Wednesday, June 27, 2012

All from nothing... (part 16 - the final one!)

Our efforts to transform an unused piece of land into a productive vegetable garden.

Today was a landmark day for our little vegetable garden - as today we finished laying the last of the beds. The main body of work is now complete - we've transformed an unused piece of land to a lovely, productive allotment. 

Just to illustrate the change in the aspect of the land:
From this... this!

From this point on, the work that we do will be regular maintenance work that would happen on any allotment.

For the last two days, I've be forking through the rest of the soil breaking it up and removing the last of the rock and roots. Judging by my aches and pains, I'd imagine that I've shifted several tons of the offensive material at this stage. 
I bit on the bullet and purchased a decent gardening fork - a choice I now wish I had made three months ago, as it made my work considerably easier, and I found that I was able to work more quickly (and with better results) using it. 

We've planted our leeks in the first new bed I laid out. Our leeks have been grown from seed, and were at the point that they needed to be planted in the ground. 

I then laid out the last four beds - three of which have nothing planted in them yet. We're going to plant purple sprouting broccoli, over-winter carrots and most likely some leafy greens in these beds. 

Chives and oregano.
The fourth bed, which lies at the apex of the row, is triangular in shape. In this, we've planted courgettes, chives and oregano. I used old tyres to "pot" the chives into. I had my reasons for doing this - we used to have herbs planted in terracotta pots in our back garden, and in the winter frosts they cracked apart. I'm hoping the same won't happen with rubber! 


Clare also sowed some extra peas, beetroot, spring onion and radishes, so we've have staggered growth with these. 

This is to be my last "All from nothing" post, as I feel that we've achieved what we set out to do, i.e setting up a vegetable garden.

Final thoughts:
I'd be lying if I said that this project wasn't a challenge. Working full time, and then attending to to allotment was sometimes difficult, and there were times when I did "hit a wall". However I genuinely feel that nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and I've never once felt that I'd wasted my time while on the allotment. As work progressed, it became easier to appreciate how great the final outcome would be.

I'd like to say a word of heartfelt thanks to the following people (in no particular order), who gave me a dig out along the way: Peter (our bromance continues!), Paddy M, my Dad (who has a half decent allotment too), Clare (obviously) and of course, the lady who gave us use of the land,  to whom we are truly grateful (you're the best!).

It feels appropriate, at this point, to show photos of whatever beds I haven't covered yet in this post. So here they are, taken clockwise from the left of the gate as you enter the allotment. 

Carrot bed.

Parsnip bed.
Celery bed.
Onion bed. 
Our onions have started to bulb nicely.
Radish, lettuce & garlic bed.
Some of our radishes!

Lettuce and potato beds.

Swede, corn and beetroot bed.

A closer look at our beetroot...

... and our corn.

Our pea plants are starting to produce fruit.

Asparagus and rhubarb beds (asparagus is to small to see).

I've gone over the next couple of bed already in this post, so I'm skipping them. Next up:


And finally, the potato frame - needs another level at this stage!

And that concludes the the tour.
As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts or comments on what we've done so far.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

All from nothing... (part 15)

Our efforts to transform an unused piece of land into a productive vegetable garden.

First off, I noticed that my blog views have passed 3000 - 99% of which have been since I rebooted it in March. I'd like to take the time to say thank you to everybody who has taken the time to read it.
We also sent a few photos to the "Landshare" project (which runs in England) and were chosen as "Landshare allotment of the month" for June!

As I'm sitting at home with a glass of last year's rather excellent elderberry wine, I feel that's time for an update on how things stand at the allotment (on a side note, most of the berries from the wine were foraged from the same farm the allotment is on!).

I've been working the past week straight, and had little chance to visit the allotment during this. We had visitors over yesterday, so heading over wasn't an option. I had resolved to head over (weather allowing) first thing this morning, and surprise, the weather allowed. 

On my initial inspection, I made a surprising discovery - the asparagus has begun sending up shoots! 

The first asparagus shoot!
Everything else appeared to be growing well, so I set about my work - forking through the soil. The last day I was over (a week ago), I had made good inroads and laid out another large bed. There was unfortunately a casualty of all this hard work - my garden fork, after years of good service, broke in half. 
I bought a new one in the village, but alas, it isn't near the quality of my old one, and as I worked today, the prongs in the fork continually bent, and I was forced to pull them back into place again and again, wasting valuable time. 

In the process of turning the soil in the allotment, I've come across a certain grub quite a lot. I've now discovered that these are "chafer" grubs, which are very bad news for allotments as they feast on root crops. As per the picture, they have white bodies and orange to red heads. Moral of the story: remove them if you find them!

The new bed.
I worked until lunchtime, when I swapped child-minding duties with Clare, and she headed over to weed and sow the new bed. In this bed, she sowed the brassicas - brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and kale.
When Clare finished up, I went back over to try and finish off the next bed. I didn't quite manage it before hunger drove me back home, but it's three quarters finished. We're going to sow our leeks in it. 

Before I sign off on the post, I'll share a couple of photos that I took of some of the beds this evening.
Our chard is growing fast and well. I'm looking forward to adding this to some summer salads. 

Our lettuce bed has had one or two plants die off, and have had to be replaced. The rest are doing fine, and will most likely be an early harvest. 

Garlic, butterhead lettuce, chard, cos lettuce.
More lettuce, this time butterhead and cos (the cos grown from seed) growing beside chard. 

Moving right along, our radishes are just about ready to be harvested. I had a sneaky one today as I worked, it was peppery and delicious!

Our potatoes are growing at an alarming rate - we've filled in to the top of the first frame, and one of my next tasks is to build another frame or two to sit atop this one. These will also be filled with earth as the potatoes grow. 

Finally, the post wouldn't feel complete without a photo of how the allotment currently looks. The transformation is almost complete.
The allotment as it looked this evening.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Growth update.

I've been working nights for a week - and combined with the fact that the week just past has been exceptionally rainy, has meant that I haven't been up to the allotment (again!). 

Clare went up to weed the beds yesterday, and came home delighted at how things are getting along. After getting up this morning, I went over to see this for myself.

The carrot bed.

I'll begin with the carrot bed, which is the first bed to the left of the gate when entering the allotment. Most of the shoots are now at least 10 centimetres high. While the carrot bed looks quite cluttered, this is as it should be, as thinning them out can attract carrot fly. 

The parsnip bed.

Next to the carrot bed is our parsnip bed. Much like the carrots, these are coming along well. 

The front of the bed had be left empty as we had initially run out of parsnip seeds to plant. We've since sown more seeds in that spot.

As we move past the parsnips, we come to the celery. As mentioned in previous blogs, there's two stages of this - at the back, the first lot (looking beautiful and healthy), and towards the front, the younger lot, which are coming along quickly.

Moving right along, our onion bed is one of the highlights of our unfinished allotment, as it is one of the beds where the growth of the veg is at its most visible. 

In the next bed, we've planted garlic (at the back), and "butterhead" lettuce beside it. The garlic is, at present, practically indistinguishable from the onion plants. Despite being planted out late, it's growing well.  
I didn't hold too much hope for the lettuce, but they seem to have taken to the soil well. 

After the butterhead lettuce, we've chard growing - but I don't have a photo of this taken  (my bad...) 
Beside the chard, we're growing some "cos" lettuce (pictured, left). While small yet, these are growing well. 

At the very front of this bed, we've a couple of rows of radishes growing - staggered so that we'll get two crops of them. I love the speed at which radishes grow (we harvested one yesterday, which I ate raw - delicious and peppery!).
After this bed, we've two separate square beds. In the back one we've a couple of rows of potatoes growing. While they're growing, again I haven't a photo taken. Beside that we've a bed of lettuce growing. 

Following this are three parallel beds where we've sown beans and peas. One of these was pictured in the last blog, so I didn't rehash it here. 
More interesting, I think, is that the beans and peas that we sowed out have sprouted (as per picture on the left). We'll have to train these up the frames built for them.

After the pea and bean beds, we've planted fifteen asparagus plants in one bed, and finally , at the very top of the allotment, we've one last bed where we're going to plant out two year old rhubarb plants that a friend donated to us. No photos of these yet, but will hopefully update this in the next post.

Back at home:

Things are growing well back at home. 

We've four chilli plants that reside in the kitchen window. These have grown substantially taller than last years variety, and have started producing chilli' already. One chilli was so large that we cut it off after a while for fear that the plant was putting all its energies into that one fruit. 

Outside, our two cucumber plants continue to grow, but alas, there's no sign of flowers on either yet! ;o(

They've got so big at this stage, I've had to build climbing frames for them. Fingers crossed that it won't be too much longer before they start to flower and produce cucumbers.

At polar opposite to the lack of progress with the cucumbers is our blackcurrant bush. 

This has grown about two foot so far this summer, and produced so many new branches that I think I'm going to have to prune some of them back before the summer is over.
The year old branches have produced large amounts of currants. While still hard and green, there's definite progress in how big they've gotten.  
The couple of strawberry plants that are growing randomly about the garden are all fruiting too. It looks like this year we'll produce at least twice as many strawberries as we did last year - not that I'll be eating any, as the kids always have first "dibs" on them!
Several of our tomato plants didn't survive the frosts of April - and a few more just died. I'm not sure why this was, but I suspect the PH of the compost I used may not have been ideal for growing them. 
On the other hand, enough of them are growing well, and my next task is to re-pot them so that the surviving ones are grouped together. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Foraging for elderflower.

One of the most basic joys of summer is the blossoming of the elderflower. The flowers of the elder (Sambucus) yield a sweet, musky aroma that in itself defines summer for me.

Elderflower is a versatile little bloom that can be used in several drinks and dishes. However, I've usually used it in brewing Elderflower champagne and making elderflower cordial. This year, depending on how much I'm able to collect, I'd like to expand this into making wine, tea and drying as much as possible for use over the coming year.

The best time to forage for elderflower is on a sunny day, when their scent seems to be at its most powerful. Elders are an extremely common tree, and (in Ireland in any case) can be found in nearly any stretch of hedgerow. They're by no means limited to this however, and I've often seen them growing in disused ground in urban areas (one overhangs the car park in my local convenience store, for example).

So, after a pretty miserable weekend, today turned out reasonably sunny (with a few clouds). After a morning digging in the allotment, I decided that I might not get another decent day to go foraging for elderflower before it's all gone, so after lunch, armed with a scissors and wicker basket, I made my way up the fields.

 The hedgerow is always lovely, but in the summer, with rose hips and hawthorn (picture above) flowering, it's especially beautiful.

I know the lay of the land around my home town very well, and I've my favourite spots for many of the fruits I forage for - be it sloe, bramley apple of elderflower. As such, I knew the path I would be taking in my search for today's quarry.

I follow certain rules when foraging for elderflower.
The first is to never take too many elderflower heads from the one tree - after all, the flowers develop into elderberries, a fantastic autumn harvest.
My next rule is to give the head I'm looking at cutting off a sniff - some simply don't pass the "smell" test and are left on the branch.
The third rule is to try and cut off heads that are mostly flower - some have not yet fully bloomed (with too many buds) and are not much use to me (as displayed in the picture on the left). 

Tradition holds that one must ask the hag that resides in the elder tree permission to take the flowers of the elder tree. I'm a stickler for tradition, so ask permission and then assume the maxim of "Qui tacet consentire videtur", before taking what I need.

Because of my first rule, I ended up on a decent walk across the fields. With the sunny weather, this was a real pleasure.
I spotted a couple of rabbits out frolicking.

Not long after, I came across my second find of the day - an edible fungus called "Jelly Ear". This fungus favours Elder, so the find was no real surprise, but I was delighted to discover it nonetheless.
The tree was fairly laden with them, so I made a mental note to come back another day soon to collect as many of them as I could.

Sometimes elderflower can be slightly challenging to collect - nothing too difficult, but I did come away today with my legs stinging from nettles and a few grazes where thorns of brambles caught me. These are minor setbacks when the bounty of the elderflower is considered. In all, it took me around two hours to collect a basketful of elderflower heads. Most of the trees have not yet fully blossomed, so with a little luck, I'll get out again in another week to collect more of these delightful little white flowers.

For the moment, I've to decide what to do with the ones I foraged today!