Mrs. Dirt Digger extraordinaire (with the hired help) in receipt of the presentation for best plot 2017
Just a quick update, to say that the monsterinthecorner (AKA plot P31) was awarded best overall plot at our new allotment garden site during today’s Harvest Festival….chuffed to say the very least especially for the dirt-digging missus ….that be her good self, 3rd from left….along with some of the other category winners. Daniel & Bieta, and George on the far right….congratulations all round…
From abandoned and overgrown eyesore to Best in Show in only 239 days. read how we did it in the monster’s earlier postings…
Although the Monster has its own sowing diary page accessible through page link up above, now that we’ve completed most (if not all) of this year’s plan we thought we’d copy and paste and place a copy of this year’s diary as a posting in its own right,
We literally began from scratch at our new plot in January, and since then we’ve been doing this
February 1st 2017 Bedfordshire Champion onion seed
March 1st 2017 Bunyard’s Exhibition broad Beans
March 5th 2017 sowed Cosmos ‘Cosmonaut’
March 5th planted 4 of Lidl’s best bare root Redcurrant
March 4th 2017 Planted Plum tree ‘Opal’, and Peach tree ‘Red Haven’ both from Lidl
March 10th 2017 Ailsa Craig onion seed
March 12th planted replacement rose bush: David Austin Rose, Young Lycidas
March 18th 2017 sowed Basil, Misto Mix and Classic Italian
March 19th 2017 broadcast green-manure mix; phacelia, red clover,
March 28th 2017 sowed dwarf sunflowers ‘Topoline’
April 8th broadcast poppy seeds and cornflower seeds Greenfingers Day
April 21st 2017 sowed Giant Yellow sunflower seeds
April 22nd sowed Moss Curled parsley, and dill seed
April 23rd sowed Bright lights Chard, Fire-bird Spinach, Tuscan black Kale, Italian Giant leaf parsley and Tom Thumb mix nasturtiums
April 26th sowed Wild Rocket seed
April 29th sowed Celeriac ‘Monarch’ and ‘Akito’ ridge cucumbers. Mrs dirt-Digger planted out all of the cosmos, dwarf sunflowers and autumn beauties, plus some marigolds gifted from one of our new allotment neighbours…
April 30th sowed Parsnips ‘Tender and True’, Radish ‘mixed jewels’, Italian giant-leaf basil and mixed lettuce varieties. Also planted up and potted on some fennel seedlings and pepper seedlings gifted from an allotment neighbour.
May 1st sowed Pumpkins ‘Big Max’ & ‘Jack o’Lanterns’ purchased in Toronto in August last year; Beetroot ‘Solo’; planted up Shirley & Moneymaker tomato plants, pepper seedlings and sowed ‘Gold Rush’ courgettes.
May 2nd sowed Grandpa Otts (ipomea; morning glories)
May 13th sowed Northern Blood Reds and White Lisbon spring onions (scallions)
June 1st Longhorn Wax dwarf french beans plus successional sowings of lettuces and radishes
June 3rd Kale, Scotch Green dwarf
July 2nd Spring Cabbage, Durham early
July 5th Swede,Tweed
et voilá. All sowings for this year complete
Airily and imperceptibly it has happened upon us again. Tipping day unfolds ‘ neath oppressive humid skies. A steady drizzle grounds the new flying ants, and a deep slate grey of midsummer’s duvet hints at Thor’s mighty hammer smash in the coming hours.
The gulls and starlings that yesterday spent hours on the wing gorging on summer’s aerial feast, are this morning taking it a little easier along with the rooks, crows and blackbirds who now find the jaded and wet ant-feast crawling at their feet.
For the first time is over 5 weeks, lighting-up time last night was back at 10.00pm, and the majority of Dublin’s street lamps, including the one directly outside our garden wall flickered cool pink at 21.59 precisely.
July 19th; Tipping Day; the 200th day of the year; the first point beyond high summer in Ireland, and though, if we’re lucky we shall still have some days and weeks of pleasant weather ahead, by this day each year there is the unmistakable sense that changes are afoot, and none more so than in the garden.
We arrived at the monster’s gate yesterday evening to find the Bunyards Exhibitors had given up the ghost completely. Although showing signs of stress the last week or so, yesterday they finally surrendered and we arrived to find them almost prostrate. We stripped the last of the pods and we will cut them to ground over the coming days, leaving the nitrogen rich roots in place a while longer. The Sutton Dwarfs are also showing signs of struggle, but we’ll keep these well watered in hope that they will hold for a fortnight yet. The Jumbo peas are cropping and holding up well; we have lifted our onions and set them to cure, and we have also sown our spring cabbages together with successional lettuces, radishes and chard leaves.
The reasonably good summer –which for the most part it has been, to date -has left casualties in its wake right across every garden and allotment site; a lot of the allium and leaf crops have bolted, and we too have had our fair share of losses with the shallots and chard, rocket and lettuce going over very early; but we have made further sowings.
Indicative of the fairly good summer temperatures so far this year, we arrived Monday afternoon to find the Monster and her neighbouring plot under a buzzing cloud of black Irish Honey Bees. Having originally swarmed the day before, they had set to hive in a compost bin on the corner of our neighbours plot, but, being made of black plastic their new home immediately overheated once the temperature rose to the high twenties. This no doubt proved intolerable and once the new combs began to collapse they swarmed again, setting up temporary stop on a sweet pea frame directly beside our plot. Three years in succession at our former allotment site we had been lucky enough to witness this great summer spectacle, and perhaps the only true regret we had in leaving that old site was that we would miss the beehives that were in situ there; and as beehives are not facilitated at this particular site we more than pleased with Monday’s swarm. Getting over their initial fear (as most of the plot holders at this site had not experienced such a sight before) the event proved a great photo opportunity for all the Monster’s plotted neighbours, and thanks to Keith from the Dublin Beekeepers Association who came boxed and smocked with smoker once the rescue call was logged, a lot of the plot holders now know a good deal more about honey bees and the swarming process, and hopefully will have gained a little more appreciation for these wonders of the natural world.
We have made our Blackcurrant and Gooseberry Jams, and once this evening’s final offering of Hinnonmaki Gooseberries are jarred we will have jammed 48-50 jars in total, and given that we uprooted and re-set the stands in the move to our new location we are reasonably happy with this result. We jarred some rhubarb and ginger also, but our Victoria certainly rebelled at the severity of being split and dumped and after an initial helping in late May we’ve since left it to recover the rest of the year…
The rocket was/is peppery and fabulous; the lettuces crisp and fresh. The Solo beetroot has, once again, proven itself a worthy performer, while the Kale Negro and Bright Lights have been used continually as cut-&-come standards for the last 7-8 weeks. The Jack O Lanterns vines have all set fruit and we’ve pinched the tips; the Big Max however is struggling big time.
We have tomatoes aplenty on all our plants and they’ve begun to blush ever so slightly, so here’s hoping for an early harvest of Shirleys, and Marmandes. We are using the Gold Rush courgettes and will most likely have to start passing these on as they look set to glut. The Greenshaft are a few weeks behind but have set at last, as have the first of the Akito cucumbers. The Tender & True parsnips have caught up with the late sowing, and all of Mrs. Dirtdigger’s roses, and gladioli have put out some wonderful seasonal colour and scent, and one of the running commentaries for the last 2 months amongst our new neighbours is the wonderful wildflower area scattered by the self same dirt-digging Missus on that area we intend to erect our polytunnel on early next year.
How quickly things turn; the hand spins a circuit of the face, days come, weeks go, and months and seasons slip past unnoticed.
As much as it galled and upset us at having to vacate our well tended and much toiled former allotment, that sorry saga is, thankfully, a distant memory, and the level of enjoyment and success we’ve experienced in such a short time span on this our new adventure has led us to speculate as to why we had not moved sooner…but, c’est la vie!
We have hares and pheasants and buzzards. Yes, wonderful crying and screeching buzzards. There are tits and finches and thrushes. We have butterflies and bees and we can see the sea in the distance. We have made new acquaintances, and run into some old faces. We were faced with a challenge last December are we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the rising to it. We have been busy; so busy getting re-established we have neglected to write as often as we should, determining at times to Garden instead of writing about Gardening, but perhaps we’ll have a little more time now.
It has been a major success all round. We reached tipping day in better array than in any of the previous 6 years. I would like to be able to say that we’ve had a 100% success rate in every aspect of our new allotment endeavour (which by the way we have) but I can’t. The most we dare say is that we almost had 100% success, because there’s always that one thing that throws the damned lie into sharp relief, or unwittingly undermines the veracity of the unverified statistic.
So, we’ve had a 99% success rate, because there’s always one, isn’t there? Always a fly for the ointment, or a pea for the pillow. Always something which fails to do exactly what it says on the tin. A prima-donna, a wannabe, something with ideas way,way above its station.
There’s always some commoner gardener vegetable that decides it’s having none of this and just opts out…none of this hard outdoorsy living; none of this bush tucker existence; no association with celebrity B list vegetables and C list fruits; stuck with your feet in the muck for months on end and a social profile lower than a didgeridoo’s sharpened bell end…chicken manure for tea and strained nettle and seaweed soup for brekki…no way Jose…Who mentioned ants?….hit the deck quick and get me out of here!
Time to dry-up: like a dead dingo’s doo dah!!!
Yes, we’ve only had 99% success on our new plot… Only 99%. One little thing let us down, and after 4 failed successive sowing we decided to leave it for this year, but we’ll not go into that here…
History abounds with famous and infamous couples alike: Anthony and Cleopatra, Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall; Bonnie and Clyde even.
The worlds of literature and legend are equally jam-packed with storied accounts of fate bound duos: Adam and Eve, Tristan und Isolde, Robin & Maid Marion and Romeo & Juliet to mention but a few.
Of course one man’s Romeo and Juliet will often be another’s Tarzan & Jane, just as Romulus and Remus beget someone else’s Jacob and Esau, begets another’s Ronnie and Reggie Kray.
Truth is, there is no accounting for taste. There will be a Gilbert and Sullivan aficionado for every Renee & Renato buff, just as every Holmes & Watson sleuth begets a Batman and Robin junkie, and every Abbot & Costello or Laurel & Hardy fanatic has to contend with the Tom & Jerry, the Bert & Ernie, the Shaggy & Scooby and that’s not forgetting to mention the Mary-Kate & Ashley brigades.
No: there is no accounting for taste, and here we are all about taste, literally.
With that said we will consider some of the other great duos and doublets, especially those taken-for-granted everyday combinations that make one of the basic activities of our inane daily routines a little more worth-the-while.
What would life be without the exquisite gastronomic reference points of Strawberries and Cream say?, or, Bacon and eggs for that matter? Or, how about Maple syrup and Pecan nuts, and Pork Chops in Cider? The mind boggles, and the mouth waters.
Classic combinations acquire classic status because they work. The same can be said of these classic food combos: Cheese & Tomato, Fish & Chips, Bread & Jam, Spaghetti & Meatballs, Chocolate & Orange, and sometimes, when the bread is crusty fresh and the Irish butter is properly chilled, the perfect partnership can be something as simple as plain ol’ Bread & Butter.
Some things just work better, together. In a slight imaginative stretch (and for purposes solely contained herein) let us take for instance that couple, being Irish & Potatoes. I (like every Irish man, woman and child since the mid sixteenth century) have developed a specific genome marker predisposing me to a love of the humble spud. The potato has been a staple of the Irish diet since Sir Walter returned from southern climes and cast his cloak neath those royal pinkies. It has nurtured and sustained countless generations of Hibernians, and sadly, on occasion, was responsible for the demise of millions of them.
The humble spud: boiled, broiled, chipped, fried and roasted. Buttery mash in scooped lumps, golden yellowy paps determining the boundary twix the two veg. and meat of generation gone before us. Then there’s the gratin, and the gnocchi, and the scalloped and hassle-backed. But, throw a few fried pork sausages into the equation and you get one of the all time great taste combos from every Irish child’s childhood, Bangers & Mash. Oh yes, talk about perfect pairings…love and marriage, horse and carriage, and though not necessarily nor fundamentally bound to each other, some things, though good enough in their own right just work better in partnership with something that will accentuate its unique character.
On a summer allotment things are just as tasteful. The advent of summer, especially early summer, sees the first of the gardening year’s gluts and with that comes the need to preserve the excess crop. Jams, chutneys and conserves are made in abundance as every gardener and allotmenteer’s kitchen slips seamlessly into cottage industry mode with the excess early strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries to be jammed.
Commercial jam making is and always will be big business constrained by nothing other than market forces. Product is made to meet the need of supermarket shelves with the overarching and underlying principles being one and the same thing; the bottom line. Orders for the raw fruit material are placed (often years in advance) with commercial growers who have been encouraged to produce one selectively modified cultivar of fruit that can be pulped and macerated on a massive scale, mixed with the cheapest sourced syrup and sugar on the market, only then have all the goodness totally boiled out of it before being jarred, shelved and sold on to the highest bidder in hope of attaining a bigger margin once presented to the eventual retail customer.
That’s the bread and butter of the jam business. That’s the business jam. That every business’s jam.
With the allotmenteer and home-grower however things can be different.
Free from commercial constraints, and limited only by imagination and volume of the treasured harvest from a seasons long effort on their own allotment or small-holding, the final produce of the home Jam and chutney maker is among the finest artisan produce available. Small select batches of organically grown fruits, carefully handpicked, winnowed and cleaned, are then methodically prepared in recipes often handed down from one generation to the next.
And if there is a bottom line to this home and cottage industry it is this: to preserve nature’s hard won prizes for personal use; to help fill the larder for the leaner days of winter and in so doing aid in the remembrance of bright summer days during the coldest and darkest days of the year. Or perhaps it is little more than a personal process to show of nature’s wonderful bounty stored and displayed like jarred trophies along the pantry shelf. Who knows ? Experience has shown us that on many an occasion the bottom line for most genuine home jammers is the simple joy of sharing with a few privileged friends and relatives who truly appreciate all the months of sowing and growing and pruning and feeding that will have gone into the superior jarred product they often find themselves gifted with.
Of course home jammers and cottage conservers are more than just industrious.
At the heart of every jam-making and preserving process (even in the big commercial enterprises) there is a recipe, most likely developed by trial, error and imagination over decades. The ingredients for jam making are simple and the jam-making process is very straight forward; fresh fruit, good sugar and water in varying amounts over a moderately intense heat, et viola! Of course with developments in modern food production science we now have pectin laden sugar which helps the whole process along nicely, but the basics remain the same: for strawberry jam use strawberries, sugar, small amount of water; for raspberry jam use raspberries, sugar and a little less water; and for blackcurrant jam use blackcurrants, plain sugar and slightly more water.
However, home jam makers can take this process to a whole new level, and very often do so with mouth-watering combinations of seasonal fruits: Peach & Blackberry jam, Raspberry & Lime jam, Pear & Lavender jam, Plum and Lemon Verbena jam, Strawberry & roasted Pomegranate jam; and not forgetting a nod to two combinations with which we here on monsterinthecorner are well acquainted, Gooseberry & Elderflower, and Rhubarb& Ginger jam. Yes, rhubarb and ginger. Though in essence jam is a product of boiled fruit with occasional additives, one of our personal favourites (and a renowned fruity and zingy taste of summer both here and across the pond in Great Britain) can be derived from boiled vegetable stalks (Rhubarb) and grated tubers (Ginger).
From mid-summer through to autumn every garden festival and village fete will undoubtedly have a stand at which you will be able to purchase locally grown and prepared homemade jams, and at every farmer’s market and country fair you’ll likely happen on a stall selling locally sourced honey, artisan jams and conserves. These are true seasonal gems. Take some time to see what’s on offer. Pass slowly; ask the questions, and indulge…treat yourself to some of nature’s finest fare, carefully cultivated and personally prepared.
We started jamming many years ago, and long, long before we began growing our own fruit we’d make day0-trips to the city outskirts, children in tow, and spend sunny days picking large punnets of strawberries and raspberries on which all could gorge themselves before heading home to make jam with the remainder:
Our tag has never changed…
Nurtured by Hand
Nourished by Nature
The taste of summer all year long…
Some things just go hand in hand: buckets & spades, and hats & gloves, and sunny summer days in Ireland & 99’s.
Some things perhaps just belong together like John &Yoko; or become synonymous with each other like Ireland & The Eurovision Song Contest; or through birth become inextricably twinned with each other for life and forever like Jimmy & Tommy Swarbrigg; or simply through fond memory will be forever associated with the wide-eyed days of youthful wonder that was the great summer of 1977 & Bob Marley & The Wailers & Jammin’…
Yes we’re Jammin’, Jammin’, Jammin’, Jammin’
Jammin’ till the jam is through….
and suddenly people, Jam is taken to a whole different level.
Perspectives shift while pulling weeds.
Pulsing “flashes”, cosmic “sizzles”
Snared in threads of Hubble’s bubbles
Dissipate in late March drizzles…JK
Come May, all of February and March’s effort on the allotment begins to pay dividend, and with the gradual greening-up of drab grey winter beds the mind often loses the run of itself and in so doing often gets ahead of itself, and spontaneously imagines harvest’s bounty.
However, the allotment’s best crop can be in the enjoyment of effort expended in cultivating a simple gardening plan and many a gardener has found that the best harvest is often in reaping the memory of those months-on-end they may have spent lost in the dirt.
The allotment garden is a series of carefully cultivated disasters set midst a few successful lettuces, the odd courgette and, if the weather holds and hares are kept in check, perhaps some tomatoes. But what a joy; to hide yourself in clear and plain sight, whiling away the hours, and fortunate indeed to realize you quite contentedly lost yourself between the herb border and May’s bright flowers, and the whole universe could have cared less!
So perhaps a garden’s greatest gift lies not in its spring or summer show, but in the dirt beneath the gardeners fingernails and in how gardening helps the gardener grow.
“We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden”
As of today, most gardeners and allotmenteers across the Emerald Isle shall be crossing fingers, knocking on wood and waiting that much anticipated break in cloud cover in the hope that there may finally be a sunny-side of things to look upon as the month of April 2017 draws to a close…
Winter 2016-2017 arrived quite late and the hope was that March would eventually herald the new growing season in earnest, which, for the most part it did. But then April arrived, and everything it seems has stood still for over three weeks. It has been a very dull, very dry month to date, and where the early days of the month were noticeably cooler than average, the last number of days have actually been unseasonably cold, due in no small part to a polar air mass sweeping down across the country with all the accompanying hail, sleet, and even snow showers on high ground, sub zero night time temperatures and sharp to severe frosts each of the last 5 nights. But the forecasters promise we are to be reacquainted with our more familiar prevailing Atlantic weather fronts from today onwards so, fingers crossed.
Of necessity all activity on the Monster’s new plot duly adjusted to the inclement conditions, and perhaps this weekend shall see us finally plant out all of the cosmos, sunflowers and antirrhinums which we have under cover in our potting shed awaiting improvements on the weather front.
Most of our activity the last 10 days has involved sowing under cover; chard, spinach, kale and beetroot, and yesterday saw us sow some rocket and lettuce seed in trays and pots. Ideally speaking both perform better if sown direct, but we’ll give them a fighting chance and plant on when necessary in a few weeks time.
Everything seems grey, and stunted, and sluggish, and everyone it seems is waiting on that little tip over into more reasonable spring-like conditions before committing too much to the elements, but, it is the weather; just the weather and as such it is what it is. You learn to work with it or you allow it work against you. Simple as. I mean it’s not rocket science!!!!!
Chomh gnótach le luidín an phíobaire!
We’ve been busy; busy as the early spring bee, busy as the nest building starlings and mating hares and busy as a vixen in and out of her earth trying to meet the appetite of her growing pups.
Last week saw us pass the 100th day mark on our new plot, and though the weather has been challenging to say the least, we are finally settled into our new location.
We’ve managed to get some onion and shallot sets into the ground, and we’ve also planted out the Bedfordshire Champions and Ailsa Craig seedlings we had sown in trays in mid February. We sowed some ‘Jumbo’ peas and ‘Sutton’ dwarf broad beans together with some Bunyards Exhibitors we had started off in modules. The gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes we moved during late winter have leafed-up again and the bees (thankfully) have been visiting blooms on both, so, fingers crossed for a berry crop later on, however small.
This week we set two ridges of strawberry plants, one of Elsanta and the other a variety called Symphony, and we also planted some Choco-late mint and some Country Cream oregano.
The Tayberries are flowering reasonably well and the two dwarf apple trees we had to bring with us have also leafed and set bloom; not much bloom mind you but it’s a start and an indicator that they’ve taken well despite the move and relocation.
Our rose bushes are putting out this year’s shoots and some of the thyme and rosemary that have struggled with both the move and poor weather are showing signs of clean green at last.
Our new potting shed arrived, and the table top is currently jam-packed with cosmos and sunflower seedlings awaiting a milder spell for transplantation. Our 3 raised beds are constructed and we shall fill them with soil and compost over the next two weekends.
We have chard and beetroot, courgette and red kale seed to sow this weekend and we will have to re-do our basil, the first sowing having failed miserably, no doubt due to the prolonged cool dull conditions.
All in all we are quite happy with the first100 days on our new location; we’re putting our own unique stamp on the monster’s new plot, and our new plotted neighbours are beginning to discern some semblance of our working schema.
Yes we’ve been busy, busy as the many weathers of March and the blossoms of April, and no doubt we’ll continue to be busy, Chomh gnótach le luidín an phíobaire (as busy as a piper’s little finger)?: no, Ní mheasaim é.
April, come she will, and the overgrown plot of land we signed for at the end of December 2016 is beginning to resemble an allotment at last.
There is still much to do on the monster’s New corner, but, at least we have some onion and shallot sets growing away in terra firma. We have also moved the onion seedlings out of our daughter’s polytunnel and set these in the ground and our cosmos are germinated and putting on an inch or so. The dwarf sunflowers have germinated, and all the fruit bushes we moved from our former plot in January have burst bud and the bees are pollinating the early flowers on the Hinnomaki gooseberry bushes; the summer John and April Queen heritage apple trees are about to bloom, and all six of Mrs. Dirt Diggers rose bushes are topping away with this year’s growth, and to cap it all off we have actually harvested some rhubarb form our new plot. We know it’s a little early as, ideally we should have left it a bit longer before picking some stalks as these stools were only transplanted in early January, but, we just had to, and what a sweet treat…the first produce from the monster’s NEW corner.
We’ve set the structures of our raised beds, marked out our pathways and mulched the whole fruiting area with woodland chippings; and last week saw us take delivery of a new shed: a new bolt-hole for the monster.
With peas, broad-beans and some new strawberry plants being set this weekend we’ll be busy as this year’s sowing season gets under way in earnest, and we are glad to say that we are just about on cue.
Although a little cool and grey for much of the last 5 days at least the weather forecast is for somewhat brighter and milder weather than of late, and remembering that tomorrow is Greenfingers Day, sure what more could any gardener or allotmenteer hope for eh!
Buy some seed…… and sow up a pot or a drill on your plot…
time to really get the hands dirty…Greenfingers Day 2017….