Archive for the ‘Garlic’ Category


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.



The Beetroot patch

Last Sunday was calm, cool with a bright blue sky. After a busy spell, I at last found a couple of hours to dig up the beetroot crop, better late than never. Not a big patch (7 by 3 feet) but enough to keep me in beetroot for the year. My only worry was that it might be turning a bit woody the way radish goes if left in the ground too long but I need not have worried.

The crop when boiled for 45 minutes was then easy to top and tail and the skin was easily scraped off the warm red roots. While waiting for the roots to cook, the pickling mixture was prepared. Two pints of vinegar, black pepper, sprinkling of root ginger and allspice, two dessert spoons of brown sugar, 4 bay leaves and 4 crushed cloves of garlic and a few finely chopped shallots. Ideally, this would have been left to mature for a week but I needed to get the bottling done quickly so I boiled it up, simmering for a few minutes (an hour is recommended) and left to cool.

Now to chop up the skinned shiney beetroot and fill up the jars. I filled 15, three up on last years harvest. Kept back a couple of raw beetroot which tasted earthy and delicious grated with a salad. I bottled the bulk of the crop, however, as it is quick, nothing goes to waste and the bottled beetroot adds a great flavour to sandwiches in work during the year.

The pickling mixture was poured in to half fill each jar of beetroot. I used the reddened water from cooking the crop to top up each jar. Last year I made the mistake of filling each jar with the pickling mixture and the excessive vinegar was a bit overpowering, so more beetroot, less vinegar this year!

Garlic cloves and bulbs

Meanwhile, enough daylight left to separate the garlic cloves out from the bulbs ordered on line from based in Bantry, Co Cork. Very impressive overnight dispatch by post. The cloves were spaced 6 inches apart and sown 1 inch below the surface. Hopefully the crop from these cloves will be ready to add to next years batch of bottled beetroot.

A good book on beetroot I would recommend is ‘Beetroot, the Vitality Plant and its Medicinal Benefits’ by Margaret Briggs published in 2007 by Abbeydale Press.


Great weather if you like watering and if you have access to water. Luckily I find early morning watering with my 8 watering cans quite therapeutic and a good time to think about what the day ahead has in store.

This being the longest day, I am set upon harvesting the patch growing onions, shallots and garlic. If garlic is best harvested on the longest day, then I am bang on! Each crop  is being lifted with the help of my garden fork. The waft of garlic aroma bodes well for flavoursome meals in the months to come. I lay out the garlic, onion and shallots on the warm dry pavements to dry off the soil so I can brush off any loose soil before hanging the produce to dry in a cool dry location.

In the middle of the empty patch after clearing young weeds I left only cosmos which will flower and keep the bees happy later in the summer. I plant 8 courgette plants in ring around the cosmos which have been well watered in. I will mulch the soil around these plants with newspaper and cover the paper with grass clippings.  The sooner the leaf cover grows the less chance weeds have to grow too. Covered soil will slow down evaporation further which means less watering needed as well. Mulching also results in less blemished and cleaner courgettes which won’t be lying on bare soil as they ripen.

The potatoes, both early (Colleen) and second early (Carlingford) have been growing away in  strong  bags. The earlies are ready so out they come.  I tip over the  grow bags to collect the lovely new potatoes. Once boxed for short term stortage,  (earlies are not as good as main crop for long term storage), I put back the compost and soil mix in each growing bag. These bags are now ready to have a pumpkin seedling planted into each bag. I must remember to keep the pumpkins well  watered as those bags can easily dry out if not watched each morning especially in this halcyon heat. You may notice me trying not to squint in the early morning sunshine during the Youtube video clip about all this posted below!


Last Thursday, 10th June, 50 fellow kitchen gardeners dropped in at 7pm for a ‘tour’ of the garden and I managed to rustle up a cup of tea and cake  for them all.  It was Naul GIY group through Denise Dunne of The Herb Garden who first mooted the idea of a GIY garden visit and it turned out to be a very enjoyable and informative evening, (for me anyway!).

Naul was well represented as were GIYers from Skerries, Bog of the Ring, Lusk, Rush, Lucan, Donabate, Swords, Malahide, Garristown, Ballyboughal, Smithfield in Dublin City and of course Balbriggan GIY stalwarts were there too. I learned a fair few things myself from the banter during a balmy blue sky evening.

For example,  we were told garlic cloves are  best sown on the shortest day so they can be harvested on the longest day. So I look forward to celebrating the longest day by harvesting my modest garlic crop. It was suggested the Minister for Finance would appreciate a bulb or two. Supplying the Minister with garlic is the least I can do for my country!

The garden tour was also a win-win in that I had a very bushy cabbage patch which I needed to clear to make way for young beetroot and rainbow chard plants growing too big in modules. Lo and behold, the cabbage bush was stripped bare before the night was out. So over the weekend the remnants of last years brassica patch was finally transformed into a new season beetroot and rainbow chard patch. I hope my guests enjoyed cooking and tasting  this heritage variety of ‘everlasting cabbage’ which is generally not for sale in the shops.

Sadly this is but one example of fruit and vegetable varieties which used to be common but are now no longer widely available. I read that 100 years ago the USA had 100 times the varieties of edible plants available commercially compared to today. Humankind is becoming more and more dependent on fewer and fewer food species of flora or fauna. Worldwide three quarters of all food now derives from just 8 species. I read also that 98%  of all commercial seeds are controlled by just 6 companies, DuPont, Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, Aventis and Mitsiu. At the same time, a third of all USA health spending is on diet related problem and Ireland has a history of copying US trends,

So as well as kitchen gardening being an instument of healthy community resilience, co-operation and self-reliance, there is also a important job to do in maintaining and enchancing the diversity of food species that have been developed over generations  to make communities not just wealthy but healthy too.

Photos courtesy of C.Finn:

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Not much time for gardening with late Dáil sittings. I just about manage a few minutes in the garden to bring vegetable, fruit and kitchen paper waste out to the compost tumbler every couple of days.

I notice the garlic cloves sown a couple of weeks ago are sprouting and the green shoots of new growth are evident. (A good omen for the ‘green shoots of economic recovery’, let us hope!). This is the last Thursday of Dail sittings for 2009 and the Party Leaders and An Ceann Comhairle have exchanged Christmas Greetings. It is time to turn attention to the Christmas Tree at home.

For eleven months of the year a miniature fir tree grows away slowly beside the raspberry canes under the apple tree in the back garden. Now is the time to take a spade, dig around the tree  doing as little damage as possible to the roots, and transplant the whole tree (rootball and all) into a clean black bucket.

The tree is now ready for a sojourn in the sitting room window, suitably decorated and lit up for the Christmas season. After Nollaig na mBan on January 6th it will be replanted in the garden. While most of us head home for Christmas, this fir tree heads indoors for a holiday. Each to their own.

Meanwhile, time to put on the kettle, stick a log on the fire and have a good look at a couple of seed catalogues. Nollaig shona duit.


I understand that garlic was briefly discussed at Cabinet recently. Cabinet confidentiality precludes me from going into further detail. However, just like any kitchen gardener, I am keen to  meet as much as possible of my own garlic needs from home-grown stocks. With this in mind I am planting a few extra cloves this month myself. I hope to have a few bulbs to spare at harvest time for the Minister for Finance. Whatever else our country is short of during these hard times, at least let us not be short of produce we can grow in ‘Ireland – the Food Island’.

Garlic requires a longer growing season than most vegetables and along with costs  and our damp climate,  this has meant that garlic is not  grown commercially to any extent in Ireland. There is a small amount grown on the Isle of Wight, I understand,  but most of the garlic I see in the shops comes from China. The cloves I sow in the back garden however come through a certified seed merchant. In this way I hope they are more suited to growing in this climate than the Chinese grown shop garlic.

If you have a choice of varieties in a garden centre, then Messidrome or Germidour are suited better to November sowing. Printador is more for early spring sowing. I would expect to be harvesting my own crop in July 2010.

The patch for my new garlic bed is alongside the recently sown Radar onions as garlic, onion, leek, shallots etc are all members of the allium family and have similar growing needs. First the garlic bulbs need to be carefully pulled apart and the individual cloves laid out on the freshly prepared seedbed. I have read that a sprinkling of wood ash raked in to the surface brings up the potash levels, but if anything my potash levels are too high  so I skip that bit of advice.

With cloves spaced about five inches apart, I sow them each about an inch and a half below the surface. A frost kick starts their root development, I am told but they need a good amount of dry weather to avoid rotting and especially the fungus, white rot. This may explain why there has been so little Irish grown garlic, and how the well-travelled Chinese garlic has cornered the market here.

Nonetheless the challenge of growing garlic in Ireland is an interesting one as I love it in pesto with home-grown basil. However while chewing it raw  may be very healthy, I think I’ll stick to chewing an apple a day instead!

Mid-June review.

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!