Freeze, thaw, repeat

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I’m developing weather whiplash; first its freezing, then it warms up- but before you can stick a gardening foot outside the door it gets wet and windy. Next thing you know its freezing again, then it gets milder, the gardening foot is almost out the door and suddenly its damp and windy but oh hang on suddenly its..dry then cold and frosty again…gaahh! Will it ever be spring? Will I ever feel warm again outdoors? Should I just pack up now and leave for Portugal? The only predictable thing at the moment is how bloody unpredictable the bloody weather is.

Indoors the tomatoes still look sadly out, waiting for a milder weather window to transfer from the house to the tunnel and into larger pots. Last night in the glasshouse the watering tray under a transplanted pot of tarragon froze INSIDE the glass. A vast army of sweet peas clogging up every available spot in the glasshouse for weeks have refused to germinate. On closer inspection a good quantity of them had just rotted in the compost. Probably when the pots froze solid a few weeks ago.Emptying one pot after another was getting a bit disheartening until I began to find the odd sprouted seed. After that it turned out that a surprising amount were germinating away despite the horrible weather, they are just germinating really really slowly, the tiny shoots only just visible when I cleared the compost over their heads. I think too that certain varieties have been susceptible to rotting more than others; seeds of the indomitable “Winston Churchill” for instance seem to be mostly intact.

On the same glasshouse bench pots of herbs, salads and lettuces seeds had also frozen solidly in their compost in the very cold weather but very happily most are sprouting now that more heat and light have begun to appear. It is actually spring equinox tomorrow, March 21st, 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. Time will be changing by the end of this month to, don’t laugh, SUMMER TIME. Everything should be getting underway but even the daffodils seem to be dragging their heels. At the weekend Dace told me that the Kiwi forecaster Ken Ring believes it wont warm up here properly until May-MAY!

I’m reduced to now for dreaming about warm sun and walking to the beach on a hot summers day a sure sign that summer feels as far away now as it felt last November.

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The Sleeping Giant

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If any of you did the Leaving Cert in the 90’s then you might remember a book that was used in the Irish language syllabus called “Peig”. It told the true life story of an old woman living on the Blasket Islands, recounting her life with its ups and downs, hardships and triumphs. For some people Peig was an instrument of torture and indeed I always remember the opening sentence which roughly translated goes something like” I’m an old woman now with one foot in the grave and the other on the edge of it” setting the dismal tone for what was to follow. So I was surprised on Saturday to find that the old mountain road that I was walking on in Co. Kerry was a walk Peig would have known well. This was the road that the Blasket Islanders, including the infamous Peig would have used every time they visited the mainland.If you ever wonder why people today are fatter consider this; this walk took Peig from Dunquin to Ventry (or Ceann Tra if you went to Irish college there) and on to Dingle, a distance of 12-13 miles over rough mountain side and soft sandy beaches. Sometimes they never made it to Dingle. No! Nobody died. They came from an island with no alcohol, so when they hit the pub in Ventry they often stayed, drinking their heads off until the money ran out, then back to the boat ( with one imagines the mother of all hangovers) and off home.

On this lonely mountain track I was struck by the foxgloves growing under our feet. Even though its only February they were looking fresh and green with new leaves bright and beautiful in the heart of each rosette. The day too was unexpectedly calm and bright although the sun and blue of the early morning gave way to building clouds in the afternoon. People walked on the beaches, children ran barefoot on the sand and up above birds wheeled and whistled. It began to feel like Spring was underway.

Being nosy by nature I found myself looking over hedges and gates into other peoples gardens. I was heartened to see a cheerful looking man spreading cow manure over his vegetable plot and happy to think that like myself people are shaking off the tiredness of winter and stretching out into spring. Somehow we are all filled with that wonderful feeling that there is some satisfaction to be had in sowing seeds and prepping the ground for the exciting year that is to come.

looking back towards Ventry

Green fields sweeping down to the sea between Ventry and Dunquin

Today was incredibly warm and sunny. A modest 10c outside but pushing nicely upwards of 25c under glass or plastic. I spent some time in the school tunnel chatting to the first seedlings to have emerged from my students first sowing of flower seeds almost two weeks ago; french marigolds, stock and malva (yes I talk to seedlings, at least they have the good manners not to talk back). We don’t have them on a heated propagator but under fleece, with those not yet up additionally protected by a cosy plastic bag in which they are enclosed. We have an amount of sweet peas sown, none of which are up yet. This year as well as the usual vegetables and fruit the students are planning big beautiful flower beds. Is it only me? but this is way more exciting than Christmas!

As it’s forecast to be bright and sunny by day but arse kicking cold by night my young aubergines, peppers, chillies and tomatoes are all staying indoors for the time being. The ideal thing for the tomatoes would be a trip outside to the Glasshouse/tunnel for the core hours of sunshine from 11am to 3pm and then back inside to the warmth of the house for the evening but this business of working 9-to-5 has wrecked all that, so for now they will have to content themselves with looking out the window instead. Chillies and peppers, and indeed aubergines are a different story in that they need a constant reassuring heat to keep growing well. Putting them outside even under glass or plastic at this point would be like dropping Camels in the arctic, not a great idea. It’s a waiting and minding game for a while until at least the Spring equinox on March 21st.

Tomatoes

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I fell in love with Artisan bumble bees last year. The purple bumble bee on the right is particularly outstandingly tasty.

Tomatoes germinating so far; I should explain that usually 3 seeds are sown of each variety into one small pot with the plan of retaining the strongest of the three after transplant and giving away the rest. Some varieties grown for a specific purpose like hanging baskets will require more plants e.g. Cherry Cascade and 100’s and 1000’s so we sow more. Others like Sungold are a personal obsession of my husbands who needs to be reigned in or far too many will be sown, see below *. It is entirely possible that between today and a months time when these seedlings will be ready for transplant that the numbers below will have changed. Some that have begun to germinate may die, some may yet germinate that are currently resting in their seed jackets under the soil. We can only wait and see!

  • Rainbow f1 1/3
  • German Lunchbox 3/3
  • Yellow Garden Peach 2/3
  • Russian Emerald 2/3
  • Brandywine 2/3
  • Japanese Red 3/3
  • Broad Ripple Currant 2/3
  • Yellow Submarine 3/3
  • 100s and 1000s 6/8
  • Red Cherry 2/3
  • Paul Robeson 1/3
  • Roma VF 2/3
  • Amish salad ( sowed loads as germination was poor last year-surprise! loads came up)
  • Striped Stuffer 1/3
  • Green Vernissage 1/3
  • Amish Paste 1/3
  • Gaspacho Negro 3/3
  • Green Sausage 1/3
  • Principe Borghese 3/3
  • San Marzano 1/3
  • Black Vernissage 2/3
  • Sungella 3/3
  • Sweet aperitif 2/3
  • Riesentraube 1/3
  • Cherokee Purple 1/3
  • Aunt Rubys German Green 1/3
  • Golden Sunrise 3/3
  • Ananas Noire 1/3
  • Purple Prince 2/3
  • Holly Rose 1/3
  • Cherry Cascade 5/8
  • Marmande Cuarenteno ( again sowed loads because of poor germination last year and now loads are coming up)
  • Chocolate Stripe 3/3
  • Blue Beauty  1/3
  • Sweet Million 2/3
  • Marmande 1/3
  • Golden Queen 3/3
  • Tess’s Land Race 2/3
  • Clementine 3/3
  • Japanese Orange 2/3
  • Cuore di Bue 1/3
  • White Beauty 1/3
  • Pantano Romanesco 2/3
  • Artisan Bumble Bee mix 2/3
  • Black Crimea 3/3
  • Sungold F1 11/13*
  • Green Envy F1 1/3
  • Rosella 2/3
  • Berkley Tie Dye 1/3
  • Costoluto Fiorentino 2/3
  • lldi 1/3
  • White Cherry 2/3
  • Chocolate Cherry 1/3
  • Blue Berries 2/3

Weathering Spring

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Brassicas in their spring jackets of snow

Spring my arse! Is that what you were thinking?

Although you may be looking out on snow, ice and barren landscapes technically the 1st of February is La Feile Bride – in Ireland the first day of Spring. There have been MANY arguments over the years with our good neighbours in the UK who vehemently swear that March 1st is the start of Spring. But there is no point arguing about when “Spring” starts. Which Spring are we talking about? Lunar/pagan Spring or Gardening/Modern Spring….?? you see the problem. For now let us assume Spring can be either and you may suit yourself in choosing the start of spring according to your Pagan or BBC Gardeners World beliefs.


Chilli progress since Last Week

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Chilli seed beginning to germinate on damp kitchen towel

Inside the house and on the heat the chillies are up, pre-germination on damp kitchen towel led to us sowing the freshly sprouted seeds into small pots of compost. (The quickest of these happened within 4 days). The pots were put on the hot propagator  in a sealed plastic bag until the seedlings broke the surface of the compost and began to unfurl their glorious seed leaves. After that the pots came out of the plastic bag and off the warm propagator to be transferred to the cooler windowsill propagator where they are turned daily to ensure straight growth. They will remain inside for at least another month, and possibly longer before a trip to the cold frame in the polytunnel. This method of using one protected structure inside another greatly increases day and nighttime temperatures and warm temperatures are essential for successful chillies.So far chilli germination looks like this;

After 4 days these seeds, sown from fresh chillies that overwintered on their mother plants in the Glasshouse had begun to germinate. One thing to note is that they were all sown in good numbers, each fresh ripe chilli offering a lot of seeds;

  • Peruvian Lemon Drop, estimated % germination – 50%
  • Chinese 5 colours, estimated % germination -70%
  • B&Q yellow chilli, estimated % germination – 60-70%
  • Hungarian Hot Wax, estimated % germination – 80%
  • Snack Bite, estimated % germination – 60%
  • Thai Red, estimated % germination – 40%
  • Fish chilli, estimated % germination – 50%
  • Bolivian Rainbow, estimated % germination – 40%
  • Basket of Fire, estimated % germination – 45%

After 4 days these seeds, sown from newly bought dried seeds from Baker Creek had begun to germinate. 3 seeds of each were put on damp kitchen towel for pre-germination;

  • Black Hungarian, estimated % germination -100% 3/3
  • Scotch Bonnet, estimated % germination – 66% 2/3
  • Brazilian Starfish, estimated % germination – 100% 3/3
  • Sugar Rush Peach, estimated % germination – 33% 1/3
  • Pimento de Padron, estimated % germination – 33% 1/3

After 4 days these seeds, dry home saved or bought seeds from packets bought last year and at least two years before were sown. If the seeds were old or the germination last year recorded as “poor”the whole lot were put in! Very scientific..

  • Bequino Yellow, estimated % germination – 40%
  • Cayenne, estimated % germination -10%
  • Chocolate miniature pepper, estimated % germination -5%

Of course not all varieties  of chilli made it to sprouting in 4 days, a full week later these guys began to germinate;

  • Bueno mulata, new seed from baker creek, estimated 100% germination
  • Ring of Fire, fresh seeds from an overwintered chilli, estimated 70% germination
  • Trinidad Scorpion, dry seeds from last year, estimated 50% germination ( no WAY am I eating these)
  • Sweet Pepper Snackbite F1, dry seeds from last year, estimated 100% germination 1/1!

You can only really say estimated germination at this stage, as a lot can happen between the first sprouted shoot and root and the full 4 leaved stage that marks true germination. One thing that struck me was the very successful germination of chilli seed supplied from chillies on plants that had overwintered in the glasshouse. Not only were the germination rates quite high but you could afford to sow lots of seeds from those overwintered chillies which ups your chances considerably.

The other thing to note is the mixed bag of success with freshly bought dried packet seeds. This may even out over the coming weeks as seeds still dormant now might yet germinate, we can only wait and see.At the first transplant stage when each seedling gets its own pot you do get a true measure of how successful or not germination really has been.

Where we are going to put all these chillies I have no idea. A bit like the tomatoes each year we grow more and yet the glasshouse and tunnel remain the same size. I’m sure there is a scientific explanation how you can grow more than you have space for and not run out of room…yet. Or maybe there is a tipping point we have yet to reach.For now the first battle is the battle for the propagator – our first test of space with 71 pots of tomatoes pushing and shoving to get onto the heat and nudge the remaining sprouting chillies aside.

 

 

Feeling chilly

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Basket of Fire chillies

So the mercury is dropping and the met office has issued a snow warning, naturally your thoughts should be on the hotter stuff, and hotter stuff dosent get any hotter than chillies.And by lucky coincidence February is unofficially the month of the chilli- heres why.

First of all it’s the month to sow them. It must be early if you want to harvest the first ripe chillies in September, not October or November.

It’s the final days for the chillies that sat on last years plants throughout the winter under cover of glass or plastic. Pretty soon you will need that space for the new seasons chilli, tomato, sweet pea and salad seedlings. Those old plants have got to go.

This years chilli sowing involves trying fresh seeds from these overwintered chillies against dried seeds from seed suppliers. It’s not at all scientific, I’m not trying one variety both ways in each case or anything clever like that but I’m pre-germinating everything on the propagator and seeing in a general way if there is a noticeable difference between fresh and dried seeds. I should also mention that my dear other half piled the seeds high on the damp kitchen towel from the fresh chillies as opposed to carefully counting out three dried seeds each from the packets. As I said very unscientific.

Anyway here are the varieties we are giving a shot at this year, including sweet peppers too. First the fresh seed varieties;

  1. Scotch Bonnet
  2. Basket of Fire
  3. Ring of Fire
  4. Fish
  5. Peruvian Lemon Drop
  6. Bolivian Rainbow
  7. Orange chilli seeds ( saved from a B&Q bought plant)
  8. Chinese 5 colours
  9. Thai Red
  10. Snack bite pepper
  11. Spanish mini pepper ( saved from yep you guessed it a Spanish mini pepper)
  12. Hungarian Hot Wax

Dried Seeds;

  1. Sugar Rush Peach
  2. Pimiento de padron
  3. Black Hungarian
  4. Buena Mulata
  5. Brazilian Starfish
  6. Scotch bonnet
  7. Apache F1
  8. Pepper sweet sunshine
  9. Zimbabwe Black
  10. Almapaprika
  11. Biquinho yellow
  12. de cayenne
  13. Snackbite mixed pepper F1
  14. Rocoto red
  15. Trinidad scorpion
  16. Hot cheyenne f1
  17. Chocolate minature pepper

Pre-germination for newbies is the idea of jump starting seeds that are difficult to germinate. The seeds are put onto damp kitchen towel and then sealed in a sandwich/freezer ziplock bag before being put on a warm propagator. After 4-10 days (this part depends on the varieties) some of the seeds will re-hydrated and have begun to put out a little root and shoot in the damp kitchen towel. At this stage they can be carefully taken from the kitchen towel and “sown” into pots of compost at the correct depth and put back on the propagator to finish the process of germination.

Al fresco

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view along the Kerry Camino near the village of Camp

It’s all about the outdoors lads. Even the cats have mastered the understanding of what al fresco means when I wave their dishes at them and walk out the door. I know its hard to believe but people are griping already about the longest day having past and the summer being over.

Bullshit. Its only started. Get outside and stock up. Fresh air, sunshine (when it appears), long days while they linger.You can retreat to the armchair in November and look out at it. But the time to be outside is now.

Every year I promise myself I will be ahead of the garden jobs by now. Ever year I fail. Small potted plants look at me sadly wondering if today is their day. I hurry past keeping my head down hoping they don’t see me. Seamus waters them. Hes immune to their guilt inducing stares. But the important thing is that I’m actually improving year on year. So I tell myself anyway. Measuring my success in the ever shrinking amount of pots waiting on me. So who knows? Maybe some year I might catch up with where I’m supposed to be. Then what will I do? What do people do who have no gardening to do? Its a mystery!

In between weeding, going for the odd long walk and trying to plant out the last of the pots there is lots of eating to be done. So far I reckon its been an excellent growing year but strangely enough for everyone who agrees with me there are just as many claiming its a rubbish year for their crops. WTF?? How can we have such different opinions of the year on one small island? I know soils vary from one place to another, often within very small areas.  Only last night two Tipperary place names explained to me illustrated that point very well Foildarrig (red earth) and Foilduff (black earth). Micro-climates exist in town gardens and sheltered lower fields that allow to prosper what a windswept hillside cannot allow to grow well. And then of course some people really look after their soil and their ecosystems and some don’t. For example I overheard this conversation in a garden shop at the weekend;

Older lady customer;” is this the stuff?”

Shop Assistant; “No that’s plant food that will just help them to grow”

Older Lady customer; ” O no! I don’t want them to grow! I want to kill every last one of them!!”

You see what I mean?

That’s not to say I’m not tempted to blast some blackbirds out of the sky when I find not a single cherry has survived their attention. Even the “white” cherries supposed to be a “breakthrough” in plant breeding as they are “invisible” to birds. I think you might guess what my feelings are on that statement as I look at my tree empty of its fruit. Anyway. In the end you have to accept, on some admittedly grudging level, that the birds are entitled to fine dining too. And if you are the only fool on your street providing fruit in abundance you are going to be a magnet for every blackbird in the neighbourhood.So my only solution is to get my neighbours to grow more fruit.

When a pig flies past you know Ive succeeded. In the meantime a new whole bed cage contraption thing has been put in place over the strawberries. The only choice in the rest of the garden is to roar loudly and clap my hands like a lunatic. The glamour of it all!!!

Hardening off my ….

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overwintering onions and garlic  today with fleece in action on the bed behind

I think it was two years ago, on a bleak November day up in the organic centre that I met Charles Dowding. Of all the things I learned from him that day, and I really did learn a lot, one of the most useful things I came away with was his idea that hardening off was a load of old tripe and could be dramatically improved for both the plant and the gardener by a piece of horticultural fleece.

In a nutshell he transplants plants at a much earlier stage out into his garden, (skipping a time consuming labour intensive potting on period in some cases) and covers them in horticultural fleece, laid flat over the bed for several weeks. After that time he removes the fleece. The plant is now growing well, having acclimatised to the outside conditions and away it goes. Given the choice of taking things in and out for a week or just planting them out and covering them with fleece which one would you choose?

There are multiple uses for horticultural fleece. One great example is using fleece for overwintering crops like garlic and onions. In the last few years since I have gotten into the habit of fleecing the crop immediately after planting in November and leaving the fleece in place until the end of January/early February I have noticed a dramatic improvement in both the success of the sets or cloves (99-100%) survival rate over winter (as opposed to 70-80%), and much improved vigour of the green leafy growth with none of the usual beating they would take without the fleece over winter in the wind and cold, all of which gets them off to a flying start in spring and yields large returns. Win win as they say. Now onward to conquer the April/May drought pattern we have been experiencing for the last few years!

This fleece business is great but why isn’t it mainstream? Reading the GIY weekly column of May 13th here I was surprised to see them recommending the older time consuming, labour intensive method of hardening off. I think fleecing is by far easier for beginners and experienced alike. Just don’t forget to shake out a few slug pellets if you are putting a particularly tasty crop out; lettuces, pumpkins and beans all come to mind!

O by the way in one of the school gardens this year we set everything from seed, left them in the polytunnel to germinate and covered them with horticultural fleece to moderate both day and night temperatures, (leaving one tunnel door open at all times). We sowed the same seeds, used the same compost etc in another school garden polytunnel and had dramatically different results. Faster and better germination rates all round under the fleece despite minimal watering and attention from a once a week class. Same input in the second school garden, same once a week class but much poorer results.

I rest my case.

Charles has some good books under his belt but if you can meet this very nice and unassuming man for a day course with him I highly recommend you do. He makes his living growing veg and has really tested the ” old rules” of gardening to see if they are worth doing.

I’m not on commission for the makers of horticultural fleece in case your’e asking.

Brave New World

 

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The road to 2017 (via Cappamore)

In the greater scheme of things one year changing into another doesn’t seem like such a big thing.A huge percentage of the population no doubt loathe January. Not yet bright or warm, an anticlimax after Christmas and a flaking VISA bill to be paid. But if you are a gardener January brings great excitement. Wading through seed catalogues looking for new exciting plants to try (Jicama and agretti roscano anyone?), adding seaweed and compost mulches to beds, and actually cracking on with the first seed sowings of the year; sweet peas, aubergines and chillies.

 

You get a kind of renewed energy too for projects and for tidying up. In this garden the fruit cage is finally going up. So in the next few weeks a part of the vegetable garden will be sacrificed for the ultimate satisfaction of picking unmolested fruit(goodbye pesky blackbirds). Of course the big trouble now is reaching agreement over what goes in the cage. Above all else I am choosing a dwarf sweet cherry tree while my husbands number one choice will be red currants. After that negotiations will be interesting!

As the forecast fluctuates between mild and damp from the Atlantic and ass kicking freezing cold from the Pole it is sensible to potter around doing odd bits of weeding and pruning only as the day permits. There is still a bit of harvesting to be done too, the Ocas have just come into season and need digging out or covering with fleece before the next forecasted freeze arrives around Thursday, as does the last of the celery and carrots. Parsnips are staying put for the moment but as the plan switches from 2016 to 2017 their days in the bed are numbered.When its too cold to be outside planning crop rotations and plant combinations by the fire is a much more sensible idea.

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Another cold start

With dire forecasts for very cold temperatures in January and February its hard to get started without worrying slightly about looking after the seedlings sown through these particular months. But gardening is mostly a leap of faith, planning and doing things in advance in anticipation of rewards down the line so there is no escaping the things that must be done when they ought to be done.If you are thinking of continuing to hibernate Id advise against it. Dust yourself off, (mentally, not just the mince pie debris on your pants!) get into your gardening gear and go outside to embrace the brave new gardening world of 2017.

 

A stint in the sun

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I’m galavanting abroad for three whole weeks during which time the aim is to consume roughly my weight in figs and olives.Although the weather is georgous I miss my garden and it’s happy army of butterflies who had taken over before my departure. Luckily I have a lovely pair of replacement cat and garden sitters enjoying and eating everything in my absence *not the cats i hasten to add.still i lie awake at night wonderig how they are getting on, sending long emails with 20 more things i forgot to tell them. I will try not to worry too much….after all I am on holidays!

A plant from the pit of Hell….

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giant hogweed

Giant Hogweed image courtsey of Alamy/Telegraph.co.uk

It’s heritage week this week and lots of stuff is happening around the country, see here for the full listings. Yesterday on my way home from work I had the great pleasure of seeing a walking tour at Johns castle in Kilmallock in the middle of the afternoon with their leader enthusiastically waving her arms and pointing up at the medieval house on the street. Kilmallock was once a walled town and has loads of interesting history, enough to rival Adare I reckon. But while Adare basks in hoards of tourists and the happy sound of euros dropping into tills poor old Kilmallock languishes quietly, the only excitement the Monday mart when jeeps towing horse boxes make chaos of the traffic and people sell puppies from the boot of their cars.I suppose you could describe Kilmallock as a town in the twilight of its years, the faded grandeur of its lovely old buildings, a serious lack of jobs and a high percentage of buggy pushing unemployed added to a distinct overall feeling of exhaustion, as if the vital energy had gone out of the town.

It is nice then to support  activities that bring a bit of life and interest to the place especially when they collide with actual course work for the students too. This worked out nicely for us on Tuesday when I took the group to an intriguing sounding talk, (part of heritage week) in a beautiful old part of the town. The “Talk on the Loobagh Invasive Species Control Project” was across a footbridge over the Loobagh river in  Kilmallock Priory.  This is an impressive atmospheric ruin, dating from 1291 and in beautiful condition except for want of a roof.The fact we can stroll over and visit is a triumph of persistence in the face of bloody-mindedness.

Of course the main topic of the talk was Giant Hog Weed Heracleum mantegazzianum, and if you haven’t heard about it you are most certainly living under a rock. A brief summary is as follows; some fool brought it in as a garden plant in the 1880’s, it’s from the Caucasus and central asia where something must eat it and keep it under control, it can grow  up to 15 feet high, it’s a member of the carrot family, it’s often on river banks where you will see the huge umbel flowers during the summer months, it has thousands of seeds and spreads like mad and most importantly it is highly dangerous to humans who come in contact with it.

It’s the sap of the plant that is dangerous although I have heard that the pollen can be too. Once the sap comes in contact with your skin it ruins your natural ability to filter our harmful sunlight, (a sort of reverse sunblock). Once the sun comes out you burn badly and can blister dramatically. According to our speaker on Tuesday ( I think her name was Rianna?) this can be permanent damage, with blisters reoccurring years after the initial contact with the plant. Just thinking about it is enough to bring you out in a rash.As someone on boards.ie so eloquently put it ” a plant from the pit of hell”.

Apparently it was galloping away madly on the banks of the Loobagh until an unfortunate pollution incident drew experts to the river a few years ago. Once the plant was discovered a plan was put in place to train local farmers and fishermen in the treatment of the weed and to clear the river in sections starting (as of course you logically should) upstream and working downwards. The Loobagh feeds into the Maigue which is a busy fishing river so the pressure was on to eradicate the plant to prevent it colonising the banks of that river too. The project is still underway but they are making progress. It’s slow and poorly funded. And here’s where my blood begins to boil, what is wrong with the dept of agriculture?? surely it is very important to support this??? Christ! Anyway, wait till some TD’s relation gets scalded by this plant then we  might see some bloody results.

By comparison to Giant Hog Weed other invasive species like Japanese Knot-weed Fallopia japonica(universal wrecker of house foundations) and Himalayan Balsam Impatiens glandulifera ( madly invasive plant with pretty pink flowers loved by bees) begin to look almost benign; Himalayan balsam has obligingly small roots and is a doddle to pull out and you can actually eat Japanese knot weed as a type of delicate green! But all three plants have one thing in common, they push out native species ruining local biodiversity so they have to go. If you are curious about which other alien plant species are roaming around the countryside causing havoc to native flora and fauna look no further that the National Biodiversity Data Centre who put together a “dirty dozen” list. It makes for some interesting reading.

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16th century Merchants house Kilmallock from http://www.megalithicireland.com

What I didn’t know about Kilmallock is that it has a museum. Run by volunteers on a ground floor of an old town house it has lots of memorabilia from the town and best of all a terrific scale model based on a map from the medieval period complete with walls and town gates (and our lovely priory).We popped in to see it after our talk to be met with a lonely volunteer who took us through the exhibits, wall by wall finishing triumphantly with a “button from Michael Collins’s coat” which he held out like it was the holy stone of clonrickard. You couldn’t ask for a more entertaining and improbable way to end the day. Kilmallock lads-that’s where it’s at. And in the meantime beware the Giant Hog Weed. If you see it stay far, far away.

Co. Limerick “dirty dozen ” non native invasive species with great photos, maps and info here

Revenge of the courgett(ini)

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a typical haul from the Cappamore class garden including some giant courgettes

Yesterday my boss surprised us all by bringing in a pot of courgette, potato and onion soup. It was delicious and it got me thinking about why I don’t make soup from courgettes. Isin’t it the obvious thing to do? There are loads and loads of them; hanging off the plants,  piling up in the fridge, looking at you wide eyed just begging to be eaten. I sat in the lunch room eating away and mulling over this mystery-why had I abandoned the idea of making courgette soup?

Later in the afternoon on a visit to Tara, Martin and Nick (not forgetting dogs Jack, Captain and Pepper) an uneasy feeling came over me, a feeling of something familiar and a rising sense of dread. Halfway through my first cup of tea with Tara I realised I was full of courgette wind and that it wanted to be released!! I spent my visit discreetly trumping all over the garden, trying to ignore the magnificent noises coming from the escaping courgette gas, they do make an incredibly loud sound! as I remembered EXACTLY why courgette soup is off the menu.Be warned all ye who make soup with courgettes!!

There are other ways to eat courgettes that don’t involve loud embarrassing noises a few hours later and abolishment from all social circles.Roasted courgettes won’t embarrass you, neither will stir fried or stewed (lightly), but the number one way to use a courgette, especially if it has gotten a bit on the large side is definitely as courgettini.

I do like kitchen gadgets but I’m not into faddy stuff that lasts a year and is gone (my husband might dispute this pointing to the wheat grass hand juicer sitting idly at the back of the press).Last year I heard about these gadgets that make pasta-like strips from vegetables which you then cook lightly instead of pasta. I can’t eat pasta, and the gluten free versions are mostly inedible anyway so this seemed like a great idea to me.Except for one thing. Holy smoke! the price tag. I went around the shops poking at these “yokes” with extraordinary prices that seemed to start at €40 and go up.Yes that’s not a typing error; FORTY flaming EUROS.

So I put it to the back of my mind and soldiered on liking the idea very much but refusing to pay the money involved. Then lo-and-behold last December my dear brother brought me the very gadget in a nice small compact form as a Christmas present. There were two great things about this gift; first my mother caps us all to spending only €20 on presents so he assured me it was cheap and cheerful and secondly its a doddle to use, clean and store. My wildly enthusiastic reaction to this gave great amusement to everyone but who is laughing now eh? Ha! with this courgettini maker I am queen of the courgettes.

Being the ruler of the courgette crop is now very easy. A delicious pasta sauce is made, a pot of water is boiled, the courgette(or two; its quite surprising how much you can consume as courgettini) is twisted through the gadget, courgettini come out the other end, they are dropped into the boiling water where they cook in under 1 minute, they are drained, tossed in olive oil or butter and put on the plate with the pasta sauce, (where might I add their fresh green/yellow colouring looks stunning against the sauce). They also taste delicious, are very good for you, and in this incarnation at least they don’t make you fart.Surely this is the best way ever to cook courgettes?

Dace and Joe were here a few weeks ago passing through on their way home from holidays. Dace, the most practical person on the planet, was introduced to the courgettini maker and given the task of making enough courgettini for herself, myself and Joe from some overlarge courgettes that were in truth heading for marrows.She was completely enamored with the resulting “pasta”, as was Joe, Seamus is too suspicious by nature to eat any odd stuff I produce unless enough people have tasted and lived through it first.The result was Joe ringing me next day to ask where could he get the gadget as they have lots of courgettes and want to make more courgettini!!

So now, far be it for me to act as a sales person but if after reading this you too are bitten by the courgettini bug I happen to have seen a version of my gadget (mine is from the USA probably via China) in Tesco’s where they keep the JML stuff. I have no idea if its as good as mine but at around €14 its a safe enough gamble.I think this is it; veggie spiralizer .One small word of warning!! I cut myself numerous times on the extremely sharp blades before I got sense and was more careful washing and handling it. Be careful!!

And finally. Despite a lot of reading up on courgettes, there seems to be no single consensus on the best ones to grow for taste. If you are after the stripy mediterranean one that everyone thinks of as a courgette and has great flavour then really you cant go wrong with “cocozelle”. But having said that I really think since so much of the courgette is made up of water that flavour is only excellent when the right mix of trase elements are in the soil. Only good home made compost will really do that for the soil and the plant that grows in it.