Comings and Goings and turning Green…

Kale seedling compliments @janpaulkelly/instagram

Congenial it was; and complaisant, almost to a fault, winter 2018-’19 cut itself plenty of slack and although we’ll not venture so far as to say it was derelict in its duty, in its coming and going this past winter bequeathed us one of the mildest, driest winter seasons in many decades.

Temperatures were 2 degrees above average from mid January and all the way through February, with seasonal rainfall amounts along the east coast 50% down on long term comparisons. Temperature and rainfall only returning to normal expectancy with the arrival of many weathered March. Snowdrops and daffodils, hyacinths and squills have all put out fabulous displays; cherry blossoms are in full flower, and plum and apple blossom are on show well before equinox. The Kerria Japonica Plentiflora has certainly lived up to its name with masses of bright yellow bachelor buttons since mid February and the hydrangeas were in full open leaf a fortnight before St. Patrick’s Day. There has however, been a lot of rain the last two-three weeks, but with soil moisture levels quite tolerable for early March whatever spot flooding occurs dissipates rapidly and the open beds are trafficable a few short days later.

Our first full visit of the year to the monster’s measure saw us plant out the red and white onion sets and sow some trays of cosmos, zinnia and pheasant eye seed. We planted out some kale and Dutchman cabbage seedlings and we potted on the cayenne pepper and the Moneymaker tomatoes. We tidied border edging, scattered potash and phosphate granules around the fruit trees and bushes, and broadcast a good many handfuls of chicken manure pellets where we will be planting and sowing in the coming weeks. We have plum blossom and apple blossom, and the gooseberry bushes are leafing up. The blackcurrant buds are tight yet, but the redcurrant has burst bud, and there is bright new red growth on all the rose bushes.
Close inspection of our raised beds has betrayed some remedial work we need to undertake in the short term; we will re-seal the shed exterior as soon as we get a dry and mild run of weather and there is still have a run of fencing that needs to be righted. As with every other allotmenteer and gardener we are about to move up and into top gear, and it is rewarding to be able to say that here, right at the beginning of the growing season we have already benefitted from the monster’s measure having enjoyed a couple of weekend pickings of Timperley Early rhubarb before March is out.

This afternoon’s temperature hit 16 degrees with moderate westerly wind which is more than pleasant for this time of year. There shall be cooler and colder days a while yet, and we’ll certainly have frost after dark for a good month still, but winter has set its sights northward.  The new lambs are coming and the Brent geese are going, and the monsterjust as with the Celtic spirit we celebrate this weekis greening up in style…

Plum TreeBlossom.JPG
Plum TreeBlossom by @janpaulkelly/instagram

On Ducks and an ark and an ancient rime…

Mrs. Dirtdigger, all wrapped up against the elements

It began earlier than usual and set-in sooner than expected. And as though to mirror its incongruous beginnings winter 2017-18 now seems set to linger longer than any other winter in living memory, obstinately determined in maintaining its mortiferous grip on everything and in so doing completely obliterate the early spring of 2018.
It has been a long and dreary six month winter, and though today we have bright sunshine for the first time in weeks, grass temperatures at dawn this morning were still as low as minus 6 Celsius. Everything is saturated, sodden, barren and frozen; and once again the farming community on this cold, damp outpost on Europe’s western fringe has had to ask neighbouring countries for large supplies of animal fodder, as our own national pastures remain bare and untrafficable to all livestock.
It is generally accepted across continental Europe that we here in Ireland have some of the best grazing pastures in the northern hemisphere. This is literally the foundation to one of our biggest national industries, our agri-food sector. There is nothing, and we mean nothing remotely comparable to a fine spring or summer’s day stroll through any area of the Golden Vale, or a walk through the lush green summer swathes the whole length of the river Shannon’s wide banks. There is nothing anywhere in the world to compare with the heady, hazy and intoxicatingly long lazy summers days spent in the Irish countryside. But, when Mother Nature rebels everybody knows about it; and this winter she has certainly rebelled. Winter had set in by mid November. Then with a cooler than average December quickly followed by a colder and duller than average January, and the envoi of a very cold February we had hoped that March would at last herald the long winter’s end.
We were wrong. March turned out to be the coldest March on record, with record snowfalls, and ice days recorded for the first time in the month of March since records began. We’ve had national warnings and weather advisories and red and orange and yellow flags and enforced stay at home days and Facebook fun and frenzy and Brennan’s Bread and snowmen on St Patrick’s Day and enough memories from this one single month to provide material for a whole series of Reeling in the Years. 2018, The year of big white Emma on Patrick’s Day will live long in the national psyche, and in years to come many’s a pint will be stood and shared over cool, cool reminiscences: the year we had to trudge through 6 feet of snow (acceptable exaggerations allowed) to get home from work; the year we climbed over the frozen gates to feed the starving ducks and swans; the year the floods were so bad that the ducks actually began wading in the ponds on our allotment; the year the shops ran out of bread; the year the grass didn’t grow till at least???? And here we are, still awaiting reasonable prospect of some early spring-like weather this 5th day of April. We may, as some say, garden in hope, but most gardeners also garden in faith, their faith being in the fact that if they persevere they will eventually reap some sort of reward for their effort. National media outlets may be reporting the unfolding catastrophe now facing our farmers and food growers as a result of the extended bad weather, but, we here on monsterinthecorner have no need as yet to paint the adverse winter weather whammy in the dire and calamitous terms suddenly being ascribed to the situation. April, in our experience, always comes up trumps; sometimes it snows, sometimes it shines; and though it can be said that winter can often drag its heels all the way to and through many weathered March, the most that must reasonably be said of a cool April is that we’re having a cool spring. The winter was long, and cold, and wet, and that was then and this, being April, is spring! The temperatures will normalize; and the watery chaos will abate. We’ve kept look out for an ark, and a raven, or a dove but these must have settled elsewhere. The waters above will separate and dry up and we’ll not have so much water below. Dry land will show itself once more; and every gardener, plantsman/woman shall renew their personal covenant with their garden and the earth therein. And we’ll plough our furrows and dig our drills; and we’ll sow our seeds once again, and to ensure success we’ll actually then water them in. It’s all about perspective, and with the advent of one single warm day, we’ll cast off the weight of winter memory.
The monster’s measure is saturated and has been totally flooded for weeks on end. The clay is heavier than Uranium, and though the beds’ boards are sodden through and through they have not, as yet, begun to shrink: No dead Albatrosses with the monster.

Reflection of a reflection…recycled coffee cups filled with germinating summer potential

With the exception of the garlic (in situ since last Halloween), and the onion sets we grounded during a brief respite in early March, the monster’s visage looks bare and forlorn, the only saving grace being that the Dutch Masters are beaming bright yellow. We’ve put nothing else to ground as yet, and even the tomato, pepper, zinnia and marigold seeds sown and subsequently potted-on now run the risk of stilting and becoming leggy due to the persistent low light levels. But what plans we have, and because we’ve had little else to do we’ve been planning. Recycling, and planning, and oh! What plans we have…

Dutch Masters
Moneymaker Tomato seedlings On The Go!


Trust March to be March

Sowing the seed...
The beginnings of trust… Sowing onion seed.

Trust me; the only way to develop the skills of a gardener is to get out in the garden, and garden.
Read all the horticultural books and manuals you can lay your hands on; renew monthly subscriptions to your favourite magazines and periodicals if you so wish; plough that daily furrow across the World Wide Web as you Google endlessly in the hope of unearthing some old (or new) wisdom that will enable you become a better gardener, but it is worth considering that nothing will be more formative in your quest than to feel the soil in your hands and the air in your face as you cultivate the dream in your head.
Trust in Nature and your part in its scheme. Trust March to be March, and trust April’s showers. Trust summer’s sun and trust winter’s snow. Trust all that you know, and that you don’t know. Trust the instructions on the packet and what it says on the tin. Trust in past experiences and future dreams. Trust old wives tales and harsh realities. Trust that the seeds you sow will grow. Trust all the mistakes you’re likely to make, and learn to return the trust which fashions us out of the universe’s dust, and trust me, the only way to become a better gardener is to get out into your garden and learn to trust yourself.

the world is made of faith and trust and pixie dust…J.M. Barrie Peter Pan

Time to get a move-on!


The Shallot cloche hotel picture courtesy of Janette

As any truly experienced gardener may tell you, the gardening year officially begins on 1st January and officially ends on 31st December. There is always something to do in the garden or on the allotment, regardless of the day, week, month or season.
The days and weeks of early spring are the heart and hub of all frenetic gardening and allotment activity. It is the time of year when the vast bulk of the allotment’s groundwork and preparation is established. All the crop planting and rotation schemes are sketched out; the early seeds are sown; the flower beds and vegetable drills are prepared; the new stock is bought, as are the stakes, supports, nettings and just about anything else which didn’t makes it through the winter months or has become so tatty and time worn as to need replacement anyway. The summer days and months are filled with the aftercare and attention necessary to the spring’s efforts with day after day of weeding and watering and hoeing, thinning out and filling gaps, dead-heading and truss-nipping and pest controlling and, if you’re lucky, hopefully enjoying the sun on your back and breeze on your face while you reap the early benefits of your effort: the strawberries, the early beetroots, the summer turnips, the goose-gob jam making to stave-off potential gluts, the lettuce leaves and the early cabbages with some Sweet Willies, early Zinnias and Lupins to add a splash of early colour to the plot and vase; and not forgetting the daily routines of watering and ventilating, and ventilating and watering in the polytunnel or glasshouse.
The autumn days are busy days, each one filled with its own fruitful promise, and each day seeming to add something new to the larder; all the onions and garlic need to be dug and cured; the tomatoes to be ripened quickly, the pumpkins needing to be turned and the late courgettes to be thinned, with the excess beets to be preserved and the winter kale and cabbages to be netted; the Swedes and Parsnips can be tested and the chutney is to be mixed as the days draw-in and the year’s span foreshortens and if you are fortunate enough to have them perhaps some apples and pears! Autumn is the time of year when every thing in the garden and on the allotment seems to come together and all the effort expended finally pays a dividend; food aplenty and a glorious show of rudbeckias, cosmos, sedums, dahlias and  that every allotment must have, towering sunflowers.
Winter arrives and (contrary to misconception) there is still just as much as ever to do on the allotment and in the garden; crops planned to be left subterranean will need plenty of care if they are to survive the deteriorating days; the autumn remnants will need tidying as a matter of urgency to prevent diseases from taking hold in the spring; growing areas and raised beds need to be cleared and more and most importantly have plenty of organic matter added to them or laid on as a mulch, and all beds where practical should be covered with a heavy duty tarpaulin or plastic to prevent too much leach and damage to the soil over the winter months.
Of course every year there is that period, right in the depths of mid winter when the weather, the festivities or the gardener’s bio dynamic says “not today”, and it is easier to remain indoors than to have to venture out into the harsh elements. The trick here is to view this as a passive gardening activity, the gardener actively deciding to allow the garden to rest and the allotment to sleep while nature performs its secret winter ministry. Such days must also be considered gardening days, winter days when you learn to reflect on the garden while happy to indulge the senses in the tastes and scents of the hoarded harvest; days when you are content to simply think about gardening and being thankful for the soil’s bounty; days when the seed of re-imagining is sown in your thinking; days of thought filled germinations which help recharge the spirit before you once more set out to fulfil all the promises of the garden in the New Year.
There are as many differing and diverging ideas on what a garden is and how to garden as there are gardeners who garden, but the one thing they’ll agree on is that the summer’s show and the autumn’s harvest are only ever made possible by the grubbing of hands. With the clocks going forward this weekend the final nail in hammered into the box of winter of 2015-2016.
It’s time to get a move-on: it’s time to take summer out of the packet and sow it in the pots, and it’s time to plant the harvest in the gardens and the plots…

1st ever International Greenfingers Day Saturday 2nd April…

for more information click link below…