Beautiful Bountiful

This is a great time of year if you grow any of your own food.  Everything is bursting with fruitfulness (and vegfulness??).

I have a postage-stamp sized garden and a slightly larger allotment at Blarney Park Allotments. Though I frequently wish for a bigger garden, I am very luck to have an allotment on my street, just 5 minutes walk from my house.

As well as more space to grow fruit and veg, the allotments provide a little community all of their own (hello Gerry, Glen, Willie, Eamon, Paddy, Brendan and Mary!)  We share tips and woes (slugs!). We also share tools, seeds, plants and crops too.

Our allotments are idyllically located on the banks of the tiny river Poddle, which is also our primary water source.  The soil is good, though being in an urban environment and the allotments not being very many years in existence, we still occasionally dig up odd scrap metal and other objects. I’ve even found a lucky horseshoe on my plot.  Despite being in an urban environment we also have good exposure to the sun (when it shines!).  All of which makes for great growing environment.

These good conditions have been augmented by the hard work and ingenuity of the allotment holders who have repurposed all sorts of objects as containers or cold frames for growing crops, often with impressive results.

If you are lucky enough to live near allotments I highly recommend signing up for one (though I understand that many have long waiting lists).  Otherwise consider growing some edibles at home, even if your garden is just a pot of basil on a sunny windowsill.  I still get excited watching seeds germinate and really enjoy being able to eat food I’ve grown.

Do you grow any fruit, veg or herbs?


Growing Grub – Peach Trees and Shower Caps

Peach Leaf Curl at the National Botanic Gardens

Peach Leaf Curl at the National Botanic Gardens

Schadenfreude is not an admirable attitude but I have to confess to a touch of smug schadenfreude over the weekend.  I was visiting the National Botanic Gardens and made a bee-line for the walled vegetable garden.  Wandering around I noted their espaliered peach trees were suffering quite badly from peach leaf curl.

I empathised as I’ve lost a peach tree to peach leaf curl and have been struggling for a few years to control the disease on my remaining dwarf peach tree.   Mine were looking a whole lot worse than the trees at the Bots.

Peach leaf curl is a fungal disease that attacks peaches and other stone fruits.  It causes the leaves of the trees to curl and blister.   At best it defaces the tree and reduces its vigour and fruit.   At worst it can kill a tree.   The RHS has a good information page about peach leave curl.

Controlling fungal disease in our damp climate is tricky.  As I try to garden organically I tried Bordeaux Mixture (a copper sulfate solution) but with very limited success.

After some research I learnt that spring rain can stimulate the grown of the fungus and found tips recommending protecting peach trees from the spring rain around the time of budding and flowering (which is very early in the year).   I decided to give it a go.  At this stage I only have my dwarf peach tree left so I rigged up a ‘shower cap’ from a plastic bag that would keep the rain off but still allow light through.  It was not pretty…

Dwarf Peach with shower cap

Dwarf Peach with shower cap

I put the shower cap on in January and removed it in mid-March.  And I’m delighted to report that it has been pretty successful.   For the first time in several years I have only a few leaves affected by peach leaf curl (and I’m removing these as I see them and binning them)    I even have some baby fruit so may yet get some peaches from this tree this year.

I will acknowledge that the shower cap was not the only change to this tree over the past few months.  I have been treating it with Bordeaux Mixture, as I have for the past couple of years without success.   I also transplanted the tree from a large pot into a new raised bed, removing as much of the old soil as possible that may have been harbouring peach leaf curl fungal spores.  All in all I’m delighted with the outcome.   Lots of healthy leaf growth (so far!) and some baby fruit too!

Dwarf Peach May 2014 (without peach leaf curl!)

Dwarf Peach May 2014 (without peach leaf curl!)

Not to teach my granny how to suck eggs, bu if I was looking after the peach trees in the National Botanic Gardens I’d rig up a rain shelter over the peach trees from late winter through to mid-spring and give them a dose of Bordeaux Mixture in winter and again before the buds open.    The rain shelter should be straight-forward to rig up for espaliered trees.  It won’t look great but for the sake of healthy trees it may well be worth it.


Growing Grub: Planting Plans for 2014

Sunflower on Blarney Park Allotment

Sunflower on Blarney Park Allotment in 2013

I’ve been growing food on allotments for a few years now. I love it.  My allotment is my happy place.  My first allotment was on the lovely Pearse College Allotments in Crumlin, Dublin.   There are over 130 allotments there under the management of the dynamic principal of Pearse College, Jacqueline Nunan and an enthusiastic and committed committee.  I was the first to grow on my allotment (they were only newly lauched at the time) and had to put in over a year of pretty back-breaking work to remove stones and other debris from the soil.   It was worth it in the end as the soil turned out to be great with plants thriving (despite the best efforts of the local geese to nibble them).

Last year I was lucky enough to secure an allotment on Blarney Park Allotments, a much smaller development of only 12 allotments and a community garden.   The plots are significantly smaller than Pearse College but plenty big enough for me.   At the end of last year I gave up my Pearse allotment as I don’t have the time nor the need to tend two plots.   Now I’m making plans and starting sowing for this year’s produce.

This year I’m making my choices about what to grow based on my hits and misses to date.  I’m also bearing in mind the suggestion of Mark Diacono at last year’s GIY conference to try the unusual, the hard-to-source and the best-eaten-freshest.   Mark made the point that the stuff we all start growing, the spuds, carrots, onions, are all cheap as chips to buy and take quite a lot of effort, time and space to grow so why not invest that time, effort and space in something that offers a better return on investment.   Of course there’s a balance to be struck between growing unusual foods and finding recipes in which to use them.   Yacon recipes aren’t two-a-penny!

Crops that will most certainly be included in the planting plans for this year are the following:

  • Beetroot – I’ve already sown six varieties including Pablo F1, Detroit Globe, Bull’s Blood, Perfect, Boltardy and Red Ace.  An easy, low maintenance crop that’s delicious roasted, in salads and in chutney (I’m still enjoying last year’s beetroot and orange chutney)
  • Dwarf French Beans – Though full size French beans are too tender to grow reliably outside here in Ireland, the dwarf varieties were a terrific success last year.   Barely growing more than 30 cm tall, they are surprisingly prolific.   I’ll be sowing the seeds directly into the soil on the allotment when it gets a bit warmer (probably – hopefully! – in May)
  • Garlic – Just because its near-impossible to easily source Irish-grown garlic and its something I use in most of my cooking.
  • Kale – a great value ‘superfood’ crop, my Red Russian and Curly are still going strong from last year.   I’ve sown some more Nero de Toscana which was very successful last year.
  • Purple Sprouting Broccoli – in the ground since last year it should be cropping soon.
  • Peas – just because they’re pretty much the tastiest crop to nibble on when taking a break from digging and weeding.   They never make it as far as the kitchen.
  • Lettuce – I especially like the crunch and slight sweetness of Little Gem cos lettuce.  Very easy to grow, I squeezed them in under my peas last year.
  • Tayberries – a raspberry crossed with a blackberry I think, these are one of my all-time favourites.   By the end of July they produce giant, sweet, juicy, pip-less fruits that look like over-sized raspberries and go on producing through to mid-September.  We eat them straight off the plant.  Even my dogs have figured these are tasty and nibble the low-hanging fruits off the plant.
  • Rhubarb – another perennial stalwart, the smell of freshly-picked rhubarb is so evocative for me.   Delicious in a crumble or stewed and dolloped on yoghurt or even served as a condiment with Clonakilty black pudding, I think every garden should have some rhubarb.
  • Sweetcorn – a bit hit-and-miss even in a good summer in Ireland but when its a hit, boy is it a hit.

I’ve a few more ideas to try too… Roll on the warm weather!