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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Standard

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.

 

Now For Something Completely Different: GROW HQ

The morning light winks over the lid of Grow HQ, letting me in on the little secret that I’m about to enter the best new cafè in Ireland. Now, before you accuse me of being biased, I am! But my pals at GIY didn’t even know I was going to visit, nothing like a surprise attack from Fiona the Dublin Food Growing Ninja (that’s now my official title) to go with your breakfast coffee.

I’m not one for writing reviews here so this is something different from my usual posts but as most of you know, I’m a pretty huge fan of GIY. When I first got my allotment, I joined a local GIY group, we would meet in a local library once a month to talk food growing/composting/seed swapping. It gave me a lot of confidence as a new grower and I learned a huge amount of the plant knowledge I now possess from their website and other resources.

In September, GIY opened their doors to the world with their new food education centre, GROW HQ in Waterford. Situated just outside the city, right across the road from the hospital, GROW HQ is a pretty unique space. It boasts a café, food gardens and a retail area where you can buy tools, books and seeds to help you get growing. The gardens are extensive, with training gardens, an orchard, fruit garden and an edible boundary. 

The building itself is really cool with a slanted grass roof, the run off water from which will be collected to water the plants in the garden. Nifty! It also boasts a kitchen garden where the veggies for the café are grown. As such, GROW HQ offers purely seasonal food with the menu changing each week to champion a particular vegetable in season. As an advocate for seasonal eating, this the first place I’ve seen in Ireland doing this and it’s a testament to how GIY are positively educating people about where their food comes from. 

GROW HQ is the antithesis to all the pretentious coffee shops that have popped up the past few years. Walking in the door, you feel at ease, this is in no small part thanks to the warm staff and the beautiful setting; from the floor-to-ceiling windows, the colourful chairs and even the adorable tables, it’s a happy place, free from snobbery or pretension but serving seriously good food.


I had myself a really nice breakfast, organic poached egg, bacon, spinach and cottage cheese on a blaa. Yep, you read that correctly, a blaa. I had no idea what it was either. So I did a bit of digging and I was told that the blaa is a Waterford staple, a lovely floury white bap that is unique to the area. The method of making the blaa is a highly guarded secret, or so my sources tell me. When I read up on it, I found out that the The European Commission awarded the Waterford Blaa with a Protected Designation of Origin. Notions! It was pretty yummy though. The egg was divine, the bacon was quite frankly the nicest bacon I’ve had (and I am a big fan of bacon, it is the sole reason I’m not a vegetarian) and the spinach was really rich, fresh and full of flavour. It really was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had, the food was all homemade, locally sourced and organic and you can tell. You can keep your jumbo breakfast rolls lads, this is the food we should be writing songs about! 


Grow HQ is a project four years in the making, the brain child of GIY founder Michael Kelly, it’s a welcome addiction to the Irish food scene and the first project of its kind in the country. In addition to the café and gardens, GROW HQ also boasts a great line up of growing and cooking courses. 

If you’re looking for something fun to do, you can check out the upcoming courses here. I think I may need the cooking courses, particularly the blaa making course. I must know how to make them and I must know now! I promise I won’t share the secrets with the rest of Dublin. I’ll call mine a bleh or something. 

If you’re in Waterford, I’d highly recommend a visit, in fact, even if you’re not, take a little day trip, you won’t regret it. Next on my agenda is to visit again to try the lunch! Yum. 


P.S. The coffee was out of this world too. Seriously, I was flying for hours. There were stars.