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.

Shocktober!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick FionaGrowsFood news round up:

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

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

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

Bounty

IMG_2476

It has been a number of months since my last blog post. Summer has been and gone, the weather has changed and my life has changed along with it.

It has been the hottest summer here in Ireland for over a decade. The days have been long hot and the nights humid and sleepless. I’ve seen more scantily clad, sunburnt bodies than I care to remember. I’ve been to barbecues and beer gardens, birthday parties and Boston and it’s safe to say that I will never forget this summer for as long as I live.

My poor allotment bore the brunt of my hectic life the past few months, with everything else I’ve had going on, it faded in to the background. That’s not to say however, that nothing has grown or that it doesn’t continue to thrive.

It has been a summer of rhubarb, non stop rhubarb, mountains of it, jars of it, bowls and bowls and bowls of it smothered in custard and vanilla ice cream.

Shallots

Shallots

I’ve harvested giant beetroots and impressive red onions, pitiful garlic and beautiful pink shallots, red and green lettuces, raspberries and strawberries and every little thing tasted as sweet as only food you grow yourself can taste.

I’ve visited other community gardens, some here in Dublin, some across the water in Boston, and enjoyed the inspiration I found in the ingenuity and creativity of fellow gardeners.

Squash Cage gate in community garden in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Squash gate in a community garden in Cambridge, Massachusetts

My parents plot with it's lovely neat grass pathway

My parents plot with its lovely neat grass pathway and red clover

I’ve sold some plot grown veggies on a stall at a summer festival.

I’ve had the pleasure of tasting huge courgettes roasted on a barbeque in a sun soaked walled garden surrounded by friends and family.

I’ve seen a beehive up close and personal and I witnessed the workers tend to the queen, among their combs of wax and honey.

Queen and workers

Queen and workers

I’ve had the pleasure of spending an hour on my plot with a pheasant, who pecked around my herb garden while I pulled weeds on the other side of the plot. She would stop every now and then to eye me suspiciously, then carry on about her business.

I’ve witnessed my dad become a rhubarb and ginger jam making machine.

Yum

Yum

I’ve cursed the loss of my snowball onions to mildew and rot and lamented the complete failure of my garlic.

I’ve taken a swig of a can of fizzy orange and felt something furry crawling around my tongue. It was a wasp. The absolute terror.

I’ve learned that no matter what happens, even if you abandon your garden for a while, even if your world as you know it ends up on the compost heap, that life goes on and you will always get from a garden more than you put into it. I may have been away for a while but my plot is as productive as ever and now, here I am, in the heart of harvest season; I’ve done less in my garden this summer than ever before and it still provides great bounty.

IMG_2477

I have many plans for the plot over the coming months so it’s time to get back to basics, do some digging, some weeding and tidy the place up. I’ve planted a bed of winter salads, pak choi and red mustard, I plan on getting some kale in too and some spring cabbages for overwintering. Before we know it, it’ll be winter and I’ll be munching on my parsnips and my jerusalem artichokes but for now I hope to enjoy what’s left of this long, long, long, hot summer.

iCarrot

This is what it’s all about, biting into your very first ever homegrown carrot and realising, you’ll never feel the same way about carrots again. It’s the most delicious carrot I’ve ever eaten. In fact, I may just grow carrots on my plot next year and nothing else. I’m considering starting a carrot related advertising campaign to entice people to garden but I think a certain famous company which shares it’s name with another healthy food (I’ll give you a hint, it’s not an orange) might take issue with my slogan.

If you don’t see me for a while, I’m probably busy being sued

Seriously though, grow carrots. Grow them seriously, or for fun, just grow them. I planted my carrots late. In fact, I forgot to plant carrots until the second week in June and wasn’t quite sure they’d even germinate. I had very palpable fears about the carrot root fly, I’ve heard and read some scary stories. Horrible creatures that burrow into your carrots and eat them from the inside out. I’ve had Night of the Living Dead Root Fly nightmares. Plus, we haven’t had the best summer for carrots, so my hopes weren’t very high. Imagine my delight when today I decided to pick some to see how they were progressing and what I ended up with were delicious, crunchy carrots. I of course, ate one straight out of the ground, muck and all. Cue many happy and appreciative noises which I’m sure raised a few eyebrows among my neighbouring allotmenteers. Oh, and another thing, my carrots are straight, very straight, and long. Obviously the 6 hours I spent sieving a tonne of soil (literally, a tonne) for the carrot bed paid off.  All that hard work, that hot March day, breaking my back wheelbarrowing soil to the plot, cursing myself, sieveing for hours, raking, raking, more raking, it was totally worth it.

Of course, the carrots aren’t the only crop we’ve harvested this September but they are definitely my favourite. We’ve also had, borlotti beans, celery, red cabbage, spinach chard, peas and of course my onions, which have been drying away in the back garden for three weeks and are nearly ready to eat. I did have to rip up my ridiculous perpetual spinach and swiss chard today as they were taller than me and had bolted, and were quite frankly, a disgrace. I might plant some more for over the winter months.

Spoils

Pretty Artichoke

September isn’t just harvest season though, there’s plenty of jobs to keep me busy in the garden. Of course there’s weeding, because, well, there’s always weeding. There’s plenty of tidying and maintenance to be done but there’s also plenty of planting. It’s time to get the garden ready for overwintering crops, winter onions, garlic, winter lettuces, spinach and of course spring cabbage. Today, I planted two blueberry plants, which are one of the things I’ve known from the start I wanted to grow. These are best planted in autumn, in acidic soil, the lower the pH the better, but around 5 is perfect. I did measure my soil pH in March and the reading was 5.5, so hopefully the bluberries will do well. It does help to aid them though, a good mulch, bark, grass cuttings, leaves, whatever you can get your hands on, and the pine needles from my christmas tree will definitely find their way to my blueberry bed.

Blueberries

September also sees the arrival of the brand new community room on site, it’s a lovely big room, with a fridge, microwave, tea and coffee and snacks, and of course, tables, inside and out, to take a well earned tea break when the work gets too tough. It’s a great way to meet fellow gardeners too, I have hopes of making a few friends here.

Community room

I did attempt to make the plot look a bit nicer today, I spread some bark mulch around the path near my fruit section of my plot but it took about 400 litres to cover a tiny area so it looks like it’ll be a while before I can do the whole plot. I also attempted a makeshift patio area. It’s not great. I had visions of a lovely decking area with potted plants and a table and chairs. In reality, I placed some planks of wood on the ground, thats about it, but it’s a start, I would put up a photo but I can’t bring myself to do it, it’s that bad.

Bark is better than weeds

September is also planning time. Get planning. It’s amazing how much a planting plan will help in the early spring.

As for carrots, if you’re not growing them, do it next year, you’ll thank me.