sky. Last weekend the rain was absolutely torrential, constant rain causing floods country wide and making every one very miserable. There were dark grey clouds for six consecutive days. This week, it has been mostly snow, rain, sleet, some rain, some snow, more rain. Today is thankfully a bit drier. It’s a long weekend this weekend, I do have to work tomorrow but have a half day. I will be visiting the plot come hell or high water (likelihood of high water is great). Or even snow. At least I have these bad boys to keep me warm.

The warmest mittens in existence (possibly)

The warmest mittens in existence (possibly)

For those of you wondering about my title, “Fliuch” is gaelic for wet. And yes, it rhymes with the F word.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig

Happy St Patricks day from a cold, wet and snowy Dublin. Today is our national holiday and I suppose we are lucky that it is celebrated all over the world but there’s nowhere I’d rather be than here in Dublin, the weather might be terrible but that won’t dampen our spirits (especially if those spirits are whiskeys, vodkas or rums). I tend to avoid the city centre on Paddys day, the parade is great for the kids but I’m not a huge fan of the crowds of drunken idiots. I had planned to spend the day on my plot but the weather is far from being gardening friendly, it’s cold and wet with heavy snow and sleet showers.

St Patricks Day is traditionally the day to plant your first earlies but I’m not growing spuds this year. I did visit the plot yesterday morning in the glorious sunshine (I’m beginning to see why we call it “March many weathers”).

DSC_0551

Whiter than white “Snowball” onion set

It was bright and warm yesterday morning, the sky was blue and I spent a few hours on the plot, getting my soil ready for my onions. I planted two types of onion and some shallots. I planted some Red Barons, which I had great success with last year, I also planted some shallots, a variety called red sun which have lovely pink flesh and are slow to bolt. I planted a variety of white onions called Snowball which are lovely pure white onions with a mild flavour. I also have some 50 Stuttgarter sets to plant later this week. I realised after planting my onions that I had no netting to protect them from the pesky birds, who love plucking onion sets out of the soil, so I covered them with some fleece which I had. I’m glad I did now, while onions don’t mind the cold, the frosts can force onion sets out of the ground.

DSC_0552

Onions ready for planting

DSC_0554

All wrapped up

The plot still looks very bare and messy, it’s going to take some serious hard work to get it the way I want it. Good thing I love getting out and digging because there’s plenty of it to do over the coming weeks.

I hope you all have a great Paddys Day and don’t get too drunk, if you were planning on planting your spuds today, maybe hold off for a few days or you’ll freeze your hands off.

Lá Féile Pádraig Shona Daoibh.

A March Miracle

Yesterday, something miraculous happened. I woke up early (yes, on a Saturday, I was as surprised as you are) and the sun was pouring through the window. For a moment I thought I was dreaming, until I looked out the window and there it was, high in the sky, yellow as the daffodils outside my door and I realised, spring is finally here.

I’ve been stuck in a winter rut. I haven’t been able to find the motivation to get up and go out to the plot in the cold and dig and weed and freeze my bottom off. The sunshine was like the flick of a switch, my mood instantly changed. I was all of a sudden itching to go to the plot, plant some seeds, do some digging and get some much needed fresh air.

So, off I went, to put on my wellies and get to work. Unfortunately however, my wellies had been left out on my last visit, they had been caked in mud and I left them to “dry out”. 

My "Dried out" wellies

My “Dried out” wellies

First port of call, was to move the raised bed that I grew my carrots in last year. When we first built the six raised beds, I had already planted my onions in the spot where I wanted to put DSC_0473one, so instead of disturbing my onions, we put the bed elsewhere for the year. It looked out of place where it was however, so we decided to move it so it was in line with the other beds. I dug the muck out from the edges and lifted the bed to it’s new location. I did have a little “incident” however, and the bed is now in two pieces. With the bed moved, we had a grave-like pile of muck left behind. I’m sure the neighbours thought that somebody had met an untimely end after said “incident” with the raised bed.

I made short work of the pile of muck, I transferred some of it back into the raised bed and used the rest to fill two brand new one metre square beds which went in it’s place. These little beds might only last me a year but they’re very handy and just what I needed to fill up the now empty space. I planted my garlic in one. I know it’s about two months late but we’re still getting enough frosts for it to get the cold snap it needs to start off and maybe I’ll get some small bulbs. It was the first thing I planted on the plot this year and it gave me a thrill. Next week I’m hoping to plant my onions and shallots too.

The new beds

The new beds

I also took the opportunity to use up some of the billion pine needles I have in the shed, left over from great Christmas tree Massacre of 2013.

Dave the monster

Dave the monster

I decided to recycle my tree myself instead of dumping it, or doing as most people do and letting rot away in the back garden until mid-summer; I bagged up all the branches and I now have six black sacks full of pine needles and braches in the allotment shed (which I still havent gotten around to tidying). Yesterday, I used one of the bags of pine needles to create a nice mulch for my blueberry bushes, which I noticed yesterday have lovely green buds on them. Blueberries love acidic soil, and while my soild is slightly acidic already, it does no harm to help them along. Pine needles are very acidic, and are excellent for using as a mulch for blueberry plants.

Before going home for a much needed cup of tea and a pat on the back, I had a little drool over my rhubarb, it’s looking very healthy. It’s hard to resist pulling off a stalk and munching away, but in just another few short weeks, I’ll be making rhubarb crumble. Yum.

DSC_0476DSC_0470

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.

20121230-230046.jpg

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