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.

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International Greenfingers Day!

By mid March spring pins its promise to the post. Winter may have been the wettest and wildest on record and February may have shorn each new-born’s fleece immediately upon arrival, but by mid March there should be at least one stand-out day whence spring’s true intent is proclaimed.
Through living room windows the sun may shine warm, yet a dash into a shaded back garden to save the washing from a sudden downpour and your fingers let you know that there is a still a lingering sting of winter about.
But it is March nonetheless, and the gardening year finally kicks off in earnest. The interior sills of the house which helped support the early tomato and aubergine seedlings suddenly prove wholly inadequate for the volume of trays and pots now to be sown, so everything is gingerly moved to the polytunnel for hardening off and every wind protected south facing sun trap around the allotment and garden is quickly filled with pots of potential summer promise.
The seed catalogues have been scoured and the year’s stock ordered. The latest gardening and weather Apps have been downloaded and installed; blog sites have been trawled for nuggets of wisdom, and after the long winter hibernation you’ve once again struck up the annual rapport and reacquainted yourself with the personnel of the local gardening centre. The pots and trays are clean and ready to go, the bags of compost have been moved into a sunny patch to warm them, and where in January and February many an idle hour was spent planning How to work your allotment from the comfort of your armchair, now that March is arrived you’ve simply got to get out and actually work in the allotment and garden.

Gardening activities aside, March is still one of the busiest months of the year. It always has been. In ancient Rome this month marked the beginning of the New Year; the previous period of over 90 day remaining unnamed as it was winter; and ancient Rome simply didn’t do winter. With the improvement in weather conditions March heralded the beginning of the Roman agricultural growing season, the bettering weather also improved the travel and access routes to other places and as such March also marked the beginning of the War season. It was filled politics, Caesars and brutes, with soothsayers and backstabbers; a brute force of backstabbers.

It is said March ‘comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb‘; it begins with a leek and ends with the clan; it seems every other day is a daffodil day and then there’s Mothers’ Day, a Children’s Day, a Women’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, the National holiday, an equinox, a guaranteed 21 days of lent, at least 10 days of Seachtain na Gaeilge, 4 days of Cheltenham, a National plant a tree day, an occasional Good Friday and Easter Sunday (and of late a Dyngus Monday) International ear-muff day, Intergalactic close encounters day, Transgender Awareness raising day and International Social Worker Appreciation day…Phew! There is also the last day of meteorological winter and the 1st days of astronomical summer to contend with; and, if you happen to be Irish, there’s the have-to-get-your-1st-early-spuds-sown-by day. Yes, there’s a lot to fit into the 34 days of March, and though the ghosts of Romulus and Remus are oft chilled by the airs of the span named in honour of their progenitor, there are days in March when, like yesterday, there is just a hint of spring in the air, 12 degrees centigrade and no night frosts forecast for the next couple of nights; and from a gardening perspective this is about as good as it gets for early spring, so it’s time to get grubby.

A little known fact is that Saint Fiacre, a 7th century hermit originally from just down the road in County Kilkenny is the patron saint of all gardeners and vegetable growers. A lesser known fact would be that he is also the patron saint of all those suffering from venereal diseases, and that his feast day is celebrated on 1st September. This is just one of the many harvest festivals associated with the bounty of the seasons, the soil, and the earth. And there are many traditional harvest day celebrations right across the globe from the Chinese Rice Moon festival on to Lohri and Holi in the far east; to Lammas and Horkey closer to home, including St Fiacre’s day and through to our own Samhain while not forgetting Thanksgiving in USA.
And yet for all the days through the year set aside to celebrate and appreciate just about every human activity, achievement and organisation, you may not be aware that there is no one day through the calendar year dedicated to celebrating those who work in or on the garden; no dedicated gardeners or gardening day. No; not one single day set aside on the calendar to acknowledge the effort of all those seed sowing and green-fingered individuals who set out each spring to make our summers wonderful and to make every harvest possible.
There are many days throughout each year set aside for the great flower shows and gardening festivals, like Chelsea, Chatsworth, Malvern, Tangshan and even our own Bloom, and these in essence, where they are not business driven extravaganzas are celebrations of the flora world itself. But there is no one day singularly devoted to recognizing, celebrating and endorsing all those amateur botanists and urban farmers, all those groundsmen, greenskeepers and landscapers, the nurserymen, seedswomen, professional horticulturalists and suburban gardeners, all the rooftop and balcony constrained potterer-abouters, the window-sill cultivators, and all the community gardeners, con-acre smallholders and lifelong allotmenteers who work tirelessly at greening our world.

And so I now propose that what we need to do is set aside one day in the year to celebrate the effort of all those who garden! To celebrate the gardeners in their gardens, whatever form their gardens may take. And I propose that we should acknowledge this effort right here at the start of things, at the beginning of the gardening year (OK, so I know I’m scripting from a northern hemisphere perspective but we’ll have to start somewhere). And I can think of no better time to have such a celebration than right here in the midst of all that March mayhem whilst every gardener is busy getting his and her hands soiled and abstractedly lost in the actual dirty business of gardening.
It shall be designated International Greenfingers Day by way of acknowledging all those fantastic and differing classifications of sowers and growers outlined above. And once this seed is sown careful nurturing should bring it to fruition. It will take many years, but as gardeners we are familiar with the waiting process.
Looking to March’s packed agenda, and with consideration given to all things meteorological and astronomical including a nod to the hurdles and the wearing of the green and conscious to leave a little wriggle room for the Twins to settle their score with the Ram, I propose that International Greenfingers Day be celebrated on the 33rd day of March, aka 2nd April.

International Greenfingers Day
International Greenfingers Day

And so it should be, a new day of Celebration is dawned; International Greenfingers Day will be celebrated for the very first time on Saturday 2nd April 2016: and I propose it be celebrated on the 1st Saturday of April each year thence, save whence that day falls on the the Fool’s errand 1st April, when it should then be celebrated on the second Saturday of April:  nothing like a moveable feast to work up an appetite.

And how as gardeners should we celebrate?
Sow up a pot, plant something in your garden or plot, and do it on this day. Mark the occasion…keep a record, take a selfie of the sowing ceremony if you must; buy someone a very small pack of seed and have them sow it on this day; help to get someone else to sow and grow their own, or for the gardener in your life buy them some small pack of seed and ask for a share of the bounty, be it a poesy of bloom or some stock for the pot once it comes to fruition in the summer or autumn…nothing extravagant; remember
Gardeners tend the toil, nature makes the show…

“From the smallest seed the mightiest tree doth grow.” This here is a seed…

let us all cultivate it.