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?)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Guinness IS good for you

Rather reluctantly, but fortunately very briefly, we have a quick update on our tomatoes. We now have two. Huge thanks for this has to go to the local GIY group, who had a plant swap. We managed to get ri... oops, sorry, we mean "reluctantly part with" some rather fine, rooted cuttings from our Gooseberry bush that, tragically, got themselves cut off when it was moved last month. In return, we scooped half-a-dozen seed potatoes (although we've forgotten if they were Roosters or Records) and a Tigerella tomato seedling. Added to our remaining Gardener's Delight, we might yet get the tomatoes to raise and dash our hopes again before the end of the year.

Gardeners Delight (top) and Tigerella (bottom) Tomatoes
(with several departed in the background)
We've found that living a Good Life is very much swings and roundabouts, checks and balances. Something goes up, another comes down. We had hoped to report on the salad bed that we've now sown with the first round of seed of the year. Last year this was one of the top performers in the garden. Things had started well this year - the Rocket had germinated after a few days and all was good. Then disaster! All but one of the Rocket seedlings disappeared and, day after day, nothing else appeared. The reason? Slugs. Adjective adjective Slugs! Unfortunately, we had forgotten to deploy our beer traps, which we normally bait with good old Irish Porter. On discovering our problem, we rushed to the drinks cabinet only to discover no stout. So we did the best we could with what we had. Unfortunately, we are sorry to report that pear cider does not work in Slug beer traps (which is a pity since this would be a good way of getting rid of the awful stuff). Of course, on the plus side it does mean that we're now forced to re-stock the drinks cabinet. See? Ups and downs; swings and roundabouts!
Salad bed with row of Rocket seedlings
(and, hilariously, the forgotten beer traps (green) along the back)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Steamed tomatoes and soft fruit

We have some good news and bad news. The bad news is that our onion seedlings seem determined to follow the tomato seedlings to the great compost heap in the sky (or, at least, in the yard). The good news is that we've doscovered the problem. In our efforts to protect and nurture our seedlings, we put them inside a walk-in greenhouse inside another walk-in greenhouse. We thought it'd be cosy. It was. Very cosy. So cosy, in fact, that the water in the trays underneath the pots was scalding hot. We managed, very slowly, to cook our seedlings to death. Ironic really that despite having some great plants, none of last year's tomatoes made it to being cooked (the one tomato that did grew got eaten raw, and then largely spat out). Although they got cooked this year, it is very much a case of one step forward, two steps back with our tomatoes. Thank goodness we failed early enough this year that we still have time to sow some more.

Soft fruit bushes at end of plot
(Gooseberry is closest, things are a bit hazy further away...)
On perhaps more poitive news, we finally managed to get some soft fruit transplanted. A gooseberry, two Blackcurrants and one Redcurrant (or, possibly, one Blackcurrant and two Redcurrants) made the trip to the new veg plot. These were pruned quite heavily and rather indiscriminantly (in the case of the Gooseberry, it was literally shoved in the car and any bits sticking out cut off so that the boot would close!), so we're not hoping for too much from them this year, but it is good to have some in place at last.

The Veg Plot Plan
(green is done; the future is blue)
When deciding where we were going to put the fruit bushes, we worked up a plan for the whole veg plot. To be honest, plan is probably a bit optimistic here, since that sounds like we know what we're doing. Perhaps "vision" would be more appropriate (that's the kind of things companies normally put together at great expense to make it look like they know what's going on, usually about six months before the liquidators are called in, typically due to the company wasting all its cash on these sorts of things, rather than focusing on being profitable, but I digress). It will be interesting to see how things change over the coming years as we come up with new ideas or fail at ones we've already had. It will probably be more interesting to see how long we actually take to complete the plot - as things stand now, we'd sell small parts of our anatomy for a 2015 finish date.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Could this be it for another year...

Somewhat unbelievably, and less than a year after the last one, we finally managed to finish our second veg bed. In truth, this was actually finished last month, but holidays and camera problems have meant that the blog is a bit behind (or, as we prefer to think of it, fashionably late) of where we actually are. We are working up a bit of a slope here, so the top side of the bed is actually at ground level, with it being raised about 9" at the bottom side. This looks like the steepest bit of the veg plot, so the next bed (and we have planned for another six - should be finished in 2017 then!) should be rather flatter. The new bed is going to be used for beans and peas (if we ever get around ot sowing them - this week I promise) while the old bed, which had these last year, will be for onions and allies.

Bed two: job done
(with the rather optimistic start of bed three in the background!)

Of course, while these beds look lovely, they are somewhat useless if there is nothing to grow in them. Having learned our lesson from last year (that you can sow lots of things, but with no beds to plant them out in they rather go to waste), we have chosen to swing to the other extreme and sown virtually nothing. However, we do have about 120 "Radar" onion sets (got from ISSA in the autumn, and forgotten about until they started to sprout out the paper bag last month) potted up in the greenhouse and, with a decent looking forecast, they look about ready to plant out in the bed, although we'll probably keep them undercover for a few weeks. Also in the greenhouse are some onion seeds (not ready to even be pricked out yet) and some tomatoes.
Onion sets
(looking good (well, better than the tomatoes at any rate))
We all have our achillies heel. For us, tomatoes appear to be determined to wreak misery and hardship upon our lives. Last year they grew really well, and nine, healthy, well-cared for, nurtured, perhaps even pampered, plants produced a single, solitary fruit (and it wasn't even that nice). We thought we might have been a bit late sowing them, so this year they were sown by the end of January. We put them in pots on the window sill, covered by plastic and kept watered - they thrived. We put them out in the greenhouse at the beginning of this month and, three weeks later, all but one has died. Were they unhappy we left them to go on holiday? Should we have taken them with us? For some reason I feel guilty - its all so sad.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Back for another go

It is hard to believe that we've been pottering away at this garden for just over a year now - where have the last 12 months gone? Clearly, purchasing a new property (or, more accurately, an old property) carries with it lots of hidden extras, We've been lucky in that many of them have been pleasant surprises. Unfortunately, not all! Issues over planning permission (involving retention of the house and outbuildings) rather stalled any work we wanted to do (with an expensive house re-build a possibility, we decided not to commit ourselves too much). Fortunately, we are now out the other side, with the same house and outbuildings we went in with. The only real casualty of the whole affair has been "The Orchard", which has been almost completely dug up and filled in again (new sewage treatment system). On the plus side, we hadn't done anything there and it does leave us with rather a nice blank canvas to work with - an orchard and amongst a wildflower meadow is now on the cards.

"The Orchard"
(with new, improved, sceptic tank!)
 Elsewhere, things are much as they were at the start of last summer. The one veg bed we completed supplied a wonderful crop of Broad and Runner Beans. The peas were quite good, and any failures there are due to the delay in getting them planted out more than anything else. The cabbage bed never got finished, so the cabbages were a bit of a waste, and out of the nine tomato plants we produced one tomato (and it wasn't anything to write home about) must try again this year. The herbs were fantastic, the courgettes in pots performed quite well and the salad bed came up trumps as it always does. With the halt called to work last year, we're bursting at the seams to get going this year - wonder what big problems we've failed to foresee lie in wait for us in 2011!

The veg plot
(still got to finish that second bed...)