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.
Airily and imperceptibly it has happened upon us again. Tipping day unfolds ‘ neath heavy humid skies. A steady drizzle grounds the 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 that 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 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 in the black plastic compost bin 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 (- 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 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!
So, I’m a celeriac they thought…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…
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” Joni Mitchell
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.