Gardener and Expectation…

Gardener Expectations

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Sunny Side up: pumpkins ripening under cover

As with the seasons, the garden is not required to be in harmony with the gardener’s expectations of it. Gardening and allotmenteering is a process of learning to work with what you have, and this year -more than any other in recent years – both the garden and the seasons have challenged even the most experienced gardener and Plantsman; but what a year it has been to date.
An old adage says that if you always expect the worst, then everything else will be a bonus, and whether or not you agree with the couched principle of this succinct aphorism, the experiential irony is not lost.
Skeptical commentary aside however, the year to date has presented us with both the best and worst of gardening times, and there is still one full quarter portion to run.

As usual, the arrival of the New Year heralded a new chapter in the gardener’s almanac and diary, but it was not too long before the great gardening expectation was consigned to a much longer than expected stay in winter’s stasis chamber, whence it seemed winter showed no shadow of parting at all. Yet depart it did, and in what seems little more than the blink of an eye the sheaves and sisters are being brought in…

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Jams and Chutneys and Sauces and Relish August 2018

And we too have been busy with the bringing-in…

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Moneymaker Tomatoes & the last of this year’s Rhubarb
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Parsnips and Peppers and dew drenched Florence Fennel
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Parsnips, Beans,Blackberries and Squashes
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To Sow, and Not To Sow…

Reticulated Irises
Reticulated Irises 2018

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.

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New rhubarb petioles, Red Baron onion sets and new rose bush growth

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.

Tete-A-Tete Daffodils
Tete-A-Tete Daffodils 2018

Tah Dah!!!! This Year’s Sowing Diary

Although the Monster has its own sowing diary page accessible through page link up above, now that we’ve completed most (if not all) of this year’s plan we thought we’d copy and paste and place  a copy of this year’s diary as a posting in its own right,

We literally began from scratch at our new plot in January, and since then we’ve been doing this

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Basil; this year’s basil filled Barrow Bug

February 1st 2017     Bedfordshire Champion onion seed

March 1st 2017   Bunyard’s Exhibition broad Beans

March 5th 2017  sowed Cosmos ‘Cosmonaut’

March 5th planted 4 of Lidl’s best bare root Redcurrant 

March 4th 2017 Planted Plum tree ‘Opal’, and Peach tree ‘Red Haven’ both from Lidl

March 10th 2017 Ailsa Craig onion seed

March 12th planted replacement rose bush: David Austin Rose, Young Lycidas

March 18th 2017 sowed Basil, Misto Mix and Classic Italian

March 19th 2017 broadcast green-manure mix; phacelia, red clover,

March 28th 2017 sowed dwarf sunflowers ‘Topoline’

April 8th broadcast poppy seeds and cornflower seeds  Greenfingers Day

April 21st 2017 sowed Giant Yellow sunflower seeds

April 22nd sowed Moss Curled parsley, and dill seed

April 23rd sowed Bright lights Chard, Fire-bird Spinach, Tuscan black Kale, Italian Giant leaf parsley and Tom Thumb mix nasturtiums

April 26th sowed Wild Rocket seed

April 29th sowed Celeriac ‘Monarch’ and ‘Akito’ ridge cucumbers. Mrs dirt-Digger planted out all of the cosmos, dwarf sunflowers and autumn beauties, plus some marigolds gifted from one of our new allotment neighbours…

April 30th sowed Parsnips ‘Tender and True’, Radish ‘mixed jewels’, Italian giant-leaf basil and mixed lettuce varieties. Also planted up and potted on some fennel seedlings and pepper seedlings gifted from an allotment neighbour.

May 1st sowed Pumpkins ‘Big Max’ & ‘Jack o’Lanterns’ purchased in Toronto in August last year; Beetroot ‘Solo’; planted up Shirley & Moneymaker tomato plants, pepper seedlings and sowed ‘Gold Rush’ courgettes. 

May 2nd sowed Grandpa Otts (ipomea; morning glories)

May 13th sowed Northern Blood Reds and White Lisbon spring onions (scallions)

June 1st  Longhorn Wax dwarf french beans plus successional sowings of lettuces and radishes

June 3rd Kale, Scotch Green dwarf

July 2nd Spring Cabbage, Durham early

July 5th  Swede,Tweed

et voilá.   All sowings for this year complete

I’m A Celeriac get Me Out Of Here !

Poppies Cosmos & Sunflowers
Poppies Cosmos & Sunflowers

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!!!

The Monster's summer blush
The Monster’s Hut

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…

Feverfew & Rose Blooms
Fever-few & Rose Blooms