The Washed Land

April may well be ‘the cruellest month’, but make no mistake March 2023 was definitely one of the wettest. It rained most days, and on days it didn’t rain it certainly showered, substantially.  On two days we had rainfall of over 2” each day, and by month’s end everything was saturated, sodden and soaked.  It was the many weathered month, but this year March certainly brought more rain than any other of the meteorological seasonal variants.  Every plot on the allotment site suddenly has a freeform pond, roadside verges have disappeared neath treacherous drive thru’ splash pools, potholes are puddled, gardens and parklands are soft to boggy and thousands of hectares of arable farmland now lye under unchartered springtime lakes.  Everything has been thoroughly washed, cleansed even, and provisional statistics from Met Éireann having been verified, it seems March 2023 was the wettest since 1947, and that particular year was the wettest on record, records going back to 1781.  Did we mention it was a bit rainy…

Springtime gardeners, as always have been chomping at the bit, waiting for days to lengthen and temperatures to rise so as to get out and grubby the hands, and thus work the dead land once again.  But that has not been so easy to do this year; and we must be mindful that as much as any gardener may bemoan the volume of rain so far this year, the gardens have loved it. Everything is green and verdant, which, by and large is one and the same thing, but there is no simpler way to underscore just how much all that March rain has done for the garden; sodden gardeners, yet satisfied gardens…

The extreme wet conditions have forced us to change-tack a little on the monster’s measure. Eight days into April and we have yet to put our seed potatoes to bed. We did however manage to plant up some bags of Maris Pipers and Desiree maincrop, whilst we are more than happy that the beetroot, turnip, parsnip and scallion seed has all germinated. We’ve sown sunflower and titonia which are up and at it, and in the last few days we also sowed pumpkin, golden squash seed and plenty of basil and coriander. Today we sowed Redbor kale and wild rocket before once more having to take some serious shelter. 

April has taken-up where March left off.  This year we have April showers aplenty; on April 1st a scattered shower passed or’ and finally cleared on the 3rd. We may be working under cover a good deal but we are making progress. We finally have the monster’s new polythene measure good-to-go. All the creeping thistle root was painstakingly dug out by Mrs Dirtdigger during the dark days of January and February, and we put the first of the Moneymaker seedlings into their new tunnelled home in this last week; a little early perhaps, but although wet this year, the temperature is holding about average.

Our little patch of dead land may not have lilacs breeding from it, but it does have a fabulous crop of Timperley Early and Victoria rhubarb, some already baked into pies, already stewed into compote, and all compliments of the aqueous exigencies of many weathered March.

April is doing its April thing as we type. Silver grey skies are showering the stretching foxgloves, aquilegia and bearded-irises; the late muscari and early camassia spikes shine against the last of the daffodils Narcissus Thalia, one of the monster’s favourites.  We have lettuce and cabbage seeds to sow, peas, borlotti beans and melons still to get going, clumps of lovage to split and tarragon to relocate while still early enough to do so, and so, we’ll get going and get sowing…

All things being equal…

Snowy Dublin Hills @janpaulkelly

March, being March, has thrown everything plus the kitchen sink into the spring weather mix so far this year.  The month began on a cooler than normal note with north westerlies chilling the early green shoots; cool gave way to cold and cold became five days of sleet, snow and icy nights.  We’ve had blustery sunshine, driving rain, slate grey skies and localized flooding. March many weathers has delivered in style, but spring is here and nature’s urge to get up and growing is now insuppressible. As conditions allowed, we stomped the monster’s measure and have managed to get the Javelin parsnip seed to bed, and also move the Stuttgarter sets from their starter pots into terra firma, along with the Ailsa Craig seedlings and a new variety we are trying for the first time this year, Pink Panther, a small reddish-pink French variety.

The Moneymaker have been potted on as have the aubergine and pepper seedlings.  We will go again with the petunia seed mix; we took our eye off them and they dampened-off, not surprising given the chill weeks at the start of the month.

The national holiday has come and gone and we, as a nation celebrated in style with many towns and villages organizing St Patrick’s Day parades for the first time since before the pandemic.  The usual global greening of many of the world’s well know structural landmarks has been curtailed as a show of acknowledgement of having to be environmentally responsible, but there was the usual national greening with all-and-sundry decked-out in a fabulous array of jumpers and cardies, badges and rosettes, hats and scarves, shamrocks and harps and then to ice the cake it seemed the whole country watched as our rugby team delivered on years and years of promise.

Timperley Early Rhubarb @janpaulkelly

We have, at last, tripped the other side of the equinox.  There is now more day than night; not so much dark, and slowly increasing light.

Feverfew and tarragon, camomile and chives, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme all the early fayre of the herb bed, waving green in a celebration of what spring brings.

All things being equal March has so far done what we expect March to do every year. We’ve managed to have the year’s first produce from the measure with some absolutely fabulous early rhubarb from the Timperley Early stools.  We have so many packets of seed to empty and sow in the next 4 weeks, but we will balance hope and expectation with effort and creation and perhaps achieve a certain equanimity for the monster’s measure as we stride into spring this year.

Spring Sprong Sprung…

Although for some the simple flipping of a calendar page from 31st January to 1st February can herald the arrival of spring, in truth the early weeks of this short month often prove too cold and too damp and too grey  to warrant sowing any significant quantity of garden or allotment seeds; exception being those that can be started with a supplementary heat and light source: chilli peppers perhaps, aubergines and a few early tomato varieties if the intent is to extend the season by beginning the successional routine right here at the beginning. And should the month prove inclement throughout, by February’s end spring, even with a hidden wintry sting, is certainly discernible in the borders and hedgerows; with polyanthus and primulas, massing daffodils, muscari and crocuses and as in our space, the first bud burst with the blossom on the miniature Mount Fuji cherry finally showing through the jumbled puzzle of characteristic zig-zag bare winter branches.

By February’s end if spring is not fully sprung, it is at least, springing, and come St. David’s day no matter what the weather, you just know it is spring.

by @janpaulkelly

The last day of February; skies are grey with temperatures about normal for time of year.  It has been drier than normal since mid-January, and this has also been the experience in quite a number of other European regions, with lower-than-expected snowfall on many a piste and lake levels currently at 30-40% below average late winter levels.

Although drier than normal and with air temperatures a good two degrees above normal for most of the month, the last days of February had air temperatures fall back to normal with a sudden sharper fall for this 1st week of March; a return to chilly days and frosty nights and for this reason more than any other we have not lost the run of ourselves with seeding.

The tomato, aubergine and salvia seed we did sow has germinated and we’ll prick-out and pot on over the coming days. We’ve sown some chilli peppers, and though a little later than usual we’ve sown about 20 pots of sweet-peas. We have gladioli corms and dahlia tubers we’ll start in pots in the coming days, and this coming weekend we source our seed potatoes and begin the chitting process.  The onion sets and shallots shall also be laid out, along with the parsnip seed and the trays of summer bedding.

Without warning we once again find ourselves in many-weathered March. We can expect rain and sleet, gales and snow, bright sun and frosty windows and sometimes all in the same day. The light lengthens in March and we begin to get evenings.  By the equinox on 21st of the month the days begin to outlast the nights, and this is what really makes the difference, the extra light that comes with spring.

Although into spring, early March still has cold, cold soil; too cold to plant out anything remotely tender, but woody shrubs and perennials can be placed out now on the early empty garden canvas, and early March is most definitely the last chance saloon for pruning currant and berry bushes, and if not done as yet, rose bushes and late flowering climbers.

By month’s end there probably won’t be enough hours in any given day to complete all we plan to do. All the late autumnal and winter prep should begin to pay dividends.  The tool racks and hooks empty. The stacks of empty pots and trays migrate to every available light filled surface. Redundant hoes, spades and sprongs are re-vitalized and imbued with a new found usefulness, whilst visitation hours to the monster’s measure extend on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, and sure come daylight saving on 26th of the month we’ll be out plotting away till dusk before end of the month.

This Year’s Sowing Diary Open…

Lá Fhéile Brid and once more the off.

It is only in looking back through the sowing diary that the full impact of the pandemic on the monster’s activities is understood. Everything it seems stopped dead in mid-March 2020, and though we continued as best we could once we regained entry in August that year, there was little could be done. Of course we experienced rolling lock-downs the following 18 months or so, and since, like a lot of people and activities we were simply marking time.

But, that was then, and this is; well, time to get going again.

January 26th: Ailsa Craig, onion seed

February 1st: Purple Shaft, aubergine seed

February 4th: Victoria Blue, salvia; Atropatana, Iranian oil salvia

February 12th: Moneymaker, tomato seed; Bedfordshire Champion, onion seed,

February 20th: Californian Wonders, sweet pepper see..

previous years diaries accessible through the main menus