The garden at home is bursting with produce right now. The peas and beans, kale and cabbage, chard Swiss and Rainbow are all featuring in the kitchen. Courgettes and pumpkins are in flowers. The raspberries, strawberries and blackcurrants often don’t make it as far as the kitchen. The tomatoes are ripening and the sunflowers are reaching for the sky. However, one sunflower succumbed to a slug attack. They chewed all around the base, ‘ring-barking’ the plant so it wilted. It is now unable to take up water and nutrients from the roots. The wasps then feasted on the sweet sap exposed , but ‘it wuz the slugs wot dunnit’. So copper anti-slug tape has been wrapped around the healthy tall sunflower nearby so fingers crossed I have thwarted another sneaky slug attack.
Slugs or no slugs, this weekend was a great time to gather at The Organic Centre in Rossinver, Co. Leitrim for the annual Garden Party on Sunday 18th July, for growers and eaters of home-grown garden produce. Neven Maguire, the legendary chef from Blacklion in nearby Co. Cavan kept a huge audience enthralled by mouth-watering ways of preparing chard, tomatoes and hake. He made pesto making look really easy. I could see tongues (almost) hanging out as he prepared a delicious tiramisu.
Then famous vegetable gardening author, Joy Larkcom and her husband Don from West Cork did a fascinating presentation on growing salads of the cut and come again varieties, with good handouts and illustrations on PowerPoint.
The team at the Organic Centre, many of whom are volunteers, provided delicious soups and lunches, teas and coffees, cakes and all manner of refreshments for the 500 or so who came for a great day out in dry warm ‘Lovely Leitrim’.
Hans and Gaby Wieland and Andy Hallewell and all the Organic Centre team were thanked by me at the end of the day just before I pulled the raffle tickets for the Castlebaldwin Donkey Sanctuary. The Centre and the Sanctuary raised a few bob and need to raise much more, I have no doubt both people and donkeys went home happy.
The Organic Centre has some great courses coming up and other events. I learned a huge amount there about picking and preparing mushrooms. Check out their website at www.theorganiccentre.ie and go visit them, they need your support.
Before I began kitchen gardening, I was very clear that seeds were sown in Spring, grew in Summer, were harvested in Autumn and during Winter was the time to oogle seed catalogues and plan for the next round of seasons. This week I’ve been forced to realise life is not that straightforward.
Out I went at first light to put the kitchen waste in the compost tumbler. What did I spot but broad bean plants popping their heads into the damp wintry air. The seeds I planted under the support string ‘wig-wam’ have sprouted and are hardy enough to grow even in December. In my new brassica patch a few weeks ago I planted cuttings taken from the main everlasting cabbage crop in the old brassica patch. In recent weeks they have been limp and forlorn looking in the cold and wet weather. This week, however, I notice they have perked up and look like plants in their own right. I’m now confident I will have a crop of new cabbage leaves in the spring from the new brassica patch.
The old brassica patch will be cleared in Spring to make way for the spinach and beetroot seedlings. Meanwhile, next week, I’ve a plan to remove five jaded rose bushes which served me well over the last ten years. However, I’m advised that five new rose plants are now required as long as they are not planted in the same soil as their predecessors.
The recently sown Radar onion sets are growing well now in the cleared patch from which beetroot was harvested about a month ago. Nearby, last season’s onion patch has now been cleared, some compost mixed in and the soil levelled. This patch will now become the legume patch between now and next autumn.
Broad beans can be sown now in a quarter of my legume patch. A variety well suited to autumn sowing directly outdoors is Aquadulce and it should crop early before the end of May 2010. Along with seeds I need the support structure for the plants to grow up. I have seen broad beans growing without supports but a stormy night could play havoc and flatten them beyond redemption.
My chosen bean support is a purpose built ’tent pole’ with eight guy ropes hanging from the top. These are pegged out in a circumference creating a wigwam type structure. I press two seeds into the soil about a finger deep on each side of each guy rope. Once sowing is complete, I pat down the seedbed and water the area as the weather has been fairly dry in Fingal in the last week or so.
The seed packet is then sealed in a clean dry jam jar and stored in the fridge. The remaining seeds will then be fresh enough next spring for another sowing if for some reason the autumn sown seeds do not germinate in full. Broad bean plants sown in autumn have an advantage being more resistant to blackfly attacks. They generally mature two to three weeks ahead of spring sown seeds.
In the years when we used to get hard frosts, horticultural fleece covering the wigwam support would be a protection. However, I would be surprised to see such hard frosts again given global warming and the mild nature of recent winters.
The ‘Indian summer’ has arrived and high pressure from mid-week on is good news for harvesting and sowing. I open up the seed catalogues therefore and order seeds for autumn sowing such as: 1. Radar – autumn onion sets, 2. autumn shallots, 3. garlic, 4. Aquadulce – broad beans, 5. cress, 6. mustard.
Seeing these sets and seeds becoming established before winter will ensure the spring growth will begin sooner and give me garden produce earlier in 2010. I’m experimenting with growing radish and lettuce in the ‘telephone box’ sized greenhouse by placing window boxes on shelves against a south facing wall under glass. I know David Langan in Rush as a professional grower is able to produce Irish butterhead lettuce for 52 weeks of the year growing under glass, so we’ll see what I can produce in a 2 foot square glass ‘telephone box’.
I hope this spell of fine weather will encourage gardeners with lawns to turn the sod and put in a few onion sets as a start to a new kitchen garden. To further encourage food growing at the Electric Picnic last weekend in Stradbally, Co. Laois, I was speaking on a panels with other growers and Bord Bia about appreciating Irish fresh produce and supporting Irish farmers in the interests of Irish food security. I also handed out a few Radar autumn onion sets to anyone who undertook to sow them when they got home.
Next weekend, I’ll have some time on Sunday hopefully to lift the remainder of my own few mature onions which I will then leave lying on paper indoors to dry before tying them and hanging them in the shed for use over the winter. Juicing garden apples continues and I am giving away bottles as I fill them. An apple juice connoisseur I work with in the Dept of Ag tells me this year the juice is not as sweet as last year which he prefers. Nature provides, I just dispense!
With the onions lifted, I will compost that area, cover it with old carpet and have it ready to sow the broad bean seeds in November. Where the beetroot was will also be enriched with compost and some wood ash in readiness for the new onion sets and shallot sets to be planted in September. I’ll leave the garlic cloves until early December before sowing in colder weather which they seem to like to get started.
Meanwhile, off to Waterford Institute of Technology on Saturday to launch a fantastic new initiative to organise, help and develop kitchen gardens in homes, schools and institutions throughout Ireland. Michael Kelly, the writer and Irish Times journalist the man who planted the seed of what I hope will become as well known as the GAA in every county in Ireland. Michael who wrote ‘Trading Paces’ also has a good website worth checking out if you Google his name.
The garden is full of lif right now. It’s fantastic to see how much growth there has been in the last month. The weather has been almost ideal, with lots of bright sunny days and the occassional shower to keep things moist. The video gives a quick tour of the garden and it’s interesting to compare it with the overview taken in May. It’s geting difficult for the camerman to find a place to stand!
What a scorcher of a holiday weekend with temperatures in the mid twenties! Thanks to Bord Bia and their key sponsors, Bloom in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, did a great service in encouraging armchair gardeners to have a go at growing some of their own food. I had the honour of opening the Michelle Obama garden or more officially the ‘White House Garden’. This opening took place in the presence of the Acting-Ambassador from the USA, Mr Robert J Faucher. The Acting-Ambassador graciously accepted a bag of fresh radish from my garden in appreciation for the help from the USA Embassy in establishing this iconic garden at Bloom. It is the first time an ‘Obama Garden’ has been replicated outside the USA.
Meanwhile back at the ‘ranch’ in my own garden, the blackfly colonised the growing tips of my broad beans. Solution? A hand held mist sprayer filled with water and a drop of washing-up liquid. Find a jet setting by twisting the nozzle. A strong jet from the sprayer dislodges these black little aphids. Those I miss will hopefully be eaten by ladybirds and hover flies. This has now become an early morning routine along with hoeing and watering.
The tomato, potato and strawberries are flowering as are broad beans. Blackcurrants, raspberries and apples are growing their fruits now also. So I am putting a dollop of comfrey feed in each watering can I fill. The comfrey leaves when cut back are covered with water in a barrel with a tap. This ‘Comfrey Tea’ once diluted is a common organic feed used to help plants when they are coming in to fruit. Don’t mind the smell, it disappears as nature takes up the goodness within a few hours I find.
Now is the time to feed and water growing plants, fruit trees especially. We need to balance the necessity for watering our plants with the need to avoid wasting water, such a precious resource. In the video you’ll see some techniques I use, including making that famous ‘comfrey tea’.
Cloudy weather in Balbriggan but average temperature. Taking a chance to plant out runner beans. Seeds were sown 14 April and germinated on sunny windowsill. The variety is ‘Enorma’ bought by mail-order from The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co. Leitrim. As the name suggests, these beans grow tall. Before planting, I therefore constructed a support wigwam using a tall pole and stay ropes held down by test pegs. See the pictures and video for more.