Face Planting

Right, I know it’s been quite a while since I last wrote a blog post, I would apologise but to be honest, I’ve actually been busy becoming a superstar so it was a worthwhile sacrifice. Lifestyles of the rich and famous yo (I’ve also seemingly been initiated into a low-level street gang yo).

I’ve had a crazy few weeks. In fact, I even had a full scale film crew at the allotment at one stage but I’ll fill you in a bit more on that once it goes live. Let’s just say I spent a number of hours looking lovingly at bunches of kale. Pretty sure I’m now married to my kale to be honest, I’ve never know anyone or anything so intimately. It’s a bit of a thorny issue now as I think my rhubarb got a bit jealous (that only got a mild stroking and a cheeky wink), especially as I had a make up artist on set/plot with me and I looked absolutely GORGEOUS!

In addition to my oscar worthy performance, I’ve also had a few deadlines, food growing workshops, interviews and to be completely honest, quite a few pressing social commitments to attend. It’s difficult to garden when you’re busy dancing in six-inch stilettos every Friday night and even more difficult when you’re absolutely dying of a hangover the following morning. It’s near impossible to string a few words together, never mind write anything beyond texts to your mates along the lines of “call the mother-bleeping reaper guys, I am feeling grim”.

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The hangover sanctuary

The allotment does provide some modicum of sanctuary from the real world when you have a cracking headache and you keep getting those aftertaste waves of last night’s tequila but I tend to spend those hungover days sitting in my pink chair, drinking coffee and regretting my life choices and get very little in the way of actual gardening or writing completed. Some advocate for healthy living I am! As such, it’s been quite a few weeks since my last blog post but here I am, back with a bang. Literally, this post is all about banging (get your mind out of the gutter, I’m a different kind of purveyor of filth….), I mean the bangs, bumps, burns and bashes that often take place in a garden.

There’s a scene in Jaws where Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw are sitting around in a boat after another testing day of throwing barrels at a shark. They’re having a few drinks and comparing war wounds, each trying to out-man each other with their scars. It’s one of my all time favourite movie scenes, possibly because my Mam used to sing the song they sing to me as a lullaby when I was younger. Yep, my mother sang me a sea shanty about getting drunk to put me to sleep, absolute legend that she is. Probably explains quite a lot about the adult I turned into to be honest…

Now, if you’re wondering why the hell I’m writing about Jaws, picture this: that scene is akin to our allotment community room at times, except we have tea instead of booze and slugs instead of sharks. An average chat with my gardening pals can often go as follows:

“I got stung by a bee the other day, look at the bloody lump on my leg”
“You think that’s bad? I stood on my rake and it hit me in the face”
“Sure I pruned off my own finger with my secateurs”
“Pfffft, that’s nothing lads, I impaled my foot with a garden fork and now have selective        stigmata”.
“Show me the way to home! I’m tired and I wanna go to (raised) bed(s)……”

Gardens have a reputation for being very zen places to spend an afternoon, and yes, they can be…..when you’re not the bloody gardener. Cue the Kenny Loggins guys, the garden path can often be a highway to the danger zone.

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Don’t let it fool you, this is the entrance to hell

Being an allotment holder is not about prancing around in pretty dresses and sandals, with daisy chain braided hair, listening to the birdsong while you thread your fingers through long grass, eating fresh strawberries and sipping elderflower cordial. It’s more ripped jeans, twig tangled hair, sweating up a storm while dragging your hands through the goddamn mud, shovelling raw peas into your gob and taking a swig of beer. There’s no picking flowers while listening to Mozart in my garden, in my garden, I get out in the rain and dig along to Deftones.

Allotment gardeners are absolute hard asses. We toil and lug and lift and dig. I’m constantly covered in scars, bruises, cuts and stings, I have calloused hands and a killer tan and some serious biceps from all the digging.

Having spent the past two weekends working hard at the plot, my body now resembles a map of mishaps. I have a rather large cut on my wrist, two deep scratches on my forearm, a rash on my chest from a rogue nettle, seven bruises on my shins. Yes, I counted, there are seven. I broke five fingernails and somehow a toenail and have a large splinter in the tip of my thumb which I have decided to leave in a sick and twisted experiment to see how long it takes to work its own way out. Rakes to the face, shovels to the foot, bamboo stabbings, wasp stings, slipping in the mud and face planting into your potato patch, this is the stuff that makes you hard as nails.

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Fiona Gores Fools

Now, not only is the allotment a dangerous place for the gardener, but the allotment gardener can turn into quite the dangerous individual. Or at least I can. Last week, I tweeted that the only reason that I have an allotment is to bury the bodies of all the men who have messed me around in it. I was joking of course (cough), but it got me to thinking, I could legitimately dispose of a man’s person’s body in my garden…plus bullsh*t does make excellent fertiliser.

Now, I’m not advocating murder of course – I can’t even bring myself to kill a slug – and I’m pretty skeptical about the effect necrotic human flesh would have on my organic veggies (probably still not as detrimental as weedkiller to be fair), but an allotment would be the ideal place in which to commit the perfect crime.

I don’t want to get a reputation as a hoe or anything but for all you know, there could be a man in every one of my beds. The Litchfield Correctional Facility vegetable garden ain’t got nothing on mine.

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Armed and dangerous

I mean, think about it, I have a shed full of potentially deadly weapons and 100 square metres of muck in which to bury the evidence. I have pick axes, shears, secateurs, knives and saws. I’m a dab hand at digging and I reckon I could have a shallow grave ready to fill in approximately twenty minutes. Not that I’ve tried it of course.

I also have a garden full of poisonous plants that could make me a potential dark horse of organic food growing.

Azaleas for the assholes. Digitalis for the d*ckheads. Rhododendrons for the rogues. Mistletoe for the misogynists. Hydrangeas for the husbands. Seriously. Hydrangeas contain levels of…wait for it….cyanide. I’m a little concerned that they happen to be one of my favourite plants and the connotations that may have for my reputation after writing this. In fairness, you would need a hell of a lot of them to kill a man human, but still.

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Gorgeous but deadly. Hydrangea are my spirit flowers.

However, if you’re looking for a more considered and subtle approach, rhubarb leaves are the perfect choice for all the non-commitals, you won’t kill them but you’ll leave them with quite an epic tummy ache. So a fair warning to all my exes, future exes, critics, naysayers, enemies and in particular to my arch nemesis (you know who you are), I might be an environmental hippy type who grows her own food, but I also “accidentally” grow quite a few toxins.

In fact, I’m thinking of a complete rebrand of my blog:

Copy of Copy of Plan-Cary

What do you reckon?

Pretty sure I’ll be writing my next blog post from prison guys. Don’t worry, I’ll start a food garden there too….Green is the New Black after all.

This blog post may or may not be inspired by a moment of panic in the garden last week when I was pulling up old foxgloves sans gloves and then casually ate a jam donut straight away. Cue immediate melodramatic visions of myself dying a horrible and painful death. Death by digitalis.

Here lies Fiona Kelly: donut devotee, foxglove fanatic, alliteration addict.

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. 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits of Growing Green Manure

Fertilising

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

Weed Suppressant

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

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


Food for Pollinators 

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


Soil Improvement

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

Nutrient Fixing

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

Sowing Green Manure

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

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

Popular Green Manures

Mustard: Sow March-September. 

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

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

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

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

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

Plants 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. 

 

Seasonal Container Growing with GIY at Bloom Festival

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.

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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.

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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!

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 café 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.