Tag Archives: Planting

50 Shades of Clay

Have you ever had a weekend, so exhilarating, so exciting, so very, very dirty that you wake up on Monday with a smile on your face, your back muscles aching and a deep burn in your thighs? Well I have just had that weekend. Now, before you think I’ve gone all raunchy on you, I am of course talking about my weekend in the garden. Although, maybe I’m on to something, there’s a definite gap in the market for erotic gardening novels. I’ll call mine 50 Shades of Clay. I’m going to make millions guys!

…Her tight denim shorts strained against her rump as she bent over the bed. Her hands slick with dew, the back of her neck glistening with sweat. She wiped her muddied hand on her sunburned leg, and as he watched her run the streak of soil from her trembling thigh down to the rim of her wellies, he held his large tool in his hand and fantasised about spending long clammy afternoons in her polytunnel…

Yes, my friends, I had a very dirty weekend.

It was a cold but dry weekend in Dublin and it was definitely the first sign of spring. My plot is beginning to come back to life, there are a few crocuses and daffodils opening and the desolation of winter is beginning to disappear.

I had a serious stroke of luck this weekend. I hauled myself out to the plot early on Saturday morning intending to spend an hour or so just pulling up some weeds and tidying up. Little did I know I’d spend the day up to my eyeballs in compost.

There I was, surveying my plot, trying to figure out where the hell to start when one of my neighbours came over for a chat. Turns out, he had ordered 15 tonnes of compost and had to get it all moved that day. Now, this stuff was gorgeous. Yes I just referred to muck as gorgeous, but in all seriousness, it was the most attractive thing I’ve seen in weeks. He very kindly offered me some and so I spent the day carting wheelbarrows full of muck back and forth to my plot. I filled my large raised beds with about two tonnes of it and I’m amazed at the difference it has made to the plot already. It’s a far cry from the greyish looking muck that was in there before, now my soil is rich and fertile.

 

My soil looking replenished
My soil looking replenished

 

….it had been a number of years since her patch had a good ploughing….

Now, soil may seem like very boring thing to all my non gardening friends but it is the single most important thing in a garden. Think about it, with no soil, nothing would grow, there would be nothing to plant your seeds in, nothing to sustain your plants. Soil, you see, is not just a load of dirty brown stuff. It is the giver of life. It is packed full of important nutrients for plants and bad soil = bad plants. As such, most gardeners, will spend more time on muck in Spring than on anything else and this is the time of year to get your soil ready for planting. Be it digging, composting or raking, preparing your soil is not only prudent, it is an essential task in any garden.

……His biceps swelled as he lifted the wheelbarrow, mud streaked across his brow, his torn t-shirt revealing the lean yet mountainous landscape underneath….

Last year, I didn’t really do much with my soil and it really began to show in mid summer. I hadn’t composted or manured any of my raised beds and consequently, my plants suffered. Plants take vital nutrients from the soil and it is essential to put that goodness back into the soil for each growing season. Compost is possibly the best way to do this, it needs to be well rotted and packed full of nutrients. This year, I had intended to buy a mountain of compost to breathe some goodness back into my earth. Thankfully, I no longer have to do that due to the generosity of a fellow gardener.  What is it Mr Tennessee Williams said about the kindness of strangers?

…and as she handled the rough foliage, she knew that what her bed was missing right now was a good forking….

I also spent quite a few hours weeding on Saturday, it’s amazing how nothing will really grow in winter, oh wait no, it will, the weeds will grow. They will grow year round apparently and despite the cold and the lack of light and the driving wind and the rain and the frost and the snow and the hail. They will always grow.

….she spent her days in the lonely greenhouse, praying he would appear and help to fertilise her seeds….

I hightailed it home at about five o’clock, freezing cold, covered in muck and exhausted, so naturally, I decided to go out for more punishment on Sunday. It’s still far too early to plant much outside but I did plant some garlic, a mild, soft neck, French variety called Germidour (can be bought in Mr Middleton’s for my Dublin based readers), most garlic should be planted in late autumn but this variety can be planted right up until February if you have the right conditions. I haven’t grown garlic successfully before so I have high hopes for a good crop this year. I also potted up some strawberry plants (I have a whole other blog post coming about that little adventure).

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Garlic ready for planting

 

I finally put up my birdhouse, which I painted about a year ago and then completely forgot about, tidied my shed (long overdue) and had about 106 cups of tea. All in all a very productive weekend.

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My adorable birdhouse

 

…..she swooned as he plunged his spade deep into her trench over and over….

Work on 50 Shades of Clay has begun, expect to find it in all good bookshops in the near future. Seeking gorgeous gardener to play the male protagonist in the movie version. I will of course, play the female lead.

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.

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

 

How To Make Your Own Planting Ruler

Planting seeds outdoors is one of my favourite things to do in the world, I love the smell of the soil, love the way it gets all lodged up in my fingernails. I love raking the soil until it reaches a fine tilth. I love marking out my rows with bamboo and twine. I love rolling the seeds from the palm of my hand into my seed drills.

Every seed or bulb requires spacing when being planted, this lessens the need to thin them out as they grow as all plants need room to grow and expand. Now, you can use a measuring tape for this, you can take your chances and guess, or you can do as I’ve done and make yourself a very simple ruler to mark out your spaces. I stole this little trick from my Dad last year and it has made planting seeds outdoors miles easier. Now, you can, of course, buy planting rulers but why would you bother when you can make a far cheaper one to suit your exact needs?

All you need is a long piece of bamboo, a measuring tape and a pen or marker. Lie your bamboo parallel with your measuring tape and mark off every 10cm with a pen or a marker. I have also marked in every 5cm with a red pen (I also have two more of these with 20cm and 30cm spacing just for handiness sake). Then you can just lie this on your soil, beside your seed drill and use it as a spacing guide for planting. I have used an 8ft long piece of bamboo so I don’t have to keep moving it during planting as it fits my raised beds perfectly.

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Marking out my spaces

A simple job like this can make planting so much easier, the less time fiddling about, the more work you can get done. And we all know a gardeners work is never, ever, complete!

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Simples!

 

Planting and Dancing

Early on Saturday morning, I stood in my polytunnel in a t shirt, it was 30 degrees celsius and it felt like gardening in the height of summer. Outside it was pouring rain, there were strong winds and it was a chilly 3 degrees.

I have spent just under two years gardening outdoors, victim to the elements. I always swore I wasn’t going to get a polytunnel, partly because of the price and partly because of the work involved. It means that during the summer months, I’ll have to get out to the plot at least 3-4 times a week to water my crops which is a task when you’re working full time, live miles away from your plot and don’t drive. However, on a whim a few weeks ago, I decided to get myself a polytunnel, I’m a terrible woman for expensive, impulse purchases. This one is paying off already though. Not only was I able to stand in there on a freezing Saturday in March, planting and dancing (yes, I dance in my polytunnel, I need to do it somewhere you know), I can now attempt to grow crops that I couldn’t even consider trying in the past.

The polytunnel will likely be my biggest project this year, I need to figure out the layout and install some raised beds. To start, I got myself a staging table for planting and for my seedlings etc. As such, I now have a proper potting bench, it was something I sorely needed on the plot. It’s my equivalent of a desk.

My new workstation
My new workstation

On Saturday, I got some serious planting started. I peeled off my hoodie, stuck on my iPod (for the dancing), poured myself a coffee from my flask and got my hands dirty. I planted celery, celeriac, cucumbers, basil (sweet and red basil), corriander and some sunflowers. These, along with my already planted tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and chillies means I have a good start on my polytunnel crops now.

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Planting season 2014 commences

I also got my red and white onions planted outside. The cold windy weather was a bit of a shock to my system after the balmy confines of the polytunnel. I love planting onions, for me, it’s the herald of a new gardening season. Within about two weeks, I’ll hopefully have lots of crops planted in my raised beds, I hate when they’re all bare.

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Onions planted and protected

My rhubarb is once again looking to be the king of my plot, there’s loads of it already and I reckon I’ll be picking some next weekend. In fact, I’m a little scared, last year it was monstrous, I had so much rhubarb that I thought I’d crumble (see what I did there?) under the pressure to use it all. Which is a good complaint to have I suppose.

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Omnomnomnom

 

The plot is in pretty good shape at the moment. She needs a bit of TLC though. I need to fix my fencing, build a gate, put up my birdhouse, plant lots of flowers, touch up the paint work and build myself a patio/seating area in addition to sorting out the polytunnel. My work here is never done.

Next weekend, I have aspirations to spend the whole weekend on the plot, it’s amazing how much you can get done in an eight hour gardening frenzy, so hopefully over three days I can get loads done. I even have an adorable portable gas stove now, to cook myself some lunch, courtesy of my parents. Best birthday present ever!

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I’m a proper allotmenteer now, little stove for my shed and everything

How To Grow Onions From Sets

Snowball onion set
Snowball onion set

Onions are one of the nicest things to grow in your garden and one of the first crops to plant in spring. I always feel that once I plant my onions, then my gardening year has really started. They are relatively easy to grow and once you follow a few guidelines, should provide you with one of the best crops of the year. They can be stored for months in the correct conditions and are a staple of most culinary dishes.

You can of course, grow onions from seed but I would advise against it unless you have the time, patience and a greenhouse/polytunnel. Instead, I would recommend you get yourself some onion sets. Onion sets are partly grown onion bulbs, they are usually more reliable than growing from seed and because you are growing from set, there will be less work as there is no thinning required.

Recommended Varieties:
White Onions: Stuttgarter Giant, Sturon
Red Onions: Red Baron, Karmen

Planting:

When planting your onions, prepare your soil a few weeks in advance by adding some compost or soil enricher. Onion sets will need to be spaced properly to give them space to mature and bulk up. Space your rows about 30cm apart and plant your sets about 10-15cm apart. Plant each set with the neck facing upwards, leaving the tip above the surface. Firm these in well and water.

Onion sets being planted
Onion sets being planted

Growing:

Young onion plants are very, very appealing to birds and because you leave them poking their heads out, you’ll need to protect them with some netting so the birds won’t rip them out from the bed. Frost can be another issue for young onions so wait until mid-late March to plant them. Frost can push your sets out of the soil so be vigilant and push them back in. I often keep an eye on the weather report and put fleece over my onion crop if a ground frost is on it’s way.

You will need to weed in between your young onions a lot as they hate weed competition. Take care not to disturb your sets from the soil while weeding. I have a great hand held onion hoe for this purpose, an old dinner fork also works well.

That's my onion hoe in the centre, brilliant for weeding between my onions
That’s my onion hoe in the centre, brilliant for weeding between my onions

Harvesting:

Onions are usually ready to harvest in mid summer. Their tops will start to fall over and yellow. Loosen the soil around them and lift them gently with a fork. Onions will need to dry out, it helps if you harvest them on a sunny day. Hang them in an airy, dry place (like your shed) for about three to four weeks to dry them for storage.

Dried onions
Drying onions

Bolted Onions:

The biggest problem I seem to have experienced when growing onions is bolting. Bolting is essentially when a plant begins to flower, which of course is pretty (especially allium flowers), but not very useful when producing food as you want the energy to go into the food and not into producing seed. It generally occurs when the spring and summer are particularly wet and chilly.  Bolted onions won’t store well at all and I have found red onions particularly prone to bolting early. If they do bolt on you, snap off the thick flower stalk just above the bulb. Bolted onions will not mature any further and could likely rot in the ground in wet conditions so your best bet is to harvest it and use it within a week as it won’t store well.

Bolted onion form last summer, very pretty flowers
Bolted onion from last summer, very pretty flowers

I just bought my onion sets today an will be planting them this weekend. This year I’m growing Sturon for my white onions and Karmen for my red onions as I have had success with both varieties before. I’m also going to plant some spring onions and garlic and have my leeks germinated and growing strong at home. Looks like I have my allium beds sorted for 2014.

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