Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pegs and Paper Pot Peas

There’s no denying that summer is over. Coming home in the dark after work is probably the most frustrating part of the winter, although the weather comes a very close second (particularly this week). Despite a busy few weeks work-wise, we’ve been determined to ride the wave of enthusiasm associated with our upgraded house, and have tried to make the most of what little “outdoor” time we could find.

The pegs in context
(with stool)
Coat Pegs - simple and effective
(well, they haven't fallen down yet!)
As we were thinking about being more self-sufficient at the same time as thinking about all our wood (see previous post), we thought it would be a “Good Idea” to try and make more wooden stuff that we could use. We did – the lovely “Not-Quite-Shaker-Style” pegs for the new front-door cloakroom. Beautifully simple and free to make, yet completely functional and, as they’re for hanging coats on, completely obscured by the coats so unappreciated by anyone. At least WE know they’re there.


November Greenhouse
(Broad Beans, Peas and Onion sets)

Newspaper Pot Peas
Continuing on the increased self-sufficiency theme, we also decided to try some newspaper pots for some of our late autumn sowings. In truth, two other rather more fundamental things happened that contributed to this decision. Firstly, we found the newspaper pot maker in a pile of other stuff. This was an unused Christmas present from … a while ago? It is one of those things that sounds wonderful, but when you actually see it you think “that’ll never work” and consign it, unused, so some pile of stuff somewhere. The second factor was that normally we’d sow peas in guttering in spring. Given that we’re being all enthusiastic at the moment, we decided to sow lots of peas and only have one gutter cover (actually, an old office strip-light cover, but never mind) so needed somewhere else to sow them We didn’t have enough toilet roll tubes and the small pots were all being kept for onion sets, so newspaper pots it is! Having made 116 of them over the weekend, they seem surprisingly strong, and we’re regretting discovering this present so late (although its still possible that they’ll disintegrate over the next few days, consigning the newspaper pot maker back to the “pile”).

Garlic "Cristo" growing well under fleece

Apart from sowing the Peas (58 each of “Meteor” and “Douce Provence” in the newspaper pots and 32 MangetoutWinterkefe” sown in the guttering) the GarlicCristo” cloves potted up last month grew very well, and have now been planted out under a fleece. Perhaps surprisingly (well, we were) we’ve never grown garlic before, probably because we’ve never been organised enough to get the cloves planted in time in autumn, so looking forward to seeing how these perform. We also managed to pot up 132 OnionRadar” sets and all four varieties of Broad Beans sown last month have germinated. Finally, and a bit late, but hopefully better late than never, we sowed a few Broccoli Green Magic F1” , CauliflowerAll The Year Round”, SpinachGiant Winter”, CabbagePixie” and Lamb’s LettuceElan” onto the windowsill propagator.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Fresh Crop (but just ideas)

Well it’s been a busy summer and, as usual, we’ve rather been swept away by everything. This year we’ve been extending and renovating the house and, as a result of moving out and all, the whole place has been somewhat neglected. That said, with everyone now back home, the building has a “new” feel to it, and this will hopefully encourage a similar wave of enthusiasm to get stuff done outside. The depleted bank account will also hopefully help this push for more self-sufficiency.

Part of the Logpile
(Note the building site sign still up on the left - we might leave it...)

Apart from the neglect, one of the major legacies from the build is lots of spare timber. This is in no small part thanks to the removal of the decking that surrounded the house which had, in the last couple of years, become somewhat treacherous - the decking was so slippery we could probably have made a bit of money renting the place to folks with unwanted, elderly in-laws, but I digress. We like timber. Timber can be used to make lots of things that we’ve wanted to make since we moved in like beehives and chicken arks. Whether we make them or not, of course, remains to be seen, but there are lots of exciting possibilities. First up will be a decent saw-horse to cut up everything we want to cut up, and the bigger bits will probably be the edges to some new raised beds. The downside to this is removing all the screws and nails from the timber to make it at least half-safe – three weekends down, and its nearly done…

Garlic and beans in greenhouse
Of course, there’s plenty of distractions to keep us otherwise occupied. As we discovered at the start of the year, the orchard needs to be moved at some point this winter and we haven’t decided to where yet. We’re hoping to plant Willow to supplement our firewood, having identified the long-overlooked “Piggery” as the perfect place to fail doing this, so need to start collecting Willow cuttings from around and about – we reckon there’s room for about 300 (perhaps we should re-name the Piggery as Thermopylae – I suspect the Willows will be outnumbered by the weeds!). The list is rather endless… We have at least managed to plant and sow some of next year’s crop: GarlicCristo’ and four Broad Bean varieties (Aquadulce Claudia, The Sutton, Jubilee Hysor and Red Epicure). This is the first time we’ve remembered to sow Broad Beans in the autumn, and the first time we’ve planted Garlic (although everything is in the greenhouse at the moment) – hopefully a sign we’re better organised already?

Saffron Crocus
(the most beautiful veg?)
Saffron harvest
(This IS a bumper crop!)
On a final note, we’ve had one great success this year! So-called “gourmet” veg has generally been disappointing for us (although I still hold out hope that we’ll actually get a crop of Asparagus next year). However, we did manage to grow and harvest some Saffron, which is continuing to crop as I write. We got the Crocus sativus at the Ploughing Championships, and put them in pots until we can think of what to do with them, and lo-and-behold have started producing flowers. Of course, it isn’t exactly a high-yielding crop – the stigmas are small enough fresh, and shrivel to even less when dried (which we’re doing by placing them between kitchen towels and leaving them on a shelf in the kitchen – it seems to work!), but the supreme one-upmanship you get from being able to say we’re growing our own saffron usefully ignores this fact!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Still going, just...

We've been meaning to get back into this blog for ages. In truth, we never meant to give up on it in the first place, it just kinda happened due to time pressures - something had to give. However, it remained our computer home page, so we never forgot about it. The story about our garden fascinates us (and probably no-one else). So, without further ado, let's start telling tales again.
New Orchard (in 2012) with newly-planted hedge in front to screen septic tank
2013 was a good year - we got lots of new beds dug in the spring and the good summer meant a decent crop. Broad and Runner BeansPeas, Turnips, Leeks, Chard and salads did well. Soft fruit was generally good (although the Redcurrant did get cleared in one day by birds) and Rhubarb was brilliant. Onions, Brussels Sprouts, Tomatoes (as usual) and Courgettes didn't do so well. Biggest disaster (of several) was Strawberries - having specially dug a bed and filled it with 50 plants, only one survived a severe frost the day after it was completed! The other major concern is the Orchard. This is located around the septic tank area - we thought this was a brilliant idea. However, we have since been advised in (ahem) strong terms to remove it before the tree roots block all the pipes in the percolation area - oops! Sadly, the ground is too wet for a transplant yet, so maybe next winter...?

Greenhouse (March 2014) - early days but Broccoli "Purple Sprouting" and
Lettuce "Little Gem" already pricked out
Fast forward to 2014. Wet. Very wet. You think it's bad in England? Okay, it is, and probably worse in the South-west than here for a change, but this is Ireland where they have 23 words for rain (someone commented to me recently that they found it "concerningly damp"!) and an infinite variety of ways to describe it (not actually infinite, but many are unprintable). Nothing has been dug as it's been too wet to dig (although admittedly we usually find excuses not to dig in most years). The over-wintering onion sets have overwintered in the bag in which they were bought, as it's been too wet to clear the bed to plant them. It's also been uncharacteristically windy. Trees have been blown down, the greenhouse was destroyed and we haven't yet managed to locate the cold frame. we have managed to sow a few seeds - Broad Beans (The Sutton and Aquedulce Claudia) in toilet rolls, Pea 'Meteor' in guttering, and a small array of others, including Leeks and Onions in the greenhouse, and some early sowings of brassicas (Brussels Sprouts, Kohl Rabi and Broccoli) and salady stuff (Perpetual Spinach, Lettuces, Pak Choi and Celery) on the kitchen windowsill.

Old seed box - yukkety yuk yuk!
One thing we did do, which we hope will help keep us going for the rest of the year, is replace the old seed box with a new one, cunningly crafted from a wine box and a bit of wood in the middle for a handle. We also put in some wooden inserts to separate the different types of seed. Something of an improvement, and totally free - you can tell we've been to the Copenhagen Design Museum!

New seed box - Mmm wine, lovely!

Hopefully the fact that we now have an attractive seed box, that's allowed in the occupied rooms of the house where it can be seen, will keep us reminded that we need to get out in the garden a lot more. Of course, with the rain this probably won't happen. It could also remind us (as if this was required, but then few of us are getting any younger) to have a glass of wine. Win-win!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A fool on April Fool's Day!

Rhubarb bed
(with forcer and first crop of 2012)
No, not us, thank you: we’re actually referring to the first harvest of the year – forced Rhubarb on 1st April - lovely. The forcer (see photo) was a wonderful Christmas present, shipped in from somewhere in England after we’d seen them in the Lost Gardens of Heligan (well worth a visit – better than the Eden Project) last year. It is brand new and (I’m assured) a real bargain (particularly the shipping costs). In truth, we didn’t make a fool, we just stewed the stuff and had it with local organic yogurt (from Mossfield Farm). Sitting outside on a sunny day eating our own produce – this is an awfully good life.

It was during digestion of said Rhubarb that realisation dawned – we’d barely posted about any of the produce from the garden, just what we’ve done (usually wrongly) in putting it together. A decision was made, therefore, that successes need to be reported on rather than failure – after all, the country is miserable enough, while we’re actually very happy in what we do and have achieved. While this feeling probably won’t last too long, here goes nothing.

Despite the lack of posts, we’ve actually managed to do a fair bit of long-term work in the garden over the winter and early spring. Much of this is stuff we’ve had planned for ages, but other bits are new ideas. The best of these was what we were going to do with the raised beds of ornamental shrubs at the front of the house. Whilst the shrubs have been handy for hanging bird feeders on, we’ve not managed to do anything much else with them and the result has been the slow deterioration of the beds.

(the front is actually straight, although the curvy sleepers look kinda funky!)
Whilst some of them will never be much more than ornamental, we decided we’d have a go at turning one into a Potager (fancy eh?). We’ve not actually done much with it yet apart from cleaning it up and putting down a new layer of weed suppressing membrane covered with bark chips, but we have started – two Blueberry bushes are in, and there may be more to go, and some sort of obelisk with runner beans is a definite possibility. This bed will certainly be a slow burner as we’ll probably only add the odd thing in now and again to see how it looks – an appropriately organic process – very fitting!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Roll on the New Year

Okay, own up - who prayed for rain in April then?

In truth, it hasn't actualy been a wet few months (note the deliberate non-use of the word "summer" here), just cold and miserable, with a kind of low-level rain that doesn't flood anything, but just doesn't really make you want to go outside in it. When the weather was good enough to get outside, and we weren't otherwise occupied, we were only really able to try and keep the weeds down or, if we were being really adventurous, cut the grass. Not the type of stuff that the few readers that may mistakenly happen upon this blog would want to stay and read. We also had a rather busy time with the family and, to add to the list of pathetic excuses we're struggling for, the camera decided to give up the ghost again after an expensive repair last year (although, after saving up and buying an even more expensive replacement (which has terminally depleted the polytunnel fund (at least for this year)), we realised that the camera was, in fact, working fine, and the cheapie lens that we were using was actually the problem). We now have a new lens as well as a new camera (but no polytunnel).

Winterkefe Mangetout
(vigourous and rewarding (and really easy))

Mignonette Strawberry
(small but the only one to survive the slugs)

This rather makes the last few months sound rather miserable, but the year hasn't been too bad. We had a decent crop of Broad Beans, Mangetout, Onions and Strawberries (some of which are still cropping). When we finally remembered to get the salads re-sown, the Rocket, Radishes and other leaves did quite well, and the herbs have also been in good supply. The Peas and Runner Beans failed due to neglect, while the Tomatoes finally died (although they don't really have an excuse, suicidally beligerant little sods). The Raspberries are probably our greatest failure, and their story may get a post of its own if we're honest enough to own up to what happened. However, we don't want to dwell on our mistakes; after all, if a mistake is good enough, why not keep repeating it over and over again?

Right, retrospection out of the way, lets think about the New Year. Yes, we know we're only just into October, but there are chocolate santas back on the supermarket shelves and, to be honest, seeing as we're into October, most of what we'll be doing for the next three months will be for the 2012 harvest.
Spring Cabbage Pixie
(The first sowing of 2012 (apart from Asparagus and Globe Artichokes))
First up, or, technically speaking, down, are the Spring Cabbages, with some "Pixie" being sown last month into pots. These are now well on their way and should be thinking about getting planted out, with some protection, in the next couple of weeks into what will be the 2012 brassica bed (which held the onions this year - not quite the right rotation yet, but we're getting there - at least this bed is ready for them to be planted into). At the same time, we're thinking about sowing some Broad Beans for early crops (probbaly into toliet roll tubes in the greenhouse) and have "Radar" Onion sets to be planted out (or, possibly potted up - they did well with this last spring). In the unlikely event of some decent weather, we may even get back to digging - no less that two new beds are required to fit in with the 2012 planting Plan (note capitalisation - this will be the year we start our campaign for world domination: we start in our veg plot).
The veg plot
(don't be fooled - the two plots are only covered in grass clippings and are yet to be dug)
Actually, just thinking now, the rugby's on next weekend. Would anyone mind if that prayer for rain was extended for a couple of weeks?

Friday, May 6, 2011

No April showers, just a May monsoon!

If we're being honest, any period of more than three days in Ireland without rain probably counts as an unseasonal dry spell. April, by our reckoning, was probably as close to a drought as we'll ever get here in April. That said, it is a dangerous thing to pray for rain - after all, you might get what you wish for. Rain does tend to stay for rather a long time once it gets settled in in this part of the world, figuratively putting on its slippers, stealing the most comfortable seat in front of the telly and monopolising the remote control. Unfortunately it appears that someone around here might have prayed for rain. While the onions, strawberries and rhubarb seem quite happy with this state of affairs, so do the slugs and weeds which have suddenly appeared. Nevertheless, there isn't really much we can do about the weather except complain about it, which is exactly what we're doing. Fortunately, whatever the weather, there is plenty to keep us occupied.

Greenhouse legumes growing well
(although Tomatoes (top right) aren't looking too hot again!)
The bean and pea seedlings are all growing well in the greenhouse. The Broad Bean "Express Eleonora (in the middle) will be ready to go out soon, with the Runner Bean "White Lady" (left-hand side) probably not too far behind. After that, Broad Bean "Londonderry" (left side of the top shelf) will be next, then a race between Pea "Meteor" (bottom shelf) and Mangetout "Winterkefe" (on the right hand side). Together these should pretty much fill our pea and bean bed for the year, leaving space for some "Painter Lady" Runner Beans, to be sown later this month. All this means we need to start thinking about sowing some more stuff to fill up the remaining beds, including salads (which we've forgotten about due to the failure of our first crop - still coming to terms about that) - a good job for rainy weather.

Raspberries in a big drum
(one of two to sort!)
If we're blessed/cursed with dry weather, then something more outdoorsy will probably be on the cards. Cutting the grass and weeding are likely to be favourite here, but we also need to sort out a run if we're ever going to get any hens (although this could be done indoors). We also need to dig another veg bed (or two, or three...) and think about sowing part of "The Orchard" with some wildflower seeds.

We also have our eye on planting a raspberry hedge in "The Orchard" to screen off the septic tank thingy from the house. We were going to plant a foraging hedge, but we have a load of rasps that won't last too much longer in the big drums we chucked them into in...February? Oops!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An Easter frenzy

Great weather and not too much else on over the long Easter weekend allowed us to make some real progress in the garden. To ensure our progress was coherent and effective, we consulted our "plan". One thing we had that needed to be planted (because we had dug up some plants from our old garden, and had them quietly dying in the cold frame) was Rhubarb. The plan indicated that the Rhubarb needed to be at the opposite end of the plot from where we had done any work so far. We carefully measured out the whole plot to ensure that we would get the Rhubarb plot in just the right place as shown in the plan, and realised two things. Firstly, the Rhubarb plot was a long way from where we were, and that if our measuring was only a little out, we might really balls up the whole plot layout. Secondly, the Rhubarb plot measures some 4' x 30'. Since it took us over a year to dig two beds totalling 4' x 24', we thought that this might be too much of a job for a weekend. The solution? To add in a row of four, 4' x 4' beds into the middle of the plot. Unbelievably, we managed to dig two of these over the weekend, and even manged to find some room in our trademark trapezoidal end beds for some Strawberries.
Asparagus (back) and Rhubarb (front) beds
(with strawberries in the bits at the side)
One interesting fact is that double digging one of the beds took about an hour-and-a-half; the carpentry for the frame about 30 minutes, and setting the frame in straight(ish) and level(ish) another hour. Three hours for a 4' x 4' bed. That should make the big 12' beds we have take about six hours (building and setting the frame should take about the same time whatever the size). Makes you wonder why they take six months...

Vegetable plot - April 2011
(badly planned to perfection)

The final bit of news is that we finally managed to get the Orchard rotovated (delayed not by us, but the builder that dug the bloody thing up at Christmas to put in the new septic tank, mutter, mutter). We're still waiting for someone to sow grass seed or (if we're really lucky) put down some turf. In the meantime, we have a plan to put a hedge down the middle of it to screen the tank off from the house. We'll probabaly need another long weekend to get that done - next easter perhaps...
The rotovated Orchard
(ready for grass, a hedge, then fruit trees?)