I dig therefore I am

There’s a fresher air in Dublin this week as late summer breezes by and autumn blows in. My summer of discontent has been and gone and much like the changing of the seasons, my life has shifted in to a brand new phase.

It’s been an arduous summer here at Fiona Grows Food, plagued with health issues and some upheavals in my personal life, my garden has taken a back seat to the pursuit of health and happiness.

At times, the garden hasn’t been quite as productive as I’d have liked and I’ve spent a significant amount of time lately attempting to juggle the real world with my dream world. The dream world in this case being the ability to garden and write for a living.

Dream office alert!

Now that autumn is upon us, I am in the heart of harvest season and I’m left to take stock of the summer that has passed and think about what has and hasn’t worked for me in the garden.

The past few days I’ve been thinking about the nature of the changing seasons and the cycles of our lives. Thinking of how our gardens can reflect everything else in our world and how that reflection can guide us to where we are meant to be.

Now, before you wonder what the hell has happened to mad, hilarious Fiona and begin to panic at the thought that I might have become a bit of a poetic, philosophical bore, bare with me. This is an absolute cracker of a realisation I have to share with you! Then I promise I’ll get back to my usual slapstick gardening humour.

I do still have my funny moments to be fair…caught someone in a quite compromising parsnip position the other day…

Over the past few years, I’ve been juggling some hefty commitments, including a 50 hour a week thankless job, a blog, freelance writing commitments, food growing workshops and of course, a pretty large veggie garden.

Of all these things, the one that has taken up the majority of my time has been my job. Not that I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth, I have enjoyed my work the past few years and am grateful for the amazing opportunities that it has afforded me. However, it just wasn’t right for me anymore.

I no longer had time to write or to dig, I had no space to blossom.

Plants and people are not so different really and this is the overarching point of my preposterous poetic preamble; if we treat ourselves and our lives the way we treat our plants, we’ll be all the better for it.

Think about it.

If you are a gardener yourself, you’ll know that when a plant is wilting, diseased or dying, it’s not the plant that is at fault, the problem is the environment.

This is why we grow some plants in polytunnels instead of outside

If a plant is parched, we water it, if it’s starved, we give it light, if it’s struggling we support it.

Put simply: if your plants are not thriving, you change their environment.

When a plant doesn’t perform well, we don’t scream at it, admonish it or bully it into submission (except for weeds, I’ve been know to scream at weeds on occasion). We take note of what has caused the problem and take steps to avoid the issue in future.

We repot it. Change the way we water it. Bring it in indoors. Give it less sun or more. We plant it in a different environment, we adjust our care in line with its needs, we try something new in the (sometimes vain) hope that next time, the plant will thrive.

If all that fails, we simply try again.

As gardeners, we are care givers, we are bound to the many lives we have become responsible for. We are held to account by our plants, and rewarded by our dedication and diligence.

We measure our successes in harvests and seeds, the more we put in, the more we are rewarded and we are guided by a tangible desire to do what is best, not only for our plants but for ourselves too.

In fact, based on these findings, I think it’s time for another one of my Fiona Grows Food Mathematical Discoveries of the Century.

Where:

A=hard work

B=desire for success

C=time spent in the garden

D=plant knowledge

Y=Tomatoes

Then:

I haven’t used any square roots here as the roots I work with are far too organic in structure for me to quantify in a single equation.

Mind Blown.

*patiently awaits phone call from Nobel prize committee* (there’s a Nobel prize for best off the cuff blog thesis right? Right?)

Now that we’ve had a small scientific segue, back to my original point.

In essence, plants that are stressed need a change of environment and in that regard, the same can be said for people.

If a person is wilting, hungry for more, struggling to grow or needs more space for their roots to spread, the fault is not with that person, but with their environment.

That is exactly what has happened to me this year. The garden has suffered and the blog has suffered. My days were spent in a toxic environment and no matter what I did, I was wilting.

So I’ve taken a leaf (trolololol) out of my book of gardening experience and I’ve decided to change my environment. In a decision that took forever to make and yet only took seconds to finally come to, I’ve left behind my old job and found something far more suited to me.

There’s a very well known saying about money and I’m sure you know exactly which one I mean. The only thing is, most of us get it horribly wrong.

The old adage doesn’t go “money is the root of all evil”. Well it does, but everyone leaves out the most important part, the beginning.

It’s from the bible. The correct quote is in fact “The love of money is the root of all evil”. 1 Timothy 6:10

It’s getting biblical up in here lads (and yes I have in fact read the bible but that’s a topic for another day).

If we break this quote down in its purest grammatical terms (nerd alert) it’s not the noun that is creating the negative outcome, but the verb. It’s the doing. Actions are always undertaken with some level of intent (and yes I believe that love is an action and not just a feeling), and to all intents and purposes, having money doesn’t cause evil, the relentless pursuit of having nothing but money does.

Officially changing my name to Fiona Descartes Kelly. Has a nice ring to it.

Money definitely cant buy happiness, but in a garden you can grow it.

As such, I’ve decided my health and the pursuit of my own happiness and well being is far more important than the pursuit of money, so I’ve struck out and decided to try something new in the hopes that I will have more time to write, more time to garden and to tend to my needs and the needs of my plants.

I have landed myself an amazing freelance content writing role with the super sound team at buzz.ie and I have some very exciting plans for Fiona Grows Food and of course for my garden.

I am in a far healthier environment for my needs now.

All that being said, my allotment has been thriving this year despite the diminished time I’ve spent there the past few weeks.

It helps that the plot is well established now and no matter what, I always have my perennials to enjoy. I did put a lot of work in earlier in the year and it really shows when late summer and early autumn arrive.

I’ve been harvesting mountains of tomatoes, courgettes, raspberries, beetroot and cucumbers and I’m just about to head around to the garden to finally pick some sweetcorn.

I’m excited about the future, I’m excited to grow and I’m excited to spend more time getting down and dirty in my favourite place in the world.

I am warning you though, you’ll be subjected to a lot more of my insane takes on gardening now that I have more time to write about it.

 

You think you’ve seen it all….bikinis in the polytunnel, bare arsed gardening, falling into ponds…but you ain’t seen nothing yet.

 

I’m only getting started.

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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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. 

 

 

Shocktober!

October has landed with a bang. Literally. Having had a glorious summer and a beautiful, warm, September, the weather here in Dublin is finally catching up with the calendar. Last night saw a bad storm with gale force winds and driving rain, knocking trees over, downing power lines, dislodging slates from rooftops and causing a bit of a commuter’s-hell-on-earth this morning. There was flooding, lots of flooding, not quite Noah’s Ark level of flooding, but enough flooding to create holes in the road and for the trains to be cancelled. I even have a friend whose car was crushed by a tree.

I have fears about the structural integrity of my shed and polytunnel, but due to other commitments, I can’t even check the damage until the weekend. *cue the tense music from countdown*

All that being said, I absolutely love this time of year. I love the smell of Autumn, I love the falling leaves, the colours, I love the fresh weather, the impending festive season, and of course, I love Halloween.

With harvest season drawing to a close and the long winter months stretched out ahead of us, us gardening folk can forget that this time of year is one of the most crucial in the garden. It’s time to get dirty, really, really dirty. It’s time to pull up all the dying plants, it’s time to compost, to mulch, to leaf mould, to manure. As my Dad eloquently put it yesterday, having spent a day wheelbarrowing manure in his own garden, “It was the sh*ttiest day of gardening all year”.

I haven’t had the best of luck this year with the garden, truth be told, a combination of bad weather, a bad experience and some bad motivation led to a bit of a lazy gardening year. I need to get my bum in gear and quickly if I want to get ahead of myself for next year. I am going to plant some over wintering alliums this weekend, garlic, winter onions and shallots benefit from being planted now, just before the cold weather really kicks in and hopefully I’ll plant some other veggies too, any suggestions are very welcome.

I also have great plans for a leaf mould mountain this year, having never made leaf mould before. So, if you see me walking around with great black sacks, stuffing them with leaves, I haven’t gone crazy, leaf mould is a great soil improver. I’ll just find it hard to resist kicking through the leaves, is there any better feeling then kicking a pile of leaves in autumn. No, the answer is no, and if you disagree, you are wrong.

I have a very busy few weeks of gardening ahead so I’ll be ploughing away as much as I can (see what I did there? I’m hilarious).

Quick FionaGrowsFood news round up:

I’ve been doing some volunteer work at a local garden project which I really love and which I am planning to continue for the foreseeable future.

In other news, FionaGrowsFood was also announced as a finalist in the Irish Blog Awards which took place last week, and although I didn’t win, I am honoured to have even been nominated so thank you to my readers and friends who nominated me, your continued support means the world to me. Huge congratulations to the winners, especially David over at Beyond The Wild Garden, his is my favourite Irish blog and I’m delighted for him, very much deserved.

Oh and in one last update, I have a super-secret, super-exciting trip coming up in a few weeks to somewhere super-awesome and will be flooding my blog with pictures and stories so keep an eye out. I’m super, SUPER, MEGA, SUPER, AWESOME, EXCITED.     SUPER.

Love Bites!

I must admit, so far, this Autumn has been a  joy in the garden, the sun has been shining, the leaves are turning golden,  gardeners and farmers everywhere are enjoying harvest season. The days are bright and fresh and the evenings are beginning to shorten significantly,  with sunsets that paint the sky in warm pinks and hot oranges. Along with sunny Saturdays in my garden,  I’ve been enjoying evening walks, evening strolls, evening rambles. It is a happy time in my life……mostly.

Love does hurt however, my penchant for going out in the lovely Autumn air has left me covered in bites from a few swarms of midges and some rogue mosquitos. Over the past four weeks, I’ve had at least eight or ten bad insect bites on my arms and legs that have swollen and itched and driven me positively mad.  Unfortunately, my favourite time of year to be outside also happens to coincide with hungry insect season and I seem to be attracting a crazy amount of bites this year. It must be my animal magnetism.

All of this I can live with, I can deal with itchy arms and legs, unsightly bumps and sneezing, I can deal with antihistamines and the scratching and discomfort. I can NOT however, deal with what I woke up to this morning: a large insect bite on the left cheek of my bum! Not only do I have no idea how in God’s name an insect managed to bite my arse throughout my jeans on my walk yesterday, but I had to spend the whole day trying not to scratch the bite for fear of being one of those people who scratches their bum in public. The shame.

Now, I’ve been told that insects are attracted to sweet blood, so I’ve decided that this obviously means I have a sweet ass. Obviously. I’d even share a photo of said bite to show you just how biteable my arse  is only I’d be worried you’d be jealous!

So, if you see me over the next few days awkwardly “adjusting” my jeans or conveniently rubbing my backside off a wall to scratch it, don’t judge, just know I am just the victim of the least sexy love bite of all time.