Posts Tagged ‘winter’

PRUNING BLACKCURRANT BUSHES WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM AN ORGANIC EXPERT – THIRD WEEK IN JANUARY 2010

This mild and still weather after the ‘shock and awe’ of the BIG FREEZE really makes me appreciate the occasional foray into the garden. I was recently at an organic gardening talk by local experienced grower Nicky Kyle who asked me to pull a few raffle tickets as part of a fundraiser for disaster relief in Haiti.

I asked Nicky for advice on pruning blackcurrants. I was delighted when Nicky offered to visit my kitchen garden and show me how to wield a secateurs herself. I hope you can see the results of the visit on this video clip to follow for yourself.

THE PLEASURE OF PLANTING ROSES ON A MILD SUNNY SUNDAY – SECOND WEEK IN JANUARY 2010

After the rain, snow and ice, a dry weekend, not to mention a still and sunny Sunday was in relative terms, heaven on Earth. Although growing fruit and vegetables is my main activity in the kitchen garden, the cultivation of roses is very rewarding. For anyone concerned about ‘carbon footprints’, the sad reality about roses is that ALL roses sold in local shops are imported as far as I can see. So if you want an Irish rose for yourself or for some other special person, you will just have to grow it yourself!

Ingrid Bergman rose. Pic. courtesy http://www.rose-gardening-made-easy.com

I confess I had a bed of five Alec’s Red rose bushes but they were neglected over the years. I had wanted red roses but strangely, that variety is more crimson than red. However they had a lovely perfume

and in their hey-day, they served me well. I had even harvested the petals one year and made the most delicious and aromatic rose petal jam. Mind you it took the petals from five bushes to get one pound of jam but what a treat!

To replace rose bushes, it is recommended to not plant new bushes in the same soil. Therfore, my first job was to remove the soil and replenish the bed with compost and humus rich soil, well mixed. The old soil is perfectly good for vegetables however, so nothing is going to waste except the old rose bushes which I have dug up and stacked with the firewood to dry.

I have no shortage of well rotted compost at present which is covered by old carpet so that rain does not leach thegoodness out of it. A couple of barrow loads of fresh soil and compost refilled the new rose bed easily enough. The five new hybrid tea rose bushes are called ‘Ingrid Bergman‘. I am assured this variety is truly a red rose and has a very strong perfume. With the rose bed freshly prepared with loose friable soil, the planting of the five bushes was almost effortless with the help of a trowel.

Having welcomed Richard Corrigan and Duncan Stewart to graze their way through my little garden, it was a pleasure to now welcome such a classy guest as Ingrid Bergman!

RECOVERING FROM NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS WITH SOBER LOOK AT A FEW SEED CATALOGUES – FIRST WEEK IN JANUARY 2010

Having survived without sprain or injury on the ice  while heralding in the New Year, I was relieved to get a chance to sit down and see what seeds I had for the forthcoming planting season. With the ground frozen, the ordering of seeds is the ideal garden related activity for this time of year.

Giant Winter Leek

The gaps in my seed collection are to be filled once I get my orders in the post. The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim supplies most of my seed needs. See their online catalogue here. Giant Winter Leek, Rainbow Chard, Purple Sprouting Early Broccoli, Gold Rush Courgette and Sugar Grape Cherry Tomato are all on order.

Seed potatoes

I still need early (Orla) and second early (Carlingford) seed potatoes as well as a few annual flower seed to attract useful wildlife such as hoverfly and simply to make the garden more attractive to nose and eyes. There is to my mind nothing to beat the heady aroma of Night-Scented Stock on a warm summer evening (remember those!).

PARTIALLY FED AND WARMED OVER CHRISTMAS FROM THE GARDEN – FOURTH WEEK IN DECEMBER 2009

With guests invited for Christmas, the prospect of depending on the few leeks, carrots, onions and herbs from the garden, to create the meals I had in mind would have meant very small helpings. So thankfully the Balbriggan Fish and Farmers’ Market was open late before Christmas to allow me augment my larder with fresh local produce. As a result nobody went hungry or cold for that matter.

My wood store (Photo by C.Finn)

Staying warm during the coldest Christmas in fifty years was hard for many people. The time and effort spent building a lean-to wood store in 2008 really paid off during this cold spell. The small Pioneer wood-stove was kept piping hot with well dried and seasoned logs.

As the stove opening is ten inches wide, I had to split some of the logs. Having a small garden does curtail the manly swinging of an axe mind you. This is not the Rockies or even the Bog of Allen after all. However a combined effort with axe and lump hammer did the job just as well.

The collection of prunings from winter 2008 served very well as the ‘cipíní’ to get the stove fired up. Indeed these ‘cipíní’ need to be used up otherwise I will be short of space to store the prunings which I will shortly be gathering from the apple, blackcurrants, raspberry canes and even the rowan trees in the front garden.

Meanwhile no shortage of wood ash but that has its uses too.

GARDEN FIR TREE BECOMES CHRISTMAS TREE INDOORS – THIRD WEEK IN DECEMBER 2009

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.

COLLECT LEAVES AND BAG THEM TO MAKE LEAFMOULD – SECOND WEEK IN DECEMBER 2009

There is certainly a shortage of money in the country but there is no shortage of leaves, in my garden atleast. And as the Mamas and the Papas would say ‘all the leaves are brown’. Time then to make leafmould.

Leafmould is similar to composting. However on a forest floor it is fungi more than microbes and other ‘compost friendly’ bugs which break down  layers of leaves. Leaves are more fibrous than the soft vegetable matter in a compost heap. Therefore making leafmould can take about three years whereas reasonably good compost can be made in about one year.

This is why leaves are collected and stored separate to a compost mix. The result of waiting for leaves to break down is worth it however. The end result is a crumbly, clean and earthy ingredient for seed compost minus the egg shells and twigs that often appear in rotted down compost.

I had a mind to just let the leaves rot down in the garden naturally. However when a friend almost slipped on the leafy driveway surface, I resolved to bag the offending leaf fall.

I also resolved to do the bagging quickly as spare time is in short supply these days. First I took as large and heavy duty a plastic bag as I could find. Using rake and gloved hands, I stuffed the bag with any leaves covering the paths and driveway. I tied the top of the bag with an old shoe lace to close it. Leaves need air to attract the fungi required to make the leafmould. Final job therefore is to jab the bag a few times with a garden fork so the air can circulate inside it. Then I tidied away the 2009 collection of leaves. This collection will be joined by a 2010 bag of leaves next winter and so on. In 2012 I look forward to opening the 2009 bag and using the leafmould which I hope to find mature and ready be an ingredient in my home-made seed compost.

SEEDS SPROUTING AND CUTTINGS GROWING EVEN IN THE FIRST WEEK OF DECEMBER 2009

Before I began kitchen gardening, I was very clear that seeds were sown in Spring, grew in Summer, were harvested in Autumn and during Winter was the time to oogle seed catalogues and plan for the next round of seasons. This week I’ve been forced to realise life is not that straightforward.

Out I went at first light to put the kitchen waste in the compost tumbler. What did I spot but broad bean plants popping their heads into the damp wintry air. The seeds I planted under the support  string ‘wig-wam’  have sprouted and are hardy enough to grow even in December. In my new brassica patch a few weeks ago I planted cuttings taken from the main everlasting cabbage crop in the old brassica patch. In recent weeks they have been limp and forlorn looking in the cold and wet weather. This week, however, I notice they have perked up and look like plants in their own right. I’m now confident I will have a crop of new cabbage leaves in the spring from the new brassica patch.

The old brassica patch will be cleared in Spring to make way for the spinach and beetroot seedlings. Meanwhile, next week, I’ve a plan to remove five jaded rose bushes which served me well over the last ten years. However, I’m advised that five new rose plants are now required as long as they are not planted in the same soil as their predecessors.