BETTER TO STORE ONIONS IN DARK DRY COOL VENTILATED PLACE – 3rd wk in October 2014

Red and white varieties of onion plaited and hung to ensure maximum air circulation. Pity the room is not dark.

Red and white varieties of onion plaited and hung to ensure maximum air circulation. Pity the room is not dark.

In an earlier blog last summer, we mentioned harvesting a good crop of early and maincrop white onions and a Red Baron variety. This crop was dried outdoors under cover so that the skins hardened in the sun and wind. This is called curing the onions.

Now for storing those same cured onions over winter. The ideal storage conditions for onions are:

1: A cool temperature in the range  4 – 10 degrees Celsius.

2: A dry, dark and well ventilated storeroom.

3: A method to keep the onions from touching anything to maximise air circulation.

Unfortunately, we have to make do with an outdoor office which thankfully is cool and well ventilated over winter, but it is not dark. Only one way to find out if this is good enough!

HEN HOUSE TIED DOWN IN ADVANCE OF WINTER STORMS – 2nd wk in October 2014

The storms of last winter were a terrifying wake up call demonstrating the destructive power of the windiest weather on record in south Wexford. We needed to try designing a climate-change proof hen house, if such a thing is possible!

Hens are by nature tree roosters, so perches are needed, which means the hen-house has to have some height. This could be bad news on a windy site.

Three aspects of our new hen house are designed to ensure it is stable in a storm:

1. The legs are splayed, not unlike the Eiffel Tower in Paris, on a smaller scale of course!

2. The legs are screwed to wooden fence posts driven 1 metre down into the ground.

3. Each corner is held in position by a guy rope tightly tied to anchor posts and metal hooks in the wall of the old piggery, on the boundary of the hen run.

The hens are due to take up residence

The hens will roost in the 'attic' of this hen house. The nest box is just visible at the back facing the old piggery wall.

The hens will roost in the ‘attic’ of this hen house. The nest box is just visible at the back facing the old piggery wall.

in the new year. Having our own organic eggs will make all this work and weather proofing worthwhile, hopefully!

ROOTS OF SCUTCH AND DOCKS GO TO DITCH, NOT COMPOSTER -1st wk in October 2014

When I was cultivating a small urban garden, it was easy to prevent such persistent weeds as docks and scutch from taking hold. However, we now are endeavouring to grow organic food on a couple of acres here in Wexford now.  A very different story.

I have heard it said that drying out dock and scutch roots renders them harmless. I’m not so sure and anyway who has time to be drying out the roots of weeds? There are wild areas on our plot which we are happy not to cultivate. These areas provide a happy hunting ground for wildlife – and the scutch and dock roots can provide wildlife cover in this wild area!

There is plenty of easily decomposed greenery from stalks and leaves left after the fruit and veg harvest to make good compost which is free of persistent weed roots hopefully.

Scutch and dock roots which will NOT go into the composter.

Scutch and dock roots which will NOT go into the composter.

RAIN WATER BUTTS A FIRST STEP IN RAIN WATER HARVESTING – 4th week in September 2014

The torrential rain showers which are now a more frequent indicator of climate change in Ireland, quickly fill any regular water butt. What we really need are large enclosed rainwater harvesting tanks, preferably buried underground. However, such items are much more costly than the regular water butts which DIY stores are busy selling at the moment.

The water butts serve a useful purpose in the garden nonetheless. Watering cans are quickly filled by dipping them in rather than waiting for the tap fixture to fill a can up. The cats certainly prefer drinking the rain water from a dish rather than the mains water. It is likely than plants in the greenhouse prefer the rainwater too.

Surprisingly easy to install, these water butts come complete with stand. All that is required is a hack saw to cut the down pipe and a pliers to rig up the connection pipe.

Surprisingly easy to install, these water butts come complete with stand. All that is required is a hack saw to cut the down pipe and a pliers to rig up the connection pipe.

 

MULCHING RASPBERRIES WITH MANURE COVERED WITH LAYER OF STRAW – 3rd wk in September 2014

We are just one year on this 3 acre plot. The soft fruit crop was reasonable, especially the strawberries. However, it will be next year before we get more than a few raspberries when the new canes grow up from under ground from now until next spring.

To minimise the competition from weeds, we have mulched the raspberry beds with well rotted horse manure. Left like this, the vigorous weeds we have will probably become even stronger as a result of the manure. So the manure needs to be covered by a thick layer of straw to stop light from reaching the manure.

Fortunately, we are able to avail of a supply of old straw from a thatcher who firstly removes old weathered straw from any roof he is asked to thatch anew. This old straw is ideal for mulching purposes.

The new raspberry canes are popping up through the straw mulch. Once the straw is left on the surface and not dug in, it will not rob the soil of nitrogen.

The new raspberry canes are popping up through the straw mulch. Once the straw is left on the surface and not dug in, it will not rob the soil of nitrogen.

GREEN MANURE SMOTHERS EVEN OUR WILD PASTURE PLANTS – 2nd wk in September 2014

Coming from a small urban kitchen garden to a 3 acre plot is both exciting and daunting. One fear is the vigour of the volunteer pasture plants. More often, we just call them ‘weeds’. In our first year, these weeds eg docks and scutch, denied our potato plants the nutrients and moisture they needed and, as a result, we got a poor crop

Mustard seed grown as a green manure. The odd leaf in a salad adds a hot mustard flavour.

Mustard seed grown as a green manure. The odd leaf in a salad adds a hot mustard flavour.

. We’ll know better next year!

Áine sowed a green manure of organic mustard seeds in early September on a bare patch. I was not so sure the mustard could compete with those vigorous weed seeds in the soil, but I’m happy to say the mustard is thriving and keeping the weeds down.

In May when the mustard is about 20cm (8in) high, we’ll dig it in to a depth of about 15cm (6in). We’ll leave the ground to settle for a week or two and then sow or plant out our spring seedlings.

On other bare patches, we will sow other green manures. The Landsberger Mix to be sown in September contains Winter Vetch 30%, Ryegrass 40% and Crimson Clover 30%. In October, we will sow the Rye / Phacelia Mix. All these green manures get dug in come springtime.

WHAT TO DO WHEN THE APPLE HARVEST BEGINS WITH WINDFALLS – 1st wk in September 2014

We give thanks to the previous owners of this 3 acre patch, that they planted apples, pears, plums, quince and yet to be identified varieties and species of fruit trees which are now almost ready to be harvested. Apple varieties like Beauty of Bath occupy a special place in the heart of many who recall them from childhood days long ago. They are one of many apple varieties which do not store well and therefore are not grown commercially in these days of long distance food distribution and longer shelf life requirements.

Often the old varieties have excellent flavour and arguably are more nutritious than the imported Pink Lady and Royal Gala varieties in many new school lunch boxes these days.

That being said, an apple which does not store has to be either eaten fresh or else juiced or dried if some form of storage is to be an option. Making apple tarts and freezing them uncooked is another way of storing apples for winter use.

Some fruits of Áine's labours. Buckets of windfall apples gathered with the help of a garden shears to cut back long grass under apple trees.

Some fruits of Áine’s labours. Buckets of windfall apples gathered with the help of a garden shears to cut back long grass under apple trees.

Áine has been experimenting with a fruit and veg dehydrator, while I have been juicing the windfalls as quickly as possible. The juice will keep fresh once it is frozen quickly. The dried fruit is delicious, but time will tell how long it keeps for. A future blog entry will give more information on the potential of fruit and vegetable dehydration.

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