WINTER GARDEN

taking stock of garden winter 2018

Beginning of January, and even though the days are still quite dark, there is a change to be noticed and it does the soul good.  The mist and heavy clouded days have left us for the last few days, and though we have still not seen any sunshine, there seems to be more light in the sky.  It is good, I think that one could learn to live without any sunshine, though it is hard to get used to it – it seems to be here to stay!

This morning I went into the garden and took stock of what is happening, and there is lots!  There are the strong rigid and juicy looking leeks, the bright red and colourful chard, the celery and the cropping cabbages.  There are also the many different herbs which are flourishing right now, oregano, thyme, lavender, sage, feverfew, dandelion, mullein, broad leaved parsley, three-cornered wild leeks, young cleavers, and even some young and tender nettles.  It’s a very mild winter here, though we had very much rain during October, November and part of December.  The temperature has not gone much below 10 or 11C and the soil temperature has only just now reached 10C whereas it kept to a steady 12 to 15C before Christmas.

The days for planning my garden for the next season are now, that is always very enjoyable.  This year my plan it to grow many more flowers, wild and cultivated, so that as many as possible insects will have food.   For ourselves I plan to grow some flowering shrubs that will cheer us during winter.  Bright yellow Forsythia comes to mind, but more research is wanted.

What I take away from this winter is that there are certain vegetables that will grow easily and that we eat every day, these would be leeks, kale, chard, and herbs, these I will grow again and more plentiful next winter.

I wish those of us who garden a great season and much fun and happiness in their garden! 🙂

 

SHORT WALK IN ANTWERP

View toward the cathedral from the Groenplaats.
The Central station is an amazing building, constructed between 1895 and 1905, designed by Louis Delacenserie and Jan Van Asperen.
Touristic area, part of the Groenplaats

We were in Antwerp for a few hours only, Ian wanted to see the area around the cathedral, and I wanted to see the Lace shops in the same area. We had some lunch too 😃 Flemish food obviously! I love going back to Antwerp, eventough we mainly stay in Lier, which is not very far away, only a short train journey.

NATURE AT MIDWINTER

I went for a little walk today, it was misty but very mild. At about three in the afternoon I stepped out wanting to enjoy the birdsong along the way. There is a little boreen (path) close by, which is flanked by rock and hedge on both sides. I find the nicest little plants there and today was no different even if it is mid-winter. The temperature is 11C which is quite normal for the time of the year here in sub-tropical West Cork (due to the gulf-stream bringing warmth to our region). There was a slight smell of some coal burning chimney’s but only slight as the breeze carried the smell away. It was great to feel the fresh breeze on my face and give my legs some movement after all the sitting down at my study the last few months. I finished my course now and I found it immensely interesting. Thank you Yale University and Coursera. I learned all about the development of Gothic architecture in Cathedral building, and read some medieval literature and history. I feel so enriched by it all and enjoyed every minute of it. It is now back to my blog writing and to my garden! Wishing everyone of my friends and followers a relaxing day and a nice Christmas.

PEACE ON EARTH

Wishing all my dear friends and followers all over the earth at this time of the year blessings and happiness. And most of all Peace worldwide and also in our own lives and in ourselves. Much love to you all.

HENHAM REVISITED

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Autumn can conjure up a variety of different colours and heart warming scenes, and this past October has been more mellow and beautiful than most. And a lovely golden sunshine has illuminated everything that it has touched.

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We have been staying in the ancient stables of the parsonage in the village of Henham in Essex. The cottage is lying next to a fine church built with use of flint stone. A fine square tower rises against the blue sky, and surrounding, the magnificent trees shed their leaves over ancient graves. Ugly gargoyles feature here and there, some almost completely erased.

The trees are most lovely this time of year, colours varying from deep dark red to pale yellow , gold, ochre, or sepia, a beautiful pallet. But it’s not only the colours that are like velvet to the eye, it is the shape and size of the ancient trees that attract the attention.

The architecture found in this village has always fascinated me, the thatched roofs, the variety of cottage styles, the village green, all make for a picture card scene. But that is only me romanticising because this village is also a vibrant and dynamic community and that has perhaps got to be of more importance for the people living here.

 

MY SOIL EXPERIMENT ENDED

I have written up my report on my soil experiment, as part of a course I took early in the year,  ‘CITIZEN SCIENCE: LIVING SOILS, GROWING FOOD’ with the university of Dundee and Grow Observatory.  Its a long enough read but I thought to include it anyway in this blog post as some people showed an interest in my results.  So here goes.
My question was: What will give a better crop? If I use compost from the garden compost bin, to improve both the fertility and the texture of my clay soil.  Or if I use a combination of leaf mould and organic seaweed liquid?
My hypothesis was: Using compost will improve clay soil, & may result in a better edible yield of produce.
Measurements: Yield of edible produce as weight (grams/ square meters), and seeing that I am also testing the effect the experiment has on my clay soil texture – my measurement will include testing soil texture before and after the experiment. I will also measure the Ph. and nutritional readings (nitrogen/potassium/phosphorus measured against the original texture readings/findings). I will use home testing equipment. For soil texture testing I will use the ‘Field Texture Grade classification chart’ after doing the Bolus test.
Variables: Varying effects of pests invading the plots differently, perhaps some plants dying as a result. So one of the variables will be competition from pests.

My procedure:
I plan to grow a total of 12 bean plants in each plot, as they will be planted 30cm apart with 60cm between I can fit those 12 plants in half of each raised bed and keep the other half as a control with nothing growing on it. The radish and spinach I will grow in between the bean plants, 4 of each. Dimensions of my raised bed are 1.20m by 2.20m so this will just about do it.
OBSERVATIONS BEFORE THE EXPERIMENT STARTS
The soil in both my plots smells good, perhaps a little sweeter in Plot 1 than in Plot 2. When I made a Bolus of the soil in each plot they were the same. The plots have a moisture content between 1.5 and 3 indicating that the soil is fairly dry.
Readings of soil nutrients before experiment:
Nitrogen: deficient in Plot 1 and depleted in Plot 2.
Phosphorus: deficient in Plot 1 and deficient in Plot 2.
Potash: adequate in Plot 1 and adequate in Plot 2.

There is a slight difference in the two plots, Plot 1 had a light reading of 1000 units while in Plot 2 the reading was 2000m – both plots were overshadowed by a tree, but differently. Plot two receives the evening sun, whereas Plot 1 receives the morning sun.
Moisture content was also different in the two plots, in plot 1 it was 2 units whereas in plot 2 it was 3.1 units. So plot 2 was wetter.
The PH was 7.5 in plot 1, and 7 in plot 2 – Meaning that the soil in both plots is quite alkaline.
The result of the bolus test showed that the soil in both beds, according to the ‘Field Texturing of Soils Table’, is a light clay, with a plastic bolus, smooth to touch. 35 to 40% of clay contend.
Beginning of experiment;
On the 8th of May my Plot 1 and Plot 2 were ready to have the allocated fertilizers added. It turned out to be a dry and warmer than usual summer here in West Cork. For some part of the summer there was a ban on watering the gardens, so plants did suffer, they easily bolted. Some things did not grow at all or very little.  Plot 1 was treated with compost from my home compost bin, and Plot 2 received leaf mould and would be given liquid seaweed compost on a regular basis.
I planted out my bean seedlings (Climbing French Beans – Cobra), on 22nd of May. The soil temperature was already between 13 and 15C. The air temperature was around 22C at noon. We had no precipitation for the week following planting, but I watered the garden with rain water once a day. Slugs were a slight problem so I put out beer in trays. I sowed the spinach (Spinach Matador) in trays. The following week we received 2.5mm rain.
On the sixth of June – no precipitation, watering by hand. The beans in Plot 1 started to grow and were doing ok. The beans in Plot 2 did not grow or do well. They received seaweed liquid feed once a week (2tops in 6ltr of water as recommended). I planted out the spinach seedlings. I threw organic slug pellets and picked off the slugs every evening as there was some slug damage. Still no rain but watering garden daily. Temperature 20C at noon. Some of the time overcast but warm. By the 12th of June Plot 2 beans were doing ok too but definitely behind Plot 1. Spinach bolted as soon as they were planted out. On 14th of June we had a storm and the plants received some storm damage. Temperature went down to 18C. By 21st of June the beans in Plot 1 were 82cm high but only 43cm in Plot 2. There had been no sun for 5 days. Still no rain. Ban on using water hose in garden. I used all grey water to keep beans and spinach watered. Slugs had disappeared. Moisture levels were 2 in Plot 1 and 2.5 in Plot 2. Temperature was still 18C and precipitation was still at nil.
One month later; on 21st of July, the results were as follows: Moisture in both plots did not even reach 1. Temperature reached close to 30C in the sun and 25.7 in the shade. Soil temperature reached 21C in plot 1 and 19C in plot 2. I found some slug damage in both plots.
Harvesting:
On 28th of August the temperature had dropped to 14C with precipitation of 25mm in 24hrs. I harvested overall 800gr of beans in plot 1 and 300gr in plot 2.
Readings of nutrients in the soil after harvesting:
Nitrogen: depleted in plot 1. Depleted in plot 2 and depleted in controls of both plots.
Phosphorus: depleted in plot 1 adequate in control of plot 1. Depleted in plot 2 and its control plot.
Potash: adequate in plot 1 but depleted in its control plot. Adequate in plot 2 but deficient in its control plot.
PH: 7 for plot 1 and 7.5 for its control plot. 7 for plot 2 and 4.5 for its control plot. (I cannot explain why there should be such a difference between the readings of Plot 2 in the Ph. of the control plot.)

To answer my experiment’s question regarding the soil texture:
I have come to the conclusion that my Hypothesis “using compost will improve clay soil, and may result in a greater yield” is true, I can say this because the yield of Plot 1 was 800gr, whereas the yield in Plot 2, which was 300gr, shows that Plot 2 produced 62.5% less in relation to Plot 1, which I think is significant.
As well as that, and all though the soil texture test of both Plot 1 and Plot 2 resulted in similar readings before the experiment (light clay), I did detect a slight improvement in the soil of Plot 1, and I would say that, using the ‘Field Texture of Soil Table, my soil now has perhaps only 30 to 35% of clay contend, instead of the 35-40% before the experiment – that is in Plot 1, which received the compost from the garden composter. It can now be categorised as ‘Silty Clay Loam’ instead of Light Clay.

And my question regarding the fertility of the soil:  Here my hypothesis was that the compost of the compost bin would improve the fertility of the soil versus using a combination of leaf mould and organic seaweed liquid.  And here I did not immediately see results because after harvest, both nitrogen and Phosphorus were found to be depleted in the soil of both plots.  Potash was found to be depleted in Plot 1 and deficient in Plot 2.  The produce was very poor in plot 2 as was some of the growth.  Growth and produce were better in Plot 1 but still the harvest was rather poor.   I think both plots are still very lacking in nutrients and need more manure/compost or leaf mould before I can come to a conclusion on fertility.

Comparison of nutrients before and after experiment.
The nitrogen contend of the soil in plot 1 was deficient at the start. But when I retested the soil after harvest the nitrogen contend of plot 1 was depleted.
The nitrogen contend of the soil in plot 2 was deficient at the start. When I retested the soil after harvest the nitrogen contend of plot 2 was depleted.
The phosphorus contend of the soil in plot 1 was deficient at the start. When I retested the soil after harvest the phosphorus contend of plot 1 was depleted.
The phosphorus contend of the soil in plot 2 was deficient at the start. When I retested to soil after harvest the phosphorus contend of plot 2 was depleted.
The potash contend of the soil in plot 1 was adequate at the start. When I retested the soil after harvest the potash contend of plot 1 was depleted.
The potash contend of the soil in plot 2 was adequate at the start. When I retested the soil after harvest the potash contend of plot 2 was deficient.

Variables noted:
The spinach totally bolted as soon as they were planted out, and for this reason I have left it out of the experiment results.
The slugs did about the same damage in both plots, but they did eat more leaves of my bean plants in Plot 2. I did find that, because of the leaf mould there was much less weed growth in Plot 2 than in Plot 1, it might have.
It was a warmer and dryer summer than is usual here, did this have an effect on the results of my experiment? Did I water enough?

My findings and final conclusions:
So the soil in both plots are after harvesting depleted in nitrogen, phosphorus and to a lesser extend in potash.  But the nutritional value of my soil was quite poor even before growing my beans (and I would have thought that bean would have improved the nitrogen in the soil).   It is therefore obvious that if I want a better crop I need to improve the nutritional value of my soil and using organic compost would be the wisest decision, and in addition it will improve texture of my light clay/silty clay loam soil.  I have now been offered horse manure, additionally I have purchased a different type of organic seaweed fertilizer having good percentages of the missing nutrients. And I plan to make use of the plentiful comfrey plants that grow in one of my raised beds, eggshells and coffee grounds are also going to help.  Some of my beds, those that don’t have winter vegetables growing on them, I will seed with green manure, all this to improve my soil.
I want to make a note that I did not add enough leaf mould to my Plot 2 and I wonder if this could have contributed to a poorer overall result in that Plot.
I think that this experiment has been a great learning curve. I would definitely take on board its findings, but perhaps with reservations. I do believe that I learnt a lot doing this, and it was very enjoyable, I also included my grandchildren in to the testing work, they loved it too.


Agnes Goyvaerts – Skibbereen – Co Cork.

COMING HOME

‘Coming Home’ is the name of a special, and I would say, a poignant exhibition which has been running all summer in the Art Centre in Skibbereen town.  It aims to commemorate and indeed give value and respect to all the many Irish who died during one of the biggest calamities that hit this land.  ‘The Great Hunger’ (1845-52) it has been called, and it was a famine that was unprecedented in its destruction, indeed it was the worst demographic catastrophe of nineteenth century Europe.  Several million people died or were transported to Australia or Canada, or emigrated to a variety of countries.  There is so much history behind this present exhibition, and the talks, lectures and performances that have been laid on as part of this exhibition.  How moving this has been, and how healthy – not to dwell on the past to remember it with bitterness, but to appreciate and respect those that suffered during that period in Irish history.  Myself as a foreigner I never realised what an effect this famine has had on the present Irish generations, but in a way it has, and that is why it has been so good to bring the hurt and hidden sadness’s from generations past into the open, and to look at this on a nationwide basis.  People are then able to let it go, and to have renewed energy and I think that is what will happen.  This exhibition brought people back from many countries to experience, up to a point, what it would have been for their ancestors.  I went to it early in the summer, and though I am not a very emotional person, I am very sensitive and I could literally feel the emotions around me, I was very moved, but also very happy as it felt like a cleansing for the people who are the survivors and perhaps are living with memories from ancestors that faced starvation, and or, the coffin ships to travel to far off countries in order to survive.

I was speechless walking out of the Art Centre that day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would like to dedicate this blog post to my friend Rowena, who is a survivor of ancestors that suffered the workhouse in Ireland, and were transported to Australia.

UPDATE ON MY SOIL EXPERIMENT

Today is another day with, for West Cork, fairly high temperatures (29.7C in shade), and we are so enjoying this lovely warm weather. For the plants this is a different matter. We have water restrictions in place which means of course that we cannot freely water our vegetables and herbs. So far I have only lost one ornamental fir growing in a tub, I guess that the reason is that I am giving most of my gray water to the vegetables and only very little to the ornamental plants.

And so today it became time to give a good update of my soil experiment. Though it is too early yet to make final conclusions, I can see how overall the plants are not growing as lush as I expected, probably due to the drought (since the 8th of May we are without substantial rain, only once did we have a shower, but not enough to really wet the soil thoroughly – only 2.5mm during May, and 8mm during June).  The soil looks to be very coarse and dry, pale in colour and hard to put a shovel in.  In places the soil has come away from the raised bed frame, a sure sign of dryness.
While both plots had a moisture content figure of over 3 during May – today’s readings were as follows:

PLOT ONE  –  FIGURES FOR TODAY THE 21ST OF JULY AT TWELVE NOON

MOISTURE CONTENT: DRY the needle stood at 1
LIGHT MEASUREMENT: 2000
PH: 8
TEMPERATURE OF THE SOIL: 21C
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PLOT TWO FIGURES

MOISTURE CONTENT: VERY DRY the needle did not reach 1
LIGHT MEASUREMENT: 2000
PH: 8
TEMPERATURE: 19C
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When I compare the light on both plots with the May figures there are quite a few changes due of course to the normal changing season but also due to the very warm & dry summer. Light in both plots seem to have increased from 1000 to 2000 measured in full sun. PH of soil has gone up a few degrees in both plots and is now 8 which is too alkaline. Moisture of course has gone down from 3 to 1 and even less than 1 in plot two. Soil temperature has increased from 13C in plot two to 19C today, and in plot 1 it has increased from 15C to 21C.

Overall the bean plants did not do so well, they look fairly poorly and did not grow lush, there are, however, some beans ready to be harvested in both plots, and there are more flowers showing.

One of the observations I have made is that the bean plants which I sowed inside early in spring – and then planted out, did not do as well as the beans I sowed straight in the garden at a later date – these plants became very robust and grew fast – they will have a later harvest as they are only at the flowering stage. I will take that into consideration for next years sowing.

In both plots all the spinach plants, which looked very healthy to start with, bolted immediately and I have had no produce from them at all.  But in plot 1 where I sowed the radish early I had about 150gr of edible produce.  The radish in plot 2 have not matured yet due to a later date of sowing.

As regards weeds, plot 1 has had many, partly probably because of the compost I used from the garden bin where perhaps seeds were not destroyed during the composting stage, for example, I have seen tomato plants starting to grow in between the beans plants. I also made the mistake of accidentally spilling some of my spare heir-loom double poppy seeds among the bean plants, and once I realised and saw the plants I could not bear to pull them up, so right now the bean plants growing side by side with the flowering poppies. Good for attracting insects to pollinate the bean flowers anyway.

Plot 2 has had no weeds growing to speak of, the leaf mould here has done a good job keeping the weeds down. I find that the bean plants here have not taken as well as the ones in plot 1.

Both plots have had some slug damage in the past week, but due again to the drought there has been very little slug activity in the garden.

Some photos of what is going on in the experimental plots, and also in the extra plot where I sowed the bean plants straight into the garden soil,  (the ball is there to chase the cats away).   I notice from the flower that one of those bean plants is actually a different bean (a runner bean).

I must say also that the moist/light/ph measuring tool I use is a simple one that I bought in a garden centre.  I doubt if it is very scientific, and having checked the Internet on moisture of soil measuring tools I fear that I am only playing at this.  But on the other hand it does tell me a little of what is going on in my soil and that for the moment is good enough.  I do know that my soil is lacking in potassium and in nitrogen and I mean to address that organically – but I have not found out how I should go about it, apart from using banana peels and growing leguminous plants on my soil both of which I am doing.

I think any attempt however small at understand more about our soil is worthwhile, and I love what I am doing right now.  I intend to see my soil increase in fertility, and also I intend to get a much better understanding on how it all works together.

BALMY SUMMER DAYS

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You have got to love these balmy summer days, when the wild roses are flowering along the hedgerows, and the dark yellow of the ragwort is blending in with the straw-coloured grasses now dried out from sun and water need.  And the bright red of the fuchsia bells against the dark green foliage of the hedges all along the country roads.  And the evenings when the scents fill the air, scents of night flowers, of grasses and trees, of the soil, delicious are the fragrances of the land as the earth cools down as the sun slowly disappears.  How lovely these long and light summer evenings, stretches of brightness seen along the horizon as late as midnight – to reappear as early as four in the morning when the sky lights up again.  I used to set my alarm to witness this magical moment to see the new morning appear, glad for another chance at life and anticipating a wonderful day.  These are the restoring days of the year, the sun brimming with health giving vitamin D3 (well at least our bodies can avail of the sun to make it).  It has been since 1976 that Ireland had a summer like this, with higher temperatures than we get here normally.  And as the heat continues there is said to be a water shortage and resulting ban on using the water hose in the garden, so I’m keeping all my grey water and what is left in the rain water barrel for my vegetables.  The dry earth soaks up the water eagerly.

At this moment I am very much out of routine, seems to be like this for a while now, my regular blog reading and writing has diminished.  I miss it, but too much is happening and I’m getting little done.  It is just that type of a summer I think – a summer of laziness, but also a summer of beauty and of enjoyment, of scents and sights.

I do hope that it is full of goodness for everyone of you too.

 

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