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
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Missing… inaction…

Missing in action!!!

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compliments of @janpaulkelly instagram

With the allotment site closed for the Christmas-New Year period we’ve not been out to tramp the monster’s measure in almost two weeks now, but then as past years’ experience could show, had we had the opportunity to venture out for a visit, we’d most likely have been hampered in our desire to undertake any serious allotment and gardening activity, it being the depths of winter.
And yet a little qualification; for we did say past years’ experiences, and most likely when this year’s early winter experience is proving anything but likely.

It was the mildest December in many decades with the daily temperatures 5 degrees above average for the whole month, and night-time temperatures not once falling below 3 degrees, never mind freezing. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day saw the mercury hover @13 degrees with slack southerly air and little or no rain. In truth it must be said that the early winter of 2018-2019 was/is a very benign affair, and being so means we have seen snowdrops in bloom and daffodil snouts four to five inches above their trenches before mid winter’s day, and when taken in tandem with the fabulously good summer of last year, followed by a milder than usual autumn, one could be forgiven for speculating that winter is missing-in-action.

But we here with the monster know better than to rush to rash speculations; and we need point no further back than to January February and March of last year to highlight the dangers with hastily drawn assumptions on a winter’s demise, early or otherwise. Mother Nature’s box of meteorological wonder is filled with magic yet for all of their allure none of her tricks has learned to tell the time, yet.
So, the fabulous year that was is now past, cast to history’s compost heap, and with that we prepare to begin the whole process again. We are hatching our plans, and we are preparing our templates. We begin filling the new sowing diary just as soon as we begin sowing (on 1st of February), and we still have one or two basic husbandry and upkeep tasks with the plot and bed perimeters to be pottering about with as the weather will allow. The celebratory actions and inaction just like the Mince Pies and Christmas pudding will have to be exercised and worked-off. The New Year –as every New Year does– presents its own challenges and propositions and we’ll greet them as we meet them and hopefully we will learn something from the encounters.
We still have jars of jam and sauces aplenty; we still have a store of Karmen and Stuttgarter onions, we still have rhubarb chopped and frozen and rather surprisingly we still have a bulb or two of garlic yet. Christmas has come and gone as has the year that was 2018. We may be missing our dirt-digging activities, but winter(?),

winter is not missing; it’s just not wearing its more familiar seasonal apparel, as yet.

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A very slack Dublin Bay on a very mild St Stephen’s Day

Early Days in a Late Spring

As expected, April’s arrival has put an end to things: The lingering sulk of the longest winter is finally docked, and spring is most definitely sprung. For four days last week we basked in pleasant sunshine with temperatures four to five degrees above average, but this week has seen a return to more familiar Atlantic troughs with pulsing thundery showers and periods of widening sunshine.  Though the forecast hints at a cool night or two yet, by and large April is doing what April is expected to do in scattering showers and sunshine in equal measure.
Suddenly there is a noticeable greening-up and perceptible growth across the monster’s measure, and everything that seemed to be standing still and simply marking time throughout February and March has begun to reach for the warming gold orb and widening blue above. Though at times it can be the cruellest month, this year April is the gardeners’ redeemer; nature has finally set its sight on new trim, and all at once there is pep in the step of everything.
Although way too early to make hay, when the sun did shine we made up for the four week foreshortening of the season and tried to get back on track with our own general spring sowing and planting schedule. We like to think we’ve more or less achieved this. Most of what we intended to sow has been sown, and where and when we lost stock we’ve simply re-sown. The bare branches of the apple, gooseberry and blackberries are consigned to memory; the Dutch Master daffodils which provided welcome solace during the extended bleakness are now fading fast and are being crowded by the stretching globe alliums; the parsnips have germinated as has the dill, parsley and coriander; the kale seedlings are acclimatizing to life outdoors; the onions are green-shooting at last and the gourmet shallots which seemed to have given up the ghost completely have also sprung to life. We’ve bedded the tomato, pepper and aubergines in the polytunnel, and the Dirtdigging Mrs has planted out the zinnia and marigold seedlings along with some lupin and lavenders. The garlic (fingers crossed) seems to have thrived despite  atrocious months on end with its feet in the worst of the weather, and the rhubarb also looks and tastes quite good. A four legged polytunnel squatter help him or herself to the first sowings of sunflower, sweet-pea and nasturtium seed, but, we’ve remedied his squatting rights and re-sown with some added cover.
It is early days still, and yet spring is quite late. Bud burst is a good two to three weeks behind, but this is not always a bad thing. Although the stuttering spring and extreme winter weather events did quite a lot of damage to Soft Fruit Growers stock especially in the south and east of the country, a late spring can be the herald of a very good apple, pear and plum crop later in the year: the blossom burst being delayed often means a much greater rate of pollination success as all the trees in all the orchards blossom all at once, and all of the cultivars and variants benefit from the late explosion of compatibility pollinators. So, there is always an up. Some you win, some you lose. We’ve pottered away and we’re back on course. The worst of the weather is behind us for the moment, and as we dodge the heavier April showers Mrs Dirtdigger can be found, listening to the ever increasing chorus now emanating from the greening hawthorns and rowans as all those “smale fowles maken melodye”.

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Early Days Still: April 2018

April, A cruel month?

Now with the darker days overtaken, spirits soar and senses awaken. There is much to do, and thankfully while we have today we have much time still in which to do it.

April, arriving brimful with showers,
Sets the parks and gardens throbbing;
Glancing patches of bright summer blue
And cumulus blankets perpetually sobbing…JJK

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compliments of Mrs Dirtdigger @janpaulkelly instagram

On Ducks and an ark and an ancient rime…

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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.

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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…

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Dutch Masters
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Moneymaker Tomato seedlings On The Go!