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.

That don’t impress me mulch: Fiona goes barking mad

I’d like to begin this post with two apologies to my readers. The first apology is to the thousands (perhaps millions) of readers who have tried to access my website over the past couple of weeks and were greeted with a blank page. I know it must have been truly shocking to find my website had disappeared. I did hear rumours of widespread panic and reactionary riots and looting but at the time of writing, those reports have been unsubstantiated. In truth, I simply had some server issues that took some time to resolve. So you can all calm the tits guys, Fiona Grows Food is going nowhere. Crisis averted.

The second apology is far more pressing. I would like to issue a heartfelt apology to you all for using such a horrendously bad pun in the title of this post, that will most likely result in you singing Shania Twain to yourself for the rest of the day. But you see, it had to be done. I had a list of other options for a blog post about mulch but none of the others seemed to do the job.

Other options included (but were not limited to): Mulch ado about nothing (it’s been done before sadly), Too mulch, too soon (the second highest contender), I hate you so mulch right now, and Too mulch to handle.¬†

However, none had quite the same sassy pizazz or gravitas as Shania, because lets face it, not mulch much does.

Actual footage of me stroking the fence posts on my plot.

Anyway. I have been incredibly busy on the plot in recent weeks. The last time I shared a blog post, it was a pretty emotional one about using gardening as a tool to help you get through the tough patches in life, and I felt it would be hypocritical not to put my own words into action. So, because I was having a bit of a tough patch myself, I decided to take a break from pretty much everything so I could focus on my garden. I mean, what use would I be as a garden blogger if I had no gardening to blog about?

So, I took a step back from everything else in my life, apart from work obviously, and you know, washing myself and stuff. I took a step back from social media because it was having a shite effect on me and I eased off on my mad party lifestyle (who even am I?) because I realised I kind of hated people and needed to not be around them for a while. So, I took some time to simply be on my own and dig. And plant. And weed. And water. And sit in the garden. And dig again. 

I tore the whole damn plot apart. Because if I didn’t do it now, I’d simply never do it, and I was tired of feeling like my garden was a mess. And I only had myself to blame for the mess and only I could fix it.

But despite ripping up the raised beds, the decking outside my polytunnel and establishing a whole new-look allotment, there was one thing that was really pissing me off and it had been for a long time. My paths.

Decent pathways are vital on an allotment, not only do you need to have proper paths to let you access every vegetable bed, but they need to be the right width for you to be able to fit a wheelbarrow and¬† – obviously – yourself. Now, you’d imagine that there would be little to no upkeep on a garden path but you’d be wrong. Very fucking wrong. You have a few options, you can pave them (which to me has always seemed too permanent and I have mild to crippling commitment issues), you can leave them as they are and they’ll be full of weeds and grass (nope), you can put down gravel (too, eh, crunchy) or you can put down some bark mulch.

When I first began tending my allotment, I never fully considered just how much work the paths would be. Because, well, I was more concerned thinking about things like: “how the fuck do I grow potatoes?”, “what the fuck is soil pH?” and “I wonder if anywhere sells stiletto heeled wellies?”.

But over the years, my paths have turned out to be just as much work, if not more, than my actual vegetable beds. Many, many moons ago, I decided to use bark mulch on my allotment pathways.

A) because it smells absolutely amazing B) because I liked the idea of a natural mulch over gravel or paving and C) Because the word ‘mulch’ is only gas.

The only problem is, bark mulch, much like most organic substances, rots down over time and needs to be replaced.

The plot when I began ripping it apart. Hack of the place.

Added to that, there’s also the little issue of mypex (weed suppressing fabric for all my non-gardening connoisseur pals), which generally needs to be put down on the paths before the mulch so weeds don’t take over and grow through your mulch.

So, what’s the problem then?

Well, pull up a stool there, pour yourself a drink and let me fucking tell you what the problem is. After years of the poxy Irish weather, the constant rain, the snow storms and well, more poxy rain; this winter, my paths had all turned into weed-riddled, mushy, waterlogged disasters. Every time I walked onto my plot, I was pretty much going flying on my snot on my paths and no matter how much work I did on the new beds etc, the place just looked like a warzone.

And that don’t impress me mulch.

Fucking yesssss, that punchline took a while didn’t it?

Seriously. The state of it.

And so, I realised that the job I’d been putting off for about a year finally had to be tackled. I had to completely redo my pathways. In my naive brain, I thought it might take a couple of days. How wrong I was. I quickly realised that in order to re-do all my paths, I first had to undo what was already there. So, I had to take up all the old bark, which at this stage, was just compacted mud. On top of that, there were mountains of weeds growing through the weed suppressant (because life is a cruel joke). So that all had to go too.

Imagine this, you decide to re-carpet your house and in order to do it, you have to pull up your carpet. Pretty straightforward right? Well, imagine that carpet was absolutely soaking wet and had the roots of a thousand dandelions embedded in it. Then to top it off, it was also covered in a thick layer of compacted mud which was teeming with insects and worms.

Well, first of all, you would probably move house or set it on fire for insurance purposes because it would be easier than dealing with the nightmare ahead of you, and secondly, you would have to seriously call into question how the hell you’ve been putting up with it for so long. Also, you would probably consider giving it an auld go-over with the hoover or something.

Sadly, none of these were options available to me in the garden so I had to just bloody do it all by hand. Cue Fiona spending days attempting to pull up huge swathes of heavy, wet, fabric covered in mud and worms and slug goo. I’m not going to lie, there were quite a few instances of Fiona falling on her arse, mud all over her face and arse, dignity long gone. And not only did I have to rip it all up, but then all the crap had to go somewhere, so I spent a whole day just carrying piles of literal mud around the allotments like a crazed lunatic trying to find a bin or skip for it. All I was short of doing was walking up to people and fucking flinging it at them in desperation and legging it in the other direction.

But I eventually got rid of every last bit of old bark and mypex. And just when I thought the hard work was behind me and all the crap was gone, the realisation hit me that I now faced the joyous prospect of somehow getting tonnes of fresh bark mulch back onto my plot.

And that was the moment I decided to give up gardening and go take up a nice, relaxing hobby like air traffic controlling or something.

Goodbye old decking, hello hard work

Nah, not really, but you have no idea how tempted I was to throw my hat at it, because the hard work was just beginning. What I was left with after the great mypex disaster of 2018, was a garden that had horrible muddy paths that within two days were already beginning to sprout weeds (how? why?).

So, I had to begin getting some bark mulch for my paths and was beginning to worry, because the stuff costs more than a fucking car to buy. But, that’s when something magic happened Truly magic. Like, I don’t believe in angels or karma or anything of the sort, but I went to the plot last week to discover that the lads who run the allotments had ordered in absolutely LOADS of bark mulch and that it was…wait for it…free. Piles and piles of the stuff.

Hallelujah.

Only problem was, it wasn’t exactly near my own plot, and so began the great wheelbarrow relay of the year (beginning to understand just how much hard work an allotment is?). So, I spent hours yesterday, wheeling a wheelbarrow approximately 9,000 miles to the pile of bark, filling it and wheeling it back 14,000 miles. The extra five thousand miles were created by the sheer bloody weight of the thing combined with my dwindling will to live. I bashed my legs to pieces with the barrow and had a very close call with a pothole, but me tell you guys, it was the best work out I’ve ever had. My arms are killing me, my back is killing me, my legs are killing me and my arse feels like I’ve done about 200 squats.

I think. I’ve never actually done a squat in my life because I’m allergic to the gym.

But the result is that I now have the majority of the allotment redesigned, re-dug and have gorgeous new paths full of delicious bark mulch. No more slip sliding my way around the garden.

Plus I now have a tan that rivals the entire cast of Made in Chelsea and am probably more toned than all the cross-fit obsessed lads on Tinder combined.

Of course, I’ll have to redo all of this again in about two years but hopefully by then I’ll have won the lotto and can pay some handsome, topless lads to do it for me while their equally handsome mates hand-feed me grapes and fan me with palm leaves while I whip the workers with bamboo canes, laughing maniacally.

If not, I’ll just set the place on fire.

Oh and if you think that was all enough work for one week, I haven’t even bloody started on what I planted, but I’ll keep that one for another day because I have to go lather some lotion on my thighs.

Because they are bruised. From the wheelbarrow. Get your mind out of the gutter lads.

gardening

The important lessons that gardening has taught me about getting through life

Sometimes, life is just shit. There is no other way to say it. It’s just shit. And let’s face it, a lot of the time, life is shit because people are shit. We are. We are all at times, just shit. Shit to ourselves, shit to others, shit to the world around us. Shit.

*Warning,¬† in case you haven’t noticed already, this post contains swearing, vague philosophical ramblings, some pessimism and some questionable theories on the nature of humanity. Don’t worry though, I never do these things without good reason. Read on*

Something incredible happened to me today. Something that taught me about the nature of the world around me, the nature of plants and wildlife and the environment I live in. Something small, something huge, something that shifted my whole perspective on a difficult situation. A lesson in getting through the tough times.

Let me set the scene. Many of you know I had a bad year last year in many ways. Well, I say bad, it was in fact, a year littered with the most wonderful things that have ever happened to me. But in terms of my health, my garden and my heart for the garden, I had a very tough year. My plot bore the brunt of everything that happened in the rest of my life. I didn’t really bother much with it, not as much as I should have. I let it go to ruin.

gardening

It’s in an absolute heap

I made bad choices. I invested my energy in to the wrong things when I should have reserved it for my garden. It only served to hurt my garden and myself in the long run.

I’ve written at length about not knowing how to begin again. How to start over and why the hell I should bother. I’ve been looking around my plot with despair, and sadness and with a sort of veiled apathy. Why the fuck should I care about it anymore? Why don’t I just forget about it and move on?

But of course, because it is the blood in my veins, the air in my lungs and an intrinsic part of the very nature of who I am; I can not just give this up. It is part of my identity. It is the love of my life.

So, today I decided to give it another shot. To maybe just try one more time to get it back to its former glory. Or better still, to take all the lessons it had taught me, and use them to tear it all the fuck down and begin all over again.

So, I have begun again. I spent two hours just beginning to pick up the pieces. I’ve begun to throw away the dead plants, the old plants, the old bits of wood, the twigs, the crap. I’ve begun to clean up my act.

gardening

You’ve got to be willing to get seriously dirty if you want to clean up your act though

And when I stood in my garden today and looked around, among all the litter and chaos and destruction, I found something that made my heart skip a beat. I found a patch of crocuses that I planted three years ago that never grew before, and they were in full, glorious, delicate bloom.

Despite the snow storm, despite the neglect, despite the fact that I had never tended to them. Despite everything and against all the odds, there they were.¬† And I nearly fucking wept. Not just because I’m a sap with too many feelings, but because I realised once again, that the greatest lessons we can learn about ourselves, we learn from nature. That we too can weather the storms. Plants and wildlife and the natural world has more to teach us about ourselves than we will ever know.gardening

So, in an effort to quantify this somehow in a blog post –¬† I’m attempting to marry the huge wonders of nature with some small words on a screen – I’m going to try to explain a few life lessons that my garden has taught me. Maybe it will help you if you are, like me, going through a rough patch. I’ve been thinking about all the amazing things that plants can teach us about ourselves and how to take those lessons and turn them to gold. How to fucking bloom.

Nature simply doesn’t give a shit about you

Sounds pessimistic right? It’s not. This is one I’ve written about before and it never fails to cheer me up. Seriously, just think about it. Plants and wildlife are incredibly apathetic to anything else around them except their own survival. They don’t care about you, they don’t care if you’re fat, thin, an asshole, a saint, gorgeous, ugly, a fuck up, a success, they don’t care if you’re a shit person or a good one.

And this realisation can turn your understanding of yourself and your place in the world on its head entirely.

Think about it this way, you can literally be anything, or anybody or act any way, and you will still exist. When you are a gardener, or simply out there in nature, your personality, your mistakes, the things that you don’t like about yourself, the things you love about yourself, there is no place for them. None. You are simply part of something bigger than yourself. You can just be an organism, of little or no consequence. In a garden you are absolved of all your shit and (perhaps even better) everyone else’s too.

Enjoy!

You have a responsibility to the world around you and the world you build

All that being said, every thing you do impacts the world around you. Everything.

If you don’t look after your garden, it will not thrive. You can’t expect to put nothing in to something and then expect to get anything worthwhile out of it. Plants and nature will always be there, but if you are the one who planted the seed, you are the one who should tend to its needs.gardening

I’m sure you’ve planted something before and kind of forgotten to take care of it properly. You thought to yourself “ah sure look, it’ll be fine, it won’t be the end of the world if it dies”.

No, it won’t, but you kind of made its existence pointless now didn’t you?

Gardens are amazing spaces and we are their curators. We have a responsibility to the plants and the wildlife in them. We have a responsibility to how we treat everything and everyone in our lives too.

In essence,¬† don’t be a dick.

Only plant what you want to grow

Right, this is a pretty basic one. But, why bother planting peas if you don’t want peas? Why the hell would you put all that time and effort and love into something you have zero intention to actually use?

Think about that. Same goes for jobs, friendships, relationships, hobbies, your fucking dinner, the clothes you buy. Stop chasing things you don’t actually want.

Mistakes are just mistakes

How many times have I written that I do not believe that there are mistakes in a garden? Well, I lied. Of course there are. You will spend your life in a garden making mistakes. But here is the difference between how you may feel about those mistakes and how those mistakes actually impact or hurt your garden.

Much like in the rest of your life, you will beat yourself up for your mistakes in your garden, you will. You will beat yourself up for your mistakes in life. You’ll ruminate on them, be sad about them, blame yourself. But here is the wonderful thing gardens teach us about mistakes: they can’t be undone so make your peace with them and move the fuck on.¬† Self blame in a garden is pointless. You know why? Because it doesn’t change or fix anything. Accidentally kill a plant by not watering it? Well just learn from it and water the next one. Did your tomatoes die because you had them in the wrong environment? Well, they’re dead. End of. You won’t bring them back to life.

Yes, you fucked up. Yes, it sucked. But yes, you have a chance to make it better.

Don’t equate mistakes to failure. If you do that, you will lose hope and simply stop trying. In a garden and in life.

Plants don’t waste their time on shit that doesn’t make them better

Plants and wildlife spend their lifetimes searching for things that make them a success. Things that make them thrive. Plants don’t waste time on things that they don’t need. Plants only have use for things that sustain them. Water, and nutrients and light and pollinators. Things that make them live and grow.

gardening

You don’t see these guys sitting around feeling sorry for themselves

People tend to do the opposite. We stew in guilt and resentment and sorrow. We let shame and regret eat us alive. We waste our time on things that don’t sustain us. We hurt ourselves in the long run. If you spend your life on things that do not sustain you, you will literally die.

Bleak? Nope, that right there is the opposite of bleak folks that right there opens up space for hope.

Which brings me nicely to..

Gardening teaches you to hope

Have you ever sown a seed and not wanted it to grow?

Enough said.

Gardening teaches you to be patient

Gardening teaches you to breathe. To take a step back. Because no matter how much work you do, everything takes time to come to fruition. You’re not just going to plant a seed and poof, two seconds later have an apple.

Sometimes, you just have to wait and trust that the world has you right where you need to be.

Being buried doesn’t mean you’re dead

And maybe the most important lesson of all, gardening has taught me that you can quite literally be up to your neck in dirt and turn it all around. You can be so deep under all the crap and mud that life slings at you that it seems like there’s no fucking way out.

But what happens when you let in the things that will help you grow out of it? What happens when you just let in water? Or warmth? Or hope, or love, or forgiveness or trust or patience or self belief?

Your life can be a grave or a garden.

It can bury you. Or it can plant you.

It’s up to you to decide.

The Beast from the East

The Beast from the East: Storming back to life

Hello my lovelies!

It has been quite a while since I wrote a post here, I’ve been incredibly busy and in demand, it’s not easy being me.

In fact, last time I wrote a blog post was during Hurricane Ophelia in October and I’ve been struggling to know how to begin again. Winter was tough this year, I barely visited the plot and as always, I lost the desire to dig while the world was dark and cold. it happens every damn year, yet every damn year, I begin to think I should just give it all up and stop this wild gardening ride I’m on.

But don’t panic, that’ll never happen.

I’ve been racking my brains trying to figure out how to make a comeback, because, lets face it, you all miss me. I know you’ve been lost without me.

My gardening bollock naked advice, my endless photos of my welly-shod legs in ever more compromising positions in the garden, my plots to help you all use your exes corpses as compost. I’d be taking away something truly beautiful from the world.

In fact, I even considered giving up the blog entirely until I realised I am  pretty much the Slim Shady of Irish horticulture and I had an obligation to you all to struggle on, because it would feel so empty without me.

So, this week, I’ve realised there has been a perfect storm of events to bring me back to blogging life.

The so-called Beast from the East (or Storm Emma) has landed in Ireland. Here in Dublin, things have been particularly bad. It’s absolutely pelting snow outside and the wind is picking up pace. It is set to be the most severe snow event in Ireland in my lifetime.

There are red weather warnings in place and we’ve been told to stay indoors from 4pm today until 3pm tomorrow.¬† There is zero public transport and I’ll be working from home.

Myself and my colleagues at Buzz.ie and the Irish Daily Star are working away all day to bring you whatever updates you need so make sure to follow us for all your snow related news needs.

The nation is also currently gripped in a catastrophic bread crisis, with sliced pans becoming the country’s most valuable commodity.

Side note: I just checked the #breadmageddon hashtag on Twitter and one of my tweets was in the top featured and I feel MAD important and famous now lads:

And so, I am on my sofa, trapped by the weather yet again, and this is the perfect way to get back to blogging.

My winter gap, bookended by two storms.

I finally got back to my garden last week after my winter of discontent. The weather was absolutely glorious, I was in a t-shirt, digging, weeding, planting. That was exactly seven days ago.

Now, it’s -5 degrees outside, the snow is at least 30 cm deep in my garden and I’m wearing 700 layers.¬†The Beast from the Esst

Actually, one benefit of being a gardener in weather like this is the endless supply of sexy fleeces, wooly socks, hats, thermal vests, gloves and wellies you have at your disposal.

Another red weather warning is just about to take effect as Storm Emma finally moves across the country and meets the polar air that has been bringing the snowfall.

Much like a great love story, two imperfect bodies will crash together and fuckin’ ruin everything in their path.

I know many of you are probably worried about your seedlings right now, I know you are. Thankfully I’m a procrastinator and haven’t actually planted any yet so for once, my laziness is actually paying off.

The allotments are closed for the rest of this week due to the weather warnings so even if I did have seedlings in the polytunnel, I wouldn’t be able to bring them inside. However, if you do have seedlings outside, sorry lads, they are – for want of a better word – fucked.

However, all is not lost. Today is the first day of March. It is still the very, very beginning of gardening season here in Ireland. You still have plenty of time to get growing so, instead of worrying about your plants (we all do it, it’s ok, nobody else actually understands, but it’s perfectly normal), just do one thing.

Please, please, please, take one slice of precious bread if you have any and leave it outside for the birds with a bowl of hot water. Our birds need help, they’re bleedin’ freezing. I have a robin in my garden today and I’ve been feeding him bread (don’t shoot me,¬† I know we’re having an end of the world bread event right now).¬†The Beast from the East

If it helps, you can sing that feed the birds song from Mary Poppins while you’re doing it and feel like a fuckin’ saint.

Otherwise, it’s looking like this weather is only set to get worse, it won’t begin to thaw out until at least Sunday and the likelihood is, as gardeners, we’ll still be dealing with the effects of this for a couple of weeks. The ground will be too frozen to dig and too cold to plant in for quite some time now.

So, if you, like me, were worried that you are behind, Storm Emma is a great big reset button.

The snow is covering all your sins. It is a great white blanket of reflection. So, stay safe, stay warm and stay indoors and before you know it, it will be May and I’ll be looking for a new excuse for my plot procrastination.