As Autumn rolls in…

The change of the season is well underway and we have changed over most of our tunnel crops. The tomato plants are still cropping well – most of our other crops had to go to make room for new season planting. The new winter salads, orientals, spinach and herbs are all in place and getting established while the days are still fairly long and relatively (?) warm. Even though the weather has been so wet the growth in the tunnels has been very good for the last couple of weeks.

The new season of root vegetables are coming in – Irish carrots, parsnips and swede turnips are all available now.

We have two beds of pumpkins that the boys love to search for under their huge leaves – they are ripening now and will be ready in October.

There is a calm (at last!) in the garden – everything is growing away steadily, but the intense growth has definitely passed and you can feel the change of the season clearly.

I never thought I would look forward to winter – but, having chased the garden since last March (and not been able to keep up at times…), we need a quiet patch to enjoy what has grown, to think about what we have learned from our efforts (alot!), and to plan how to use our experience to do it all better next year!

Two little piggies…

Well, the best fun we’ve had in ages was the trip to Dundrum, Co Tipperary last weekend to collect two young pigs to complete our livestock (for now) for the smallholding. John Paul Crowe introduced us to his young pigs – who all look very happy and healthy on their farm outside Tipp town. His farm is in conversion and will have organic certification later this year. The breed is pietron – and the pigs are very cute – pale pink with black spots and stand up ears.

We decided to go for pigs for a few reasons – firstly because we need lots of manure for the garden and it is hard to get in any quantity (by the way, if you have any you would like to get rid of please get in touch!). Pig manure is one of the best sources of fertility of all the animal manures when it is well rotted on straw bedding. Also we do eat pork, ham, bacon etc… so we would be happier to know that the meat we are eating came from an animal that had a happy and comfy life. Lastly, we all really like pigs… is that too simple a reason??? John quite likes the idea that you can have a pet that can be eaten (I think that’s based on having to put up with two badly behaved dogs for a number of years)…

ryan_and_pigSo, the highlight of the trip to collect the two new additions was when one of them climbed out of the boot of the van and sat on the seat beside Ryan (one of our toddlers)… all the way home!

They are so very sociable and friendly – and really nice to have around. I know I don’t sound like someone who plans on eating them – will have to see how we all feel when the time comes…

Sowing herbs

If your time and space are limited you can still add great flavour to your meals and great colour to your garden with a simple variety of herbs. These can even be grown in pots or window boxes – you don’t have to have a dedicated outdoor area. The following herbs all like to be started in the same way – coriander, parsley, thyme, sage, oregano, chives, chervil, basil… the best way to sow these is:
1. Fill a plug tray (tray with several small sections) with good quality compost (organic available from Jim Cronin, Bridgetown). Use another tray to compress the compost a little.
2. Water the tray well – avoid heavy waterfall – try to make it like rain – turn the rose so that the holes point upwards.
3. Sow a pinch of seed into each plug (approx 6 seeds – could be more for tiny seeds like oregano).
4. Sieve (sprinkle if you don’t have a compost sieve) compost over the seeds so that the final level of compost is level with the top of the tray.
5. Keep in a warm, light area – ideally a polytunnel/glasshouse or bright sunroom, until seeds germinate.
6. Grow on in the plug tray until the white roots are peeping out of the hole at the bottom of the tray. If you are going to plant outside, harden off the young plants (outside by day, covered or in at night for 5-6 days). NOTE: some plants eg basil are tender and will have to be kept indoors.
7. When hardened off you can move the plants into their final growing spot (eg. bed in garden, window box, large pot).
These herbs can all be used as cut and come again crops – so you can cut as you need and let it grow on.
Another note: Although kitchen window sills are warm – they are often too warm with not enough light – which leads to the problems many people have with whitefly or leggy weak plants. If you are keeping plants inside try to find somewhere as light as possible but not too warm.

Sowing & growing… in or out?

There are many tips that help to make growing easier and more successful. It has been amazing to learn how each crop has it’s own preferences for how to sow (eg courgettes are sown using a single seed in a pot but coriander prefers a pinch of seed in a plug tray), how to grow on and when to plant. With a few minutes spare I am hoping to note a few of these on this blog.

Our two tunnels are now jam packed with trays, pots and plants at various stages. Most frustratingly at the moment there are a number of trays of young plants waiting to get into the prepared outdoor beds, but delayed by the wet weather. Growing outdoors in Ireland really is a game for the hardy and very determined… So, my first tip is – get a polytunnel! The range of crops possible is fantastic – from tomatoes to chillis – and the growing season is year round – wtih winter salads in January and early sown potatoes ready in the next 3-4 weeks, as opposed to four weeks later for outdoors. They are available in many sizes – you don’t have to be a commercial grower, and they really make growing much more exciting and varied.

If you are going to grow in outdoor beds – many crops can be planted through ground cover fabric – eg. cabbage, onion sets, courgettes, which minimises the amount of weeding later on, and deters some of the most common pests (eg, cabbage root fly).

Sowing & growing update

Spring is in full swing – and we are v busy at work – sowing, potting, planting, pruning etc etc etc…. This stage of Spring is what growers in Ireland call ‘the hungry gap’, which was a surprise to me at first- but of course, no matter how much sowing and minding you do when the growing season starts – you also have to have patience for the new season crops to mature… So, while we are starting to harvest the earliest salads and herbs, our produce list at the moment doesn’t reflect the range of produce that we hope to have from our garden by early summer.

At the moment, in trays/pots or the ground we have sown:

scallions, lettuce (various), rocket, coriander, parsley, dill, chervil, chives, anise, sage, thyme, oriental salads (mustard leaf, mizuna, pak choi), basil – these are all quick to mature and are either ready/nearly ready to harvest now. We will also have transplants of the salads and herbs to sell in pots for you to use as cut & come again crops.

tomatoes, chillies, peppers, courgettes, runner beans

broad beans, radishes, sugar peas, carrots, potatoes

spinach, beetroot, chard, artichoke (globe), aubergine, cabbage (various), calabrese (broccoli), celery, celeriac, kohl rabi, cauliflower, leeks, onions, garlic

In the fruit garden the rhubarb is coming on well, as are leaves on all the berry bushes and the fruit trees are all budding nicely.

There are others still to be sown (cucumber, sweetcorn, pumpkin, french beans, peas) – later in April, but, all in all, we think we are off to a good start for the season. Of course, we now have to keep up with each of these crops, but, so far so good!

I am filling you in all this to give you our plan for the season, and a sense of what we hope to have on offer as we get into early summer. Growing and eating seasonally, particularly in a cool climate such as ours means that each crop has it’s own time.

In the meantime, I guess we are all waiting a little – but maybe it makes each crop a little bit more special when it’s ready to harvest?

Spring fever…

newseasonWell, there has been little time to sit and write about what we are doing over the last couple of weeks… too much to do!

Spring is finally here, and everything is taking off at the same time. It’s great to see the growth back in the tunnel.

We have now sown, potatoes (still waiting for them to peep through), early carrots, broad beans, sugar peas and radishes – all directly into the new tunnel. The tunnel gives a great headstart on the growing season, particularly when combined with fleece for crop protection. On the hotbench we have sown an array of herbs, salads, spinach, leeks, celery, artichokes and, the true vote of confidence that summer is coming – our tomatoes and chillis are sown and on their way (I hope!).

There are about 30 packets of seed sitting in the kitchen waiting to be sown this week… amongst them all the brassicas (eg calabrese, cabbage), onion and garlic sets, and successional sowings of all the salads, orientals and herbs already started. There is a rhythm to sowing that we have to establish – mostly it works on the principle of a little and often… so we will be sowing lettuce, scallions etc. every week to have a constant supply. This is the best way to avoid having a glut of produce at times and none at others. It does take a bit of getting used to though – and I do get tempted to sow everything in one go – to get the job done!

It is so nice to sow seeds at this time of year – it’s the first step into Summer.

Our first egg!

firsteggWell, our hens arrived yesterday – John, Cathal & Oisin collected them with great excitement, and, it must be said, we were all a bit nervous that we would have everything ready for them (including knowing what to have ready for them!). Jim, as usual, answered our 101 questions with great patience and knowledge… and, lo and behold they look really quite happy in their new home.

Their house was specially built for them (by John), complete with hen door, access flap for egg collecting, laying boxes, ventilation window, perches, access ladder… and their sandbath was added today.

I’m sure there’s more we need to do, but they seem to be off to a good start. So much so that we have had our first egg, left inside the door of the house already! It’s like a seal of approval… I never thought I would be so delighted with an egg, but there you go!

It really is lovely to watch them pottering about, pecking in the grass and clucking away. Now, the next challenge will be rounding them up at bedtime…

Hens and ducks on the way

Next Tuesday marks a new departure for us – our first ‘livestock’ are arriving in the shape of 20 point of lay hens…  We’re all looking foward to them, so much so that Cathal and Oisin (our 7 year old boys) have come up with names for all 20! Don’t know how they will keep track of who’s who – that will be fun!

So, this week is very much taken up with hen house building and fox proofing. The fox sounds like a master of henicide – we have ordered electrifiable poultry netting, so hopefully that will help.

Our own two dogs, Bailey and Tigger could be a more immediate problem for the new inhabitants… so they may be testing the fencing first.

We are also going to try placing nets of dog and human hair around the perimeter of the hen’s run – apparently the scent is a deterrent to foxes. Hope so! Can’t wait to have our very own eggs.

Following on in two weeks are 6 Indian runner ducks – they will liven up the garden with their cheery quacking, and are great slug hunters, which will be a fantastic help. Ryan and Fionn (who are 17 months old now) will be delighted to follow them around I am sure…

Sowing has started

We waited (quite impatiently) until the days stretched enough to allow us to start our Spring sowing – and the time has arrived to get growing in earnest.

With hot beds in the polytunnel and fleece to protect seedlings it is possible to sow a range of early crops for the Spring market. We have germinated seedlings for a range of lettuce (7 types so far), spinach, chard, a selection of herbs for pot growing and some wild rocket.

It is early days and close care must be taken to protect from frost, but it is an exciting moment to see the first tiny plants pushing through to start the season. It also feels like a small defiance of the weather to be able to start salad plants during freezing weather! It proves Spring is in the air, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. From now on there will be weekly sowing, both on the hot beds (in trays) and into the ground in the tunnel…

The year ahead…

potatoesIt is with excitement that we start 2009, as we have great hopes for our garden and smallholding. We have a new tunnel that we have sowed potatoes in (only today!). Over the autumn we planted a large number of fruit bushes and trees; blackcurrant, raspberry, pear, apple, rhubarb, asparagus. Each day that passes we see more of the spring bulbs peeping through, and bringing the promise of Spring closer.

In February we will have our henhouse ready for it’s new occupants, and hope to settle the ducks into the tunnel to keep them warm through early spring. All going well, we are looking forward to getting 2 pigs by midsummer, mostly for their manure (which is rocket fuel by all accounts!), but also, I must admit, because we do like bacon… don’t want to think that far ahead yet though. Along with all the sowing, hoeing and growing – it will be a busy year, and not without it’s hiccups I’m sure, but we are all looking forward to it!