Summers a-coming and itís amazing the difference a week can make to the life of a little seed. I was delighted to see the first signs of germination with my cabbage seeds sown last week already poking up their delicate little seedling heads. Oh god, all I pray now is that the slugs arenít as equally delighted and decide to have a healthty fresh midnight snack!
A trough full of Salubrious Salads!
I love my fresh greens so the obvious thing for me to do with my trough is to turn it into a salad bed. If you were only to grow one crop this year, Iíd encourage you to grow some salads as they are the classic Ďmaximum return for minimum effort in record timeí crop! You donít even need a garden as salads grow equally well in pots, grow bags, window boxes and cattle troughs! And the best part is that once you cut the leaves, they will regrow again and you can get up to four harvests from one sowing Ė how cool is that? This is what is meant by CCA salads (cut-and-come again).
Pre-packed mixed salad leaves in the supermarket are extremely expensive and usually contain a cocktail of chemicals in the bag. For the same price (around Ä2.50) you can buy a pack of mixed salad or rocket seeds from which you will get nine to ten times the quantity almost effortlessly and you can experience the joy of picking as much nutrient rich fresh tasty leaves as you need, ensuring minimum waste and maximum taste! Seed merchants have caught onto the idea too, so now you can buy many different mixes of leaves in one pack, varying in degrees of spicy-ness as well as texture, shape and colour.
To sow your salads, all you need is some soil or compost and you could even reuse seed-sowing compost from the previous year as itís perfect for growing baby salad leaves (they donít need a lot of nutrients). Once you sow your seeds in shallow drills or even just broadcast them, keep them adequately watered and in a well-lit spot and your seeds should soon germinate. Within a few weeks, a harvestable crop of salad leaves is ready. Itís up to you what size you want to harvest them at Ė baby leaf to large. If you sow a few seeds every two weeks, you should have a supply all summer and avoid one huge glut of greens. With regular sowings of whatever mixes come to hand (create your own seed mixes also) you can indulge even the strongest cravings for fresh, nutritious salad greens all year round.
I sowed some spinach, beetroot and white turnips in one side of the trough. It may come as a surprise but both the leaves of beetroot and turnips are CCA and their baby leaves are delicious when eaten as salad. I will eventually thin them out and let them grow true.
I managed to co-erce Peter into helping me with my cattle trough and you know something, I think is actually warming to the gaudy growing container! I decided to put in a few nasturtiums around the edge of the trough to trail down and cover the not so pretty outer edge. Nasturtiums have a place in any salad plot, super easy to grow and all parts are edible (leaves, flowers and seeds). The ultimate flower for my salad trough. I can envision a trough and plate full of salad greens with beautiful orange blossoms already, yum!
Despite the cajolings of Peter regarding my Ďlanding stripí, Iím thrilled with it. I went for Kilkenny limestone and I reckon thatís slightly more local than Indian Sandstone even if it doesnít hail from Cork!
Sur if thatís the only space you in have in your back yard, you have to be sensible and give yourself a recreational area. It all started with my idea to put a few slabs infront of the compost heap to avoid messy run-off and oh how small ideas can grow! But thatís gardens, once you turn the first sod, things will evolve and the point to remember is, that often the best gardens mature with plans changing all the time. Thereís no need to do everything instantly. My advice is to take things step by step, year by year and you will have the perfect out door living space to suit your individual needs, be you a bustling family of five or living on your own.
It may look like Cork airport anois, but by the time I position a bbq, table and chairs and and few recycled containers filled with herbs that can be dragged inside for the winter, it wonít be long filling up!
Two Fruits for the Price of one Tree!
It is one of the unwritten rules in vegetable/fruit growing to find out what was traditionally grown in your area before you set to work. Since our plots are sited in the old fruit garden of FOTA House, I decided to follow suit and plant a couple of fruit trees in my wee plot but with a 21st century twist. Thereís been advancements in tree grafting since Victorian times and it is now possible to get dwarf varieties of apples and plums that can even be grown in conatiners. My quest for new age top fruit brought me a step further to find dwarf twin-fruiting trees. New to me, but sounds great in theory as these trees are self fertile and bear two varieties of fruit, ideal for small spaces that can only fit one tree. I gave Peter a shout to help me plant a twin fruiting plum tree and a twin-fruting apple. Both should grow to about 7 Ė 8ft and are super simple to plant and hopefully grow! A few pointers if you plan to plant a dwarf fruit tree:
Organic Fertilisers for Free: Nettle & Comfrey Feeds
Like our goodselves, plants need a little pick me up every now and again especially when the same patch of soil is in constant use as is the case in many small gardens. Why buy and add artifical fertilisers when you can grow and make your own organic fertilisers for free!
There are a plethora of ways to nourish, condition and improve your soil. Regularly adding compost definitely helps, as the soil benefits from the nutrition and structure to aid water drainage. However compost on it's own may not be enough - a regular 'top up' with an organic fertiliser is vital if you want your flowers and vegetables to flourish and thatís where virtual weeds come in tres handy!
Nettles grow wild and rampanty and are the perfect pick-me-up for nitrogen loving leafy greens and comfrey grows wild and can be cultivated with minimum effort and is ideal for potassium loving fruit bearers.
To make your liquid nettle fertiliser, you'll need young nettles, water and a large storage bucket. Firstly, you'll need to collect up about 1kg of nettles, making sure to wear good gloves. If possible, opt for the more tender nettle tops. Once you have collected these into a hessian or any porous bag, place them in your bucket and cover them with about 20 litres of water. The reason for putting them in a bag rather than straight into the water is that it keeps the water cleaner Ė I have tried the other way and it turns into a highly unpleasant slime. Remember that your mix will be stinking after a few weeks so itís vital that you have a tight fitting lid lest the neighbours will be talking!
You'll then need to leave the 'brew' for around 20-30 days. It will become a rich feed concentrate, so once it's ready to use, you'll need to dilute it with water to a ratio of about 1:10 before feeding it to your plants. I usually draw off small amounts in my watering can and then fill it up with water. Any plants that are in need of a boost will appreciate a sup, but itís particularly effective on plants that need leafy growth such as lettuces, kales, cabbages etc.
If you have any leftover feed, this can always be added to your compost heap or bin over winter when the nettle-growing season finishes.
It sounds like something that you would drink yourself when you are in need of comforting but in fact itís a cold, putrid smelly liquid that stinks to high heaven BUT your veggie plants will absolutely love it. Comfrey is a hardy deep rooting wonder herb that was traditionally grown for its virtue in wound healing. These days it is grown specifically so that you can harvest itís leaves to use as a fertilizer, mulch or to add to compost heaps. The good news is, bees love it also. No organic veggie garden should be without a patch.
Itís a sinch to grow (ask friends for a cutting and it will take off in no time or buy some root cuttings online) and be warned itís more of a question of how to stop it growing than how to grow it! It tends to be invasive so put it somewhere contained and in an unused part of the garden. It will do well in most soils even under trees. Bocking 14 is the variety that is recommended to grow for liquid feed purposes.
You can harvest the leaves from the comfrey plant three to four times a year and use them to make a dynamite fertiliser which is rich in potash and therefore excellent for fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, squashes etc. The exact same process applies as with nettle tea but quantities are slightly different Ė 500g of leaves to which you add three gallons of water.
Be warned that both these feeds are concentrated and must be diluted and they are highly smelly so I wouldnít recommend using them on indoor plants, especially just before a special dinner party!
If you live on the coast, the same process can be applied to seaweed liquid fertilisers, simply replacing the nettles with seaweed. You can also make manure, compost and dock tea by following the same steps.
The Week that was!
So thanks to Seanís compost bin and a few buckets of liquid feed brewing, I should have my gardenís nutrient needs catered for! All I need now is buckets of sunshine, sufficient amounts of rain (night time only please!) and Iíll be sitting out on my new patio munching fresh greens before I know it!