Author Archives for Melissa Gillan

About Melissa Gillan

The Aran Artisan Inis Mor Aran Islands County Galway Ireland More of our story and blog are detailed in my About page.

The Sweetness of Unexpected Pleasures

Photo lens filters, packages in the post, fortuitous flowers, spectacular sunsets and helping hands all have in common that they’ve recently come to bring me unexpected joy.

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First, a recent photo of our smallholding. I took the photo standing upon the wall at the top of the road using my Samsung phone and a €1.50 fisheye lens. I never dreamt the filter would work so great. It came in a €3 package, marked down from €8, along with a macro lens.

Here are a few photos of elderflowers, soon to be elderflower cordial, that I gathered and photographed with and without the macro lens attached. I have to play around with this lens to figure out how to use it better but it definitely has potential.

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The next unexpected pleasure arrived at my doorstep as a result of Nuala landing herself in a lower leg and ankle cast for three weeks. It wasn’t broken thankfully and the cast was just removed. When Sandra heard of her accident she said she was going to mail Nuala a card. Super surprise and big excitement when the postman dropped off a package of homemade goodies and fun and love addressed to Nuala and the entire family! I was surprised by how great it felt seeing her handwriting on a card as all our correspondences have been over the computer. A million thanks to her for such thoughtfulness.

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Three flowers have grown in our garden this summer that we didn’t plant. The orange and pink poppies I’m certain of, but the purple one I can’t identify. My guess is that they’re all gifts left behind by birds. No matter how they arrived, these fantastic florae are welcome to stay and put down forever roots on our smallholding. Their blooms are lovely and I admire their independence and determination.

A generous and loving family who are holidaying on Aran for the week stopped by to buy fresh vegetables. After talking a bit about the this and that of our garden, they agreed to a barter of time for food and returned the next day to help lighten our load. 245 garlic bulbs were dug up then laid to dry and a bed of rocket was cut down in order to regrow a second time. These overdue garden jobs were completed in not much more than an hour– so quickly that there was time to spare for playing, relaxing and sharing a meal together. It’s a day we won’t soon forget.

Whether intended or unintended, I’ve no doubt that the surprise element of these lovely gifts- quality, friendship, generosity, beauty, selflessness and time- made receiving them even nicer. It’s said that little things mean a lot. I think they mean even more and are even sweeter when they’re unexpected.

p.s. The (unfiltered) sunset photos are from 4th of July. Turning around and seeing our blue shadows cast on the side of the house was another beautiful moment of surprise which I was fortunate enough to share with a good friend.

Music To Our Ears

For the first time in months, there’s finally been enough rainfall to generate more than a wee trickle from the natural well that feeds our duck pond. Now that there’s a bit of water to spare, we can refill bins for watering the rest of the garden also. Yesterday’s rain was perfect. It started out light enough that the crumbly topsoil could well absorb it. This allowed the following hours of downpouring rain to infiltrate the soil deeply rather than just running off the earth’s surface, down to the sea.

Parts of Ireland have been experiencing a drought for the past few months. Here on the Aran Islands, we rely on rainfall to fill the tanks which provide household water. Since it hasn’t been raining and the supplies are so low, the water has been shut off in the evenings for a few weeks now. The thinking behind this decision is to ration water and also to stop any water waste that may be occurring from possible leaks in the lines.

When I walked out my front door last evening, it was both gratifying and magical to hear the rushing water added to the symphony of birdsong and rustling leaves played by nature.

Cheers, Melissa Xx

 

 “Nature’s music is never over; her silences are pauses, not conclusions.”     Mary Webb

Balanced Care For Brassicas

One of Margaret Maeve’s jobs is to inspect the brassicas for white butterfly eggs and caterpillars. We cover the young seedlings in bionet to protect them from birds and butterflies.

I always look forward to removing the netting when they grow larger and stronger–it’s much more visually pleasing to see their big green leaves stretching out rather than confined under the white tunnels of fabric. Sure, it’s more work to inspect them every other day, but the bionet security blanket means weeks can easily go by without any inspection at all (out of sight, out of mind), definitely not benefiting the plants if there’s a problem that we’re not seeing. So it’s a combination of early protection and later inspection that has worked for us over the years to produce a fine crop of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, turnip and Brussels sprouts.

While gardening isn’t everyone’s idea of fun in nature, I hope you have your own way of connecting with the great outdoors and have plenty of opportunities to indulge yourself in it!

Cheers, Melissa Xx

Making your world a greener place

Try to ignore the dirty window, the geranium that needs deadheading and the video-bombing chicken. Instead, notice the recycled plastic bottle which, when filled with water and placed upside down into the soil, slowly hydrates the plants in our window boxes by way of drip irrigation. We use these homemade irrigators in the tunnel and in the tire planters also. It prevents the stress on plants that happens when the soil becomes too dry which often happens in containers causing plants to wilt and become weak and stunted. As the bubbles go up, the water drips out.

There is more than one way to make drip irrigation bottles…

When placed above the soil and upside down as shown here, the bottle cap can be left on the bottle and holes drilled into the cap for the water to escape (this we do with larger mouthed bottles). If you notice the drilled holes become clogged from the soil, try enlarging the holes and/or perhaps put a few small pebbles mixed with fine sand in the hole just where the cap sits. Another option is to remove the cap completely (which we do with smaller mouthed bottles– around the size of a quarter or one euro coin size). With both these options, the flat end/bottom of the bottle can be left as is or it can be cut off. When cut off, it becomes easier to refill the water as the bottle never has to be removed from the soil. The downside to this is that it needs refilling* more often– the upside is that if it’s being used outside then it will collect rainwater. *Refilling the water bottles is a great chore for children.

Another option is to make several holes in the bottle itself and bury it in the ground right side up with just the pour spout above the ground surface. Refilling with water is done via the spout. This option may be more aesthetically pleasing but it takes up valuable root space in containers.

Glass bottles could also be used without cutting off the bottoms or having a cap on. Wouldn’t wine, vodka or gin bottles be pretty? Pretty dangerous with the winds we have here on the island me thinks– empty plastic bottles have been blown out of their containers so make sure to bury them deep enough if you too live in an area that’s prone to strong winds. 😀 And I’m certainly not suggesting you start drinking that much booze, haha! 😉

So whether you’re looking for a little help around the garden, an inexpensive solution to water your precious garden plants while on holiday or are just a recycling zealot, this practice will help to keep your world a greener place.

On Getting Your Hands Dirty: Keeping a Record

Swiss chard 2Time to hug last year’s Swiss chard goodbye and say slán to our edible rainbow. Their replacements won’t be ready to eat for another month but these guys bolted over a month ago and have also outgrown their beds here in the garden. First I picked another couple meals for us and what remains is being enjoyed by the chickens.

Next, we’ll feed the soil they’ve been occupying and plant something new. Perhaps courgette or celery or edible flowers, and we’ll rotate Swiss chard to new locations in the garden.

Crop rotation is important to prevent problems occurring with pests and diseases. Either a commitment to record-keeping or a very good memory is valuable here. I suggest writing it down. Write most garden information down. Isn’t there enough stuff and things taking up space in that head of yours already?!

Thoughts Planted by a Sycamore Seedling

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I’ve been absent for a couple weeks, enjoying the children’s school break for Easter and generally just avoiding the computer. A burst of inspiration from the garden today brought me back — whispers from a sycamore seedling that got me contemplating…

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March of The Weeds

DSC_0288~2It’s March and the noticeably longer days tease my gardening impulsiveness. I want to get on with the business of growing outside. The erratic weather can’t be ignored, though, and rather than transplant out I’ll have to pot up- that is, move plants to larger containers- and keep them under cover a bit longer. Rather than sow root vegetable seeds, I’ll lay more ground warming cover after spreading compost or leaf mulch.

And I’ll weed.

There’s always weeding to be done, though more so this time of year because it’s spring and that’s when weeds spring up and multiply with great abandon on every patch of bare soil.

I rarely go out with the purpose of just weeding. Instead, it gets done regularly but a bit at a time. I’m usually grabbing weeds from here and there at my discretion as I’m tending to other garden needs in the same area. Spring weeding is a bit more intentional than that- it’s part of the plan for the day, on a mental list of things to be done deliberately, sooner than later.

Fortunately, weeding the garden is a favourite task of mine. I find that the point of view from crouched down on all fours is a great way to get the lay of the land and to gain a true perspective of a garden’s whereabouts.

While growing up in Maine, I was the primary weeder in the family plot and I remember enjoying it lots. Our vegetable garden was behind my Memere’s house. It was a nice open space with tall lilac bushes lining one side and there was a pretty spectacular weeping willow in the front yard. Summers were very hot and I have the most vivid memories of taking off my shirt and pulling weeds wearing only my shorts. At age nine or so, and with no explanation that made sense at the time, my mother told me to put my shirt back on and I shouldn’t be taking it off anymore. I remember feeling like something had gone astray. Now I suppose she was trying to teach me modesty.

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On our smallholding, I’ve taken responsibility for the weeding– Johnny never has to worry about it, just like I never have to worry about the chicken coop being cleaned out and their bedding relined and their feed buckets refilled.

So long as we’re all happy, nothing’s being neglected and everyone’s keeping their shirt on, it’s all good.

Pallet Picnic Table Repair

pallet picnic table

Our picnic table was given to us a few years back by some lovely people who handmade it themselves but couldn’t take it with them when they were moving away from the island. It’s been in dozens and dozens of our photos though never itself the subject of attention. Being extra long, makes it extra perfect for our large family, especially when friends and family are added to the mix. More often the tabletop is used as a platform for the children to sit upon and to spring from; this resulted in a board breaking and creating a hole. Just before Nuala’s birthday party last week Johnny refurbished the top using recycled pallet wood and then it was painted with some awesome paint from #Faherty Paints in Galway. It’s substantially heavier but that’s not a problem. I need to pick up more paint to finish the job next trip to the city, but even so, we’re really happy with the results and here you can see the transition for yourself.

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Hooray for having a handy hubby!! 🔨📐🖌

Curlicue, I Love You

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I’m not sure if my new snail is an early Mother’s Day gift or a just-because gift and it really doesn’t matter either way. I received this new piece of garden art from the heart and hands of Margaret Maeve last Friday. The opposite side is painted  ‘To: Mom ‘ and she made it in metal work class at school. How lucky am I?!

This is my ‘spiral‘ photograph for the weekly challenge hosted by Sandra and Cathy. Thanks for the inspiration ladies, and thank you for the one of a kind and made with love present Margaret Maeve. Xx

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