When The Weather Clears

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

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

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

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

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Plotting With Hibernia

A full seven weeks behind schedule, and perhaps having grown tired of maintaining an icy grip on central Europe since Christmas, or perhaps settling to spread its brilliant white duvet a little further west, winter’s procession eventually arrived on our shores in late January.
To date we’d experienced one of the mildest and driest early winter periods on record, with daily temperatures 1.5 degrees above Long Term Average and cumulative rainfall a whopping 75-80% down on Long Term Average for the time of year.
Noteworthy also is that there was a full seven week hiatus between Conor’s Christmas Eve snarl and the Doris’ arrival last Saturday.

And such is winter in Ireland where we are well acquainted with such seasonal vagaries. It is not by chance that the ancient roman designation for this tiny little island tethering on Europe’s north-western edge was Hibernia, Place of winter.

In Ireland we do winter relatively well: we’ve learned to make the most of a season which starts at Samhain (Halloween), sometimes does not end till May, and at times will backslide just as we get set for the June summer bank holiday.

In Ireland winter is not so much a season as it is a state of mind, and as Hibernians perhaps we were preconditioned in our ancient conception: prenatally prepared to persist and persevere with those prolonged periods of darkness and dampness we experience annually. And as is the case with all indigenously constrained people we are genetically hardwired with the full knowledge of our ancient state even though an appreciation and understanding of that self same state is often sadly lacking.
We’ve learned to celebrate the darkness and the dampness. We’ve learned to do those interminable wet winter nights and the relentless Atlantic storm fronts; we’ve learned to do the endless days of dark slate greys and naked branches for months on end. We’ve learned the hunger and starvation of history, just as we learned the insatiable thirst for freedom and self determination.

We celebrate the dead, and we’ve learned to consider one good sunburning day in July a reasonable summer.

We do Christmas to. We do it better than most and, if truth be told, we do it longer than anyone else. This may be out of our centuries long adherence to religious rite whence we are willing to journey with startled shepherds one night only to gladly follow in the footsteps of seers and magi 12 nights later; or it may be as a result of our national addiction to the twentieth century’s developing an annual tinsel dressed splurge with all the accompanying jingly and tingly bright-lighted feel-good Ho! Ho! ho’s!; or perhaps it has more to do with our negating the cyclic oppressive and depressive darkness of winter by deciding to celebrate if for no other reason than the celebration itself; or maybe it is a national brew of all of these things.

Yes, in Ireland we know how to do winter. It’s in our genes. We are a chronic race; occasionally oppressive, periodically disordered, cytized, fibrized, haemized and chromazed and always bloody colourful. We are ancient Hibernians, and many a modern nation wouldst stake a claim to our heritage and bloodline, but it’s just not in their genes.
Winter arrived late this year. The unseasonably early grass growth is halted in its tracks. The burgeoning daffodils are slowed, and the remaining remnants of last autumn’s leaf litter is well and truly scattered at last. Temperatures are back to and below normal, whilst rainfall levels are back to and above normal.
Yesterday was our final visit to our old plot, and in winter we learn to plot. We’ve taken everything we needed and intended to take from it during the last 6 weeks and relocated it to our new plot. Our old allotment plot is finally laid bare just as we discover that our new plot is susceptible to water-logging, and we’ve come to realize that winter would be a dreary existence were it not for warm summer memories.

Winter arrived late this year and we’ve no time to hibernate. We learn. We move on.