THE WINTER GARDEN

Gathered in the garden ready for cooking chicken broth is wild three cornered leek, cut and come back celery (a plant that is two years old and doing great) and oca which I have been growing for some years and which is a Peruvian root vegetable.

Due to all the rough weather we have been experiencing lately, and also due to the indoor work which we were completing I had not been much in our garden to check on things and certainly did not do any work in it. But between the two latest storms I did go out and took stock of what needs doing and what is growing right now and it seems that we have quite a bit going for us, there is more food to be found there than at first one would think. And so I have become encouraged and excited to get going. I plan to grow as much as I can fit, because my plan is to preserve some surplus harvest and to that end I bought some Kilner jars today. When I was growing up every housewife used to preserve a variety of foods in those jars. My mother did this until she was well in her eighties.

I am chitting our potatoes, last summer my grandchildren and I dug up the potatoes that I had grown, the excitement this caused was so much fun that I decided to grow some more this season!

REFLECTIONS ON THE SEASONS

Either I do not yet understand or know the seasons in this part of Ireland, something that one needs to know well in order to get a productive vegetable garden, or the climate is changing a lot these days. But then maybe I have not been observant enough about the weather all the years while I was working in the library and interacting with books and people in a large concrete building with underground heating. Growing vegetables does require one to be observant of temperature, rainfall and a whole lot more, in other words understanding the local climate. The fact that my French beans just would not do well and died off is probably because the night temperatures were still too low when I planted them out. So as the months go by I am having to rethink a lot about what I grow and about the timing of my sowing and planting out. Some of my raised beds retain moisture more than others, another fact to take into account.

And so my garden develops and I become wiser through experience, but also through picking up information from others and from books.¬† I am reading Monty Don’s ‘My Roots’ at the moment, I would say if one never read another gardening book, then it must be this one. A philosophical work interwoven with a lot of great tips, very valuable stuff, more a memoir, a journal through a decade of gardening than a practical guide. I am loving it.

I’m not sure what to think of the climate here lately, last year we had a warm summer that started late but lasted many months. This year, after a mild but wet winter, April was unusually dry and warm, and May was cold and wet with an icy wind coming straight from the Artic. Growth has slowed right down. And now a heat wave is forecasted.

My garden needs a considerable amount of attention at the moment, just when my older sister is here with us for some weeks, and we two are enjoying non-stop chatting, and I am suffering from a cold, and we are nipping over to Belgium for a week later in the month.

But all is good, and all is abundant, and life is rich with experience and fascination.
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The mess my pea plants became after the storm and rains, but I sorted that out yesterday and they are now secured properly.

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A very wet garden, and a book that I am really enjoying very much indeed.

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At night the stove is great to have.  And making nettle tincture to use as a hair rinse later on in the year.

OCA, A SOUTH AMERICAN TUBER TO BE TRIED OUT

Yesterday during a visit to our local Garden Centre to pick up some more seeds, I came across an interesting tuber, it is called Oca (Oxalis tuberosa).  I had never heard of it before and asked the shopkeeper for some information on it, she recommended it, and of course I could not resist bringing some of these tubers home to try it out this growing season. The leaves are apparently like a large Clover leaf (which I like), the flowers are yellow. I Googled it and found some more information on this vegetable, it was used and originated in S.America and used by the Incas. Growing these tubers will be something new to me and I have been looking up some advice because, of course, I want a successful crop. Apparently you plant them in individual little pots until large enough to plant out during the summer, then if you have a small garden like me, you could put them in place of the beans or other summer crops when they are finished.  Later the first frost will or might kill off the foliage but it apparently does not matter because the tubers are said to grow another good bit for the following couple of weeks, after which you harvest them. No doubt I will double check my facts before I take any risks with my precious seed-tubers. They are said to be an excellent source of carbohydrates, phosphorus and iron, as well as providing essential amino acids that promote the health and proper function of muscles, organs, nails, hair, skin and more. An exciting new addition to grow, and also to cook.  Learnt that they grow well in a slightly acidic soil, without the addition of seaweed or other fertilizer, so in fairly poor soil I guess, and that they need at least 6 hours of sunshine a day.

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Other seeds I bought are Sacred Basil, or Tulsi which I am very excited to start using in the cooking, and a dark leafed Kale which will see us through next winter.  Also bought 3 more Jerusalem Artichokes tubers for planting soon, only just learnt that they like a fairly dry soil, that is why my last planting did not work out well, soil too wet!

I bought a little¬†Hypericum perforatum or St.John’s wort¬†plant, never grew it before but it is supposed to be good for tea, though if one is on medicine it has a lot of contra-indications, but I am growing it mainly for it’s perforated leafs.¬† I put the leafs into oil, leave it in the sun for a few weeks, the oil turns pink, and it is said to be good for nerve pain.¬†¬†As I have no tunnel or glasshouse I have seed trays in what you could call half a conservatory, and along windowsills, so the house is a bit untidy now but it’s great to see seeds coming up and they should be ready to plant out when the time comes.

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NEW LIFE IN MY KITCHEN

Intentional and unintentional growth in my kitchen this late winter. I cut a turnip for soup the other day and left the other half on the worktop, a day or so later the turnip had sprouted beautifully and I found it a pity to cut it up, so let me just enjoy the freshness of the foliage.
But intentional are the other sprouts, they are ginger and turmeric and they are sprouted every year again in my kitchen. Some years ago they had grown into large plants but when I went travelling I gave them away. It is great to see these shoots coming up, and this year I am looking forward to harvest some of the ginger and turmeric, though I think that to have a good crop you need to wait for longer than a year. I usually let them sprout before I pot them off, seems to work better.
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Turmeric shoot

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Ginger shoot with and without soil

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TRYING OUT PERMACULTURE

Having some extra time over these festive days , has got me to thinking about the 2015 growing season, and what I will actually be growing as far as vegetable, herbs, or any wild plants are concerned.  BUT

I have come to see that in my 10 raised beds there are several beds that are now well covered with wild plants such as Dandelions, Plantain, Feverfew, Borage, Cleavers,¬†Nettles, and many more.¬† I don’t want to uproot these plants to make space for my vegetables, neither do I want to cover the beds with too much leaf mould during the winter months so as not to kill these wild plants (they grow wonderfully well).¬† I forgot to mention that we are having a very mild winter so far, we only had about two nights of frost, and the temperature is between 5 and 10 Celsius¬†during the day.¬† Though I am experimenting with permaculture, and so growing everything mixed, I am not sure how it is affecting my soil to have plants growing all winter and all summer.¬† I am rotating the plants all right. ¬†I think though that for the coming year I am going to experiment with doing just that, grow Bean beside Dandelion, beside Cleavers, beside Lettuce, beside Nettles, ¬†etc‚Ķ..¬† I cannot just destroy my valuable wild plants, it makes no sense, no I am going to use them in the kitchen.¬† I am already getting excited when I think about it.¬† Cooking with wild plants as part of providing nutrition, vitamins and especially minerals is cool.¬† I am doing an online herbal course and learning as I go along so it should all fall into place.¬† Well that is what I am thinking about for the New Year.

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