potato blight

A potato blight warning is in effect so here’s what to do

Met Eireann has issued a potato blight warning for the entire country this week and I’m currently freaking the hell out about what’s going to happen to my poor spuds.

A few people have asked me today what to do to protect their spuds when there a blight warning in effect so here’s my esteemed advice: fucking set everything on fire and run away screaming.

Seriously. We’re all screwed.

However, if you are one of the weirdos who has decided not to completely overreact (ie, me) and just hope for the best, I figured I’d tell you a little bit about blight and how to deal with it if your spuds get the potato plant equivalent of the ebola virus.

First things first, what the hell is blight? 

Have you only ever heard of potato blight in school when learning about the famine? Well, we all know that blight caused the worst famine in Europe when it destroyed all of our potato crops here in Ireland between 1845-1852. Which was not helped at all by the bastard Brits who stole all our other crops and hoofed all the Irish out of their gaffs and into workhouses and coffin ships, and caused the deaths of over a million people. Not that I’m bitter about the genocide of my people or anything.

Anyway look, I’ve written at length about the famine on the blog before so I won’t go into it here. Even though I’d love nothing more than a nice old bitch about the English (sorry if you’re English, I know it’s not your fault….kind of)

But blight is a problem that still plagues us here in Ireland, mostly because of our weather. Potato blight is caused by an airborne fungus called Phytophthora Infestans. Catchy name right? It spreads rapidly through the air during periods of warm, humid weather. Wind carries the fungal spores from plant to plant and rain can soak the spores into your soil and cause them to spread.So, while the rest of Ireland is currently basking in the glorious 25 degree heat we’ve been having the past week, food growers all over the country are having bleedin’ panic attacks because heat, rain and sunshine is pretty much peak blight weather.

SAKE.

potato blight

The hot weather can eff right off now thanks

Does it just affect potatoes?

Nope. Yay. Phytophthora infestans can infect any plants from the solanaceae family (which is also known as the nightshade family). So blight can also infect tomatoes, aubergines and peppers too.

Fanfuckingtastic.

And if you’re for some mad reason growing tobacco, it’ll affect that too.

Also, call me.

What are the symptoms?

Right, here’s how to tell if your spuds have blight. It’s really important to keep a close eye on them over the next week for these tell tale signs.

Leaves: The leaves on your plants will begin to develop brown patches. Kind of like freckles, which may be only gorgeous on people like myself, but spell disaster for your spuds. The brown patches will also get yellow patches spreading from them.

Tubers: The potato tubers will develop really dark patches within a few days and the inside of your potato will turn into a (no better way to say this) fucking disgusting slimy blob of rotting flesh. Gorgeous. They will be the most disgusting thing you have ever smelled in your life. Yes, even worse than that one dude you know who never showers. My advice: wear a gas mask.

Can you prevent it?

In a nutshell, no. Sorry.

Well ok, there are some things you can do to lessen your chances of getting blight. You can of course, spray your crops with a blight preventative treatment but you all know how I feel about using chemicals in the garden.

So no, I do not spray my spuds. Which is probably why I always bloody get blight. Always. I’m cursed. It’s probably an Irish thing.

Otherwise, and I’d recommend this, you can plant a variety of potato that has a high blight resistance. There are loads of varieties of spud that have blight resistance and while it will not prevent blight, planting one of the blight resistant varieties will at least stave off the blight for longer (is the word blight beginning to lose all meaning for you yet?). Sarpo Mira and Coleen are both really tasty spuds with high blight resistance so they’re worth trying.

But what if it’s too late for all that? What do I do if my spuds do get blight?

As I said, just bleedin’ set them alight and run.

Or, if you’re a more balanced human being than myself and see signs of blight on your leaves, you can cut down the foliage of your spuds to the ground. This will prevent the blight from travelling to the tubers. Just make sure to get rid of the leaves and whatever you do, don’t put them in your compost because then you’ll just have compost that is full of blight and you’ll get it again next year.

Leave the tubers in the ground for about two or three weeks, then you can lift them. They’ll be tiny spuds but at least they’ll be spuds and not just mushy piles of rank slime.

I took a break from growing potatoes last year because I’d been plagued with blight for two years running and my heart was broke with it. I thought I’d grow them again this year because I just missed them so damn much. But now I’m in a state of panic. Not that I’m melodramatic or anything…potato blight

If you do keep getting blight, it helps to take a break from growing potatoes. The recommended gap is three years but, well, fuck that noise. Growing potatoes is just too much fun to take that long of a break from. I really missed them last year.

You could try growing them in grow bags at home or something instead if you don’t want to take a break, sometimes simply moving the problem can help.

Sadly, this summer, it seems like we’re all in trouble either way though. potato blight

So, just keep an eye on your children potatoes and hope for the best.

And there’s always the burn it all to the ground option if everything else fails. Sorted.

The light at the end of the polytunnel

Every year in a garden is different, just like every day in a garden is different.

Some years, you have wild successes, beautiful crops, perfect weather and no weeds.

Then there are years like this one. When your world kind of falls to pieces and your garden along with it.

There are years like this one, when your harvests are few and far between and your plot is in a constant state of dissaray.

When every time you step foot into your garden, your heart sinks where it used to sing.

It has not been my most productive gardening year and as much as I loathe to admit it, I have on more than one occasion considered giving it all up.

Don’t panic! I have no intentions to quit. I just can’t, you see, my garden still makes me inexorably happy, even when it’s gone to shit, and mine has, essentially, gone to shit.

My raised beds are broken, there are weeds everywhere, bits of debris everywhere, my crops have all but failed with the exception of my sweetcorn.

There are countless reasons for this bad year, including ill health, stress and a lack of motivation, and I want to talk about that. That lack of motivation, because that is the gardener’s biggest enemy.

I want to make you all squirm a bit here. I usually keep this blog light hearted and fun, but there are realities that we all have to face.

Harsh realities about ourselves and the nature of why we do the things we do. I’ve had to face many of them this year.

I am not a great gardener. I am not an expert. The majority of the time, my plot is a disorganised mess, much like my scatterbrain. I fail in the garden every single week. Seriously. Every week.

All that being said, gardening is still that extra beat in my heart, the extra air in my lungs.

Gardening is literally, my be all, and end all, and this year, I lost sight of that. I lost sight of why I garden. I became obsessed with wanting a perfect plot, perfect crops and the whole endeavour failed miserably.

I have learned that I need to go back to my roots.

I need to garden for the fun of it, I need to garden for the joy.

I need to garden for the peace.

With that in mind, I want to write a little about something I’ve wanted to address for a long time but have never had the temerity or strength.

I’d like to write a little about the mental health benefits of gardening, but I don’t just want to load you with facts you can find anywhere.

I don’t just want to spout the same old numbers and statistics and surveys. I want to tell you MY story.

I have an incredible life, truly incredible. I love my life. I have two parents who love me dearly, countless friends who make me happy, a career, my health, food in my stomach, a roof over my head. I have a garden. I write. I have clothes and shoes. I love a few drinks. I love sci-fi and video games and dancing. I love my bloody amazing life.

I have a wonderful life but sometimes I can’t see it through the fog. Sometimes, the fog is all that there is.

Now, before you think I’ve gone all maudlin on you, trust me, this post is another howler, I swear.

The fog is not just my depressive episodes or low moods. The fog is what happens when I lose sight of why I do what I do.

I had a thought today and I can’t stop thinking it.

How many gardening websites, magazines, TV show, publications write about the mental health benefits of gardening?

All of them, and rightly so. It has long been established that gardening is good for mental health and a form of therapy for a wide range of disorders.

Now, take all of those articles, shows, interviews you’ve read, watched and heard about the mental health effects of gardening and ask yourself this:

How many of them have told you that gardening actually makes you mental?

None!

So, I’m here to rectify the situation and tell you the dirty side of growing nobody tells you about. Gardening turns you into a bona fide nut job.

Only mental people walk around allotments in their bare feet.

Only mental people choose to spend freezing winter mornings in a garden, pouring their warm breath into the cold world.

Only mental people spend weeks germinating 19 different varieties of tomatoes because they’re slightly different colours.

Only mental people prefer getting a gift of cow shite than jewellery.

Only mental people choose to be surrounded by slugs, centipedes and spiders.

Gardening makes you a mental person!

I’m telling you, if you get a garden, you won’t recognise yourself within a year. Not because you are a walking orb of hippie zen like you envisioned, but because your life is now RUINED.

Your hands will be banjaxed and your clothes will all be ripped. What used to be your shoe rack now will just house plant pots and seeds.

You’ll be covered in scars from bites and stings.

You’ll talk to plants. Seriously. You will.

You think you won’t do it but you absolutely will. It’ll creep up on you.

You’ll just casually find yourself in your polytunnel one day, reworking all the lyrics to Macklemore’s thrift shop so it has garden lyrics and you’ll stop and wonder who you even are anymore.

You’ll cancel nights out so you can water your polytunnel. You’ll spend a stupid amount of money on crap. Literally. You will literally exchange hard earned money to obtain the excrement from another animal.

You will actually cry when crops fails. You will cry actual tears.

You will find yourself screaming at nettles.

You will turn into a mental person and you will never be happier.

That’s what has happened to me really. I used to be very morose and quiet*, I used to be a normal human being with normal hobbies*, I used to be clean*.

*all outright lies

This year, being away from my garden a lot, I’ve become less mental and that’s what’s wrong with me. I’m telling you I do things like watch TV, drink tea, clean my house. CLEAN MY HOUSE!

I hate it. And so, I shall endeavour to garden more during the coming weeks so I return to my glorious mental self.

Next weekend, I’m heading to Waterford to the amazing Food Matters Festival in Grow HQ where I’ll be giving a walking tour and speaking about allotment growing and I’ll be chatting all about allotment growing and the benefits of gardening for your mental health.

Also, the folks at GIY have some amazing people coming along, including Alys Fowler who I may freak out and embarrass myself when I meet!

Nothing new there so.

It’s going to be an amazing weekend so please pop along. I promise I’ll wear more than just my GIY knickers.

If anyone takes issue with my tongue in cheek tone here, I myself have mad problems with anxiety and depression so please do not think I am being disparaging.

I want you to know that there is hope, there are lights at the end of the polytunnel, there is love in the fresh, garden air and there are places in which you can dig all your shit and literally come out smelling of roses.

Much love to you.

If you need to chat to someone about depression or anxiety, you can contact the wonderful people at one of these numbers:

Pieta House: 1800 247 247

The Samaritans: 116 123

Aware: 1800 80 48 48

Planuary

Happy New Year fellow growers!

I’ve been slightly off the blogging radar for the past few weeks, mostly due the a little event that takes place around the end of December every year. I have a busy retail management job so Christmas is pretty much a black hole for me in terms of social life, gardening, writing or any other extra curricular activities, but here I am (not so refreshed) and ready to face another gardening year head on.

January can often be a bleak month in the garden. There’s very little to harvest, nothing really to do in the way of planting and the ravages of winter really begin to show on the plot. Everything is dark, muddy, dirty, tainted and dying and a visit to the plot is like a visit to a little veggie graveyard, each empty bed, a seasonal sarcophagus.

January, however, is also a time for new beginnings, for plans. January is a blank canvas, ready to be painted with the colours of spring. January is list making, seed buying, journaling, vision boarding. January is acres of ideas. January is all my good intentions wrapped up in dull, dark days. With this in mind, I am now petitioning to have January renamed as “Planuary” – by “petitioning” I mean, mentioning it once on my blog so I can use it as a snappy blog post title and then possibly forget about it until next planuary rolls around and I can use it again.

I’ve begun 2017 in slight crisis mode, I woke up on New Year’s Day with another bad flu and this weekend, just as the sniffles dried up and the cough abated, I broke one of my teeth (cue much wailing, panicking, picturing myself as a gummy old lady and shaking my fist at the sky like a curmudgeon). Needless to say, I’m a little bit cranky. However, the garden has kept me from going insane these past few days.

You see, I happen to adore the garden in January. The garden in January is like an homage to the previous seasons hard work, there are remnants of my success littered everywhere. I don’t look upon the mess with despair, the mess is a testament to just how much happiness has gone before. The dying plants, the messy beds, the leftover weeds, the dirty shed, none of these would exist in January if not for the success of the previous year. And so, I look upon the spoil of winter with pride and with renewed hope for the year to come.

My plot on New Year’s Day. Full of hope.

It does help somewhat, that I’ve still been harvesting some of my winter crops. My brussel sprouts and kale have been a joy to pick and eat during these lean weeks and my herb garden continues to thrive, even in the cold, wet weather.

Winter Harvest

 

Despite the dark days and the inhospitable weather, I’ve been busy on the plot in the first days of 2017. In a job that I’ve been dreading since early November, my rhubarb was in dire need of splitting. Rhubarb is one of my most successful crops, with my stalks reaching chest height in summer. My rhubarb is a lovely variety called “Timperly Early” and begins to show new growth very early in the season, just as its name would suggest. Already, there is new growth unfurling from the soil like a promise.

Rhubarb is an excellent and reliable cropper but after a few years (three to five years on average), rhubarb crowns begin to grow far too large and the plant loses its vigour and doesn’t taste as nice. As such, every few years, it is vital to to split your rhubarb crowns.

Now, I’ve been having nightmares about this job, not because I’m afraid of a bit of hard work, but because splitting rhubarb is just as violent as it sounds. Essentially, you need to take a spade and drive it through the rhubarb crowns, dividing them into new plants. With my rhubarb being the pride and joy of my garden, I was filled with dread at the idea of chopping it in half! Thankfully, I managed to enlist some help and my Dad did the dirty deed for me, splitting my three unruly rhubarb crowns to half their size. In payment for his hard work, I gifted him with the divided crowns for his own allotment! This now means that my own rhubarb has been halved in size and there is no waste as the discarded crowns now have a lovely new home on my parents allotment! Nifty.

The aftermath: this is one of the split rhubarb crowns

Another one of the (seven million) jobs I have listed for January is to clean my polytunnel. Over time, polytunnel plastic gets very dirty from being exposed to temperature extremes and weather conditions. I hadn’t realised just how grubby my polytunnel had become over the past year until I cleared out all the plants and noticed a layer of green slime all down one side of the plastic. Delicious!

So, yesterday afternoon, I pulled everything out of the polytunnel, grabbed myself a bucket of soapy water, stuck on some music and spent an hour or two scrubbing all the grime from the plastic. This job was made infinitely more fun by imagining myself as one of those sexy bikini clad car-wash girls who deliberately rubs her soapy boobs all over the windshield (polytunnel) much to the entertainment of nearby onlookers. However, given that it was only 7 degrees outside and I’m currently carrying a significant amount of Christmas related chocolate weight around my middle section, I felt that this bikini situation was better left firmly in the depths of my imagination.

The reality was actually in stark contrast: myself and my mother in our wellies and muddy jeans, dancing around the polytunnel to Wham! while scrubbing green gunk from the plastic singing “Soap me up, before you grow, grow…..”

It’s amazing the difference it makes to the polytunnel! I didn’t realise it was a such a grubby mess before, and now I have the cleanest polytunnel in Malahide. A fact of which I am very proud considering the absolute state the rest of my plot is in!

I can see clearly now, the sludge has gone

 

While I was at it, I also decided to scrub all the pots and seed trays that had been lying in the polytunnel and shed gathering dust. This is actually an essential job early in the year as it’s a bad idea to grow seeds in dirty pots as there could be any amount of old pests or diseases lying idle in the old soil. I intend to start sowing some seeds next weekend so having the polytunnel and my pots clean will pay off when I begin to plant this early in the season.

January is also the perfect month to get your proverbial sh*t together for the year ahead. Order your seeds, draw up your plans, buy your propogators and new tools, clean up your beds and sheds, throw out the old crap you don’t need anymore, fix whatever needs to be fixed before you begin your planting.

I have some plans for new structural elements in the garden and I’ve been making list upon list of crops I intend to grow. This year, I’ve decided to shuck off  the normal crops like onions and potatoes and grow more adventurous and ornamental veggies like sweetcorn and borlotti beans (apologies for the corny joke). I’ve also bought some heirloom tomato seeds and some very exciting varieties of salads and brassicas so I’m hoping to have a bit of fun with my plants this year.

Went a little overboard when ordering some seeds…

The next big job this weekend however, will not be fun. It will not be fun at all. I need to dig up my unruly raspberries as they are fast becoming the bane of my life.

Send help.

And hugs.

And maybe some beer.

I’m under a promise to share some tips on growing parsnips for next years Christmas dinner so watch out for that in the coming days and until then, keep the chin up. January may be cold and bleak, it may be difficult to get up off the couch and garden but remember this: in January, the whole year stretches ahead of you like an unrealised dream and that – so far – 2017 is empty of failure and full of potential.

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: Kale, the superhero of the veggie garden

You know on Halloween, just before you’d go out trick or treatin’, your Ma would serve you up a steaming plate of colcannon which you’d eat reluctantly in the wishes of finding some cash hidden inside? No? Then you’re not bleedin’ Irish.

Colcannon on Halloween is a distinctly Irish tradition for a distinctly Irish holiday. Plates piled high with potatoes mashed with onions, kale and butter has pretty much given kale a bad name (though whoever thought of it was a genius because it’s a seriously hearty nutritional winter dish and absolutely delicious). Most Irish people only know kale as “curly kale” or in it’s sloppy colcannon form and it was always a decidedly unglamorous food but in recent years, kale is making a serious comeback as a super food. You can’t enter any health food cafĂ© or shops without encountering kale smoothies, kale crisps, kale salads, raw kale, kale is the current trendiest veggie going. Now, if you find yourself a bit turned off the idea of this super healthy veggie by the memories of mashed kale goop on Halloween, I’m here to change your mind.

Kale is hands down my favourite leafy vegetable to grow! In fact, I’m considering donning some spandex and fashioning myself a curly kale cape and swooping into people’s gardens and guerilla planting some kale. Fiona Kelly Kaley: The Curly Avenger. 

A member of the brassica family, kale grows supremely well in our temperate climate and is very easy to grow from seed. A large, leafy vegetable, kale is a welcome addition to any vegetable garden. Its beautiful broad leaves bring rich shades of colour to any garden and there are so many varieties to try which all have distinct flavours. Kale is packed full of Vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and antioxidants and is pretty much the best veggie you can add to your diet. So, if you’re looking for tips on growing this super food in your garden look no further, I’m here to champion this humble hero of the brassica bed.

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Kale Varieties:

Now, most people think of kale and just think of the curly green variety we were subjected to as nippers but there are many varieties of kale to try in your garden.

My favourites are Russian Red Kale & Cavolo Nero. This year I’m growing three different varieties of kale and currently have 18 plants which is definitely overkill but kale is ready to harvest later in the season than most other leafy veggies and it’s always nice to visit the plot in October and have plenty to still harvest.
Red Kale and Cavolo Nero taste distinctly different to green kale too so it’s nice to have a variety of flavours.

Sowing Kale:

Most people sow kale indoors and transplant it outside but I urge you to sow kale outdoors if you’re in Ireland, it will germinate in most soil, though rich, fertile soil is best as with all brassicas. I always sow my kale outdoors between May and June for an Autumn crop. Plus, sowing outdoors means less of the tricky transplanting business. Space your rows about 45cm apart and sow your kale and thin it out as it grows. Kale grows to be quite a large bushy plant so ensure you space the plants out enough to give them room to grow.

Transplanting Kale

If you have started your kale indoors, then it is essential to water your soil well before planting and give the plants plenty of water when you plant them, in fact, drench them in, create a puddle around your kale, it will love you for it. Space your plants 45cm apart.

Caring for Kale

Kale requires little care but it is very tasty so everything loves to eat it, slugs, pigeons, humans, more pigeons so it needs some protection.

Protecting your kale from slugs when they are young plants is essential. Beer traps are great for keeping slugs away from your plants and I’ve had great success with these. This year, I’ve also mulched my young kale plants with coffee grounds as a fertiliser and slug repellent and I have had zero problems with slugs on my kale this year. None. It’s a miracle. Coffee is just the gift that keeps on giving really.
Netting your kale is also essential to keep the birds from demolishing it (although eating kale is a pretty holy experience in itself the last thing you want is hole-y leaves).

Harvesting Kale

Kale is usually ready to harvest about three months after planting. Kale is a great cut and come again crop, simply pick the leaves from the top of the plant as needed.

I have a recipe here for kale and apple soup if you’d like to try something a bit different with your crops (it’s yummy, trust me). My Mam also has a super recipe for kale gnocchi so I’ll ask her can I share it with you guys during harvest season. I do urge you, if you are Irish, rekindle a love for colcannon, it’s really a great dish and if you’re not Irish, give it a try, it’s a carby-gloopy-buttery-tangy-kale-slop and it’s glorious.

Now, I’m off to get my sewing machine out, this Curly Kale Cape won’t make itself.

 

 

The Payoff

Here’s how it is. You get up early when all your mates are in bed. You can’t go to the pub because you need to prune your hedges. You spend your winters out in the cold and your rainy days out in the rain. You dig and you plant and you weed and you water. You rake and you hoe and you deadhead and harvest. You battle with slugs and aphids and birds. You haul on your wellies and gillets and gloves. You spend the day in the rain again. You work and you toil and you baby your soil. You bruise and you bleed and you sting and you ache.

You leave work early to tend to the plot. You haven’t had clean fingernails in a month. You’ve ruined all your clothes and your shoes and your hair. You sweat and you freeze and you itch and you sneeze. You sow and you pick and you weed and you sow and you pick and you weed and you sow. You water, you water, you water again.

You can’t sit at home without feeling guilty, you can’t buy fruit in a shop anymore. You can’t  go away for more than a week. You can’t have a hangover because there’s work to be done. You can’t plan a picnic if the weather is good. You can’t wear skirts because your legs are all bruised. You paint your nails and they’re ruined in an hour. You’ll never have an even tan.

You annoy all your mates with talk about plants. You can’t go anywhere without buying seeds. You notice flowers in everyone’s gardens. You take photos of spiders and worms. You learn basic latin against your own will.

You panic when it’s windy in case the plants suffer. You panic when it’s sunny in case there’s a drought. You panic at the sight of frost. You panic when it rains too hard. You meltdown when there’s snow in March, you rain-dance when there’s drizzle in May.

You become “that girl who grows her own food, let’s ask her lots of questions about pruning roses”. You have to pretend you know what you’re doing. You spend more time with plants than with people.

You dig and you weed and you thin out and you sow and you water and you rake and you prune and you grow……..and you’re exhausted all the time.

Then something happens in the midst of it all.

You bring home a batch of fresh food from the garden, you cook some stewed rhubarb with fresh chocolate mint. You have a cup of lemon balm tea. You know you’re the luckiest woman in the world!

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Turn, Turn, Turn

Hello, and Happy New Year from Fiona Grows Food.

It has been a bit of a strange few months, hence the lack of blog posts, many apologies to my regular readers. I’ve been pretty busy in work (Christmas is silly season in retail), busy partying, busy living, busy having a bit of an existential crisis. I’m not trying to sound melodramatic, I’ve literally been busy questioning my life choices, and in turn, questioning whether I even wanted to continue gardening anymore. As such, my allotment and the blog have gone to the wall a bit. In fact the past few months, I could have realistically renamed my blog Fiona Drinks Booze with the caption “scene missing” and it would have been a more accurate reflection of my lifestyle.

However, last Friday, something wonderful happened. It was the 2nd of January and I woke up, still nursing a bit of a sore head from New Year’s Eve and decided to get some fresh air, clear the cobwebs a bit and see what state of disarray my poor garden had fallen into over the weeks of winter neglect. I hauled myself out to the plot, expecting the worst horrors that a neglected allotment had to offer. On arrival, however, that feeling came over me, that “I love this place” feeling that I only get in the garden. That complete happiness.

It was cold, wet and grey, there wasn’t a soul to be seen on site, aside from a hare who was fast asleep beside my shed who ran thundering past when I woke him. I remembered just how good the garden made me feel, there’s a sense of peace there, a sense of belonging.

Needlessly to say, the plot was looking a bit anarchic. There were – somehow, despite the cold months- weeds everywhere. There was a huge pile of muck and debris in one corner where my old compost heap had been which I tore apart in a rage in November, on my last visit to the plot in 2014.

The bloody state of the place!!

The bloody state of the place!!

The terrifying fennel, this thing was bigger than my head

The terrifying fennel, this thing was bigger than my head

There were last year’s unharvested vegetables: some sad looking brussel sprouts, a patch of limp leeks, a monstrous florence fennel, the world’s most overgrown sage plant, a bamboo wigwam chocked with the dead foliage of broad beans, bare arsed raspberry canes towering like seven foot tall harbingers of death over everything. Mud. Mud everywhere. More weeds. I sighed, put on my wellies, my trusty fingerless gloves, then I got my hands dirty.

You see, the past few months, I’ve been finding it difficult to get to the plot for varying reasons, work, social commitments, but also, a lack of motivation to get out in the cold depths of winter. I’d lost that thing that makes me obsess over seeds, soil and spades. It was gone. I had no desire to garden at all. I was bereft. But the moment I plunged my hands into soil last Friday, it all came flooding back, I was back in touch with my garden again, with myself.

I spent the day moving around my plot with a natural gardener’s kinesis, pulling up unwanted plants, turning over the soil in the beds, smelling handfuls of muck, talking to worms (yes I do that), building a new compost bin, stopping every now and then to smell the salty sea air, to feel the rain on my face.

I was refreshed, full of excitement at the potential of a whole new garden year. A clean slate, a chance to do better, to do greater. A chance to grow. Consequently, the planning has begun.

I often think January is the best month of the year for a gardener. There is next to no planting or harvesting, there is little in the way of work in the garden, apart from cleaning up the ravages of winter and preparing for a new year. There is simply hope. I spend the long, dark evenings dreaming up what weird and wonderful plants I can grow in the following months. Thus, the lists have begun. I have about 12 lists as of today. What to grow, where to grow it, how to grow it, when to grow it, where to get it, how to get the soil ready for it. The year stretches out before me like a blank canvas waiting to be painted and the garden is my brush.

The canvas awaits

The canvas awaits

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about seasons and time. Maybe my waning interest in the garden lately was simply a matter of seasonal affective disorder, maybe when my garden dies in winter, my desire to be there dies along with it. Thankfully, the seasons change and the garden changes with them, as does the gardener.

I am waiting with great excitement for this season to change, for the days to get longer, for the grand stretch in the evenings, for the spring sun to warm my soil and give light to life on the plot. Until then, it’s lists and seed hoarding and planning for me.

On a final note, as I stood on the plot the other day listening to the radio, this song came on which make me snort with laughter, talk about appropriate timing. I sang it while I thought of Summer, and of all the hopeful things to come in 2015.

Beautiful Autumn Blues

It’s been a very busy few weeks in the garden. It’s mid September and harvest season is drawing to a close. My raised beds are beginning to look very empty, the polytunnel is bare and my perennials are beginning to wither away for the winter.

Strangely enough, even with the plot looking worse for wear, it’s a great time of year in the garden. The weather is good, there’s always something to harvest and all the plans for next year begin to form. On Saturday, the weather was surprisingly hot for this time of year, it seems we’re having an Indian summer. It hasn’t rained in a few weeks, which shows on the plot, my soil is dry and cracked and very difficult to cultivate. That being said, I’m not complaining, I’m enjoying the nice weather while it lasts.

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A few weeks ago, I harvested my red and white onions and I’ve had them drying in the polytunnel. I didn’t have a huge amount of success with my onions this year, most of my red onions didn’t bulk up, no doubt because of the very dry summer. However, I did get a lovely crop of Stuttgarter Giant onions. I’ve had another rhubarb rich year, it just thrives in my soil and is no doubt my most prolific crop. Every time I visit the plot lately, I have peas to harvest too, it’s just a shame I never get them home as I have a tendency to eat them while on the plot, they’re just too irresistible.

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With growing season all but winding to a close, I’m beginning to clean up the plot (and believe me, it needs it) and plan for next year. It won’t be long before I’m covering up the raised beds for winter. I do plan on planting some over wintering crops like purple sprouting broccoli (a personal favourite), winter cabbages and garlic. It’s also the time of year to begin planting spring bulbs, this year I hope to plant a full array of spring flowers to begin next year with a splash of colour. For now, I’ll just have to be content with the beautiful Autumn blues of my herb garden.

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I’ll also be beginning to collect fallen leaves to make a leaf mold to use on the plot next year. A gardeners work is never done, in fact, I dont think I’ve ever had such a long to do list for the garden. In part this is due to a busy summer during which, I didn’t exactly neglect the plot but I didn’t get to put in as much time as I would have liked.

The past few weeks I’ve put in more work on the plot than all year and it is beginning to pay off, though there is still a huge amount of work to do. The messy corner is still a disaster and the whole section outside my polytunnel lies empty.

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We had a harvest day on site a few weeks ago so I’ll be writing about that tomorrow. Until then, happy growing and happy harvesting.

The Great Rhubarb Robbery of 2014

Hello! I have returned from the land of the computer-less, having spent the last ten days adrift in an ocean of disconnect, where everything was bleak and lonely and there were no books of faces for me to look at. Apologies for the hiatus. Business as usual has returned.

This week is a glorious, warm, thing. There seems to be a large yellow orb hovering over the city providing much warmth, most are calling it the “sun”, I however am not beyond believing it is actually a UFO emanating heat waves in an attempt to burn our freckly Irish skin to melanomic proportions in a slow bid to take over the world.  Clever aliens are playing  a long game with this one.

The soil is dry, the air smells like coconut (I am yet to see evidence of this being from sunscreen and am leaning on the theory that the aliens are planting coconut trees in Ireland in order to ruin our ecosystem with a foreign species should the skin burning plan not work out).

Gardens everywhere are blooming, there are dahlias, foxgloves and sunflowers everywhere and cabbages seem to be growing at an astronomical rate (Aliens? Anyone? The evidence is stacking up here). Unfortunately for me, I have been trapped in the office all day everyday, longing to go out to the plot to bask in the heat rays, to pick some veggies, water my plants and get my daisy dukes on while I do some hoeing.

My toe is finally on the mend after the toe breaking incident. Yep, only seven weeks later and it’s nearly not broken anymore. As you can imagine, my poor plot has suffered as a result. The polytunnel is more or less empty, the weeds are running wild and there’s not as much planted as I would have liked. This wouldn’t be all so bad if it wasn’t for the gross crime that seemed to have been committed last weekend.

It was a dull, warm Saturday evening, I was going about my business socialising with some friends, engaging in some mild dancing, indulging in some not-so-mild beverages, oblivious to the fact there were two ruffians invading my plot to steal some of my glorious rhubarb. Word on the grapevine is that two unidentified individuals entered my allotment, looking a bit shifty. One, a dark man, with a Tom Selleck style moustache, only more glorious; the other, a female with dark curly hair that bounced as she giggled. The story goes,  they made a beeline for my glorious rhubarb patch, the crowning glory of plot P26. Stalks that reached to the sky, pink stems thick and proud, large umbrellas of leaves providing shade for the royal Victorian stems below.

These two individuals are said to have committed regicide, tearing through the royal rhubarb court at speed, pulling up the rhubarb stems, discarding the leaves into my compost bin and taking off into the summer night with armfuls of fruit, giggling like princesses. What a royal pain in my……neck.

On a completely unrelated note and I’m sure this is just one giant coincidence, my parents seem to have gotten their hands on twenty fresh jars of Rhubarb jam. Yum.

The investigation continues….

 

 

How To Make Your Own Plant Feed From Nettles

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with nettles. My garden is full of them, they have a nasty habit of hiding in my rhubarb bed and attacking me when I’m harvesting some stems. During the summer months, it’s not unusual for me to suffer a nettle sting on a weekly basis.

However, I do love finding nettles on my plot as they serve a very important purpose, natural fertiliser! Nettles are a great source of nutrients for your plants and using them to make a plant feed is easy, albeit a little bit stinky.

To make your own nettle plant feed, you will need a container like a bucket or similar, water, something to weigh down the nettles and some gardening gloves (I can not stress that last one enough).

Simply pull up the nettles, taking care not to sting yourself, and break the nettles up.

Place them in your container and weight them down, I usually use a brick or large rocks from the garden.

Add enough water to cover the nettles and place a lid over your container to make it airtight.

Leave this for a few weeks to work its magic.

After about 4 weeks, you can use your plant feed. Now, beware, when you remove the lid, this stuff will smell foul! Brace yourself.

To use your feed, dilute it with water, about one part feed to ten parts water and voila, homemade plant feed.

Easy peasy nettle squeezy.