February arrives, and as has become our way of doing things here at monsterinthecorner, the advent of Lá Fhéile Bríde saw us sow our first seeds of the year. The days are just a little longer; and whatever sunshine there is now seems a little more luminous than January’s weak offering.
This year’s early February temperature is as expected for time of year, and the 5-7 day forecast suggests much the same in the short term, with westerly air flow and rain. We sowed some pots of basil and popped them onto the bright windowsill. We sowed trays of onion seed, summer cabbage, kale, spinach and both Cayenne and Californian Wonder peppers.
Mrs. Dirtdigger planted up some pots of Spraxis corms. She set some late garlic into terra firma, and we also set a new rose bush in-situ; and with that simple half-hour’s activity the monster’s annual cycle is set in motion for 2019.
We have a plan; and without a plan there is nothing to adapt. The monster’s plan is always simple and hopefully productive. We use a practical approach to all interference with the monster’s measure fully aware that perhaps not everything we have sown this week will germinate, just as there will be no guarantee that anything we plant in the coming weeks may actually flourish or grow.
And so we’ve begun this year’s sowing diary , now active on the menu above
We shall contend with and deal with all those challenges the coming seasons send our way. We’ll protect against hail and late frosts, just as we’ll cope with the slugs, beetles, sawflies and other winged pests as they present themselves, for although some consider gardening/allotmenteering the gentle pastime, it is not so tame an undertaking; where would the challenge be if it were so? And so we’re off; off again for another year, with mitts and caps and fleecy gear; winter- washing plums and pears; preparing to move up a gear as better days are drawing near; Preparing for expected success, but mostly preparing to persevere.
This is the first recipe that we post into the new Monster’s Mouth menu above, where we shall ( in the best of our own established traditions) make posting of those many and varied recipes in which we use the Monster’s annual bounty; jams, chutneys, sauces and salsas and a wholesome lot more besides to come.
One of the Monster’s favourite culinary condiments is the hot and spicy North African paste Harissa. We use our own red chilli peppers, garlic, tomatoes and coriander leaves to make this wonderfully pungent addition to our larder. We use it as a marinade for pork and chicken, and Mrs. Dirtdigger will often swirl a loving spoonful into beef casseroles and stews. Loosen a spoonful with some quality virgin olive oil and it more than serves as a bread dip, a hot salad dressing, or as a drizzle for vegetables to be roasted. It adds heat and punch to rice dishes and couscous and it works wonderfully and surprisingly well with hard-boiled eggs while transforming mackerel, salmon and tuna when used sparingly as a cooking rub or as a flavour dress for open sandwiches. We make a couple of small jars each year while our fresh ingredients allow and this hot aromatic accompaniment to our cooking reminds us of the heady summer days on our allotment and sees us through the darker days of the year.
Ingredients • 8-10 medium-hot red chilli peppers Cayenne/Serrano/Fireflame • 1 heaped tablespoon of purée tomato • 1 good-sized bulb (whole bulb) or 8 cloves of garlic, cloves peeled and crushed • 1heaped tablespoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted, ground, • 1 heaped tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted, ground • 80-100 ml (6-8 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil • Splash red wine vinegar • 1 cup freshly chopped coriander leaves • Sea salt, and freshly ground black and red pepper for taste • Pinch of caster sugar (optional), if needed
Method • Preheat oven to 200c/gas mark 7. • Place the chilli peppers on a small tray and roast for 18- 20 minutes. The skins will blacken and begin to come away from the flesh. • Removing from the oven place the roasted chillies in a bowl and seal completely with cling film. Allow to cool. When peppers have cooled peel off the skins and remove the seeds leaving just the roasted pepper flesh. • Put peppers into a mortar and using a pestle work to a paste (a food processor can be used). Now add the purée tomato , garlic and ground spices and grind/pound to a paste. Add the freshly chopped coriander leaves and season for taste. • Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and red wine vinegar splash. • Add a full fingers pinch of sugar if you feel the flavour needs a lift. • Put into sterilized jars, and store in a refrigerator. It should store for up to 4 months.
The snowdrops are showing; reticulated irises have brightened in glorious patches the last week or so, but the daffodils? The daffodils, being totally narcissistic, seem to be taking their own sweet time, though with that said, yesterday one or two of the Tete-a-Tetes finally put their radiant trumpets on public display. It has been a thoroughly Irish winter, and one that lived up to the Irish gardener’s seasonal expectation. With the exception of two slightly milder days this past weekend, it has been a long, wet and chilly period of hibernated-vernilization since the last week of last November. Things however seem to be turning. There is a little more light to the end of each day, but with the constant cloud cover the benefit as yet is not fully appreciated. The temperatures are still a little below normal for this time of year, which means that taken together with the low light levels we have the classic combination that very often conspires to undo the early undertakings of eager seed sowers. Many a gardener’s desire to get ahead of the posse by sowing seeds as early as they can often proves a redundant exercise with the experience of dampening-off. This is what occurs when seeds that are sown too early in the season either refuse to germinate, or else having germinated – often sporadically so- decide conditions are not yet tolerable enough to make the effort for. Seeds that are left standing in cold damp compost too long end up with root rot, eventually laying themselves down en masse, adding their inchoate transparent leggy stems and cotyledons to the dank dark medium which gave rise to their brief green existence. But, there are signs that things are a turning. The rhubarb stools are putting out new petioles; the pruned rose bushes are displaying delicate bright orangey-red flags; the garlic which seemed to have stood still since mid December is stretching ever so slightly at last; the parsley pots are greening up more than yellowing down and allium snouts are poking through the heavy damp clay. Perhaps it is just wistful thinking but there also seems to be a noticeable increase in birdsong from the hedgerows. Despite the ancient Celtic Imbolc quarter day observance it is not quite spring. The milk may be flowing in the belly of the ewe, but there is a sting or two to the winter’s tale and tail yet. Mindful of all we have just said, we did nonetheless make some tentative progress this last weekend. Being a little more tolerant of cooler sowing conditions and not being quite as finicky as their allium cousins we put some red shallots into one of the raised beds. We also strew two small trays of zinnias and marigolds, while at home we popped some Rosa Blanca aubergine seed into a pot for a south facing windowsill. We filled some starter pots with compost and popped red baron onion sets into the polytunnel, and finished off by covering a few Nero di Toscana kale seeds, as they’re also cool weather tolerant. The trees have been pruned and where and when required they were washed. The monster’s bolt hole has been tidied; all pots and trays are clean and good to go; seeds and sets have been sourced and sorted and whatever could be done during the darker wetter days was done. Things are drying up, slowly. The badgers are on the move; with little or no ground cover left for camouflage at winter’s end the hares are more skittish than usual, and today crows could be seen making the most of seasonal casualties, gathering and relocating winter fallen twigs to the still naked canopies of the oaks and beeches.
We’re not there yet, but we are getting there.
Softly, softly still though, not too far ahead of the posse should you go. And in deciding whether to sow or not to sow, remember that the surest course to no carrots and beetroots for harvest is to sow them now.
Sprawled squarely and perceptibly on the horizon, winter looms unequivocally large now. Although still registering daytime temperatures of 63 degrees (17 Celsius)- which by all accounts is extremely mild for the time of year– as we enter the last week of October the sense of foreboding that always accompanies Samhain is curiously palpable once again. Summer is definitely fled, and try as it may autumn can no longer camouflage that it too is rapidly losing its grip on seasonal affairs; the sun takes longer to get out of bed each morning, soil saturation levels are back to saturated, and leaf fall speed has increased significantly as we steadily yet unmistakably slide toward first frost. Last week’s weather heralded a once in a lifetime occurrence on this our little green isle, as a bona fide hurricane swept across our country. News and media outlets played it for all its worth with live on the spot updates and saturation reportage from correspondents right across the country. Ophelia was a category 3 hurricane, downgraded to category 2 before being designated extra-tropical and eventually an ex-tropical storm. Ophelia was also the easternmost major Atlantic hurricane on record, and though sadly lives were lost, thanks to our own met service who tracked this all the way over the previous 5 days, things could have been a whole lot worse. The storm resulted in wide-scale damage and destruction to property over large swathes of the country and, as mentioned, sadly some deaths too as a result of the high impact weather event. Having lost most of its destructive power coursing the cooler waters north of the Azores and subsequently along our own western Atlantic coastline Ophelia nonetheless retained enough potency to bring most of our public services to a standstill, before drifting toward Scotland making landfall in Sweden and eventually dissipating over Finland and eastern Russia. However, 5 days after Ophelia left through the backdoor, Brian blew in the front door. A hurricane and North Atlantic Storm all in the same week! We’re a hardy bunch us Irish; a well-weathered people; a wintered people: Hibernians, literally. Just as with the rest of the country monsterinthecorner took it all in her stride. A quick drive-by visit next morning to assess damage and casualty revealed a fairly shaken and stirred allotment site, but, not too much mayhem. The last of the sunflowers, cosmos and hollyhocks were well and truly obliterated as Ophelia deadheaded in a way that no gardener ever could; miles of green windbreak fencing was shredded and fluttered in furious surrender, wheelbarrows and compost bins had been relocated to neighbouring plots, a shed or two had transferred to neighbouring farmer’s field and even a polytunnel had stripped totally bare, its skeletal remains framing the shambolic misfortune of feeling the sting from Ophelia’s tail. The last storm of summer meets the first storm of winter. High impact selfie weather events and yet we are still turning down the auto home and office heating settings.
Where the summer’s months saw us acquaint ourselves with and try to adapt to a growing medium with the consistency of set concrete, the last two weeks have revealed that the monster’s autumn terra is yielding to soft to say the least, the recent weather events highlighting spot areas that will require attention over the autumn/winter season with pooling of excess water, thankfully not too much though. This being our first year at the monster’s new location we are still learning how it acts and interacts with nature as we uncover some of our new allotment’s unique peculiarities and anomalies.
We have begun clearing out the beds, and as they empty we’ll leave them rest. We are now harvesting swede turnips, parsnips and kale, and last weekend we set out some Solent Wight, Vallalado and Iberian garlic. And just as we did at our previous location we’ve also planted some daffodil and allium bulbs that will, hopefully, add a splash of colour and interest early next spring. Compliments of storms Ophelia and Brian we had to undertake some running repairs over the last couple of visits, but we’ll dig and chip away at those other long-fingered tasks over the off season; constructing our planned wooden perimeter fence, finishing the monster’s pathway, perhaps a weeping run-off drain for the wet corner whilst not forgetting to compost, cover and mulch…and in so saying to do realise that we are fast approaching the end of our first year on our new plot. Yes, the verdant greens at our new location are a distancing memory, and the remaining gold’s and ochre’s are being stripped at lightning speed from the beds and branches. 17 degrees and holding. But casting an eye to the horizon the monster sees winter’s merciless march already begun: time to pinpoint the battens and place them near the hatches…