Comings and Goings and turning Green…

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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…

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Plum TreeBlossom by @janpaulkelly/instagram

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Cold Water Morning…

It’s been cold and grey, and it’s been frosty and sleety and occasionally wet-snowy. It is late January and winter has finally shown its face. All the surprising early unseasonal growth is stopped dead in its tracks, and the precarious plans we had been toying with for attempting some groundwork on the monster’s measure have been consigned to winter’s reality box. After a very mild early winter, normal service is resumed and with that the most that can be hoped for is that we do not get a late winter cycle of weather events the likes of those experienced last year.

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Winter’s dust

So, we’ve been busying ourselves otherwise; updating and tweaking the Monster’s log, giving it a new look to carry us into the New Year and seasons ahead. As part of this design we’ve now incorporated a new drop-down recipes menu into which we will post those recipes we have developed for the dishes we prepare using all of the fabulous bounty the monster affords us each year. We began by populating the menu with some of those culinary compliments more accessible this time of year i.e. the sauces and chutneys and salsas currently stocked in the Monster’s larder, and as the seasons progress we shall update with seasonal recipes using the monster’s own fresh seasonal fare as it becomes available and in doing so expand the scope and remit of the Monster’s Log to a more fully rounded Sow–Grow-Cook-Eat experience, a little something to further whet the appetite if you will, of all those who land here!
We emptied the seed drawers and storage boxes, and we have had to be ruthless in our dissemination of the stock therein: any and all seed stock more than one season past sow-by has been composted. We always use 100% fresh seed for certain sowings of parsnips and carrots and celery; and where some seeds may still possess a certain degree of viability the following year or years even,- especially floral stock– with fruit and vegetable seed we generally opt for the greater germination success rate by using fresh seed to begin with. We were still surprised by the number of opened and half-used packets of seed that we had put into storage during the previous year or so, and we determine not to be so cavalier in discarding future seed stocks opting perhaps to put them the way of some local seed swap before the seasons pass and drift into each other.

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Date checking the seed stocks…

We plan a venture into one of our favourite retailers next weekend to purchase what we need, and Mrs. Dirt-digger is reminding ourselves that this year we need to cultivate more in the way of leafy-greens: so lettuces and rocket, cabbages, spinach and kale are top of the list, with a promised new rose bush (if we can source the particular variety we desire, Irish Hope), and not forgetting some of the usual suspects for the poly-tunnel, the tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and cucumbers to start-off in the next week or so. We’ll sow some onion seed this weekend, and we’ll purchase the red and white sets to pop in small pots the following weekend, and before you’d progress to shake a rake sure the whole bloomin’ process will be under way for another year.
Last night we had snow and ice and wintry showers across the country. It’s a cold water morning and Mother Nature is still quite some time off from donning her springtime boots. The temperature levelled at -5 Celsius this morning making it the coldest night/morning so far this winter season. The forecasts point to at least ten days to two weeks of similar conditions yet, but at least today’s bright winter sunshine is a bonus. And it’s cold, too cold to sow; too cold for anything to bother to grow, too cold to consider anything other than the seed catalogues and the holiday brochures, and as such we’ll simply continue to hatch our plans…

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compliments of @janpaulkelly instagram

Spring, interrupted…

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5 days on, and still plenty of lying snow around the monster’s perimeter

It has been a thoroughly grey and wholly sunless 5-6 weeks since February 1st, and to compound the hopes and expectations of all early growers and sowers, we here in Ireland, as with our neighbours across the pond on mainland Britain, have just experienced our harshest and heaviest winter snowfalls in over 35 years. Today, some 13 days after it ceased snowing there are still large drifts and clearance mounds right across the country.

In like a lion, out like a lamb” the old saying goes, and March certainly roared into the gardening year on this occasion.

This coming weekend brings on our national holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, a date by which many gardeners like to have established their broad plans for the coming spring, and traditionally the date on which many allotmenteers set the first potato drills of the year; but I think we’ll delay things a little this year. A lot of ground is still too sodden and very cold from snow-melt and run-off, and as hardy as some of our modern spud varieties may be, they don’t come supplied with accompanying life-jackets…

So, as with many other allotmenteers and kitchen gardeners right across Ireland and Britain spring activity on monsterinthecorner is most definitely interrupted this year; another week or two at the drawing board and in the potting shed, drinking milky tea and listening to Lyric. The seed onions have succumbed, dampening-off en masse so, we’ll go, and sow again. We’ll also go purchase the Celeriac and Kohl Rabi seed we meant to purchase but had, hitherto, forgotten to, and we’ll also add a little more organic material to some areas to compensate for the flooding leach-off…

So, another week or two of chitting, and wit-pitting against nature’s surprising elements; another fortnight to get it right; another fortnight waiting for the greenlight, and a favourable rise in fahenheit, another fortnight waiting till the risk of frostbite is out of sight; another fortnight to reset the solent wight; a fortnight to resow the gardener’s delight; another fortnight to just sit tight, knowing that with many weathered March things are never ever black and white, and that the early days of spring are never watertight.

Another fortnight, waiting for the lamb to slight the lion.

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.