DRYING – STORING – SOWING… FOR WINTER STORAGE AND GROWTH

It is this time of summer again when thoughts turn to harvest, saving seeds, drying herbs, sowing winter vegetables, and pruning some of the soft fruits. It is also time to make a note of what to, and what not to do next year, and where to grow what. Every season I learn more and so the garden is ever changing as I try to make it all better and more productive for us and also for the rest of nature, so incorporating plants, flowers, and berries for the birds, the bees and for any other creatures in the ecosystem that this urban garden is.
So the last few days I collected different leaves, among them dandelion (leaf and roots), mint, lemon balm, hawthorn, and nettle. I am working towards having a good store to see us through the winter months, and as these plants contain lots of valuable minerals and vitamins I think that it will be a valuable addition to our soups and stews. Some I will also use as teas.
Last week I sowed some winter vegetables, kale, salad leaves, and beetroot mainly, they are coming up well and some I potted off in order to become stronger so they can go into the soil outside. I will make use of the cold frames this winter. The temperatures drop to around -0C or just below it during the night, and daytime temperatures mainly around +5C so it is an ideal climate to grow winter produce. Leeks do very well here in my garden and I have planted out dozen of them during the past few days.
This morning, being Saturday and time to take a stock of what I have been doing and looking for ideas and information, I went to the library and again got a great selection of books, among them, two that I want to mention, one is about Winter vegetable growing by Linda Gray,  and the other one is a book to relax with at night, it’s another memoir of a gardener, (Just Vegetating by Linda Larcom),  I have read some good memoirs lately and enjoyed.  Great inspiration can be got in books, it is a never ending pleasure.
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Mint, delightful scent!

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Nettle, and lemon balm, great for teas, and or soups, broths etc…         And more seedlings, I am looking forward to winter growth.  Making meticulous plans right now, find it exciting and motivating.  Taking the providing role very seriously, that is, providing or rather enabling mother nature to provide us with lots of lovely foods.  So enjoyable, and good for the soul.

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Garlic, and dandelion leaves, very fond of both.  A huge crop of dandelion leaves this year, due to the rains.

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Peas and broad beans, it was not a great harvest this summer and so I will need to change the type I am actually growing, though I think that this year’s bad summer had something to do with it too.

PERMACULTURE – A LEARNING CURVE

Two weeks ago I used this wheelbarrow. Today I found it totally overgrown with cleavers, or goosegrass like we call it. And so it is with quite a few other areas of the garden. During the last week or two growth has been fierce due to weather conditions, it has been very damp with temperatures between 15 and 17 degrees.
Last year I started to try and apply permaculture principles in the garden. My main reason was that I am very interested in foraging, in wild plants. I noticed that these plants, such as dandelions, nettles, or goosegrass would grow really well, while some vegetables were having difficulties. I thought that maybe mixing them all, letting them grow together so to say, would help keep pests at bay. So I read up on permaculture and found that it is all about getting a balance in the garden, or rather getting the ecosystem balanced. Therefore when during the early months of this year the dandelions started to grow well, I used a lot of them in our foods, same with nettles, and even goosegrass. But then I made a mistake, for which I am now paying, I let all these wild plants grow without disturbing them at all.  The goosegrass has totally taken over, I guess I did not use enough of it.  I now realise that I should have kept the upper hand and at least tamed the wild plants a little.
So today I made a start at clearing.
The other motivation to clearing up around the raised beds is the problem with the slugs and snails. Everyday now I gather them, but the supply keeps coming, and my plants are being attacked and eaten faster than I can replant them. This morning I discovered two mature broccoli plants, and one kale plant with leaves full of holes. In desperation I started to cut the hedges around the raised beds, and cleared away any leaves lying around, sure enough I filled a jar with the culprits in no time.
I went and googled permaculture and slug control and learnt a lot. It said in the article that it was no good transporting the slugs to another area, this only un-balances that ecosystem there, so I got to stop doing that. It gave quite a few good ideas to deal with this plague, one I liked is the use of beer, and tomorrow I will purchase a six pack and hope to have a lot of drunken slugs! Not sure which type of beer to use though 🙂 so will get the light beers I think. Some of the other options mentioned in the article, such as frogs, hedgehogs, nematodes, toads, or ducks etc… did not appeal to me, one other option though I liked, it is the encouragement of the carob beetle, a predator of slugs. It explained how to build a nest for these creatures, something I might try out at some stage as I quite like beetles.

One of the principles of permaculture is that one should just observe the garden, see what goes on, and take note.  I do that on a daily basis and have found that the beds that have herbs, such as oregano, lemon balm, rosemary, calendula, sage, and mint growing in them, have much less damage from said slugs and snails.  There is also one type of lettuce that survives every time, so that is the one that I should definitely sow next time round.  The broad beans remain untouched, they are also growing on the bed with garlic.

Its a learning curve, exciting and challenging – it can be very discouraging when so much of what you sow or plant gets eaten, but there has got to be a way around it.  I am sure to be getting on top of this particular problem.

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Goosegrass taking over part of the garden!

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Snail and slug, two culprits which while I love them, I must rebalance the eco system of my garden.

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Some of the damage in the above photos, damage of mature plants!

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The type of lettuce the slugs don’t touch.  And around the beds clearing up is being done seriously now!

HOW BEAUTIFUL IS NATURE

Spent some time in the garden today, the sun was out and there was some heat even during the afternoon. Some of the plant are doing well and flowering beautifully. I only noticed three insects, two bumblebees and on sort of a fly, very beautiful and I took a shot of it. Some other plants, especially the green beans and the sweet peas are not growing at all, they have been transplanted a month or so ago and still no growth, perhaps not enough heat or sun. But the lady’s mantel, the chives and the nasturtiums are flowering fully now, a lovely lush display. The other vegetable that is thriving is the flowering broccoli, which is telling me something, if the brassicas are going to do well, then brassicas I will grow. Today I also read in a newsletter of the GIY (Grow it yourself) organisation that this season best to grow things in the poly tunnels. So today I cleared one of the mini tunnels so that I can put them to better use. Gardening is a constant improving and learning isn’t it, challenging but rewarding too.

“Beauty is the purest feeling of the soul. Beauty arises when soul is satisfied.”
Amit Ray
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Unidentified fly

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Chives and strawberry flowers

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My comfrey flowers

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Red currants and raspberries

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The flowering broccoli and the struggling sweet peas

ABUNDANCE

Yesterday was a most beautiful and warm day, about 25C which is rather warm for these parts, absolutely delighted! I got a lot done in the garden which at this stage is so abundant with blossoms and flowers, flourishing vegetables and ripening tender berries, that it is just a delight to be among it all. And I’m never on my own either as the resident robin and wren keep me company, often singing a little tune. There is also a stray cat lurking about with whom I am not well pleased as she/he did her business among the vegetables which I find intolerable though I guess to her it is normal. Anyway, there was lots going on yesterday and a delightful day it was. I planted out leeks, parsley, coriander, basil, sweetpeas, lettuce, and more French beans hoping that the slugs will leave us some to grow to maturity (which I am sure they will).  Hawthorn is abundantly in flower, and not only in our own garden but also in the surrounding area, which adds to our abundance.

We live here in an old terraced house in a very quiet street just above the town of Skibbereen in West Cork, South West of Ireland.  The part of our street has a lovely view towards the forested Knockomagh Hill, and towards Lick Hill which separates the town and surrounding area from the sea.  The landscape is green, flowing and pastoral.  The small town lies below, and at night especially this can be very pretty.  Though the houses and gardens are not very large, there is a lot that can be achieved and enjoyed about living here.  Certainly there is enough space to at least provide a good enough supply of vegetables during the year, and some space for flowers, compost bin, sheds, and if wanted chickens too.  It is all a matter of organisation.  I am learning to sow vegetables in succession so that the beans and peas last for longer than one picking season.  Of herbs there are plenty and more than we can use ourselves.  There is also space for experiments like the South American Oka which I am growing this year for the first time.  And there is space for table and chairs to enjoy eating outside on the patio.  There is even a small piece of grass for the moment and space to dry the washing 🙂 What I am trying to say is that one does not need to have acres of land to be able to make a go of things and totally enjoy the experience.  But I guess that it is different for everyone, and this place certainly would never be large enough to do a smallholding, that is for sure.  I am also very lucky in that, because I am retired,  I can totally devote my time to growing things.

I had an interesting experience yesterday too, after posting one of my photos of the bitter gourds which I am growing (an experiment), on the ‘Organic Terrace Growing’ Facebook group, one of it’s members pointed out to me that she could see a greenfly on one of the leafs, I had not seen it all, so I took my magnifying glass and went checking, and indeed I found five more of the creatures.  Thank goodness she spotted it otherwise my delicate gourd plants may have been in trouble and I treasure them.

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The peas doing well, and a lone foxglove plant coming into flower.  The elder berry tree I planted out yesterday.

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A chunk of wild chestnut tree which was cut down last winter has started to sprout again, too nice to use as firewood.  The young little plant is my okra seedling, it is now doing ok, it is also an experiment as never grown it before and only saw these plants in India and Mauritius.

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The sweet peas will flower soon I think.  And dandelion roots cut up and ready to be stir-fried, delicious.

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The trellis belongs to my bitter gourd plant, quite impressed with it’s art work.

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Here you can spot my invader, the greenfly!  I had not spotted it myself at all.

THE BEAUTY OF AN EARLY MORNING WALK

This morning I was up early and seeing that the sun was shining I decided to take a walk around the garden. I love these early morning walks, it gets light now just after four o’clock, and the birds start their singing. The sun rising throws a rich yellow light, diffused through the hedges into the garden. When I say that I take a ‘walk’ it might make you laugh as the garden is only thirty three feet long and not that wide either, but it is amazing what goes on in there, it’s buzzing with insects, birds, and new plants coming up or changing every day. This morning I discovered that the Jerusalem artichokes I planted way back in March have finally come up and are doing well, what a lovely surprise.  Lately in a talk on organic gardening I was told that if one cannot grow Jerusalem artichokes one should give up gardening, I was starting to wonder!

Flowers are everywhere at the moment, I find them growing among the vegetables, herb Robert, dandelions, buttercups (I know the latter ones I should pull up), wild onions, and many more. I picked a nice bunch which is now making my kitchen look cheerful.

Looking at the very back of the garden there is a wild patch where the compost bin is kept, this patch is full of the wild onions, flowering so white, and also with goosegrass which grows all over everything else. I picked quite a bit of it to put into the mashed potatoes for dinner tonight, it was delicious. So great to not only have vegetables growing which require a little work, but also to have and abundance of wild greens coming to grow in the garden without any effort, doing superby well, and providing us with valuable vitamins and minerals.

It’s after nine now and the sun is still shining! It was a warm and humid day, so very welcome after all the cold. I finished decorating a room upstairs and have now got time in the next week to do more work in the garden, lots needs to be done, apart from clearing out the sheds, there are lots of leeks to plant out, and lettuces. The bean and peas plants are absolutely packed with flowers. The berry bushes have little unripe fruits on them already, red currants and goose berries.

It’s also time that I start to gather flowers and leaves for my tea, the hawthorn tree is just about to start flowering, the best time to harvest some of these young buds to make a nice tea. Last week I was able to dry some red clover, also for my tea chest.

There is so much free food to be found all around us, and so much scope for making teas, and herbal remedies, salves, soaps, all very nice to be occupied with, but I am only a learner and I am still only trying to source beeswax which I need to make a salve out of the calendula oil I made last year. Slowly but surely!

It is a very nice way to start the day, to take some fresh air and see the beauty and abundance in nature. It is good to be appreciate for our life on this beautiful earth, despite all the sad things that happen and all the suffering of so many people.

I am humbled.
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A lovely little corner in the garden

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Early morning is so nice and peaceful, a meditative walk.

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Oeps a spider among the vegetables, better put him outside.  And the Jerusalem artichokes starting to grow!

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A lovely bunch of flowers – a beauty to enjoy.

RAIN, COOL TEMPERATURES, AND TOADSTOOLS GROWING AMONG THE VEGETABLES

Well, we are more than halfway through the month of May, and temperatures have been very cool the last few weeks, a mere 9 to 12 degrees Celsius, with lots of icy wind and rain, so wet has it been that there are toadstools growing among the vegetables. But all the same, flowers are blooming and giving a lovely show, and the beans and pea flowers especially are abundant, so looking forward to a good harvest. I was minding my grandchildren over the weekend, so the last two days I am trying to catch up with jobs in garden and home, in another two weeks my older sister is coming to stay and I am so looking forward to her visit. Together we will be visiting our siblings who live around here, and we cannot wait to see the results of their garden designs and produce. Lots of work is going on between all of us. Growing your own vegetables and herbs is becoming a real ‘family’ thing with us all. (I am second eldest of a family of eleven). Plants will be swopped and stories about the latest experiment in growing too. One of us, my brother who lives in the beautiful Caha mountains in Glengarriff, is living off grid and he and his wife practice permaculture too, they have a lovely place going there. And my three sisters have gardens to be proud of, always improving, improvising, and trying out new ideas and plants.
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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!

MORE UNUSUAL TUBERS FOR EXPERIMENTING

Been absent from my blog the last few days, busy with a lot of things, among them sowing, thinning out, and sorting seeds and buying more unusual tubers. The other day I was in a local health food shop and found there some tubers that I did not see before, they are called:
‘Yacon’ or ‘Smallanthus sonchifolius’,this is a root vegetable that has been domesticated by the indigenous peoples of the Andes, so they originate in South America. Yacon is a member of the sunflower family, so it has small yellow flowers, and — like its cousins, dahlias and Jerusalem artichokes — it develops huge tubers. I Googled them and found out a few things about them, first and foremost how to grow them, as I am not going to cook these few I bought, only sprout them for growing. The plants are very easy to grow and seem to thrive in almost any soil or climate. So you have to put them in small pots with slightly damp compost. They will make roots and once they are a bit bigger, after all danger of frost is past – you can plant them out in the garden. The foliage and leaves become very large, I better only grow one or two, anyway I am growing them as an experiment, not even sure if they are tasty as I never did taste them. These roots are supposed to be useful in blood sugar management, liver health, and in helping with health of the colon. I’m sure excited to see how they will do in my garden. As they take 6 to 7 months before you can harvest, and some years before they are really well established, it will be a long-term experiment.

This reminds me of once I bought a Taro root in the supermarket, as a vegetable, but when I came home I decided to plant it instead of cook it, it became a large indoor plant, (Colocasia esculenta), quite interesting, but it died when I left it with friend when I went travelling, I have not seen another Taro root since in the shops.
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Jerusalem Artichokes – some sprouting, and some just bought and ready to sprout.

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My Bitter Gourd seeds arrived from India thanks to my dear friends over there.  And some of the peas sprouting already, and leeks ready to pick out in larger pots.

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More seeds sown, Ginger sprouting finally, Turmeric too.  And Holly Basil sown under an inside glass house.

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My Sweet pea seedlings had to be protected from slugs, who knows where they came from, inside the conservatory and all.  And Leek seedling after being pricked out.