Posts Tagged ‘April’

SPARROWHAWK DROPS IN TO SAY THANKS FOR FEEDING THE SPARROWS! – FOURTH WEEK IN APRIL 2012

Female sparrowhawk (accipiter nisus) taking a break from hunting to do some manwatching.

After clearing weeds, it is not unusual for a robin, a blackbird, song thrush or some starlings or sparrows to arrive for a feed when they see upturned soil. Bird food in the form of insects and worms attracts garden birds as readily as the peanut or sunflower seed feeders hanging from the birdtable. However the other day a very unusual visitor caused a panic among the small birds when it landed on one of the rowan trees in the front garden.

A very imposing and self-confident sparrowhawk was in no hurry to move on from my small 20 by 30 foot front garden. I had time to get my camera, go to an upstairs window and take a few snaps of this imposing bird of prey below in the rowan tree outside. It seemed the sparrowhawk was studying me as much as I was observing her. Meanwhile, all the sparrows and other small birds made themselves scarce. Only when a neighbour’s car pulled in to the driveway next door did this acrobat of the air blithely take off. With all the young fledgling garden birds starting to leave their nests, this is probably the easiest time of year to get a meal if you are a sparrowhawk, so plenty of time for this beautiful bird of prey to hang out a do a bit of manwatching.

DIRECT SOWING OF CARROT AND RADISH SEEDS – THIRD WEEK IN APRIL 2012

Every garden needs a gaffer - Arthur the cat supervises seed sowing from the comfort of his bed atop a bag of old leaves.

Last week I mentioned that with a small garden, sowing most seeds in small pots or seed trays with a view to transplanting the seedlings to open soil in a few weeks is my preference. However, some vegetable seedlings do not thrive if transplanted. Root vegetables especially prefer to be sown directly where they are to grow to maturity.

A terracotta large pot suits my garden as a place to grow carrots. I use my largest pot which is about 50cm across and 50 cm high. Placing it in the middle of the brassica patch, I put a few stones in the base to help water to drain out at the bottom. Then I fill it with the finest soil I have. This soil grew beetroot last year so there is no fresh compost in it and hardly any large stones. Once almost full, I scatter a couple of dozen seeds spaced about 3 -4 cm across the soil surface. I cover the seedbed with a skim of soil, pat it down with the palm of my hand and then water through the rose spout of a watering can.

The carrot variety I used this year was ‘Amsterdam Forcing 2’. March to August is the period to sow this variety. In August, I might try sowing some seeds in the greenhouse for a late harvest. With 800 in the average packet, I will not run out of carrot seed in my small garden for a while.

RADISH SEED SOWING

Meanwhile, the radish seedbeds are windowboxes each filled with soil from the patch growing cabbage and kale this year, as radish is also a brassica like them. Only growing the brassica family in the same soil once every 4 years hopefully will prevent me having to deal with the bane of the brassica vegetables, clubroot disease. Rotating each veg family around a 4 year rotation has spared me any serious plant diseases so far, buíochas le Dia.

Last year, I sowed a well known radish variety ‘French Breakfast’ from Madeleine Mc Keever, the West Cork  organic seed producer www.brownenvelopeseeds.com. This year, I am trying a heritage radish variety which originated in the 1890’s ‘Scarlet Globe‘ which I bought from www.irishseedsavers.ie in Scarriff, Co. Clare.

Each week from now to October, I will make a sowing of a couple of dozen radish seeds in a vacant window box each week. In about 5 weeks, the seed I sowed today will have become mature radish. Once those radish are harvested that week and their windowbox seedbed is cleared, I can handfork the soil over and sow, with fresh radish seed’ that windowbox anew – and so on week by week. The peppery crunchiness of a freshly harvested radish is impossible to find in a shop bought radish which was probably Dutch grown. One more reason to G.I.Y.  ( Grow It Yourself) and get involved with www.giyireland.com.

SEED SOWING IN THE GREENHOUSE WITH THE BACK STRAIGHT IS BEST – SECOND WEEK IN APRIL 2012

On 'Ireland AM' (TV3) with Aidan Cooney sowing pea seeds.

Since last spring, (thanks to my Fingal Green friends who contributed towards the cost of a new greenhouse for my 50th birthday!), I now have a great sowing and potting shed as well. The shelves on each side of the greenhouse are at just the right height to support a plank between them, which I use as a work top for sowing seed and potting up plants. I can work away there blissfully sheltered from the April showers.

I an sowing the bulk of the seed varieties around now, but in early June, I will be back to do a later sowing of runner bean, lettuce, oriental greens, basil, coriander, beetroot etc. The benefits of a greenhouse or polytunnel are many, but extending the season and growing more tender crops are benefits to which I look forward.

My friend Lorcan kindly called in with his camera the other day while I was sowing some seeds. The following video clip saves me saying much more on the subject for the moment.

THE BACK OF A DRAWER IS NOT THE PLACE TO STORE SEED – FOURTH WEEK IN APRIL 2010

I hear people say from time to time that once seed packets are opened and some seeds sown, they put the re-sealed packet away in a kitchen drawer. I used to do this until I discovered the seeds got  forgotten about and did not keep well. So I resolved to get  myself a better organised storage system.

While Minister for Food and Horticulture, I got to see how seed and fresh produce was stored. The conditions were generally a chilled environment and produce was well labelled for traceability reasons.  The principle for the kitchen gardener is no different.

Organised seed storage

Last year, I kept seed packets in clean dry sealed jam jars in the fridge. However the accumulation of ‘seed jars’ was getting ridiculous. My seed storage was getting in the way of food storage. So this year after last week’s BIG SOW, the system changed and now takes up less space and seed packets are easier to find.

Instead of a jar per seed packet or two, I now group the seed packets in vegetable families. Using ‘fast food’ plastic trays with sealable lids, I put all the brassica seeds (kale, broccolli, Brussel sprout packets etc) in one sealed container and in another I have chard, beetroot and leaf beet, while another has the flower seeds such as sunflower, marigolds and nasturtiums.

The top shelf of the fridge now has the seed containers each labelled with post-its all standing on their sides like a shelf of books. To sow another batch of any seed is now hassle free. I just sowed more beetroot this week for example. Seed packets are now easy to find and easy to put back. Being sealed and in the fridge I hope will prolong their vitality as seeds.

I have kept the radish and cress seeds in separate jars also in the fridge for easy access. These are seeds I sow in succession atleast once a week for a continuous crop up to the end of October. Meanwhile good luck with your own seed storage as well as your seed sowing.

THE GREATEST ACT OF FAITH IN THE FUTURE, THE SOWING OF SEEDS – THIRD WEEK IN APRIL 2010

A few seeds every week get sown, mainly radish outdoors each Sunday in a window box to ensure a few are available for harvest each week  from April to November. Every couple of days, I would lay a few mung bean seeds in a ‘sprouter’ on the kitchen windowsill so I always have some fresh bean sprouts at the ready for the sandwiches and salad. Some lettuce seeds went in in February and other sowings will be made from time to time up to September, again to extend  availability and avoid gluts.

However each spring the kitchen garden requires what could be called the ‘BIG SOW’. This is when the bulk of annual flowers, veg and herb seeds are sown under glass and as they fill out in the seedtrays, out they go to grow on outdoors. Last year, the ‘BIG SOW’ was done on the 21st March, but with the shocking cold winter and late spring (not to mention other distractions in my life!), the ‘BIG SOW’ this year took place last Sunday evening 18th April. However Mother Nature can be kind hearted (volcanoes aside!) and seedlings have a way of putting on a spurt of growth as temperatures rise so all in all no need to panic if you still have to sow seeds this spring. Just read the instructions on the seed packets and get sowing.

Every gardener develops a system which suits the local situation. For what it is worth this is my system. My lean-to greenhouse (the one which looks like a phone box!) has five removeable shelves. Each shelf fits two seedtrays. Each seedtray fits 24 cubes of organic potting compost. Each cube is a growing module for a seedling to develop. I hope to grow 2 types of seed variety in each seedtray – so 12 seedlings of each variety is my optimum yield. Therefore, with 10 seedtrays on 5 shelves, I have just enough space to sow 20 different varieties of flowers, veg and herbs. So here goes……

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TIDYING UP AND TURNING COMPOST – SECOND WEEK IN APRIL 2010

April is like the New Year for a kitchen gardener. The New Year resolutions are made to keep the garden tidy and have a productive compost making system. First, I tidy out the pond to re move the prolific excess reeds and their mat of roots, all for composting. Likewise, bag , bags and boxes of greenery from weeding, grass cutting, hedge clipping and veg stalks beyond their productive lives. Also kitchen waste collecting week by week in the compost tumbler is ready to be added to the mix in the metre cubed compost box. Mine is a brick construction but I’ve seen wooden ones and even straw bale ones.

I enjoy digging put the half full and half composted mix. Once the box is empty, I refill it like a multi-decker sandwich starting with woody hedge clippings, then some softer green material like weeds and kitchen waste, more tough stuff like stalks or clippings and so on. I sprinkle on some wood ash every now and again and some accelerator. Once the box is full, an old layer of carpet keeps it warm and working well until it comes time to dig it out around November.

APRIL OVERVIEW OF GARDEN SHOWING PRINCIPLES OF CROP ROTATION – FIRST WEEK IN APRIL 2010

At last the sun is shining and the heat is like a long lost friend. Soil temperatures are still low and a touch of frost at night stops me from leaving greenhouse seedlings out at night. However, I put the  greenhouse seedtrays out during the day once seedlings are close to being of a size when they should be ready for planting in the soil. It helps to harden them off this way so they are not so shocked by being transplanted into the open soil.

The open soil in the kitchen garden is largely divided into four plots for separate vegetable families that I like to eat. (1) beet family eg beetroot and leaf beet. (2)brassicas eg kale, Brussels sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli and cabbage. (3) legumes eg peas and beans, I put sweet pea in here too for a bit of colour. (4) alliums eg onions, leeks, garlic and shallots. I’m told that repeatedly growing the same crop in the one place year after year risks attracting a disease or pest which likes that crop. For example, brassicas can get clubroot. However that means no brassicas can be grown for maybe 25 years in that place. As with all things in life, prevention is better than cure. The video below may be of interest meanwhile.