El Crapo!

The arrival of April is an exciting prospect for the vegetable gardener. The clock has moved one hour forward, the seemingly endless winter nights are truncated and the daylight hours stretch out their arms into a summer embrace. We uproot ourselves from the Netflix binges and shed our winter coats, we plant our feet firmly in our wellies and plunge our hands into the soil, for April heralds the hope of heavy Autumn harvests.

There’s an old proverb “Sweet April showers, do spring May flowers” and if that is truly the case, then I fully expect my plot to be glorious with colour in May. Here in Ireland, the position of the jet stream often causes heavy downpours during the month of April and the rain here in Dublin has been fierce, driving and relentless since the first day of the month. While I often welcome the April rains, I sincerely wish the sky would choose days when I’m stuck in work to open up instead of choosing to do so when I am free to garden all day. It seems that every day I plan to visit the allotment, it doesn’t just rain but it absolutely pours. Now, I’m no fair-weather gardener and have often been the only person on site in my wellies and rain gear, working on the plot, but it is simply impossible to plant anything outdoors when the weather is working against you.

Usually by now, I have a lot more planted on the plot, however, I am not one to panic. It is often the case that everything I plant in March dies anyway and I have to start all over again. Gardening is all about patience, about letting the climate make your decisions, about becoming dependant on the natural world so, while I am on the back foot, hedging my bets and biding my time, I have learned over the past few years that nature will invariably show me when it is time to plant.

Most years, I plant my onion sets in mid-March but this year I waited until the 10th of April, which happened to be a dry, if not windy day. I planted a full raised bed with Sturon onion sets, this variety thrived for me two years ago so I decided to give them another shot. There’s something very special for me about planting onion sets. Onions were my first truly successful crop on my plot in the first year and it always feels that garden season has truly begun when they go in. The torrential rain the following day may be problematic however and I’m sitting here, worried that my baby onions are now floating around in a muddy puddle.


Spot the rows of onion sets


This is when having a polytunnel becomes very beneficial. Despite the slow start to the season, I am able to sow seeds under cover. I love standing in my polytunnel while the rain drums on the plastic overhead, sowing seeds, drinking tea, blaring music and singing at the top of my lungs. This week, I’ve planted Aubergines, Courgettes, Chillies, Dwarf French Beans and Basil in the warmth and safety of the polytunnel. I’ve also sown some flowers including Nasturtium (no allotment is complete without these beautiful and edible flowers), Sweet Peas and Marigolds.

IMG_1526Last week, my folks returned from a trip to Amsterdam and brought me back something I’ve always wanted to grow (no, not that, I don’t particularly fancy being arrested*), they brought me home some black tulips. These have been kept in cold storage over winter and are a late blooming variety so I’m hoping they bloom in a matter of weeks. Black tulips aren’t truly black, but a very deep shade of purple and I have a bit of a thing for blue and purple flowers so I am very excited to see if they bloom for me. Watch this space.

* I am wildly disapointed that I can not realise my childhood dream of becoming a powerful criminal mastermind and organic-hippie-drug-cartel. Dublin’s very own El Chapo: El Crapo! 


The Day of the Spearmint Triffids

Today is another lovely summers rainy day in Dublin. Not only is it wet, it’s cold. Far colder than it usually is this time of year.

I know I’ve been harping on about the weather in my past few blog posts and loathe to think I’m becoming one of those individuals who talks of nothing but the weather, but I never thought I’d be dealing with frost damage to plants in the second week of May. The rain, I can handle, the wind I’ll happily do battle with, but frost damage in May is not something I had bargained for. My spuds have been the one crop doing well on my plot so far, the cold temperatures have stunted many of my other plants, but my spuds were lovely, tall and bushy, a big splash of green on the otherwise brown plot, so imagine my horror when I visited my plot yesterday and noticed five or six of my lovely plants covered in frost damage! However, I’ve been told not to despair, once it’s only the leaves that are damaged and not the tubers, they should return to their former glory in a week or two. Here’s hoping.

Frost Damage on my potatoes

However, it’s not all doom and gloom on plot P26. Despite the bad weather, there are signs of life, you know, under the masses of weeds (the weeds seem to be the one thing thriving on the plot of course). My salsify, beetroot, chard, brocolli and perpetual spinach are all growing, albeit it very slowly. I still have only one asparagus so far but it’s a healthy green and purple spear, I’m hoping the rest show themselves soon, even though I can not eat them this year, it would be nice to know they’re there. My onions continue to grow well and my peas are beginning to grow tendrils. My raspberry canes have buds on them and I spotted some new growth at the base so they’re obviously not too badly affected by the weather.

Pea plant getting ready to climb

I spent a good two hours the other day weeding the raised beds, my poor strawberries were looking overrun with young weeds, as were my beetroot and spinach. I enjoy weeding, I complain about weeds of course, but I enjoy pulling them up from the soil, it’s therapeutic, even in the bad weather.

When the weather is bad, and I can’t make it to the plot, I keep myself content by watering and taking care of my plants at home that still need a bit of TLC. My pumpkins and courgettes will have to be planted out soon, they’re outgrowing every pot I put them in.

A few weeks ago, on the advice of a fellow plot holder, I transferred my spearmint from the ground into a pot, on the understanding that it would completely take over in a few weeks. I almost scoffed, I didn’t quite believe it would grow so quickly, I potted it anyway and have been watching it with interest. It’s huge! It’s growing at an alarming rate and has tripled in size in three weeks. I’m very grateful now that I moved it out of the ground. I’ve been having nightmares that my mint is reminiscent of the plants in The Day of the Triffids and any day now it will leave it’s pot, begin walking on it’s roots and try to take over the world!

This weather better clear up fast, being cooped up is clearly driving me insane.

Monster Mint

Raised Beds, Wigwams and Ducks

The beautiful weather continues here in Dublin, and we continue to work in the allotment as much as we can while it lasts. I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be hoping for rain, but I am. We need it, my clay soil is baked and the water on site has not been turned on, thankfully there has been water provided in tanks and the supply is being switched on tomorrow morning. I am enjoying the sunshine immensely though, I even have a bit of a tan!

The allotment is really taking shape this week after much hard work. I finally dismantled the wigwam-for-no-reason, dug some manure into the circular bed and planted my 3 rhubarb plants.

Yummy Rhubarb!

I enlisted some help on Monday in the form of my friend Mark who’s an archaeologist, I knew he’d be a dab hand at digging. We brought a bit of lunch and spent a good six hours on the plot. I bought 18 scaffolding planks for my raised beds, they sell these on site in the allotment shop at a great price so I didn’t have to worry about transporting them or getting them delivered which was brilliant. Myself and Mark did a good bit of digging, he’s very nifty with a rake and had a lot of my uneven soil levelled out very quickly, it was sorely needed as my plot was quickly taking on a mini-mountainous terrain.

Gooseberry bush on my Dad’s plot

I took a break from gardening yesterday but I did visit my Dad’s plot in St Annes Park in Raheny yesterday evening. It was such a beautiful evening, the sun was setting in the walled garden and the allotment garden looked gorgeous. My dad’s plot is  in a well established park and there’s a huge amount of wildlife in the area and it was great to hear the cacophany of birdsong there yesterday evening. The allotments have been there two years are it’s great to see how they’ve changed since they opened. There’s some really lovely plots there and I got some great ideas for my own plot while looking around.

Our snazzy gate

Today, I was on plot P26 for a few hours again. I made a gate using some old trellis donated from my parents back garden. I simply hammered the trellis onto two wooden stakes and the gate was done. It’s a little narrow to fit perfectly between my gate posts so we’ll have to add another piece of wood to it. I realised I forgot to bring hinges though so we’ll just have to hang it next time we get down. I’m thinking I might paint it, give it a bit of personality. I’ve been admiring many of the other plots on site and am amazed at the creativity I’ve seen, especially when it comes to things like gates and fencing.

I fixed my disastrous onion netting today by making a sturdier bamboo cage around it (I stole the idea from my dad’s plot), it looks much better now and hopefully the birds will really have a hard time getting to my onion sets. I put some weed protection fabric down on some of my paths so I could see where I’m going, hopefully this will prevent me from walking on my beds as I’ve inadvertently done this a few times.

Improved onion netting

I errected two bamboo wigwams. I planted some peas and will plant more in about three weeks, that way I should have a longer supply of peas during the summer instead of them all cropping at once.

I also planted some Coriander seeds. Coriander also benefits from successional sowings so I will plant more in a few weeks. I planted a variety called “Leisure” which is an excellent variety for leaf production. If you want to grow it yourself, try to avoid buying plain coriander seeds as they are far more likely to bolt.

This weekend we will have the “fun” job of filling the raised beds with topsoil. It will most likely take about 60 wheelbarrow loads so it will probably take us all weekend. The temperature is due to return to normal March levels at the weekend so at least we won’t be sweating in the sun while carting loads of soil back and forth.

We’ve met quite a few of our neighbours over the past couple of weeks and it’s lovely to chat and get advice from other plot holders, it’s already a lovely little community. I spotted some seedlings poking their head up in my Jersualem artichoke bed today, I couldn’t figure out if they were weeds or artichokes so I’ll be watching their progress to find out. I also spotted a couple of ducks hanging out near our plot, they must have flown up from the estuary.


Rainy Day Blues, Paddy’s Day Greens

I had great plans for today, I was going to get up early and spend the day marking out my beds in my allotment and installing my netting. I have had a very busy week and have been unable to get to my plot to do some proper work on it so I was very much looking forward to making some progress. My plot, along with a few others surrounding it had been driven over accidentally by a dump truck which had compacted the soil to a point that we couldn’t even get a spade and inch into the soil. This delayed us getting the work on the plot started. Thankfully, the lovely helpful lads who work on site arranged to have that section of the field dug over by a tractor to loosen the soil for the plot holders.  It would have taken me weeks to just loosen the soil by hand. The ground is nice and soft now so I was planning on putting in a few hours of digging today. Mother nature had a different plan. I woke up early, made myself as cup of tea and looked out the window to discover it was lashing rain and miserably dull and grey. Cue much groaning and general exasperation on my part.

I shouldn’t complain really, it’s been a very dry few weeks in Dublin, it’s barely rained at all in six weeks and the ground is practically crying out for some rain. I should have known it would rain, it is the Paddy’s Day weekend, I would be surprised if the heavens didn’t open at some point. Unfortunately, the rain has prevented me from going to my plot, not because I’m afraid to get wet but it’s simply counterproductive trying to dig wet soil. I also realised that while I have a good pair of wellies, I have no other suitable attire for rainy weather. I resigned myself to having to wait another day or two before I can begin some proper work on my plot. I went shopping to cheer myself up and bought a lovely pink raincoat, now I’ll have no excuse to avoid going out in the rain.

Red Dukes, ready for planting

I am itching to plant something on my plot. I have a bed almost ready for my jerusalem artichokes and for my asparagus, I should be able to plant them in the next few days. I’ve also dug out a bed for my potatoes and that should be ready for planting this week also. I’ll be able to plant my early variety, I chose Red Dukes of York for my earlies as I’ve heard they’re an excellent grower. I was hoping to plant them tomorrow as Paddy’s Day is the traditional day to plant your first spuds but I’ll just have to hold off another few days as there’s no point planting them until i have the soil prepared properly.

So far, all of my planting has been done at home, you may remember I planted some sweet pepper and chilli seeds a few weeks ago, these have done very well so far and are growing fast.

Chili Seedlings

I planted some tomato seeds the other day, I chose to try three varieties, Sungold, a lovely yellow cherry tomato, San Marzano, a great Italian variety, brilliant for cooking and Tigerella, because they look pretty and I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. The seeds only took a few days to germinate in the heated propogator.

Redcurrant growing strong

Next week I’ll plant my blackcurrant and redcurrant bushes on the plot. If you remember I asked for some advice on what to do with these as I bought them as bare root bushes and they were sprouting. I was advised to plant them into pots in the interim. The redcurrant bush has come on brilliantly since I planted it in the pot, the blackcurrant bush is not doing nearly as well, hopefully when I plant it out it will improve. My parsley seeds finally germinated and are growing well, I also planted Thyme, Rosemary and Basil seeds, all of which have germinated, though only one of my rosemary seeds had come up so far. I planted way too much thyme so will either have to discard some of it or give it to someone who might want some.

We found a foster home for Gilla, the lovely dog we found on the allotment the other day. She’s now in a home with two acres of land and an owner who’ll take great care of her.

I thought I would introduce you to two of my pals, who will be some of my chief veggie eaters this year. Snickers and Brambles are my pet guinea pigs, they love fresh veggies and I’m sure will benefit from the plot more than anyone else in the house. Lucky pigs!









I hope you all enjoy the Paddy’s Day weekend, I’m not a fan of it really, too much mindless drinking and standing in the cold, watching a parade that always starts late, with ten minute gaps between the floats. I’ll be avoiding town like the plague, watching the all important Ireland vs England rugby match and gardening as much as I can. I always try to wear green on Paddy’s Day but this year I don’t think I have any green clothes, maybe I can find some shamrock to plant on the plot instead, can’t think of anything more fitting.