First Week

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It’s back to college this week. I had such a good time last year in my art portfolio evening class that I decided to sign up for a part time Art Diploma course at the Tech in Derry. Its one day a week, which should give me plenty of time to do all of the other things I do in the remaining six days.  I’m not sure what the ‘other things’ are besides gardening, but I’m sure I’ll fit them in.
Art History
The first thing we will be doing every week is looking at art history. There are a lot of well-known artists, although when I was asked who my main influences were I couldn’t think of anyone, not one artist. I have a lot to learn. I could reel off a list of ten great garden designers, but they didn’t count although they are great artists in their own right.
There are similarities to artists that work with canvas and those that work with a spade I think. One big difference that I see is when I design a garden I am thinking what it’s going to look like in 1, 5, or even 10 years’ time, drawing seems a bit more static although the use of colour is important in both. I’m going to enjoy comparing my gardening knowledge with the new art history class.
Lost the Plot                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                                                      I am enjoying the freedom to be creative. Our first project is to create a hat, the more flamboyant the better. Now you would think that I would link up gardening with this but I thought I’d try something a bit different. I have been obsessed with lamps and lampshades recently ( I think it’s something to do with the nights closing in and getting ready to hibernate) so it seemed obvious that I would take old bits and bobs in the garage like plastic pipes, cable ties, old buttons and turn them into a lampshade hat. I think it works well, it’s an oversized 1940’s German design with a real working light bulb in it (torch). It isn’t that practical though as the base is made from plasterboard so it’s a bit sore on the neck. I see a garden ornament coming when it’s finished.
It’s not all bizarre fun, frolics and goings on though. Next week we are heading out to Ness woods to draw, paint and take photos. It should be right up my street…my two biggest interests combined and no plasterboard in sight. Add a flask of tea to the mix and I am in heaven.
Bargain of the Week
I got a fantastic end of season bargain today. I got three 3metre rolls of heather screening reduced from 90 euro to 10 euro. I had to have them even though it was a total impulse buy and I had no idea where I was going to put them. I walked out of the shop extremely happy. 
As soon as I got home and a quick scan around the garden I realised that there were loads of places I could put a screen up. There’s always something to cover up and the priority for me is the oil tank. I did manage to obscure the view of it from the kitchen window this summer by carefully planted climbing bean plants, but they won’t be there in winter.  
Where to put it
I put one full piece of the screen around the oil tank and then tied it straight onto the plastic securing the top with a few heavy pots. It looks like a small haystack and although it won’t last more than a year or two it’ll do for now. The cabin veranda (sounds posh but it’s the stickie-out bit of the shed) overlooked the tank as well so that’s improved to view nicely. As the lengths are 3 metres high I cut the second one in half and that has gone along the neighbour’s fence which is giving us a bit more privacy. I am still deciding where to put the third screen, but I’m sure it won’t be long until it’s found a home.
Its best tenner I have spent in a long time!

Gunge

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There’s been a bit of a knock on effect after setting up the shed, sorry, cabin. I’m not talking about the culmination of youth sitting on the veranda playing music on their iphones, it’s more about the thick gungy algae that’s taking over the lawn.  Setting up the cabin meant that I needed to do a lot of walking around holding a cup of tea and looking at the levels for the base. This has resulted in me compacting the ground quite considerably. 

Gunge
The ground was pretty sparse on the grass front because I was working where the large trampoline was originally, and that cut off most of the light for the grass to grow. The two factors of sparseness and walking has allowed the alga to take hold at a startling rate. There doesn’t seem to be an area free of it for 5 square metres. I tentatively scraped some of the gunge off to see what was underneath and even though we have had a lot of rain the ground was dry. It reminds me of the flat green mat that used to form on my plant pots when I watered them with tap water. This means the alga is absorbing the water and draining off what it doesn’t need so the grass won’t compete with it. It’s all very clever.  

I do have a plan though. I have scraped the area to allow water to get in and then I have aerated the ground with a garden fork, this should at least allow the ground to both get wet and drain more freely which will be a start to eradicate the problem and promoting grass growth. As usual I don’t want to use chemicals as this doesn’t really sort out the underlying issues, they would just be a quick temporary fix. 

We’ll see if it works. 

Modification
One more reason for the algae spread is the fact that my cabin guttering downpipes are running straight onto the grass. I have a plan to rectify this too. I am thinking about modifying the flow direction extending the pipes so it runs 5 yards into the rear door of the polytunnel. This’ll give me a chance to fill up big water barrels and the excess can water the plants instead of lawn algae. I can alter the flow depending on conditions as I wouldn’t want things too wet in the winter. It might be a good idea for me to get a proper water storage system with a filter so we can channel it into the house. It’s amazing just how much water we can collect even with just a light shower.

Saving Seeds
I’ve been looking at what vegetable seeds I can save this year. I let a couple of beetroot go to seed at the start of the seasonand they are so slow at maturing I don’t know if it’s worth all of the room they are taking up. The broad beans on the other hand have produced an amazing crop of dark brown pods full of dried bean in next to no time. I thought I had only left a few pods on the plants but pulling them up this week revealed about 50 pods, with more than enough beans to get a good crop next year. They are one of the earliest crops to go in and can be started in October for an early show.

Whopper
The coriander plants will self seed quickly and I predict will be a bit of a weed in the tunnel next year like the tomatoes were this. I am letting some spinach go to seed too. I thought I would leave one courgette to go to seed as well and I am allowing it to grow to its full potential. It’s getting massive, pity I didn’t enter it in the ‘Biggest Marrow’ competition (should there be one) as it looks like a small Zeppelin airship. I’ve never really gone for the largest vegetable prizes; I leave that for the people who plant carrots down drainpipes to get 8 foot roots. This marrow has given me a taste for biggering though and I am even pumping it full of fertilizer to get it as big as I can before the end of the season. 
We won’t be eating it as it’s the one I am saving for the seeds. It’s the most fun I’ve had this month, sad but true.

Me Obsessive?

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It’s been brought to my attention that I have an obsessive personality. Of course, like most things I hear about myself I dismiss it straight away. After a bit of thought (an obsessively large amount as it turns out) I have to agree. I never thought it about myself but I do tend to obsess about one thing and then go onto another. It doesn’t have to be anything large either, I can obsess about putting the rubbish out, making a cup of tea or totally designing a new garden, it doesn’t matter. What has made me realise this after so many years? The log cabin I have been rebuilding, that’s what. 

Obsessive
I neglected all of my other duties around work and home and could think of nothing apart from the rebuild in the last three weeks. If I did try to fit things in between running to the DIY shops and drawing out plans for fixed seating, it was usually after midnight and done very quickly. But you know what? I loved every minute, even the bits where I wanted to burst into tears were in some way enjoyable. I’ve only just realised this because most of the work has now finished and because I have nothing at the moment to obsess about I am looking for more and more to do such as paving around the outside walls.  I have finished most of the detail work, the gate has gone in to keep the dogs out, I have varnished the outside as well as the floor so what next? If I don’t find something to redirect my obsessive trait then the cabin (I’m not calling it a shed anymore) is going to get decorated with thousands of fairy lights for Christmas, which should keep my busy for a while.

Ripening Fruit
We never managed to get any raspberries again this year. One reason is that a load of them had to go to make way for the cabin; the other is that the dog weeds them up. I’m quite sure she does it to help as it usually happens when I am weeding in the borders myself. All I can hear is the sound of twigs snapping as she systematically works her way through the row, tail wagging and full of joy. How can I stop her from doing that? I can’t she enjoys it too much; it just means that I have to buy raspberries from the shop.  

Shop bought fruit seems to last a bit longer that fruit from the garden. We have a lot of plums this year and if you don’t eat them within a day of picking them you are chasing fruit flies out of the house as they rot.  There is a way to deter mould from fruit and it enlists the use of cider vinegar. Not the first choice out of the cupboard but bear with me. 

Mould spores are all around us in the billions. If they are present in large enough quantities, they become visible and can ruin the fruit. Berries already have a covering of invisible mould spores on them and given the right conditions, these can kick into life fast. However, there’s a simple way to deal with this in the form of our trusty friend Apple Cider Vinegar. Vinegar is antifungal, antibacterial and also has great properties as a cleaning agent.

Using Vinegar to Stop Mould
Add a cup of vinegar to a bowl of water (around 1 part vinegar to 1 parts water) and leave them for several minutes, perhaps swirling them around gently a little. You’ll probably find the water changes colour a little as the diluted vinegar lifts dirt, mould and thing living in your berries. Leave for a couple of minutes, then drain and rinse. After rinsing, any vinegar taste should be gone but I would just do a few first to check. Then store your berries in the fridge.

You should now find that your berries last at least a week rather than just a couple of days.
This method should work for all kinds of fruit and veg, try it on the blackberries if you are picking them this month. I like the idea so much that I’m going to be washing EVERYTHING in cider vinegar before eating. 

Note: I have just been told by my family that washing everything in vinegar demonstrates an obsessive personality and should be avoided. I’ll stick to raspberries.

Do I DIY?

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I was asked if I enjoy doing DIY work today as I seem to be doing a lot of moaning. My initial response, especially as I am into week 3 of rebuilding the shed, was a resounding NO.  Then after a rethink I realised I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather be doing. I enjoy moaning as much as gardening.

Paying Off
My hard work is finally paying off with the shed. I decided to go for a wooden tongue and groove floor and insulated the underneath with 70mm of Kingspan insulation so we won’t get icy feet when the weather turns cold. I’ve given it four coats of varnish to cope with any heavy footwear, I was going to go for five coats but I was told that’s bordering on being obsessive…me? The front of the shed has been given three fresh layers of wood stain to brighten things up. I have made good progress but am still in the position where all I see is either things to do or imperfections. It’ll take a bit more work to get everything just so and I can relax on the veranda and feel a sense of achievement.
It’s been a long drawn out job and the family are just waiting to see what I get next. I’m keeping off the buy and sell sites for a while, so the only things I’ll be bringing into the house will be vegetables from the garden.

Courgette man
In the three weeks doing the shed I took my eye off the veggies. It’s only taken the weeds that long to grow and go to seed. Thankfully the grass has slowed down a lot as the nights/day are getting colder and the light is reducing, so although it took the flymo a while to chew through the clumps, the grass is looking respectable enough. I have to eat my words about not growing excess veg though as I am up to my neck in French and runner beans and courgettes. I have been trying to give the courgettes away but there don’t seem to be many neighbours who like them, I can see the curtains twitching but they don’t come the door when I knock as they can see what I have in my arms. “Not that bloody courgette man again” I hear them saying. 

I asked my lad if you can deep fry courgettes and he tells me you can deep fry ANYTHING, so I might give that a try - maybe in one piece without chopping it all up first. I couldn’t stand another courgette curry so this might be a welcome change.

Deadheading
The other job I have been neglecting is deadheading flowering plants. It’s amazing how quickly sweet peas give up on flowering when not cut. All of their energy goes into making seeds. There are a lot of plants that do this. 

What does deadheading do?
Deadheading refreshes a plant's appearance, controls seed dispersal, and redirects a plant's energy from seed production to root and vegetative growth. It also keeps things tidy, which is what I seem to spend most of my day doing in some form or another.

Deadheading is a maintenance practice that can be done throughout the growing season, from spring until autumn. The best time to deadhead a flower is when its appearance begins to decline. How often a particular plant needs it’s spent flowers removed depends on the life span of its blooms, which can range from a day to several weeks, depending on the species. Weather also greatly affects a flower's longevity. During moist, cool summers, flowers will last much longer than they will during a season of sweltering heat. Torrential rains also take their toll on blossoms.

How is it done?
Choosing the exact point to make a deadheading cut can seem confusing, since perennials have different flower forms. Because deadheading, like other types of pruning, is so species specific, it can be difficult to group plants into categories. For most plants, however, all you need to remember is to prune spent flowers and stems back to a point where there's a new lateral flower or bud. If no new flower is apparent, prune the stem back to a lateral leaf.

Deadheading on a regular basis, the waves of blooms in my garden can be extended by weeks or even months and can be relaxing too, which is just what I need to do for a while.
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