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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Keeping Cold: a view to a chill…

Crisp, clean and crystal clear, and conjured from unobstructed air the first frost of this winter season greeted all worm catchers yesterday morning. Cool and bright and star-shiny sheer the winter’s first offering of season’s secret ministry glossed most low lying grassy areas and hardened exposed shallow pools. Though our met service had forecast frost, this was no sharp event and certainly no f# affair with much of the crystalline magic dissipating with the first rays of early sun. The cool air exposed all al fresco breaths in bamboozled bewilderment, and as though having seen it all before car windscreens glared with vague subfusc opalescence, awaiting intervention with kettle or pot to clear their view to the chill.

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Tweed swede and Tender & True all on a bed of fast fading rocket

Last winter’s first frost did not occur till quite late in the season; with November and December both recording above LTA (Long Term Average) temperatures the first frost of last winter did not settle till 5th January this year.  So,  we’ve had the first frost of last winter and the first frost of this winter ten months apart and in the same calendar year. This year it seems winter is settling in early: we’ve covered and cleared what we needed to, and we’ve started to harvest and use the autumn and winter stocks of swedes, parsnips and kale. We’ve greased the bolts and oiled the latches, and we’ve stacked and stored the planters and pots. And while still trafficable and feasible to do so we turned sod on that area where we had scattered wildflower seed last spring and summer in the hope that exposure to the harsher elements of the coming season may just tame its unwieldy clumped lumpiness. The constancy of Mrs Dirtdigger’s deadheading drill together with the relatively mild October weather meant we still had some blooms to brighten the monster’s visage on our recent visits, but, we thinks the creeping crystal carpet may have put an end to this.
Still, it’s good to feel this early seasonal chill, and ideally our wish would be that this first frost is but a precursor to a winter of some sustained wintry weather; maybe not too much though (mindful to be careful of what one wishes for), but, as most gardeners should have learned, the earthen canvas in which we cultivate our dream performs best after a period of vernalization: rhubarb stools and gooseberry bushes; blackcurrant, apples and pears all benefit from a measured stretch in Mother Nature’s chilling cabinet, and much the same can be said of the early spring bulbs and flowering perennials.

So, just as we here at monsterinthecorner prepare to cover and muffle and wrap our bodies up against the elements of the coming season, our hope would be that the monster itself stays quite cold. And safe in the knowledge that most gardens invariably survive the wintriest of storms, our wish is that our little plot keeps cold, and does not get too warm, for once tender shoots have been top-dressed and strawed, spring’s cheery show creeps best from chilled sod…
So, stay chilled, keep cold.

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All 2lb 2ozs of winter parsnip root
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Another pair of swell parsnips

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