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.

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.