Sunday, December 14, 2014

Winter Garden and Microgreens - Klaus Laitenberger 14

I’ve been catching up with Klaus Laitenberger from Milkwood Farm this week. Klaus found this year one of the easiest gardening years he remembers.  Most gardening jobs, especially hoeing and weeding was so much easier and more pleasant, mainly because it was such a sunny year. I asked Klaus which of his crops turned out especially well. 

His first success was the humble spud.

Klaus tells me “This year I grew only the reliable potatoes – Orla (early), Sarpo Mira (main) and Bionica (main).  All three have excellent blight resistance and are - in my opinion - quite delicious.  Sarpo Mira was bred in Hungary by the Sarvari family and is now maintained and tested by the Sarvari Research Trust which is based in Bangor, North Wales.  They do amazing work in breeding blight resistant varieties.”  Klaus also has a tip about Sarpo Mira potatoes and says to leave them until after Christmas as they improve with storage.

Klaus also really like the The Bionica main crop potato. “This potato was bred in Holland and was developed by an organic farmer (Niek Vos) who I recently met at the organic farm walk in Thornhill Farm in Skibbereen.  Dutch researchers found blight resistant strains of potatoes in the Andes Mountains in South America about 35 years ago.  These were then crossed with common Dutch varieties using traditional breeding techniques (not GM).”

Trust Klaus on this:
“When all other maincrop potatoes have collapsed with blight, both the Sarpo Mira and Bionica will still stand strong.  They are well worth trying out to see if you like them even though the Irish taste leans more to the floury Queens or Kerr’s Pink potato which are very susceptible to blight.”
I ask Klaus what else has done well.
Garlic and Onions
“It was a great year for garlic and onions.  I was very impressed with the Casablanca garlic which produced delicious large white bulbs that keep extremely well.  Thanks to the dry summer, it was quite easy to dry the onions and garlic.  They safely hang in bunches in the kitchen.”
Klaus’s carrots were massive this year.  “The reason is that I probably gave them too much space,” he tells me, “but they still taste nice and keep well in a soil clamp in the tunnel.  Apart from my old-time favourite variety ‘Rothild’ I grew a new this year which is called ‘Sweet Candle F1’.  I was really blown away by it.  I never had a carrot that was so sweet and delicious.”

Parsnip and beetroot
The root vegetables were good in my garden this year too and I aske Klaus how his parsnips and beetroots got on.  “ The parsnip ‘Javelin’ is as good as ever but I had a slow start with my beetroot.” I agree with Klaus on this as mine are just ready. He continues “The first sowing failed. I sowed it during a dry spell and didn’t water the beds. The second sowing was made only in late June and only produced tennis ball sized roots.  I usually get much larger beetroot “ Klaus laments. He then tells me that size doesn’t matter. “It’s a myth that large beetroot is not as nice or even woody.  The ‘Pablo’ beetroot never turns woody at any size.  The beetroot mix I grew was also good fun and tasty.”
I tend to grow smaller vegetables in the tunnel in winter such as peas and broccoli as they are really good in the blender for smoothies. Klaus agrees and has actually started selling the seeds. The plants anow have a name. They are called “microgreens.” Klaus tells me a bit about the varieties

Klaus tells me “Microgreens have stormed the world in the last few years.  They are featured in cookery programmes, gardening magazines and newspapers.  Microgreens are so easy to grow and you don’t even need a garden.  A shallow seed tray or a pot with drainage holes, a little compost (around 5cm/2inches deep) and a sunny windowsill is all you need.  Sow the seeds thickly and cover them with a tiny bit of compost.  The seeds will germinate within 7 to 14 days (depending on the mix and room temperature) and will be ready for harvesting 2-3 weeks after germination.  You’ll have delicious microgreens for Christmas.  Apparently scientists have found that microgreens contain up to 40 times more vitamins than the “adult vegetable”.

Klaus has a few mixes to choose from and they contain: broccoli, kohlrabi, red cabbage, kale, leaf radish, and cabbage in the fast growing mixes. Then there’s the hotter mix of mizuna, mibuna, mustard, rocket, Pak Choi and rocket.

The slower growing Gourmet Micro Mix contains dill, beetroot, amaranth, basil, rocket, coriander, silver chard, orach .

 Packets are €1.80 for 5g from Klaus’s website:

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Two weeks in one.....Briefly....

Week 1
We’ve been eating the broccoli and kale this week. I usually wait until the spring and eat the new shoots but I thought we would make a start on them as we have more than usual. I’m not sure why but this year none of the plants got eaten by caterpillars. There’s hardly a nibble out of any of the leaves. I’m not sure if it was the positioning of them, not putting them in the tunnel or the fact that Klaus (Laitenbergher, who I bought the seeds from) has developed a super strain of plants that fight off the cabbage white. 

Whatever the reason it means I don’t need to wait for new growth to appear before we can eat it, which is a first for me. I tend to start off well protecting the plants but after a few times of nipping off the caterpillars I get a bit complacent and let them get on with it.
We do still have a few other vegetables for harvesting. Amazingly the courgettes are still producing and the odd tomato keeps appearing and the beetroot and spinach are still providing for the table. I am aware of loads of work piling up, such as weeding and cutting back but I’m going to let nature do the hard work, then I can just step in and finish tidying. I am a big believer in just going out and doing even ten minutes work as often as possible to stop anything piling up on me so I have cleared up the leaves that fell this week, planted the garlic and brought a few tender plants indoors. It’s not much but it all helps to keep on top of things.

Week 2
I took a look at the garden the other week and felt a bit overwhelmed. It’ll be a common feeling amongst gardeners I would have thought but I think I have found a simple solution to overcome the feeling of being overcome. Every day I am trying to get outside to just do 10 minutes, I’m not sure what I am going to do, I just walk around until I am inspired. It doesn’t sound a lot and it might sound a bit obsessive (me) but it’s really made a difference over the past two weeks. I find that I am doing small jobs and bits of big jobs and finding them all very enjoyable. I don’t get too achy or tired and I am always leaving something for tomorrow.

If I keep this up I won’t be all seized up come the springtime, which can be a bit of a shock to the system when the digging and weeding starts. Being out for just 10 minutes also means that if it’s raining I don’t get too wet. The job of the day today was getting a bit of room in my compost bins.
The bins were bursting at the seams so I thought it was time to half empty one and put the ‘black gold’ into the beds I have in the polytunnel.

 The soil I got from the bins is teeming with worms and looking lovely. I’ll save the other bin for a spring feed in the veggie patch, if I put it in now I would be wary of the nutrients being washed away before the plants were put in around springtime. Two full barrow loads, a bit of spreading and the 10 minutes had passed (well 20 really).

Thursday, October 30, 2014

POTS - Scale and Proportion

I’m starting this week off with a plug. It’s not the small plant type of plug though, it’s about my lad setting himself up as a ‘Gadget Man’. (Stay with me here though as I have linked it to horticulture) He’s decided to turn his passion for all things computer based into helping people who are a bit out of touch with new technology by giving workshops to show how to get the best from mobile devices such as iPads. He’ll sort out most other things too but he has found one of the biggest issues people have with these things is setting them up in the first place. A lot of things are cloud based now so it’s handy to have these in place to back up the treasured family photos and selfies when you are out and about, or is that just me?

To get the word out on the street I have been giving Ronnie a hand distributing leaflets advertising the service. The leaflets are small A5 size and are large enough to list of what he is offering but also small enough to fit into the letterbox. 

I’ve probably been to a few hundred houses so far and it’s given me a great opportunity to be nosey and have a look at other people’s gardens, some of which you just don’t see from the road. Postal delivery people are so lucky; they get to see them every working day. I noticed that some houses have  metal post boxes on the front gates to save having to venture down long drives, but I ignore them  and walk down anyway hoping it’s not because of a big angry dog they have a gate box. I’ve been lucky so far.

No two gardens are the same. They all have their own personalities, be it a pile of neglected car parts and intrusive couch grass or highly manicured gardens with not a blade of grass out of place. There are a lot of gardeners who place planted up plant pots around the house, some of them look very attractive, but a majority of the ones I was in my travels had a collection of dead plants in them. The main reason this has happened is that people didn’t keep an eye on them in the dry spell and they died through lack of watering. The only plants that seem to survive seem to be self-set black willow trees or reeds, again self-set. 

This tells me a few things.
·         The owners intentionally let the annuals die off and the pots will eventually have winter bedding such as pansies put into them.
·         The owners need to get a watering system installed, especially if they have loads of pots and baskets.
·         The owner’s lifestyles are too busy to notice the plants are dying as they dash to the car.
·         The plant roots have been eaten by vine weevil.
·         There’s a cat in the garden using the pot as a toilet.
·         The pots are too small for the plants
·         There are too many plants in a root restricted area and they dry out too quickly.

It’s not a criticism though before anyone sends me an email, as I have plenty of dead plants in pots too. My reason is a bit of all of the above and also because I have too many to check, especially the pots that have been buried under massed of summer growth. The plants that stand the best chances of survival are the ones where the roots have escaped from the drainage holes in the base and fixed themselves into the soil. This is a good way to keep the pots upright too I have found. Of course it won’t work if the pot is sitting on a concrete path or driveway.

Another observation about the pots (and I stress observation, not criticism) is that most of the pots aren’t in proportion to their surroundings. It can look a bit odd when I meandered down the drive of a big house and find loads of tin 20cm pots around the patio or front door. The proportion issue doesn’t end there either; some other garden features are just too small for their places. I think it might be something to do with impulse buying in the shops, especially the Euro shops or Lidl. You see something that looks great close up and in the picture and has the added benefit of being able carry it out of the shop and into the car.

Most pots and garden ornaments for bigger areas can’t really be carried in a bag. It reminds me a bit of the Father Ted sketch. Father Ted was telling a confused Dougal about the use of perspective and scale with the use of a plastic cow whilst on a caravanning holiday in a field.

“These are small, but the ones out there are far, far away”

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Houttuynia - Is there anything more invasive?

When we moved into our house there was an attractive groundcover plant in the garden, near the back door. It’s called “chameleon plant” (Houttuynia cordata ‘Tricolour’) after its multicolour foliage. It reminds me a bit of English ivy with a kaleidoscopic leaves of red, pink, yellow, and green. It sports pretty white flowers too. If it stayed where you planted it all would be well.

Invasive Plant
Usually planted as a ground cover, pond marginal plant or a colour plant for the shade, the Houttuynia spreads by every way imaginable. Thick networks of roots snake through the ground. Pieces that fall on the ground take root. If you bottle it up inside a basket or container, surprise! The flowers form seeds and seedlings sprout all over. There is no containing it.
I did a bit of stonework where the plant was and as it was winter the plant had died back. As I innocently spread the dug out soil around various parts of the garden I didn’t realise I was spreading parts of the plants roots around too. I know now. This invasive plant has now sprung up everywhere. Not since Japanese knotweed and Horsetail have I seen anything so invasive. At least with the Horsetail you can clean pots and pans with their abrasive silica based leaves. These Houttuynia don’t seem to have any redeeming features whatsoever.

Chameleon Plant
There doesn’t seem to be a place where the plant doesn’t grow in the garden. It grows in sun. It grows in shade. It grows in normal soil. It grows in wet soil. It even grows in water. To make things worse, it often reverts to a solid green which eliminates the sole motivation you had for planting it in the first place. If you see the before and after picture I have you will see that when the leaves are new and fresh they look lovely. All of the rooted cuttings in my garden are coming out a dull green and are really unattractive as they smother other plants. Leaf eating insects don’t really seem to like them either and as yet I haven’t seen a slug anywhere near them. 

Is there a natural solution?
I’m sure there is a powerful chemical that could rid the garden of this invasive plant, but it’ll probably kill everything else off at the same time. My only solution in my garden will be to be very thorough when I dig up the roots, making sure I get them ALL. Clipping the ones that are growing right back before they set seed will control the spread a bit too. In about three years I hope to have them gone so it’s a long term plan. I will not be composting the roots or throwing them into the bin either because they will either come back to haunt me or it’ll be someone else’s problem as I would be spreading them around. I’ll burn them.

Keeping sharp.
I have had a great knife for nearly twenty years now and it does everything in the house and garden. I have used it for chopping vegetables in the kitchen, opening bags of coal, pruning back plants, opening cardboard boxes, sharpening pencils and even cutting plastic bottles and tins and it’s never had to be sharpened. It’s a fantastic knife that has also been composted quite a few times as it’s thrown out with the newspaper full of peelings. I have taken it a step too far this week though and thought it could cope with cutting heavy duty electrical cable. I’m in the process of setting up electricity into the cabin and have some really thick cable laid as it need to go underground outside for part of its journey. The cable was really thick and took some sawing to get through, there were different types of metal too so I’m not sure if it was the copper or steel that did the damage.
I didn’t realise just what a difference having a blunt knife makes to your day. Onions are like leather and are tough to get through; even carrots break up and crack when you try to chop them. My usually beautiful dinners with their lovingly sliced veggies have a more rustic look to them.  I do have an oil stone so I think it’s a job to do this week to try and bring the knife back to its former glory. I’ll test it out by slashing a few Houttuynia down.

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