Lá Fhéile Pádraig

Happy St Patricks day from a cold, wet and snowy Dublin. Today is our national holiday and I suppose we are lucky that it is celebrated all over the world but there’s nowhere I’d rather be than here in Dublin, the weather might be terrible but that won’t dampen our spirits (especially if those spirits are whiskeys, vodkas or rums). I tend to avoid the city centre on Paddys day, the parade is great for the kids but I’m not a huge fan of the crowds of drunken idiots. I had planned to spend the day on my plot but the weather is far from being gardening friendly, it’s cold and wet with heavy snow and sleet showers.

St Patricks Day is traditionally the day to plant your first earlies but I’m not growing spuds this year. I did visit the plot yesterday morning in the glorious sunshine (I’m beginning to see why we call it “March many weathers”).

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Whiter than white “Snowball” onion set

It was bright and warm yesterday morning, the sky was blue and I spent a few hours on the plot, getting my soil ready for my onions. I planted two types of onion and some shallots. I planted some Red Barons, which I had great success with last year, I also planted some shallots, a variety called red sun which have lovely pink flesh and are slow to bolt. I planted a variety of white onions called Snowball which are lovely pure white onions with a mild flavour. I also have some 50 Stuttgarter sets to plant later this week. I realised after planting my onions that I had no netting to protect them from the pesky birds, who love plucking onion sets out of the soil, so I covered them with some fleece which I had. I’m glad I did now, while onions don’t mind the cold, the frosts can force onion sets out of the ground.

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Onions ready for planting

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All wrapped up

The plot still looks very bare and messy, it’s going to take some serious hard work to get it the way I want it. Good thing I love getting out and digging because there’s plenty of it to do over the coming weeks.

I hope you all have a great Paddys Day and don’t get too drunk, if you were planning on planting your spuds today, maybe hold off for a few days or you’ll freeze your hands off.

Lá Féile Pádraig Shona Daoibh.

Dot Com

Yesterday was a pretty important day, not only was it my birthday but it was also the first anniversary of the day I received my allotment. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year already! I’ve come a long way from that first day I set foot on the plot. I’ve learned so much in the first year. I’m less concerned with having an unrealisticly beautiful plot and far more interested in the quality of my soil, the crop rotation and growing healthy organic vegetables; which is a good thing because my plot is a mess!

This time last year however it was far more of a mess, I was just beginning to dig, there were no raised beds, no fencing, no shed, no pathways, just weeds. It’s amazing just how much the plot has changed and continues to change, it is in itself organic, always evolving and it continues to surprise me.

nat00_weatherThe weather was quite nice this time last year, it was dull but mild, I was able to go out every day and do some work. This year it’s entirely different. Today we have blizzards! The wind is freezing and gale force and it’s bringing snow with it. I do love snow though, it might be cold and brings everything to a standstill but it’s beautiful. According to Met Eireann it’s set to continue for the next few days so there’ll be no gardening for me.

I had a really lovely birthday, I went out for some drinks on Saturday and had a lovely quiet day on Sunday. I was very spoiled and I even received some gardening gifts. If you look up in the address bar of the browser, I now have my own domain name, so my blog address is now www.fionagrowsfood.com

I also received a lovely old Encyclopedia of Gardening from a friend, it’s a lovely book with beautiful illustrations. My parents bought me a potting shed kit complete with dibbers, line marker and a paper potter for making my own pots (blog post on this to follow in the coming days). Needless to say I’m very spoiled (and that’s not mentioning all the dvd’s, make up, chocolates, video games and clothes).

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Next weekend is Paddy’s Day so I’ll have three days off, think I know where I’ll be spending them, I just hope it stops snowing.

A March Miracle

Yesterday, something miraculous happened. I woke up early (yes, on a Saturday, I was as surprised as you are) and the sun was pouring through the window. For a moment I thought I was dreaming, until I looked out the window and there it was, high in the sky, yellow as the daffodils outside my door and I realised, spring is finally here.

I’ve been stuck in a winter rut. I haven’t been able to find the motivation to get up and go out to the plot in the cold and dig and weed and freeze my bottom off. The sunshine was like the flick of a switch, my mood instantly changed. I was all of a sudden itching to go to the plot, plant some seeds, do some digging and get some much needed fresh air.

So, off I went, to put on my wellies and get to work. Unfortunately however, my wellies had been left out on my last visit, they had been caked in mud and I left them to “dry out”. 

My "Dried out" wellies

My “Dried out” wellies

First port of call, was to move the raised bed that I grew my carrots in last year. When we first built the six raised beds, I had already planted my onions in the spot where I wanted to put DSC_0473one, so instead of disturbing my onions, we put the bed elsewhere for the year. It looked out of place where it was however, so we decided to move it so it was in line with the other beds. I dug the muck out from the edges and lifted the bed to it’s new location. I did have a little “incident” however, and the bed is now in two pieces. With the bed moved, we had a grave-like pile of muck left behind. I’m sure the neighbours thought that somebody had met an untimely end after said “incident” with the raised bed.

I made short work of the pile of muck, I transferred some of it back into the raised bed and used the rest to fill two brand new one metre square beds which went in it’s place. These little beds might only last me a year but they’re very handy and just what I needed to fill up the now empty space. I planted my garlic in one. I know it’s about two months late but we’re still getting enough frosts for it to get the cold snap it needs to start off and maybe I’ll get some small bulbs. It was the first thing I planted on the plot this year and it gave me a thrill. Next week I’m hoping to plant my onions and shallots too.

The new beds

The new beds

I also took the opportunity to use up some of the billion pine needles I have in the shed, left over from great Christmas tree Massacre of 2013.

Dave the monster

Dave the monster

I decided to recycle my tree myself instead of dumping it, or doing as most people do and letting rot away in the back garden until mid-summer; I bagged up all the branches and I now have six black sacks full of pine needles and braches in the allotment shed (which I still havent gotten around to tidying). Yesterday, I used one of the bags of pine needles to create a nice mulch for my blueberry bushes, which I noticed yesterday have lovely green buds on them. Blueberries love acidic soil, and while my soild is slightly acidic already, it does no harm to help them along. Pine needles are very acidic, and are excellent for using as a mulch for blueberry plants.

Before going home for a much needed cup of tea and a pat on the back, I had a little drool over my rhubarb, it’s looking very healthy. It’s hard to resist pulling off a stalk and munching away, but in just another few short weeks, I’ll be making rhubarb crumble. Yum.

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Imbolc

Yesterday was the first day of February, also known as St Brigid’s Day or “Imbolc” here in Ireland. St Brigid is one of the patron saints of Ireland, her feast day marks the beginning of lambing season. In fact, the word Imbolc derives from “i mbolg” the Irish phrase for “in the belly”, which referred to sheep bearing young. Saint Brigid’s day in school was great fun because we used to spend the day making St Brigid’s crosses, a traditional cross woven from rushes or straw.

Most importantly, however, St Bridgids day marks the beginning of spring. I am rejoicing.

It’s been a long winter, dark and wet. It seemed to do nothing but rain for the past three months. The past week has seen howling winds and driving rain, some hail, thunder and sleet. I have been absent from my allotment for some time, mostly because when I do get the chance to go, mother nature laughs at me and send some sort of horrible weather upon us. I’ve been feeling at a loss, like I might never garden again.

Yesterday, however, on the first day of spring, I found myself excited again. I woke up cheerful, I began to think about the gardening year. I began to imagine lovely spring days on the plot, buying my seeds, planning the plot for the year ahead. I’m currently trying to draw up a planting plan for the year. Last year, I tried my hand at a lot of crops and this year I hope to do the same, with the difference that this year I want to concentrate on a few key crops. I hope to grow lots of lovely legumes, plenty of peas, some garden peas and sugar snaps, and I’m going to try beans, broad beans, french beans, runner beans, you name it, I want to try it. I’m also going to grow the favourites from last year again, onions, carrots and beetroot. I have decided, though, not to grow potatoes. Yes, you read that right. I’m not growing spuds in 2013. This is for many reasons, they caused me so much trouble last year for a crop I don’t really love as much as others. They take up a huge amount of space on the plot and last year they were destroyed by blight. So this year, I’m giving them a break.

The plot's looking pretty bare right now

The plot’s looking pretty bare right now

This time of year is almost the best time for the gardener. We get to spend hours reading about seed varieties, picking our crops for the year and imagining how amazing our plots will be in the coming year. It all looks so wonderful and productive in our heads, more often than not, the outcome is far less amazing.

The best thing about the first day of spring though, is that it’s a fresh start; all of last years failures can be left where they belong and it’s time to look ahead to all the year has to bring.

Hopefully it’ll bring lots of rhubarb, I’m dying for some rhubarb!

Rhubarb won't be long now!

Rhubarb won’t be long now!

Merry Christmas

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Peaceful New Year from Plot P26

The plot in glorious winter sunshine. Not how I expected it to look mid-winter.

The plot in glorious winter sunshine. Not how I expected it to look mid-winter.

I know I haven’t been blogging much lately, I’ve had a very busy few weeks, I moved house and work has been crazy. I haven’t hung up the gardening gloves however and I’ve plenty to write about in the new year. Hoping you and yours enjoy the season.

Fiona

The Prodigal Gardener

Forgive me, garden, for I have sinned, It’s been four weeks since I last paid you attention.

You see, dear garden, let me explain, it’s not that I don’t love you or want to spend time with you; it’s not that I’m lazy and not bothered to dig you, it’s simply that life has gotten in the way, and the real world has hindered my ability to tend to your needs weeds.

Fear not, my garden, I have returned. (With help, of course.)

We arrived this morning, myself and my parents, whose help I enlisted to battle your weeds. I’m sorry we stared at you aghast, I’m sorry we laughed at the sorry state you were in, I shall endeavor not to mock you again. Your beauty was hidden behind weeks of weed growth, spurred on by the horrible, wet, summer weather. Your lovely shed door was almost wide open, if not for the kindness of my lovely allotment neighbour, who tied it closed, after what it seems, a huge bunch of weeds had forced it open.

I am full of remorse.

We spent three hours, pulling up weeds, tidying you up, making you look nice again. We pulled up your beautiful borage plants, who were so prolific they were choking everything else, we massacred at least one hundred poppies, we pulled up at least a thousand and one nettles; my arms (my penance) covered in stings.

You began to look lovely again, your sweet peas and cornflowers, glorious in the sunshine.

You, my garden, despite the neglect, have continued to grow and provide me with crops. Your poor potato patch, badly blighted, looked forlorn and beyond redemption. On closer inspection, much to our surprise, hidden below were hundreds of beautiful, baby Maris Pipers, healthy as anything. Only a few were rotten. It’s truly a miracle.

No such thing as too many spuds

Onions nearly ready

Your raised beds, when freed from the grasp of the weeds, revealed a bumper crop of huge beetroots, some almost as big as my face. Your cabbages, celery, brocolli and lettuces, your peas, your rhubarb, your strawberries and artichokes all huge and healthy, despite the bad summer. Your swiss chard and spinach decided to bolt, but are beautiful bright lights in the centre of the plot. And your onions, oh your onions, they are almost ready, I can almost taste them. I long to dig them up.

So, my garden, you have been restored, I promise not to neglect you again. You have provided me with dinner for the week. I do not deserve it.

May the weather bless you and keep you until next weekend, when I shall return, to reap more of your bounty.

Amen.

P.S.  Many thanks to Janette and John, without whom, you’d still be a mess.

Yum!

Giant beetroot

Bloomin’ Beautiful

We’ve had a beautiful stretch of weather here in Dublin the past 12 days. It’s been warm, dry and sunny, and it feels like summer is finally here. I’ve even been able to get out in my shorts and terrify the world with my so-white-they’re-reflective legs. I’ve been trying to visit the plot in the evenings to water it, the clay soil seems to totally dry out in the sun and becomes cracked very quickly.

The good weather has caused a wonderful growth spurt on the plot and everytime I visit, something new is growing of something has doubled in size. Everything is beginning to bloom. My main crop potatoes are coming up very quickly and I planted peas last Monday and they had germinated by Thursday!

Potatoes

Pumpkins

I had to thin out my beetroot, chard and perpetual spinach the other day. I felt like a murderer but it had to be done. I’m just pleased they’re growing, they were looking like they’d never come up. I also planted out my courgette and pumpkin plants, they were just too big to keep on the windowsill anymore, thankfully they seem to be adjusting well to being outdoors.

My strawberry plants have come back to life, having been battered by the wind a few weeks ago, and they are thriving. They have lots of beautiful white flowers and I can see some of the flowers starting to develop into fruit. I covered the bed they are in with weed control fabric, this is so the fruit won’t be sitting on wet soil when it grows as this causes the fruit to rot. Straw is also good for this purpose, just spread it under each plant for the strawberries to rest on. I also made a cage of sorts to protect them from birds, I simply used bamboo and wire to make it and draped netting over it to protect my strawberries .

Strawberries in bloom

Strawberry cage

When I first got the allotment, I knew I wanted to grow Borage. I had read about this wonderful plant in a few different books and loved how it looked. Borage is an annual herb, with beautiful blue star shaped flowers and a mild cucumber flavour. I planted two borage plants in early spring and in the past week they have literally tripled in size and burst open with gorgeous blue flowers, I’ve already seen a few bees buzzing around them.

Borage flower

Another one I planted to attract bees is lavender. It was very (very) slow to start and I didn’t think I’d see any life on it this year but lo and behold, the sunshine has done it wonders and there’s lovely stalks of lavender beginning to form

Lavender

My rhubarb has come back to life too, it’s amazing what a few days of heat and sunshine can do for the garden. It’s great to be able to sit out on the plot on a sunny day and just enjoy my surroundings. This weekend, there is an open day at the allotment site, there’s to be a barbeque, music, entertainment etc, I’m really looking forward to it.

This weekend also sees the return of the Bloom in the Park festival in phoenix park, an annual gardening and food festival held in Dublin. If you have the time, it’s worth a visit, especially if this weather keeps up.

I have big plans for the plot in the coming weeks, I’m going to finally rebuild our gate, install a patio area, compst bin, water butt and I’m working on a little project to attract some unusual wildlife in, watch this space.

The plot in the sunshine

Sunshine, At Last!

The sun is finally shining in Dublin. Seems like summer is finally arriving, it’s warm, sunny with a lovely breeze and it’s perfect gardening weather. After two months of rain, wind and frost, the sunshine is a wonderful thing. I even have a little pink on my shoulders from spending a couple of hours on the plot on Monday. Many of my plants were stunted from the bad weather so I’m hoping this sunshine will give them a boost.

Mint tea

Today, I’m enjoying the sunshine, I’m currently sitting in the back garden, surrounded by plants, soaking up the sun and drinking fresh mint tea. Bliss. The mint tea is a nice refreshing drink in this weather. I used spearmint but you can also use peppermint, just be aware it is cooler and stronger than spearmint so you will not need as many leaves. To make your own tea, boil some water in a pot with some fresh mint leaves in it, pour into a glass and enjoy. You can strain the leaves out if you like but I just think it looks nicer with them in. It makes a lovely refreshing drink in this weather. You can use dried mint too, it’s easy to dry mint yourself, you can air dry it, use the oven or a dehydrator. I simply put it in the oven for two-three hours at 80 degrees. When it’s dry, you can crush it up or leave it whole but make sure to store it in an airtight container.

I’ve noticed signs of new life in the garden. My tomato plants have trusses on them and on closer inspection, I noticed one or two flowers beginning to open up. This was a relief as I’ve been quite unlucky with my tomatoes this year and was convinced I wouldn’t get any fruit from them but this sign of life is very promising.

Tomato Flower

My courgette and pumkins continue to grow at a speedy rate and are now quite large, i’m going to move them to the plot this week and have been hardening them off the past few days. I’m still taking them in at night though, just to be safe.

Courgette outgrowing another pot

The cat has taken a fancy to my chili plants and I’ve caught her on more than one occasion munching on a leaf when I’m not in the room, cheeky girl. I’m waiting anxiously for the day she decides to munch on a chili, I’m sure that will turn her right off them. They seem to be growing very slowly but today I noticed some flowers forming. It seems like everything is starting to come into it’s own.

It’ll be a busy week on the plot this week. I’ve to transplant my courgettes, pumpkins, lettuces, sweet peas and my sunflowers. I also hope to plant some pak choi and some florence fennel, these are best planted in summer as the cold weather can cause them to bolt. I’ll be planting carrots soon too. I’ve held off planting them until now to avoid the first generation of the carrot root fly. I hope to plant them on the last day of May or first day of June. The weather is set to stay this way for at least the next week so I’ll be spending as much time as I can in the garden and hopefully have plenty to blog about in a few days.

Sunflower

Lettuce, “Little Gem” and “Lollo Rossa”

Pumpkins and Borlotti Beans

Hope you all enjoy the lovely sunshine while it lasts.

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

Gone With the Wind!

I’m famous!! Well, not really. Last week my blog was featured on Freshly Pressed and since then I’ve had many thousand views, hundreds of comments and some lovely new followers. thank you all for your kind comments, and a big hello to any new readers. I was particularly pleased with the busy week on my blog as it’s been a horrible week here in Dublin and I’ve been mostly unable to get out to the plot. The weather has been horrendous, stormy, cold and depressing, more like winter than late spring.

Most of my week has been spent cooped up at home, grateful for the roof over my head. On wednesday, we had gale force winds and rain, the likes of which I haven’t seen since the floods in October. I was grateful for all my work the week before to prevent the wind from causing too much damage to my plot.

Not really a wigwam anymore

The wind died down for a few hours on Saturday and I got a chance to visit the allotment. When I arrived on site, I despaired at the sight of one of my bamboo wigwams, lying on it’s side, at least, that was until I looked around me and realised I had gotten off lightly. There were no longer any plastic greenhouses on site, or at least none that I could see, it seems the wind had destroyed them all, along with the seedlings inside, some of them were just a mangled mess of twisted steel frames with the plastic coverings long gone. Then, I realised, there were a significant number of sheds, lying on their sides, knocked over by the strong winds. I heard another plot holder found their shed on the other side of the field. Plots were missing gates, netting was flying around in the wind and I managed to escape with a bit of wayward bamboo and some damage to my rhubarb. Lucky escape.

The curios case of the missing rhubarb, there were three plants here last week

One of the damaged sheds

We took the break in the bad weather as an opportunity to plant my main crop potatoes. I’ve had these sitting on my windowsill for a couple of months now so I was happy to finally get them into the ground. I planted some early potatoes in March and they’ll be ready in late June/early July, my maincrop spuds won’t be ready until October though as they need longer time in the ground.

Despite the bad weather, everything seems to be having a growth spurt on my plot. The early potatoes are growing strong and I will need to earth them up soon. My onions are doing really well, I had to weed them the other day, the weeds seem to be flying up too and onions hate weed competition. My Dad shared a great tip with me last week, an old dinner fork works great for weeding onions, It cuts the weeds at surface level and is the perfect size for reaching between the onions. Genius!

Onions after weeding

Potato plant

I noticed some seedlings poking their heads up in a few of my beds. It can be hard to distinguish them from the young weeds, and at first that’s all I though they were, but on closer inspection, I spotted beetroot, chard, brocolli, scallions, spinach and rocket all starting to grow. I also noticed some salsify seedlings, which I only planted two weeks ago and was very surprised to see them up so soon. My peas are doing well, my raspberries canes have new buds on them and the two artichoke plants I was so concerned about seem to be doing better than anything else on the plot. Despite the bad weather, the garden continues to grow.

Tomorrow is the first of May, or Bealtaine as it’s known here in Ireland. It’s traditionally the beginning of the summer season, when the animals would be sent out to pasture. In medieval times, they would light giant bonfires in hope of a good harvest that year. Today, we had the gas fire on in the house, not quite the same. I’m hoping for an improvement in the weather, right now it doesn’t feel very much like summer. Although, the sun is peeking its head around a cloud at the moment and the weather forecast tells me it’ll be much drier and milder this week. Fingers crossed.