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! 🙂

 

ORGANIC SMALLHOLDING IN WEST CORK

A few days ago we visited a smallholding belonging to old friends, this couple had emigrated from Belgium to Ireland in the late eighties. Back then they set up a smallholding and were soon self-sufficient. About two years ago they bought a smaller piece of land, just about one acre in size.

Being who they are, hard working people, they amazed us totally with the amount of vegetables and herbs they have growing in an already very organized garden, the one acre is totally utilized and apart from vegetables they keep hens, ducks, a cock, and goats, so they have eggs, and milk from the goats.

We found their way of life so inspiring, totally self sufficient, they are so very organized, because of yearly flooding of their land they have built raised beds, the soil they used in these beds is totally organic, there being organic waste from the goats, the chickens, and their own compost heap, and lots more go into a recipe that is excellent to enrich the soil. A local strawberry farm provides mulching material. So the vegetables and herbs grow very well, they look the picture of health.

Among one of the things that is very important to them is to save their own seeds.  They reckon that seeds saved from their own produce, and swapped perhaps with neighbours, will produce easy to grow crops.  Crops that would naturally grow well in this particular micro climate, and soils.  Some of the crops we saw were, potatoes, mais, beans, peas, broad beans, onions, leeks, carrots, spinach, oca, spring onions, asparagus, lettuce, quinoa, marrows, cucumbers, kale, broccoli, and lots of herbs, among them rosemary, oregano, chives, comfrey, milk thistle, angelica, bay leaf, mint, and so many more.  There is also a wide variety of berries that grow along the side of the acre.

There are six home-made tunnels in which the couple grow a variety from tomatoes and quinoa to millet, and all sorts of other interesting things. Along the beds the grass is kept short by guinea pigs, these do a good job. The guinea pigs are kept in specially made large wire cages, that get moved along the grass, they also have a larger cage inside, there seem to be quite a few of them, and they are looked after very well.

Use is also made of ferrets, these guys keep the rats down.

Everything has a use, there is no sentimentality at the smallholding. We shared a meal with this couple and it was delicious, all produce out of the garden, except the fish which had been locally sourced too. From the photos you can see how efficient the place looks, lots of hard work goes into it, but I think that the satisfaction one gets when all runs smoothly and the produce is great, is wonderful.

JAN & NADIA'S SMALLHOLDING

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DIFFERENCE SOURCES OF MANURE FOR THE LAND
DIFFERENCE SOURCES OF MANURE FOR THE LAND

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DISTRACTED BY LIFE

As it was an overcast but still very nice day, I decided to do some work in our own garden. I cleared one raised bed ready for growing some plants, but I am delighted with what is growing there already, there are plenty of herbs, such as rosemary, lemon balm, lavender, evening primrose, oca, oregano (two types), and of all things some Jerusalem artichokes have come up too. So I just took out some grass and some other stuff that was smothering those plants. Ian decided to come and work with me, so he cleared the path on his knees with a small little knife, no easy task to be sure.  Now and then we took a rest, either for tea or chat, or to admire the creatures flying or crawling around.  Meanwhile I took a few shots of them.

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These are three wild plants that I am keeping my eye on very closely, number one is a huge thistle, it is almost in flower, I know that the seeds are what the gold finch feed on and that is why I want to keep it, to attract these birds and see how it goes.  The second one is our comfrey plant, it’s flourishing and what I am watching is the amount of insects that are using it, most of what I see are the bumblebees and I would love to see some honey bees on the comfrey too, of course.  The third plant is two years old, I grew it as a salad plant but it was so beautiful that I did not want to eat it, so I let it grow, and when we returned from Gozo it was so large and I recognised it as a plant you see a lot around here in the wild, a type of sorrel perhaps.  These three are on my watch list.

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And this is a view of our garden, we have had the pleasure to sit under the hawthorn tree all week for our meals, in the dappled sunlight with the garden scents all around us and the birds singing, what a perfect summer weather, aware that for people in other lands, not as lucky just then because of rains and floods.

Always nice to appreciate what we have in the moment.

COMMUNITY GARDEN IN SKIBBEREEN

Today a few of us went to work in our Community Garden in the town of Skibbereen, which is a little town in the South West of Ireland. Some years ago a local group of the GIY organisation was set up in this town and monthly meetings were held, discussions, seed swapping, information nights and more were organised and it was real interesting and encouraging. Around the same time I also started with my own organic garden following permaculture principles, so I learnt a lot by attending these events and meetings. Now with the warm weather and the long evenings we meet regularly at the Community garden and we do some work. Part of the work that is done in Skibbereen is to facilitate school children to learn a bit more about growing vegetables, something that I have become involved with this very day. We had a class of about twenty-two 9 or 10 year olds from the girls school, they came with their water bottles filled (not just for themselves but also to water the plants), and they looked enthusiastic and happy. The day was hot, the sun blazing down on us. I was allocated my little group of about 7 girls and after introductions we started with looking at our plot and discussing what we were going to do, in fact we were going to plant some chive plants, but first we had to take away some weeds, then we had to add just a little lime and we had to water the very dry soil, I explained how important it is to prepare the soil before we plant anything in it. There were some herbs growing in the plot too, so they all had to smell those and tell their stories of how their mums or baby-sitters did or did not use oregano and rosemary in their cooking. Next the planting was started and they all got a go of digging a hole and putting in the chives, hardly a scream was heard when they encountered an earwig or a snail, anyway to make a long story short, we then pulled some grass away from the edges, and they watered their newly planted chives, we also discussed the beautiful purple flowers of the chive plants, they all loved the colour purple (surprise!) they all agreed that the flowers were beautiful.

Lots of fun was had while all this was going on, they were very well behaved children, they were very kind to one another and took turns with the work.

Afterwards we did a tour of the rest of the garden, lots of stories about vegetable use and some home traditions were coming from each child, I was impressed, quite a few of the girls knew bits about the plants, the fruit trees, and the berry bushes, so nice to see this in children.

We also helped a hazelnut tree along, by stamping on the high grass around it, covering the grass with cardboard, and then again with some grass, in this way the water is retained and the trees are getting extra compost when it all breaks down (I think – I’m still learning too).

A lovely morning was enjoyed by the children and adults alike. It is so nice to see the children soak in the knowledge and to see them get their hands in the soil and getting in contact with the earth.

For me this is a newly discovered joy, I worked with children before during my library work, story reading, and St. Brigid’s cross workshops, or helping them pick books. I also worked with children in India, helping them with their English. And I have five delightful grandchildren who I love to have around and teach them about nature or art, so I would like to continue my involvement with this Community Garden in a small way, share what I know, and learn as I go.
COMMUNITY GARDEN 3 JUNE 2016

SUCH IS MY GARDEN RIGHT NOW

I had a look at what’s growing right now in my garden, just before I am going away for a while. There are still quite a few vegetables doing well and looking rather lovely and fresh. Mainly leeks, purple flowering broccoli, some Brussels sprouts, kale, round white radishes, some beetroots, and chives, rosemary, lavender, sage, oregano, tansy, comfrey, lady’s mantle, hypericum, and mint. The three corned wild leeks and the goosegrass have come up as they do every year, so though the garden does look very disorganised and a bit dismal, there is still a lot happening.

Included in my plans for this year are a lot more flowers, the borage has already made a little bit of an appearance, and I am happy about that because that plant attracts so many bees and other insects.  This is going to be most important this coming summer.  I have bought some seeds, but mainly for a good deal I will have to rely on buying plants this year as I wont’ be here to do much sowing.  Fine that is no problem around here, there are many plant sellers on the weekly market, their plants are good, grown organically and I’ve used them on and off for years.  I am relying on some other bloggers to find out about advice on which flowers are best for our bees, butterflies and insects in general.  Like what I read tonight about Bee Catnip-Mountain Mint on https://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com

Here some very pretty veggies in the garden right now.  And today  I saw my first bumblebee, a good start.  I was with my grandchildren for the weekend and we all did some sowing and some potato planting, it was a good all round, and delightful to hear their comments on growing vegetables.

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A FEELING OF AUTUMN

These last few days have been very autumn-like around here, high winds, rain, cool evenings, but also quite a bit of sunshine in-between, a real feeling of autumn in the air.
While checking over the garden there is a lot to be seen that is going well. I even found a French bean plant in flower that I had all forgotten about, it has been growing in-between the profusely flowering sweet peas. The winter vegetables I planted out weeks ago are growing fast with all the rain they are getting, good to see this happening as I take the supplying of vegetables during the winter very seriously (and it’s fun).

And in-between the leeks there is yet another crop of young dandelions growing, the third crop this year so far!

The courgettes though, have not been doing so well, finally I will be able to harvest one, all the others rotted while still small.  Then there is the rhubarb, this is a young plant, started off during the summer, and now being covered with the leaves of the silver birch tree that is towering above it.  It promises to be a good rhubarb producer for next year, so the making of rhubarb jam will be on the agenda.  During this summer there was very little fruit for sale at the market, probably due to the lack of sunshine there was little fruit around, but having said that, my sister-in-law had kilos upon kilos of strawberries in her garden, so I could be wrong.  I do not have enough space to grow a lot of fruit that is why I like to buy it from organic local producers.  Last year I made a lot of jam, we are still eating from it, this summer I made none.

The few flowering broccoli plants that were left over, once I got a handle on my slug control, did rather well, we ate some already.  Today I found some caterpillars on one of the plants and removed them.  No harm done.

The sprouts are starting to get too large to grow under the netting so I will have to remove that this week.  I will also be harvesting beans and peas to dry for seeds.  Then to mulch the soil with the leaves and branches that are left over as good for the soil.

There is other work to do too before the weather really gets bad (but I am actually expecting an Indian summer soon).  I need to tie down the cold frame before I put the plastic back on, wind can get very high here and I don’t want to lose the frame.  On Saturday market I will buy some more plants to go in there for the winter.  I have plants ready, beetroots, to plant out too in another week or two.

And so the early autumn time is still busy, much is happening, love this time of the year too.  Schools starting next week, my grandchildren are all getting ready for that.  Almost unused garden furniture is about to be stored for another winter.  A few checks have to be made to secure and maintain other things in the garden, and birdhouses have to come out.

And I have a project inside the house to do and am slowly but surely getting ready for that (next real rainy day).  Trying my hand on a bit of DIY.  I like to be really self sufficient, but I have a good adviser in my partner, thank goodness for that.
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Round courgette doing well first one after many flowers rotted from the rain.

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Discovery of a French bean plant I thought had died, and seeds of the sweet peas appearing

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Kale and more kale for this winter, and the rhubarb plant covered in birch leaves already falling.

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Flowering broccoli and little visitors which I caught today, before too much damage was done.

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Sprouts and leeks for the winter months doing well.

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More kale growing fast at this stage, and the garden how it is beginning of autumn 2015

WHAT HAPPENED TO MY BITTER GOURD?

This evening while having a bite to eat in the conservatory, Ian all of a sudden noticed something about the bitter gourd. The other day I had taken away the four other gourd plants that had done nothing all summer and were obviously not going to produce any gourds. Because I have been busy with other stuff today I had not noticed that something was happening with the gourd, and happening it was! First thing we noticed was the change in colour, from green to yellow, this had happened very fast, then the fact that the bottom of the gourd had split open, and red seeds were to be seen. Amazed, I had never expected the gourd to act in this way, I was planning to harvest it some day soon, maybe I waited too long. What a surprise it was. I better make a note of this for my next year’s management of growing gourds. Well it was my first time growing them, and I only got one female flower which in turn became this particular gourd. I’m very glad to have been able to follow it’s development even despite this surprising end 🙂
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THE SCENT OF BEAN FLOWERS

This evening after my grandson Ruben had gone home I went for my daily check around the garden, everyday there is something else that is wonderful and amazing. Today it was the scent of the bean flowers which I noticed while observing them, a faint sweet scent. The bean flowers themselves are doing great, it promises to be a good crop I think, lucky for us as we both love the broad beans. The overall view of my vegetable beds is one of very lush flowering now, there are several kale plants giving a bright shower of yellow, the chives are starting to flower, the marigolds are flowering profusely, and several other smaller flowers are to be seen. The dandelion though, is finished for the moment and what is happening is that yesterday two little gold finches were eating from the seeds.

I also planted out the rest of the oca plants, some flowering broccoli, and a variety of leaves for salads. The garden is more wild than anything else at this moment, and yet I am picking some greenery every single day to use in cooking, so a colourful and pleasurable,  but also a useful vegetable garden, very good for wild life and for humans like ourselves too.
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Above: the broad bean plants flowering.

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Above:  Some dill or fennel, not sure.  And the Azalea plant is flowering too now.

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Above:  Lily of the Valley, and a buttercup.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON IN THE GARDEN

A bright and sunny day saw me planting out more beans, green ones this time, and some flowering broccoli that we bought at the market this morning. Every thing is growing quite well now and the broad beans are fully in flower. I’ve had to shift some of the wild plants that we are not using for food in order to have space for planting out the oca which has become quite big and beautiful now (it’s a vegetable though :-)) The garden is producing so much wild food at the moment that I did not even sow or plant, just comes growing there, and we are using it all in soups and other dishes.   I harvested almost the last of the spinach from last year. The English marigolds, also in their second year, are flowering absolutely amazingly and beautiful. I do recommend growing lots of marigolds, not only are they beautiful and vibrant but one can make marigold oil to use all year round. I grow them in between vegetables. The oca plants have to be earthed up just like potato plants, I did that too today, it is a big experiment, never grown those before. And finally the bitter gourd is doing very well and tomorrow they will be put in their permanent place for the summer, I believe they become very large and need to be kept inside as not hot enough here in this climate, so inside I will let them trail, I have decided on a pot and I am very curious what they will be like and if I will get fruit. Much to do in the next few days!
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Above:  Lady’s mantel early morning.

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Above:  flowers on my aubergine plant.

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Above:  Lady’s mantel and chives, and the flowers on the broad bean plants.

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Above:  A nice buttercup among the vegetables, but this is the only wild plant that I pull up from between the vegetables.

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Above:  The oca plant now earthed up, and glorious English marigolds.

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Above:  Newly planted out bean, broccoli and rhubarb.  And one of the thousand dandelions finished flowering.

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Above:  The bitter gourd doing great, lovely to see it grow so well and holding my breath!