Food For Thought!

Excursus IV

We here on monsterinthecorner have been ploughing our own unique furrow the last eight years or so. In that time we have transformed a couple of neglected patches of public parkland and disused former pasture into a pair of award winning allotment gardens.
We have thoroughly enjoyed the journey so far; we rose to the challenge we set ourselves and this year is one of, if not the best from a harvest and return point of view.

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We began our allotmenteering experience and the processes of food sowing and growing purely as a hobby of sorts, but quite quickly did we come to realize just how important the provenance of quality and organic food is become, and over the last decade or so this has gained quite a lot of media traction not only on the national but also on the global stage, and dare we say –without any desire to scare monger in any way whatsoever -that food security is destined to be one of the major concern for all societies in years to come.

And just as we acknowledge the monster’s own creative bent in wishing all like-minded gardeners to celebrate the process of gardening every year on International Green-fingers Day, and just as we look forward each year to the gardening world’s own big showy celebrations in Chelsea, and Bloom and Malvern etc. we think it timely and appropriate to acknowledge the day that is 16th October: World Food Day.

Laudable, commendable, and meritorious as the plan and objectives of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization may be in hoping to eliminate world hunger in 12 years,,,twelve years?,,,it is wholly indicative of just how far removed the understanding of geo-politic really and truly is from the man struggling in the street or the child in a ghettoised war zone. But that is a subject for expansion and discussion at another time and on another forum. We do however agree with what it says on the tin so-to-speak: Our Actions Are Our Future. There is little arguing with that.
However we do ask that if you read here,  be mindful of all those people truly hungry today, and there are tens of millions of such people: tens of millions of human beings with nothing whatsoever to eat or drink; tens of millions of people without access to the very basics of human respect and dignity; millions of children without access to even the most meagre subsistence. And there are millions, and sadly quite a lot of computer literate-social-media-savvy- people cannot adequately conceptualize MILLIONS….
Our little green nation now exports 84% of all the food it produces; millions and millions of tons, billions and billions of Euro. Our national food industry is our biggest industry by a country mile, and a timely reminder would be that we not forget that just over 150 years ago millions starved to death on this little green island and millions more emigrated because of the failure of one, singular, subsistence crop whence about the same percentages of other produce was being shipped abroad.  But that too is a discussion on another time, for another time.
We here on monsterinthecorner have been lucky with our produce this year, and the harder and longer we dig and rake and water and sow, well then, the luckier we get.    We share our gluts and spread our surpluses across family and friends. We know where our food comes from, and we’ve learned to appreciate the effort it takes to get it here.

There is and always has been great hunger on this spinning cosmic rock, and I doubt any one single organisation at any one point in time of our unfolding human experience will ever eliminate this scourge, but those fortunate enough to have enough, on them falls the duty to share…Unfortunately want and ignorance are as widespread today as they were along the banks of the Nile 5000 years ago, as they were on our own emerald isle 150 years, or in Russia, or Persia, or the plains of Ethiopia as they were 70, 50, and 30 years ago, or Sudan, or indeed as they are in Yemen today or Gaza tomorrow.

WFD2018_Poster_H_ENWaste not want not,,,a morsel for thought. the link below will bring you to the relevant site.

http://www.fao.org/world-food-day

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The Big Windy…

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? A last rose for summer? Rosa Rhapsody In Blue

And so it’s official: summer is kaput, done, dusted, gone.

This week –the week leading into the autumnal equinox, as has become practice in recent years– the Irish and UK meteorological services have released the list of names chosen under the Name Our Storms Scheme that will be used to identify this coming winter’s storm cycle. And timely too it would seem just as we are being warned with a forecast that ex-tropical storm Helene’s tail is to cause some disruption to our southern coasts during the early days of next week.
The names chosen each year are supposed to reflect the culture and diversity of these island nations, with an equal distribution of both male and female names. Twenty one names are assigned each year running in sequence from A to W, with Q, U, X, Y and Z omitted as per international standardisation.
This year the cycle begins with the male name Ali, followed by the female name Bronagh, then male, then female, male, female etc. Every other year the sequence begins with a female name beginning with the letter A, followed by male name beginning with the letter B and so on. Thus, as you’ll no doubt see with this year’s selection you can have a Jane but never a Tarzan, or a Deirdre but not with Fionn, and a Tristan without Isolde; or as it seems this year an Idris but no Elba…

Cruel or otherwise, Professor Henry Higgins once postulated that “In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly happen…” and without making a song and dance about it that may well have been the Lerner/Loewe meteorological reality in the mid 1950’s, but whether the weather will be worse in Walden, Wichling or Wicken matters not a jot when a bona fide hurricane is forecast to make landfall, for by their nature hurricanes are a massive storm event, capable of making their presence felt for hundreds of miles from the storm centre.
Ireland, as said before is a damp country; we’ve grown accustomed to the rain; we breathe it out and breathe it in: and so much so that it’s in our genes, in a manner of speaking. So, when a lot of rain is forecast we have a tendency to be quite nonchalant, nationally dismissive even about what constitutes “a lot” of rain. But Wind (?) Wind is a different matter. We’re a small island, and when the wind gets-up it can seem that bunting stripped for a lamppost in Kilorglin ends up tangled in the DART lines off Killiney, or rubbish fly-tipped in Dungarvan ends up strewn across the Dublin Hills. We’re used to the rain you see, but we don’t do wind very well. No we don’t: Do you remember the night of the big wind in ’47? What about the Breath of God in early 30’s? Big winds live long in the memory. Perhaps it’s because they have the ability to blow the cobwebs off just about everything, and shake and wake everything up whereas the rain, the rain just seeps and soaks. A lesser known fact is that depending on a hurricane’s origin and trajectory it can either be wet or dry: it can be predominantly rain bearing or predominantly driving i.e wind bearing, so although we now have names to assign to the the storms we are likely to experience this coming winter season, it is still anyone’s guess whether we’ll be soaked or windblown.
And just as a by-the-by: is it me or just a faulty recollection, but, with the exception of Charley which traversed these fair isles in autumn 1986, it seems all of the other major Hurricanes which crossed the vast Atlantic without diminishing too much of their ferocity and potency and eventually caused such havoc and damage have all had female designations; Katerina, Emma, Ophelia, even the approaching Helene and perhaps later next week sometime Florence, should she decide to u-turn? Just saying it like: getting it out of the way before Deirdre and Freya decide to send end of year seasonal greetings.

Oh yes, the monster is always considering and calculating such things, and conscious, always conscious that Mrs. Dirtdigger is proof-reader extraordinaire… yes,yes,yes, brewing up a storm? There is nothing to compare with fierce female fury forced to flee ‘cross foreign sea flattening everything she sees…

Winter Storm Names 2018-2019
• Ali
• Bronagh
• Callum
• Deirdre
• Erik
• Freya
• Gareth
• Hannah
• Idris
• Jane
• Kevin
• Lily
• Max
• Niamh
• Oliver
• Peggy
• Ross
• Saoirse
• Tristan
• Violet
• Wyn

Gardener and Expectation…

Gardener Expectations

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Sunny Side up: pumpkins ripening under cover

As with the seasons, the garden is not required to be in harmony with the gardener’s expectations of it. Gardening and allotmenteering is a process of learning to work with what you have, and this year -more than any other in recent years – both the garden and the seasons have challenged even the most experienced gardener and Plantsman; but what a year it has been to date.
An old adage says that if you always expect the worst, then everything else will be a bonus, and whether or not you agree with the couched principle of this concise, succinct aphorism, the experiential irony is not lost.
Interesting observations and skeptical commentary aside however, the year to date has presented us with both the best and worst of gardening times, and there is still one quarter portion to run.

As usual, the arrival of the New Year heralded a new chapter in the gardener’s almanac and diary, but it was not too long before the great gardening expectation was consigned to a much longer than expected stay in winter’s stasis chamber, whence it seemed winter showed no shadow of parting at all. Yet depart it did, and in what seems little more than the blink of an eye the sheaves and sisters are being brought in…

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Jams and Chutneys and Sauces and Relish August 2018

And we too have been busy with the bringing-in…

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Moneymaker Tomatoes & the last of this year’s Rhubarb

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Parsnips and Peppers and dew drenched Florence Fennel

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Parsnips, Beans,Blackberries and Squashes

Big It Was…

It was a big summer; with big sunshine and big temperatures and a big drought that will live big in the memory. And there you have it, past tense. A big summer it was; but now summer into autumn has slipped and this year’s transition is sudden and tangible.

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The Monster’s September song…

September, that great misplaced misnomer of the calendar year, tripping softly off the tongue, ripening memories of the big summer that was , safe that come the darker days September will fete us something to remember. And so we’ll gather and collect, and store-up, and we’ll treasure the harvest just as we’ll harvest the treasures from the big summer that was, and mindful that just as every gardener and grower begins the process of reaping and gathering, nature herself actually begins the cycle again, for come September nature begins sowing again, scattering her seeds abroad, and therein next summer is already sown…

 

The Garden Is Now

Nothing betrays the fickle, fleeting nature of cumulative days, weeks and months which constitute the year as clearly and evidently as the garden.
365 days, batched into weeks, bound into months and bundled into seasons with fleeting days and endless nights, one-day summers and eternal winters, constant wind and rainfall and occasionally those once in a lifetime hurricane, blizzard and heat-wave events the likes of which we’ve experienced these last 8 months, and we call it the year.
Here at monsterinthecorner we contend that there is no beginning to, and hence no end of the gardening year. There are those who say that the gardening year begins on Brigid’s Day (February 1st) or St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th). There are those who contest that the gardening year only begins once the last frost is passed, and another train of thought has the gardening year only truly begin once the spring equinox arrives. But as stated earlier we here would say there is neither definitive beginning nor end to the gardening year, and if it be necessary to constrain the gardening reality within manageable metric parameters then perhaps we could at least contend that the gardening year begins with first light on January 1st and ends with the onset of darkness on December 31st.

Putting on a sunny face

Putting on a sunny face

There is no surety in the garden, but that is not to say that there is no reasonable expectancy within the garden. Gardeners and allotmenteers can fastidiously prepare their beds and borders, sowing and potting schedules can be adhered to meticulously, and husbandry practices can be accomplished and precise; but, there is still no certainty with time and the gardener’s use of time in the garden. In the garden there will be numerous wet and miserable days to contend with, just as there will be days of bright pleasant sunshine. There will be days of drifted snow with soil frozen to a depth of inches, just as there will be days or weeks on end of drought with clay baked to the consistency of concrete. There will be hail, rain, sleet and snow; there will be sunshine and showers in equal measure just as there can be gentle breezes and gale force winds and – as the monster’s previous experience has shown -all of this occasionally in one and the same day.
We bundle days together; and days become weeks and months and morph into seasons, but the margins are always fluid. The year’s coldest days often fall beyond the start of spring (whenever that may be) just as the prolonged driest periods of any given year can occur during the darker days December and January, with the heaviest prolonged periods of rainfall sometimes occurring during the lazy, hazy, crazy days when unbroken sunshine is the expectation. There is no surety in the garden, but, there is potential, and this is what the gardener works with. Spring can be cool, cold even, with winter’s tale dragged all the way to late April. Summers can be interrupted with incessant springtime rains right through to autumnal Indian bonus days giving way to mild winters with first frost not arriving till early February, which in some circles as said earlier can be early spring.
There is no surety in the garden and the garden needs no surety. Gardeners however are a different matter; they progress in hopeful certainty: the hope that spring will be kind and arrive on time; the hope that summer will be long and the autumn harvest plentiful and the hope that winter will be short-lived and not cause too much damaged to the naked bushes and bare beds.
The gardening year progresses one day at a time: that is, twenty four hours at a rate of sixty minutes an hour. Gardeners always have a plan for the garden, whereas the garden (?), the garden just is. Where the gardener plans for tomorrow or next month or for the summer, the garden itself just is; the garden is always now. There is no yesterday or next week in the garden, and if truth be told there is no summer or winter either; there is always just now. There is constant growth just as there is constant decay. There is always life with death in the garden; there is as much death to be observed in a late spring garden as there is on a November allotment; for all of their timely narcissistic golden beauty every swath and clump of daffodils lays down and dies en masse in springtime, just as that from the vernal wasteland that is every winter’s perennial border green snouts push through the leaf-mould carpet unnoticed. In death each lifetime is expended, and no matter how long the bloom lasts or how brief the butterfly’s flight it all happens in a lifetime. Days pass, seasons are spent, years come and go. And the garden is.

A Monster Collage...

A Monster Collage…

We’ve had a good year on our allotment, a year like no other to date, but good for all that. We’ve jarred our jams and made our chutneys, and Mrs Dirtdigger has made some wonderful sauces and relishes from the glut of tomatoes we’ve had so far this year. We had six months of winter followed by 3 weeks of spring, then the longest driest sunniest summer in over seventy years which ended quite suddenly and unexpectedly with the instant transition to autumn in one twenty four hour period 10 days ago. The courgettes are finished early and we’ve had to take the pumpkins in as the vines were spent. The parsnips have recovered somewhat following a Webworm infestation and the winter turnips are beginning to bulge at last. The Florence fennel sown during early July has bulbed-up nicely and at the moment the king of greens on the plot is the moss curled parsley. Summer concludes with a faultless flawless flow into autumn and winter approaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour.

Moneymaker Tomatoes

Just some of the wonderful Moneymakers we’ve had this year…50lbs so far.

The garden always betrays how it deals with things and when time is up, well then, time is up. It takes a lifetime to live and thus die, and it is only in the dying that the extent of any lifetime can be truly measured; and as a garden never really dies the gardener never gets the true measure of it. It takes a lifetime to die, but it can happen in an instant. The garden lives and dies at the same time and it does this at a rate of sixty minutes an hour, day in, day out, month after month, every season of the year, and even the most accomplished gardeners forget this from time to time. So although there will always be a gardening to-do-list for any given week of the year, and though there will always be some sowing and pruning and spraying and watering to do, perhaps the most pressing task for the gardener at any given time of the gardening year is to learn to garden at the garden’s pace…!

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 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)

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 hyperactive 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 eastwards 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!