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.

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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.

Plants Bants: How to Grow Parsnips

Parsnips are a great divider of opinion, you either love them or you hate them, there is no in between. I happen to adore parsnips, they’re one of my favourite vegetables, especially when roasted with honey and fresh sage.

Parsnips are the vegetable that converted me from a vegetable hater to a vegetable grower so they’ll always have a special place in my heart. I know, that’s a pretty sweeping statement but it’s true. Home grown parsnips are the reason I decided to grow my own food. A number of years ago, my Dad brought home some parsnips from his allotment and I was hooked. They smell and taste nothing like the parsnips from a supermarket and they are my favourite thing to eat in winter, particularly on Christmas day.

I’ve only grown parsnips twice at the plot, mostly because there is a master parsnip grower in my family and I can’t even begin to compete with him and also as there are only so many parsnips that two people can eat (my mother falls firmly into the anti-parsnip brigade).

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Daddy Grows Food’s amazing parsnips in autumn.

Parsnips are the diva of the vegetable garden in that they are stubborn but sweet and absolutely gorgeous. They take about as long to germinate as a good idea for your first novel. Parsnips also require a very long growing season and will take up space in your garden for the guts of a year.

However, parsnips are the crowning glory of the root vegetable family, rich in flavour and a lovely crop to harvest when there is little else growing in winter.

Sowing Parsnips

Seeds

The first hurdle to get over when planting parsnips is to make sure you have good, fresh seeds. Parsnips are notoriously fussy and do not store well, you need to buy new seeds each year. If you try to use seeds that are two years old, you’ve already given yourself an impossible mountain to climb. Don’t set yourself up for failure.

When to plant

As I mentioned before, parsnips need a long growing season but this does not mean planting as early in the year as you like. I’ve seen people sow their parsnips in January and then wonder why they don’t do well. Parsnip seedlings really don’t like cold, wet soil. In fact, they need to be planted in soil that is about 10 degrees so hold off on sowing your seeds until your soil temperatures have risen in Spring.

The ARSE-nip test

There is a great way to test this if you don’t have a thermometer; I call it Fiona’s ARSE-nip test. Basically it is as follows: if your soil is warm enough for you to sit on in your bare arse then it’s warm enough for your parsnips. If you can indeed sit on your soil bare arsed without screaming bloody murder, it’s probably February/March and a good time to sow your seeds.

Gas crack craic altogether.

Soil

Parsnips grow pretty deep so you’ll need well worked, fertile soil with good drainage, avoid using manure as this can cause your parsnips to fork. You’ll need to spend quite a bit of time working your soil to a fine tilth before sowing parsnip seeds.

Plant your parsnips on a day with little wind as parsnip seeds are minuscule and likely to blow away if a strong breeze hits. I once lost an entire packet of seeds in this manner and in the process, created some very interesting new swear word combinations.

Direct sow your seeds in rows about 30cm apart and thin them out once the seedlings have established. The more space you give each plant, the larger it will grown. Bear in mind that they can take up to three weeks to germinate so don’t panic if there’s no activity for a while.

Caring for Parsnips

As I said earlier, parsnips are divas to get started but once you do, they are pretty hardy plants. They require little care, except for some gentle hand weeding and perhaps some serenading. Take care not to damage the roots while weeding. Once parsnips have established, they have quite full, leafy foliage which is very similar to the foliage of celery. This creates a lot of ground cover so they need less weeding once they get larger.

Parsnips do need quite a bit of water and the soil they are in should not be permitted to get too dry. Water parsnips regularly and make sure there is plenty of organic matter in the soil to retain moisture.

Pests and diseases 

Parsnips can be susceptible to a form of rot known as parsnip canker which appears as a rust coloured rot at the top of the plant and causes severe damage to the root of the plant, it’s mostly caused by drought and poor soil conditions.

Harvesting

Parsnips are ready for harvesting when the foliage begins to die back in autumn. However, they taste far better after they’ve been hit with the first frost of winter as the cold turns the starch in parsnip into sugars, giving them their distinctive sweet flavour. For this reason, it’s is ideal to actually store your parsnips in the ground until you are going to use them.

Recommended Varieties: GladiatorJavelin, White Gem

Pro tip: if you are intending to perform the ARSE-nip test, you could use it as part of your New Year’s exercise regime. Remove underpants, (wellies optional), stand beside your intended planting site and perform twenty squats, touching your bum on the soil with each squat. For an added work out, hold a pot of compost in each hand. You might get some strange looks but you’ll have perfect parsnips and a gloriously toned bottom.

Peachy.

 

Grow Yourself Gorgeous

It’s a funny thing being a young(ish) woman with an allotment. On one hand, I love nice clothes, make up and am well known amongst friends for wearing sky-high stilettos; but on the other hand I love being dirty, don’t care about brand labels and have been known to go for days without even thinking about wearing make up.

However, it often feels like everywhere I look, people are writing/reading/blogging/talking about make up and fashion. The world is simply obsessed with being gorgeous. So, in an effort to keep up with the (seven hundred million) beauty bloggers out there, I thought I would join in and share some garden fashion and beauty tips with you so that you can be bang on trend this autumn/winter season in your garden.

 

Fiona’s Autumn/Winter Beauty Regime

Nails

The tell tale sign of a true gardener is not their muddy clothes, their wellies or their ability to speak Latin against their own will, but the state of their hands. To obtain a truly authentic garden manicure requires hard work and very little care for your physical appearance or pain threshold. Forget your acrylics, shellacs and french manicures, this season, it’s all about weathered skin, broken nails, split cuticles. This winter, get yourself an organic manicure, or as I have dubbed it, an Organicure.

To achieve this highly coveted look, book yourself an appointment at your nearest allotment. The key here is first to discard your gardening gloves and leave your hands exposed to the harsh, winter elements.

  • First off, you’ll need to grab a secateurs and prune your summer raspberry canes to the ground. The small thorns will embed themselves in your palms and fingers, creating lots of splinters and scratches, which you will pick at for days afterward creating many crevices and gouges in your skin.
  • Next, take your rake and begin to work your soil to a fine tilth, if you do this just right, you’ll develop a large blister in between your thumb and forefinger which you can then bandage up with some random tape you find in your shed. This blister should burst, causing searing pain and should last for weeks to add to the longevity of your organicure.

 

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  • Once you’ve done this, it’s time to weed your beds. Running your bare hands through the soil lodges mud under your fingernails for days and stains your nails a sludgy yellow colour. This process also completely dries out your skin for that coveted weather beaten look.

 

  • At this stage, you should have plenty of welts, splinters, scratches, blisters, torn cuticles and broken nails. This is when the most important step in the process comes in…
  • To finish your Organicure, locate a patch of nettles and run your hands over their leaves for a lovely tingly effect that will last for days. The nettles also create rashes of small blisters on the palms and back of your hands that can scar for years to come.
With all this done, you’re ready to pull on your fingerless gloves and rock this season’s top nail trend.


Make up

It never hurts to wear a little make up should a handsome gardener turn up out of the blue to give your beds a good seeing to.

Contouring has become the holy grail of make up application in recent years, with women everywhere putting hours of effort into applying bizarre, dark brown streaks all over their face. To use a bit of a gardening pun, they layer on the makeup with a trowel.
In recent years, I’ve become an expert at contouring my face. With muck. Simply spend a few hours at the allotment and I guarantee you will end up with dark brown streaks of soil along your forehead, nose and cheeks. These darker shades really make your features pop when strolling home from the allotment and will buy you many an appreciative (bemused) glance from passers by.


Tanning

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Getting yourself a golden, healthy glow, is one of the many benefits to a garden beauty regime. No need to go and lather yourself in brown goop that smells like stale biscuits. To get that perfect glow, the trick is simply spend time outdoors. Who knew?! I spend most summer months explaining to people that “yes, my tan is natural”, “no I wasn’t away”, “yes I know it’s fabulous”, “yeah, it’s great not to smell like something that you want to dunk into your tea”. The only slight grievance is that you may end up with bizarre tan lines. Legs tanned from mid-thigh to mid-calf due to pairing your shorts with wellies. Arms and shoulders tanned and freckly but a torso whiter that a snowdrop. However, a farmers tan is far more attractive that a fake tan any day. Wear your tan lines with pride.

Hair

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My favourite garden hairstyle. Enough said.


Fiona’s Autumn/Winter Fashion Tips

Lingerie 

Thermal vests may not be the sexiest item of underwear in the market, I mean, you don’t see teenage boys hiding the thermal vest pages from clothing catalogues in their wardrobes. But, there’s nothing less sexy than pneumonia, trust me. Invest in a thermal vest to keep your torso toasty. Do wear nice knickers though, you never know when that handsome gardener might show up to plough your patch.

Footwear

As much as I love to wear stilettos, they are not very practical or comfortable in a garden. Wellies are the staple footwear item during these bleak months in the garden. Now, I have no time for your trendy, designer wellies (you know the ones I’m speaking about) they serve no purpose at an allotment. For some authentic garden footwear, pair your oldest, dirtiest wellies with a pair of knee-high woollen socks over your old jeans or leggings. If you don’t have old wellies, a trusty pair of work boots do wonders for lengthening your legs and free up those calves for digging.

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Outerwear

One thing every gardener needs is a pair of trusty old gardening jeans. The best way to buy a pair of decent gardening jeans is to buy yourself a pair of “good” jeans. You know, a pair that fits your bum like a glove (the holy grail for a skinny girl) and reaches past your ankles (also the holy grail for leggy, lanky types). Spend a decent amount of hard earned money on said jeans. Keep jeans for a special occasion and swear to self that “good” jeans will only be worn to pub with sparkly shoes. Accidentally pay a quick visit to the allotment while wearing the jeans. Just for a few minutes. No hard work. Because of jeans. Lose self in wonder of the garden. Sit on edge of raised bed, rip the arse pocket out of jeans on stray piece of wood. Wipe muddy hands all over thighs. Kneel down on wet ground to weed. Sigh and add “good” jeans to ever growing pile of allotment jeans and swear to try harder next time. Repeat ad infinitum.

Pro-tip! For an extra dash of allotment style, have yourself an incident with a watering can whereby you spill water all down your crotch. Spend a solid ten minutes trying to decide whether to brave the walk home to change or to deliberately pour more water all over jeans to even out the pee’d pants look. Decide on the second option and wonder why fellow plot holders are staring at you while you deliberately pour water all over your legs. Realise that this process is entirely ridiculous and walk home with bizarre looking jumper tied around front of waist to hide the wet patch.

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Obviously not a pair of “good” jeans.

Coats/Jackets

No winter garden outfit is complete without a long sleeved shirt, jumper, fleece and raincoat to cover up any semblance of a figure that you might have. Sure who needs curves anyway? Cover them up by wearing so many layers that your svelte silhouette resembles that of a teddy bear.

Nothing says garden chic like a durable gillet. These stylish vests act like a coat but leave your shoulders and arms free for working the plot. They work very well over sleeves and leave room for you to exfoliate your arms on rogue edges of bamboo, nettles, insect bites, bee stings and scratches from rogue twigs.

In terms of accessories, the world is your oyster in a garden. Oversized sunglasses, fingerless gloves, hats, bandanas, ear muffs, adorn yourself, but please, for the love of god, leave the scarves at home. Scarves in a garden are dangerous items, prone to trailing, getting caught in things and causing minor to severe injuries. Do not risk death in order to look fabulous.

As much as I jest here, there truly is a point to this post.

Gardens don’t give a damn what you look like. Plants couldn’t care less if you have this season’s handbag. Wildlife doesn’t judge you by the make up you’re wearing. Kale doesn’t covet your clothes. Forget the pressures of keeping up with the whoevers. Go out in to a garden, wear a smile, get mucky, get messy, get silly. Grow some food. Grow yourself happy. Grow yourself gorgeous.

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This season’s absolute must have garden fashion item, is definitely my new favourite t-shirt! I now own two gardening t-shirts which I guard WITH MY LIFE (One is my GIY t-shirt and the other is my Sodshow t-shirt). If anything happens to either one, I shall be mostly spending my time wailing and cursing the universe.
If you haven’t had the pleasure to listen to the Sodshow, the lovely Peter Donegan has dubbed me a “fashionista” so this little blog post was inspired by the man behind my favourite podcast. If you want to buy one of the super cool t-shirts, visit the sodshow website here (this isn’t a sponsored post by the way, I just think the sodshow is deadly). 

 

Plants Bants: How NOT To Grow Courgettes 

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

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

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


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

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

Sowing Courgettes

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out my guide to hardening off your seedlings here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have of these monsters in the polytunnel


Courgette Crop Care and Tips

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

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

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

Harvesting 

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

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

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