Writer, Textile Artist, Plantswoman

Category: Gardening (Page 1 of 2)

Garden Update: Hidden Treasures

I’ve been checking my tomatoes, french beans, sweet corn and courgette (zucchini), as well as the new Brussel sprout and lettuce seedlings, every day. We’re at the point where the things that are bearing fruit, especially the tomatoes growing in containers in the greenhouse, need feeding every week. Well, all that work is finally being rewarded. The big surprise this morning was a gleam of orange red behind the giant tomato leaves—two tomatoes ripening up! I was so excited, I went around the garden to find what else might be hiding from me under the leaves—aside from the dreaded slugs… ugh!

Today, our dinner was accompanied by yellow and green french beans and lovely new potatoes from our garden. Earlier today, I brought a big bunch of rainbow chard up to a neighbor for their dinner. In a little while, I will treat myself to a serving of gooseberry crumble, the fruit courtesy of another neighbor who was overwhelmed by the abundance of his bushes. Life here, in this moment, is very good.

I finally found the GIY website and their 12-week gardening videos—a homegrown Waterford success story! They are wonderful and inspiring. So much so that I’m ready to add another couple of raised beds for growing things in spaces we didn’t know what to do with. So I went to Quickcrop’s website and ordered a couple of VegTrugs—Hey Presto! One and a half square meters of garden without all the hard landscaping! I’m excited.

We also saw a home gardening video on BBC’s Gardeners World where a viewer has created a wall of strawberry plants, solving a couple of problems: the whole “straw” bedding thing to keep the dirt off the fruit… and greedy, sneaky slugs. You know what happens. You espy a lovely big strawberry a day or two away from being just perfect to pick and you come back the next morning to half of it eaten away. The disappointment! So Robbie and I are going to up-cycle a couple of sturdy pallets and create a “wall” with “shelves” for strawberry plants in pots in a nice south facing spot that has the added advantage of screening off the compost area. I’ll wait until the fall to transplant our strawberry plants to that new location and use the resulting ground space for more plants in the herb garden.

***

I’ll be honest. Last week I was feeling a bit negative about the garden. I had a case of weed fixation—it seemed that the only thing I noticed growing in the garden was the weeds. And the weather made it too miserable to even contemplate getting down on my knees to get at them. People waiting in line at the bottom of our drive for the Fish Fellas were commenting on how lovely the garden looked and I had to bite my tongue to stop from pointing out every flaw, straggly seed head and weedy patch. I simply could not see the beauty for the weeds.

The three lovely sunfilled days we had at the beginning of this week have worked their magic. And the on again/off again rain we’ve had the last few days has filled the water butts and cleaned the air. The garden is lush and green with bright flashes of yellows and reds from the dahlias and poppies. The views from my kitchen window and from the bottom of the garden, underscored by the burble of the pond stream, punctuated by the flutter of wings at the bird feeders give me the feeling of having been dropped into a midsummer Garden of Eden.

 

 

 

Catching up: Better late than never…

Forgive me readers for I have sinned… it’s been a month (and four days) since my last post. I wish I could say that was because I was busier than usual—I wasn’t. And it wasn’t because I didn’t have stories to tell or projects to report on—I did, although some of the newsy bits are sadly out of date or obsolete and there are always projects.

It was just because.

The Sound of Music?

The most recent project was cutting my hair… something that took two of us, a cordless clipper and a pair of (cheap) scissors. I later found out that a close neighbor of mine had trained as a hairdresser and, had I known, I would have happily paid her whatever she asked to do this. I can deal with the emerging COVID gray/grey. It was the frizzy ends and unflattering length of the “coiffure” that was getting me down the last four or five days. I haven’t seen a hairdresser since January—that’s how bad it has gotten.

So with the full length mirror out on the kitchen patio and armed with the cordless clipper Robbie bought on Amazon, I set about trying to tame the sad condition of my COVID hair. I had to call Robbie in to help with the back after I cut it way too short and too far up because, despite the fact that my children believed I had eyes in the back of my head, I simply could not see or control or evaluate what my hands—and the clippers—were doing. So now I have what I like to think is the Julie Andrews/Maria von Trapp haircut from the Sound of Music.

There’s a Mouse in the house

We have a new member of the household—Mouse O’Líní (“líní” is as gaeilge for “lines” like the ones on the top of his head). We brought him home on June 15th, when he could easily fit in the palm of your hand. He has since doubled in size.

He is adorable, small for his age, but fearless in everything he does. Which is why we are very careful not to let him out of the house as he’d get flattened in no time by a hay tractor or milk tanker passing by on the road.

Having a “house” cat is not part of the cat owning culture here. Our garden has a parade of cats that wander freely from the various houses all around us. Most don’t have collars and some might be wilder than others. We shoo them away in the interest of saving the birds Robbie has worked so hard to attract. When Mouse is big enough to go out into the garden at all, he will be sporting a bell on his collar. Until then, he stays in the house with only supervised explorations of the outside world. He won’t stay this small and cute forever so we are enjoying this time to its fullest.

The Garden is a Jungle!

Back in late May, early June, it looked like this was going to be a hot, dry summer. As soon as Uisce/Irish Water (the water services board) declared a hosepipe ban due to water shortages, we started to get rain—every day. Sometimes an inch or so, more often just an annoying drizzle that made it unpleasant to work outside, or go for a walk or do anything. Every once in a while we’d get a burst of sunshine, the temperature would go up into the 70s in the sun and the heat loving plants like corn, tomatoes, and squash, would be grateful.

Over the past week the winter squash has taken over the paths and the courgette (zucchini) has commandeered the corner lot. The potatoes have overtaken where the raspberries are staked and all the herbs in the small kitchen garden have filled out and spread into each other. On the other side of the path the verbena bonariensis are taller than me and the dahlias are putting out new blooms every morning. In the front cottage garden, the tall daisies and crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ I rescued from the back garden in November when we were regrading it are more than happy in their new location. It was a gamble and it really paid off.

Village Life — FISH!

Wonderful things have come to pass in this little village. The Fish Fellas, Danny and Adam, started selling fresh fish from their van every Thursday—right here at the bottom of our garden! They have their own boats in Ballycotton and come here with the freshest fish ever! We generally buy enough for two days and haven’t been disappointed.

Then, a couple of weeks later, another member of the Ballycotton boat family, Vanessa, brought her gourmet fish and chips “airstream” to the village and set up by the river. They sold out of everything the first time and looks like they’ll sell out again tonight. Of course, this is better news for Robbie as I cannot eat anything battered in flour, HOWEVER, they use a different fryer for the chips!! So I have had my first feed of chips in what feels like decades but is really only SIX months! It made my weekend—I actually saved half to have tomorrow reheated in the oven. Irish chips are not like those skinny “french fries” you often get, all precut and frozen. They are freshly cut, thick and floury and taste like real potatoes. I can’t use malt vinegar (that coeliac thing again) but I’ve discovered that mayonnaise is yummy on chips, as is organic ketchup. I’m covered for the rest of the summer.

Village Life — the Big “C”

June was “100 K in 30 days” for Breast Cancer Ireland. I got more than 100k in even though I started a little late and I loved walking with my neighbors and friends, two of which were in treatment at the time. Their determination, cheerfulness and camaraderie was inspiring. Sometimes we were only four or five walking, other times we had 14 or 15 walkers, husbands and children joining in with the late evening sun shining down on us. A highlight was the 10 km walk up into the hills behind Mount Stuart church arranged by the Clashmore Set Dancers. At one point, we were up above the wind turbines. We walked by a freshly harvest timber farm that had turned into a field of foxglove and meadowsweet as far as the eye could see. It was stunning but I don’t know if I could do it again for a while—not at the pace that was set anyway.

Most days our walks would bring us in a 4 k figure eight leading up the hill and down to the river Lickey, back to the grotto, down the river walk to Raheen Quay and back. One evening, I walked out on my own, earbuds tuned to a book on Audible, up the village and out the back road to Dungarvan. I’d never walked that way before and I was surprised at how peaceful it was and how walking on one’s own can be centering. In the last weeks of the challenge, one of my neighbors undergoing breast cancer treatment got the word that she was clear and her elation was beautiful to see.

Sadly, a few weeks later, she discovered that, while she no longer had any evidence of breast cancer, there was cancer in her liver and it was quite advanced. She died shortly after. We were devastated—it seemed that everyone from the village and beyond stood for a mile on both sides of the road in a “guard of honor” on Monday as the funeral cortege passed by. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.

So, while June was full of sun and walking and gardening, July has been tougher so far. My hope is that the rest of the month will lighten up a bit and bring us some long evenings sitting by the pond in the gloaming—tine, fíon, cairde agus scéalta—with the chiminea burning, the wine flowing, friends appropriately spaced, with stories and laughter lifting our spirits. It’s how it should be.

Garden Update: First week of June

June is, indeed, busting out all over… although these last couple of days have been more early April than June. The tomato plants in the green house are flowering… as are the five tomatoes planted outside, although those are slower in growing taller. My guess is overall production might be less with the outside tomatoes — but maybe more flavorful for having been grown out in the ground.

I also planted out Cape Gooseberries in three different locations to see which would work best. You’ve probably seen these as garnish in a trendy restaurant. They are also called ground cherries. I have a few more plants I hope to give to some friends to try. I decided to transplant the one rhubarb plant that seemed to be floundering. I reckoned I was going to lose it anyway so I may as well try it in a different spot. I cut away any of the big floppy looking stems, gave it a big drink of water and mulched with composted horse manure. In a day it put up new shoots and it looks like it will pull through. Yay!

I have some video of the garden as of 8 pm on June 1…
The Garden and Greenhouse on June 1, 2020

We have since mulched all of the garden (except the strawberry-herb garden which will get done today) and we’ve got all the garden beds planted up. So, apart from watering, weeding and feeding, things should progress from here.

This being the first year, I don’t have expectations of berries or fruit—however, the tomatoes, potatoes and peas are definitely coming along and we should get plenty of veg in about a month’s time. I’ll post a video every week so we can see the progress.

We had a gorgeous double rainbow on Friday—it was one of those days when the sun and the rain played tag all day long. And our first dahlia, Bishop of Llandalf bloomed—a stunning red in the afternoon glow. And the days are still dry enough for haymaking. This will be the first week when people can go anywhere in their home county and, to other counties, 20 km from their home base. And we can have a small group (4-6) people over if we can maintain appropriate social distancing. That shouldn’t be a problem in our garden.

Garden Notes: Mother’s Day

There’s a rose flowering outside my studio door! It’s not a great looking rose—I think those that are still buds right now will be nicer. But still—there’s a rose outside my door!

So I’m posting a “Status Update” garden gallery here having gone around the back garden with my phone taking pictures so we can compare them to what we will see a month from now. Working on the reusable masks has taken up quite a bit of time—I try to keep that project to days when it’s gray and cloudy but that doesn’t always work out. Yesterday, I went into the greenhouse and did some pricking out and potting on, especially the Cape Gooseberries. Twelve seedlings came up and they were just at the point where the roots might get hopelessly entangled. I also pricked out the rest of the basil. I already gave four away small pots away to a neighbor who has a poly tunnel and will really enjoy planting them with her tomatoes.

I’ve never successfully raised tomato plants from seed before. I would either forget watering them or have them on a windowsill, all spindly craning toward the sun. I generally ended up getting plants from the garden centre and growing from there.

This year is different. I have three varieties that I’ve pricked out into pots and, much to my surprise, they are magnificent! I’m going to wait until Memorial Day weekend (May 25) and put the best into large pots to grown in the green house. I’ll try a couple outside as well in the front garden where there is sun all day. And I might try Gardener’s Delight in hanging baskets outside the kitchen door.

Another surprise is that the summer fruiting raspberries are setting blossoms. Not all the canes, but a few are showing signs of flower buds. We didn’t expect to see any fruit on those until next year. The blueberries also have little bell like flowers on them. I doubt we’ll have many fruits to pick because the birds will get to them first. But maybe that will convince Robbie that we need to build a couple of berry cages.

All the potato bags and drills have sprouted and we are only a day or so away from hilling up with more compost or straw. Robbie’s watercress has really taken off and is growing madly down our little brook to the pond.

My last garden task yesterday evening was planting out the sweet peas all around the Bird tree. It’s really a tall stump of a tree that died some time ago — long before we got here. It is the perfect edifice for the bird feeders and also is the anchor for our clothes line. All around the bottom we’ve planted primroses and laid rocks to keep the grass and weeds somewhat under control. I didn’t have much luck with sweet peas last year but I’m willing to try again. I’ve ringed the Bird tree with bamboo cane to give the peas something to climb on. Another experiment.

Here’s the Gallery of photos taken on May 9.

Garden Update: last week of April

I’ve splurged on gardening—plants, compost, manure and, now, window boxes.

Back in 2017, I bought a few blue plastic window boxes and filled them with red geraniums and all manner of small plants to set those off. Last year I planted, in those same boxes now faded to gray, pink geraniums with lobelia. The flowers were lovely but the containers were really showing signs of wear—some had cracks in them and wouldn’t hold water.

This week, Magda at my local garden centre suggested these lovely wicker containers that were lined with plastic and, if I remembered to bring them in to the toolshed and store them over the winter, should last me years and years. They certainly cost more, but the difference in how they look and how well they suit our old cottage, they are definitely worth every penny.

I’m posting an image of the way they look today, freshly planted. And then I will add another image in a few weeks and at the end of May, so you can see for yourselves… sometimes you just need to splurge!

Garden Update: End of Easter Week

The weather has been wonderful up until yesterday. The sun, the air, the warmth of the soil, the plants in the greenhouse—all contributing to a deep sense of well being that evaporated yesterday afternoon as the skies darkened and the air grew chilly. Thankfully, we got the potatoes in. We’re trying a “no dig” method, although we actually had to dig because of all of the rocks and roots. Even that felt good. At one point I was beginning to feel a bit low but an hour of forking over the strip between the hedging and the raspberries had me feeling lighter at heart. The very air itself felt tingly and sweet.

The “no dig” method has the seed potatoes (properly chitted) planted and covered with compost instead of with the heavier garden dirt. The hilling up will also be compost and mulch and the hope is that the harvesting will be a simple matter of pulling up the stems. At least that’s what Charles Dowding says.

We have two long drills, an early variety ‘Orla’ and a main crop ‘Cara’. We also planted up three potato bags with varieties you can’t buy in shops here like ‘Setanta’ and ‘Maris Peer’, and ‘Yukon Gold’ which is common in the US but not in Ireland.

I had my first disaster. In the joy of the warm weather, I planted out my ‘Blauhilde’ climbing beans and they seemed to get on really well for a couple of days. And then I came out and they were all shriveled and unhappy looking. I was worried about leaving them in the greenhouse because they were getting a little too tall for the shelves… so I planted them out. I really should have put them in the cold frame for a full week or two to harden off. Lesson learned. I’ll sow some more and be more careful. Everything else that looks ready has been moved to the cold frame where it will stay until at least next weekend (May the 4th be with you, little seedlings!)

Things are slowly shaping up. I’m seeing great signs of beauty to come. The peonies are pushing up, the transplanted Heuchera looks happy in its new home, the climbing roses are leafing and budding, the valerian in the stone wall is just about to flower, and the jasmine has wound itself around the greenman on the gable end of the shed. And May is less than two weeks away!

 

 

Garden Update: The Week Before Easter

Wow! It’s been 10 days since I last posted anything here. Where did the time go? In fairness, the weather has been so good that being out in the garden or the gazebo has been the main attraction. We had our first picnic meal of the season out under the gazebo a week ago Friday — fresh hake from a Duncannon, Wexford fishmonger who sells from his van in the nearby SuperValu carpark. Getting there early is key and I was, for some reason, up with the birds, and out to the shop for the OAP time slot because we needed a few things to get us through the weekend. Add to that, salad made from our own spring onions and lambs lettuce (and a tin of peas for Robbie—because it’s fish, after all), and you have a feast!

Paths

I tackled the first of many small garden paths—this one in brick because it follows the clothes line and it’s critical to have a solid, dry path to follow when you’re hanging laundry in the winter months.

I had plenty of beautiful old bricks, (from Mark at Landmark Salvage) and just enough sand for the small strip that will eventually feed into the main path, yet to be dug out and currently marked by a lot of blue cardboard. With all of the paths, we want to have them look like they’ve been there since the house was built over 200 years ago. I have left myself with a problem as there’s quite a drop off at the end where the main path will be gradually sloped. It will be fine in the end but, for now, I have to mind myself so I don’t step out into thin air while hanging on to a clothes peg!

I have to confess, I rather like hard landscaping. You really get to see what you’ve accomplished by the end of the day. Plants, on the other hand, take a while to settle in before filling in the spaces you’ve left for them to grow into. It’s slow and takes patience.

COVID Distraction

Speaking of laundry, the major distraction of the past week is COVID-19 related. A little over a week ago, I read a report in The Guardian suggesting that everyone should be wearing a face mask because you may be carrying the coronavirus—indeed, are your most infectious—for up to a week before you even experience symptoms yourself. This is disquieting. So, my first notion was to see if there was a way I could help people out by supplying them with bits of fabric from my (it turns out) humongous stash of quilt fabric… everything from small pre-cut squares to 9 yard swathes intended for backing bed-sized quilts. I didn’t BUY all of this fabric. Bins of it was gifted to me by my friend Delia who was moving from a grand Victorian in Newtonville to a tiny apartment in New York. No room for her to quilt, let alone to stash fabric.

9-Patch block alternated with Hourglass block using scrap fabric.

That had to have been 20 years ago or more and I’m only now appreciating how much fabric she gave me. While Delia’s interests shifted way from quilting to writing and NYC cultural diversions, my life took a turn with a change in jobs, a jump to a 70 hour work week and a return to Grad school. The quilt I was working on at the time got rolled up and stuffed under the bed where it stayed until the son for whom it was intended, decided to get married. A new wedding quilt in the works meant taking THAT quilt off the frame and folding it up to be continued at a later time—and place. That turned out to be here, in Ireland, in our new home where it graces our bed in the winter time.

Back to COVID. The mask idea was not a great success. The no-sew versions didn’t work really work with quilt fabric and the ones you could sew really needed specialized fabric and elastic that, while I know I have yards of it somewhere, I simply cannot find. Besides, I didn’t want to get involved in the manufacturing of face masks given that there’s no guarantee they would prevent the spread of the virus. They are just another of the many precautions that help. If it was at all feasible, I thought I could offer my friends and neighbors something to do while they were on “lock-in,” if they were so inclined. But now I was knee deep in the fabric I had dug out of boxes and bins, washed, line dried and ironed—yes… IRONED! I, who have avoided buying any clothes that require pressing of any description for the past decade, have spent hours every evening of the past 10 days ironing yards and yards of fabric.

The Challenge

Well, I’m deep into it now… stacks of folded colorful fabric all over the sitting room. My husband says our house smells like an industrial laundry—which is not a bad thing. There are certainly worse! I’ve always loved the smell of laundry fresh off the line after a day of sunshine. Ask anyone who’s been a neighbor of ours over the past 40 years.

Here’s my little confession: I think I was just waiting for an opportunity to get all those sewing and quilting things sorted out so I could get started on a project. Clearing the decks, visually organizing what I have to see if there’s an idea buried in there. It’s difficult to see ideas if everything is in a box buried deep in a cupboard. That goes for writing a book, making a garden, or designing a quilt.

I willingly gave up on the mask idea, but when I admitted that to our Community Virus Response leader, Richard, I also mentioned that I thought it was too bad we couldn’t make a community quilt. He seemed to be intrigued and, when I told him I used to teach Basic Patchwork years ago, he suggested I put a plan together. His idea was that we could make something to hang in the Heritage Centre. My idea is that whatever we make could be raffled off to benefit Tidy Towns or some other charity. Richard suggested I put together a plan and “directions” and he’d put it up on Facebook to see if anyone is interested.

The basic 9-Patch quilt block. Notice that this is one of the two blocks in the quilt shown above. *

I went back to the premise of my first Basic Patchwork class: a Sampler quilt based on 9-patch construction. Any block design that can be constructed from 9 equally sized squares will follow the same construction method: Three squares per row, three rows per block. Each square can be constructed from other shapes: triangles, rectangles, squares. As long as each of the 9 squares finishes at 4″ and each block is 12″ plus 1/4″ seam allowance all around, you can combine all different kinds of 9-patch blocks into a harmonious quilt top. Of course, other construction methods work too… but this is about learning simple techniques that get progressively more complex while using the same basic framework.

I started doing research from my library of quilt books and magazines (when I wasn’t washing, hanging out on the line, ironing, or gardening) and found over 60 different quilt blocks and a few lovely variations that were roughly the same as another block but carried a different name. The original course I taught was 12 weeks long so we concentrated on 9 patches and the last few weeks were focused on assembling and fastening the quilt layers. The original patches included the simple ones, each week learning a new design:

  • Row 1: 9-Patch, Shoo Fly, Monkey Wrench,
  • Row 2: Ohio Star, Variable Star, Swamp Angel,
  • Row 3: Tulip Lady Fingers, Quatrefoils, Weather Vane.

Not everyone wanted to move on to the more difficult squares so they were able to do variations on the easier blocks by reversing the lights and darks of the fabric pieces. It never ceased to amaze me how the dullest or most garish of fabrics, when combined with others into new patterns yielded something beautiful—it was a magic revelation with each new piecing.

So I will put this together and start a new category on this blog called 9-patch Quilt Challenge. To be frank, even if no one is interested, I will start creating one of each of the 65 different “9 patch” quilt blocks I found. I have a head start. At the bottom of one of the bins of fabric I found two completed blocks, Shoo Fly and Pinwheels, and lots of squares and triangles already cut!

Back to the Garden

However, this is a GARDEN post, so here are a few images I collected over the week… and my intention to make something out of all the “garden” titled quilt blocks I’ve found.

This week in the garden…

* Note that the sample blocks are grayscale. The color value of the patchwork piece (from light to dark) gives you an idea of how the block is set up so that the maker can decide whether to follow a simple monochromatic design (all the pieces in different shades of blue) or a polychromatic design (two or more hues of varying shades.)

Garden Update: Almost the weekend

The first tulip to bloom!

I seem to have become obsessed with the vegetable side of gardening. I wonder if that has anything to do with food anxiety—like, “If this COVID thing goes on for months, will we have any food??” I’m sure I’m not the only one with that thought because all of my favourite online garden sites have temporarily stopped taking orders. It’s only for a little while, they tell us, until they can catch up with the deluge of orders they got once people realized they would be stuck at home for weeks with nothing to do. Well, at least the flowers seem to be doing okay on their own. I’ll just have to wait to put in new bedding plants.

In the 10’x12′ greenhouse garden (so-called because it’s the garden bed closest to the greenhouse), I finally got the 25 strawberry plants in the ground. This was a huge undertaking because we had been walking over that section while we built the compost bin system and it had pretty much dried into concrete. I spent a couple of days forking it over, then raking it and pulling out stones and roots until I had a reasonable tilth. I then mounded, added compost and went to work putting the bare root strawberries in place.

This is the same bed with the new Crabapple tree and the Rhubarb. I’m still dithering about what I’ll put in the middle but I think an herb garden is the front runner.

In the greenhouse itself, things are happening… some faster than others.

The corn germinated but the climbing beans have taken off! True leaves are out and I swear they grew three inches in one day. I’m concerned that I’ll have to put them out too early. But maybe not. We are in the “sunny south” after all — Don’t laugh! That’s what we call it.

Here’s a list of everything sown (or planted) in the greenhouse since the Equinox:

  • Sweet peas
  • Sugar snap peas ‘Nairobi’
  • Oregon Sugar pod peas
  • Regular peas
  • Climbing beans (Blauhilde)
  • Sweet corn
  • Buttercup winter squash
  • Rainbow chard
  • Lettuce ‘Roxy’ – I just HAD to!
  • Lettuce ‘Matilda’
  • Dwarf beans ‘Helios’ and ‘Maxi’
  • Runner beans ‘Enorma’
  • Comfrey (nowhere near as much as I need though!)
  • Lemon balm (from the free little Lidl peat pots)
  • Thyme (from the free little Lidl peat pots)
  • Delphinium
  • Tomatoes, ‘Gardener’s Delight’,
  • Basil
  • Cape gooseberries
  • 2 Dahlias
  • Cornflowers
  • Courgettes from a free MiracleGro peat pot
  • Cucumbers from a free MiracleGro peat pot

And out in the upper level of the garden, we sowed a bee-friendly wildflower patch — but I might need to get some yellow rattle to keep the grass from regrowing there. The question is, will I be able to get those seeds if the online seed sellers aren’t taking orders.

I think I will have to turn my attention to the flowers tomorrow. If I don’t weed those beds soon, I’ll have three times the work later—by which time I’ll be too busy putting out all those vegetables!

Garden Update: Week of March 29th

Gardening in a different climate makes one call into question the accumulated wisdom and practices of the past. For instance, I was taught to soak beans and peas for 24 hours before planting them. I don’t remember if that was before planting them in modules or planting seed in the ground once the bed was warm enough. If you’re planting in modules, does it make a difference? I don’t know, so we’re going to find out. I have three bean varieties for the keyhole raised bed veg garden outside my studio. Right now, the middle bed just has garlic and red onion… nothing going down the middle. It’s a good spot for a line of peas flanked by dwarf green beans. But I don’t want these to be decimated by slugs and snails so I’m going to grow them in the greenhouse until they are strong enough to survive those pests.

I have a module tray and I’m sowing eight seeds of three varieties, two of which are dwarf beans (‘Helios’ and ‘Maxi’) and one is a runner bean (‘Enorma’) that will get planted elsewhere using bamboo stick supports. Yesterday, I took 4 of each variety and soaked it on a cardboard tray in wet paper towel. These I left for 24 hours. Then I sowed dry beans every other row. Today, I planted the empty cells with the soaked beans. It was handy that each variety was a different color!

Should the control seeds (planted yesterday) germinate at the same time as the soaked seeds, I will conclude that there’s no advantage to soaking the beans before sowing. However, if the soaked seeds germinate and show their first leaves BEFORE the control seeds, I will know that there is a germination advantage to soaking. I will continue to see if there is any other effect by marking the soaked seed plants when I plant them out into the garden.

IN OTHER NEWS!

The tomato and basil seeds have sprouted!! And I spotted some corn shoots this afternoon.  What a joy it is to have a greenhouse!!

Garden Notes: The Three Sisters

I just ordered a raised bed from Quickcrop to do some “square foot” gardening. I’m going to use it for an experimental “Three Sisters” bed.

4×4′ area staked out. Raspberries tied in to their frames in the background.

I’m going to try to do it the traditional native American way. Their technique was to put two fish at the bottom of the planting hole where the corn would go. This would feed the hungry corn and bean plants throughout the season. These fish were often menhaden (from munnawhatteaug — “that which manures”) and likely alewives (herring) which would be running up even small rivers around mid-April when planting time was approaching. When I was young, my parents would bring us to Cape Cod’s Stony Brook herring run in Brewster, usually on Patriot’s Day weekend, to watch the alewives jump the ladders that were all along the brook up to the mill pond—a tradition we kept with our own children when we moved from Ireland to Massachusetts back in the late ’70s. My problem will be finding “throwaway” fish during this COVID-19 pandemic… are the fishing boats still going out? I’ll be asking friends. I’ll need 32 for my 4×4 foot raised bed.

The type of beans native Americans grew 400-500 years ago would probably be less heavily productive than modern varieties, so they would have planted six to eight seeds around the corn once the stalk was about a foot high. To that they added squash (probably some kind of pumpkin) around the plot to let the squash ramble, providing cooling shade to the soil.

I’m planting a variety of sweet corn, ‘True Gold,’ that is supposed to work in our Irish climate. For beans, I’m using a purple French climbing bean, ‘Blauhilde’ (a Monty Don favourite as seen on Gardeners’ World). And then I’m using ‘Buttercup’ (Cucurbita maxima), a dark green winter squash with golden flesh that can be baked. I will keep a record here as I go along because I want to document this… for me and for anyone else who’s homesick for a taste of homegrown sweet corn.

I am starting these off in the greenhouse… the corn and beans in root-trainers because they don’t like their long roots disturbed, and the squash in 9 cm pots.

Gardening runs deep in my family’s culture. My Canadian cousins all seem to have a garden going and it’s the first thing you are invited to inspect when you stop by for a visit. My grandfather’s grandmother was a Mohawk from Kahnawake in Quebec, Canada, and he grew up in the Beauce region south of Quebec City. My grandmother grew up on a farm in Stornoway, the middle child in a family of 10 or 12. I’m never sure because my grandfather also had a huge family of brothers and sisters. They both grew up on tillage farms with tracts of sugar maples for sugaring in the spring. I have fond memories of dribbling wooden spoonfuls of the boiling hot syrup over pans of pristine snow to make maple candy, and Sunday brunches at the Cabane au Sucre in St. Eustache.

My grandmother grew the Three Sisters in her garden, but on a bigger scale than I can in our small garden. She also grew tomatoes, peas, onions, potatoes and whatever else she had room for. My love for Rhubarb comes from the row of red-stemmed plants that stretched along the brick foundation of her house. She would give my sisters and I each a small jar with some sugar at the bottom, instructing us to pull up a stalk, lick it, stick it into the jar, and eat it for a snack—but NOT the leaves! She also put up preserves of just about everything she harvested and would bring us cases of piccalilli (green tomato relish), apple jelly, apple sauce, stewed tomatoes and crisp green beans and pickles in jars. My mother had an entire wall of cabinets in our kitchen dedicated to storing these and other foodstuffs.

My mother’s cousin Gaëtan, who lives in Sherbrooke, south of Trois-Rivière and Quebec City, does an annual “corn shuck” family reunion in August. I haven’t been able to go for a few years, but the routine is this: they set out wheelbarrows filled with huge hessian bags of freshly picked corn… you pick out as many ears as you yourself commit to eat—no waste in this family! You shuck your own corn (the husks going into a pile to be shredded for compost) and pop the ears into the already boiling water. You get yourself another beer or lemonade and fill up your plate with cold chicken, potato salad, green salad… and your hot buttery corn.

However, I now live in Ireland, not known for the kind of weather best suited to sweet corn—at least, not until recent summers. Nevertheless, I am homesick for the taste of real late August sweet corn. Not the starchy frozen stuff you find in shops, but the kind you only get when you can pick the ear off the stalk when the water is boiling and then serve salted and dripping with butter. Bliss!

« Older posts

© 2020 Roxanne O'Connell

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑