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.

img_3825

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. 

Seasonal Container Growing with GIY at Bloom Festival

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/273719844″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

Hello All!

As most of you know (mostly because I’ve hardly shut up about it since), back in June, I had the good fortune to spend a few days with GIY at their Food Matters tent at Bloom festival. Well, the lovely GIY gang have a soundcloud page on which they have recordings of all their talks over the weekend (including the one with yours truly from Monday which I’ve included at the top of this post).

There were some amazing talks over the weekend, I’d highly recommend you check out their page and listen to them.  I loved the talks on Growing Communities through Food and Food Waste. I personally learned so much from these talks and felt really inspired by the knowledge and passion of the panelists.

I met with Lyda Borgsteijn from theprimalrabbit.com last week and she’s super sound so I have to give her a mention. Lyda is really inspiring and knowledgable (not to mention LOVELY) and featured on two of the panels over the weekend too so give them a listen. The talk about bread and gluten intolerance is really excellent.

Anyway, if you are listening to my chat with the gorgeous, funny, red-lippie queen Karen, and wondering what the hell we’re talking about when we mention the planters, I thought I’d pop in a few photos for reference so you have a visual aid when we’re like “Oh, isn’t this gorgeous, look how easy this is to make” and you’re feeling a bit lost.

Let me know what you reckon and if you’ve any questions at all, get in touch.

IMG_2170

IMG_2169-1

 

 

The Water/Gate Equations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiona❤️Nate 4eva

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

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

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

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

F + S = -(Di x 2)

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

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

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

img_2545

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

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

F + I = X

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

Irish Water Charges: How To Conserve Water For Your Garden

The word on everyone’s lips in Ireland this week is water. Last Wednesday, after months of bemoaning, dread and consternation, Irish citizens began being charged for their domestic water usage. With water meters being installed country wide, there is currently a capped charge for the first nine months, afterward each household will be charged on water usage, with special compensations for children per household, oh and of course, some reduced rates for our dear politicians who have a second house. Poor things, I suppose they will feel the pinch when washing their Rolls-Royces, so it’s only fair.

There has been a huge backlash from the Irish people in recent weeks, with many people engaging in protests outside their homes during the installation of meters and a number of people refusing to send their details to the Irish Water Company.

Many people are angry to be charged for what is considered a basic human right. While I do think the charge is just another in a long list of austerity measures forced upon us in recent years, I am tempted, every day, to point out that we are consuming treated water from state funded water sanitation sites but that doesn’t seem to be a very popular stance. That’s not to say I necessarily agree with the water charges or the manner in which they have been introduced, but I do think to claim our basic human rights are being breached is an almighty stretch of the imagination at best. Human beings were more than capable of finding water to survive long before modern plumbing was invented. There are a huge amount of ways to conserve water in the home and garden and I’m hoping that the one positive to these new charges it that it will make people more aware of their water usage.

Now, water is probably the most important resource to any gardener and with the new domestic water charges being introduced, I felt it might be of some help to share what I do know and what I have learned about water conservation in the past two years. I’m no expert but I have become hyper aware of environmental issues since I began to garden and I’ve picked up a few tips. If you are a gardener who wants some tips on how to prevent the water charges from having a disastrous effect on your garden, there are a number of ways to save water with very little effort and great reward.

Water Butts:

Water butts are perhaps the most common way to collect water in your garden. A water butt is a large container or barrel for collection rainwater, often connected to a run off pipe or guttering from your roof or shed.  If you have a water butt collecting water from your roof, you can collect up to 24,000 litres a year, don’t forget, we live in a very wet, rainy country, we’d be mad to waste all the valuable rainwater.  Water butts can be homemade if you have the resources, a large plastic barrel or tank will suffice and some piping to collect run off rain. Water butt kits can be bought in most garden centres or hardware shops and usually cost between €50 and €100 depending on the size. You can also get water butts from many local city and county councils for cheaper than in store so contact your local council to see what is available to you.

Grey Water:

Many gardeners and householders save what is know as grey water. This is the water left over from household cleaning such as dish-washing and washing machines, hand basins, baths and showers. You can do this by collecting the water with a bucket or you can install specific outlet pipes for your grey water to redirect it for use in your garden. Keep in mind, if you do plan to use grey water in your garden, make sure to use biodegradable soaps and detergents. I did a bit of research on this and when water meters were introduced in the UK, residents collecting and recycling their grey water cut their water bills by 5%.

Mulching:

The great thing about mulch is it keeps your soil from drying out and therefore, you will need less water. Make sure to use mulches in your garden, it helps to prevent water evaporating from your soil. Another trick is to use plastic sheeting on your soil and simply plant your plants in incisions in the plastic, this also prevents water evaporation.

Garden Watering Techniques:

Water is the giver of life in the garden, without it, out plants would not grow, however, a lot of us are very guilty of over watering our plants, not only is this a waste of water but it drowns the roots, inhibiting proper growth. When you do water your garden, do it early in the morning or in the evening, when the heat from the sun won’t dry out and evaporate your soil.  Oh and please stop using sprinklers. Please. They’re just not necessary in Ireland. Other simple tricks like placing your potted plants in a bowl or saucer to catch the run off water can save a lot of water. You can also take a plastic bottle, cut off the end and place it in your pots, when you fill it with water, it will slowly drain into the pot at the roots, just where the plant needs it.

 

If any of my readers have some other water saving tips, please feel free to share them with me. And don’t panic fellow Irish citizens, if all else fails, you could simply leave your wellies outside, they’ll definitely fill up, it’s happened to me very time I’ve left them outside my shed. Every single time.

DSC_0478

 

 

How To Make Your Own Plant Feed From Nettles

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with nettles. My garden is full of them, they have a nasty habit of hiding in my rhubarb bed and attacking me when I’m harvesting some stems. During the summer months, it’s not unusual for me to suffer a nettle sting on a weekly basis.

However, I do love finding nettles on my plot as they serve a very important purpose, natural fertiliser! Nettles are a great source of nutrients for your plants and using them to make a plant feed is easy, albeit a little bit stinky.

To make your own nettle plant feed, you will need a container like a bucket or similar, water, something to weigh down the nettles and some gardening gloves (I can not stress that last one enough).

Simply pull up the nettles, taking care not to sting yourself, and break the nettles up.

Place them in your container and weight them down, I usually use a brick or large rocks from the garden.

Add enough water to cover the nettles and place a lid over your container to make it airtight.

Leave this for a few weeks to work its magic.

After about 4 weeks, you can use your plant feed. Now, beware, when you remove the lid, this stuff will smell foul! Brace yourself.

To use your feed, dilute it with water, about one part feed to ten parts water and voila, homemade plant feed.

Easy peasy nettle squeezy.

How To Make Your Own Planting Ruler

Planting seeds outdoors is one of my favourite things to do in the world, I love the smell of the soil, love the way it gets all lodged up in my fingernails. I love raking the soil until it reaches a fine tilth. I love marking out my rows with bamboo and twine. I love rolling the seeds from the palm of my hand into my seed drills.

Every seed or bulb requires spacing when being planted, this lessens the need to thin them out as they grow as all plants need room to grow and expand. Now, you can use a measuring tape for this, you can take your chances and guess, or you can do as I’ve done and make yourself a very simple ruler to mark out your spaces. I stole this little trick from my Dad last year and it has made planting seeds outdoors miles easier. Now, you can, of course, buy planting rulers but why would you bother when you can make a far cheaper one to suit your exact needs?

All you need is a long piece of bamboo, a measuring tape and a pen or marker. Lie your bamboo parallel with your measuring tape and mark off every 10cm with a pen or a marker. I have also marked in every 5cm with a red pen (I also have two more of these with 20cm and 30cm spacing just for handiness sake). Then you can just lie this on your soil, beside your seed drill and use it as a spacing guide for planting. I have used an 8ft long piece of bamboo so I don’t have to keep moving it during planting as it fits my raised beds perfectly.

IMAG0655

Marking out my spaces

A simple job like this can make planting so much easier, the less time fiddling about, the more work you can get done. And we all know a gardeners work is never, ever, complete!

IMAG0656

Simples!

 

How To Grow Asparagus

I’ve decided to start a weekly feature on my blog every Tuesday, called “How TOuesdays” (see what I did there?). I’m hoping to help spread what little gardening knowledge I have for the benefit of my readers and share some ideas for projects for your garden. I’ll try to keep them simple and practical, if you have any suggestions for posts or would like me to do a post on something in particular, please don’t hesitate to send me a message and I’ll add it to my list. I’ve popped a contact form at the end of this post if you want to send me any feedback. You can also message me on my Facebook page, there’s a link in the side column on the left (yep, I’m coming up in the world).

So, to get started, this is the perfect time of year to plant asparagus, a tasty and pretty perennial plant that would be a lovely addition to any vegetable garden. If you have the patience to wait three years for your first crop, asparagus is one of the best crops you can plant in your vegetable garden. It’s a hardy perennial that, once established, will provide you with gorgeous spears for about six weeks every spring. Being one of those veggies that’s considered gourmet, asparagus is quite expensive to buy in most supermarkets so growing it yourself will pay off. Plus, once it is established, it will provide you with a crop for twenty years so the three year wait is small in the grand scheme of things.

The best way to plant asparagus is to grow it from crowns as opposed to from seed. You can buy asparagus crowns in most good gardening centres or seed suppliers. Asparagus crowns will benefit from fertile soil with a lot of sun and little wind.

Recommended varieties: Gijnlim, Jersey Giant 

Plant asparagus in early spring.

  • Dig a trench about 30 cm wide and 25cm deep.
  • Add some compost and create a ridge about 10cm high down the centre of your trench
  • Place each crown about 30cm apart, spreading their roots on either side of the ridge.
  • Fill your trench in with soil, enough to cover your crowns and water them in well.

Mulch your asparagus bed every autumn, building up your trench slowly until it is ground level. Please resist the urge to harvest any asparagus spears in the first two years, they need time to establish themselves. In the third year, you can harvest some spears but try to keep it minimal.

Asparagus plants can grow to be quite tall so in time, you may need to provide support with bamboo canes. The plants themselves are ferny and make a pretty addition to any garden border.

Watch out for slugs, they love young asparagus shoots.

I planted my Asparagus two years ago now so it’ll be another while before I can harvest any, however, I do have a steady growth of young spears in springtime. It was very easy to plant, I was concerned about the trenching process as it seemed a bit complicated but once you have it dug, that’s the hardest part completed. If you are going to plant some crowns, try to do so in the next 3-4 weeks, otherwise it may be too late in the year for your crowns to establish.

This is my trench from two years ago, it's well established now, but it will give you and idea of how I did it. Funny looking at it now, the ground looks so barren, amazing how much has changed in two years.

This is my planted asparagus trench from two years ago, it’s well established now, but it will give you and idea of how I did it. Funny looking at it now, the ground looks so barren, amazing how much has changed in two years.

Should you wish to contact me with any feedback/suggestions, please do so below.

Happy Digging

[contact-form to=’fionagrowsfood@gmail.com’ subject=’blog feedback’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

How To Make Your Own Cabbage Collars

I’ve decided to do some “how to” blog posts on DIY garden projects, as I’m often asked for tips from fellow plot holders and gardeners. Hopefully this’ll be the first of many.

Cabbages are a staple of most vegetable gardens but need lots of care and attention. Cabbages are a member of the bassica family and are therefore plagued by a variety of pests. They are well worth growing though as they are very tasty when grown yourself, nothing at all like the shop bought cabbages and they also look gorgeous on the plot.

Not only do birds love them, they are also plagued by slugs, caterpillars and the dreaded cabbage root fly. The cabbage root fly lays it’s eggs on the soil at the base of your cabbages; when the eggs hatch, the maggots tunnel down to munch on the roots, effectively destroying your cabbage. The hearts will not form properly  and the leaves will wilt and often turn a blue colour. To protect your cabbages from the root fly, you can install some cabbage collars at the base of your cabbage. You can buy these in most garden centres but they’re fairly pricey and often flimsy so I decided to make my own. They were very easy to make and you can use materials you have lying around the house.

I used a doormat to make the collars, old carpet or carpet underlay is also ideal, anything that won’t warp when wet.

To make the collars, you will need: one doormat/some old carpet, an old CD, a marker or pen and a scissors.

Step 1: Using a CD as a template, draw circles for your collars on the mat.

Step 2: Cut the circles out using a scissors.

Step 3: Cut a straight line halfway through the circle and then cut either side so it forms a Y shape.

Step 4: Place the collars around your cabbages.

Water the collars a bit to flatten them to the ground, and there you have it, quick, cheap and easy homemade cabbage collars.