Garden

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 and not just running off the earth’s surface, down to the sea.

Parts of Ireland have experienced 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 is shut off in the evenings for a few weeks now. The thinking behind this decision is to ration water and 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 and not 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 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 of meals for us and what remains is being enjoyed by the chickens.

Next, we’ll feed the soil they’ve occupied and plant something new. Perhaps courgette or celery or edible flowers, and 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 of 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, so 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.  I 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.

Wishful thinking

After working extra hard to shed its seed coat, this one’s likely going to produce the biggest melons of the lot.

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The truth is it could probably go either way. Maybe it isn’t gaining strength; perhaps it’s actually falling behind the others. As far as I know, there’s no scientific research to back up either thought. I’ve been known to interfere and remove the seed coat from peppers. Their first leaves are much smaller (weaker?) than the melons in comparison to its seed coat and my gut instinct was that there would be a struggle to shed it themselves. I’ll give this melon another day and if it busts out, then I’m thinking it will be stronger, and if it takes any longer it probably needs my help and there goes my gut theory.

I’ve seen this scenario dozens of times, if not more, and have never really contemplated it until now. Oh, the power of a photograph to get one’s mind wondering! Thank you, Sandra and Cathy for this fun and inspiring weekly challenge.

Making a comfortable living from a small piece of land

As the word smallholding implies, we do what we do to support our family through a combination of cash crops and subsistence farming. We do all the work ourselves between the jigs and reels of raising a family and various other obligations and distractions. There’s no design laid out before us. Instead, season to season over the past several years we figure bits out and do it, always incorporating two essential qualities. The first and most important for us is to provide food for our family. The second is to do so while designing a modest, simple and functional area where others can discover that it’s possible to create their own supermarket on just one acre. We may not be making our entire income from it yet, but day by day and year to year we get that much closer.

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Three new outside beds were added to the garden in the last week. All three are at the north end of the polytunnel, one is actually an addition to the artichoke bed. We also divided the artichoke plants to double the amount we now have and there’s still room for plenty more.

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Taming our wild side

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I’ve never understood (or admittedly bothered to research) how other gardeners manage to have their ducks live in harmony with the precious fruits and veg of their labour. When we first introduced our five eager quackers to our gardens, we were pleased with the efficiency with which they hoovered up slugs and bugs. Oh, how quickly these feelings changed. The sight of our steamrolled lettuces and carrots soon saw them evicted from the gardens, separated by a chicken wire covered wooden post fence. Continue reading

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