Posts Tagged ‘August’


The allotment tradition in England is seriously impressive. I decided to indulge myself with a ferry, train from Holyhead to Liverpool and a visit to City Hall there. Rob the porter was very helpful in sourcing a full list of the few dozen allotment sites around the city. Too many allotments to visit in one day so I chose those sites closest to where the Fab Four and Brian Epstein grew up and created my own ‘home-grown’ Magical Mystery Tour.

The fold up bike was the ideal vehicle as the allotments were often up laneways or behind houses in out of the way places. George Harrison grew up in 12 Arnold Grove and his nearest allotment would have been Sturdee Road which was all locked and hard enough to find but was clearly well used. George described himself as the ‘gardener’ in the group so he is my ‘number one Beatle’.

Then I headed for Dunbabin Road, behind King David School close to where the first Beatle  manager, Brian Epstein, lived. Again this site was locked up but clearly well tended and very productive down a laneway surrounded by pallisade fencing as they all were.

Off I headed then down Menlove Avenue where John Lennon grew up and turned up Vale Road where close to John’s childhood home I found another large crop of allotments in the shadow of a beautiful pub bedecked with bulging bright hanging baskets called … (wait for it)…’The Gardener’s Arms’.

Suitably refreshed, I energetically struck out for Mersey Road Allotments near where Paul Mc Cartney grew up on Fortlinn Road. Here I met James about 16 years old and his Dad, Dave,  tending one of 140 allotments there stretching as far as the eye could see on the banks of the Mersey. James was at the locked gate waiting to be let in by his Dad. Each allotment holder has a key and pays annual rent which varies  according to the size of each plot, to the Mersey Road Allotment Association Secretary. This rent is then forwarded to the City Council. James, an incurable Eminem fan, was proud of the dry mud on his boots which are a momento of Oxegen (yes, in Kildare) .   Dave told me there was a waiting list of about 50 for this site and each plot is about 60 by 20 feet in size. An interesting sign on the noticeboard read, ‘HOSES MAY ONLY BE USED TO FILL WATER BUTTS’.

I left James and his Dad, locking the gate after me. and pedalled off towards the city centre to the Dingle area. (No debate about Daingean Uí Chúis over here!) This is ‘Ringo Star territory’ and in front of Buckland Street allotments is a picture of the great man giving all passers-by the two fingers in a sign of peace. I waited at the locked gates until Tom came out carrying a big bundle of rhubarb. Tom stopped to tell  me rents vary there between £17 and £50 a plot and rent was paid to the Allotment Committee locally who passed it on the Council. A notice on the gate read ‘Please do not let children onto the site regardless of whom they claim to be asking to see. The site is not a playground and unaccompanied children running around would invalidate insurance’.

Before leaving Liverpool I took a train to Port Sunlight to see a famous private allotment site on the Wirral. This is where William Hesketh Lever developed his now famous multnational company making soap. His vision was impressive. He built beautiful functional houses for his workers, introduced a pension scheme and other revolutionary benefits in the 19th century and made allotments available and encouraged their productive use.

One of his workers, Albert Wallace, won an award for the Best Allotment in 1892. His prize was two tons of the finest manure! In presenting the award, Mr Lever described Albert’s plot as ‘… well run, efficient and everything in its place…’. I imagine the Sunlight soap came in handy after that presentation!



The excellent ‘Garraí Glas’ with Síle touring kitchen gardeners around Ireland in her nifty red sports car is due to return to our screens. My little patch is to get a look in in the new series. Local organic advisor and the woman who started The Herb Garden (great website), Denise Dunne from the Naul was asked along to evaluate my progress in striving to get full organic certification. Normally only commercial growers wanting to supply the huge demand for organic food bother with the bureaucracy of organic certification. In  my case I like a challenge and I appreciate the bureaucracy better now for when I am discussing organic conversion issues with an farmer or in public.

The first part of the shoot was a chat about organic standards with Sle, Denise and myself. The second half saw Síle and myself picking, washing, cutting and juicing the first apples of the season. Fruit still a bit hard and tarty for juicing on a large scale but my apples will ripen over the next couple of weeks.

Here are a couple of pictures to give a visual flavour of the day.


About those lettuce seeds I mentioned sowing recently, they did germinate fine. It is a good thing I was not dissuaded from sowing by the message on the seed packet, ‘will not germinate when temperatures are above 18c’. I remind myself again that seeds WANT to grow, given a reasonable start and half a chance. However the better the conditions, the more vigorous the growth.

Thanks to the generosity of Green colleagues in Fingal, I recently celebrated a ‘significant birthday’ with a tantalizing voucher for a small 8′ by 6′ greenhouse which they ordered from The Botanic Greenhouse Company in Swords. (Thank you one and all in the Fingal Greens). It will be winter time when I get to clear a space for this new addition to the kitchen garden, but in the meantime I’m on a learning curve. Suppose you could say I’m studying the ‘greenhouse effect’ in miniature! In farming, the term for growing under glass or in a polytunnel is ‘protected cropping’.

I was delighted to visit Nicky Kyle in Ballyboughal, Fingal, to get her advice on getting the best from a polytunnel or greenhouse. Nicky has been growing organically  for a few decades and her diverse produce sells well at Balbriggan Fish and Farmers’ Market every Friday morning.

The diversity of plants in just one polytunnel we visited was impressive. Even more impressive was the range of varieties of each species.

Here are a few examples:

CHERRY TOMATO; Variety ‘ROSADA’, a very sweet and tasty mini-plum shape available from Simpson Seeds. A lovely smack cut in halves with some hummus.

CHERRY TOMATO: Variety ‘SUNGOLD”, round and bright yellow when ripe and explodes with flavour in the mouth.

BEEF TOMATO: Variety ‘BLACK CRIM’, this year with the good summer, almost size of decent pumpkin, but struggles normally at this latitude, much prefers Sardinia probably!

ALPINE STRAWBERRIES: Variety ‘REUGEN’ good continuous cropper over summer months. Quite soft so need eating soon after picking. (I can live with that!) Grown from seed and bought by mail order from Chiltern Seeds.

FRENCH BEAN: Variety ‘COBRA’ excellent flavour and large pod size when ripe. French beans can be encouraged to crop again following first harvest if leaves are stripped off after cropping which triggers more fruiting I am told.

COURGETTE: Variety ‘Atena’ yield healthy and tasty yellow courgettes and does well as tunnel crop.

GRAPE: Variety ‘LAKEMONT’ seedless white grape which I saw growing well in a bucket sized pot. Mobile enough to put out in warmest weater and lifted back in again to be wintered under cover.


Got a call from TV3 to come on the Morning Show programme on Tuesday 3rd August to discuss this website. The spark of interest was

On the set of The Morning Show with hosts Brian Daly and Sybil Mulcahy

lit by the impromptu visit by pupils from St Teresa’s National School and the al fresco recording of ‘The Garden Song’, I think. So a big thank you again to Ms. Lee and her young vegetable growing and singing students. The number of visitors to the website after the TV3 broadcast would have filled the garden itself many times over! Take a look here.

Meanwhile the Mammoth Russian sunflowers are flowering one by one. They are the skyscrapers of the garden and the bees love them. The lavender also is in full bloom and festooned with bumblebees and honey bees. The bees are not in the least bit bothered by me or any other mammal moving about the garden. It saddens me to hear about the phobia people mention about bees and wasps. I would be more cautious about wasps as they can sting and sting again later. However a bee will not sting unless the hive is threatened. After all, a bee dies in a gruesome way once it has stung, laying down its life for the hive.

Bees enjoying the Sunflower

This is the time of year to enjoy the fruits of earlier labour in the garden. However, the forward thinking gardener will be preparing to sow Spring Cabbage, Pak Choi and other salads, Radish every week or two and even Potatoes with harvest at Christmas in mind. Myself, I’ve put in a few more radish seeds and in a tub of soil, some lettuce seeds. Not very confident with the lettuce however as the packet says ‘ will not germinate over 18 degrees’. So fingers crossed. I’m not too worried as the garden is full of leafy plants which when mixed together make very interesting salads, such as chard, cabbage, nasturtium, dandelion, lettuces and various herbs. Even rose petals grown organically make an exotic addition to a salad bowl. As the person who said it said, variety is the spice of life (in as salad bowl).


Harvesting continues throughout the garden. Onions, peas, beans, cabbage, kale and courgettes all need regular picking. The biggest job this week is setting up the apple juicer, retrieving empty bottles from the attic and containers  to keep juice in the freezer for the months ahead.

Someone with a larger kitchen garden would be thinking at this time of preserving and storing many types of fruit and vegetables. Any USA or Canadian kitchen garden website would be more helpful perhaps. The coming winter on a larger landmass brings snow and ice. Unless root vegetables are dug up before the freeze there, they must remain in the ground until the thaw. In Winnipeg, Canada, which has good farmers’ markets, the winter temperature reaches minus 40 centigrade creating one metre thick ice on the Red River.

However juicing is the best way for me not to  waste the crop of apples on my solitary James Grieve apple tree. This variety gives a generous crop of large mottled red and green apples. In July, they are a little bitter but can be used as cookers. By the end of August, they have ripened further as a good dessert apple. However, once picked they are good for about a week after which they deteriorate. I have found over the years that they juice very well and once defrosted they are available until next August and September’s crop is ready for harvesting.

So thank you James Grieve, the Edinburgh apple breeder who crossed a Pott’s Seedling and a Cox’s Orange Pippin in 1893 to create my juicy apple tree. I need to prune this venerable tree back each winter so that there is enough space and light in the garden to grow the other crops, but that is a story for another day.


This is now the week to look towards the jobs that come around each autumn. Cutting back of raspberry canes and blackcurrant bushes marks the beginning of autumn.

I’m glad to report another good year for the blackcurrant bushes. The raspberry canes were new so I did not expect a bumper crop but hope for great things next year. Cutting back the canes is going to encourage new growth but also in a small garden keeps things tidy enough for myself and visitors to walk around.

The blackcurrant pruning involves taking out branches which fruited this year and this also de-clutters the bush which helps air to circulate and keeps any disease at bay. The cuttings also serve as useful sticks which can be used again for climbing plants next year, or if dried can be used to help start a fire in the winter. The ash from the fire will return to the compost heap, keeping the cycle of life going full circle.


Mulching space where crops have been harvested and cleared. Sowing green manure.

As I remove plants following a harvest, for example, of broad beans and peas, I am left with very good bare soil. Nature does not do bare soil, so it is good to cover it with a mulch of grass clippings or even cardboard.

Another good option is to sow a suitable green manure, which really just means a quick growing crop that is to be dug in and added to the organic matter and improve the soil structure for another crop to be sown either in the autumn or in the following spring. One thing I’ve discovered is that soil likes to have something growing in it as the roots of any plant, even what we call weeds, encourage soil microbes which would not be encouraged if there were no plant roots.