A rain of circles & squares…

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Sunflower sentry duty…

It rained on August 1st, and it rained again on the 2nd. It rained on the 3rd 4th and 5th; it rained the first Tuesday and again on Wednesday 7th and the next day also. Thus it rained the whole first week of August. It also rained each day of the second week, with another full encore the following week. In fact it rained every day the first twenty two days of August, and that, as must be said put a real dampener on the late summer’s gardening experience.

It did dry up and improve somewhat toward month’s end but the dull damp conditions for most of the month took its toll: the potatoes were blighted, as was the polytunnel tomato crop; the pumpkins sat in the dull damp and those that survived the unseasonal water-logging and flooding simply called it quits and failed to mature and swell to anything near expected potential, the vines mildewed completely and we had to pick the remainders. We had to lift the late onions and shallots and cure them under cover, and the lettuce and rocket bed was obliterated by the constancy of the pelting droplets; the summer colour in Mrs Dirt-digger’s orangey-patch looked bedraggled and those sunflowers which actually managed to bloom looked forlorn. We did however have some cucumbers from the polytunnel, in fact – and perhaps by way of compensation – we have had a veritable cucumber glut, which we’ve put to good use by using all the excess in a store of pickles, a challenging exercise with our dried herb and spice rack; turmeric, mustard seed, fennel seed, dill, chive flowers and shallots, fifteen jars in all to see us through the leaner months.

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Anemone with rudbekia

Things improved greatly with the first days of September, skies cleared and the sun shone; we had days with temperatures well into the mid twenties and all breathe a sigh of thankfulness at feeling the remnants of summer before it disappeared completely again for another year. The nights are cooler now and the mornings mistier, and with the exception of a couple of overcast occurrences the first 20 days of September had been a bonus. As I type there is patchy blue sky once again, a strengthening breeze and an expected temperature this afternoon of 18 degrees, which for the latter end of September is as good as it gets. Rain is forecast.
The early-fruits harvest through the early summer months was disastrous, a combination of last summer’s prolonged severe drought and this spring’s adverse blossom burst timing, and although our gooseberry and blackcurrant crop was practically non-existent as a result, these last few weeks Mrs Dirtdigger has been foraging some wonderfully plump blackberries which we’ve combined with April Queen Cider apple to make some seasonal jam that will more than compensate for the meagre store from the early season harvest.

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Grasshopper on a ripening pumpkin

We’ve already dipped into the pasta sauces and pizza sauces we jarred, just as we used the Rhubarb and Ginger Jam; we’ve also used plenty of the summer pickles, and this weekend we will set about combining our now fully ripened Cayenne peppers with Fresh coriander leaves and garlic bulbs harvested in July to make some Harissa, another of the monster’s staples.
The Purple Cascade French Beans proved to be a winner, and though the vines are now spent we have over 10 lbs frozen for use in the coming months. The beets are finished and it’s just a tad too late to try a successional sowing, the autumn curly kale is ready anytime soon and we still have the parsnip bed which only lately seems to be spurting growth and this should herald a good crop, most especially with the warm damp soil conditions that are autumn parsnip heaven.
And so with the drawing to a close of the monster’s annual cultivation activities, other activities come to the fore. We’ve already begun to plan some of those changes we need to make, and also some we want to make during the forthcoming winter season. Mrs Dirt-digger is planning a large octagonal herb wheel construct into which we’ll relocate most of our herbs early next year, and we will also finish the gothic picket fence which we started last winter.
It rained again yesterday, but as we are now the darker side of the equinox the weather is as expected to be given that. The rudbekias and anemones shine in the speeding autumn sunlight, the dahlias stand blousy-bright and the autumn beauties are on sentry duty right the way around the monster’s perimeter.

This past weekend we set some lavender and bay laurel cuttings; we collected our marigold, sweetpea, poppy and calendula seed heads, we cut the last of the strawflower blooms and have them drying in the potting shed and we planted some ‘Thalia’, ‘Sunnyside Up’ and ‘Double Fashion’ daffodil bulbs for new colour next spring and with that action right there, this circle is squared for the year.

It has started to rain, again

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The Big Windy…

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? A last rose for summer? Rosa Rhapsody In Blue

And so it’s official: summer is kaput, done, dusted, gone.

This week –the week leading into the autumnal equinox, as has become practice in recent years– the Irish and UK meteorological services have released the list of names chosen under the Name Our Storms Scheme that will be used to identify this coming winter’s storm cycle. And timely too it would seem just as we are being warned with a forecast that ex-tropical storm Helene’s tail is to cause some disruption to our southern coasts during the early days of next week.
The names chosen each year are supposed to reflect the culture and diversity of these island nations, with an equal distribution of both male and female names. Twenty one names are assigned each year running in sequence from A to W, with Q, U, X, Y and Z omitted as per international standardisation.
This year the cycle begins with the male name Ali, followed by the female name Bronagh, then male, then female, male, female etc. Every other year the sequence begins with a female name beginning with the letter A, followed by male name beginning with the letter B and so on. Thus, as you’ll no doubt see with this year’s selection you can have a Jane but never a Tarzan, or a Deirdre but not with Fionn, and a Tristan without Isolde; or as it seems this year an Idris but no Elba…

Cruel or otherwise, Professor Henry Higgins once postulated that “In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly happen…” and without making a song and dance about it that may well have been the Lerner/Loewe meteorological reality in the mid 1950’s, but whether the weather will be worse in Walden, Wichling or Wicken matters not a jot when a bona fide hurricane is forecast to make landfall, for by their nature hurricanes are a massive storm event, capable of making their presence felt for hundreds of miles from the storm centre.
Ireland, as said before is a damp country; we’ve grown accustomed to the rain; we breathe it out and breathe it in: and so much so that it’s in our genes, in a manner of speaking. So, when a lot of rain is forecast we have a tendency to be quite nonchalant, nationally dismissive even about what constitutes “a lot” of rain. But Wind (?) Wind is a different matter. We’re a small island, and when the wind gets-up it can seem that bunting stripped for a lamppost in Kilorglin ends up tangled in the DART lines off Killiney, or rubbish fly-tipped in Dungarvan ends up strewn across the Dublin Hills. We’re used to the rain you see, but we don’t do wind very well. No we don’t: Do you remember the night of the big wind in ’47? What about the Breath of God in early 30’s? Big winds live long in the memory. Perhaps it’s because they have the ability to blow the cobwebs off just about everything, and shake and wake everything up whereas the rain, the rain just seeps and soaks. A lesser known fact is that depending on a hurricane’s origin and trajectory it can either be wet or dry: it can be predominantly rain bearing or predominantly driving i.e wind bearing, so although we now have names to assign to the the storms we are likely to experience this coming winter season, it is still anyone’s guess whether we’ll be soaked or windblown.
And just as a by-the-by: is it me or just a faulty recollection, but, with the exception of Charley which traversed these fair isles in autumn 1986, it seems all of the other major Hurricanes which crossed the vast Atlantic without diminishing too much of their ferocity and potency and eventually caused such havoc and damage have all had female designations; Katerina, Emma, Ophelia, even the approaching Helene and perhaps later next week sometime Florence, should she decide to u-turn? Just saying it like: getting it out of the way before Deirdre and Freya decide to send end of year seasonal greetings.

Oh yes, the monster is always considering and calculating such things, and conscious, always conscious that Mrs. Dirtdigger is proof-reader extraordinaire… yes,yes,yes, brewing up a storm? There is nothing to compare with fierce female fury forced to flee ‘cross foreign sea flattening everything she sees…

Winter Storm Names 2018-2019
• Ali
• Bronagh
• Callum
• Deirdre
• Erik
• Freya
• Gareth
• Hannah
• Idris
• Jane
• Kevin
• Lily
• Max
• Niamh
• Oliver
• Peggy
• Ross
• Saoirse
• Tristan
• Violet
• Wyn

Big It Was…

It was a big summer; with big sunshine and big temperatures and a big drought that will live big in the memory. And there you have it, past tense. A big summer it was; but now summer into autumn has slipped and this year’s transition is sudden and tangible.

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The Monster’s September song…

September, that great misplaced misnomer of the calendar year, tripping softly off the tongue, ripening memories of the big summer that was , safe that come the darker days September will fete us something to remember. And so we’ll gather and collect, and store-up, and we’ll treasure the harvest just as we’ll harvest the treasures from the big summer that was, and mindful that just as every gardener and grower begins the process of reaping and gathering, nature herself actually begins the cycle again, for come September nature begins sowing again, scattering her seeds abroad, and therein next summer is already sown…