Snowdrops and daffodils about to burst into flower out in the shady front garden. I like to think they see it as the next best thing to woodland! Out front also the rhubarb and comfrey have awoken and the new greenery bodes well for another productive year.
Out in the back garden, the garlic cloves from Fruit Hill Farm near Bantry, planted in November last, are now sprouting forth, in spite of the severe ice and snow.
Got to cut wood for tinder using dried prunings from blackcurrant bushes and apple tree which were in storage over the summer. May not get much time in garden between now and the General Election. Wildlife on the garden may well be pleased to be undisturbed for the next few weeks. Must remember to feed the birds at least.
Only a garden with a greenhouse or at least south facing windows can make any decent headway in seed propogation right now. With strong daytime sunshine, the growing spaces under glass (or plastic) dry out surprisingly quickly. It seems strange to be out watering when the weather is so cold. My ‘telephone box’ sized greenhouse is doing a good job of producing cut and come again lettuce, while seedlings of spinach, lettuce and sweet pea are about 2cm high. The tomato seeds which were sown at the same time have failed to germinate. Tomatoes need Mediterranean spring temperatures of 12 – 16 degrees centigrade to get going. In Ireland this mean either (1) waiting until later in spring or (2) heating your seedtray or greenhouse or (3) a very quick blast of heat on the tomato seeds. This last option was explained by a professional grower to me. There was a practise of putting tomato seeds on a metal tray. The grill in the kitchen was turned on. The tray was quickly ‘shown’ the grill and withdrawn before any seeds were burned and thereby killed. The blast of heat however worked by cracking the seed husk and aiding germination. I take my hat off to professional growers and the ingenuity they bring to their craft. Meanwhile as a kitchen gardener, I will start my tomato seeds again now that daytime temperatures are barely on double figures. Second time lucky I hope.
The temperature by day is touching double figures but the frosts at night keep soil temperature too cold for
Image: Atelier Nouvelles Images
much growth. It is impressive, therefore, to see a heritage variety of lettuce which I obtained some years ago from Irish Seed Savers in Scariff, Co. Clare, growing on bare patches around the garden, front and back.
Lamb’s Lettuce looks more like dandelion than say Iceberg Lettuce. It has small leaves and they melt rather than ‘crunch’ in the mouth and the taste is mild. However, to get any salad leaves without a greenhouse is rare in this weather. I let this heritage lettuce variety go to seed each year. This guarantees me copious fresh salad leaves early the following year.
I mentioned this variety to a local farmer who is very interested in developing another early season salad leaf commercially. I gave him a pot of my variety and I wish him luck in growing it on. Meanwhile, life in Dáil Éireann is trying enough at present and fresh salad leaves in a homemade sandwich at lunch help to keep things in perspective and feet on the ground. Roll on March and milder weather.
No doubt I’ll be told that early February is too early for sowing seed with temperatures still low and flurries of snow here and there. I realise I’m taking a calculated risk but the seed packets in question do say to sow from February onwards. However, February 2009 was a little warmer than February 2010 so far.
Nevertheless, if my impatience is punished I can make further sowings in March. So I have nothing to lose and maybe a slightly earlier harvest to gain. Rather than repeating myself, I hope the video clip below says it all. Lettuce, tomato, sweetpea and lobelia seeds are now sown and sitting on my windowsill in their 3 inch pots. Their very presence seems to herald in milder and brighter days.
The world of domesticated potato growing is a venerable one, going back some 9000 years to the shores of Lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia. This ‘super food’ (it has pretty much got every nutrient you need keep healthy) has since become the fourth most important food crop in the world. The biggest cultivator of potato is China.
However with over 5000 varieties of potato worldwide, the potatoes grown in China or Africa or in South America are probably different from those we favour in Ireland. Our favourite spud bought by almost half of Irish consumers is the Rooster, which was bred here expressly to suit the Irish palate.
Early varieties (such as Colleen or Orla) get sown first, followed by ‘second earlies (such as Carlingford) a few weeks later. The main crop (such as Rooster) is planted later in Spring to mature later giving a bigger yield and some is stored until the ‘earlies’ are harvested the next year.
Before planting my few Orla seed potatoes in grow bags at the end of February, I first show them light in a frost free environment for a couple of week so that they sprout. This can speed them on their way once they are planted in a soil and compost mixture.
Chitting is the word used to sprout seed potatoes before planting. It is a simple procedure as the following video shows. The only precaution worth noting is be sure your seed potatoes are disease free. I make sure I buy mine as ‘certified seed potato’, for peace of mind.
16 February 2009
The cabbage variety I grow each year is particularly well suited to a small garden. I got it first from I.S.S.A. (Irish Seed Savers Association) in Scariff, Co. CLare. It is a perennial bush, but I don’t leave it for more than a year in one spot to prevent any diseases such as clubroot and to maximise soil fertility.
At the end of February, I pull off and plant up about 8 cuttings. A cutting is essentially a small branch pulled off the main stem. Using a sharp kitchen knife, I slice diagonally to create a wedge-shaped tip which will become the new rooting area when the cutting is planted.
I then remove any lower leaves to leave just 4 or 5 leaves at the growing point of each cutting. This helps the plant to become established and to develop a good root. The cutting is planted without delay while it is still fresh.
I fill 6-inch pots with soil from the patch where other cabbage family members (sprouts, kale, etc.) are to grow in the coming season. I plant two cuttings in each pot. Before planting out, I will remove the weaker of the new cabbage plants. Meanwhile, the new cuttings in their pots are positioned in a bright location (such as a greenhouse or a porch to develop for a month or so.
Second week in February
Pruning the Apple Tree
My fruit trees and blackcurrant bushes especially need to be pruned in the New Year before the sap rises and buds open.
The garden is too small to allow the apple tree, in particular, to grow as large as it would in the wild.
A long-armed loper and a saw are required, as well as a small stepladder, to prune the apple tree.
The objsectives are (a) to remove branches which obstruct a pathway (b) to reduce the height of any skyward bound branches so that the tree in leaf will not shade my herb patch and finally (c) to remove any damaged boughs or branches. If left, these would dmage the bark with chaffing in fuyure.
If a bough is too thick to be cut by a secateurs or a loper, hen a saw is called for. It is important that the cut is clean and that it heals flat and quicckly without any cracks which could become infected.
My two blackcurrant bushes are planted on either side of the bird table and have served me well for the last ten years. The birds fo not seem to eat the fruit, which is plentiful. A lovely dessert is fresh blackcurrants, a dollop of yoghurt and a spoonful of honey on top.
Blackcurrants fruit on new wood which is paler in colour that wood which has grown up from the base a couple of years ago. I use a secateurs to firstly remove the older, dark wood.
After the dark wood , I look for any branches which are touching each other and remove the least crooked one. My objective is to thin out the branches so I can reach all parts of the bush to pick the fruit in the summer.