Seeing Both Days: Tipping Day 2018

I remember it well: it was The Year of the Cat, Silly Love Songs were Songs in the Key of Life, the boys were back in town and some Dancing Queen was saving her kisses for just about everyone. Rocky Balboa battered slaughterhouse daylights out of refrigerated carcasses and was doing it all for Adrienne, while, on the speakeasy flip-side of things ‘we could have been anything that we wanted to be’ with Tallulah and Blousey and Fat Sam. Yes I remember it well; the Bic white razors and Blue Stratos aftershave, the plaid patterned kick flairs, the big heels, the brass toecaps, and the migration from barbershop to hair dresser. And I remember it was warm; very warm, with water shortages and rent strikes. It was warm too in the venetian court as one of literature’s earliest cross-dressers extolled the quality of mercy, and warm too as Kodály’s Hary János met Friel’s Potato Gatherers and all stopped by woods one snowy evening to discuss the allegorical significance of red socks sown into the futility of human greed in Sassoon’s Base Details. Yes, I remember it well; most of it; well, some of it.
It was 1976, the whole country was a ‘thundering disgrace and that was the last time we experienced a spell of weather as warm and dry as we’ve experienced thus far this year. It was the last time we experienced a bona fide prolonged heatwave.

  Ireland was a different place back then; grubby and dreary, still striving to come to terms with the reality of developing its own terms, and still trying to find some direction for the head-spun inertia experienced since it had taken its own place among the Nations of the earth just a few decades earlier. Dublin too was different back then; the city centre was –as it had been for over a hundred years-crumbling, and the newer suburbs both north and south which had been initiated just a decade earlier now stretched out to the green country fields with no shops, schools, churches or hospitals and whence prevailing winds veered from that certain direction memory of what had been left behind would still catch olfactory orifices off-guard on light winter mornings as plumes from the distant hop house surfed the wavelength between the lifting smog and the Liffey’s perspicuous stench. And that was then; and this is forty years later…
It has been a good summer, this summer of 2018. It has been a very warm and very dry couple of months. It has been a good summer, and upbeat consumer sentiment is reflected in the latest quarterly index retail figures, benefiting no doubt from the sunny feel-good bounce with sales in beverages and foods and BBQ’s and Staycations above average and expectation. It has been a very good summer and those lucky enough to have been visiting from abroad this last couple of months will have seen Éire at her bright and shiny best. The sun has been shining for weeks on end, the whole population is tanned and suddenly there is renewed talk of the necessity of increases in net inward migration as we are at full employment levels once again, something not seen since the heady days of the Celtic Tiger.
It has been a very good summer, and the country is on a high: those who needed to be held to account have, at last, been held to account. We are become an all inclusive and an all encompassing pluralistic society. We’ve paid our international debts in full and on time and we are now squirreling away for the other type of day, the rainy day; and boy oh boy we know the rainy days here too.

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The monster’s entrance…

It has been a good summer so far, but the monster alas, is struggling. The effects of the summer’s drought-like conditions are now unmistakable. We have had some wonderfully early cucumbers and courgettes, and we’ve wiped out most of the early lettuce, salad leaves, kohl rabi and radishes but the broadbeans and potatoes are struggling big time and dare say the crop will not be so good as we hope for. The strawberries are finished, the shallots are curing and the onions have been lifted. The gooseberry crop struggled to plump so we opted for a crop in the hand sooner than the crop on the bush and managed to get a dozen jars of jam. We’ll be doing likewise with the blackcurrants this weekend. The pumpkins are swelling and the Florence fennel has germinated. We tasted some of the beetroot and it is fabulous, and once the Red Barons are cured we’ll chutney about 10 lbs. We’ve summer pruned the plum and dwarf heritage apple trees, and we’ve put the french beans and swede seed to bed and in so doing we have set the monster up for autumn and winter.
Today being the 19th July means it’s Tipping Day on monsterinthecorner, the 200th day of the year, the day by which high summer almost always recognizably wains. The young finches, sparrows and linnets are fledged, robin chicks have been rescued, fox cubs and leverets are making their own way and the early summer lush greens are beginning to look just a tad jaded. Some of the monster’s beds and drills are emptying fast, and at last there is a forecast of a substantial rainfall over the next 24 hours. And slowly, but surely, it all turns. And sooner than expected we’ll be saying “we saw both days”… and we’ll remember them and hopefully recall these days with fondness.
It has been a truly good summer thus far, so good so that in the last number of days we’ve found ourselves wondering what (?) if anything, the abiding memory of this great summer would or should be, should we be fortunate enough to live to reflect upon it forty years hence.
But, that is where we’ll leave it, for now.

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firewheels and poppies and peas and robins… monster images from the summer that is 2018 images compliments @janpaulkelly (aka Mrs. Dirtdigger)

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A Little Summer Latitude…

 

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Mrs. Dirtdigger midst the early sunflowers…

House windows and doors have been flung open for weeks on end. Long hot evenings parade the Gran via Clontarf and Calle Portmarnock in flip flops and shorts, faded and frayed, scant enough to be eye-catching, skimpy enough to barely cover deeply tanned social sensibilities. Char-grilled meats and fish waft on dense humid air and easy evening salads with vermouth cocktails are de force. The beach-fronts are thronged during daylight hours, and new generations are being acquainted with the 99 and the Bucket & Spade. With night-time temperatures well into the high teens late al fresco parlays are par for the course, and soaked sheets and pillowcases an every morning reality. Every brow is glistening and beaded, necks are damp, chins are dripping, and every shirt (even a plain white t) betrays its proximity to the hyperactivity of axillary pits.
After a four decades hiatus summer finally arrived in Ireland. Grasslands are parched and livestock is struggling; secondary roads are literally melting away, and now, the wettest country in Europe, having experienced a dry four week period the first time in 42 years (4 weeks!) has introduced water usage restrictions and a national domestic hosepipe ban. It had rained incessantly for months; it had rained incessantly for decades; it has rained persistently for hundreds of years on our little island, and due to a complete lack of planning and foresight by our public representatives for years on end, it seems one of the wettest countries in the northern hemisphere has found –that after only four weeks of good, summer sunshine– it has a water shortage problem.
Yes, summer has arrived; and where just a few short weeks ago we had firmly believed our little country inadvertently skewed 150 degrees westwards in mid March, we must now be forgiven for thinking the same little country has slipped 30 degrees southward since mid May, and all ellipsoidal and rectifying calculations aside, it would be nice if it could hang-out at this latitude for just a few short weeks longer: just a little longer.
The monster is also enjoying its once in a lifetime summer experience. We’ve had courgettes and cucumbers in the month of June for the first time, ever. We’ve had strawberries, and beetroot, and lettuces and radishes aplenty. An abundance of basil and garlic has us making pesto, and the onions and shallots which fell foul of the appalling winter and late spring weather have more than made up ground and are bulbing up nicely at last. We’ve begun to harvest the broadbeans and have been eating the Kale Negro for weeks now. The run of very good weather has opened all flowers and this year we have a wonderful show of roses, zinnias and marigolds; and for the first time we can recall the sunflowers had opened and showed face by mid summers day, a good 3 -4 weeks earlier than usual. We have an abundance of tomato trusses, still ripening, and we have Californian Wonder and Cayenne peppers and Rosa Bianca aubergines also ripening nicely. Of course, the prolonged spell of good weather has had its draw backs too, especially as we are restricted with water usage, and even those well prepared plot-holders who resourcefully harvest rain water from sheds and tunnels have found their barrels and butts run completely dry. Potato drills are in needs of a drink and rhubarb stools are drastically wilted.
Summer has arrived, and our lush green isle is turned gold: the hay is in and the shorn meadows resemble a scene more evocative perhaps of the Andalucían plains. Summer arrived and India came to play international cricket in Malahide, and the World Cup has come ‘round again with Brazil, and Argentina and Uruguay, and evenings resound to childrens play till dark; summer arrived, and we are treated to a feast of red faces crimson thighs and peeling shoulders, and long days turning a blind eye to the short nights as they meld and morph into one super sunny circumferential experience that will last long in the memory, and we call it summer.

Summer has arrived and the Wild Atlantic Way is tamed awhile, and we’ll remember this summer in Dublin, the summer of 2018.

Making Up For Things

Marvelous May more than made amends: warming breezes with bee-buzz and late apple blossom.  It sprang; it sprung; it’s spring: it’s sparrow-chirp and blackbird songs, with frolicking new born fleeces and days stretching out to where summer belongs.

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Onions, Pumpkins, Shallots & Beans

Yes, May more than made up for things.
Lilacs hang heavy, early foxglove and Lupin spires stand proud and every bloom is bombarded by winged wonders that now seem frantic to make up for the month long delay in bud burst just a few short weeks ago.

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Yes, May has more than made up for things; and with that all is forgiven. All the bare beds and drills are green again and all the seedling which had to be kept under cover for far longer than expected have been grounded at last. The polytunnel tomatoes, peppers and aubergines have set bloom and trusses at last. And softly, almost imperceptibly May morphs, and merges, and June…Then June, and for the first time in many decades the fulfillment of the promise of an early summer is fully realized, with idle thoughts drifting on waves of meadow grasses and buttercups. Tits and thrushes and warblers, and poached-eggs and heady irises, and the first roses of summer, Port Sunlight and Young Lycidias; and there is a time for all things, for constant watering and thinning-out, for hardening-off and sowing out, but there is also a time for leaving the hoe and trowel rest a while, and allowing the misplaced weeds thrive an hour or two longer, or a day or two longer; a time for prosecco and Ice Cream, and balmy nights with clammy skin and late outdoorsy activities, and long bright evenings sitting in proximity to the broad beans, gooseberries and blackcurrants and wondering what it would be like with a whole summer of early June, a thought as fluttering as the Holly Blue butterflies.

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Bright & Shiny Buttercups

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Bearded Iris ‘Killiney’

All looks well in the early summer sun, and the monster is no different, but the gardener’s eye still catches on the after effects of the atrocious winter and spring; the space where the peach tree used to be, or the gaps where the dahlia and geraniums just didn’t make it…but, it is still early June, only early June, and for more years than we care to remember at this time of the year we would content ourselves wishing for the onset of a decent run of summer, sometime soon…
So, here’s to a decent run of summer, sometime soon, a run of summer like early June.

 

Early Days in a Late Spring

As expected, April’s arrival has put an end to things: The lingering sulk of the longest winter is finally docked, and spring is most definitely sprung. For four days last week we basked in pleasant sunshine with temperatures four to five degrees above average, but this week has seen a return to more familiar Atlantic troughs with pulsing thundery showers and periods of widening sunshine.  Though the forecast hints at a cool night or two yet, by and large April is doing what April is expected to do in scattering showers and sunshine in equal measure.
Suddenly there is a noticeable greening-up and perceptible growth across the monster’s measure, and everything that seemed to be standing still and simply marking time throughout February and March has begun to reach for the warming gold orb and widening blue above. Though at times it can be the cruellest month, this year April is the gardeners’ redeemer; nature has finally set its sight on new trim, and all at once there is pep in the step of everything.
Although way too early to make hay, when the sun did shine we made up for the four week foreshortening of the season and tried to get back on track with our own general spring sowing and planting schedule. We like to think we’ve more or less achieved this. Most of what we intended to sow has been sown, and where and when we lost stock we’ve simply re-sown. The bare branches of the apple, gooseberry and blackberries are consigned to memory; the Dutch Master daffodils which provided welcome solace during the extended bleakness are now fading fast and are being crowded by the stretching globe alliums; the parsnips have germinated as has the dill, parsley and coriander; the kale seedlings are acclimatizing to life outdoors; the onions are green-shooting at last and the gourmet shallots which seemed to have given up the ghost completely have also sprung to life. We’ve bedded the tomato, pepper and aubergines in the polytunnel, and the Dirtdigging Mrs has planted out the zinnia and marigold seedlings along with some lupin and lavenders. The garlic (fingers crossed) seems to have thrived despite  atrocious months on end with its feet in the worst of the weather, and the rhubarb also looks and tastes quite good. A four legged polytunnel squatter help him or herself to the first sowings of sunflower, sweet-pea and nasturtium seed, but, we’ve remedied his squatting rights and re-sown with some added cover.
It is early days still, and yet spring is quite late. Bud burst is a good two to three weeks behind, but this is not always a bad thing. Although the stuttering spring and extreme winter weather events did quite a lot of damage to Soft Fruit Growers stock especially in the south and east of the country, a late spring can be the herald of a very good apple, pear and plum crop later in the year: the blossom burst being delayed often means a much greater rate of pollination success as all the trees in all the orchards blossom all at once, and all of the cultivars and variants benefit from the late explosion of compatibility pollinators. So, there is always an up. Some you win, some you lose. We’ve pottered away and we’re back on course. The worst of the weather is behind us for the moment, and as we dodge the heavier April showers Mrs Dirtdigger can be found, listening to the ever increasing chorus now emanating from the greening hawthorns and rowans as all those “smale fowles maken melodye”.

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Early Days Still: April 2018

April, A cruel month?

Now with the darker days overtaken, spirits soar and senses awaken. There is much to do, and thankfully while we have today we have much time still in which to do it.

April, arriving brimful with showers,
Sets the parks and gardens throbbing;
Glancing patches of bright summer blue
And cumulus blankets perpetually sobbing…JJK

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compliments of Mrs Dirtdigger @janpaulkelly instagram

On Ducks and an ark and an ancient rime…

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Mrs. Dirtdigger, all wrapped up against the elements

It began earlier than usual and set in much sooner than expected. And as though to mirror its incongruous beginnings winter 2017-18 now seems set to linger longer than any other winter in living memory, obstinately determined in maintaining its mortiferous grip on everything and in so doing completely obliterate early spring of 2018.
It has been a long and dreary six month winter, and though today we have bright sunshine for the first time in weeks, grass temperatures at dawn this morning were still as low as minus 6 Celsius. Everything is saturated, sodden, barren and frozen; and once again the farming community on this cold, damp outpost on Europe’s western fringe has had to ask neighbouring countries for large supplies of animal fodder, as our own national pastures remain bare and untrafficable to all livestock.
It is generally accepted across continental Europe that we here in Ireland have some of the best grazing pastures in the northern hemisphere. This is literally the foundation to one of our biggest national industries, our agri-food sector. There is nothing, and we mean nothing remotely comparable to a fine spring or summer’s day stroll through any area of the Golden Vale, or a walk through the lush green summer swathes the whole length of the river Shannon’s wide banks. There is nothing anywhere in the world to compare with the heady, hazy and intoxicatingly long lazy summers days spent in the Irish countryside. But, when Mother Nature rebels everybody knows about it; and this winter she has certainly rebelled. Winter had set in by mid November. Then with a cooler than average December quickly followed by a colder and duller than average January, and the envoi of a very cold February we had hoped that March would at last herald the long winter’s end.
We were wrong. March turned out to be the coldest March on record, with record snowfalls, and ice days recorded for the first time in the month of March since records began. We’ve had national warnings and weather advisories and red and orange and yellow flags and enforced stay at home days and Facebook fun and frenzy and Brennan’s Bread and snowmen on St Patrick’s Day and enough memories from this one single month to provide material for a whole series of Reeling in the Years. 2018, The year of big white Emma on Patrick’s Day will live long in the national psyche, and in years to come many’s a pint will be stood and shared over cool, cool reminiscences: the year we had to trudge through 6 feet of snow (acceptable exaggerations allowed) to get home from work; the year we climbed over the frozen gates to feed the starving ducks and swans; the year the floods were so bad that the ducks actually began wading in the ponds on our allotment; the year the shops ran out of bread; the year the grass didn’t grow till at least???? And here we are, still awaiting reasonable prospect of some early spring-like weather this 5th day of April. We may, as some say, live in hope, but most gardeners actually garden in faith, their faith being in the fact that if they persevere they will eventually reap some sort of reward. National media outlets may be reporting the unfolding catastrophe now facing our farmers and food growers as a result of the extended bad weather, but, we here on monsterinthecorner have no need as yet to paint the adverse winter weather whammy in the dire and calamitous terms suddenly being ascribed to the situation. April, in our experience, always comes up trumps; sometimes it snows, sometimes it shines; and though it can be said that winter can often drag its heels all the way to many weathered March, the most that must reasonably be said of a cool April is that we’re having a cool spring. The winter was long, and cold, and wet, and that was then and this, being April, is spring! The temperatures will normalize; and the watery chaos will abate. We’ve kept look out for an ark, and a raven, or a dove but these must have settled elsewhere. The waters above will separate and dry up and we’ll not have so much water below. Dry land will show itself once more; and every gardener and Plantsman/woman shall renew their personal covenant with their garden and the earth therein. And we’ll plough our furrows and dig our drills; and we’ll sow our seeds once again, and to ensure success we’ll actually then water them in. It’s all about perspective, and with the advent of one single warm day, we’ll cast off the weight of winter memory.
The monster’s measure is saturated and has been totally flooded for weeks on end. The clay is heavier than Uranium, and though the beds’ boards are sodden through and through they have not as yet begun to shrink: No dead Albatrosses with the monster.

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Reflection of a reflection…recycled coffee cups filled with germinating summer potential

With the exception of the garlic (in situ since last Halloween), and the onion sets we grounded during a brief respite in early March, the monster’s visage looks bare and forlorn, the only saving grace being that the Dutch Masters are beaming bright yellow. We’ve put nothing else to ground as yet, and even the tomato, pepper, zinnia and marigold seeds sown and subsequently potted-on now run the risk of stilting and becoming leggy due to the persistent low light levels. But what plans we have, and because we’ve had little else to do we’ve been planning. Recycling, and planning, and oh! What plans we have…

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Dutch Masters

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Moneymaker Tomato seedlings On The Go!

 

International Greenfingers Day

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At last, something besides the weather to post about…

Once again we head towards early April, and it has to be, just has to be so much better that the year to date

Saturday April 7th will once again see us celebrate International Greenfingers Day. 

International Greenfingers Day! is that day each spring when we set to celebrate the potential that the new growing season and year presents.  It is a day to celebrate gardeners in their gardens, a day to plant up some pots and trays, or plant up a raised bed or drill on your plot.  It’s a day to take some seed sowing selfies as a record and have  something to look back on in late summer and autumn.  It is also that day when we get to enthuse and encourage other people to do likewise and sow something from seed or set, and hopefully introduce them to, and inspire them with all of the benefits of growing something for themselves.  It is a day for giving someone a gift of some seed, and helping them to get their hands a little grubby: a packet of seed, a small pot or tub with compost, a can of water and some labels.  The rest is in care and patience.

So, why not?  Gift the gardener in your life with some seed if for no other reason than for the day that’s in it, and watch the enjoyment as they get their hands dirty…

International Greenfingers Day! This is what it’s all about

 

Spring, interrupted…

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5 days on, and still plenty of lying snow around the monster’s perimeter

It has been a thoroughly grey and wholly sunless 5-6 weeks since February 1st, and to compound the hopes and expectations of all early growers and sowers, we here in Ireland, as with our neighbours across the pond on mainland Britain, have just experienced our harshest and heaviest winter snowfalls in over 35 years. Today, some 13 days after it ceased snowing there are still large drifts and clearance mounds right across the country.

In like a lion, out like a lamb” the old saying goes, and March certainly roared into the gardening year on this occasion.

This coming weekend brings on our national holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, a date by which many gardeners like to have established their broad plans for the coming spring, and traditionally the date on which many allotmenteers set the first potato drills of the year; but I think we’ll delay things a little this year. A lot of ground is still too sodden and very cold from snow-melt and run-off, and as hardy as some of our modern spud varieties may be, they don’t come supplied with accompanying life-jackets…

So, as with many other allotmenteers and kitchen gardeners right across Ireland and Britain spring activity on monsterinthecorner is most definitely interrupted this year; another week or two at the drawing board and in the potting shed, drinking milky tea and listening to Lyric. The seed onions have succumbed, dampening-off en masse so, we’ll go, and sow again. We’ll also go purchase the Celeriac and Kohl Rabi seed we meant to purchase but had, hitherto, forgotten to, and we’ll also add a little more organic material to some areas to compensate for the flooding leach-off…

So, another week or two of chitting, and wit-pitting against nature’s surprising elements; another fortnight to get it right; another fortnight waiting for the greenlight, and a favourable rise in fahenheit, another fortnight waiting till the risk of frostbite is out of sight; another fortnight to reset the solent wight; a fortnight to resow the gardener’s delight; another fortnight to just sit tight, knowing that with many weathered March things are never ever black and white, and that the early days of spring are never watertight.

Another fortnight, waiting for the lamb to slight the lion.

To Sow, and Not To Sow…

Reticulated Irises

Reticulated Irises 2018

The snowdrops are showing; reticulated irises have brightened in glorious patches the last week or so, but the daffodils? The daffodils, being totally narcissistic, seem to be taking their own sweet time, though with that just said, yesterday one or two of the Tete-a-Tetes finally put their radiant trumpets on public display.
It has been a thoroughly Irish winter, and one that lived up to the Irish gardener’s seasonal expectation. With the exception of two slightly milder days this past weekend, it has been a long, wet and chilly period of hibernated-vernilization since the last week of last November. Things however are noticeably turning. There is a little more light to the end of each day, but with the constant cloud cover the benefit as yet is not fully appreciated. The temperatures are still just about normal for this time of year, which means that taken together with the low light levels we have the classic combination that too often conspires to undo the early undertakings of eager seed sowers. Many a gardener’s desire to get ahead of the posse by sowing seeds as early as they can often proves a redundant exercise with the experience of dampening-off. This is what occurs when seeds that are sown too early in the season either refuse to germinate, or else having germinated – often sporadically so- decide conditions are not yet tolerable enough to make the effort for. Seeds that are left standing in cold damp compost too long end up with root rot, eventually laying themselves down en masse, adding their inchoate transparent leggy stems and cotyledons to the dank dark medium which gave rise to their brief green existence.
But, there are signs that things are a turning. The rhubarb stools are putting out new petioles; the pruned rose bushes are displaying delicate bright orangey-red flags; the garlic which seemed to have stood still since mid December is stretching ever so slightly at last; the parsley pots are greening up more than yellowing down and allium snouts are poking through the heavy damp clay. Perhaps it is just wistful thinking but there also seems to be a noticeable increase in birdsong from the hedgerows.
Despite the ancient Celtic Imbolc quarter day observance it is not quite spring. The milk may be flowing in the belly of the ewe, but there is a sting or two to the winter’s tale and tail yet. Mindful of all we have just said, we did nonetheless make some tentative progress this last weekend. Being a little more tolerant of cooler sowing conditions and not being quite as finicky as their allium cousins we put some red shallots into one of the raised beds. We also strew two small trays of zinnias and marigolds, while at home we popped some Rosa Blanca aubergine seed into a pot for a south facing windowsill. We filled some starter pots with compost and popped red baron onion sets into the polytunnel, and finished off by covering a few Nero di Toscana kale seeds, as they’re also cool weather tolerant.
The trees have been pruned and where and when required they were washed. The monster’s bolt hole has been tidied; all pots and trays are clean and good to go; seeds and sets have been sourced and sorted and whatever could be done during the darker wetter days was done. Things are drying up, slowly. The badgers are on the move; with little or no ground cover left for camouflage at winter’s end the hares are more skittish than usual, and today crows could be seen making the most of seasonal casualties, gathering and relocating winter fallen twigs to the still naked canopies of the oaks and beeches.

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New rhubarb petioles, Red Baron onion sets and new rose bush growth

We’re not there yet, but we are getting there.

Softly, softly still though, not too far ahead of the posse should you go.  And in deciding whether to sow or not to sow, remember that the surest course to no carrots and beetroots for harvest is to sow them now.

Tete-A-Tete Daffodils

Tete-A-Tete Daffodils 2018

When The Weather Clears

The days are dull, dark and damp. It is most definitely mid January and unmistakably deep winter. The Christmas decorations are once again consigned to attic or shed for the next 11 months, and the New Year’s celebration bubbly bottles have been emptied and recycled through the local bottle banks. Something which only a few short days before still held a certain charm and relevance can suddenly find itself out of place and out of time once its sell by date is reached, and once Christmas’ celebrate by date is passed, it is definitely passed. That which was full of bright promise in the latter days of December can seem abruptly garish and jarring just these few short January days later.
I suppose when it’s time to go, it’s time to go.

The same of course must be said of things here on monster in the corner. No longer can we say that we are working our way through the first year on a new plot. Everything we said we had planned to relocate in the moving to our new plot was relocated, and everything we said we had hoped to sow and grow on that new plot was actually sown, and thankfully most of it grew as expected. This time last year we set ourselves some new year’s tasks and we experienced quite some pleasant success when late last August monsterinthecorner was awarded the prize of Best Overall Allotment 2018 at the annual awards. So no longer can we say that we are only in our first year for we are not, and in all truthfulness the monster is now well and truly established at its current location. When it’s time to go it’s time to go, and last year was last year; and that was then and this is… well, now.
The monster’s new year begins midst squally, sleety, stormy weather (in stark contrast to its beginning at this time last year) and where the last three years saw us experience relatively mild and generally uneventful winters, this year the winter season is providing us with plenty of weather.
In a posting from a frosty November morning just as this season was setting in we wrote that perhaps, if we were lucky, we would get just such a winter; noting that a little sharp vernilization in general, is a good thing for the kitchen garden.

So, reminder to self…be mindful of what you wish for!
It has been a very wet and notably cold winter to date, and once more this week we are subject to influences of large polar maritime air masses which seem set to dominate things again for the next seven to ten days. Regardless of how mild -or otherwise- any given winter can be, according to Long Term Average analysis the coldest period of Ireland’s winter season is from mid January to mid February, and it would seem all is right on cue.
With winter truly bearing its teeth this year, there is little that can be done on the allotment. Any attempt to turn or cultivate growing areas will backfire spectacularly, and any pruning which needs to be done and hasn’t yet been done is best long-fingered till things at least dry up a little. There is still ample time to shape and coax next year’s fruiting spurs and blooms from the present dormancy, and where cold weather pruning is par for the course, it’s best done during a dry period to minimize damage to newly exposed wound wood by extended exposure to wet conditions.
Other jobs for the allotment at this time of year are the standard housekeeping requirements for all gardens and plots and are, and have been, well documented over the decades. There are however one or two activities that can be undertaken now which are not so weather dependant and these are some of the gardening year’s gentler activities. While waiting for the weather to clear you can busy yourself perusing the gardening supplements and seed catalogues which suddenly seem to be arriving two-a-penny with every weekend newspaper, offering hints and tips together with design and advice to amateur and professional alike on everything from soil nutrition and pond depth, the latest must have celebrity endorsed tools, to current developments in Hydroponics and what it is that you simply must do now to ensure bigger, better blooms and harvests later in the year. All standard commercial fair mind you, aimed at planting that persuasive seed of need into your plans in the hope it will germinate in your pocket or purse. Or you may, if you wish, undertake something that we here do annually before the gardening season gets under way in earnest. About this time every year we at monsterinthecorner take out our seed storage box to examine and inspect the contents. It is a curious exercise sifting through the packets and envelopes and recalling what it was we had originally plotted to do the previous year. There are always a number of wallets and pouches that will have remained unopened and as such unused, and it is often puzzling trying to remember why we never followed through with the plan that made us buy them to begin with. But, we suspect most gardeners have such a box of curious perplexities. Of course, having opened the box it then becomes necessary to assess the viability of its contents, and this is where you need to be ruthless. Fresh seed looses its viability over time and the process of degradation is speeded-on once the original storage packet has been opened. How long seeds are likely to retain their viability largely depends on two things: the seeds own inherent shelf life, and secondly how they are stored once packaged. Moisture and unnecessary heat are two of the main conditioners contributing to seed deterioration, and seeds last longer if stored in a cool, dry environment. Nonetheless, regardless of how you store them some seeds naturally last longer than others: parsnips, celeriac and parsley will not last much longer than one year; whereas peas, tomato seed and some beans can remain viable for over a decade. Most leafy vegetable seed should last for at least 5-6 years; beetroot and radish for 3-4 years while carrot, turnip and swede seed will last for 2 years if you’re lucky. By and large this is in line with our own experiences over the years of sowing and growing, and though we’ve only outlined vegetable seed here, much the same storage guidelines apply to bloom and meadow seed as well, although with that said, it is generally accepted that a lot of flower seed has a much longer shelf life than most kitchen garden seed.
And so once again we’ll pop the lid on our seed treasury chest and we’ll scrutinize. We will examine the remaining basil seed purchased in Malcesine 4 years ago, the beans and sunflower seed sourced by the Dirt-Digging missus herself in Toulouse 3 years ago together with the beans and pumpkin seed brought home from Toronto in August 2016. It’s something we do while on our travels, a potential living memento of our foreign excursions should we be lucky enough to get them to germinate and grow in our home clime: some warm sun-filled reminiscences to help buffer January’s dreary days. We’ll also need to check the condition of the foraged poppy, sunflower, pumpkin and cosmos seed collected from the monster’s own beds and borders last autumn.

And then we’ll wait; wait for the weather to clear; wait till there is not so much weather about; wait till we can get out and about once more and the monster’s ways are trafficable enough to allow us empty some of those packet contents into pots and trays and beds and get the whole process under way once again; but, only when the weather clears.

That Time Is Now…

This Week last year the monster was in flux:

January 2017 saw monsterinthecorner begin the arduous task of relocating all stock and holding to a new allotment plot some five miles away from its established site. We speculated then what the coming year would bring, and whether we would be capable of rising to the challenges of starting again from scratch on a new plot, in the depths of winter. We postulated then that the monster would be completely transformed by the same time next year, and that we would relish the transformative process and our part in it.  Yet little did we realize just how much we could, and eventually would, achieve.

One of the very early postings from our new stomping ground last January was titled     By This Time Next YearSo, by way of  follow-up the best we can say is that  That Time is now…
We could have –indeed should have– posted many more updates during last year, but as you’ll appreciate we got busy doing as we had quite a lot to do, and it was no mean task to cultivate a totally neglected and overgrown large allotment into a prize winning kitchen garden plot, and to do so in the space of 25-30 weeks. We had many hours of wonderful fun; we’ve made some wonderful new friends and acquaintances, and mostly we learned to relearn all we formerly thought we knew about allotmenteering.

Of course, as the overall prize winning allotment last year monsterinthecorner has, (as many of our new neighbours are constantly and good-humouredly reminding us) set the standard not only for others, but also for ourselves in the seasons and years ahead. And who knows? with our template now well and truly settled after a frenetic first year, perhaps ( just perhaps) we’ll have a little more time to cultivate here as well.

Monsters montage

the monster’s montage from year one at the our new stomping ground

A very happy New Year to all.