Citizen Kale

Ahem. Testing. Testing. *taps microphone*….if there is anybody out there, Fiona is back. Repeat, Fiona is back. Return of the craic.

I know my lovely readers will have been wailing, keening, sweating and puking with severe Fiona withdrawal symptoms of late. I know you have all been sitting at home, wondering where I’ve been; spending your long, empty days and sleepless nights, bereft of my gardening wisdom and wit. I know it has been a long time since I last made you laugh, cry, cringe, roll your eyes, or regale you with tales of my underwear, and for all of those things I am truly sorry. It is the ultimate cruelty to suck you in and then leave you hanging, waiting for just a little hit. I am the world’s top garden blog dealer, El Crapo strikes again.

You see, I am now very famous and important, and as such, I have been too busy being famous and important to spend my time writing for plebs on the internet (this fame is going to my head slightly I think, I still love you all). It hasn’t been easy. I’ve had the traumatic experience of being dragged kicking and screaming to a number of fabulous gardening, food and music festivals in order to talk about food growing and party the night away in forests. It’s been a real struggle as you can imagine.

I’ve given myself repetitive strain injury in my right hand from signing millions of autographs after being featured in an ad campaign for Electric Ireland. My face is sore from smiling for thousands of photographs and my feet are in pain from the horror of dancing the night away in my polka dot wellies at a music festival.

In addition to these very difficult changes in my life, I’ve also been ardently busy on the plot. Take today for example, I had to trek the whole two minutes to get to my allotment, make a latté with the community room’s coffee machine, eat a handful of fresh raspberries, put on my shorts, play some pink floyd, whip out my laptop and sit in the sunshine beside my horrible wildflower patch while I wrote a blog post. I mean, I’m not even sure how I manage to pull myself out of bed in the mornings anymore.

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My disgusting wildflower patch

I’ve even become quite accustomed to having my very own make-up artist, director and crew of photographers and cameramen at the allotment. Well, it happened once. But that was enough to turn me into Dublin’s Digging Diva, I’m all but short of demanding handsome men fan me with palm leaves while I tend to my garden and half expect adoring fans to throw rose petals at me when I walk down the street.

It was a pretty amazing – if not unnerving – experience to have 21 people crammed onto my allotment while I stood in my polytunnel talking about planting spuds. The day of the recording was way back in February, in the depths of the worst spring I’ve ever experienced in my garden and the allotment was an absolute state! Cue much embarrassment on my part, and attempting to explain that gardens in winter are the least glamorous places on the planet.

I mean, I know I am a fan of looking gorgeous in the garden but never before have I worn that much lipstick outdoors. Or indoors for that matter. There was a photoshoot which involved two hours of stroking my rhubarb and looking lovingly at my kale while staring off “into the distance”. The “distance” in question was actually a poor photographer’s face. Picture this: me, bent over my kale, seductively running my fingers through kale leaves, eerie smile plastered on my face while being told to stare into the eyes of a complete stranger. “Look into his eyes Fiona, get your hands in deeper”.

Awkward.

There were hours spent in an attempt to look good while gardening; trowel twerking, hip-wiggle digging, whimsical wheelbarrowing, fastidious fake scrolling on my laptop. I put my hat on. I took it off. I put my hat back on again. I changed my wellies. I changed my coat. I took my hat off again. The film crew descended on my house for an hour where I recorded a series of voiceovers which I absolutely nailed. I was proud as punch of this fact until I realised I was chuffed with myself for simply managing to read things from a page out loud into a microphone. I stabbed myself twice in the eye with the spoon in my cup of tea. More scrolling. Rocked back around to the allotment for lunch, where the lovely crew had gotten in a caterer and we stuffed our faces full of fancy sandwiches, soup and cakes. It really is so challenging being a celebrity. Back to the plot for more filming. Roped my fellow allotment pal, Domo to be on camera with me, we had a twenty minute long fake conversation about fake potatoes. I put my hat back on. I tried not to flash everyone while changing outfits in my shed; the ultimate celebrity gardener green room. All in all, the day was long, exhausting, adventurous and awkward and I loved every second of it. I am now awaiting a phone call from the academy about my well deserved oscar nomination.

In fact, I’m considering crowdfunding a new movie venture. Fiona Kelly stars in Citizen Kale. The greatest movie ever made. About Kale. Oscar is in the bag!

I have also spent quite a lot of time on stage of late. I was kindly invited back to the GIY Food Matters tent at Bloom in the Park this year where the brave gang at GIY let me loose with a microphone on some poor, unsuspecting festival goers for five days straight. It was one of the best weeks of my life. Mostly, it entailed me brandishing a microphone like a weapon of mass destruction, making terrible gardening jokes and talking filth, being attacked by a wasp in front of an audience and attempting to stay calm, being asked an incredibly challenging question by my Mam in front of an audience and having to admit she knows more than I do and meeting some incredible people and learning more about food growing than I have in five years. There was also a Thursday afternoon thunderstorm during which we all played air guitar on stage to AC/DC. Life goals now complete. Over the five days, I  got to tour the show gardens, make new friends, eat incredible food and soak up the sunshine. It’s hard being me.

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I also had the amazing opportunity to be a part of the wonderful Bloom Fringe Festival but I have a separate blog post coming up about that, and last weekend, I spent a life changing few days at Body & Soul Festival with GIY which I also have a lot to write about so watch out for those over the next few days.

I will say this though, there was a kale ice pop. It was disgusting.

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Sorry Kale, I want a divorce

In the garden itself, it has been a rollercoster in recent weeks. Everything is growing really well for the most part, especially the weeds! I’ve spent three days this week simply pulling up weeds.

Three entire days.

There are still lots of weeds.

As many of you know, a few weeks ago, I experienced something I’ve always dreaded. My allotment was vandalised. I arrived at the plot to find major damage to my shed, polytunnel and raised beds. Most of the plants I had spent all springtime establishing were killed and I lost pretty much everything in the polytunnel. It was disheartening to say the least. It set me back quite a few weeks, but, in an amazing turn of events, my fellow plot holders all banded together, replaced the plastic on my tunnel and gifted me with dozens of plants including tomatoes, courgettes, funkiness (that was supposed to be pumpkins but it’s such a good typo I have to leave it as is) and even some cape gooseberries. Today, my poytunnel is looking better than it has ever looked before. The kindness and generosity of gardeners, has once again, humbled me to my core.

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Step in to my office

My Dad has been an absolute lifesaver throughout the past few weeks, planting, watering and caring for the polytunnel while I had a little meltdown. So, to Daddy Grows Food, the Monster in the Corner himself, I love you and thank you for always having my back.

My raised beds are now full of sweetcorn, peas, beans, kale, cabbages, leeks, pumpkins, spinach, chard, salads and one lone carrot. Yes, my carrots failed miserably and now I have one carrot that I am treating like royalty. I sing to it, talk to it, water it, coax it to grow. I don’t stroke it though, I learned a valuable lesson from the great kale fondling of 2017.

My garden is thriving like never before and it continues to amaze me every single day.

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Except for the weeds. They can f*ck right off.

You can check out recordings of the panel discussions on the GIY soundcloud page, including this recording of a panel discussion I participated in with some amazing people about the healing garden. Mostly I made terrible jokes about beetroot because that is just what I do.

 

Currently accepting applications for the role of Fiona’s allotment make-up artist. I can only pay you a salary of cabbages but you’ll get to touch my lips a lot so you’ll be the real winner. 

Face Planting

Right, I know it’s been quite a while since I last wrote a blog post, I would apologise but to be honest, I’ve actually been busy becoming a superstar so it was a worthwhile sacrifice. Lifestyles of the rich and famous yo (I’ve also seemingly been initiated into a low-level street gang yo).

I’ve had a crazy few weeks. In fact, I even had a full scale film crew at the allotment at one stage but I’ll fill you in a bit more on that once it goes live. Let’s just say I spent a number of hours looking lovingly at bunches of kale. Pretty sure I’m now married to my kale to be honest, I’ve never know anyone or anything so intimately. It’s a bit of a thorny issue now as I think my rhubarb got a bit jealous (that only got a mild stroking and a cheeky wink), especially as I had a make up artist on set/plot with me and I looked absolutely GORGEOUS!

In addition to my oscar worthy performance, I’ve also had a few deadlines, food growing workshops, interviews and to be completely honest, quite a few pressing social commitments to attend. It’s difficult to garden when you’re busy dancing in six-inch stilettos every Friday night and even more difficult when you’re absolutely dying of a hangover the following morning. It’s near impossible to string a few words together, never mind write anything beyond texts to your mates along the lines of “call the mother-bleeping reaper guys, I am feeling grim”.

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The hangover sanctuary

The allotment does provide some modicum of sanctuary from the real world when you have a cracking headache and you keep getting those aftertaste waves of last night’s tequila but I tend to spend those hungover days sitting in my pink chair, drinking coffee and regretting my life choices and get very little in the way of actual gardening or writing completed. Some advocate for healthy living I am! As such, it’s been quite a few weeks since my last blog post but here I am, back with a bang. Literally, this post is all about banging (get your mind out of the gutter, I’m a different kind of purveyor of filth….), I mean the bangs, bumps, burns and bashes that often take place in a garden.

There’s a scene in Jaws where Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw are sitting around in a boat after another testing day of throwing barrels at a shark. They’re having a few drinks and comparing war wounds, each trying to out-man each other with their scars. It’s one of my all time favourite movie scenes, possibly because my Mam used to sing the song they sing to me as a lullaby when I was younger. Yep, my mother sang me a sea shanty about getting drunk to put me to sleep, absolute legend that she is. Probably explains quite a lot about the adult I turned into to be honest…

Now, if you’re wondering why the hell I’m writing about Jaws, picture this: that scene is akin to our allotment community room at times, except we have tea instead of booze and slugs instead of sharks. An average chat with my gardening pals can often go as follows:

“I got stung by a bee the other day, look at the bloody lump on my leg”
“You think that’s bad? I stood on my rake and it hit me in the face”
“Sure I pruned off my own finger with my secateurs”
“Pfffft, that’s nothing lads, I impaled my foot with a garden fork and now have selective        stigmata”.
“Show me the way to home! I’m tired and I wanna go to (raised) bed(s)……”

Gardens have a reputation for being very zen places to spend an afternoon, and yes, they can be…..when you’re not the bloody gardener. Cue the Kenny Loggins guys, the garden path can often be a highway to the danger zone.

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Don’t let it fool you, this is the entrance to hell

Being an allotment holder is not about prancing around in pretty dresses and sandals, with daisy chain braided hair, listening to the birdsong while you thread your fingers through long grass, eating fresh strawberries and sipping elderflower cordial. It’s more ripped jeans, twig tangled hair, sweating up a storm while dragging your hands through the goddamn mud, shovelling raw peas into your gob and taking a swig of beer. There’s no picking flowers while listening to Mozart in my garden, in my garden, I get out in the rain and dig along to Deftones.

Allotment gardeners are absolute hard asses. We toil and lug and lift and dig. I’m constantly covered in scars, bruises, cuts and stings, I have calloused hands and a killer tan and some serious biceps from all the digging.

Having spent the past two weekends working hard at the plot, my body now resembles a map of mishaps. I have a rather large cut on my wrist, two deep scratches on my forearm, a rash on my chest from a rogue nettle, seven bruises on my shins. Yes, I counted, there are seven. I broke five fingernails and somehow a toenail and have a large splinter in the tip of my thumb which I have decided to leave in a sick and twisted experiment to see how long it takes to work its own way out. Rakes to the face, shovels to the foot, bamboo stabbings, wasp stings, slipping in the mud and face planting into your potato patch, this is the stuff that makes you hard as nails.

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Fiona Gores Fools

Now, not only is the allotment a dangerous place for the gardener, but the allotment gardener can turn into quite the dangerous individual. Or at least I can. Last week, I tweeted that the only reason that I have an allotment is to bury the bodies of all the men who have messed me around in it. I was joking of course (cough), but it got me to thinking, I could legitimately dispose of a man’s person’s body in my garden…plus bullsh*t does make excellent fertiliser.

Now, I’m not advocating murder of course – I can’t even bring myself to kill a slug – and I’m pretty skeptical about the effect necrotic human flesh would have on my organic veggies (probably still not as detrimental as weedkiller to be fair), but an allotment would be the ideal place in which to commit the perfect crime.

I don’t want to get a reputation as a hoe or anything but for all you know, there could be a man in every one of my beds. The Litchfield Correctional Facility vegetable garden ain’t got nothing on mine.

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Armed and dangerous

I mean, think about it, I have a shed full of potentially deadly weapons and 100 square metres of muck in which to bury the evidence. I have pick axes, shears, secateurs, knives and saws. I’m a dab hand at digging and I reckon I could have a shallow grave ready to fill in approximately twenty minutes. Not that I’ve tried it of course.

I also have a garden full of poisonous plants that could make me a potential dark horse of organic food growing.

Azaleas for the assholes. Digitalis for the d*ckheads. Rhododendrons for the rogues. Mistletoe for the misogynists. Hydrangeas for the husbands. Seriously. Hydrangeas contain levels of…wait for it….cyanide. I’m a little concerned that they happen to be one of my favourite plants and the connotations that may have for my reputation after writing this. In fairness, you would need a hell of a lot of them to kill a man human, but still.

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Gorgeous but deadly. Hydrangea are my spirit flowers.

However, if you’re looking for a more considered and subtle approach, rhubarb leaves are the perfect choice for all the non-commitals, you won’t kill them but you’ll leave them with quite an epic tummy ache. So a fair warning to all my exes, future exes, critics, naysayers, enemies and in particular to my arch nemesis (you know who you are), I might be an environmental hippy type who grows her own food, but I also “accidentally” grow quite a few toxins.

In fact, I’m thinking of a complete rebrand of my blog:

Copy of Copy of Plan-Cary

What do you reckon?

Pretty sure I’ll be writing my next blog post from prison guys. Don’t worry, I’ll start a food garden there too….Green is the New Black after all.

This blog post may or may not be inspired by a moment of panic in the garden last week when I was pulling up old foxgloves sans gloves and then casually ate a jam donut straight away. Cue immediate melodramatic visions of myself dying a horrible and painful death. Death by digitalis.

Here lies Fiona Kelly: donut devotee, foxglove fanatic, alliteration addict.

Plants Bants, Valentine’s Day Edition: Borage

Valentine’s day is unavoidable. It really is. It’s everywhere. Cards. Chocolates. Cuddly Toys. Sexy undies. Sexy undies everywhere. Flowers. So many bunches of flowers. So many roses. So many sad, supermarket carnations.

I have a bit of a pathetic secret, I’ve never been bought flowers by a man. Never. Not once. Which is a hell of an achievement really given the fact that I’m not only a gardener but I’m also absolutely gorgeous. Modest too. The mind boggles. Now, before you think I’m looking for sympathy (or flowers), stop everything! I am not. In fact, I quite enjoy lamenting about it at length to my friends, while on the inside I’m happy about the fact that somebody hasn’t hacked a poor plant to bits in order to get the ride; because let’s be honest, that’s the whole bloomin’ idea behind it and anyone who says otherwise is just plain lying.

So, in an effort to encourage you all to stop spending outrageous amounts of money on flowers that will be wilted within a day, I propose this (nice bit of matrimony humour there); for Valentine’s day this year, why don’t you get yourself or your other half some seeds and plant some edible flowers in your garden.

One of my favourite things about my allotment is the flowers I have growing. I don’t just grow fruit and veggies but also grow a wide array of flowers, the majority of which I grow because they are edible, good for pollinators or both.

I have a deep seeded love affair with blue flowers. There is something wildly romantic about them, I can’t quite place it but blue flowers stir something in my soul. You’ll definitely think I’m insane if you’re not one of my fellow flower-fanatic friends, but there’s just something intrinsically… sensual about blue flowers. Forget drowning in the pools of someone’s blue eyes (except mine of course, worthy applicants can apply via twitter), and instead do some gazing in to some blue blooms and grow yourself some borage. Borage (Borago officinalis) is my absolute favourite flower, so for the romantic day that’s in it, I’d like to write a little ode to this great love of my life.

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Borage is my bae

Borage, with its intensely blue, star shaped flowers is one of the best plants you can grow in your veggie patch. Not only do bees love it, but borage is edible and has beneficial medicinal properties. Borage is essentially a miracle plant and absolutely gorgeous too.

Borage is a nectar rich flower which will self seed all over your garden. In fact, I planted borage once four years ago and now it pops up all over my garden every year, it is the Valentine’s gift that’ll keep on giving.  Borage is one of the most bee friendly plants you can have in your garden. Bees adore borage, particularly honey bees – which as we all know need all the the help they can get – and honey made from borage flowers is known to be sweeter and more flavoursome than other honeys. My borage plants are laden with bees right throughout the growing season, which can stretch from March right up until October if the weather is good.

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Planting Borage

Borage is very easy to grow, simply sow in a well drained bed after the last frost has passed and the ground has heated up. Borage has a taproot so it prefers to be direct sown where it is to grow as opposed to being transplanted as this causes root disturbance. Water your borage well until it has established. Borage needs very little in the way of care throughout the season and it can grow quite tall in sunny positions.

You can collect the seeds and replant the following year or you can simply wait for it to self seed, because trust me, it will. In fact, you will probably never get rid of it unless you either bomb your garden or simply move. Very far away. We’re talking miles.

The Science Bit

Borage is one of those lovely “companion” plants in the vegetable garden. In essence, it is a very good friend to many of the plants you grow in your veggie patch like tomatoes, strawberries, cabbages and squashes. Because borage attracts bees and wasps, it therefore repels other pests that bother tomatoes and cabbages which wasps are known to prey on.

Borage is also known to actively improve the flavour of strawberries, possibly due to the effects it has on the soil. Borage leaves contain vitamin C, potassium and calcium so it adds trace minerals to your soil and it is also a brilliant plant to add to your compost heap.

Borage is the highest known plant source of an Omega 6 fatty acid called GLA (gamma linolenic acid) which is good for excema, arthritis and diabetes and is also a source of fibre and B vitamins.

Beginning to understand why borage is my ideal boyfriend now?

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Swoon!

Using Borage as an Edible Flower

Now for the fun part! Borage is of course, an edible flower. It has long been used in salads and drinks as a garnish.

Borage has a mild cucumber flavour. For my gin loving friends, I urge you to try it with some Hendricks, though I do not like to encourage gin drinking because gin is the devil and that’s all I have to say about that.

Freeze borage flowers in an ice cube to add to drinks to really impress your guests.Unless you’re like me and you never actually ever have any guests. Forever alone. Sob.

I’ll just sit here for Valentine’s Day and munch on whole borage flowers while watching soppy romantic comedies, don’t mind me.

Borage for Courage

Borage is literally good for the heart, which makes it the ultimate Valentine’s Day flower. It stimulates your adrenal gland, encouraging the production of adrenaline, raising your mood and is beneficial for your kidneys and digestive system too. Borage has been used to treat depression and states of melancholy and has long been thought to bring comfort and to give you courage. Historically, borage flowers were often embroidered onto knight’s battle garments and was said to be eaten by roman soldiers before going to war. Badass borage! In fact, there is even an old wive’s tale that states if you slip some borage into your lover’s drink it would give them the courage to propose. Not creepy or desperate in the slightest.

Sure, why do you think I have so much of it in my garden? If you see me today, slipping some blue flowers into some poor, unsuspecting sods drink, save him before he shackles himself to me in holy matrimony and has to spend eternity competing for my affections with a flower.

The flower will win every time.

Fiona luvs Borage 4EVA.

Mrs. Fiona Borage.


 

Plants Bants: How to Grow Parsnips

Parsnips are a great divider of opinion, you either love them or you hate them, there is no in between. I happen to adore parsnips, they’re one of my favourite vegetables, especially when roasted with honey and fresh sage.

Parsnips are the vegetable that converted me from a vegetable hater to a vegetable grower so they’ll always have a special place in my heart. I know, that’s a pretty sweeping statement but it’s true. Home grown parsnips are the reason I decided to grow my own food. A number of years ago, my Dad brought home some parsnips from his allotment and I was hooked. They smell and taste nothing like the parsnips from a supermarket and they are my favourite thing to eat in winter, particularly on Christmas day.

I’ve only grown parsnips twice at the plot, mostly because there is a master parsnip grower in my family and I can’t even begin to compete with him and also as there are only so many parsnips that two people can eat (my mother falls firmly into the anti-parsnip brigade).

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Daddy Grows Food’s amazing parsnips in autumn.

Parsnips are the diva of the vegetable garden in that they are stubborn but sweet and absolutely gorgeous. They take about as long to germinate as a good idea for your first novel. Parsnips also require a very long growing season and will take up space in your garden for the guts of a year.

However, parsnips are the crowning glory of the root vegetable family, rich in flavour and a lovely crop to harvest when there is little else growing in winter.

Sowing Parsnips

Seeds

The first hurdle to get over when planting parsnips is to make sure you have good, fresh seeds. Parsnips are notoriously fussy and do not store well, you need to buy new seeds each year. If you try to use seeds that are two years old, you’ve already given yourself an impossible mountain to climb. Don’t set yourself up for failure.

When to plant

As I mentioned before, parsnips need a long growing season but this does not mean planting as early in the year as you like. I’ve seen people sow their parsnips in January and then wonder why they don’t do well. Parsnip seedlings really don’t like cold, wet soil. In fact, they need to be planted in soil that is about 10 degrees so hold off on sowing your seeds until your soil temperatures have risen in Spring.

The ARSE-nip test

There is a great way to test this if you don’t have a thermometer; I call it Fiona’s ARSE-nip test. Basically it is as follows: if your soil is warm enough for you to sit on in your bare arse then it’s warm enough for your parsnips. If you can indeed sit on your soil bare arsed without screaming bloody murder, it’s probably February/March and a good time to sow your seeds.

Gas crack craic altogether.

Soil

Parsnips grow pretty deep so you’ll need well worked, fertile soil with good drainage, avoid using manure as this can cause your parsnips to fork. You’ll need to spend quite a bit of time working your soil to a fine tilth before sowing parsnip seeds.

Plant your parsnips on a day with little wind as parsnip seeds are minuscule and likely to blow away if a strong breeze hits. I once lost an entire packet of seeds in this manner and in the process, created some very interesting new swear word combinations.

Direct sow your seeds in rows about 30cm apart and thin them out once the seedlings have established. The more space you give each plant, the larger it will grown. Bear in mind that they can take up to three weeks to germinate so don’t panic if there’s no activity for a while.

Caring for Parsnips

As I said earlier, parsnips are divas to get started but once you do, they are pretty hardy plants. They require little care, except for some gentle hand weeding and perhaps some serenading. Take care not to damage the roots while weeding. Once parsnips have established, they have quite full, leafy foliage which is very similar to the foliage of celery. This creates a lot of ground cover so they need less weeding once they get larger.

Parsnips do need quite a bit of water and the soil they are in should not be permitted to get too dry. Water parsnips regularly and make sure there is plenty of organic matter in the soil to retain moisture.

Pests and diseases 

Parsnips can be susceptible to a form of rot known as parsnip canker which appears as a rust coloured rot at the top of the plant and causes severe damage to the root of the plant, it’s mostly caused by drought and poor soil conditions.

Harvesting

Parsnips are ready for harvesting when the foliage begins to die back in autumn. However, they taste far better after they’ve been hit with the first frost of winter as the cold turns the starch in parsnip into sugars, giving them their distinctive sweet flavour. For this reason, it’s is ideal to actually store your parsnips in the ground until you are going to use them.

Recommended Varieties: GladiatorJavelin, White Gem

Pro tip: if you are intending to perform the ARSE-nip test, you could use it as part of your New Year’s exercise regime. Remove underpants, (wellies optional), stand beside your intended planting site and perform twenty squats, touching your bum on the soil with each squat. For an added work out, hold a pot of compost in each hand. You might get some strange looks but you’ll have perfect parsnips and a gloriously toned bottom.

Peachy.

 

Planuary

Happy New Year fellow growers!

I’ve been slightly off the blogging radar for the past few weeks, mostly due the a little event that takes place around the end of December every year. I have a busy retail management job so Christmas is pretty much a black hole for me in terms of social life, gardening, writing or any other extra curricular activities, but here I am (not so refreshed) and ready to face another gardening year head on.

January can often be a bleak month in the garden. There’s very little to harvest, nothing really to do in the way of planting and the ravages of winter really begin to show on the plot. Everything is dark, muddy, dirty, tainted and dying and a visit to the plot is like a visit to a little veggie graveyard, each empty bed, a seasonal sarcophagus.

January, however, is also a time for new beginnings, for plans. January is a blank canvas, ready to be painted with the colours of spring. January is list making, seed buying, journaling, vision boarding. January is acres of ideas. January is all my good intentions wrapped up in dull, dark days. With this in mind, I am now petitioning to have January renamed as “Planuary” – by “petitioning” I mean, mentioning it once on my blog so I can use it as a snappy blog post title and then possibly forget about it until next planuary rolls around and I can use it again.

I’ve begun 2017 in slight crisis mode, I woke up on New Year’s Day with another bad flu and this weekend, just as the sniffles dried up and the cough abated, I broke one of my teeth (cue much wailing, panicking, picturing myself as a gummy old lady and shaking my fist at the sky like a curmudgeon). Needless to say, I’m a little bit cranky. However, the garden has kept me from going insane these past few days.

You see, I happen to adore the garden in January. The garden in January is like an homage to the previous seasons hard work, there are remnants of my success littered everywhere. I don’t look upon the mess with despair, the mess is a testament to just how much happiness has gone before. The dying plants, the messy beds, the leftover weeds, the dirty shed, none of these would exist in January if not for the success of the previous year. And so, I look upon the spoil of winter with pride and with renewed hope for the year to come.

My plot on New Year’s Day. Full of hope.

It does help somewhat, that I’ve still been harvesting some of my winter crops. My brussel sprouts and kale have been a joy to pick and eat during these lean weeks and my herb garden continues to thrive, even in the cold, wet weather.

Winter Harvest

 

Despite the dark days and the inhospitable weather, I’ve been busy on the plot in the first days of 2017. In a job that I’ve been dreading since early November, my rhubarb was in dire need of splitting. Rhubarb is one of my most successful crops, with my stalks reaching chest height in summer. My rhubarb is a lovely variety called “Timperly Early” and begins to show new growth very early in the season, just as its name would suggest. Already, there is new growth unfurling from the soil like a promise.

Rhubarb is an excellent and reliable cropper but after a few years (three to five years on average), rhubarb crowns begin to grow far too large and the plant loses its vigour and doesn’t taste as nice. As such, every few years, it is vital to to split your rhubarb crowns.

Now, I’ve been having nightmares about this job, not because I’m afraid of a bit of hard work, but because splitting rhubarb is just as violent as it sounds. Essentially, you need to take a spade and drive it through the rhubarb crowns, dividing them into new plants. With my rhubarb being the pride and joy of my garden, I was filled with dread at the idea of chopping it in half! Thankfully, I managed to enlist some help and my Dad did the dirty deed for me, splitting my three unruly rhubarb crowns to half their size. In payment for his hard work, I gifted him with the divided crowns for his own allotment! This now means that my own rhubarb has been halved in size and there is no waste as the discarded crowns now have a lovely new home on my parents allotment! Nifty.

The aftermath: this is one of the split rhubarb crowns

Another one of the (seven million) jobs I have listed for January is to clean my polytunnel. Over time, polytunnel plastic gets very dirty from being exposed to temperature extremes and weather conditions. I hadn’t realised just how grubby my polytunnel had become over the past year until I cleared out all the plants and noticed a layer of green slime all down one side of the plastic. Delicious!

So, yesterday afternoon, I pulled everything out of the polytunnel, grabbed myself a bucket of soapy water, stuck on some music and spent an hour or two scrubbing all the grime from the plastic. This job was made infinitely more fun by imagining myself as one of those sexy bikini clad car-wash girls who deliberately rubs her soapy boobs all over the windshield (polytunnel) much to the entertainment of nearby onlookers. However, given that it was only 7 degrees outside and I’m currently carrying a significant amount of Christmas related chocolate weight around my middle section, I felt that this bikini situation was better left firmly in the depths of my imagination.

The reality was actually in stark contrast: myself and my mother in our wellies and muddy jeans, dancing around the polytunnel to Wham! while scrubbing green gunk from the plastic singing “Soap me up, before you grow, grow…..”

It’s amazing the difference it makes to the polytunnel! I didn’t realise it was a such a grubby mess before, and now I have the cleanest polytunnel in Malahide. A fact of which I am very proud considering the absolute state the rest of my plot is in!

I can see clearly now, the sludge has gone

 

While I was at it, I also decided to scrub all the pots and seed trays that had been lying in the polytunnel and shed gathering dust. This is actually an essential job early in the year as it’s a bad idea to grow seeds in dirty pots as there could be any amount of old pests or diseases lying idle in the old soil. I intend to start sowing some seeds next weekend so having the polytunnel and my pots clean will pay off when I begin to plant this early in the season.

January is also the perfect month to get your proverbial sh*t together for the year ahead. Order your seeds, draw up your plans, buy your propogators and new tools, clean up your beds and sheds, throw out the old crap you don’t need anymore, fix whatever needs to be fixed before you begin your planting.

I have some plans for new structural elements in the garden and I’ve been making list upon list of crops I intend to grow. This year, I’ve decided to shuck off  the normal crops like onions and potatoes and grow more adventurous and ornamental veggies like sweetcorn and borlotti beans (apologies for the corny joke). I’ve also bought some heirloom tomato seeds and some very exciting varieties of salads and brassicas so I’m hoping to have a bit of fun with my plants this year.

Went a little overboard when ordering some seeds…

The next big job this weekend however, will not be fun. It will not be fun at all. I need to dig up my unruly raspberries as they are fast becoming the bane of my life.

Send help.

And hugs.

And maybe some beer.

I’m under a promise to share some tips on growing parsnips for next years Christmas dinner so watch out for that in the coming days and until then, keep the chin up. January may be cold and bleak, it may be difficult to get up off the couch and garden but remember this: in January, the whole year stretches ahead of you like an unrealised dream and that – so far – 2017 is empty of failure and full of potential.

Grow Yourself Gorgeous

It’s a funny thing being a young(ish) woman with an allotment. On one hand, I love nice clothes, make up and am well known amongst friends for wearing sky-high stilettos; but on the other hand I love being dirty, don’t care about brand labels and have been known to go for days without even thinking about wearing make up.

However, it often feels like everywhere I look, people are writing/reading/blogging/talking about make up and fashion. The world is simply obsessed with being gorgeous. So, in an effort to keep up with the (seven hundred million) beauty bloggers out there, I thought I would join in and share some garden fashion and beauty tips with you so that you can be bang on trend this autumn/winter season in your garden.

 

Fiona’s Autumn/Winter Beauty Regime

Nails

The tell tale sign of a true gardener is not their muddy clothes, their wellies or their ability to speak Latin against their own will, but the state of their hands. To obtain a truly authentic garden manicure requires hard work and very little care for your physical appearance or pain threshold. Forget your acrylics, shellacs and french manicures, this season, it’s all about weathered skin, broken nails, split cuticles. This winter, get yourself an organic manicure, or as I have dubbed it, an Organicure.

To achieve this highly coveted look, book yourself an appointment at your nearest allotment. The key here is first to discard your gardening gloves and leave your hands exposed to the harsh, winter elements.

  • First off, you’ll need to grab a secateurs and prune your summer raspberry canes to the ground. The small thorns will embed themselves in your palms and fingers, creating lots of splinters and scratches, which you will pick at for days afterward creating many crevices and gouges in your skin.
  • Next, take your rake and begin to work your soil to a fine tilth, if you do this just right, you’ll develop a large blister in between your thumb and forefinger which you can then bandage up with some random tape you find in your shed. This blister should burst, causing searing pain and should last for weeks to add to the longevity of your organicure.

 

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  • Once you’ve done this, it’s time to weed your beds. Running your bare hands through the soil lodges mud under your fingernails for days and stains your nails a sludgy yellow colour. This process also completely dries out your skin for that coveted weather beaten look.

 

  • At this stage, you should have plenty of welts, splinters, scratches, blisters, torn cuticles and broken nails. This is when the most important step in the process comes in…
  • To finish your Organicure, locate a patch of nettles and run your hands over their leaves for a lovely tingly effect that will last for days. The nettles also create rashes of small blisters on the palms and back of your hands that can scar for years to come.
With all this done, you’re ready to pull on your fingerless gloves and rock this season’s top nail trend.


Make up

It never hurts to wear a little make up should a handsome gardener turn up out of the blue to give your beds a good seeing to.

Contouring has become the holy grail of make up application in recent years, with women everywhere putting hours of effort into applying bizarre, dark brown streaks all over their face. To use a bit of a gardening pun, they layer on the makeup with a trowel.
In recent years, I’ve become an expert at contouring my face. With muck. Simply spend a few hours at the allotment and I guarantee you will end up with dark brown streaks of soil along your forehead, nose and cheeks. These darker shades really make your features pop when strolling home from the allotment and will buy you many an appreciative (bemused) glance from passers by.


Tanning

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Getting yourself a golden, healthy glow, is one of the many benefits to a garden beauty regime. No need to go and lather yourself in brown goop that smells like stale biscuits. To get that perfect glow, the trick is simply spend time outdoors. Who knew?! I spend most summer months explaining to people that “yes, my tan is natural”, “no I wasn’t away”, “yes I know it’s fabulous”, “yeah, it’s great not to smell like something that you want to dunk into your tea”. The only slight grievance is that you may end up with bizarre tan lines. Legs tanned from mid-thigh to mid-calf due to pairing your shorts with wellies. Arms and shoulders tanned and freckly but a torso whiter that a snowdrop. However, a farmers tan is far more attractive that a fake tan any day. Wear your tan lines with pride.

Hair

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My favourite garden hairstyle. Enough said.


Fiona’s Autumn/Winter Fashion Tips

Lingerie 

Thermal vests may not be the sexiest item of underwear in the market, I mean, you don’t see teenage boys hiding the thermal vest pages from clothing catalogues in their wardrobes. But, there’s nothing less sexy than pneumonia, trust me. Invest in a thermal vest to keep your torso toasty. Do wear nice knickers though, you never know when that handsome gardener might show up to plough your patch.

Footwear

As much as I love to wear stilettos, they are not very practical or comfortable in a garden. Wellies are the staple footwear item during these bleak months in the garden. Now, I have no time for your trendy, designer wellies (you know the ones I’m speaking about) they serve no purpose at an allotment. For some authentic garden footwear, pair your oldest, dirtiest wellies with a pair of knee-high woollen socks over your old jeans or leggings. If you don’t have old wellies, a trusty pair of work boots do wonders for lengthening your legs and free up those calves for digging.

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Outerwear

One thing every gardener needs is a pair of trusty old gardening jeans. The best way to buy a pair of decent gardening jeans is to buy yourself a pair of “good” jeans. You know, a pair that fits your bum like a glove (the holy grail for a skinny girl) and reaches past your ankles (also the holy grail for leggy, lanky types). Spend a decent amount of hard earned money on said jeans. Keep jeans for a special occasion and swear to self that “good” jeans will only be worn to pub with sparkly shoes. Accidentally pay a quick visit to the allotment while wearing the jeans. Just for a few minutes. No hard work. Because of jeans. Lose self in wonder of the garden. Sit on edge of raised bed, rip the arse pocket out of jeans on stray piece of wood. Wipe muddy hands all over thighs. Kneel down on wet ground to weed. Sigh and add “good” jeans to ever growing pile of allotment jeans and swear to try harder next time. Repeat ad infinitum.

Pro-tip! For an extra dash of allotment style, have yourself an incident with a watering can whereby you spill water all down your crotch. Spend a solid ten minutes trying to decide whether to brave the walk home to change or to deliberately pour more water all over jeans to even out the pee’d pants look. Decide on the second option and wonder why fellow plot holders are staring at you while you deliberately pour water all over your legs. Realise that this process is entirely ridiculous and walk home with bizarre looking jumper tied around front of waist to hide the wet patch.

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Obviously not a pair of “good” jeans.

Coats/Jackets

No winter garden outfit is complete without a long sleeved shirt, jumper, fleece and raincoat to cover up any semblance of a figure that you might have. Sure who needs curves anyway? Cover them up by wearing so many layers that your svelte silhouette resembles that of a teddy bear.

Nothing says garden chic like a durable gillet. These stylish vests act like a coat but leave your shoulders and arms free for working the plot. They work very well over sleeves and leave room for you to exfoliate your arms on rogue edges of bamboo, nettles, insect bites, bee stings and scratches from rogue twigs.

In terms of accessories, the world is your oyster in a garden. Oversized sunglasses, fingerless gloves, hats, bandanas, ear muffs, adorn yourself, but please, for the love of god, leave the scarves at home. Scarves in a garden are dangerous items, prone to trailing, getting caught in things and causing minor to severe injuries. Do not risk death in order to look fabulous.

As much as I jest here, there truly is a point to this post.

Gardens don’t give a damn what you look like. Plants couldn’t care less if you have this season’s handbag. Wildlife doesn’t judge you by the make up you’re wearing. Kale doesn’t covet your clothes. Forget the pressures of keeping up with the whoevers. Go out in to a garden, wear a smile, get mucky, get messy, get silly. Grow some food. Grow yourself happy. Grow yourself gorgeous.

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This season’s absolute must have garden fashion item, is definitely my new favourite t-shirt! I now own two gardening t-shirts which I guard WITH MY LIFE (One is my GIY t-shirt and the other is my Sodshow t-shirt). If anything happens to either one, I shall be mostly spending my time wailing and cursing the universe.
If you haven’t had the pleasure to listen to the Sodshow, the lovely Peter Donegan has dubbed me a “fashionista” so this little blog post was inspired by the man behind my favourite podcast. If you want to buy one of the super cool t-shirts, visit the sodshow website here (this isn’t a sponsored post by the way, I just think the sodshow is deadly). 

 

A Super Natural Halloween

Halloween is a scary time of year. Everywhere you look there are horror movies, monsters, ghosts, vampires and zombies. But perhaps the scariest thing about Halloween is that nobody really seems to know what it’s about anymore.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I adore Halloween, it’s one of my favourite times of the year. The golds and reds, the snap of bonfires and fizzle of fireworks, the smell of winter in the air that carries tremendous nostalgia and happy childhood memories. As I’ve gotten older, though it has lost it’s charm.  Grown adults dressed like slutty bathtubs. Kids wearing costumes that cost a weeks wages and complaining when you give them an apple with their sweets. Gone are the days of wearing a black bag or a sheet with holes poked in them and standing by the bonfire eating monkey nuts and toffee apples. Now, it’s a greedy, vainglorious free-for-all that is a stark reminder of just how far we have come from our cultural connections to our food. So, what I’ve decided to do this year, is to have a more traditional Halloween, to bake and cook lots of Halloween food and to harvest all my crops that need to be stored. You can keep your ghouls and give me gourds, for the best thing about this time of year is undoubtedly the food.

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OH MY GOURD!

Halloween is a Celtic pagan festival, celebrating fire and food and the end of the growing year. All Hallows Eve itself was also believed to be the night when the spirits of the dead return home, and I like to think this is actually less spooky and more of a chance to remember the souls of loved ones lost and move into a new year with our demons laid to rest.

In Ireland, Samhain (which means summers end), was the time of year when crops were harvested and gathered for storage through winter, as such, Halloween is essentially, the most widespread harvest festival in the world.

The best food from the garden is in season at this time of year, kale, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, turnips, celery, swedes, pumpkins, squashes. This is all the hearty food, the larder food that will keep you warm in the lean winter months, no wonder our ancestors made such a big deal of it!

Apples are my favourite thing about Halloween. Because they are in season, it’s easier to source locally grown, Irish varieties of apples. They don’t have waxy skin, they’re not too hard, bitter or bland. They haven’t been flown thousands of miles wrapped in plastic and covered in preservatives. Irish apples in October are sweet but tart, a little soft and a little crunchy, with the most beautiful flavour that to me is the epitome of halloween. I always loved finding apples in my swag bag on Halloween, they were nicer then the sweets, the crisps or monkey nuts, apples were my favourite halloween treat and still are.

I happen to be lucky enough to have parents who grow apples. They have two apple trees in their back garden. One grows in an area they’ve dubbed the “Apple Yard”, a square yard bed with a heritage Irish apple tree and loads of lovely herbs growing around it’s base.

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The Apples from the Apple Yard in all their Autumn glory

They also established the Apple Bay in the walled garden where they have their allotment. A beautiful orchard where they have a wide variety of different heritage Irish apple trees growing.

I have a bit of a halloween ghost story for you. The Apple Bay has a poltergeist. Seriously. In recent months, my folks have visited on many occasions, only to find disturbances in the orchard. Four trees have been recklessly cut down. A rose bush has been damaged beyond repair. Spring bulbs have been uprooted. The pathways have been blocked by mountains of muck. I’ve decided that since no real gardener would engage in behaviour that damages a lovely little orchard; I’ve come to the conclusion that while the Apple Bay is most certainly beautiful, it is also most definitely haunted. Spooky. However, despite the ghost, the apple bay remains a beautiful addition to their walled garden and I’m very excited to taste some of the supernatural apples from it this year.

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The haunted orchard

November is the perfect time to plant apple trees and I have a new project for the plot in mind so I’ll keep you all updated on my apple planting adventures next month.

Bobbing for apples is a Halloween tradition that we always played in my house growing up.  Traditionally, the first person to succeed in bobbling for an apple would be the first to be married and if the apple was placed under your pillow, you would dream of your future lover. This is a very promising prospect for me, so this Halloween I fully intend to fill my bathtub with as many (local) apples as humanly possible in order to increase my romantic chances.

In fact, come to think of it, much of the traditional Irish Halloween fare contains elements of romance or good luck so I propose we begin to view Halloween as less scary and more lovely.

Colcannon is something I’ve mentioned on the blog before. Mashed potatoes, onions and curly kale, this dish for me is the epitome of Halloween food. My mam made it every single year on halloween and to this day, it’s one of my favourite things in the world to eat. With potatoes and kale very much in season and a kitchen full of dried onions from the garden, it’s the perfect celebratory harvest dish. Colcannon also contains a super special ingredient that makes it second to none: money. Yum. My kale season is in full swing at the moment, with three varieties and fifteen plants, I’m sure I’ll have enough kale to feed a small army this Halloween.

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A bouquet of kale. (A bou-kale)

Barmbrack also contains gold in the form of a ring. This fruit cake has a gold band baked into it and whoever gets the ring will find their true love in the upcoming year. I’m seeing a trend here lads.

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My teeny-tiny pumpkin patch

Pumpkins are of course, the ultimate Halloween food, with carved pumpkins being the  main halloween decoration in most homes. Pumpkin carving has its origins in Ireland too, except instead of carving pumpkins, our ancestors used turnips, which is truly terrifying.

 Plus, turnips don’t really make a good pie, though fresh milan purple top turnips from the garden are absolutely delicious! I’m going to pop up a post tomorrow about how to grow pumpkins for next halloween so keep an eye out. Though perhaps I may not be the best person for that job. This is my first year growing pumpkins in the garden. I only grew one plant though and while it was meant to be a giant variety of pumpkin, my little pumpkins are very small. Football sized at best.

 

Halloween is the perfect time of year to begin to store your veggies through the winter season. I recently wrote an article in the autumn edition of GIY’s Grow magazine on how to store your veggies for winter so get your hands on a copy if you want some tips on different ways to manage your harvests.

In an effort to really celebrate Halloween food this this year, I propose this: take a step back from the commercial side of the holiday, eat really good food, celebrate your harvest. Take a moment to remember that growing food and harvesting it is a huge part of our cultural heritage and we should celebrate in style. Forget the sweets, crisps, jellies and candy. Eat apples. Eat Kale. Eat pumpkins. Have yourself a super natural Halloween.

I for one, am going to eat lots of barmbrack, colcannon and bob for apples in an effort to increase my chances of marriage and if I still haven’t met my filthy partner in crime by next year, that’ll be the true horror story.

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Now For Something Completely Different: GROW HQ

The morning light winks over the lid of Grow HQ, letting me in on the little secret that I’m about to enter the best new cafè in Ireland. Now, before you accuse me of being biased, I am! But my pals at GIY didn’t even know I was going to visit, nothing like a surprise attack from Fiona the Dublin Food Growing Ninja (that’s now my official title) to go with your breakfast coffee.

I’m not one for writing reviews here so this is something different from my usual posts but as most of you know, I’m a pretty huge fan of GIY. When I first got my allotment, I joined a local GIY group, we would meet in a local library once a month to talk food growing/composting/seed swapping. It gave me a lot of confidence as a new grower and I learned a huge amount of the plant knowledge I now possess from their website and other resources.

In September, GIY opened their doors to the world with their new food education centre, GROW HQ in Waterford. Situated just outside the city, right across the road from the hospital, GROW HQ is a pretty unique space. It boasts a café, food gardens and a retail area where you can buy tools, books and seeds to help you get growing. The gardens are extensive, with training gardens, an orchard, fruit garden and an edible boundary. 

The building itself is really cool with a slanted grass roof, the run off water from which will be collected to water the plants in the garden. Nifty! It also boasts a kitchen garden where the veggies for the café are grown. As such, GROW HQ offers purely seasonal food with the menu changing each week to champion a particular vegetable in season. As an advocate for seasonal eating, this the first place I’ve seen in Ireland doing this and it’s a testament to how GIY are positively educating people about where their food comes from. 

GROW HQ is the antithesis to all the pretentious coffee shops that have popped up the past few years. Walking in the door, you feel at ease, this is in no small part thanks to the warm staff and the beautiful setting; from the floor-to-ceiling windows, the colourful chairs and even the adorable tables, it’s a happy place, free from snobbery or pretension but serving seriously good food.


I had myself a really nice breakfast, organic poached egg, bacon, spinach and cottage cheese on a blaa. Yep, you read that correctly, a blaa. I had no idea what it was either. So I did a bit of digging and I was told that the blaa is a Waterford staple, a lovely floury white bap that is unique to the area. The method of making the blaa is a highly guarded secret, or so my sources tell me. When I read up on it, I found out that the The European Commission awarded the Waterford Blaa with a Protected Designation of Origin. Notions! It was pretty yummy though. The egg was divine, the bacon was quite frankly the nicest bacon I’ve had (and I am a big fan of bacon, it is the sole reason I’m not a vegetarian) and the spinach was really rich, fresh and full of flavour. It really was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had, the food was all homemade, locally sourced and organic and you can tell. You can keep your jumbo breakfast rolls lads, this is the food we should be writing songs about! 


Grow HQ is a project four years in the making, the brain child of GIY founder Michael Kelly, it’s a welcome addiction to the Irish food scene and the first project of its kind in the country. In addition to the café and gardens, GROW HQ also boasts a great line up of growing and cooking courses. 

If you’re looking for something fun to do, you can check out the upcoming courses here. I think I may need the cooking courses, particularly the blaa making course. I must know how to make them and I must know now! I promise I won’t share the secrets with the rest of Dublin. I’ll call mine a bleh or something. 

If you’re in Waterford, I’d highly recommend a visit, in fact, even if you’re not, take a little day trip, you won’t regret it. Next on my agenda is to visit again to try the lunch! Yum. 


P.S. The coffee was out of this world too. Seriously, I was flying for hours. There were stars. 

Plants Bants: How To Grow Overwintering Garlic

Hello lovely people. It’s been a couple of weeks since I wrote anything on here, you might remember I wrote a little post about garden remedies for colds and flu? Well, rather ironically, I ended up with such a bad flu that – depsite all my lovely herbal remedies – morphed into a rather horrible chest infection that had me rather unwell for the past month. I’m happy to say that I’m now on the mend so, I’d like to jump straight back in to this as winter is just about upon us and I’ve had a few requests and enquiries about what plants are good to grow overwinter (quite a few, it turns out). Since I mentioned garlic quite a lot in the post about my plague,  I figured it would be a good place to start.

Garlic is a great all-rounder plant, it’s very easy to grow, packed full of flavour, deters pests in your garden and has antibacterial properties. Most importantly though, and arguably the best reason to grow it, garlic has been proven to ward off vampires and evil spirits, which is pretty nifty at this time of year. There’s nothing worse than spending a day harvesting pumpkins in the garden, only to have it ruined by some pale, moody fella showing up to suck your blood. Gawwwwd.

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Do you have a problem with Vampires? Do you often find yourself searching for vampire deterrents in a panic? Well look no further! My tried and tested methods of garlic cultivation will ensure you won’t find yourself with two holes in your neck and a body drained of blood. Call Fiona today for your free six month trial.

Garlic is a hardy plant that can be planted in February or October, depending on the variety. I like to plant mine in October as it’s always nice to have overwintering crops in the vegetable garden rather than empty space.

Garlic Necks

Much like a vampire, it’s good to know what kind of neck you’re dealing with before you take the plunge. The type of neck really determines the manner in which you will treat your victim crop.

Soft Neck Garlic: Soft neck garlic is the type of garlic you find in most shops. It stores very well and is usually strong in flavour. Soft neck is the more commonly grown type of garlic here in Europe. This may be because soft neck garlic is easier to plait and hang over doors or wear around the neck; and given that we are statistically more prone to vampires than other parts of the world, growing soft neck garlic just makes sense. You know, in a vampire slayer kind of way. On that note actually, I wonder if Buffy considered going into gardening after the hell mouth collapsed? It’s very therapeutic.

Hard Neck Garlic: Hard neck garlic is more similar to wild garlic, it has a richer taste but it doesn’t store as well as the soft neck varieties. Hard neck garlic is more prone to bolting.

Elephant Garlic: Elephant garlic is a bit of a shapeshifter. It looks like garlic, and tastes like garlic but it is actually more closely related to leeks. Wizardry. Elephant garlic has a milder flavour than other garlic varieties.

Where to buy Garlic

Please, please, please do not just buy garlic from your local supermarket to grow in your garden. This garlic is not suited to growing as it’s most likely mass produced and shipped from the other side of the world. If you’re in Ireland, you get lovely garlic bulbs at the moment from Quickcrop or Mr Middleton.

Recommended Garlic Varieties

Marco, Solent Wight, Elephant, Germidour

Planting Garlic

Garlic is a hardy plant that needs a cold snap in order for the bulb to split into cloves, this is why October is a good month to plant it. If garlic plants don’t get a cold snap, they will bulk up but they won’t split properly. When planted this time of year, your plants will have established before the first hard frosts hit in mid to late November.

Garlic is planted by splitting a bulb into cloves. Each planted clove of garlic will produce a full bulb. Space your garlic rows about 30cm apart and space each clove at 20cm. When you plant your cloves, leave the tips just showing above the soil.

I usually place netting over my garlic for the first few weeks until they establish, just incase some pesky birds peck them out of the soil. Watch out for crows, they are known associates of vampires and will endeavour to uproot your garlic when they can.

Garlic doesn’t really like fresh manure or over-fertilisation, so it’s a great crop to grow where you’ve had a hungry crop growing before. Plant garlic where you’ve had your beans or cabbages. Make sure you plant garlic in soil with good drainage to prevent rot. Water your garlic gently after planting.

Caring for Garlic

Like onions, garlic doesn’t like weed competition and mother nature decided to play a hilarious joke on us gardeners by giving garlic little or no ground cover from its foliage, providing the weeds beneath with lots of light to grow. Keep your garlic well weeded in the first few weeks but be careful not to uproot your cloves. Hulk hands are not advised at this juncture.

Garlic only really bolts in hot, dry weather, which is quite likely to happen in winter. Garlic doesn’t require too much water, but make sure the soil doesn’t get too dry.

Harvesting Garlic

Garlic planted in October will be ready to harvest the following June. Garlic behaves just like onions so it will tell you when it’s ready to be harvested, the leaves will turn yellow and flop over. I usually fold over the leaves when they begin to dry. To harvest your garlic, just loosen the soil around the bulb and gently pull the bulbs out of the ground. Let your garlic dry out before storing and don’t forget to hang a bulb over your door to keep the vampires at bay.

Should you encounter a vampire in your home or garden, garlic is one of the best deterrents around, however, I would suggest you also have some holy water and a few wooden stakes to hand. should the need arise. 

The Sudden Season

There is one week every year, when the summer swiftly shifts gear into autumn. Sunshine takes a backseat to rain, elongated nights overtake the days and while the indicators have been signalling the end of summer for weeks, the seasons change lane in a matter of days. This is no three-point manouvre, no gentle tapping of the brakes, here in Ireland the summer comes screeching to a halt. Here, autumn is the sudden season.

The last yields of summer begin to wither away and as autumn wraps itself around the garden, the industrious gardener goes into overdrive preparing the plot for winter.

The past week has been that week in my garden. The sudden week. The mornings are cold, the evenings are dark and the garden is looking a little worse for wear. I’m clinging to the clutches of summer where I can, but it is decidedly autumnal on the plot. My once glorious rhubarb foliage is turning to brown sludge, the potato bed lies empty and it seems that every single one of my lettuces bolted at once, perhaps very apt considering the athletic year that’s in it. Ladies and Gentlemen, the gold medal in the 100m lettuce race goes to…………Insane Bolts

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Insane Bolts takes to the podium to collect his medal

My summer crops are completely written off; gone are the days of french beans, spring onions, radishes and rocket. R.I.Peas.

Perhaps it is appropriate that the sudden season has arrived on the eve of the equinox – and no matter how many polls my lovely pals over at GIY hold on their twitter about when autumn truly begins – as of tomorrow, there can be no denying that summer has driven off into the September sunsets and we are now facing into the long road to spring 2017.

img_3657Not all is lost however, harvest season is still in full throttle. I’m still picking a stupid amount of tomatoes, I have three large beds still packed full of veggies for autumn and I’ve begun my winter planting in earnest.

 

September is the time of year that separates the fair weather gardeners from the dedicated, year-round gardeners. During the summer, it is easy to spend time on the plot. There’s little rain or wind to contend with and everything looks green, lush and buzzing with life. It’s easy to put on shorts and t-shirts, a trust pair of old runners, crack open a beer, light the bbq and float around the garden at an easy going pace. In autumn and winter though, visiting the plot becomes more of a chore. It requires weather forecast checks, wellies, rain coats, thermal vests, fingerless gloves, fluffy socks and hats. Never scarves though, scarves are a hazard in the garden, all those trailing edges getting caught in gates/doors, I have learned the hard way more than once, not to wear a scarf in the garden.

Gardening in Autumn requires more effort, but the rewards are far more sweet. I adore the dull, quiet, rainy days on the plot, when there’s not a soul around and the plants are laden with rain. I love the smell of the rain, I love how malleable the soil is, I enjoy the sodden solitude of a day on the plot in September. It is eerie, empty, ethereal.

While autumn has parked itself in Dublin for a while, and I begin I root out my trusty fleeces and boots and the holy grail that is thick, black tights, I am busier than ever. The garden needs a serious tidy, there is digging and weeding and raking and composting. There is seed collecting, harvesting, pot cleaning and seed sorting. There is planting, planting and more planting. Despite the fact that summer is over, there are still a lot of crops to grow overwinter and while in previous years, I have often taken a break from the allotment for a month or two, this year I am growing plenty of over wintering vegetables in my garden. I have been planting potatoes for Christmas, spring cabbages, purple sprouting broccoli, mustard and oriental salads and have onions, garlic and broad beans all lined up to plant in the coming weeks. The onset of winter doesn’t mean a barren plot, it means a busier plot, that needs a hard working and dedicated gardener, and those why shy away from the vegetable garden now, suffer the consequences the following spring.

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My Christmas spuds growing strong in September

With the sudden arrival of autumn in the garden, I too am shifting gear, I’ll be spending less time on the plot in the evenings as it will be too dark to visit by the time I finish work. My gardening exploits will be confined to the weekends and I’ll be spending more quality time with cups of tea, duvets and my laptop.

I’m under a promise to the droves of people who voted on my winter-veggie twitter poll (by droves I mean four people, whoever you may be, you four voters mean more to me than ten thousand) to write about how to grow spring cabbages, so that’ll be hitting your screens sometime tomorrow.

September also brings with it some exciting prospects for me. I won a silver award for my blog at the Irish Blog Awards for most innovative blog which is a shock, an honour and privilege and I continue to be amazed that my little gardening blog has had a big impact this year. I know a lot of my readers voted so I’d like to thank you for your support, not just with the votes, but for continuing to read, comment, share and support my silly little gardening adventures. As much as the garden has grounded me in recent years, nothing humbles me more than the kindness of my gardening community, both at the allotments and online. I fully intend to display just how humble I am by introducing myself from here on in as “Fiona Kelly, award winning blogger”.

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I also wrote another article for GIY’s GROW magazine on managing your autumn harvests, making jam and my forthcoming number one Christmas Album. I feel privileged to be asked again to contribute to such a wonderful publication. There’s also a pretty awesome masterclass in there on brewing your own cider and wine, which, let’s face it, is something we can all dig. If you’d like to get a copy of GROW, you can visit www.giyinternational.org

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I also have some other major gardening news coming soon. Life continues to reward me, but the greatest reward still, is the garden itself and as for the garden, it may be autumn but I love her more than ever. I think it’s getting serious now.

You can get me on twitter for more polls, veggie puns and musings about why in god’s name the garlic sauce you get with pizza is better than any other garlic sauce known to man. I’m also on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat as fionagrowsfood if you haven’t had your fill here. FionaGrowsWorldwideEmpire.

Thanks again for all the good vibes. I love you all as much as I love kicking wildly through piles of autumn leaves.