So Much To Do.....


Reusing an old bag as a planter

I have so much I want to tell you this week. I wrote a list and by the time I finished the page looked like a cartoon scroll rolling to the ground and bouncing across the room. I’ve never had such a productive week in my long history of gardening. I think it must have been the couple of weeks of dry weather followed by the rainy spell… everything just seemed to wake up, me included. 
Where to Start?
Let me start by talking about nasturtiums. We got a two packet of seeds last year of both the variegated and non-variegated types. There weren’t many of them and like most things that are in short supply, I tended to value them quite highly, I even saved some of the seeds before the mice got them. I needn’t have bothered; the whole garden is full of these bright invasive plants. They are growing in the tunnel, in the vegetable patch, along the path and in most of the pots. I don’t think we have many mice around here. I like them there’s no mistake, but they are being classed very closely as weeds at the moment as they twine themselves around the kale and peas. I do have some very well behaved perennial nasturtiums from Klaus. They are far better behaved and have lovely compact leaves. I might be growing those in favour of the annuals in future. 

The rain also brought on the weeds. Thankfully most of them are annuals and as I am keeping on top of them I can put these into the compost bin. Any long tap rooted perennials or weeds in flower or gone to seed will go straight into a bag to be recycled. It has proved by this year’s infestation of tomatoes that seeds aren’t killed off in the bins as the temperature doesn’t get hot enough. I don’t want to take any chances.

Old Sports Bag Planter
I have quite a few plants struggling in small pots and decided to relocate them into larger containers so their roots can spread. I have put one of the aforementioned perennial nasturtiums into an old vintage fire bucket and a coleus and geranium into an old sports bag. I was going to throw the bag out as the zip doesn’t work, so I am reusing it for at least a year before it gets put into the bin. I need to watch them both though because the fire bucket doesn’t have drainage holes and the bag dries out quickly in the sun, although it’s amazing how much compost fits into it, I shouldn’t have to water it more than a couple of times a week.

I’ve also put the mother in laws tongue outside, it lives quite happily indoors throughout the winter but definitely loves the fresh air and sunshine, and again, I have to watch the watering as there is no drainage.

Ferns seem to be thriving in the humid weather and I have found that they respond well to having their older leaves cut off. This action seems to promote new fresh growth as opposed to spores as well as keeping them from taking over the pathways. 

The fabulous Deutzia X hybrida 'Mont Rose’ shrub benefits by being cut back and that’s what I have done to mine, next year we should see another great show to attract the bees.

Into the vegetable patch
The courgettes have now burst into life after a slow start. I thought we weren’t going to get a crop but the first one was fried up today, delicious it was too. The broad beans are ready to eat as well, in the past I’ve held on until the pods discolour a bit but we’re eating them younger and fresher this year.
It won’t be long before the sugar snap peas are ready; they are similar to mange tout but have more succulent small peas inside and are guaranteed string free. The beans too are stringless varieties and they have now reached the top of the nine foot bamboo poles so I have nipped out the growing tips so they can concentrate on giving us a good harvest.

Successive sowing seems to be working for me this year. Usually it’s just something I read about that other people do, but this year I have been attentive and planted out more spinach, mange tout, peas, basil, coriander and beetroot. 

To finish off this week I will be putting the cacti outside to get some rainwater and as per Klaus’s instructions have held back until the last minute to plant out the purple sprouting broccoli seeds. It was hard; I have been looking at the packet for a long time. Hopefully by doing it this late will ensure that they don’t get eaten or go to seed before the spring.

Does it Belong in the Fridge or Not?


 Should they be stored separately in or out of the fridge?

I’m have just about recovered from one of my lads infamous parties this week. He’s turning 16 so it was a full blown teenage affair with all of the associated angst and high jinks. I did the usual caring thing and headed off to the cinema for the evening leaving Julie to deal with the spills and thrills. It’s not through choice, I’m told to go. I would spend the evening shouting and pointing at the partygoers and be “a real downer” on the evening. So armed with a big bag of toffees and a two litre bottle of water I set myself up for a double bill. 

My fears materialised of course, when I got back I was greeted with the usual signs of a party, sticky everything, broken lampshades cans in the neighbours garden and dustbin liner bags full of party plastic and pizza boxes. It looked like fun was had in my absence indoors but what about the garden? I couldn’t really see until the following morning but it wasn’t looking promising as I did notice that a few of the sunflowers had been pulled out of the front garden and hurled down the road. They do fly well though, especially if you leave some soil on the roots. I was in my mid-twenties when I found that out. Young ones today find these things out much earlier.

In the morning I went outside to assess the damage. The marquee we set up was still standing albeit a bit lopsided. The grass inside the large tent was scorched; I think it was acid drinks that were spilled. There were a few broken ceramic pots and garden chairs, but apart from those and the sunflowers the garden came off unscathed. The partygoers didn’t even go anywhere near the polytunnel, which as usual I found a bit disappointing as they could have witnessed the lovely displays of salad vegetables growing in there. The garden will pick up in no time and the brown patches on the grass will grow over, nature will see to that. Indoors is a different matter, three days after the event and I still have my head behind the toilet bowl mopping up and the fridge looks like a plague of locusts got in… Teenagers can be voracious eaters!

Chill or Not
Now the summer heat is with us it’s tempting to put anything perishable into the fridge. I have found that some things don’t like being stored in the cold though and in some cases it can ruin the taste and even speed up the decay, salad leaves dry up overnight if they are not in a container or bag.  I never bother with bread for example  ( I freeze mine) as I think that there is a chemical reaction that makes bread go stale and it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference where you store it. The bread will just dry out quicker in the fridge along with any salad vegetables we put in there that doesn’t go into the vegetable section or go into a sealed bag. Tomatoes don’t taste of anything when they are cold, you have to get them to room temperature although if you put them into the fridge in a paper bag they will ripen faster. 

There are other things that don’t do well chilled. 

Onions – Onions need air circulation. Onions rot when they are stored near potatoes too.
Potatoes – Refrigeration is a sure-fire way to kill the flavour of potatoes. Instead store potatoes in a dry paper bag, but not a plastic bag as this promotes moisture and mould.
Avocado – Avocados need to be ripe before they are refrigerated. Once ripe, they will last for up to about a week in the fridge.
Coffee – Refrigerating or freezing coffee drastically changes its flavour. This is due to condensation. This is true for both coffee beans and coffee grounds. Store coffee is in an air tight container in the cupboard.
Winter Squashes – Whether it is an acorn squash, a butternut, or a spaghetti squash you will get far more flavour and enjoyment if you leave it in the pantry. On top of that the squash will last about a month or longer out of the fridge.
Oils – Olive oil or vegetable oil, in the fridge goes thick and begins to look murky and cloudy, the same goes for honey. Nut based oils do better.
Garlic – Putting in the fridge causes mould and the bulb loses flavour
Melons – Taste far better at room temperature.
Fruits – Many fruits such as berries, peaches, apricots, nectarines, and apples ripen better out of the chilled air

In the June Garden


The cacti and succulents have been put into the hypertufa pots.

I’ve finally pulled out all of last year’s broccoli and kale.  It got to the stage where it was taking me hours to collect enough heads and leaves for a serving as they got progressively smaller by the day. I got a good crop from the ones that were ravaged by cabbage white caterpillars last year; the plants came back with vigour in spring. I won’t be making the same mistake again. Firstly I won’t be growing any brassicas in the tunnel except to propagate them and secondly the tunnel door is staying closed other than when I need to walk in and out.  The tunnel isn’t free from pest though by any means, the main one I have at the moment is greenfly on the lettuce, they are spreading really quickly in the heat and as yet I am not really sure what to do to combat the problem. I think I’ll end up not growing lettuce in there too.

Tomato Takeover
Tomato plants are thriving in the heat though. I have about ten growing that I planted, which is about enough I think. The other thousand or so have self-set from the dropped fruit that I put into the compost bin last year. The tunnel beds have been topped up with the rotted compost from the bins and although most weed seeds have been killed off in the process it looks as though the tomatoes were made from stronger stuff. I love the fact that I have inadvertently saved these seeds and they are giving me another crop, the problem is that we didn’t like the tomatoes we grew last year!
I’m going to keep a few just to grow them on and see if they are tasteless and foamy like last year, the rest of them are going to be hacked down and thrown back into the compost bin, I doubt they’ll bother  me again after the worms eat them. It’s amazing how easily they have grown though, especially as I have had so many germination failures with tomatoes from following the growing instructions on the packets to the letter.

No show
I’ve had a few germination failures this year. The one total no show were white turnips. I put out a couple of rows and got nothing coming up. The other near failure has been the mange tout. I followed the instructions but have had a very poor germination rate, not only in my own plot but also in my in-laws garden which were planted later than mine but from the same packet.  I’d like to think it’s because of my enthusiasm for putting some seeds out early, but the second sowing are looking just as unpredictable and they were only planted a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve finally got around to putting the cacti and succulents into larger containers. Some of them were looking extremely cramped in the small cell modules. My creative hypertufa pots have come into good use and housed most of them. The pots were very nearly thrown away as the mixture of cement and peat looked, well, pretty rubbish on their own. Once they have been filled up with the plants and a bit of algae allowed to grow on them I think they look pretty good, even though I say so myself. They are not the replacement for my terracotta pots of course but they are something a bit different and a talking point should anyone be foolish enough to ask my about them, I could bore anyone for hours about the different mixes and designs. I doubt I will be making any more of these pots and I am also not sure if they will last the winter. I’m also not sure what to do with the cacti and succulent I put in them. I didn’t really forward think when I ordered them off Ebay and this year they will be too large to go back into the house. I might just end up selling them all in one lot to someone who has the room to keep them. I’ll take cuttings of course before they go and start the process all over again.

Talking of cuttings I have found places for my lawn chamomile that I ordered through the post. They came as bare rooted runners and I grew them on for a few weeks in small pots before putting them out in regimented lines around the outside of the polytunnel. Lawn chamomile doesn’t flower so they don’t propagate by seed which means that new plants shouldn’t pop up in unexpected places around the garden. Maybe I can grow a strain of tomatoes that do the same.

The Holistic Gardener by Fiann Ó Nualláin - Book Review


Stagnant water could spread Weil’s disease

I got a small parcel delivered to me this week, which I always find exciting. Usually it’s something I ordered from Ebay and forgot about. This parcel was from Mercier Press based in Cork and contained a book they thought I might like to read called ‘The Holistic Gardener, First Aid for the Garden’, written by horticulturalist and broadcaster Fiann Ó Nualláin. 

Julian in my Pocket
I don’t really ‘do’ the book thing and all of my collection went to various groups years ago so the inclusion of this book has increased my collection to 1. When I was at horticultural college I had a tutor called Julian who was so knowledgeable about everything that I always wished I could keep him in my shirt pocket for him to be there permanently to get answers to my questions. My wish sort of came true a few years ago with the introduction of the smart phone. I can now get answers (usually hundreds of different ones) to most questions at the swipe of my screen and it’s got the added benefit of not having to feed it and I can switch it off when it gets annoying.

Flick Through
I thought the book looked interesting so took it along to Portstewart to have a flick through while I was waiting for my lad to come up from the Atlantic where he was doing some deep sea diving. As I had a few hours to wait I thought it would make good use of my time. I generally fall asleep in the car when I am waiting for someone so this made a pleasant change.  

In between naps I read more about what motivated the writer Fiann to write a book about natural first aid remedies in the garden and it seems that apart from having a lifetimes experience in garden related accidents, he saw that there was a need for a book that combined herbs, homemade remedy preparation and a garden plant reference all in one so when you run into the garden with a cut you don’t have to sift through endless reference books or drip blood onto the computer keyboard or phone as you put in keywords to find a relevant page on how to treat the injury.  

After a few disclaimers and recommendations about seeking professional medical help if you get bitten by rats, Fiann convinces early on that gardens have remedies for most injuries from a scratches, heatstroke, chapped hands, heart attacks, pesticide poisoning to wasp stings. Miraculously all of these can be treated on site with the plants you grow. Fiann happily tells us that the plant beside you as your work or relax in the garden can be the answer to a hive, ache or watery eye and ingesting fruit and vegetables can also build up antihistamine levels as a defence against stings and bites. Plants including calendula, sage, geranium, dandelions and roses all have their healing virtues.

As the day progressed I found myself reading chapter after chapter of the book which I initially thought would just be for reference. If you are unlucky enough to get stung by a bee or wasp or have an army of midges following your every move then fear not, the answers lie in the plants you grow. There’s even a bit later on about after sun remedies and gardener’s knee complaint.

The more I read the chapters the more I realised just what a dangerous place the garden is, even stagnant water in a butt can give you Weil’s disease. I just couldn’t put the book down, even pruning a rose could be a dangerous business.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
Top Tips
The book has some lovely illustrations by Sam Chelton which breaks up the text and has some good top tips such as not to burst blisters. I needed to have that put in writing because that’s what I always say to people when I see them with the pins out of the sewing box. 

No Competition
I was going to give the book away in a competition, but I’m afraid this time it’s not going to be. I have decided to keep it. Partly because it’s the only book I have in my “collection”, but mainly because it’s a very good reference book if you need to remedy an accident in the garden.
I really enjoyed the read and it’s hopefully made me a bit more cautious in the garden. I hope by keeping it, I never have the need to refer to it again. It can be a constant reminder to take things slowly and carefully in the garden.

Fastest Selling
The Holistic Gardener is the fastest selling Irish Gardening book ever and can be bought either as hardback or Kindle. Fiann is currently co-presenting on RTE 1’s Dermot’s Secret Garden programme. Check out Fiann's blog or send him a tweet @HolisticG especially if you have any more remedies, I can see a sequel coming on.

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