potato blight

A potato blight warning is in effect so here’s what to do

Met Eireann has issued a potato blight warning for the entire country this week and I’m currently freaking the hell out about what’s going to happen to my poor spuds.

A few people have asked me today what to do to protect their spuds when there a blight warning in effect so here’s my esteemed advice: fucking set everything on fire and run away screaming.

Seriously. We’re all screwed.

However, if you are one of the weirdos who has decided not to completely overreact (ie, me) and just hope for the best, I figured I’d tell you a little bit about blight and how to deal with it if your spuds get the potato plant equivalent of the ebola virus.

First things first, what the hell is blight? 

Have you only ever heard of potato blight in school when learning about the famine? Well, we all know that blight caused the worst famine in Europe when it destroyed all of our potato crops here in Ireland between 1845-1852. Which was not helped at all by the bastard Brits who stole all our other crops and hoofed all the Irish out of their gaffs and into workhouses and coffin ships, and caused the deaths of over a million people. Not that I’m bitter about the genocide of my people or anything.

Anyway look, I’ve written at length about the famine on the blog before so I won’t go into it here. Even though I’d love nothing more than a nice old bitch about the English (sorry if you’re English, I know it’s not your fault….kind of)

But blight is a problem that still plagues us here in Ireland, mostly because of our weather. Potato blight is caused by an airborne fungus called¬†Phytophthora Infestans. Catchy name right? It spreads rapidly through the air during periods of warm, humid weather. Wind carries the fungal spores from plant to plant and rain can soak the spores into your soil and cause them to spread.So, while the rest of Ireland is currently basking in the glorious 25 degree heat we’ve been having the past week, food growers all over the country are having bleedin’ panic attacks because heat, rain and sunshine is pretty much peak blight weather.

SAKE.

potato blight

The hot weather can eff right off now thanks

Does it just affect potatoes?

Nope. Yay. Phytophthora infestans can infect any plants from the solanaceae family (which is also known as the nightshade family). So blight can also infect tomatoes, aubergines and peppers too.

Fanfuckingtastic.

And if you’re for some mad reason growing tobacco, it’ll affect that too.

Also, call me.

What are the symptoms?

Right, here’s how to tell if your spuds have blight. It’s really important to keep a close eye on them over the next week for these tell tale signs.

Leaves: The leaves on your plants will begin to develop brown patches. Kind of like freckles, which may be only gorgeous on people like myself, but spell disaster for your spuds. The brown patches will also get yellow patches spreading from them.

Tubers: The potato tubers will develop really dark patches within a few days and the inside of your potato will turn into a (no better way to say this) fucking disgusting slimy blob of rotting flesh. Gorgeous. They will be the most disgusting thing you have ever smelled in your life. Yes, even worse than that one dude you know who never showers. My advice: wear a gas mask.

Can you prevent it?

In a nutshell, no. Sorry.

Well ok, there are some things you can do to lessen your chances of getting blight. You can of course, spray your crops with a blight preventative treatment but you all know how I feel about using chemicals in the garden.

So no, I do not spray my spuds. Which is probably why I always bloody get blight. Always. I’m cursed. It’s probably an Irish thing.

Otherwise, and I’d recommend this, you can plant a variety of potato that has a high blight resistance. There are loads of varieties of spud that have blight resistance and while it will not prevent blight, planting one of the blight resistant varieties will at least stave off the blight for longer (is the word blight beginning to lose all meaning for you yet?). Sarpo Mira and Coleen are both really tasty spuds with high blight resistance so they’re worth trying.

But what if it’s too late for all that? What do I do if my spuds do get blight?

As I said, just bleedin’ set them alight and run.

Or, if you’re a more balanced human being than myself and see signs of blight on your leaves, you can cut down the foliage of your spuds to the ground. This will prevent the blight from travelling to the tubers. Just make sure to get rid of the leaves and whatever you do, don’t put them in your compost because then you’ll just have compost that is full of blight and you’ll get it again next year.

Leave the tubers in the ground for about two or three weeks, then you can lift them. They’ll be tiny spuds but at least they’ll be spuds and not just mushy piles of rank slime.

I took a break from growing potatoes last year because I’d been plagued with blight for two years running and my heart was broke with it. I thought I’d grow them again this year because I just missed them so damn much. But now I’m in a state of panic. Not that I’m melodramatic or anything…potato blight

If you do keep getting blight, it helps to take a break from growing potatoes. The recommended gap is three years but, well, fuck that noise. Growing potatoes is just too much fun to take that long of a break from. I really missed them last year.

You could try growing them in grow bags at home or something instead if you don’t want to take a break, sometimes simply moving the problem can help.

Sadly, this summer, it seems like we’re all in trouble either way though. potato blight

So, just keep an eye on your children potatoes and hope for the best.

And there’s always the burn it all to the ground option if everything else fails. Sorted.

The top random number of somethings to something in the garden at sometime

So, I’ve noticed a little trend among garden blogs, in garden magazines and publications and I’m sure it’s very helpful and informative:

The list.

You know the list.

  • The top five jobs for the garden in July.
  • The top 9 herbs to grow on your windowsill
  • The top seven things to plant in February

Etc:

Anyway, as you all know, I like to buck the trend slightly and always swore blind I wouldn’t be one of those bloggers who relied on lists for clicks; but I’ve realised it’s been ages since I shared a how to or a plants bants post and I feel I’ve let you all down.

How are you even coping without my tips for parsnip growing in the nude or planting garlic to stave off vampires??

I’ve let you all down, so in an effort to apologise and make it up to you, I’ve decided to do what I always swore I wouldn’t and give you a “top random number of somethings to something in the garden sometime” post.

And in even better news, you’ll be getting one of these a month from here on in.

Boom.

You’re welcome.

I’m warning you the December one may well be a video special called “The twelve days of Christmas songs to sing in the garden this December.”

So, to get us started…

 

The top, eh, 10 let’s go with 10, things NOT to do in the allotment in October.

1. Do not think that now summer is over you get to go into hibernation and do nothing in the garden for winter. This is the busiest time of year for veggie growers. There’s serious cleaning up to do. If you take a break all winter because it’s cold or wet, good luck ever clawing back any semblance of structure in your garden next year.

7. Do not leave all your used up summer plants in their beds over winter, no matter how tempting. It’s so easy to want to leave them in the ground because it’s cold and miserable and you’d rather be at home. It’s easy to think sure the soil won’t be used over winter so what harm can it do leaving the plants there? WRONG. They’re fucking dead lads, get rid of them. I mean, have you ever left a cabbage or lettuce in the ground for months and then tried to pull it out? That shit is dangerous, you’re liable to either tear a muscle from trying to pull the root out of the soil or worse, pull too hard and go flying backwards, awkwardly grasping a cabbage mid air, wondering how this is even your life.

4. Do not leave the weeds because you think they’ll stop growing over winter. Weeds will grow anytime, anywhere. And yes the growth slows in winter but if you don’t dig them up, the roots will just get bigger and good bloody luck to you next year. Trust me, I’m paying for that little gem (boom) this autumn.

2. Do not leave your garden without planting over winter. There are tons of plants you can grow this time of year. If you don’t plant some winter food, you are wasting valuable space and time when you could be being productive! Chard, Kale, Broad Beans, Garlic, Onions and Oriental Greens are all excellent winter growers and require little or no care.

9. Do not leave your digging until spring. I don’t care what everyone says, turn your soil over NOW! You don’t need it to be perfect tilth, you don’t need to remove every little stone or bit of debris, but please, for the love of god, at least dig a little bit.

5. On that note, do NOT let your soil go hungry in October! Now is the time to feed it. Get yourself some well rotted manure. I cant stress well rotted enough here guys and add it to your soil where you intend to grow nutrient heavy crops like brassicas next year. It’s also a good time to get some compost into your beds.

8. Do NOT lose heart because your plot looks like shit. It’s October, it always happens. There’s one week every year when everything just gives up the ghost and dies. That’s normal but overwhelming. Simply accept the fact that nature is sometimes a hard mistress, accept and lament the loss of your crops then get busy tidying up.

2. Do NOT leave all those fallen leaves around the place on the ground. Those babies are gold, and I don’t just mean the colour. Dying leaves are packed full of nitrogen and make an amazing addition to your compost heap. Or you could go one better and make a leaf mold cage. Do not kick through the leaves no matter how tempting, collect them, use them.

3. Do NOT do what I’ve done and decide to redesign your whole garden in October. Don’t do it, it’ll break your heart. But do throw out old wood, rusted crap and general worn out pots etc, they’re just litter, you’ll thank yourself in spring.

10. And last, do NOT get disheartened by the darkening days and lengthening nights. Use this time to take stock of your mistakes and successes and begin the plan for next year because before you know it, I’ll be writing a “Top 13 spring beds to spring up in spring” or something equally ridiculous.

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 believed 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: Gladiator, Javelin, 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.

 

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. 

Plants Bants: How To Care For Tomatoes

Let me tell you something that not many people know about me, my favourite smell in the world is not fresh baked bread, freshly brewed coffee or lavender (though these rate pretty highly) but the the smell of tomato plants. It is the ultimate smell of summer. My earliest memories of anyone growing their own food are those of my father growing tomatoes in our back garden at home. Each summer, he would plant a few tomatoes in pots in our garden and I loved to watch them progress throughout the summer. The smell of tomato plants reminds me of home, it is nostalgic and gorgeous and comforting.

Most people think you need a greenhouse or polytunnel in which to grow tomatoes, and while this does help, tomatoes will grow relatively well outdoors in Ireland, provided we have a good summer. Tomatoes are excellent container plants and as such are a good choice for the gardener with limited growing space.

Being July, it is too late now to sow tomatoes, however if you have started them, I have some tips for caring for your tomatoes during the summer months.

There are two main types of tomatoes, indeterminate (vine or cordon tomatoes) and determinate (bush tomatoes). The type of plant you are growing will determine how to care for it through the growing season.

Fun Fact: Tomatoes are a member of the Solanaceae family of plants, making them a cousin of the potato, aubergine, tobacco and deadly nightshade plants.

Sowing Tomatoes

I usually sow my tomatoes in late March or early April. (Confession: I didn’t sow any this year, my Dad is solely responsible for 2016’s tomato crop).

Sow tomatoes in individual 9cm pots using good quality seed compost, level and firm the compost before sowing and water them in well. A heated propagator comes in quite handy for germinating tomatoes in our climate but if you don’t have one, you can keep them on a windowsill above a radiator or in full sun. Covering your pots with cling film or plastic also gives the soil some warmth to help germinate your tomato seeds. Tomatoes usually germinate within seven days.

Leggy Plants

One common issue I’ve had with tomato seedlings is their tendancy to become “leggy”. Now, being a leggy individual myself, I’m fully aware of how much of an advantage this is as a human female, but leggy tomato plants are not so desirable. The stems grow really tall at the expense of fruit development. This is usually caused by the seedlings reaching toward the available light which is often in short supply in Spring. It helps to rotate the pots once a day or to move the pots to a brighter location, sometimes I have found this means moving the pot from the front of my house to the rear of my house as the sun moves across the sky during the day.

Tomato plants are very clever though, they will form new roots at the point where the stem hits the soil so if your seedlings do become leggy, plant them into a larger pot with the stem buried deeper so they can form new roots. Amazing!

Potting On

Tomatoes are another one of those plants that need to be potted on regularly in order to thrive. You’ll need to transfer your seedlings into larger pots after about three weeks so they have new nutrients and have space for their roots to spread out.

Tomatoes in Containers

I’m quite lucky as I have a polytunnel and I can just plant my tomatoes directly into the ground, but tomatoes make excellent container crops in smaller spaces. Tomatoes have a rather large root structure so need room to spread out so if you are growing in pots, use a large pot for each plant, you’ll want a pot of at least 12 inches.

You can also buy grow bags for tomatoes. These are like large bags of compost in which you can grow up to three tomato plants and are a really good choice for the novice tomato grower with limited space.

Keep your tomatoes in a warm spot with plenty of sun, a south facing garden or balcony is preferable.

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Support

Sometimes, we all need someone to lean on and tomatoes too need support as they grow. Tomatoes can grow quite tall and they become laden down with fruits in the summer which often causes the plant to topple over. Stake your tomatoes using bamboo and tie them in as they get larger

Watering and Feeding

Tomatoes need plenty of water in order to bulk up and prevent the tomatoes from splitting. I water my plants a little every day in summer months and give them a really good soaking once a week. Tomatoes need a regular water supply to prevent problems with the ripening fruit.

When growing in containers, you can use an upturned water bottle buried halfway in to the soil to direct water to the roots of your plants. There is no need to water the tops of the plants (this actually goes for most veggies) aim your water at the base of the plant.

Tomatoes grown in containers will probably need to be fed also, use an organic tomato feed once a week when the fruits are ripening, or better yet, make your own plant feed with nettles or comfrey.

Truss Issues

Tomato plants form what we call trusses. A truss is a group of smaller stems which produce flowers and fruit.

When growing vine tomatoes, pinch out the side shoots (these grow between the leaves and main stem). This allows the plant to put all its energy into the trusses, this producing more fruit.

It also helps to pinch out the main growing stem on tomatoes once they are bearing fruit, this will encourage the tomatoes to ripen and subsequent fruits formed above these trusses will often fail to ripen anyway.

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Tomato Problems

Tomatoes are prone to a few diseases, much like their cousins, the potato, tomatoes can suffer from blight in poor conditions, keep an eye out for rotting leaves and brown patches on the fruit.

Blossom end rot is caused by calcium deficiency and is usually indicative of irregular watering. Tomatoes can also be prone to fruits splitting and cracking if they are not watered.

However, I have been super lucky with growing tomatoes and haven’t experienced any major problem with the exception of the the fruit splitting due to lack of water, bad Fiona!

Harvesting Tomatoes

Harvesting tomatoes is pretty easy, follow these steps:

  1. Pick tomatoes.
  2. Eat whole like apples.
  3. Pat self on back for job well done.
  4. Never buy tomatoes in a supermarket again.

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Tomato Varieties

This year I’m growing a variety called Moneymaker, a reliable cropper much loved by gardeners. Sungold are a spectacular cherry tomato and if you’d like to be a bit more adventurous, Tigerella are the tiger-striped, glam-rock icons¬†of the veggie garden.

It’s unusually hot here in Dublin this week, the temperature outside today is 28 degrees celcius and my tomatoes are currently sweating it out in a closed polytunnel. Panic stations! I’ll have to swing by after work lest I end up with tomatoes that are as sunburnt as my thighs.

Tomato toned thighs, not a good look. Truss me. 

 

Plants Bants: Kale, the superhero of the veggie garden

You know on Halloween, just before you’d go out trick or treatin’, your Ma would serve you up a steaming plate of colcannon which you’d eat reluctantly in the wishes of finding some cash hidden inside? No? Then you’re not bleedin’ Irish.

Colcannon on Halloween is a distinctly Irish tradition for a distinctly Irish holiday. Plates piled high with potatoes mashed with onions, kale and butter has pretty much given kale a bad name (though whoever thought of it was a genius because it’s a seriously hearty nutritional winter dish and absolutely delicious). Most Irish people only know kale as “curly kale” or in it’s sloppy colcannon form and it was always a decidedly unglamorous food but in recent years, kale is making a serious comeback as a super food. You can’t enter any health food caf√© or shops without encountering kale smoothies, kale crisps, kale salads, raw kale, kale is the current trendiest veggie going. Now, if you find yourself a bit turned off the idea of this super healthy veggie by the memories of mashed kale goop on Halloween, I’m here to change your mind.

Kale is hands down my favourite leafy vegetable to grow! In fact, I’m considering donning some spandex and fashioning myself a curly kale cape and swooping into people’s gardens and guerilla planting some kale. Fiona Kelly Kaley: The Curly Avenger. 

A member of the brassica family, kale grows supremely well in our temperate climate and is very easy to grow from seed. A large, leafy vegetable, kale is a welcome addition to any vegetable garden. Its beautiful broad leaves bring rich shades of colour to any garden and there are so many varieties to try which all have distinct flavours. Kale is packed full of Vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and antioxidants and is pretty much the best veggie you can add to your diet. So, if you’re looking for tips on growing this super food in your garden look no further, I’m here to champion this humble hero of the brassica bed.

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Kale Varieties:

Now, most people think of kale and just think of the curly green variety we were subjected to as nippers but there are many varieties of kale to try in your garden.

My favourites are Russian Red Kale & Cavolo Nero. This year I’m growing three different varieties of kale and currently have 18 plants which is definitely overkill but kale is ready to harvest later in the season than most other leafy veggies and it’s always nice to visit the plot in October and have plenty to still harvest.
Red Kale and Cavolo Nero taste distinctly different to green kale too so it’s nice to have a variety of flavours.

Sowing Kale:

Most people sow kale indoors and transplant it outside but I urge you to sow kale outdoors if you’re in Ireland, it will germinate in most soil, though rich, fertile soil is best as with all brassicas. I always sow my kale outdoors between May and June for an Autumn crop. Plus, sowing outdoors means less of the tricky transplanting business. Space your rows about 45cm apart and sow your kale and thin it out as it grows. Kale grows to be quite a large bushy plant so ensure you space the plants out enough to give them room to grow.

Transplanting Kale

If you have started your kale indoors, then it is essential to water your soil well before planting and give the plants plenty of water when you plant them, in fact, drench them in, create a puddle around your kale, it will love you for it. Space your plants 45cm apart.

Caring for Kale

Kale requires little care but it is very tasty so everything loves to eat it, slugs, pigeons, humans, more pigeons so it needs some protection.

Protecting your kale from slugs when they are young plants is essential. Beer traps are great for keeping slugs away from your plants and I’ve had great success with these. This year, I’ve also mulched my young kale plants with coffee grounds as a fertiliser and slug repellent and I have had zero problems with slugs on my kale this year. None. It’s a miracle. Coffee is just the gift that keeps on giving really.
Netting your kale is also essential to keep the birds from demolishing it (although eating kale is a pretty holy experience in itself the last thing you want is hole-y leaves).

Harvesting Kale

Kale is usually ready to harvest about three months after planting. Kale is a great cut and come again crop, simply pick the leaves from the top of the plant as needed.

I have a recipe here for kale and apple soup if you’d like to try something a bit different with your crops (it’s yummy, trust me). My Mam also has a super recipe for kale gnocchi so I’ll ask her can I share it with you guys during harvest season. I do urge you, if you are Irish, rekindle a love for colcannon, it’s really a great dish and if you’re not Irish, give it a try, it’s a carby-gloopy-buttery-tangy-kale-slop and it’s glorious.

Now, I’m off to get my sewing machine out, this Curly Kale Cape won’t make itself.

 

 

Plants Bants: How NOT To Grow Courgettes 

Last week, I wrote about how to grow your own strawberries and I received a few requests from readers to feature a post on growing courgettes. Courgettes are one of the staples of a vegetable garden, they are prolific croppers and supposedly very easy to grow. 

I had a brief embarrassing moment a couple of weeks ago. I was at the FoodMatters tent at Bloom festival, giving advice on how to grow vegetables in containers, when an audience member asked me about growing courgettes. I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret of mine: I’ve had an absolute disaster of a time attempting to grow courgettes every year. Cue me, standing in front of an audience with a microphone, having to admit that I have in fact killed every courgette plant I’ve tried to grow. 

WANTED Notorious Courgette-Killer-Kelly, for crimes against gardening. So scary you might just wet your plants


In fact, this is the first year I have been successful in my pursuit of these elusive veggies which every other gardener seems to grow with ease. So, in this week’s plants bants, I’m going to talk about how NOT to grow courgettes as I’m pretty sure I’ve done every single thing wrong that you can do and as such, am an expert courgette killer.

Courgettes, also known as Zucchini are prolific growers, producing two or three courgettes per week in the height of growing season. They grow very well in warm climates which is why we often associate them with Mediterranean dishes. Courgettes in fact, originated in Mexico so they need a warm, sheltered spot in order to thrive.

Sowing Courgettes

Courgettes are best started indoors and moved to their final growing spot in June when the chance of frost has passed. Plant one seed about half an inch deep in 7cm pots. The pot size really does matter here as courgettes use up the nutrients in the soil very quickly so don’t plant them in seed modules. Keep the soil moist but don’t over water your courgettes while they are germinating. Keep the pots on a warm windowsill or in a greenhouse/polytunnel. Courgettes germinate very quickly in the right temperature, in fact, mine germinated in three days this year and within a week they were pretty large already. 


Fiona’s crimes against courgettes part one: Not potting on

Because courgettes grow so quickly, they’ll use up the nutrients in these pots in about three weeks so they need to be potted on. This was my big mistake in year one, I had no idea they would grow so large so quickly and left them in the small pots for about 6 weeks, causing the plants to become too large for the pots and the stems to snap. Heart. Broken. 
You’ll need to transfer your courgettes to larger pots. 

Courgettes get too big for their boots (roots?) and need more space to grow. Much like my efforts to squash myself into skinny jeans in winter, there’s no point in squashing your courgettes into tiny pots that don’t fit them anymore. Nobody wants muffin-top plants, and seeing that there’s no weight watchers or slimming world for plants, simply go large or go home. Use a good quality organic, nutrient rich compost and keep your courgettes well watered. Keep the plants indoors until all chances of frosts have passed. Young courgette plants hate frost. This leads me to my next sin…

Fiona’s crimes against courgettes part two: Not hardening off

My second attempt at growing courgettes was going really well. I had potted them on, kept them well watered and the plants were huge. I had decided to grow them outdoors, courgettes do well outside in our climate as long as they are not planted out in cold weather and the plants are hardened off. Hardening off plants that have been grown indoors is essential if you are transferring them outside.

I eagerly planted out my courgettes on a warm summers day and within three days, the weather turned colder, my courgettes went into shock at the temperature change and simply withered away and died. Devastated.

Check out my guide to hardening off your seedlings here.

Fiona’s crimes against courgettes part three: Not watering regularly

Once established in the ground, courgettes need plenty of water. Two years ago, I was having major success with my courgettes. I had potted them on, hardened them off, planted them out all with success, everything was going swimmingly, until I broke my foot. I was unable to visit my plot regularly, meaning I was unable to water my plot regularly and my beautiful courgettes once again died. Water your courgettes every day, but water the base of the plants to direct the water to the roots. Under watering courgettes will prevent them from bulking up. 

Pro tip:  It helps to avoid smashing your bare foot off a door frame.

Fiona’s crimes against courgettes part four: Not spacing them out

Courgettes grow very large with a huge leaf spread so need lots of space between plants. Leave about a metre between each plant, this might look a bit ridiculous when they are small plants but trust me, they will take over this space in no time. Their large leaf spread also creates a haven for slugs, which brings me to…

Fiona’s crimes against courgettes part five: Not protecting my plants

Last year, I decided to double my chances of success by planting courgettes both outdoors and in the polytunnel. Clever Fiona. Alas, I never foresaw the complete destruction of the polytunnel courgettes by slugs. It is essential to go on regular slug patrol and take whatever steps you can to keep them from your plants, beer traps, coffee grounds, crushed egg shells, whatever it takes.

The great courgette slug demolition was the moment I decided I might have to hang up my trowel. I’d been told that courgettes where the easiest thing in the world to grow and three years on the trot I’d murdered mine from lack of knowledge or proper care.

This year, all has changed. My courgettes are thriving in the polytunnel. I’m keeping them well watered, protecting them from slugs using coffee grounds (more on that in a later post) and singing to them regularly, it can’t hurt right?

I have of these monsters in the polytunnel


Courgette Crop Care and Tips

Because of our temperate climate, we often have to give courgettes a helping hand when growing outdoors. If you have the time, make yourself a hot bed for your courgettes. Prepare the bed in spring, dig about a spades depth into the bed. Fill the hole up with well rotted manure and cover with compost. The manure heats up the soil creating a hot bed for your plants and also provides the fertile-rich soil that courgettes love.

Protect your courgettes in colder climates with a cloche or plastic sheeting.

Courgettes are hungry plants so will benefit from mulching. Please, I implore you as always NOT to use a chemical fertiliser. Use seaweed, comfrey, nettle feed, ANYTHING but a chemical based fertiliser! 

Harvesting 

Plants should produce two or three courgettes a week in good conditions. Harvest the courgettes when they are still small as this is when they taste best. You can of course leave the courgettes to grow into huge marrows but they taste awful and as much as its great fun to grow giant marrows, it’s a bit pointless growing inedible food in my humble opinion.

Did you know? You can eat courgette flowers. They are delicious stuffed with cous cous or cheese and tossed in a light batter and fried. Bliss.

If you’ve any tips for me on growing courgettes, let me know, I need all the help I can get so I don’t end up incarcerated for a courgette serial-killing spree.