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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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. 

 

 

Fiona Gets Flu: Garden Remedies for Colds & Flu

It’s been a miserable few days chéz Fiona. I’ve been struck down with the flu. The black death ain’t got nothin on me this week. I’ve spent the past few days veering wildly between being hot and cold, my nose is blocked, I’ve a sore throat, cough, headache, fever, muscle aches and I have the complexion of a cast member of the walking dead. Fatigue has run rings around my eyes resulting in this season’s highly coveted bar brawl eye make-up look. I’m doped up on ibuprofen, cradling a packet of tissues like a comfort blanket, swaddled up in my duvet and have been generally feeling very sorry for myself.

So in honour of the great snottening of September 2016 (I’ve such an eloquent way with words), I’ve decided to turn this into something positive and share some garden remedies for flu and colds.
Herbal remedies for flu and colds have been around far longer than over the counter drugs and while I’m not saying not to take these (Nurofen is currently my bestie), there are loads of plants in the garden that can help to ease the symptoms of colds and flu. I’ve been known to get into healthy (unhealthy?) debates with people about the medicinal effects of plants and they seem to think this makes me some sort of hippie earth mother type, eschewing modern medicine, wearing flowers in my hair while dancing around in clothes made only from hemp while playing a mandolin (though this actually sounds like gas craic). I’ve found so many of my peers scoffing when I encourage them to make sage tea or eat raw garlic for their ailments but these remedies really do help to alleviate the symptoms of a cold and if like me, you are lucky enough to have a garden, you can essentially grow your own drugs. The legal kind of course. Ahem. 

Garlic
Garlic has natural antibacterial antiviral and antioxidant properties which makes it a bit of a wonder plant for boosting your immune system and alleviating symptoms of cold and flu. To get the best benefits however, you’ll need to eat it raw. Cooking garlic removes many of its medicinal qualities. Obviously raw garlic isn’t the most gorgeous breath freshener on the market so I wouldn’t be going out to the pub and lobbing the gob on handsome strangers after eating it raw. That being said, if you are going out kissing people with the flu that’s highly irresponsible, devil may care behaviour and you need to be my new drinking buddy/wingperson immediately. 

Garlic is possibly the easiest crop ever to grow. It requires little to no care, it likes the cold and only takes a couple of minutes to plant. Garlic should be planted in October-November as it grows over winter and benefits from the frost. Simply push the clove of garlic into your soil, leaving the top just above the surface. I would not recommend you just plant any old garlic that you buy in your supermarket as you have no idea of the variety or origin, buy proper garlic bulbs from your garden centre and you can replant your own cloves the following year if you wish. 

Sage
Sage is one of those wonder herbs that is criminally underused in most kitchens. Sage is also one of my favourite plants, with stunning silver green foliage and the most beautiful smell imaginable. Sage has natural antiseptic properties so it makes an excellent gargle for a sore throat. I often make sage tea for sore throats and it is hands down the best natural relief for throat pain I’ve come across. Sage tea also helps to relieve stomach pain and anxiety and tastes surprisingly yummy.
To make sage tea, simply use 3/4 fresh sage leaves and pour over hot water and allow to brew. You can add honey or lemon to sweeten if you want but I prefer it as is.

Thyme
Thyme is another hardy perennial that is mostly used for its flavour, however, thyme is a natural antiseptic and is proven to relieve coughs and chest pain so if you have a pesky cough, have thyme in tea or even chew some fresh thyme leaves.
Mint & Lemon Balm
Mint tea is another herbal remedy for cold and flu symptoms and is known to ease stomach discomfort. The menthol helps to clear out your airways and makes it easier to breathe. Plus, it’s delicious! 
Mint is a prolific plant that has a tendency to run mad in your garden when planted in the ground. Keep mint in a container or pot if you don’t want it to grow everywhere, though I happen to like mint in my borders and just let it do it’s thing, much to the horror of some of my fellow plot holders. I’ve never been one for adhering to the rules, where’s the fun in that? 

Another firm favourite in my herb garden, lemon balm (also known as bee balm) makes an excellent tea for clearing your sinuses, eases stomach cramps, headaches and earaches and helps you to relax if you’re finding it difficult to sleep. 
Echinacea
Echinacea (coneflower) is one of my favourite additions to my herb garden. With its large almost cartoon like flowers, it’s loved by bees and can be used for boosting your immune system after a cold or flu. Echinacea supplements are available in most health shops but why buy it when you can grow it? Dried echinacea flowers can be used in teas to give your body a boost during flu season. 

These herbs are all perennials so once planted, will grow every year and require little care apart from some pruning in early spring and you’ll have your very own home grown apothecary. 

I’d also urge you to buy some local honey to keep in your kitchen as its one of the best natural remedies for illnesses

My flu is beginning to lift today, I can breathe through my nose again and my natural smokey eye look is less punched-in-the-face and more I-haven’t-slept-in-two-days. I’ll be ditching my slippers for wellies and be out of my bed and back in my raised beds in no time. 

For anyone who would like to apply for the role of new flu ridden drinking buddy, I’ve a great song we can go dancing to:

My black death brings all the herbs to the yard,

And they’re like, we’re better than pharms 

Damn right, we’re better than pharms

We can heal you, we don’t even charge….

Talk Dirty To Me

I’m going to put this out there: I’ve been single for an age! I’m pretty sure there are glaciers that have moved miles since my last date, mountains have been formed and cliffs slightly eroded, the world has spun on its own axis approximately 800 times. I’ve eaten about 700 potatoes since I last felt the warm embrace of romance. I’ve owned at least four new pairs of wellies. Sown thousands of seeds. Filled countless watering cans. In short, I’m really just looking for someone to talk dirty to me.

Tinder has become a bit of a casual hobby for me lately, but all that swiping is not so good for the gardening guru. I’ve seen too many tiger photos, six-pack-in-the-mirror shots, cross-fit fanatics, selfies with Conor McGregor and “I love to travel” bios (saying you love to travel is kind of inconsequential, it’s like saying “I breathe in, then I breathe out, then I repeat the process ad infinitum until I die”).

In light of the desire to just meet a bloke who has a normal job, drinks beer with the lads and perhaps likes to garden, I’ve had a brainwave. We need a tinder for gardeners. A place to weed out the undateables. I shall call it Digger. Instead of swiping right, you’d be able to “dig” someone, instead of swiping left you could throw them on the compost heap and instead of super-likes, you could request that someone talk dirty to you. I’m a genius.

Now, before you all start sending me wildly inappropriate messages, I just want to talk about muck. Dirt. Soil. Earth. It’s been a very long time since I had a filthy conversation over dinner about soil structure and nutrient content. So, since I don’t have a fella to annoy with these things, I turn to my readers.

Soil is something I obsess about a lot so it’s surprising I haven’t really written too much about it on the blog. I love muck. I love getting my hands dirty, they haven’t been clean for years. I suppose, it’s not the most glamorous thing in the world to write about. It’s literally dirt, and the last thing any writer wants to do is churn out muck, but soil really is the single most important factor to consider when gardening, especially in a food garden, where the soil can literally make or break you. So, I’ve decided to write about soil structure, nutrients, pH, and if you’d like to talk dirty back to me, just leave a comment or get in touch, you never know, it could be the filthiest conversation of your life.

Soil Structure 

Soil Type

Clay soil (which is what I have in my garden) is fine particle soil that clings together. Clay soil is nutrient rich but difficult to work with as clay soils tend to bake and crack in the summer and turn to an absolute waterlogged mush in Autumn. It compacts easily when wet and is slow to drain. Basically, clay soil is an absolute nightmare to dig, rake and work with but it’s given me very toned muscles and healthy vegetables so I don’t complain.

Sandy soil is easier to work than clay soil but it has fewer nutrients and doesn’t retain moisture as well. Sandy soil heats up far quicker than clay in spring but it really dries up easily as the water runs right out of it, often dragging the nutrients with it.

Loam soil is a mix of clay and sand and is considered to be the best soil for gardening as it’s fertile, drains well and is easy to work.

The structure of your soil is very important when growing food. If, like me, your soil is heavy and clay based, this is the one thing you will spend the majority of your time doing battle with in your garden. My soil structure has caused me so much heartache you wouldn’t believe. Muck: my second worst love affair to date.

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The difference between bad soil and good soil, both in my polytunnel, but the top is a bed that hasn’t been worked in a year.

Soil particles need to be pretty small in order to allow seeds to germinate. My soil requires a serious amount of raking to get it to a fine tilth (for the record, tilth is one of my favourite words). It’s pretty redundant to sow seeds in soil that’s packed tightly together with no space for the seedlings to grow so you need to get the soil to a fine, crumbly consistency for planting. This is one of the many advantages to raised bed gardening. It is easier to control the soil structure in a raised bed than directly in the ground. A raised bed is easier to dig, easier to rake and easier to maintain.

If you don’t have good soil structure, your plants simply won’t thrive, they won’t have room to expand, their roots will have nowhere to go and they’ll be stunted.

Worms

Not just the subject of a very addictive video game and one of the best cartoons of my childhood (he was just a dirt eating, chewing length of worm); worms are one of the most important creatures in a garden. Worms break down organic matter and expel a natural fertiliser. Worms also aerate the soil and improve water retention. You can literally buy boxes of worms to add to your soil if you don’t have any in your garden and you can also create a wormery to break down your food waste into compost for your garden. They really are such groovy guys.

Nutrients

Good soil is packed full of nutrients which are vital for plant growth. Plants need a surprising amount of nutrients in order to thrive. I think there are something like 18 nutrients important for plant growth and the majority of these come from soil (the rest come from the air and water but I’ll get to that in another science lesson). The three main nutrients in soil are nitrogen (N), Potassium (P) and Phosphorous (K) and this trio of nutrients is known as NPK. These are the nutrients that farmers pack into their soil as they are absolutely vital when it comes to growing vegetables. But soil is also full of other nutrients like calcium, magnesium and iron which are all vital for plant development. Over time, when soil is used to cultivate crops, the nutrient value of that soil decreases. This is due to watering and of course the plants themselves using up the nutrients. Which is why we add organic matter to the soil. which leads me to….

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(not my compost heap, mine is far smaller)

Compost

Compost is the single most important thing in my garden. I just couldn’t garden without it. Compost is nutrient rich, decomposed organic matter that results in a dark, gorgeous soil, teeming with nutrients for your plants. Now, you can of course buy compost and I would urge you to use compost if you are growing in containers, do not go out and put a load of clay from your garden into a pot and expect your plants to thrive. Compost is vital. Where possible, use organic compost.There are many different types of compost available to buy and it can actually be a little overwhelming at first. Seed compost, potting compost, multi purpose compost, peat composts, soil enrichers, manures, sand, grit, mulch, etc. I won’t get into every single one of these but I will say this: avoid peat based composts, always use seed compost for germinating seeds and don’t use manure in a bed where you intend to grow carrots. Trust me.

Compost isn’t just vital for growing in containers however, compost is used in the garden to add nutrients back in to your soil. Most productive gardeners will have a compost heap for their waste. The idea is to add all your organic matter to the compost heap. This is all the foliage from plants you don’t use, twigs, grass clippings etc. Food waste is also added (vegetable and fruit waste, tea bags, egg shells, just avoid meat, fish and dairy), and cardboard and non-dyed paper. For good compost, you need to add a balance of green and brown material. Green materials are nitrogen rich matter such as grass clippings and brown materials are carbon rich matter like dead leaves and twigs. In the garden, there will naturally be a good balance of green and brown matter being added to the compost heap all the time. Try to make the stuff going into your compost small, tear up the leaves and twigs as they’ll break down far quicker. Compost needs air and moisture to decompose. You’ll need to turn your compost every few weeks to move the air around the heap. You can buy plastic or wooden compost bins or you can make them yourself out of pallets but I suggest if you are gardening and don’t have one, give yourself a telling off and get to it immediately. Compost is gold dust.

Leaf Mould

Leaf mould is another brilliant way to use garden waste to add nutrients to your soil. Leaf mould is created by collecting fallen leaves in Autumn and allowing them to decompose to add as a mulch to your soil. Most people make a leaf mould cage using wire or netting and leave (pun intended) it to decompose, it can take years to fully decompose so it helps to shred the leaves.

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This is the leaf mould cage on my parents plot last autumn

Coffee Grounds

Used coffee grounds are a brilliant way to add nutrients back into your soil, especially when growing in small containers. Container soil loses its nutrient value far quicker as regular watering washes the nutrients out. Most coffee shops will be happy to give you coffee grounds for free. They’re packed full of nitrogen and are a great way to recycle something that would otherwise be thrown away. Worms love them, slugs hate them, they’re an excuse to drink more coffee, everybody wins

Soil pH

I don’t want to get too technical by harping on about soil pH levels but this can have an effect on your plants. Acidic soil is great for growing rhubarb, blueberries and gooseberries and alkaline soil is perfect for asparagus. Most veggies prefer pH neutral soil but it’s better to have soil that errs on the alkaline side than acidic. You can buy soil testing kits in most garden centres and it can’t hurt to be aware of your soil pH. Sandy soils in particular tend to be acidic. I add a pine needle mulch from christmas trees to my blueberries and rhubarb every year as it helps lower the pH a little and make the soil more acidic for these plants.

 

I spent six hours today just working on the soil in my raised beds. I’m tired, I’m dirty, my legs are killing me for some reason but my soil, it’s beautiful, rich and fertile.

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Before

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After

 

I believe you need to be in touch with the soil to know what it needs. So, take off the gardening gloves and plunge your hands into the soil. Smell it, rub it in between your palms, waterfall it between your fingers. Recent studies have found that soil contains micro particles that act as a natural anti-depressant, which is probably why I’m happiest when I’m working the soil on my plot. If you know your soil, you’ll know how to treat it and that is the key to growing good food.

Currently searching for web developer to help with creating my dating app, Digger. Preferably male, preferably sound and preferably someone who can really talk dirty to me. 

 

 

 

Green Manure: Why You Should Grow These Crops In Your Vegetable Garden

One of my biggest pet peeves in the garden happens right around this time of year when I’ve harvested an entire bed of crops and then it lies empty until the following spring. There’s nothing that annoys me more than an empty bed. Forever alone. Sob. While there are plenty of crops to plant over winter (more on that later),when you have a large vegetable plot, it is inevitable that some of the space in your garden will be unused at different times throughout the year. This is where planting green manure is a godsend for the industrious gardener. 

What exactly is green manure? Nope, it’s not as you might imagine, the product of a pony who’s had too much Thai curry (I’ll let that lovely image sink in for a moment); green manures are quick growing plants to sow in your garden where you have free space in between crops so as not to leave your soil bare. They are then dug back into the soil in as nutrient rich organic matter. Green manures also suppress weed growth in your idle vegetable beds and some varieties even fix nitrogen in your soil. Nifty! 

Green manures prevent the very upsetting but necessary task of covering up your veggie beds with black plastic or mulch over the winter months and look a lot more appealing than sheets of black plastic or beds full of weeds. 

This week, I harvested my onions and potatoes which leaves two of my beds empty until I plant something else in them. The soil in the onion bed isn’t in the best condition after a pretty bad year for onion production so it needs some love. I don’t want to plant my spring cabbages or overwintering onions in that bed as it doesn’t fit in with my carefully planned crop rotation. 

Rather than see this bed lying unused for the next five months, I intend to plant this bed with some green manure. There are plenty of different varieties of green manures and some are an attractive addition to the garden. In my recently harvested onion bed, I’ve decided to grow mustard as a green manure. Mustard is an excellent grower and can be planted between March and September which makes it the ideal for a vegetable bed that is lying idle in August. As a member of the brassica family however, it’s not the best one to use in a bed where brassicas will grow in the following cycle. I’ll let the mustard grow until mid-October then dig it into the top of the soil.

I’ve grown mustard and red clover as green manures before and found it a great way to use my empty raised beds that would otherwise be unproductive.

Benefits of Growing Green Manure

Fertilising

Green manures grow for about two to three months and are then dug back into the soil. This organic matter is absolute gold in a vegetable garden and means you don’t need to use as much of your precious home made compost and is another valuable way to fertilise your soil without resorting to chemical fertilisers (aka pure poison).

Weed Suppressant

Green manures prevent weeds from taking over a patch of soil. I’ve often found that even during the winter months, the weeds keep growing and I have to weed a lot in early spring before planting. Growing a green manure provides ground cover and prevents the dreaded weeds from taking over your beds between crops.

This is what happens when you dont cover up your beds properly. Bad Fiona!


Food for Pollinators 

If you’re a wildlife fanatic like myself and want to have a bee friendly garden, some green manures like clover provide much needed nectar for bees and other pollinators. I’d urge you to plant some clover during the summer if you have an empty bed. We need to do every little thing we can do to help our bees. Added benefit: clover is beautiful and reminiscent of childhood days spent picking it and sucking on the sweet stems  below the flower (yes, I did that, I was one of those kids).


Soil Improvement

Green manures improve the quality of  your soil which is of huge assistance when you’ve had a bad year and your soil is in poor condition. Planting a green manure helps to aerate soil which means far less back breaking digging the following spring. 

Nutrient Fixing

During autumn and winter, rain can wash the nutrients away from the top layers of your soil, which is why we cover our vegetables beds up during winter. A green manure will inject more nutrients into your soil and prevent those vital nutrients already there from washing away.Green manures from the legume family help to “fix” nitrogen in the soil during summer, meaning they take in nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots (further proof that plants are amazing).

Sowing Green Manure

Sow green manure direct where it is to grow. I find it best just to broadcast sow the seeds as opposed to sowing in rows as this cover more ground and provides better weed suppressant. Rake the seeds into the soil and water. The seeds usually germinate very quickly.

Digging In Green Manure
After three months of growth, dig your green manure into your soil while it is still alive and green (it kind of defeats the purpose to let it wither and die). Let the soil rest for about two weeks before planting anything as the green matter can make it difficult for seeds to germinate. 

Popular Green Manures

Mustard: Sow March-September. 

Grazing Rye: Sow September-November. A good choice for an overwinter green manure.

Red Clover:  Sow March-August. This attractive plant is great for pollinators

Buckwheat: Sow April – August. Grows well in poor soil.

Field Beans: Sow September-November. Another great over wintering green manure and as a member of the legume family is high in nitrogen.
Let me know how you do get on if you plant some green manure. Try tasting the clover too, it won’t kill you.

I don’t think I’ll be ordering Thai food for a while though….

Plants vs Zombies 

The premise of the adorable, popular game Plants vs Zombies is a simple one: collect sunshine to grow plants, fill your garden with plants to protect your homestead from the oncoming zombie horde. I, like many, have wasted many a lunch hour playing this silly but addictive little game. Now, while this game is in no way akin to real life, I like to think it has a strong message behind it, grow a garden to survive the zombie apocalypse. Perhaps, as an avid gamer, I’ve spent far too much time projecting philosophical meaning and ethical reasoning to a pretty basic video game; or perhaps I’m simply drawing a parallel to my theory that this world we live in is headed for a great disaster and the solution is literally in the ground below our feet. 

Cutest peas ever!

As a huge fan of science fiction and disaster movies, I love nothing more than sitting down with a bowl of popcorn and watching the world fall spectacularly to pieces. Aliens, zombies, nuclear winter, viral outbreaks, earthquakes, dystopian societies, sentient apes, giant underground worms, storms, tornadoes full of sharks, the bigger the disaster, the greater my enjoyment. I’m not quite sure where this stems from, but it possibly has something to do with Jeff Wayne’s war of the worlds being played in my house at obscenely loud decibel levels, invading my dreams with huge mechanical tripods shooting lasers out of their eyes. There was a brief phase (by brief, I mean about a year) when I woke up every single night racked with terror having being caught in volcanic eruptions. I was seven. So, needless to say, I’m no stranger to an apocalypse.

However, the best thing about these movies, is when the credits roll, the popcorn bowl is full of those infuriating uncooked kernels (rage inducing) and the real world around me is still the same as before. Relatively safe. Relatively. 

You see, I know this world is on track for a huge disaster. A zombie apocalypse of sorts. Before you think I’m sitting here in a tin foil hat and begin to break out the straight jackets, consider this: there are over seven billion people on this planet, two thirds of whom live below the poverty line. That’s seven billion mouths to feed. Seven billion hungry humans. 

Those of us fortunate enough to live in the “first world” (I’m not a big of the suggested superiority of this phrase) have easy access to food, running water, shelter and electricity, not to mention all the other luxuries we have come to know as standard. However, therein lies a pretty big concern, food has become a currency, a status symbol. Food doesn’t come from the ground, it comes from a freezer, a restaurant, from a phone call. Go to your supermarket, buy your pre-packaged frozen meat. Fill your trollies with imported fruit, defrosted breads, carbonated drinks, brand after brand after brand. Eat battery chickens. Eat meat packed with antibiotics. Eat blueberries from a different continent. Snapchat your Starbucks, tweet your take out, Facebook your falafel, Instagram your instant meals. Socialising? Order a meal. Exercising? Powder a meal. Eat what you’re told to eat. Eat what’s on trend. Eat vegan. Eat gluten free. Eat low carb. Eat protein rich. Eat what you saw celebrities eat. Eat your weight in Michelin stars. Eat whatever you can afford. Eat whatever takes your fancy. Eat your bloody braaainnnnsss out. Zombie food culture. 

Welcome to the horde

I think we’re in crisis. Maybe not of apocalyptic proportions. Yet. Our relationship with food is toxic. It’s killing the planet and leaving us brain dead. So what’s to be done? Grow our own food of course! (What did you expect me to say, I refer you to the name of my blog 😛)


I’ve been saying for a long time that I have a genuine in-depth zombie apocalypse plan. I won’t share it here as it’s top secret and shall only be shared with a select few whose valuable skills I need to improve my chances of survival and perhaps my loved ones if they haven’t been bitten. However, should you find yourself in your house or office some day and hear a low groan, shuffling feet, see the undead lumbering towards you with an appetite for brains, here are my top tips to survive the onslaught. 

  • Hole yourself up in a walled garden or compound with large sheds or storage lockers. The number one cause of bites during a zombie outbreak is exposure, without a shelter to hide, you’re a definite candidate for brain fodder. 
  • Grow your own food. Not only will this provide you with much needed sustenance, but will give you a purpose when the world as you know it ceases to exist and the days are an endless cycle of living in fear of the walking dead. 
  • Grow nutrient rich vegetables to keep yourself in fit and fighting shape, kale, potatoes, spinach, carrots, beans are all excellent, filling, easy to grow crops.
    • Grow some medicinal herbs and plants in case of illness or injury. Echinacea, sage, feverfew, mint, aloe vera, lemon balm, ginger, thyme and comfrey are just a few that spring to mind with anti inflammatory and analgesic properties. Unnecessary dangerous outings to pharmacies/shops/hospitals for drugs are the number two cause of bites in zombie outbreaks. 
    • Dig. Dig and rake and dig some more. This will keep your body lean and muscular and build up your biceps for swinging weapons.
    • The number three cause of zombie bites is the lack of a well stocked armoury. Arm yourself with garden tools, spades, hoes, rakes, forks, scythes, pick axes, all very worthy weapons capable of zombie decapitation. 
    • Waste nothing; these are desperate times, compost, upcycle, recycle, save seeds and replant. Diminish the need to ever leave your garden and risk the running into an army of zed heads.
    • Collect rain waiter in water butts, basins, barrels, bottles. Local water supplies may be contaminated with rotting flesh, also, It’d be pretty embarrassing to survive a zombie war for months only for you and your plants to die of dehydration.
    • If you make it to year two, rotate your crops to ensure maximum productivity and higher chance of survival. 
    • Roll around in your compost heap and manure at regular intervals to mask the smell of your sweet human flesh. 
    • Enlist the help of some fellow, trustworthy survivors. Delegate tasks to each member of the commune. A community garden will have higher productivity and keep the lonely gardener from going slowly insane from lack of human contact.

    In fact, if you really want to be fully prepared against the walking dead, start now. Grow some lettuce in a pot first, then work your way up. 
    In short, if you want to avoid becoming a zombie? Get bitten by the garden bug. Grow your own brain food. 

    I’m genuinely considering turning this idea into a book guys….

    World War Fee: A Practical Guide To Surviving The Zombie War by Fiona(Fee) Kelly

    The Water/Gate Equations

    One of my favourite things to do is take a walk around the allotments and see what the other gardeners on site have going on. You see, gardens are very personal spaces and I love seeing the individuality and creativity on display. You can tell a lot about a person by their garden. You can tell if they’re industrious or lazy, you can tell if they’re arty or logical, spud lovers or flower fanatics, DIYers or GIYers. Yes, you can learn a lot about a person by spending time in their garden.

    There are close to three hundred plots on site in Malahide Allotments and with some inevitably lying idle or unworked every year, there are about 250 plots for me to explore when I go for one of my strolls and not one allotment is the same as the next. Some are simple rows of potatoes, some are taken up by huge polytunnels, some are manicured and some are meadows. There are sheds of all colours, pathways, raised beds, sunken beds and no beds, but each plot has one thing in common, it is inhabited by a gardener with a unique view in what it is to have an allotment.

    For me, not only is my allotment a place in which to grow dinner but it is my haven. I have no garden where I live so my allotment has become a garden to enjoy as well as a place to grow crops. I have spent a lot of time on the layout and the structure of the allotment. I have a shed, six large raised beds and three small raised beds. I have a herb garden and a fruit section, flower borders, a polytunnel and a decking area. My allotment is very much a pick ‘N’ mix plot.

    I’ve worked hard to have a pretty plot and spent quite a lot of time in recent weeks touching the place up and adding some new fun elements to the garden. A couple of years ago, I painted my raised beds bright blue, much to the amusement of many fellow plot holders. However, blue wasn’t just some colour I plucked out of the sky (see what I did there?) I chose blue because I adore blue flowers. My blue beds have kind of become a defining element in my garden, not only do they give the plot some personality but they are the focus around which I have expanded the allotment.

    Last week, I took a well earned week off work to spend some time relaxing in the garden. Now, if you currently have images of me in a floaty summer dress, gracefully moving through the garden, collecting flowers in a wicker basket while singing arias, you definitely don’t know me very well. My “lovely relaxing week in the garden” consisted of me in grubby shorts, legs covered in muck and paint and nettle stings, digging up a storm, only taking breaks to spend some valuable time in bed with my new boyfriend, Nate Flicks.

    OK that’s a lie, his name is Netflix, it’s getting rather serious though.

    Fiona❤️Nate 4eva

    One of the most important structures on most allotments, and perhaps the one thing that most allotment gardeners use to declare “this is my garden, this is who I am” is their shed. I’ve had a shed in my plot since year one and I usually just treat it with wood stain and use it as a dumping ground, so last week I decided it was time to spruce it up a bit.

    Yes, it is pink and yes, it does look a bit like a wendy house but I love it and that’s what matters.

    For a long time, I have yearned for a proper gate on my plot. I’ve always just had a gap where a gate should be and for years I’ve put it on the long finger as I’m petty terrified of shortening my own fingers with a saw. I am the most accident prone person on the planet so I’ve broken this down into a new universal law of mathematics to better explain my lack of gate:

    Where F=Fiona, S=Saw and Di=Digit(finger):

    F + S = -(Di x 2)

    I mentioned this to a fellow plot holder, Paddy last week and lo and behold, when I arrived at my allotment the next day, there was a new gate hanging where there was no gate before. Paddy had made me a gate and hung it for me in an act of kindness, once again proving that gardeners are the most generous people in the world. My gate is now painted pink to match my shed and is hereby dedicated to The Gatefather himself, Paddy.

    So now, I have a pink gate, pink shed, pink chair and blue beds! (Wait until you see what colour I have planned for my decking!). My plot is significantly girly and pretty for someone who is a self confessed tomboy.

    In the final major development on the plot this week, I am currently working on adding a wildlife pond to the garden.

    img_2545

    Wildlife ponds are a valuable addition to any vegetable garden as they attract frogs which are the ultimate slug control! It took me a couple of hours and about 10 barrows of muck to dig the pond. I have one side of the pond deep enough for frogs to live in during winter months and created shelving for plants too. The pond is still waiting to be filled and planted so I will keep you updated and write a post on how to create your very own allotment pond.
    On that note, my second new universal law of mathematics is as follows

    Where F=Fiona, I=inevitability and X=making complete show of self by falling in to pond:

    F + I = X

    Therefore, whenever I fall into my pond, you’ll hear me claim it was a fix!