Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine Flower Care

                                                       For me? You shouldn't have...

How is your valentine’s day? 
If it’s anything like mine it tends to go without any reference to romance or commercialism. I don’t mind though because it saves me the pain of never getting a card when I was young and bringing back lonely memories. Even when my school introduced a policy of everyone in the class writing out a card for someone else and sending it through the internal mail, I never got one. ‘Lost in the post’ I used to think, or someone was collecting them on my behalf out of jealousy of my natural good looks and charisma.

I’m sorry if my story of love and romance is upsetting. I’ll give you a few moments to wipe away the tears.

Valentine’s Day Flowers
There are a lot of things we can buy for our loved ones or people we admire from a distance, most of them are either edible or soft and cuddly. I prefer the live presents though and I don’t mean a dog or cat –its flowers. 

For centuries flowers have been the solution to some of life’s disagreements, and admissions of guilt as well as showing love and devotion. It’s an extremely complicated issue buying flowers for someone and only the most experienced florist can save you from buying a bunch that would be totally unacceptable for the occasion.  Take funeral flowers for example. Apparently white carnations and gladioli are not really in keeping with romance. But what do I know?  If they are mixed with other flowers their meanings could change although you’d always think you were in a funeral home if you smelled lilies, so again best avoided.

Now what?
So if you have read this far I will assume you have got yourself a beautiful bunch of flowers from your loved one for this special day. You have assessed they are not being presented to you out of guilt or an apology and would like to look after them as long as possible. 

I’ve come up with a few ideas to prolong that feeling of euphoria you must have tingling through your body (Much the same feeling you would get drinking a bottle of wine they might have bought ... or preferred)

Cut flowers.
  • The flowers have probably come from a near perfect growing environment in Europe and will need acclimatising a bit. Try to keep them away from drafts and extreme temperatures, which can quickly dry out the flowers and cause wilting.
  • If your flowers came in plastic, remove this after reading the loving card message sellotaped to the side.
  • Ethylene gas is detrimental to many flower types so, daft as it might seem keep the display away from fruit bowls.
  • This time of the year you would get away with the display in the window as the sun isn’t that hot. Summer would be different
  • Most flowers will last longer under cool conditions so playing a few Barry White songs will keep them fresh and perky. This will also be advice for the fella too.

How to keep them fresh
Like relationships the plants will need to be kept fresh.

  • I found cutting the stems with a sharp knife or secateurs (not scissors) underwater helps them suck up water better. Chop an inch or two off them when they are ready to be put in the vase.
  • Keep your vase filled with fresh water and replace when cloudy.
  • You might get a packet of white powder in the display. This isn’t for dipping liquorice in, it’s a water soluble plant food that you can add.
  • Take off dead or wilting leaves and stems from fresh flower arrangements.
Changing the Water
  • Remove any dead or dying flowers from the arrangement and spend a long time picking up the leaves and petals that have scattered themselves across the table.
  • Clean the empty vase thoroughly with soapy water to remove any bacteria that could cause the fresh flowers to deteriorate even quicker. And rinse.
  • Replace the water and mix in more flower preservative provided by the florist. I actually find plants do far better with rainwater and get some from the butt outside.
  • Maybe cut the stems again to keep the waterways open.
Place back in their designated space and wait a few days until you have to do the whole thing again to keep the display looking fresh. Alternatively you could put the wilting, brown tipped display that’s clinging on to the memory of romance in the compost bin.   

By this time next week Valentine’s Day will be a forgotten memory in the minds of your admirers and it’ll be business as usual, working, cleaning, cooking and other domestic chores whilst your admirers watch you from afar.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tiny Houses

Photos Tiny Home made by Noel T. Higgins and Mark Burtons house

We’re advised every winter to put our gardening tools in the shed for safe storage. It’s not very often any suggestions are made towards the condition of the shed itself though. If there’s a leak in the roof it’s not long before the walls and floor are rotting and the equipment starts to perish in the damp. So next time you have to rummage through the piles of “I’ll put it in the shed and deal with it later” stuff on the floor, have a look to see there’s no damage to the structure.

Our shed in the garden does have a small leak. I put off reroofing it last year but it’ll definitely be a job to do this summer.  Our shed isn’t full of tools though and as we spend time in there in the evenings, the heating stops any serious issues with damp. Having lived in a 14’caravan for a year with Julie, a one year old and a very smelly dog I have become accustomed to living in small spaces and actually enjoy it as there’s less to clean. 

There’s something very cosy about small space living and as the shed is 4m square it would have room to add a bathroom and kitchen with a living space up in the eaves of the roof should I ever feel that way inclined to live at the bottom of the garden. I’m sure most of us have at one time thought life would be easier in a shed away from everything. Well, now you can as it’s become fashionable to build and live in “Tiny Homes” 

The quest for a simpler life.
A “Tiny Home” is referring to anything under 300 sq. feet (37 sq. metres) and can be built on a trailer and towed. It’d need to be within the national height and width allowances for road travel in Ireland. Alternatively they can be built on a foundation or anchor pads such as our shed.
Many will have sleeping lofts, making the most of any and all available floor space, or instead have futons, pull-out or fold-away beds allowing a living room to transform into a bedroom, and back again when the occupants are suitably rested.
Tiny Homes are usually built with traditional natural, breathable and chemical-free materials; such as sheep’s wool insulation in place of rigid foam or fibre glass matting. For the more permanent builds straw bales, cob (a mixture of clay, sand and straw) lime mortar, stone and wood could be used in their build.

Salvaged or recycled materials also feature heavily in Tiny Houses, too , sourced and repurposed for use in an alternative and imaginative way.

Though living in smaller, simpler and/or handmade homes is certainly nothing of a new concept, indeed many people historically lived in smaller, more modest structures, and continue to do so. It was not until the “boom times” of greater widespread wealth and consumerist desires in western societies that the current craze of living in houses with a larger square-footprint, with more bedrooms than members of the family, truly took hold. You only have to look into Irish history to realise small was the norm in home building.

Boats, Caravans, Camper Vans and Mobile Homes provide a lot of practical inspiration for tiny Homes, to designers such as Noel T. Higgins from Co. Mayo. He uses many space-saving tricks, gadgets and techniques than are popular in more accepted living spaces. Some designs can be used completely off grid and have no reliance on external electricity and water by means of solar or wind power and rainwater collecting.

Suzie Cahn from Carraig Dúlra says “The Tiny house movement (also known as the “small house movement”) is an architectural and social movement toward living more simply in small homes. People are joining this movement for many reasons, but most often because of cost, environmental concerns, wanting to spend more time in nature, and for a sense of freedom.”
Small home living is increasingly popular for those simply wanting to downsize from their previous houses, and for retirees wishing to spend their time in a hand crafted and more manageable dwelling. Tiny homes are also being built and lived in by both teenagers in the back gardens of the family home such as ours which gives them a safe and reachable distance to stretch their fast-growing independent legs.

While it does have to be noted, living in a Tiny Home is not for everyone; it should also be recognised, that living in a structure the size of the average Irish “conventional” house is not for everyone, either! 

That said, choosing to do so requires the ability to perhaps part with knickknacks, ephemera and large clothing and shoe collections in order to maintain a smaller space. 

Maybe keep the shoes and just have one for the weekends then?

 Tiny Homes Introductory Workshop
Joanne Butler from OURganic Gardens in Gortahork is running a day course workshop on Tiny Houses on Saturday 11th March, 2017

The course offers a rundown of Tiny Home styles and ideas, along with an overview of the variety of tools, skills and other resources needed to create them. 

The day will be led by Suzie Cahn from Carraig Dúlra farm in Co. Wicklow. Check the Ourganics website for more information and contact details.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What Courgette Shortage?

Is it April yet?   
 Last week’s warm sunny weather would have you think so and so would the shops.  I was down at one of our local bargain stores the other day looking up and down the “buy cheap, buy twice” isles when I came across the huge range of products dedicated to gardening. 

These displays appeared straight after Christmas, the leftovers of which are now demoted to the end of the isle in the reduced to sell section.  Most of the garden products seem to be impulse buys and it wouldn’t be long before the basket was full of things that you didn’t need and probably never use. It seems as long as it’s under a couple of pounds it doesn’t really matter if it breaks or never used. It really does, especially if you are putting all your trust in a dodgy hand trowel that snaps when you are putting pressure on it. Not good.

Anyway, I digress, I’m not here to rant about the disposable direction gardening devices are going, it’s more to highlight the fact that I am no way near to even thinking about buying anything, not even a ball of string or a seed packet yet, my hessian string from last year is still dangling on the bean poles near the compost bags.

Jobs to do in February
I used to welcome the dormant season in the garden but we just don’t seem to get one now. It’s a mad rush to get growing again even though in my mind it’s still the middle of winter. The list of jobs to do below then is only a recommendation. I might actually do one or two of them myself in the coming weeks.

Actually, you know what? I’m not even going to bother writing them down. If you want to go and do a bit of spring preparation you are on your own, I’m staying indoors for a while longer!

Courgette , what crisis?
One vegetable that doesn’t like cold snaps is the courgette. So much so that they are apparently in short supply this year. The growers in Europe had a lot of their crops fail because of the drop in temperatures. This isn’t the main reason we don’t see them on the supermarket shelves though. It’s down to pricing, the growers needed to at least triple their prices to get a decent return on their investments but the supermarkets felt that customers wouldn’t be prepared to pay €5 a kilo for them and refused to buy them in.

So for this season at least we’ll cast courgettes into the same void as asparagus and avocado which are classed as “Treat vegetables”, Pay day vegetables or “not for the likes of me vegetables”.

Just like in any type of crisis, be it financial, emotional or geographic, there’s always someone to benefit from these types of issues.  One company has started shredding the courgettes into spaghetti shaped lengths, putting them in a plastic bag and fancy cardboard box with a little window in it. It says on the label “made from one whole courgette”, although it can’t be larger than a pencil as the dried material would fit into an eggcup. It weighs in at 20g and retails for about €2 so I reckon the courgettes in question would go for around €100 a kg at my calculation. In fact I’ve missed a marketing opportunity here as I had loads last year and could have made mine into spaghetti. A few of mine are still on the microwave turning from green to yellow as I’ve not got around to eating them yet, at the current rate they are going for I’d get about €50 down on the market, they’ll soon need to lock then in protective cabinets or tag them with an alarm. 

I also have one in the back garden that I have watched with interest over the last few months as nature reclaims it. All that is left is the hard outer shell which is so fragile you could poke a finger though it. 

I’ve just realized that the whole of this week’s article is about me having a bit of a moan. I think I know the problem; I need to get into the garden and do a bit of preparation.  Marketing and advertising aside, I think it’s actually just good for my health to be stood in the garden pottering around regardless of what needs doing. There’s no right or wrong time, we gardeners just do.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Polytunnel Care

                                                All worked has stopped because of a frog

As the weather was cold and stormy this week I decided to take shelter under plastic and clean out the polytunnel. 

I had a lot of dead and decaying greenery in there, like old sweetcorn and sunflower stems. Every time I walked in and brushed past them there was a waft of dusty mould. I’m sure it wasn’t good for my health so the dust laden leaves needed to go on top the compost pile outside.  

I spent a happy half an hour ripping up roots and hacking back rocket plants until I saw a large frog out of the corner of my eye giving me the eye in much the same way “Hypno toad” does in the TV programme Futurama.  I have a small pond (well sunken bucket really) in the tunnel and did put some frogspawn in there last spring. 

Most survived but disappeared quickly as they went on to puddles new. This one either took up permanent residence or has come back to hibernate in the warmth. Whichever reason, it wasn’t happy and somehow forced me with its hypnotic eyes to down tools and leave the plants, soil and mould alone. I don’t need much of an excuse to do nothing in the garden but I’ve never used a frog as the main reason the tunnel will be left untouched for at least another two months. 

Only then will I start clearing which hopefully will please my staring frog.

If, unlike me you can do a bit of work under cover, now would be a good time to get clearing the tunnel ready for seed sowing and planting.

Clean, wash, disinfect, rub down 
I don’t tend to wash down the plastic on polytunnels. The build-up of algae and moss don’t really bother me or the plants. There can be a bit of muck on the outside top but I find a good storm gets rid of that as it’s like a pressure washer. I just feel as long as the plastic is in one piece I’m happy and I can get into a lot of mischief with a brush on the end of a stick covered in suds.

The dead and decaying matter should be all right in the tunnel but if you do know of anything that was diseased this could do with being removed before any sowing is done.
Insect eggs and fungal spores lurking on old infected crops can rapidly infect any new tender plants and ultimately affect your produce all summer long. I tend to find a lot of Cranefly larvae and other moth pupae in the hidden crevices around the tunnel frame so I pick them off.

Right Place, right time, right plant.
Some areas of the tunnel will be hotter or sunnier than others so picking the right place for young plants might need a bit of thought. You could probably get away following seed packet planting times in a tunnel too. I have grown some plants in the tunnel before that I wouldn’t do again I definitely wont plant brassicas as they grow too fast, get all juicy and fragile making it so easy for cabbage white butterflies to get in and destroy the crop with tier caterpillars.

Some plants are trouble free though and they don’t have to all be edible either, some perennials and annuals do well with a bit of protection and add to the diversity in the tunnel in the form of companion planting.

Light and air flow. 
Ample air movement helps foliage dry quickly after watering and therefore helps to dodge diseases and pests, I tend to leave the doors open as much as possible, even in winter. Try and give the crops plenty of space. If your plants have the right amount of space, water, light, temperature and the appropriate soil conditions they won’t be under any unnecessary stress and will thank you later in the year with a fabulous, fruitful harvest.

Manage water.
 If possible, group plants in the polytunnel according to their watering needs. Allowing your plants to get extremely dry and then flooding them will results in uneven growth, irregular growing foliage, and reduced yields.

Do a bit of crop rotating.  Different crops have different nutrient requirements and rotating crops annually helps to reduce a build-up of crop specific pests and nasty disease problems.

Valuable organisms.
There are beneficial nematodes that attack and kill insects, slugs and other bothersome things that lurk in the soil. There are also lots of helpful insects and other little critters that are willing to eat irritating pests that want to scoff your crops before you do. Ladybirds, frogs, toads and spiders can all help to get rid of insect pests for you. If you manage your polytunnel to protect these, they will help you manage the pests. This is the best reason I have not to be washing the inside of the plastic as I think any chemical cleaner would damage the balance.

Clean gardening tools
It’s a good idea to give your gardening tools a decent spruce up and a quick sharpen to improve their performance. Clean those secateurs!

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