I did my gardening best

My gardening best

I promised I tried my best, I promised myself that I would not have an overflow of seedlings this year, I restrained my hand as much as possible while planting seeds, I have generously given away as many as I could, I even had seedling funerals and ate many of them in micro-vegetable state. And still, I am being drowned by them.

There are tomatoes galore, enough kale to plant a forest, cabbage for all, more celery than I ever wished for and so many flowers. My green fingers worked against me, as even the oldest seed sprouted into vigorous life. Who knew.

My sheep were kind enough to thin out many of my brassicas and kale seedlings, both planted in the beds and in the pots, when they ventured into the polytunnel a few times. At least they mind the plastic, unlike my bullock frenemies, and left my precious tomatoes alone.

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This cauliflower is begging to be planted, but I already have so many!

 

 

I have given away as many seedlings as I can. One friend commented that it was like going to a garden centre, as I loaded her with stuff.

Almost all my tomatoes have been planted, but I have a few tough and thriving ones in pots begging me to find space for them. I have cherry tomatoes, yellow ones, oval ones and I am very excited about the blue ones.

There are also peppers, both sweet and spicy. I never truly realised that Habaneros (very very spicy chillies) are from tropical climes, really needs a lot of heat. It is growing extremely slowly. Fingers crossed.

I never thought I would have success with artichoke seed I came across, now I’m wondering where I will have the space to plant these very large plants. A few years ago, I bought three seedlings that turned out to be Cardoons and not globe Artichokes. They are hardy, easy to maintain, tough and come back year after year in the outdoor garden, without me so much as looking in their direction. I didn’t even realise you could eat them until recently. Does anyone have any Cardoon recipes?

This year I thought I’d make everything that little bit prettier and I will end up having to create a flower border of some kind. I literally have a sea of flowers waiting for their forever home. It will look lovely though, I just don’t know how I will have the time to weed and maintain a flowerbed. It will probably look spectacular for a couple of months, and very sad for the rest of the year.

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A suprise crop of Globe Artichokes. I never thought they’d be so easy to grow.

I have tried making use of the flowers by interplanting them between the veg and in every pot I can find, and it looks very pretty. I always plant marigold between my tomato plants. This year, as in my plant plan, I also planted Calendula flowers to make hand cream. As a novice in flower gardening, just like vegetable novices, I did not realise how large those plants can get inside the tunnel. You learn something every year when gardening.

Again, the sheep have been kind enough to de-head most of my planted flowers. They will be taking a trip in the trailer to the butcher or the mart if that type of kindness continues.

Next year I will have to revise my gardening plan again, be stricter and harder. I was so proud that I had only planted the six cucumber seeds I needed for six plants. No more, no less. The sheep unbalanced the scale when they bit the top of two of the planted cucumbers. I’m sure I will find something to fill that gap, but six just looked so right in the spot.

My climbing rolet squash will do the trick. I have too many of those anyway, or maybe it is time for another polytunnel?

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RTE show, Nationwide with Anne Cassin, being filmed at the Irish Seedsavers’ plant swap day.

 

One bit of saving grace was the Irish Seedsavers’ plant swap day a couple of weeks ago. I happily brought my babies and gave them away to other loving homes where they will be appreciated. Thankfully we arrived quite late and there were not many seedlings to bring home; I did of course manage to grab a few odd ones…just for the craic of it. RTE was there that day filming a sequence for Nationwide with Anne Cassin, something that made my kids very exited.

The Irish Seedsavers have lovely gardens that have a wild touch to them. They are not like the tidy and perfect castle or walled gardens, but free, large and a great place for an outing in East Clare. The Seedsavers are specialised in native fruit trees and bushes, there is a lovely coffee shop and they also have a great array of workshops of all kinds, from beekeeping, gardening, beermaking and more.

A friend of mine has also given me a load of raspberry plants, which I hope will thrive by our back wall. There may be no jam this year, but I am sure these hardy plants will thrive.

Apart from a few stragglers of all kinds, it is only the celery and ginger that are giving me a bad conscience. There is a bit much of them and they are waiting to be planted. I am waiting for an overcast day to get them and my sweetcorn into the ground.

The tunnel is thriving and there are still hopes that this year will be the best year ever.

The bees love the flowered Pak Choi, I don’t have the hearty to pull it out yet.

Stony gardening by the Burren

Stony gardening

While Casa Ceoil is not in the heart of the Burren or officially in the national park, we are by the edges and get to experience it up close at times. Let me tell you, it is not the best experience in my garden.

The Burren is a unique landscape in the west of Ireland, here you will see flat arid-looking limestone areas, mixed up with patches of green fields, turloughs and lakes. The name says it all, as it means “the rocky place”. The limestone area is referred to as a pavement, and when you see it you are not surprised as it is so flat, ground down by the moving pre-historic ice masses. The limestone is broken and in the crevices, there is a unique flora of Mediterranean, Alpine and Arctic flowers and plants growing.

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The old part of the house has an integrated boulder into the corner. 

That is all very nice, but what does that have to do with my garden? Well, I never knew, until I lived here that is, that stones literally grow out of the ground in the Burren. Yes, in this part of Ireland stones grow in your garden as if you planted them like spuds (Irish slang for potatoes).

It seems like a joke or an exaggeration, but once you’ve gardened a few years you stop doubting that you forgot to dig out certain rocks the previous year. The number of stones and large rocks that are dug out of my garden each year is astounding. It doesn’t matter how thorough I am, my spade always says “clink” when I dig.

This year we’ve had volunteers on working holidays with us; and they sweated over the stones in the beds of my polytunnel. I don’t think they truly could believe that we each year dig out the same amount of stones they struggled with.

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This bed was dug, thoroughly, a month or so ago.

This was only a few months ago, and only the other day I dug out a small pile of large stones and a boulder (see the image on the left).

This growth of stones became apparent to me a few years ago. Kevin had decided to plant spuds and scraped out the grass on an area of one of the fields. He never got the chance to set the spuds and the piece of bare ground was left alone.

The year after I was astounded; that bare piece of earth was covered with stones in varied sizes. There were no stones on the grass around it, but on that bare patch it looked as we had planted stones and they had reproduced like crazy. Why stones don’t push up through the grass I will never know, but it was a lesson in geology…the earth is in constant movement.

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A part of this year’s crop of Burren stones and boulders.

We all think of stones and rocks as static, but they are actually in constant movement, and nowhere more than here, on the edge of one of the rockiest places on earth. So that is what I have to look forward to in my gardening, forever, a constant production of stones. It is not strange that the stones are pushed up through the softest area of little resistance, the soft earth of my raised beds.

It still surprises and amazes me, every year, and I have to ask myself…could I really have missed that boulder last year when digging my beds? There is no way that rock appeared from nowhere. But I should know by now, the Burren is bountiful when it comes to stone; at least we do have beautiful walls.

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Sometimes you dig out the most interesting boulders.

Too many seedlings

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I have a few gardening weaknesses. Well many, but a few I will admit to.  Like many gardeners, I tend to plant too many seeds and then I have trouble killing off seedlings that seem perfectly healthy. Instead I end up with too many plants which I hopefully can give away, but sometimes have to just forget about and let them die a quiet death. Thankfully there is always someone that wants a few, and I am more than happy to give away my babies.

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Way too many celery seedlings. The seed were supposed to be too old!

This year again, I have plenty of extras, but in my defence some of the seed were old and I didn’t know or expect that they would actually come out at all. I just had to plant them all, thinking that only a few would sprout, but they seem to have been hardier than expected and I now have more broccoli and celery seedlings than ever.

The plan that I made up, which you can see in my Seed Frenzy post, is very helpful and does curb my ambitions, although I feel I should have space or make space for more plants. I am getting better at utilising spaces between plants for quick veg, such as radishes, salads and coriander.

This year I have also decided to plant more flowers, both as useful companions to deter bugs, as edible plants, but also for ground cover and for the pretty effect. I always plant marigolds around my tomatoes, but while they are edible I have never really used them in my cooking or salads, their strong fragrance has always put me off. I have bulked up on nasturtiums, that also are edible, as they were hard to find last year. They are hardy, pretty and a terrific addition to any salad.

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Kale, cabbage, cauliflower…how many can I plant? Let the Games Begin!

Other useful flowers I will be planting are Calendula, type of marigold really but leggier and more elegant. Last year I did a herbal workshop with local herbalist Vivienne Cambell. She showed us how to do a great hand cream with dried Calendula flower heads, it was a very good gardening cream. When my kids were small I always used the Weleda calendula oil at diaper changes, I found it excellent for their skin. In case you are interested, Vivienne has great webinars and e-courses on herbal medicine on her site, The Herbal Hub.

The Cosmos and Cornflowers, favourites of mine, will go outdoors. My children have also planted an array of old flower seeds that are nameless, so whatever comes will be a surprise.

I have added another edible to my list, more than one to be honest but lets not dwell on that (seed frenzy you see!); so I am currently looking for Stevia seeds.

You might have seen the Stevia syrup in shops, which is a good replacement for sugar as it is healthier and you use much smaller quantities. It still is sweet, it still has calories, but less. Supposedly you can sweeten your drinks with Stevia leaves and I thought it would be a good thing to try out as I find the syrup a good replacement for sugar. Depending on how much you need, I might give a try to making some kind of syrup.

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My favourite squash. Seeds from Seedaholic.com

After searching a bit, I have found seeds for one of my favourite vegetables, the Rolet squash. This is a fabulous vegetable that look like a black cue ball; you boil it, cut it in half, eat it with a bit of butter, it tastes strongly of sweetcorn and just heavenly. You can get the seeds at the Seedaholic.com site. Just be careful if you are an avid gardener, as their selection will make you drool. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

 

The one thing I have really succeeded with, in regards of my original planting plan, are my cucumbers. I have six plants, no more and no less, exactly as planned. I might be drowning in cabbage, kale, cauliflower and celery, but I am done with the cucumbers.

Unless…unless I come across some interesting new seeds. Small round lemon cucumbers sounded awful interesting I have to say. Wonder what they taste like?

 

Curbing my seed frenzy

 

There is nothing more exciting than the start of the growing season, or rather the planning and preparation that goes into it.

At this time of the year the gardening magazines are all bursting with seed offers and to be honest they are a good deal considering that a pack of seeds cost from €1.5-3 each. I always fall for this marketing trick, but it does provide me with all the basic seeds I need.

Then I spend hours trawling seed sites online and happy times in the garden centres’ seed shelves, always ending up with a substantial stash of seeds. I will admit it, I may need help as I am a bit of a seed hoarder. As a dedicated gardener, you will always feel you just don’t have enough garden space or time for all your garden dreams.

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I have a good few planting dreams this year:

  1. A black or dark purple tomato
  2. Calendula flowers, to be able to do my own hand cream
  3. Romanesco cauliflower
  4. Plenty of the fabulous summer squash Rolet
  5. A tasty pumpkin, which I have never grown before
  6. Ginger, just to give a go.

Every year, I promise myself to curb my seed frenzy at the start of the year. Another promise is make the most of our garden and tunnel, and to really use the space and do a detailed plan. Often life gets in the way, and while I get plenty of produce, I am always left with the feeling that I could have got more.

This year I have tackled the problem head on and I am more organised than ever. I have created a detail design of my polytunnel planting on  Growveg.com, a garden design website. On a garden layout, you can add the plants you want, it gives you the spacing, counts the number of plants you need and gives you a detailed list of when to start planting. Very handy and I will be dealing with my seed hoarding in a controlled way. I will try not to buy anything outside my planned list.

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This year’s garden design for the polytunnel.

My planting plan includes everything from cucumbers, squash, kale, sweet corn, aubergine, sprouting broccoli, lettuces, chilies, carrots, courgettes to peppers, and so much more…

If you are lucky to be a guest of our holiday home, Casa Ceoil, we will provide both a tour of the gardens and polytunnel, and sampling of the veg that we grow. There is nothing that can be compared to a home grown cherry tomato.

This year will be the year of plenty. I just know it.