Making Something Of Nothing!

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Winter scenes from the monster’s measure compliments @janpaulkelly

Sometimes, when there’s nothing to do, it’s best to do nothing.
Despite mantras of celebrity B list lifestyle gurus, wannabe life coaches and media influencers who advocate filling every wakeful minute with developmental (?) activity, there are times when you just have to chill, if for no other reason than for the sake of chilling.
This is especially true if you are an allotmenteer or gardener despite the misconception amongst gardeners themselves that there must always be something to be pottering on with around the garden. Sometimes you just need to let the garden be. Come March and April there won’t be enough hours in any given day to finish the sowing and propagation “to do list”; the summer months will be filled with constant watering and weeding duties and the autumn months will be heavy with harvest concerns as you try to beat the fast deteriorating weather in the rush to gather in the year’s bounty. Winter, however, is different.
Winter is when the allotment and garden rests, and most of what needs to be done on the winter allotment is best left to winter itself. Little if anything grows, and there is little to do besides the basic tool repair and equipment maintenance. The days are short, the nights are cold and the beds and pastures are sodden as winter wipes the slate clean, washes everything down and puts everything into deep freeze and hibernation. Millions of years of systemic cosmic activity have determined this role in the planet’s annual cycle, and as learned as any gardener believes themselves to be sometimes it is best not to interfere with cosmic processes. It is not always necessary to be gadding about and doing something in the garden, especially in the winter garden, where you run the risk of doing more harm than good by your very presence. Tramping across wet and sodden growing beds will only compact them; working in cold, wet and slippery conditions increases the risk of injury to the gardener and most activities carried out in the depths of winter will probably have to be revisited once the weather improves. January has more than its fair measure of short cold days where conditions are not conducive to gardening, so, when things are bleak, too bleak to consider doing anything, it’s ok to do nothing. You must respect the winter season as it works its own peculiar magic, and sometimes gardeners have to content themselves with just letting winter get on with what it does best. On those cold, dark, miserable January days when it seems there’s nothing to do, perhaps it’s best to do nothing.
Those who visit here are no doubt acquainted with the variety of fruit and vegetables we here at Monster in the Corner endeavour to sow and grow each year. The monster is partial to red Hinnonmaki gooseberries, and also to Victoria rhubarb and Ben Lomond blackcurrants. There is a fondness too for Italian Black and Scotch Curly kale just as there is an appreciation for green Butterhead and Lollo Lollo Rossa lettuces. We set red and white onions annually, and most years we’ll also pop some banana shallots into a drill, and whilst we like garlic, we’d not consider it one of the Monster’s staples and perhaps this is why we only sow cloves every second or third year. Mrs Dirtdigger is quite fond of a new spud or two, and so before this year’s chitting and sowing gets underway we’ve already determined which variety we will be sowing and when we need to sow them. We treasure our home-grown tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes, just as we delight in peas fresh from the pod, and beans, be they broad or french at either end of the growing season. There is- in our experience- little to compare with the taste of the first fresh beets and radishes pulled from the warm earth in late spring, and nothing can hold a candle to the earthy sweetness of late winter parsnips lifted from frozen terra firma and roasted with butter and parmesan or added to soups and broths with a spoonful of crushed cumin or curry paste. We jam our fruits and we jar our beets. We make our own store of pasta sauces from the late season tomato gluts, just as we’ll pickle the extra cucumbers; we make Harissa rub and onion jam, and at harvest time we freeze the late season french beans saying that they should see us through the winter, but, they never quite last that long.
We are headed into late January and though last autumn was one of the wettest on record, this winter has (for the most part) been relatively benign, with last week’s Atlantic storm Brendan being only the second named storm of the season thus far. We are still using some of the onions, shallots and garlic harvested last July and August and we still have jars of jam and jarred pickles. There are a few parsnips in the ground still but these in all probability will not be fit for much having been sitting in totally saturated and waterlogged soil as a result of the prolonged very wet weather. We are heading into late January and the weather has turned wintry cold, at last. The constant rain has also relented. In the last 7-10 days we’ve had no rain, and given the short term forecast says no appreciable rainfall this week, it means we are looking at the driest extended period since early last September and that has to be a bonus. And given that we’ve just had a week of fairly severe night frosts, well then, things are certainly looking up for at least we will have had a certain period of vernalization before the slowly extending daylight creeps back into the early evenings, and conscious of just how long a winter can last if Mother Nature puts her mind to it, we must be mindful of what we wish for, eh!
We still enjoy the monster’s bounty this mid January, and it is intriguing that just as we roll up our sleeves to complete the process of clearing-out, cleaning-off and disinfecting in preparation for the coming season we are still benefiting from last year’s efforts, and as good as we believe our chutney and pickles to be, the fact that this late in the winter we are still enjoying last year’s harvest is what we truly relish.
We produce more than enough for our own needs, and the gluts and excesses are always shared. The Monster’s measure is not so big as to make it unmanageable; it is its own self-determining self-governing non-aligned republic of muck and dirty effort; it sows with the weather and grows whatever suits the weather, and while not yet 100% self-supporting, in the realms of hopes and dreams for a greener, tastier and sustainable future monsterinthecorner is wholly self-sufficient.
We’ve been badly hampered since Halloween with pop-up ponds and saturated soil. Each dirt-digging and muck-raking plotter on the allotment site has bemoaned not being able to tread their own plotted con-acreage for fear of causing more problems in the long run, but, things are looking up, and thankfully drying up.
The tools are cleaned and oiled and the poly-tunnel and potting tables have been disinfected. The apple trees and roses bushes have been winter pruned, and some necessary attention has been paid to the rhubarb stools which we’ll further mulch this weekend.
It is still too soft under foot to contemplate turning any of the beds, but they’re not too bad at all with little greening since last September’s sod up. We’ll purchase all this year’s seed requirement at the end of the month and we’ll be good to go for Lá Fheile Bríd.
The month of January is often filled with post Christmas blues and New Year’s frenetic activity, new found resolve and unrealistic resolutions. The year kicks-off with quick-fix crash diets and a surge in annual gym memberships, but just as there is no quick fix to personal fitness, neither are there any shortcuts to the gardening and allotment year. Oh there are tips and tricks aplenty and more helpful hints than there are seeds in a poppy seed head, but there are no shortcuts.
January is as quiet as the gardening year gets; plans are hatched and plots designed; seeds and bulbs are bought; new varieties are considered and trusted performers ordered once more. There are no shortcuts to the gardening year, it happens one day at a time and the more time the gardener spends in the garden the more it happens. The best you can to do is to work with nature and to do so in nature’s own time. The best you can hope for is a reasonably colourful show or some home-grown goodness by way of compensation for time and effort expended.
The recent frosts prettified the dark damp leaf litter adding some seasonal sparkle to the withered Strawflower stems and decayed fennel seed heads and in doing so briefly rejuvenated an otherwise desolate winter scene, but on being hit with each new days sun rays the crystal magic dissipates and the familiar winter dank returns. Winter alas, is winter, and the end of January is as Winter as it gets. January is as quiet as the gardening year gets, and on those days when it is too wintry to do anything in the garden, well then, put the feet up, and plan what you will do once you’re back in the garden. Sometimes when there’s nothing to do, it’s ok to do nothing…

Winter Survivor: Strawflower bloom in December

 

Win some, lose some; taking in the outcome.

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Moneymakers ripening on the vines

then suddenly it was now;

the evenings noticeably shorter and the days slightly cooler, weeks and months have slipped by in the blink of an eye, and summer is most definitely in autumnal transition. July lived up to its promise and in doing so conferred on us four weeks of reasonably warm sun-filled days, a small seasonal mercy given the experiences of the late spring and early summer. June was typically hit-and-miss, and of course April and May, well, least said there the better…
But summer definitely arrived with July; however, it seems to have checked-out immediately on Augusts’ arrival. We’ve been returned to the all too familiar dull and wet routine this last week and the short range weather forecast indicates much the same for the coming week, but at least the temperature is holding up.
Summer came but now is most definitely going, and yet it seems as though some of the monsters summer show has only just begun. The sunflowers have only shown their faces in the last two to three weeks, and only now (as we enter the second week of August) have the gladioli made a full entrance. The disastrously dull and damp spring not only hampered the annual seed sowing schedule through April and May, it also had a detrimental time delay on many of the other garden stalwarts. We’ve had very little in the way of a crop from the gooseberry, redcurrant and blackcurrant bushes, and the apple and plum trees have not fared much better, a combination -we thinks- of last summer’s and autumn’s severe drought followed by this spring’s constant grey and stormy washout. We did have some nice rhubarb while it lasted though; we also had kale, rocket and chard a plenty, some fine beetroot and potatoes which we are still harvesting and consuming as we need and by way of compensation perhaps we have had a good harvest of onions, shallots and garlic.

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Centurion onions left out to cure…

  So, win some, lose some…plenty of alliums, and no strawberries.
The effects of the delayed spring are visible still though, even in the polytunnel. By this time last year we had been harvesting our tomatoes for over a month, whereas this year most of the set trusses are yet to ripen; there is plenty of fruit and Mrs Dirtdigger has made some fabulous tomato, basil and onion soup already with the first flush, it’s just that most of the tomato crop is still green at present. We have had some fabulous courgettes, we’ve had Rosa Bianca aubergines, and we are having a veritable cucumber glut fest, so we’ve opted to make some summer pickle with the excess. The pumpkin vines have set fruit and hopefully these will bulk up over the next eight weeks or so. The parsnips have struggled a little, but in the last fortnight they have begun to crown out and leaf-up a little more vigorously perhaps indicating that there is some subterranean development as well.

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some of the daily harvest from the monster’s bounty…

We made and jarred some jam, but nowhere near the volume we made in previous years, and we’ll have to wait a while longer as the ingredients for some of the monster’s other staples are still only ripening, but, there’s time yet.
Each gardening year is as different as different can be from those that have gone before. There are so many variables to consider when undertaking any gardening project it is surprising at times that anything at all is ever successful, and yet we continue to do it, day in, day out, and week after month, year after year. As any recorded sowing diary should show, you can sow the same varieties of seed on the very same day each year, and you can expend the same effort in care and attention to planting on and planting out and maintaining a thorough watering and feeding regime, and end up with results so different from previous years’ as to have you think you must have lost a whole month somewhere between April and July. And thus has been this year’s curve.
It’s been dull and damp and warm and wet, maybe not when we wanted it to be, and at times certainly not when we needed it to be, but that is what we had to work with so we got to work while attempting to ignore the pop-up pond that appeared on the monster’s measure throughout the spring, and which has made an unexpected if not wholly unsurprising return this past weekend.

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Cucumber, time for summer pickles…

So win some, lose some, and we certainly lost some this year, but Mrs Dirtdigger’s pollinators patch has been buzzing, and we’ve had hares and pheasants and frogs and buzzards and bees, and what we failed to get on the one hand nature gifted us with the other. We have not had the success hoped for with some things this year, but the harvest is in full swing so we’ll see how things fare. We’ll not change too much mind you for some variables are beyond our control: we’ll continue to tread softly; we watch our track, pay attention to the footprint, and we here at monsterinthecorner will continue to play our part in negating damage to the wider planetary variables, conscious of the degree of long-term damage our species has had on the fundamental variables on which we all ultimately depend for our continued existence.

The Whys of Why…

Once more we’ve arrived on the summer equinox; midsummer’s day, the longest day of the year, and where on this day last year we were experiencing just the beginning of what would turn out to be one of the best summer seasons on record, this year’s late spring/early summer weather has been a considerable challenge for every gardener especially across these isles of Ireland and the UK.

It has been wet; very wet on occasion, and it has also been extremely dull, and with the low light level and constant rain we’ve had to make late sowings of many of the monster’s staples as the original sowings and plantings were either washed completely away or withered through chill and lack of full bright light, and even though today began with such promise with clear skies and sunshine from before 5.00am, it has since become cloudy and brooding with a mid-afternoon temperature of only 14 degrees Celsius, and a forecast for heavy thundery downpours.

But! It is what it is, and it most definitely is mid-summers in Ireland.
We’ve not much to tell that would be any different from a retelling of earlier posts and the whys of why we’ve had to redo a lot of things we’ve had to redo on the plot, because, as just intimated it has been all weather related, and it has been little more than a copy and paste scenario with late April into early May, and now into early June…So, we’ll just update with a few images for now.

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The Monster’s new bed…

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Rosa Port Sunlight, a David Austin beauty cared for by Mrs. Dirtdigger

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A bed full of beets…

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Alliums & blackcurrant: photo by janpaulkelly@instagram

 

Gardening by Numbers: awaiting the full-bright…

28th day of May; current temperature 11 degrees Celsius and in a fresh northwesterly it feels more like 8 degrees. 147 days of the year gone and 218 till we’re back with a January.

It has been an average spring, meterologically speaking: sunshine and showers, thunder and lightening, late frosts, and rough winds a plenty to shake those darling buds.

RHS Chelsea has come and gone, Chatsworth kicks-off next week whilst here on our own little green isle the biggest event in the Irish gardening calendar gets under way once more in just 3 days time when the Bloom festival in the Phoenix Park opens for its 13th year. The spring Bank Holiday was observed yesterday across the pond, while next Monday sees us here in Ireland celebrate the Whitsun holiday and with that the official onset of early summer.

the Month Of May On Th e Monster's Measure
Month Of May On The Monster’s Measure compliments @janpaulkelly#instagram

We’ve not posted anything at all since the Greenfingers reminder in early April.  We’ve had a little time on our hands of late, an imposed time-out necessitated by our own incongruant numbers of sorts, but, we were paying attention; idly perhaps, but definitely nonetheless. Did you know that there was a total of 27 medals awarded at this year’s RHS Chelsea show? Did you know for instance, that the greatest number of consecutive gold medals ever won at this same show was 60, by Hilliers Nursery, Romsey, from 1939-2004? and something you may not know is that left with the time on our hands we discovered that we have 79 different varieties of flower and vegetables on the monster’s measure this year, and in remembering that we still have some late varieties of swede and cabbages to go out, and late tenders for the polytunnel still to sow, well, that should tip the our sowing diary over the 80 mark before too long.

The curtailment in physical activity the last 6 weeks at least directed dirtdigging interest elsewhere. We now know the 10 Top Pots for Summer Patios and the 20 Best Gardens Along The Wild Atlantic Way. We also now know 5 Fiery Blooms for instant colour and 7 sure-fire steps to a greener lifestyle. We are also reliably informed that we can have 12 months membership of the RHS for only 9 months subscription, oh! And that the number 1 plant at the RHS this year is a sedum (one of our favourites btw) sedum takesimense ‘Atlantis’. It’s all about the numbers. You need a score of 27 points for a gold medal award at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and just to make things a little more challenging from next year those wishing to win one of the coveted medallions and seals will now have to score 30 points.

Sedum takesimense ‘Atlantis’

 

Monster in the corner set out its stall 9 years ago, and a little over 2 years ago had to endure a forced move and relocation, but it all came good, so much so that awards for best in category and class were presented to the monster in 2015, 2016 and 2017. We’ve a little catching-up to do but not too much, the Monster’s measure is well laid, and Mrs. Dirtdigger’s fingers are truly greened. We will stake-out the planting paddles this weekend and once we bed the French beans and pumpkins in the coming fortnight we will be all set for summer 2019.

Last year’s monster bounty saw us make (among other things)120 jars of jam, 9 jars of chutney and over 40 jars of tomato sauce and salsa, and the first preserves of this year’s season should be jarred in the coming days.  So just as the Sowing Diary entries wane, the Monster’s Mouth pages now increase.

spring colour on the monster’s measure compliments @janpaulkelly#instagram

50 pots of purple cascade sown; 6 greenshaft courgettes, 7 black beauty, cucumbers and almost everything else put to bed. 25 days left till the full-bright, midsummers day and still plenty of time to get the kicks. But look after yourselves as you’d look after your garden, take a little time to garden the self, for as grumpy ol’ Sam Beckett once surmised there are More Pricks Than Kicks about the place; indeed, and as the good book itself records in Acts chapter 9 verse 25, it is hard to kick against this worlds pricks.

Hopefully we will have some long hot days to look forward to in the coming weeks, a few weeks the likes of those experienced last summer certainly wont go amiss but whatever the coming summer season brings, chill out, and we’ll post more anon..

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